Opting for inconvenience (over annihilation)

Since my climate reckoning, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, worrying, panicking, and pondering. And experimenting.

Can individual choices make a difference?

Is there anything to do? Will anything we do at the individual level make a difference?  How can the actions of one small human family make any difference in the face of an unfolding global catastrophe?

I don’t know. Part of me recognizes the futility of it all; it’s just a drop in the ocean.  But at the same time, I love this place, this Earth. Living in a way that demonstrates my respect, reverence, and love seems important.

If everything is connected…then, of course, it makes a difference

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” – John Muir

One of my fundamental beliefs is the concept of interconnectedness.  Everything is connected.

Systems theory tells us that everything is made up of groups of objects that work together to produce a result (a system).  To change a system, change an action at a leverage point and that creates a new pattern in the system.

In college, I was introduced to the Gaia Hypothesis, the theory that Earth is one giant complex living system.  Just like your body is a complex living system, but has other organisms living within it- your gut is the landscape in which an entire community lives: your gut biome. The universe is made up of these nested systems.

So how do we change our role in the systems impacting climate change?

Understanding our ‘Carbon Footprint’

How do we even measure individuals’ contributions to climate change? One way is the concept of a ‘carbon footprint’.  There are several online calculators that can give you an estimate of the carbon costs of your lifestyle.

To me, the point of these isn’t to compare yourself to others, it’s to identify the areas in your personal life that are the greatest contributors to carbon emissions or the easiest places to make some changes.

So don’t rest on your laurels, satisfied that your footprint is smaller than most Americans.  We need to be at net zero emissions. We need to make our footprints as small as possible. (And that is really small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, anyway.)


Earth is a closed system, with finite resources.  We need to behave with this in mind. Consumer culture is literally killing us.

Upstream and downstream

I’ve heard a quote, which I think has been attributed to my neighbor Bill McKibben, that ‘we all live upstream, we all live downstream’ – meaning that our actions impact others just as the actions of others impact us.

So what can we do?

Food, transportation, energy use, waste, retail: some systems we interact with daily

Every day we make choices.  And these choices have ripple effects: both upstream and down.

Take our food choices, consider:

  • Upstream: the food itself has a carbon footprint, how the food was grown & produced- resources, land use, energy inputs, how far it traveled to your plate, how the humans who produced it were treated and compensated for their labor?
  • Downstream: how nutritious or nourishing is the food for your body, what packaging is left over, where does that packaging go, what happens to leftover food- does it rot in a landfill with its packaging or does it decompose and nourish future plants?

There’s a lot to consider when you’re pondering the cheese stick versus the apple. The New York Times has a great interactive resource when exploring your impact on food systems.

And we’re consumers, part of numerous systems, where our choices have upstream and downstream impacts.

And we can all do better.

The Mall of America is completely unnecessary (and contributing to the problem). Pic from my last airplane-trip ever: to Minneapolis in May for work.

Progress not perfection

It’s easy to become paralyzed by all that we could be doing, where to start, or how far we have to go. But just stop overthinking it. And stop comparing yourself. Just change one thing to tip your scale toward ‘better’, and when that’s solid, change something else.

Some choices my family is making

  • driving less: our home is rural and remote (and mountainous- so biking is a serious challenge), so instead we’re consolidating trips to town, and walking when we can.  We want to do a lot more in this area, as it’s our major source of emissions, but we celebrate progress and keep trying to improve
  • reducing our meat consumption: we’ve been solid omnivores for all of our lives, so to improve we’re aiming for two vegetarian dinners per week (breakfast is already there, and we’re experimenting with lunchtime now that summer is here), once that habit is established, we’d love to get to where our few meat meals are from locally or self-produced meat
  • reducing waste: we already recycled everything, and now we are reusing every damn plastic bag that comes into our house.  I bring used bread bags to the grocery store for produce and bulk items, and I’m starting to make purchasing decisions based on the packaging (or lack thereof)
  • reducing consumption: not buying stuff whenever possible, buying used when possible (clothing, household goods), using our local library
  • not flying: my husband decided to stop flying years ago (which is why we drove – all 5 of us – in the Prius to Florida for April Vacation), and with sadness I’ve decided to no longer fly either.
  • growing (some of) our own food:  we’ve been members of a local organic vegetable CSA for six years, and they’re the best, but we want to be able to depend on ourselves to produce some food, so we’re experimenting in our mountain climate this year
  • returning lawn to grassland: we’re also going to mow less of our lawn, and let some of it return to wild grasses and flowers, which are better for pollinators anyway

Here are a few other ideas.  Not gamechangers, but something.

Al Gore was right in one respect when he called climate change ‘An Inconvenient Truth‘:

Reducing our individual carbon emissions is downright inconvenient at best (and nearly impossible at worst)

Our culture is set up to prioritize convenience at the expense of everything else. Fast fashion, fast food, single-use plastics, the list goes on.  Everyone else is doing it isn’t a good enough reason for me anymore.  I want out.  And it’s going to cost me.  I will have to relinquish conveniences, pleasures.  I will go without.  I will miss out.

Making better choices is going to be painful, but less painful than the alternative

We can be inconvenienced, or we can potentially keep on enjoying our conveniences on the way to human extinction. We have less than 12 years left to change the direction we’re heading.  As consumers, we do have a lot of power.  If enough of us demand change and opt out of the consumer lifestyle, maybe things will shift.

And the planet is still burning: and this is still an emergency

Just to be clear, making these small (though incongruently difficult and inconvenient) changes in our lifestyle won’t save us, and don’t absolve us of our responsibility to make noise, tell the truth, and fight power, greed, and wealth.

What we do matters.

So do something.

It’s not enough, but it’s something.

What actions are you taking to reduce your emissions?  How’s it going?



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