The “I” in Climate Change

Fresh meats

On August 3rd, 2015 President Obama released his Clean Power Plan for the nation, the biggest move the U.S. government has ever made to specifically reduce climate changing greenhouse gas emissions on a nationwide scale.  The Plan aims to decrease carbon emissions from power plants 32% below 2005 levels by 2030.

Needless to say, the announcement was met with mixed responses.  “President Obama understands that climate change is the great planetary crisis facing us and that we must move boldly to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels and toward energy efficiency and renewable energy,” cheered Democratic Presidential nominee Bernie Sanders.  “President Obama’s Carbon Rule is irresponsible and overreaching. The rule runs over state governments, will throw countless people out of work, and increases everyone’s energy prices,” decried Republican Presidential nominee Jeb Bush.  The rift formed quickly down all-too-familiar party lines as the same old feet beat out their steps to the same tired old dance. Environment versus Economy.  Conservation versus Capitalism. Future versus Present.

I’m not sure exactly when environmental issues became a partisan topic. There was once a time when the Clean Air Act passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate.  But at some point during the 45 years since, while the Reds and Blues were slowly forming their kickball teams, the environment got shoved to the left when it had hoped to sit out and root for both sides.  This has certainly done nothing to help the movement.

For while the very notion of environmentalism has been poisoned for Team Red, having become nearly synonymous with Evile concepts like Socialism and Government Regulation, Team Blue has adopted a certain lackadaisical smugness concerning such issues. “I am a liberal person. I care about social equality, and the wage gap, and health care, and poverty, and I know there was something else…what was it… the environment! Oh yes! I care about the environment, too.”

The problem with all of this ideological lumping is that something always ends up falling through the cracks, and too often it seems like environmental protection ends of being that ‘something.’  While it is frustrating to hear the steady stream of vitriol and willful ignorance pour from Team Red over issues like climate change, it can be just as irksome – and in some ways more depressing – to watch the ‘progressive’ faction of our society float about in a sea of talk, churning up very little action.

If there is one snippet of advice that we could all stand to take from Team Red’s book, it’s that phrase about “personal responsibility.” Team Red loves personal responsibility! That is, unless the responsibility is to change their behaviors to be more environmentally responsible. Then they enjoy personal responsibility less.  In fact, no one seems to like that kind of personal responsibility. Team Blue often stumbles over this one, too. “Whaaaat? Not buy the latest iPhone every 6 months? Forgo ordering 8,000 things I don’t need on Amazon? GIVE UP BACON??? *Gasp!* *faint*.”  It is easy to crow over the Clean Power Plan’s victory over Big Coal, and less easy to admit that our individual actions are what fuels the belching towers of industry.

Whether Team Red wants to hear it or not, broad-sweeping top-down Federal regulations are absolutely imperative to the cause of slowing global climate change.  Climate change is just too big of a problem to delude ourselves into believing that we can solve it without these kind of high-level changes.  However.  They are not enough. Change must also come from the bottom-up, from each and every individual consumer saying “I will use less.”

As Americans, we all use too much.  We take up too much space, we eat too much food, we buy too much stuff, we burn too much oil.  I am just as guilty as the next person; and I am realistic enough to know that I am unwilling to take the drastic measures necessary to reduce my lifestyle overnight to something that would be considered “sustainable” for a 7-billion- (10-billion-, 15-billion-) person world.  But I can do something. I can change my behavior, even in a small way, to reduce my carbon footprint. I can create my own personal Clean Power Plan.

I’m not exactly the world’s biggest carnivore, but I have been noticing more meat sneaking into my diet lately. Meat consumption is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Dairy consumption is not much better – and I eat A LOT of dairy.  That is why I have challenged myself to cut out meat and limit dairy during the month of August (with the exception of what’s in the freezer already – waste not, want not).

But there are many ways to rethink one’s carbon footprint, and your personal Climate Challenge may be different from mine.  Can you cut out red meat for a month (beef is the biggest polluter)? Or eat meat/dairy-free one day per week? Or maybe you’ll ride your bike to work one day a week, take the bus more often this month, sign up for a carpool at work, change all your light bulbs to more energy efficient models, invest in an EnergyStar applicance, commit to reducing food waste this month by changing your buying habits, start a compost bin, buy food/other things that comes in less packaging, purchase wind energy from your utility company, go ‘bag free’ at the store (BYO!), or something else. Here are some more ideas to get you started.

Whether you love the Clean Power Plan or hate it, let it inspire you to take matters into your own hands.  We are all in this together. As Pope Francis has said in his encyclical on climate change, this is our one common home. How will you act on climate this summer?



5 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    akueper said,

    Reblogged this on Am Krunchy and commented:

    Reposted from my science blog.

  2. 2

    Brandon Breen said,

    Nice essay Kueps!

    • 3

      akueper said,

      Thanks, B! Just something I’ve been pondering lately.

      I’m trying to get better about writing more essays. I’d love to get another peek at your children’s book, btw!

      • 4

        Brandon Breen said,

        Sure thing. The story’s not quite ready yet, but making steady progress. I really liked your kickball teams analogy – Congress just like grade school, only the “kids” aren’t as sweet.

  3. 5

    akueper said,

    Yeah, I can’t help but think of our two-party system that way. Strange amalgamations of issues that don’t seem like they belong together, or don’t seem like they should belong to one “side” or the other. But neither side was willing to forego the opportunity to add another player.

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