Hot and Bothered: Change for the Climate!

Plastic Bagsby Julie at ProgressiveKid

There is no shortage of nature loving in my extended family. Among us are hikers, bird watchers, gardeners, animal lovers, campers, and even a few eco-activists. When we travel, we often seek out parks and preserves or cabins on wild beaches, and we come back with a tedious number of photos of wildlife and nature scapes. So it is perplexing to me that many of them have failed to take basic steps to address climate change at home. I’ll admit, in fact, it is at times quite maddening, especially since I wrote a book on climate change, regularly blog about it, created an educational game on climate change, and make appearances to educate kids and parents on the subject.

It isn’t that my family doesn’t support what I’m doing. On the contrary, some of them have been extremely helpful and supportive of my efforts. Yet these same parents, siblings, and in-laws in many cases have not switched to fluorescents light bulbs, don’t bring reusable bags to stores, buy water in plastic bottles, only intermittently recycle, do not compost, burn lamps in unoccupied rooms, use toxic cleaners and pesticides, buy egregiously overpackaged products, and the list continues.

When it comes to carbon output, I am not perfect. There are still obvious changes my own immediate family hasn’t made, the worst of which is not signing up to stop junk mail. However, here are some of the changes my partner, daughter, and I have made, in most cases years or even decades ago: composting; using nontoxic cleaners and fertilizers; buying organic; planting native plants and reducing yard grass; using a manual mower; not watering grass; using cold water in the laundry; reducing driving; air drying dishes and most laundry; reducing meat consumption; buying more locally produced food and small-farm-produced food; changing to fluorescent light bulbs; plugging appliances into power strips and switching them off the grid when not in use; catching and recycling water in rain barrels; supporting environmental groups and wildlife and animal shelters; rescuing needy animals; creating animal habitat in the yard; organizing neighborhood ivy pulls; picking up trash in public places; signing up for green energy from the power company; turning off lights; limiting appliance reliance; recycling; treading lightly in wilderness areas; avoiding excessively packaged products; reducing overall consumption; and working professionally toward green awareness and climate change education.

Reducing one’s drain on the grid and living in a more Earth-aware way is a learning process and a changing process for each of us, and it realistically cannot happen overnight. My point is not to judge or assert my moral superiority because I compost. My extended family for the most part is a pretty enlightened bunch of people who care about the state of life on Earth, not just their own immediate solar system of house, yard, family, and friends. In fact it is just how relatively progressive they are that concerns me. These are informed people who want the best for their kids and grandkids. If they aren’t making enough changes, who is?

Part of the impetus to change will need to come from government policy directives, through laws, subsidies, financing, and tax incentives. Many of us—including me—simply do not have affordable access to renewable energy sources and cannot pay to install things like new composting toilets and solar panels without help. And new technologies and transportation options will help many of us take steps toward fossil fuel independence that are not quite yet realistic.

Yet there are many, many things that each of us can, should, and must do right now to reduce carbon emissions, repair our local ecosystems, and begin to reimagine our lives in a way that makes more sense. I need to get off junk mail and try to reduce my driving even more. My parents need to set aside their skepticism about fluorescent light bulbs and make the switch. My neighbors need to plant more trees and bushes so they can stop using that rider mower to cut their oversized grassy lawn. My Park District needs to eliminate pesticide use at area parks and stop using leaf blowers. My community needs to hold its government accountable for enforcing building zoning violations of illegally cut trees. My fellow shoppers need to remember their reusable bags. My grocery store needs to require its vendors to reduce their packaging. And the list goes on.

Each of us needs to get serious about saving our extraordinary home planet, the only one we know of with a climate that can support life. That means if you haven’t made changes, get started. If you’ve already made changes, make more. If your friends and/or family need help, talk with them, share information, and together promise to work toward a goal of making a change each month and swap progress stories. Take more steps. Volunteer, run for office, write articles, start a community organic garden, teach, start a tree planting campaign. Do whatever you can!

For those of you who don’t believe in climate change, you will. But for the ones who know it is real but vaguely think it will get taken care of somehow by others or that you will deal with it later when you are more “ready” or that you are too old to change or that there is nothing you can do anyway, listen up! There is NO TIME to waste. You can do things that matter and get your friends and family to do things too. You owe it if not to yourself then to your kids and grandkids to do your part. We have a small window that is closing month by month in which to keep our climate from reaching an inalterable pattern of dangerous warming and irreversible biofeedback loops. Scientific consensus is that if human business as usual continues, the foundation of all life on Earth—our climate—will increasingly make this planet uninhabitable for life as we know it. Oceans will become vast dead zones, lakes and rivers will dry up, soil will become infertile, vast numbers of species will die off, food webs will collapse, diseases will worsen and spread, storms will decimate communities, and climate refugee populations will threaten the social order of human societies around the world. Sound like outlandish Biblical fatalism? These things are already happening in the world’s oceans and on every continent across our planet.

I’m reminded of that often-quoted Gandhi statement, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” If not you, who?

Julie Hall is the author of the new book A Hot Planet Needs Cool Kids: Understanding Climate Change and What You Can Do About it and the founder of the green online store ProgressiveKid.

Image by Sam Felder, 2007, Creative Commons license

© 2008 ProgressiveKid

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