The year 2020 has the strange feel of the first chapter of a dystopian novel, but the idea that something needs to be done about climate change is not new. The question then arises. Are we in time to heal the planet?
Almost 30 years ago, during the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, a strong push began to reduce consumption and move towards sustainability.
Then, in 2015, the Paris Climate Agreement clarified that the way we produce and consume is directly related to sustainability and climate change. The science behind carbon emissions and climate change is clear: we cannot sustain our consumption and pollution without permanent repercussions.
But to most people, all the facts, figures, and political jargon sound like underwater conversation. As the political elite argued about accountability, responsibility and regulation, most Americans have ignored the conversation.
If we've learned anything in 2020 in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, as we watched the air and water clear in a matter of weeks, it's that we are more powerful as individuals than we give ourselves credit for.
It's time to stop waiting for directives and respond to our own call to action. Individually and collectively, we can make a difference.
Amplified individual power
While the world gaped at the horror of Australia's wildfires in late 2019 and early 2020, rumors about climate change broke out in family discussions, at least on the west coast of the United States, where the wildfires they threaten communities in larger areas every year.
When COVID-19 hit American soil in March, millions of Americans started staying home. We regretted the sudden absence of toilet paper, viewed Netflix as a full-time job, depleted our stacks of books to read, and allowed food and meals to be delivered to our doorsteps.
When we looked out of our rainy windows, mimicking the MTV videos of the 1990s with our soulful gazes, we began to notice that our streets were not empty. Animals that we consider wild wandered the streets in our absence. Our skies seemed bluer. The waterways that used to scare us seemed clear and welcoming.
And in some coastal waters there were those ...dolphins?What was happening?
Environmentalists and climate scientists began to blow up social media. They hooked us on images and then peppered us with powerful images of drastic change.
We all stayed home, making memes and communicating via Zoom while the Earth was healing. When we stopped traveling, all our emissions plummeted.
Not only were we having an impact by staying home during the global pandemic and dramatically reducing our carbon emissions, but as it turned out, we were also increasing our use of renewable resources, according to the International Energy Agency. In 2020 we have learned that we can make a difference as individuals, collectively.
Change doesn't have to be limited to politics, each of us has the power to make an impact. Collectively, we can change the world.
Drawing on the lessons of the past
Unfortunately, these results won't last without effort. After the 2009 recession in the United States, emissions plummeted with the economic downturn and then rose with the recovery, rising 6% the following year. The thing about sustainability is that you have to sustain it.
I can't recycle a single-use plastic bottle and then announce that I have solved our plastic crisis. No, I have to keep trying.
Unfortunately, we can't all stay home forever, living the American dream without pants, but we also don't have to go back to wasting ourselves like starving dogs.
I'm not suggesting that we live in fear of viruses and climate change, but we should live as responsible stewards of our Earth so that we can continue to hike in the redwood forests, snorkel over coral reefs, and breathe deeply as we walk the streets of Our city.
As lockdown restrictions increase, we must continue to weigh our wants and needs. We have already become experts at this during this pandemic. We should shop carefully, work from home when we can, make fewer trips to the store, plant a garden, carpool, get our bikes out, and plan our vacations with our impacts in mind.
I understand that not everyone can afford to make all of these changes, but we can all make some of them. We can affect climate change, with or without government policy. This doesn't have to be the beginning of a dystopian novel. We got to write our own history.
I've gotten over the dystopias. Instead, let's write a utopia together.