How to save the planet every day

I have just finished reading “We are the climate: saving the planet begins at breakfast” by Jonathan Safran Foer and oh boy it was good. There is one sentence in particular that got stuck in my head: 

There are only two reactions to climate change: resignation or resistance. We can submit to death, or we can use the prospect of death to celebrate life”. 

We can accept things as they are or we can stop being “climate agnostics”, as he calls them, and stop believing that a magical solution to the climate problem will fall down from the sky and resolve everything. Simply repeating “we have to do something about it” and waiting for something to happen just won’t do the job. Of course we do need governments and companies to take action and ethical decisions, but we as single individuals have the power to make a revolution. Because if we sum up all the single, small actions made by single individuals, the world can change for the better. 

The core of this book is pretty simple and straightforward: reducing our consumption of animal products is the one thing that can truly help reverse the effects of climate change considering that a huge environmental damage has already been done and we need to act quickly and efficiently. And I couldn’t agree more. Animal agriculture has a huge impact on our planet: it is responsible for pollution, water degradation, biodiversity loss, acid rain, it requires massive quantities of grain water and land, it produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all the transport system combined. So, reducing our consumption of meat and dairy products is a simple yet effective choice that can truly help to make a difference. As Foer suggests, something as easy as going fully plant based until dinner time is more beneficial for the planet than a diet that is 100% vegetarian.

I do believe that there are other ways though through which we can all make a difference. For sure an eco revolution starts from our tables, from our food choices and eating habits. But like I mentioned earlier, single actions might not seem much but thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of single actions put together can create something wonderful. Every little things helps, right? So here’s what I suggest to save the planet every day.

Refuse what is not necessary. We have to remember that only a small percentage of the worldwide human population lives above the poverty line. And the rich countries are letting the poor ones pay. We definitely have too much, way more than we need: plenty of food on our tables, plenty of clothes and accessories, plenty of resources, plenty of devices that make our life more comfortable. We have to learn to refuse what is unnecessary, to buy less, to use more what we have, reduce overall our consumption and be very mindful about our actions and the impact of our habits.

Inquire. It is important for us to stay connected to the world, to know what is happening, to never take what is going on for granted. We can read books, watch documentaries, listen to the news, share articles and videos we find online. We can use social media to raise awareness, connect with like minded people, build communities, share what we know and reach more and more people, let our voices be heard.

Food waste not. According to FAO, “roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted.” This is insane! Not only the majority of the world lives below the poverty line and doesn’t have enough to thrive, but the rich minority wastes that much food every single year. Also, food requires energy and precious resources to be produced and, when rotting in landfills, it produces methane gas, which is a greenhouse gas much more potent than carbon dioxide. Things like grocery shopping with a list, freezing our leftovers, reducing our amount of restaurant meals, putting food scraps into the compost /organic waste bin can be simple bu yet effective ways to waste as less food as possible.

Walk/bike more and travel less by plane/car. Safran Foer in his book lists this, together with eating less animal products and having less children, as one of the ways we can fight climate change. I know that this might be a difficult one: someone may not have access to public transportation and has to rely exclusively on car, someone may be forced to take a plane for work or personal reasons, someone may simply not have financial means to rely just on trains and avoid the plane travel, etc. As much as it is important to be aware of our travels and how we go from A to B, simply stating “people should fly less” might not be fitting to everyone. We all have to do our best, be mindful about our travels and when possible, do something about it: take one flight less, avoid the car once or twice a week and walk or use public transportation or bike. To compensate the emissions we are not able to avoid, carbon offset can help (carbon offsetting companies usually plant trees to compensate the emissions because trees absorb CO2).

This is the result of a 30-40 minutes beach clean up in Bingin Beach, Bali in Oct. 2018 (and sadly it wasn’t even everything I picked up)

Consume mindfully. Everything has a cost and everything we use daily needed energy and resources to be made and brought to us. From the tap water we drink and wash ourselves with, to the heater we use to warm our houses up when it’s cold outside, to the clothes we wear, to the electrical appliances we use at work or at home, to the latest smartphone we always want to catch up with. We should never behave like things were unlimited, disposable and easily replaceable. Sadly the current mindset for the majority of the world is that we can buy our way through life and we can have access to everything anytime we want. The reality is that we keep on hitting Earth Overshoot Day earlier each year, which means that the planet’s resources that should be enough for an entire year get completely consumed shortly after the 6 months mark into the year. So why not trying to take shorter showers, replace toiletries only when we are running out of them, repair small imperfections on our clothes and take good care of them to make them last longer, spot clean if we have a small stain on our jeans instead of washing them, wear a thicker sweater before turning the heat up, keep the oven open after baking so it warms up the kitchen, switch to natural energy or replace our appliances with energy saving ones when needed, ask to friends or neighbors if we can borrow that thing that we only need one time instead of buying it, buy more second hand, decide to gift experiences over stuff when we’re giving a gift to someone, appreciate more what we have already and show gratitude for it, try to reduce our waste and especially plastic waste by buying more bulk goods and refusing unnecessary packaging, eat less processed foods and eat more fresh products, bring our own reusables and water bottle with us, shop with a list and buy only when we need something, swap, make our own products out of natural ingredients, cook and eat more at home rater than eating out or ordering take away, minimize our possessions and donate what we no longer need, turn it off when we no longer need it. These are just some examples of what can be done to be a more mindful and conscious consumer.

Just as I finished reading the book, somehow I found out that Safran Foer was going to do a reading of / panel discussion on “We are the weather” here in Berlin where I live and was able to attend the event. Among many of the things he said that evening, there is one who really made me think:

Individual action is not enough to save the planet but at the same time we cannot save the planet without individual action. […] What we’ll have will depend on what we do”. (Jonathan Safran Foer).

What we do today will have an effect not only today but tomorrow as well. We can continue to live as we have always lived, pretending not to see what is happening around us and believing that what we do doesn’t matter, or we can roll up our sleeves, believe that what we do matters and has consequences and make small but significant actions towards the right direction. Which one of the two will you choose?

Jenny

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