The case for individual action as the world burns.
I didn’t write an advice letter this Monday because my anxiety has been through the roof and my life has been kind of a mess and on and on. Luckily, no one cares (in a good, liberating way—not trying to be self-deprecating)!!
I got on anxiety meds this week (woo!!!) but my doctor warned that for the first week or so while my body adjusts my anxiety/depression could be worse. And oh boy has it been. This has not in anyway been helped by the cabal1 of natural disasters happening across our world, literally all of which were created or made worse by climate change. I have found myself utterly immobilized by my fear and rage, by the enormity and severity of the problem. I’m both fucking pissed and despondent. I’m trying not to get lost in my despair, to steal the words of John Lewis, but this week has been bad.
This is not my first time being grief’ed out of my mind by climate change. I have had lots of freak outs. I know what they feel like, I know they eventually abate, I know this is the process of mourning. I get that. But this time, I’m going to try really, really hard to use my fear and anger and grief and actually do something. Taking action is, for me, a fairly reliable tactic in helping to abate my eco-anxiety. In fact, it’s one of the only things that makes me feel better in the face of a slowly rotting ecosystem.
Of course, each and every time I describe what I’m going to do, I get messages about the inadequacy, the sheer redundancy of individual action re: climate change. I get told about how 71% of global emissions are from 100 companies, a statistic which is technically “true” but misleading.2 I see a lot of people saying we need more. And they’re correct. Please let me be very clear: we have to end fossil fuel use, we have to overhaul our infrastructure, we have to tax corporations into the ground and regulate how much they emit. We have to. We have to have federal and international action on this—that is true!!!
But we also need individual action.
We will all—as we are already seeing now—have to change our lives because of climate change. We will not have a choice at some point. How much our lives and the structures of our society change is dependent on how long we wait. We have already waited very, very, very long. It’s like having lung cancer and continuing to smoke. At some point, if you want to get better, you’ve got to stop smoking. You just have to. Yes, you will also have to treat the cancer, but if you’re treating the cancer and still smoking… it won’t matter that you’ve treated the cancer. (This is a very imperfect analogy!!!!)
We have to change our lives and our habits. We have to. There is no way to continue on as we are at the individual level. There is no way to bring emissions down and still eat as much beef as we do, to still purchase as much fast fashion as we do, to still fly as much as we do. There is no way. All these practices will end at some point. The question is do they end because we changed our habits or because we died out?
Please believe me that I agree that it sucks. I agree WHOLEHEARTEDLY that it sucks to not eat beef and take a gas-guzzling car for a joy ride and to not fly as often. IT SUCKS ASS. But it’s better than the alternative (society collapsing, millions of people dying, ecosystems being eradicated, etc).
We actually have a very perfect metaphor for the case for individual action: mask usage. If a governmental plan to test, manufacture and distribute vaccines is akin to the global, large-scale action required to actually halt emissions growth, then mask wearing is a perfect analogy for the individual actions required that help slow growth. And frankly, right now—much like the pre-vaccine part of the pandemic—individual action is kind of all we have. We OF COURSE still have to do the big stuff and push hard for structural change from government leaders. Of course. But in the meantime, it is imperative for us all to do as much as we can. Which will, naturally, be different for different people; I am not suggesting that a single mother of four kids who is barely above the poverty line needs to go vegan. I am suggesting that if you’re about to buy a brand new $30,000 car, you buy an electric one at the bare minimum.
My point here isn’t to scold anyone other than myself, though. A few years back, I freaked out about climate change and made changes that helped—I’ll describe some below. And it lasted for a while, but then the fear left and life felt “normal” and “safe” and I let my guard down and I went back to life that was easier and more fun for me. Which is lovely! But not necessarily morally good. So, I’m using all my fear and rage and anxiety this week to go back to making better individual choices. Because we all HAVE TO. There really isn’t a choice, sorry. Again. I know it sucks ass!!! It’s going to be like the pandemic where we all hate what the world is like, but we don’t have another choice. That is what a lot of the future is going to look like. We have to find ways to mitigate and adapt and prepare now. Wish there were another choice but there is not.
So what am I doing? I’m going to start with three things that I care about that I think will help cut my own emissions a lot.
1) I’m going to stop eating beef. I’ve written about this before but consuming beef and cow products is usually the worst thing an individual does emissions-wise. I already don’t eat much beef at all, and very little meat in general, but I’m really cutting out beef again and I’m being more disciplined in general. I’m going to try to eat more veggies and maybe even try some new ones off of this list of 50 Foods to Eat to Save the World: https://www.treehugger.com/foods-save-world-4856188.
2) I’m going to stop shopping for clothes. I love shopping; it’s very addictive for me and I do it a lot when I’m anxious. I try to buy only second hand clothes, which is certainly better, but I do not need the amount of clothes I have. I’m also very guilty of buying fast fashion still. I’m going to go three months without making any new clothing purchases. I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but I have a real PROBLEM!!!!! I often buy a bunch of clothes and have them shipped to my house and then feel guilty about spending the money and return them which is even WORSE. This feels very evil and is truly embarrassing to admit, but whatever. For help staying accountable on this, I’m planning on starting a tik tok channel for all my little outfits that I already own. Is this ridiculous? Yes.
3) There is no way for this to not sound like an ad, but I’m going to finally—finally—switch my money from a big corporate bank who is notoriously bad for the climate and put it in something like Aspiration Bank or even a local credit union. Aspiration is one of many more eco friendly banking options and they have great reviews. I don’t know what I’m doing yet, but that’s my goal for this month!!!!
Anyway, there’s lots more to do, as ever, but starting individually and actually doing something is good. We need everyone to do something. We need everyone to take the individual actions that make the collective actions count. We need the people in power to understand that we demand climate action.
(Again, this is not prescriptive!!! You do you! But if you’re a well-off person who is freaking out about the planet and you have the time/resources to do something, DO SOMETHING. Start ANYWHERE. Get involved. TALK ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE).
Yes, I mean cabal. I’m having fun with language. This is where my editor would be like “word choice—consider revising” but I’m being fancy-free!!!!!!