When it comes to taking action to mitigate the catastrophic impacts of climate change, many of us claim we’re doing what we can. What does “can” really mean? Are we talking about what we are physically, emotionally, or financially capable of doing? Are we seriously stretching our limits, curbing our capitalist appetites, or reducing our fossil fuel consumption? Be honest: does convenience factor heavily into what we say we can do?
No guilt trip here, trust me – that’s an old environmentalist strategy. We have been conditioned in similar ways, and the harsh realities of what we’re learning and seeing are at odds with the serene lifestyles we thought were assured by The American Dream. We face our problematic habits, our indulgence, and our waste with different responses. As we witness the systemic failures of an extractive economy whose goal is continual growth, our discomfort grows. We realize we’ve subscribed to a system and mindset that have led us to this precarious moment.
It should be no surprise that Americans benefit from a disproportionate usage of resources. “‘A child born in the United States will create thirteen times as much ecological damage over the course of his or her lifetime than a child born in Brazil,’ reports the Sierra Club’s Dave Tilford, adding that the average American will drain as many resources as 35 natives of India and consume 53 times more goods and services than someone from China,” reported Scientific American – over a decade ago.
“With less than 5 percent of world population, the U.S. uses one-third of the world’s paper, a quarter of the world’s oil, 23 percent of the coal, 27 percent of the aluminum, and 19 percent of the copper,” Tilford reported in 2012.
From 1970-2017, the United States and the European Union were accountable for 74% of resource extraction globally, according to Open Access Government. That extraction includes logging, extracting rock, oil, natural gas, and other materials and requires excavation, drilling, boring, and other methods.
“Researchers analyzing the national responsibility for ecological breakdown – through calculating the extent to which each nation has overshot their fair share of sustainable resource use thresholds – find that excessive global resource extraction fast tracks CO₂ emissions and increases ecological damage. Resource extraction of natural materials is swiftly escalating climate change, not only in terms of CO₂ emissions, but also in land-use change, biodiversity loss, chemical pollution, and biogeochemical flows,” Open Access Government reports.
Wait, how do these global statistics relate to little ol’ us? We’re just living our lives “the best we can” and trying to do our part to minimize harm, right? Each and everyone of us is the per capita, though. The negative consequences of our combined behaviors, many of which are positively sanctioned by both government and corporations alike, are what we’re facing. And it’s alarming, isn’t it?
Let’s return to “doing what we can.” Surely we recycle. It’s the right thing to do, and we have been for a long time, right?
“‘By the 1960s, the first recycling programs linked to people’s concern for the environment started popping up,’ says Martin Melosi, author of Fresh Kills: A History of Consuming and Discarding in New York City. That’s when Rachel Carson and others were pushing the science of ecology and Lyndon B. Johnson started passing a lot of environmental legislation. ‘As the environmental movement begins to take hold on a national scale, recycling was seen as a personal manifestation of helping the environment,’ Melosi says,” in this History Channel piece.
“Curbside recycling currently recovers only about 32 percent of what is available in single-family homes, according to The Recycling Partnership. If the remainder were recycled each year, based on calculations through the EPA’s Waste Reduction Model, which determines emissions savings stemming from waste-management practices, TRP has found that ‘would also reduce U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions by 96 million metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent,’ [TRP CEO Keefe] Harrison said,” in The Atlantic.
Improper recycling practices aside (including careless discards in UUCA’s social hall), can our well-intentioned efforts offset the adverse impacts of our voracious consumption? Jan Dell, a chemical engineer and founder of the Last Beach Cleanup, points to “the Jevons paradox, the economic idea that increasing the efficiency of a resource’s use also increases its consumption. Rather than prioritizing fixing recycling, she said, people should place greater emphasis on scaling back their waste to begin with,” in The Atlantic.
Scale back our waste, reduce our consumption, reuse and repurpose rather than purchase new… Can we do all that when waste disposal is financially inexpensive, when the marketing of new “stuff” is so alluring, and when convenience makes disposal an attractive time saver? Can we recognize the prevalence of privilege that insulates us from seeing the environmental damage caused by our “normal” lives? Can we adjust our habits, address the inequities baked into our systems, and advocate with family, friends, and elected officials for urgent changes to mitigate further suffering caused by climate change?
Yes, we can. The question is: What are we willing to do?
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This week, the Climate Action Team funded two large grant requests from the Carbon Offset Fund. The first provides $10,730 to pay for the EV (electric vehicle) chargers that have been installed in the church parking lot and were initially financed through Project Phoenix’s construction loan. The second grant provides $3,681 to secure a campus permaculture design plan from Shades of Green, an Atlanta regenerative landscape design, build, and education firm. The CAT is grateful to the generous donors over the past four years who made funding these proposals possible. If you traveled this summer and would like to help offset the carbon emissions of your trips, please donate to the Carbon Offset Fund.
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JOURNEY WITH US: The Climate Action Team is for you. Yes, you. Because you want to act on your love for the planet and because you need caring companions as you navigate these changing times. Learn all about the group here, and check out our lending library and Carbon Offset Fund. Contact Nicole Haines to connect to the CAT and join us for our next meeting in person on Saturday, Sept. 23, at 1:30 PM in the church sanctuary.