New Year’s resolutions suggest an abstract faith in the future. If we do this thing, we tell ourselves, our 2020 selves will look or act or feel better than our 2019 selves did. There’s an implicit acknowledgment that change is possible and that we are capable of making it happen (though just under half of us won’t hold on to our resolutions through February).
Talking about fighting climate change is a lot like that: Here’s what things look like if nothing changes. But if we reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a little — through the end of February, maybe — what happens? If we reduce them by a lot, what will the world look like and what will it take to make that happen?
At once we’re thinking about the present, modeling the future and thinking about how those models might differ depending on what we decide to do.
Climate change tends to scramble time, defying our sense of an orderly progression. As Robert Macfarlane, the chronicler of nature, climate, and the environment, has said, “We burn Carboniferous-era fossil fuels to melt Pleistocene-era ice to determine Anthropocene future climates.”
In so doing, we accelerate all kinds of phenomena: the melting of polar ice sheets and glaciers; mass die-offs of coral reefs. Of the billions of tons of greenhouse gases we’ve added to the atmosphere, more than half have come in my lifetime, since 1990. We hurl ourselves into the future with increasingly precise models, only to be outpaced by our distortions of nature.
In light of all that, it is easy to feel defeated and powerless. But in the same way that you can imagine a better you, your New Year’s resolution can imagine a better planet, because it’s always possible to do something.
We know what happens if we give up and do nothing: Things only get worse. Currently we are on track for 3 degrees Celsius of warming by the end of the century. One million species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction over the next few decades. Natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires are already becoming more frequent and stronger. Incremental changes today, like sea-level rise, will be catastrophic by 2100.
Climate change is not a problem that can be solved or mitigated enough by individual behavior, though it is good, important and a place to start. It’s easy to feel defeated after reading a set of facts like the one above and knowing that changes in our own personal habits aren’t enough.
I recognize that this might seem to fly in the face of the very concept of a New Year’s Resolution. But it doesn’t, actually.
We can’t fix this alone. We can’t all do everything. But, we can all do one thing. So just pick one thing — whether it’s eating less red meat, or composting, or riding your bike to work, or cleaning up plastic litter in your community, or buying secondhand clothing — and actually do it.
Maybe it will make you think change is possible, or you’ll think, “That wasn’t so hard,” and that maybe you could do another thing. Maybe it will reduce your carbon footprint or cause less pollution.
Maybe it will remind you that the most important change we can make as individuals is to stay focused on all the work that still needs to be done. The work that all of us — particularly companies and countries — need to do together to sidestep catastrophe. The work that we all need to make sure gets done.I can’t prove any of that, but I can say that it is entirely possible to do one thing, even after February. SOURCE