By Rebecca Canright
To address an issue as multifaceted and existential as climate change, let’s imagine a world, not too far away, where climate change action is a unifying force for humanity, no longer a politically-charged controversy rife with denial. Since humans are the primary drivers of climate change, it makes sense that we are capable of mitigating and reversing it. We can rise to this challenge, friends, if we have all hands on deck.
We humans have lived in relative ecological harmony for thousands of years, far longer than we’ve been mistreating Earth and each other with our industrial, extractive economies. Even in the fast-paced world that we live in, we can choose a simpler, slower, more conscious existence.
At this point, I would also like to acknowledge our fellow humans around the globe who live subsistence, minimalist lifestyles not out of choice but out of necessity. Poverty is real and needs to be acknowledged and addressed, especially by those of us who live privileged and affluent lifestyles. I believe that we who live in developed nations whittle our own resource consumption and simplify our lives can positively impact those who struggle elsewhere. For instance, we could choose to no longer buy inexpensive clothing made in Bangladeshi sweatshop factories, and instead purchase inexpensive used clothing from second-hand stores. This way, we are voting with our dollars against corporate fashion and instead supporting small thrift stores that offer beautiful, pre-loved clothing. Making mindful, compassionate choices (like practicing composting, taking public transit, eating less meat and shopping at our local farmers’ market) does have a positive, healthy impact on Earth and humanity. I find that living ecologically satisfies something deep in the wells of my heart. It feels good to care.
There’s a lot we can do as individuals to lessen our carbon footprint on Earth, and we can encourage our friends and family to join us, leading by example and sharing tips that we can integrate into our everyday routine. Yet we must move beyond individual action into collective solutions to reverse climate change. I recently read Drawdown, a book written by Paul Hawken and other climate scientists about the 100 top strategies to reverse climate change. These solutions span different sectors of society that have significant potential to drawdown carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. One of the top solutions is educating women and girls around the world. When contraception and family planning are encouraged in a society, female freedom is embraced and strengthened in more ways than one. Women gain respect, economic opportunity, and self-sufficiency, which facilitates them in becoming societal leaders. Granted, our leaders (whether male or female) will be responsible for ushering in a societal mindset change. We must move from regarding nature as something to be exploited to something to cherish, respect and collaborate with. Let’s ask ourselves the question, what can Earth teach us? What natural systems are already in place that can serve as models for our society?
Other top Drawdown solutions include adopting a plant-based diet, transitioning our national electric grids to solar and wind energy, and protecting existing forests (which capture massive amounts of carbon and other greenhouse gases from the air) from being logged. I was quite curious about the section on land-based solutions, perhaps because I have grown up on an organic farm and deeply love working in partnership with Earth’s natural systems. Drawdown confirms that ecologically-conscious agriculture is necessary to reduce the negative climate impacts of our current food system. Transitioning away from synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer application on farm fields, and towards organic small-scale agriculture that employs regenerative land management practices (such as “no-till” farming) prevents soil disturbance and holds carbon in the ground, where we want it! Planting cover crops such as clover, hairy vetch, and other members of the legume family transforms airborne carbon and other greenhouse gases into soil-enriching elemental compounds in their roots, stems, and leaves. How cool is that?
A few other creative land-based solutions include tree intercropping (where trees are planted among food crops to create a beneficial, carbon-sequestering relationship), silvopasture (where cows graze in fields that have trees planted throughout them, thus nourishing the soil, cows, and the greater grassland ecosystem), and returning land to indigenous peoples (who have taken care of their home ecosystems for generations and know intimately the best practices for supporting land health and biodiversity).
I recommend reading Drawdown — I have just skimmed the surface of the myriad inspiring climate solutions within its pages. I have not yet even touched upon the “Coming Attractions” section, which discusses technological and land-based solutions that, in the future, hold potential to massively drawdown atmospheric carbon. These exciting solutions are currently being researched and developed and, to give you a taste, include growing enormous underwater kelp forests and restoring pastoral grazing animals to sub-arctic regions. Wow!
When we are informed of the incredible possibility of climate and ecological healing, we are empowered to act and move, with intelligent hope, towards a healthier planet.
About the Author
Rebecca Canright is a 20-year old college student, studying Environmental Policy at Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. As a lover of all plants and animals, she is passionate about protecting Earth’s ecosystems for generations to come. She aspires to use government as a force for good in the world, and believes that our current political situation demands activism. She hopes to contribute to the positive evolution of the system by working for an environmental nonprofit one day, or even perhaps serving in the government herself. She grew up on a small organic fruit and vegetable farm in New Jersey, and cherishes time spent gardening with her family. She also enjoys playing ukulele, reading, meditating and spending time outdoors with her animal friends (humans included).