Well, we did it. We survived the hot mess that was 2020. Honestly, I don’t even want to talk about it. I want to talk about what’s next, what we’re in for once that clock hits midnight on New Year’s Eve.
I think we all have lots of hopes for 2021: namely, that it would be better than 2020. I can only think of a few areas in which improvement would actually be a challenge, given the catastrophic 365 days we just went through. One of those areas, surprisingly enough, is carbon emissions, and more broadly, movements toward sustainability.
It’s no secret to anyone at all that coronavirus changed much of our lives. Those changes were devastating in too many ways to count, and I can’t address the blessings in disguise without first acknowledging the family members and friends we’ve lost, the financial uncertainty, the stress, anxiety, and depression, difficulties of isolation, and vast pain that has come from this pandemic.
Throughout the pain, though, there are some shimmering lights, just cracking through the black cloud that covered most of this year. One of the biggest lights for me is this: We altered our activity, and carbon emissions dropped.
We were staying home, not driving to work or flying across the world (well, for the most part. I somehow managed to fly across the world, but pretty sure I’m the exception, not the rule). We were planting vegetable gardens in our backyards, instead of going out for a nice steak dinner. Obviously, in many cases, these changes cannot continue long-term. But there’s a broader takeaway, that when we were living differently, the environment was better for it. It is possible for collective human action to dig us out of the grave that we’ve dug for ourselves and our planet.
The online discourse around climate change increasingly brings up this statistic, that 100 companies are responsible for 71% of carbon emissions. And yeah, that’s really bad. Duh.
But it doesn’t mean we’re powerless.
It is smart and right and fair to use our energies on holding mega-polluters accountable. We need to come together and demand action from those with the means to make real, substantive change. My theory for today, though, is that any change, big or small, matters.
The average American adult has a carbon footprint of about 16 tons annually. I’m vegan, but I did fly back and forth to Lebanon in 2020, so we can just call it even and consider me average. Let’s say I reduce my carbon footprint by 10% with common sustainability hacks (public transportation, composting, recycling, and things like that). That’s not much, but it’s still *checks calculator* 3200 pounds of carbon dioxide not going into the atmosphere because of conscious choices I made! And imagine if every adult in Atlanta, about 500,000 people, reduced their carbon footprints by 10%. That’s *big numbers from calculator* 800,000 TONS of carbon dioxide emissions avoided.
We need policy from governments and responsibility from major corporations.
We can take action as individuals, that will multiply the more we act and the more we encourage others to act.
I know that my emissions, my contributions to the planet’s decline and destruction, are just a drop in the ocean. But oceans are made of drops, people! For too long, sustainability solutions were too individually focused. Now they’re bouncing back the other way, with outrage directed toward the biggest polluters. We need to balance both: we can demand accountability from those with more power than us, and we can use the power we do have to make small changes that, added together, will actually make a difference.
Honestly, I need to do this for my own sanity just as much as for the planet’s sake. I learned about the importance of small acts of love and resistance during my time in Lebanon. While there, I was on the humanitarian frontlines of one of the largest forced migration crises in history. Despite my unique position, there were still millions of Syrians I never got to meet. I didn’t take down the Assad regime. The scale of enormous catastrophes, like the Syrian refugee crisis, like climate change, can paralyze you. But when I got to teach English to the refugees, to sit with them and communicate care and compassion, I knew I was making a difference. To only a handful of Syrian refugees, in only one region of one country in the world. But it mattered to them, and that’s enough for it to matter to me. When it comes to gigantic global issues, the best way to overcome the overwhelm is to just. do. something.
With that in mind, I want to encourage you to join me in taking three simple, sustainable steps in 2021. Here are my steps and why I chose them:
- Bike: Given corona, I don’t have a lot of places to go now that I’m back in the States. I need to get my hair cut, I’m itching to get my hands on some public library books, and maybe someone? somewhere? will give me a job? But in the meantime, most places I want to go, at least by myself, are within biking distance! I’m also hoping to start law school in the fall and bike to campus.
- Compost: We composted diligently at the Peace Center in Akkar, and y’all, it was so easy. Because I’m vegan, I don’t eat most non-easily-compostable (e.g., meat, dairy) foods, so composting is the next step to decreasing my food waste.
- Advocate: In keeping with the theme of this post, my third step is to really get involved in environmental activism. I hope to write my representatives, donate to organizations, and maybe even go to a (masked-up, socially distant) protest. And of course, part of this is encouraging those around me to live more sustainably. Which is why I’m inviting you to join me in taking small sustainable steps in 2021!
Your sustainable steps can be anything from the environmentally friendly lightbulbs hack, to going full vegan hippie. Here‘s a post with over 100 easy sustainability steps if you need a place to start. You may not be able to do much, but what you can do, matters. It’s important. And even better, if you also encourage your friends to take sustainable steps, and they encourage their friends, then all of a sudden, we’ve got smaller carbon footprints all around us. And together, we’re on our way to a better future, living on a thriving earth.
So here’s to 2021. May it be healthier for the people and the planet.