My neighbors Amy and Anthony have a New Year's Day Champagne Brunch every year. This year, as the party was winding down and several couples were sitting in the living room chatting, I asked Anthony if it actually made a difference whether or not I hung my laundry out to dry.
Given the amount of carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere everyday, could it possibly matter if my little dryer sat still while the family's underwear hung on the line?
Anthony is a professor of Philosophy and Environmental Studies at a nearby university. By nature and by profession, he's a thoughtful man, and the subject of climate change is one he's thought a great deal about. What he told me New Year's Day was, yes, the choices we make, no matter how local, how seemingly insubstantial, make a difference.
What if, for instance, other neighbors notice that I hang out my laundry on the line? Maybe one of them will be inspired and string their own line across the backyard. And then somebody sees that line and gets inspired ... Maybe my simple act will multiply exponentially, one clothesline at a time.
I've recently read two books about climate change, Mary Pipher's The Green Boat, and Anthony's book, Mobilizing the Green Imagination: An Exuberant Manifesto. Both are good, but I'll be buying multiple copies of Anthony's book to send to friends and family. It is the happiest book about climate change I've ever read. Not that it denies climate change; quite the opposite. But instead of preaching gloom and doom, Anthony asks us to get innovative and imaginative. He goes beyond band-aid prescriptions.
Take recycling. Recycling is better than throwing something directly into the landfill, but it has its limits. Most paper and plastic products can be recycled a couple of times before they're too degraded for further use. But what if the pages of our gardening magazine had seeds embedded in them so we could plant the pages when we were done reading? What if that Starbucks coffee cup was edible? Anthony suggests we need to start imagining ways not to recycle, but to upcycle.
One of the things I appreciate about this book is that it gets past politics. Anthony thinks the climate is changing, but he admits we can't say for sure that we know why. We can certainly point to a correlation between rising carbon emissions and rising temperatures, but correlation isn't causation. Maybe the sun is getting hotter. Maybe climate change is the combined result of human activity and naturally occurring phenomena.
He argues that given that we don't know decisively what's causing climate change, we ought to err on the side of reducing carbon emissions. Why not? The less we rely on fossil fuels, the cleaner our air and water will be. The less we drive, the less time we spend in traffic jams and just plain traffic. If we drive less, we live more locally, and that can have its benefits.
It's so easy to despair about climate change, and there's much to despair about. But--and this is a major point of Mary Pipher's book, The Green Boat--humans need hope. We don't make much happen when we're living in despair. Mobilizing the Green Imagination makes me hopeful. It makes me want to get involved in my local community as well as change some of the ways we're living at home. How can we use less plastic? Reduce waste? Grow more of our own food? Connect more with our neighbors?
I can't change the world, but I could think about the place I live--this house, this yard, this city--and imagine how to make things better. Storms will come, and there will be difficult times. We can grieve, but let's not despair! As that old labor activist Joe Hill once said, Don't mourn, organize!
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