There’s a point when the mercury refuses to drop where we’re willing to try almost anything.
We fill bathtubs with ice water. We push our air conditioners and electrical grids well past breaking point. We indulge in ice cream.
All of these, Band-Aids. They help here and now. They don’t help there and then. They’ll make you feel better, at least for long enough for the season to change. It’s remarkable how fast new weather replaces old memories.
But if you’ve been paying attention to the pot of scalding water, it’s been getting hotter. A little bit each year. And it’s boiling right now. Science tells us it’ll continue.
Unless we do something. Try something. Make sacrifices. Like using less AC in the summer. Or wearing more layers in the winter.
Or get politically involved. Push your representatives to hold the worst industry polluters accountable. Ask them to focus on green, renewable energy.
Then there’s the big changes. The lifestyle ones you can do today, here and now. The no-longer-eating-meat-and-driving-less ones. The ones a vegan columnist writes about and the ones that don’t feel good now but will later. Especially when your children aren’t boiling.
Eat less meat (especially red)
We’ll start here since this is a food column after all.
According to a 2017 study of individual lifestyle choices and how they can reduce personal share of emissions, a team of researchers found that the simple act of eating no meat cuts an individual’s carbon footprint by 820 kilograms of carbon dioxide each year.
That’s because animal-based foods tend to have an enormous impact on our environment. They require large amounts of energy to grow, and many of them consume more food than they could ever hope to output, according to carbonbrief.org, despite our best efforts to speed their growth with hormones.
The No. 1 culprit are cows, which produce a large amount of methane. They also take longer to grow than chicken or pigs, and they take up much more land.
Beef production is also a leading cause of deforestation, as is animal agricultural in general. The World Animal Foundation estimates that 56 million acres of land are used to feed farmed animals, while only 4 million acres produce plants for human consumption.
Simply put: Cutting back on meat or cutting it out entirely will help to massively reduce your footprint in a way that’s as easy as opting for a veggie burger instead of the real thing.
Avoid waste and at all costs; never buy palm oil
It’s surprisingly easy to do extensive harm living a plant-based lifestyle.
That’s because the more you look, the more you’ll see a parasitic ingredient worming its way into nearly everything vegan. I’m talking of course about palm oil.
While it’s already in nearly everything (about 50% of all packaged products in supermarkets, according to the World Wildlife Federation), it’s increasingly used in nut butters and vegan sweets.
It’s exploded in popularity in recent years, and while it’s the plant itself that’s the problem, actually getting to it is the issue. It’s found in jungle-covered rainforest terrain, meaning for humans to access it, we first burn around it. That means deforestation in some of Earth’s most diverse areas, endangering rare species and releasing greenhouse gases.
And that goes to waste in general – on average, according to EPA statistics, an American produces about 4.4 pounds of trash per day, with about 1.51 pounds recycled per day.
Scale that up, and we’re looking at about 254 million tons – collectively – a year. That’s bad for our oceans (hello, Pacific garbage patch), bad for our landfills and bad for our bodies as microplastics are literally inhaled and ingested.
Whether that’s a bad thing – the jury is out.
Drive less or live car-free
I’ve already harped on Spokane’s obsession with drive-thru food, but seriously, this city has a car problem.
Everything from the giant, ugly, downtown parking lots to the four-lane roads jutting every direction to the cavalcade of drive-thru coffee stands – it all screams “Spokane loves driving.”
And I get it – sans two or three neighborhoods, hardly anywhere in this city is truly walkable. Much of north Spokane is food barren, with a grocery store or convenience store miles away from the most densely populated areas.
But we also have buses. And they come quite often. They’re cheap to ride, they’re comfortable, they’re pumped full of AC, and the best part – they’re driving that way anyway. Whether you choose to ride has little-to-no impact on its gas usage.
Moving from the Seattle area – where I lived most of my life – I was shocked to see just how empty Spokane’s buses are, even the ones that service the hills in the middle of winter.
Maybe it’s a class thing, likely comfort, but I challenge you to ride the bus at least once this year. I promise it’s not as bad as you’re expecting.
Have fewer children
It’s the elephant in the room, and it always will be.
In the study on individual actions that can help reduce climate change, the No. 1 way to reduce carbon footprint by a country mile was having one fewer child.
As Craig K. Chandler, a professor at the University of Florida, writes: “Simply put, it is for many an issue too sensitive to be raised, too divisive to be considered … but yet too important to be ignored.”
It’s a difficult subject because it should be. Nobody has a say – legally, anyway – in how many children you have and how you structure your family. For many, having children is a culmination of everything – the most important decision a person can make.
And yet, our booming population and its impact on climate change cannot be overlooked.
Tamar Haspel, in a 2014 Washington Post story on the benefits of a vegetarian diet, writes, “No amount of bean-eating or Prius-driving will compensate for reproducing, and it’s the childless, not the vegetarians, who are more likely to save the planet.
“Which doesn’t mean that we should ignore the benefits of beans and Prii – or that we shouldn’t have kids – it just means that we should acknowledge that human survival takes a climatic toll.”
Millennials already aren’t having as many kids as generations before (likely because they can’t afford them), so maybe this is all moot.
But if you’re like me, a decision to have a child should weigh heavily against a moral conscious. Especially when considering what type of life awaits. Whether we do something or just crank up the AC.
Is it more heat domes, or are we willing to do something?
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