Home Columns Climate Change: We Can All Help Reduce the Damage

Climate Change: We Can All Help Reduce the Damage

By Dan Hemenway

At long last, climate change has imposed itself on almost everyone’s mind. Floods, droughts, forest fires, tornadoes and other violent storms, and broad-scale disruption of ocean ecosystems have become difficult to ignore. 

I find it disturbing, the popular call for governments and big business to solve the complex issue of climate change by themselves. We certainly can try to hold them accountable to reduce the principal problems: excess emissions of carbon dioxide and methane. (Good luck with that.) However, we need to recognize that climate chaos is largely a consequence of lifestyles. As long as we live in comparative affluence, we have the power to make changes that mitigate climate chaos. Either we adjust our lifestyles or our lifestyles will be destroyed by climate disruption. Earth does not have to be as well-behaved as she has been.

Aggregate Effect

Largely, Vermonters still practice to a considerable degree personal responsibility, community self-reliance, and holding local governments responsible. While each individual’s choices and actions, particularly regarding consumption, contribute only slightly to the global problem, such effects accumulate. 

We are social animals. Once a significant number of us reduce consumption and act with concern for climate chaos, others will be encouraged to do likewise. I believe that there is already a nucleus of people in the Montpelier area with whom others of us can join to create what is known as aggregate effect.

Conservation is the First Resource

To reduce climate disturbance, we can adopt or intensify conservation. For most of us, our lifestyles include owning more clothes than we need, using more energy than we require, increased reliance on remote sources for our goods, using our natural resources without regard to management concerns or limits of sustainability, etc. We feel entitled to do or use whatever we can pay for, often on credit.

How many pairs of shoes do you own? Do you wear them out before buying new shoes? These are questions a speaker asked at an alternative economics conference I attended in Ithaca, N.Y. in the 1980s. (The other side of that question is: How many of our brothers and sisters have scant or no footwear?) The point was that most of us have more than we strictly need. That wiggle room entails responsibility. We can change in many ways with little inconvenience and no suffering.

What Can We Change?

The short answer is, “just about everything.” But, extreme change is individually and socially destabilizing. Select changes that you can manage personally. Once one change is effected, the next change likely will become obvious. Considering the consequences of each decision can become natural, increasingly reducing damage to the local and global ecosystem. I offer a list of kinds of change that can soften, and sometimes reverse, our carbon footprint. Just about anyone can enlarge this list considerably. (There are many other strategies that we can adopt at the county and state level.)

Consider the consequences of your actions and purchases. At first this can become tedious and irritating. After a few considered decisions, the process becomes habitual.

  • Non-essentials: Only you can decide what is essential to you and what is not. 
  • Evaluate purchases including the following criteria: Can I make it myself? Is it produced locally? What are the environmental costs? Local? Global?
  • Food: Can I grow it or something comparable myself? Is it grown locally? (Supporting CSAs and local farms has many advantages, including reduced carbon footprint.) How far has it been shipped? Have I minimized buying meat produced on factory farms? Have I bought locally produced meat when feasible? Can we reduce or eliminate meat in our diet?
  • Transportation: Can I walk or bike to my destination? Can I use public transportation? If I drive, can I arrange a loop so I cover all my business in one trip? Do I really need to fly? Do I really need to go?
  • Home: Have I maximized weatherization and insulation? Is it cost-efficient to consider installing a heat pump? Have I investigated heating with low-carbon output when it is time to retire my furnace? Does the household observe ordinary conservation of energy and water by using only what is needed and turning off items not in use?
  • Cooking: If cooking with gas, can I switch to electricity? Do I cover pots and turn down heat to conserve energy, and use the lowest setting to boil water? Do I turn the oven off when food is almost cooked, and let the residual heat in the oven finish the job?
I could continue this list for pages, but you get the idea. 

Your Best is Perfect

Do not beat yourself up for what you have not changed. If you have done your best, you have a perfect record. No one can do better than their best. In time, your best will grow.

Dan Hemenway was a permaculture teacher, publisher, and designer from 1981 until his retirement in about 2010. He has international awards in conservation and community service and five advanced degrees from the International Permaculture Institute. He is also the father of the Managing Editor of this publication, Cassandra Hemenway.