Our Changing Planet

September 21, 2020

I was reading the New York Times this morning, as I do every morning before I begin my work. It’s my go-to source for news and has been for most of my adult life.

I read two articles this morning about climate change and they left me feeling bereft for the future we might leave to our children and generations after them.

The first piece talked about migration within our own country as areas become harder and harder to inhabit because of extreme weather. With scorched acres on the west coast and floods and drought in the south, experts predict people will try to migrate north where the seasons will be milder, putting massive burdens on these areas of the country that would come with an influx of people.

We as Americans, some of the richest of the world’s populations (even though so many of us live in abject poverty) have been conditioned not to respond dramatically to climate threats as the rest of the world has done. Poor people from rural areas of the world naturally flee to more stable and resilient environments as a matter of survival when the ones they call home become uninhabitable.

By comparison, we are more insulated from the shocks of climate change. Many of us are disconnected from our food and water sources. We are part of a culture that often solves its problems with money.

We move to places that are desirable, like the Outer Banks of North Carolina, building mansions on the unstable coastline…because we can. Even as Florida becomes a prime example of the threat of rising seas, more than 5 million Americans will move to the gorgeous coastline and keys, driving a massive boom in real estate, but with houses built (almost literally) on sand.

The rise of sea levels could displace as many as 13 million of our coastal residents by 2060. And if you’re thinking that is a long way off, take a look at your children and grandchildren and reflect on the world we are on track to leave them.

We take false comfort in the sense that technology, ingenuity and money can solve this problem with no participation from us as citizens. We rely on the government, its policies and subsidies to solve what can easily be solved in part by us. For instance, the federal National Flood Insurance Program has paid to rebuild homes SIX TIMES in the same unstable spots. Do we not learn?

Federal agriculture aid withholds money from farmers who grow drought-resistant crops and pay subsidies to farmers who replant the same crops that fail year after year due to extreme weather.

Some segments of business actually benefit from what feels like self-defeating policies but that gap between what Mother Nature can destroy and what money can fix widens each year.

So what do we do? Do we sit and wring our hands suffocating in the hopelessness of it all? Of course not, baby. We are people of action. We are proactive in maintaining our personal wellness, so why not just extend that same tender loving care to our fragile planet?

First of all, we can start by not agonizing over the role we play in climate change. Even the most conscientious of us still makes a footprint on the planet. The key is to decide how heavy that footprint will be. For instance, when life was normal (and becomes some semblance of normal again), a big part of my business involves air travel, which is not exactly the lightest step I can make on the planet, so I have to work to find ways to compensate for that.

We also live in a world where sustainable products and services are often out of reach for so many people, leaving them the alternative of cheap goods which step heavy on the planet.

I can only say what works for me in our house. We don’t buy things just to buy things but then again, I never understood the concept of “retail therapy.” If you know me, you know that my wardrobe is simple and often black or other neutral color so I can mix and match with what I do own. I think we need to put the brakes on shopping just to shop. We must differentiate need from want. And yes, shopping is fun, but we need to put it into perspective. Yes, consuming is a big driver in our economy, but we have to be more realistic.

I am blessed to work from home unless in production for my TV show. We walk much more than we drive. It’s one of the million things I love about living in a city. Many people must commute to work, many by car (yes, even now, during a pandemic). Not all cities have public transportation that effectively, sustainably and affordably moves people from place to place as needed.

Experts say, that on average, each person in the US emits about 16 metric tons of energy-related carbon dioxide each year. Our entire country emitted 5.28 billion metric tons in 2018. Yikes, right?

I get it. I am not out of touch. But we must all look around and see what we can effectively do to support our planet, rather than just take and take from her resources.

We can use our voices to elect a government that puts human health and the health of the planet above profit and special interests. We can speak out when we see potential businesses or policies that will damage our planet and environment further. We can become proactively engaged, not just sit on the sidelines waiting for someone else to solve this crisis.

We are in this together, regardless of our political leanings and beliefs.

Broad-stroke, systemic change is complicated and will not be an easy fight. Ask anyone who has worked for our planet for more than a minute. It feels like pushing a rock uphill. I have been active in environmental work since I was quite young and my mother dragged me to rallies, protests and meetings. But I learned. I learned what we can achieve if we work together.

Remember that government works for us, not the other way around. We have to collectively demand better to get better. We can support or join groups dedicated to fighting climate change, from Greenpeace to Zero Hour and the Sunrise Movement. Project Drawdown works to research the best ways to de-carbonize our world. Donate and get involved as you can.

There are things we can do; proactively, privately that can begin to turn climate change around. I know this is not what a lot of people want to hear, but for me, the most important thing we can do begins with what we choose not to eat. Yup, what we choose not to eat.

We must stop eating meat and animal products. Period.

Deforestation to create more pasture lands, resources, like water to produce meat, greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel use make cutting down on or eliminating personal meat consumption the single most important action we can take as citizens to reduce the threat of climate change, according to a report from the United Nations.

And the benefits are a win-win. You help the planet and you improve your personal wellness in the process. I know; I know. Some of you will say that you love meat. You may even think you need meat to be healthy and strong. I am simply asking you to reflect on the impact of your food choices on our planet.

It’s not just meat either. It’s packaged, processed junk food that also steps heavy on Mother Nature. Plastic water bottles, food packaging, Styrofoam (yes, people still use it); paper plates used at home to avoid washing dishes (yes, it’s a thing. I was shocked); paper cups, paper napkins and paper towels are all conveniences and luxuries we can absolutely do without to create a better world for future generations.

We can walk more and drive less. We can take public transport when we can. We can drive energy-efficient cars if we can’t go to a hybrid.

We can save water and compost food waste. We can recycle (really recycle). We can turn off lights in empty rooms. We can unplug appliances not in use. We can save water by taking shorter showers.

We can stop wasting food and support companies like Misfit Market (or a company of that ilk) who sells the produce that stores won’t take from farmers because it’s not perfect-looking. In 2020, Americans wasted 80 billion pounds of food (roughly 219 pounds per person), equal to $161 billion or 30-40% of our food supply.  

So we are not helpless in the face of climate change. There is something we can do and we can do it now. Keeping the earth’s temperature from rising dangerously is possible. Right now, in this moment, we have not crossed the threshold of too late. We are not doomed, but we have to keep fighting.

A beautiful future is possible, but it will only come to pass if we join together, demand better and do all we can to personally step lighter on our planet.