Judging by my social media and the news articles, humans finally figured out that the climate crisis is 1) real, 2) going to kill us all. Obviously “all” is an incorrect word to use, because the rich – who are causing all this – will do just fine. (The American president, for instance, didn’t attend the climate summit – he, personally, doesn’t have to – yet.) A lot of post-apocalyptic cli-fi writers probably already described the new, crispy world that neither they nor I will be a part of, because we’ll be dead. When the climate anxiety becomes overwhelming, what can we really do apart from breaking down?
I’ve been doing my best to avoid politics, but the G7 summit, Mr Trump’s latest policies, and Mr Bolsonaro’s little ego trip – “I’ll only take your money if you apologise to me” – made me realise that it’s not going to be possible anymore. Because it’s not you or me who can really make a difference. It’s the rich and the politicians they bought.
Individual action doesn’t solve the problem, but…
Elizabeth Rush in Business Telegraph (this article was widely reprinted around the world):
Last fall, as I landed in New Orleans, a seed of existential anxiety lodged itself deep in my gut. It was my fifth flight in just over a week. I was in the middle of a tour to promote a book on how coastal communities around the US were already responding to the climate crisis […] I could see the landscape that my air travel would play a role in diminishing – the additional CO2 in the atmosphere melting Arctic sea ice and Antarctic glaciers, causing sea levels to rise. What am I doing here? I wondered.
[…] At the end of my presentation last year in in New Orleans, an audience member asked me whether I still have hope? […] The hope I do have resides in the fact that as the climate crisis comes home to us in deeply unsettling ways – in the form of heatwaves and freak storms, wildfires, and permafrost melt, twisting the world we know into new and disturbing shapes – it is also building unlikely coalitions amongst people who might not appear to share affinities at first glance.
(I recommend reading the entire piece.)
I’ve spent a good chunk of last week in my favourite hideaway – the Magical Garden, courtesy of my two wonderful friends, G and B. But I didn’t get as relaxed as I usually would. First, G showed me a picture of the garden a few weeks ago, during a drought. (See the main photo.) The grass turned yellow. Once the weather returned to normal, whatever “normal” even is these days, most of the grass returned to life. Most. G is resigned to the fact that the next year might be the last one when the garden will actually have any grass in it.
Later the same day I was busy mulling over the Amazon fires whilst sitting by a campfire on a rare occasion this summer – a cool evening. All of a sudden my back stiffened when I realised my absolutely favourite thing to do, one that calms me down more than any medication and/or meditation, felt wrong. What right do you have to criticise others? asked my dumb brain. You are practically Exxon yourself. Destroying the planet for fun. I suppose this was how Rush felt on the plane. I didn’t put any more wood, which by the way came from an old wooden pole that couldn’t be used for anything else, into the fire that evening.
I later did some maths. Assuming I used 10 kg of wood, my campfire produced approximately 9,63 kg of CO2. (source) CO2 production during a single round trip from NY to LA: 715 kg per passenger, equivalent to 1917 kg per passenger when the altitude is taken into account (source) – in “campfire units” that’s approximately 198 campfires per person. In 2015, which for Amazon standards was quite “peaceful” and the number of fires relatively low, the fires and deforestation produced 936000000000 kg of CO2. (source) In “campfire units”, that would be 96 billion, 294 million, 214 thousand, 800 campfires.
My grief moved from depression (there was no denial phase) right through to anger. I decided to do something, then scratched my head, thinking. What sort of something can I do that will help against 936,000,000,000 kg of CO2? How exactly can I tell the corporations and governments that they’re working really hard on destroying life on Earth and make them stop? Before I slipped back into depression the anger came up with an idea – or rather stole it from Chuck Wendig:
Yup. I’m going to be furiously hopeful out of spite. Fuck you, I’m not going to go extinct quietly and I’m not going to grieve the planet that, despite all the best efforts of the rich and powerful, still has some ice caps, glaciers, drinkable water left.
How do we heat the rich?
Obviously, there’s only one sensible answer. The only body part of a rich man that actually hurts is his wallet. Let’s hit their wallets as hard as we can.
There are things I can and can’t do. Because of my back injuries I can’t travel by train for sixteen hours to visit my family. I can pay extra to offset the CO2 emissions, but I am very much conscious of the fact that it doesn’t mean that the gases just… go somewhere, it just means that I’m using the “allowance” of those who couldn’t possibly afford to produce the pollution themselves. (By the way, I believe that all flight prices should be doubled and the extra money directed to fighting the climate catastrophe.) What I can do, however, is limiting my own consumption.
I’ve been getting there for quite a while now. I don’t remember the last time I bought a t-shirt, which I used to do more or less habitually. In fact, the only pieces of new clothing I bought in the last year were socks, underwear, and a baseball cap to replace the one I lost. The pair of jeans (yes, “the” pair, I have one) I own is in the process of falling apart. I intend to replace it with a second-hand pair. That’s for you, modern clothing industry that tells us to replace our entire wardrobe every three months.
We don’t have a car and don’t really need one. Husby, however, will be buying an electric bike, which we will charge using energy from renewable sources. Otherwise when we need to travel within the borders of the country we’ll take a train. That’s for you, fossil fuel industry.
I upgraded my electronics last year. I used to be the sort of person who just gets a new phone every two years because, uh, it’s new and new things are cool. This will not happen soon unless something breaks beyond repair. My laptop is perfectly fine. So is my seven-year-old desktop, which in 2012 was the pinnacle of modern technology and now is simply fast enough. The phone I now own isn’t the latest model, but the only thing I intend to do with it is replace the battery once it starts dying on me. That’s for you, electronic polluters (please don’t make the mistake of believing Apple is environmentally neutral).
I’m quitting beef, effective immediately. A cow produces between 100 and 500 liters of methane per day, depending on the source. This is not exactly a scientific way to calculate, but let’s take 250 liters. That’s 0,14 kg of methane, which converts to 23×0,14 = an equivalent of 3,22 kg of CO2. This means that three cows produce as much CO2 per day as my campfire. There are 1,5 billion cows in the world and the reason why the Amazon forests are being set on fire on purpose is to breed more cows. I’ve got a lot of leather clothing. Leather clothes last forever. I won’t be getting any more. That’s for you, Mr Bolsonaro.
I will only fly when I must. This, unfortunately, means “every time I travel further than to Germany”. There really isn’t much I can do, except taking a lot of painkillers before the trip, but I can travel less. That’s for you, fossil fuel companies.
Our new house is much more energy efficient than the apartment we live in now (this is not difficult). We will not have gas and we’ll only use electricity from renewable sources. It was a conscious choice. That’s for you, fossil fuel companies.
I don’t buy plastic bags. I have a textile bag in my backpack. Instead of plastic bottles I use a metal thermos that Husby got from work years ago and we both forgot it existed. That’s for you, fossil fuel companies.
The same garden as on the main picture – during the first heatwave of 2019, in March.
Will they notice?
It depends on literally everyone.
I am privileged and aware of it, because I can actually afford both to buy a new laptop and to decide not to do so. I’ve got enough clothes to last me a decade, except perhaps that one pair of jeans. I don’t need to eat beef, because I’ve got choice. Our new energy contract comes from a company that doesn’t even offer fossil fuel based energy anymore. I will never vote for a climate crisis denier, but here in the Netherlands I have a whole range of political parties to pick between.
There are people who own 15-year-old cars which will never satisfy any pollution/environmental standards, but those people can’t afford anything else. There are also people who buy giant 4x4s that burn tons of diesel fuel, because those people have very tiny penises. Typo? No, not really. I firmly believe that 10% of those cars are bought by people who actually need them and 90% by men who are compensating.
As of 2019, Jeff Bezos alone is worth $160 billion. (source) Entire beef industry in Brazil in 2015 generated 19,63% of global production, its value being €4,31 billion. (source) Amazon, worth $800 billion, paid $0 in federal US taxes in 2018… or rather in fact received extra $129 million. (source) Bezos – on his own, without any external help at all – could pay Brazil €4,31 billion a year for decades and stop the deforestation and destruction. Wouldn’t it be a brilliant marketing move – Amazon saving Amazon? Instead, Amazon-the-company moved from recycled paper packaging to plastic envelopes that can’t be recycled. That’s going to be between 4 and 5 billion packages a year. That’s me no longer buying anything else than e-books or second-hand books that can’t be found anywhere else from Amazon.
A lot of us are directing our fear and anger in the wrong direction.
Another economic crisis is coming. As always, fingers will be pointed at the poor and weak. Immigrants simultaneously stealing our jobs and taking our benefits – immigrants are very talented like that. The rich will pay even less tax, the banks will get tons of money from the government (also known as your pockets). The American president, and no doubt many others, will use the crisis as an excuse for destroying the environment further and producing more jobs in the fossil fuel industry.
How about not falling for that one again, and instead voting for people who want to tax the rich and help the poor instead of going the other way round?
Fear, anger, hope
Yes, I’m afraid. I decided that I actually really like being alive. I’ve also experienced three enormous (for Dutch standards) heatwaves this year alone. I got dizzy and nauseous from the heat on that hottest day ever in the Netherlands, but I was lucky enough to be in a place where I could just plop myself into water and stay there without moving or doing anything until I no longer felt sick. I’m 41 years old. My mum is 68 and her health is not exactly great. I’m afraid for her, for my husband, for horses, dogs, fish, plants, glaciers, entire countries, for myself.
Yes, I’m angry. I got to the point where I am going to make my purchase choices based on their carbon footprint and trying to lower my own contributions to the environment’s destruction. Not to zero – I’d have to actually die for that and I decided not to. The carbon footprint of red meat follows: lamb – 39,2 kg (per 1 kg of lamb!), beef – 27 kg, pork – 12,1 kg. (source) I know myself enough to know that switching to vegan diet would just make me resent every meal and eventually go back to my old habits, but simply replacing beef with chicken (6,9 kg or four times less per kg) is going to help. That, for me, is perfectly doable.
Yes, I’ve got hope. Not because of my individual actions. But the G7 summit, where the G7 leaders offered a miserable $20 million to fight the fires – compared to Leonardo DiCaprio, who offered $5 million, 25% of what the seven richest countries managed to scrap together – gave me hope, because it became clear that the ruling class is beginning to notice the pressure. Way too slowly, yes, but until now all the talks ended with nodding that yes, something should be done, maybe even quite soon indeed. When even fossil fuel companies appeal to the American president not to dismantle the limitations placed on them by Obama’s administration, I feel hope. Because it means the stockholders noticed the heat (pun intended). Good.
And here’s some Iceland for you.