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Can I get a little more eco-friendly every day? Four tips for a greener mindset
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Can I get a little more eco-friendly every day? Four tips for a greener mindset

When it comes to climate change, I, like many others, often wonder: does it matter if we adjust our individual behaviors to be more sustainable, or are these efforts insignificant?

Many experts argue that focusing too granularly on individual responsibility can shift the burden from destructive industry and policy on to regular folk. Eventually, we can burn out on the endless micro-responsibilities and not have juice for the big stuff.

Yet, according to career environmentalist Heather White, author of the recent 60 Days to a Greener Life: Ease Eco-anxiety Through Joyful Daily Action, “Individual action drives culture change, and without culture change, global policies and market solutions will not work.”

Political actions like voting are crucial, but developing a daily practice of sustainability can help ease your anxiety about the future, says White on a call from her home in Montana.

The book comprises 60 short essays on ways to make life greener, each with activities and journaling prompts designed to help us think about our personal legacy and visualize a good future despite feelings of climate dread.

White dedicates some of 60 Days to practical tips, like how to choose greener cleaning products. But overall, it’s more of an introspective guide to getting into the conservationist mindset. It’s about exercising agency, figuring out how we can best contribute to the climate fight and learning new things.

I decided to test out some of the advice White provides in her book. “Living a greener, more sustainable life is fun,” she says. “A lot of people think that being sustainable means that everything’s going to be taken away from you. If you live your life more intentionally, sure, you’re going to have to make some decisions, maybe not have as much stuff. But it can actually lead to a more joyful, more fulfilling life.”

Here’s how it went.

Find your climate ‘why’

White encourages readers to find their “climate ‘why’” – as in the reason they want to live more sustainably. For her, it’s the notion of “being a good ancestor”. White reflects on how women like her grandmother and historical activists were agents of enduring change, securing the right to vote and creating educational opportunities that had never previously existed for women. She finds optimism in how effectively one generation can change our perception of what is a human right, and what it means to live ethically – in this case, prioritizing justice and environmental stewardship for future generations.

My climate “why” is that I believe it’s immoral to denude our planet in pursuit of growth and profit. The former is a finite, precious life source that we are already unsustainably over-exploiting and the latter are concepts invented to organize society, and they can be shifted.

Visualize 2030

White’s next thought experiment is: try envisioning your ideal 2030. (Should you feel that time has run out for us already, White’s Day 11 prompt is reassuring in tone: “Know That We Can Fix it & It’s Not Too Late.”)

My ideal 2030 would look like this: rich countries cut back on resource extraction and de-emphasize GDP as the most significant metric of success in favor of goals like reducing poverty and greenhouse gas emissions, and raising the population’s satisfaction, education and health. Renewable energy sources are more common than coal, oil and natural gas. Governments increase protective limits on land and water use, while corporations cap executive pay, regulate supply chains, adopt cooperative business models and adhere to the eco-values that research constantly reaffirms shoppers want.

Meanwhile, regular people work less and shop less, spending more time doing meaningful things like learning skills, relaxing and contributing to our communities.

View nature as a climate solution

We often think of nature as the beneficiary of climate action. But one of White’s prompts introduces the concept of nature as a climate solution, also known as “climate resilience”. Healthy, species-diverse habitats like forests, grasslands and wetlands absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than they release, so protecting them can have a global impact as well as helping local biodiversity.

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Last month, I attended a talk by the conservationist Kristine Tompkins at the annual Ted conference. She advocated for “rewilding on a continental scale”, referring to the restoration of damaged ecosystems to their original state, enabling them to support the same levels of biodiversity as they did before human intervention. Over the last three decades, Tompkins and her colleagues have accomplished large-scale rewilding projects in South America, focusing on restoring keystone species in almost 15m acres of parkland spanning Argentina and Chile. And she’s not the only one thinking big: the organization Nature Needs Half is campaigning for 50% of our planet to be preserved for wildlife by 2030, while globally, Indigenous peoples are responsible for protecting 80% of the Earth’s biodiversity.

Searching for an accessible way to participate in rewilding a few days after the talk, I took a trip to a local native plant nursery with my mom, who has a garden. We picked out some indigenous plants that should grow well in her landscape, including Western trillium, Pacific anemone and Kinnikinnick shrubs. I only have a tiny balcony for gardening space, but I picked up herbs – especially the bee-beloved oregano – to plant densely for the benefit of urban pollinators.

Go outside and find awe

White acknowledges that trying to save the planet is an overwhelming endeavor, rife with eco-anxiety – even the deceptively complex question “Where do I start?” “Going outside is a great way to reduce feelings of stress and anger,” she notes.

Being in nature has always been my favorite way to decompress. Spring has arrived where I live, on the west coast of Canada; the native salmonberries and elderflowers are out in force, as are the decorative cherries and prehistoric pink magnolias. I take a walk by the ocean just after sunset and notice eagles circling overhead and a seal hunting in the water.

“Appreciate the planet and the feeling of awe that nature provides,” writes White.

I’m thankful that my surroundings offer an abundance of natural beauty, yet I remember experiencing moments of the sublime even in more dense urban settings, like watching red-tailed hawks flying over Central Park.

As I walk through the forest, I get angry thinking about how its ancient trees are being logged and the fact that my province permits cruise ships to dump toxic wastewater along our coast. But spending time outdoors has galvanized many a conservationist. And, thanks to some compartmentalization, I do feel refreshed and appreciative after my stroll.

White’s eco-friendly suggestions may be small steps toward a safer and more resilient world, but “it’s about progress, not perfection”, she tells me. It’s invigorating to be reminded that every day, a small action can contribute to a larger wave of change.

Source: theguardian.com