By Peter D. Schaller
Not surprisingly, Donald Trump made an announcement last week to withdraw the United States from the climate change agreement signed last year in Paris.
The Paris Agreement, commonly referred to as COP 21 (Conference of the Parties) was signed by nearly all of the countries in the world, developed and developing, and focuses on creating mechanisms to reduce carbon emissions. The agreement’s main goal is to keep limit global temperature increase to less than two degrees Celsius, in order to mitigate the dramatic and potentially devastating effects of climate change. The Paris agreement, without question, marked a new level of commitment by political leaders, including former president Obama, to take more drastic measures to reduce carbon emissions.
However, Paris is not enough.
With Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement, the internet has been flooded all week with criticism and concern, justifiably so. While China is the largest emitter of carbon in the world, the United States, has the highest per capita carbon emission rate on the planet. It just so happens that the United States houses less than 5% of the world’s population, but is responsible for nearly 20% of all carbon emissions. Arguing with numbers like these is simply absurd. Withdrawing from the Paris agreement shows an embarrassing lack of leadership and a blatant disregard for the well-being and the future of humanity.
But this is not the whole story. The truth is, we’re being duped. The media would have us believe that climate change is an issue of government and industry, of public policy and production practices. The harsh reality is, climate change has just one, identifiable cause- our consumption. In terms of sheer population, the world has not yet reached the point of unsustainability. However, we are consuming our natural (and unnatural) resources at a catastrophic rate.
Honestly, the Paris Agreement falls painfully short of presenting the world with a viable plan for halting and eventually reverting the effects of climate change. Primarily, the agreement, in all of its thirty one pages of political speak, is focused on reducing carbon emissions through cleaner production practices. The agreement, unfortunately, does not address the critical issue of consumption. Granted, consuming cleaner energy will result in cleaner goods and services, which will ultimately reduce carbon emissions. Consuming cleaner energy is not enough. We need to consume less.
China is only the world’s greatest producer of carbon because their industrial economy is fueled by the world’s insatiable desire for more things, mostly plastic. Coal and petroleum are not being burned with the express purpose of polluting our air. They are being used to generate energy to transport, feed, clothe, and entertain us, supplying the goods and services that our gluttonous culture demands. If we are truly concerned about climate change, posting disparaging remarks about Donald Trump on Facebook will not reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Mitigating climate change is our responsibility.
We don’t have time to sit around waiting for politicians and CEOs to come up with half-baked solutions that still generate profits and political power. There is a moral urgency in this, because we know that we have the capacity to live our lives differently. Below are some suggestions for getting started today. We are all part of the problem, so let’s create the solution.
- Get close to nature: When I work with children and adolescents, I always tell them this: you can’t get passionate about protecting nature until you are passionate about nature. Let’s take some time to get close. Study the spider webs in our gardens. Listen carefully to the birds at dawn. Watch the clouds on the skyline at sunset. We need to develop an intimate relationship to the natural world around us if we truly want to take drastic measures to protect our world.
- Consume less: Of everything. Seriously. If we do not reduce our consumption of unnecessary items, we are doomed. Seriously. We are currently consuming our resources faster than they can be replenished. Consume less. Seriously. Did I mention that?
- Eliminate animal products: One of the best things that any of us can do to mitigate climate change is to eliminate all or most animal products from our diets. The industrial production of meat and dairy is one of the most environmentally damaging activities on the planet, responsible for 51% of all greenhouse gases. A whole food, plant-based diet is the ethical choice for planetary and personal health.
- Buy locally: We all have to become conscious consumers. This means reading labels to find out where things are produced. Most processed and packaged food travels at least 1,500 miles before landing on our plates, causing a huge carbon footprint. Buying locally reduces that footprint and also strengthens local economies.
- Eliminate disposables: Part of our conscious shopping needs to include reducing the amount of packaging that we purchase and avoiding the purchase of any disposable products (cups, plates, utensils, plastic bags, paper towels, water bottles, coffee cups, etc.) For every one of those products, there is a reusable alternative. Disposables are for lazy people. Climate activists cannot afford to be lazy.
- Start a garden: Growing our own food is a courageous act of self-reliance. Plants sequester carbon and they also produce clean food, if we do it organically. Keeping a garden means composting too, so all organic waste from the kitchen and yard should be incorporated into the soil. There are excellent guides out there for composting and gardening, yard farming and food sharing. Nothing builds community like food.
- Buy (or scavenge) used items: The culture of consumerism is designed to convince us that we need new stuff. All the time. But, one way to lessen the demand for natural resources is to shop the alleyways, dumpsters and thrift stores. People get rid of perfectly good things all the time. It’s easy to find clothing, shoes, furniture, books, kitchen equipment, appliances, electronics…used and in perfectly good condition. Buying used tricks the system. We get the stuff we need, without creating a demand for more raw materials.
- Walk, bike or use public transport: Burning fossil fuels is obviously a main contributor to climate change. Any time we can carpool, hop on a bus, do errands on foot or on a bike, we are doing the world a tremendous service. Imagine the chain effect if each of us makes a conscious decision to reduce our carbon footprint.
- Repair, reuse and upcycle: Most folks don’t tinker and fix things anymore. The problem is, a lot of things are purposely made to be short lived and disposable. That doesn’t mean that we can’t try to fix them for reuse. Not everything can be fixed and returned to its original purpose. But, they can be upcycled to newer and greater functions. For example, I found some old television cases, form the bulky old sets that we used to have, way back in the nineties. Obviously they couldn’t go back to the entertainment industry, so I took them home, filled them with soil and used them for planters. Climate activists must be creative.
- Recycle anything that is left over: We have been taught to believe that recycling is the end game, the signature activity of all environmental activism. Actually, recycling should be the final and inevitable alternative. First we must reduce what we consume, refuse disposables, repair, reuse, upcycle, and when no other hope remains- recycle. It’s easy to set up a system at home to recycle glass, metals, paper and cardboard. All organic waste can be composted for gardening. With an integrated recycling system, household waste can be reduced by approximately 75%.
This is not to say that we don’t desperately need international agreements, public policy, industrial regulations, private sector commitments, carbon markets and a host of other mechanisms that may or may not save us from annihilation. But let us not forget these things: the only politicians that make it to office to make policy are the ones that we select. Industry will only produce the goods and services that we decide to consume. We are not passive victims in the drama of climate change. We are responsible and we must be responsive.
Paris is not enough. It will take a chain of complementary actions, thousands of us, millions of us, taking back creation.
Photo: Peter Schaller
Feature Photo: (source)
Editor: Dana Gornall