I'm participating in Blog Action Day today, which means that I'm joining thousands of bloggers in writing about this year's topic - Climate Change.
Not all climate change is the fault of us humans - events such as volcanic eruptions and natural causes affect the climate. But we do, as a species, have a big effect on the planet, and some of what we do has such a very big effect that it can even change the climate.
This is a bad thing because if the climate changes too much, then a lot of the other species that live in it will start to die out because conditions become too adverse for them, plus of course then we are affected too.
For this post, I have two points. (1) It's easy to only care about what affects us directly, but the responsible thing to do is to care about long-term impacts of our actions. (2) Often we aren't even aware of our own impact because we don't see it.
Point Number One:
Right now, I'm not affected by the pollution I cause. Well, I might cough if stand next to a car's exhaust pipe, but it doesn't change my life. My children and their children, on the other hand, WILL be affected by the pollution I cause, because too much pollution changes the climate in the long run, which in turn affects everything.
We know this. But do we really care?
There have always been a few people who carpooled or rode bicycles to cut down on vehicle use, and we laughed at them for being silly, and we laughed at them when they brought their cloth bags to the shops, and we laughed when they went on about putting bricks in their toilet cisterns and catching rainwater in buckets. Environmentalist hippies, hah.
These days, more people are carpooling, and pretty much everyone in Malta takes bags with them when they go shopping, loads of families have embarked on efforts to cut down on their geyser use, and cistern bricks abound. Most of this, though, has nothing to do with caring about the environment, and everything to do with taxes and rising utilities prices.
We've seen it happen over and over again - people hear the environmentalist gospel and don't care at all, but are quite happy to scramble for solutions when their wallets get hit.
This is an irresponsible attitude and we're not going to get very far with it.
Think of the children!
Big decisions aren't taken by us on a personal level, they're taken by the politicians we elect, as they weigh short-term financial gains of established technology against the long-term environmental gains of new, expensive technology.
We can help by electing politicians who care about the future, and by holding them accountable.
But on a personal level, we are each responsible for the effects of our actions, and although one person's efforts don't have much global effect, if enough people change then the world changes.
Point Number Two:
Maybe you are one of the forward-thinking people who care. For example, maybe you separate your waste and send it in for recycling and, because right now there's no tax or financial reward to motivate you, that means that you do it out of the goodness of your heart. That's great!
If you care about vehicle emissions, then you probably try to minimise your vehicle use, you walk if your destination is reasonably close, you share trips with colleagues and friends. You try to make your carbon footprint as small as possible. That's great!
But do you think about the carbon footprint of the food you eat and drink while you're deciding what to have for dinner? Do you think about the energy and resources that go into every manufacturing process while you're shopping for the things you need?
Local produce only travels a few miles to your plate, but any time you buy imported food, you're also buying that food's carbon footprint. Frozen fish fingers from England? That's a long drive for a refrigerated truck.
Sure, it's not that much when you divide one truck's emissions over hundreds of boxes of fish, but given that we eat several times a day, it's going to add up.
Aside from hidden transport emissions, different kinds of foods also use different amounts of resources. Resource use, besides being an issue in its own right, is generally also linked to carbon emissions because some sort of power is involved. If a farmer uses electricity to power irrigation pumps, and the electricity comes from a coal-burning or oil-burning power station, then... you see where I'm going with this.
To further this example, the difference between chicken fillet and beef fillet is more than just the price. It takes a lot less feed and a lot less water to produce the same amount of chicken than it does to produce beef. (This awesome chart illustrates hidden water consumption)
Disposable plastic cutlery is cheap, makes life easier, and hey, you save water by not washing up! But it takes energy (and resources) to make plastic, and that is lost when the cutlery is chucked in the bin (you shouldn't recycle plastic that is contaminated with food, as cutlery will be).
I'm not saying don't eat beef. I like beef, and I'm going to continue to eat it. And sometimes I use disposable stuff because it's so much less hassle. But what I am saying is that we all need to be more aware of all the costs, both financial and environmental, both obvious and hidden, that accompany simple, daily choices such as 'What shall we have for supper?'.
I imagine that eventually, environmental impact will be more strongly linked to the cost of food and goods. We're already heading that way with some of the taxes that have been imposed. But until that day comes, we owe it to the planet to be more careful.
People CAN change their habits. Our grandmothers never worried about using too much butter. It was good for you! But now that we know of the strong link between nutrition and health, when we go food shopping most of us run a mental checklist while we browse, which goes something like: (a) the price, and (b) the fat/salt/sugar/calories content.
Wouldn't it be great to add (c) emissions/resources/recyclability?