Photo credit: Anna Ty Bergman
Step 1. Get Rid of Your Cell Phone
The carbon footprint of a cell phone is enormous, from production — which requires the mining of rare earth materials — to shipping them around the world, to the data servers that store our data. It doesn’t help that you get a new one every two years. According to one study, the carbon footprint of the entire Information and Communication Industry (ICT) — PCs, laptops, monitors, smartphones, servers — will be 14 percent of the world’s carbon footprint by 2040. That’s half as large as the entire transportation industry. Not to mention that the phone was most likely built in sweatshop conditions, where the hours are long, the pay is minuscule, and toxic conditions abound.
Step 2. Get Rid of Your Car
That’s an easy one, right? How is the filthy, inefficient combustion engine still a thing?! Oh right, oil and gas lobbyists. Cars and trucks make up about one-fifth of the United States’ total global warming pollution. They’re not exactly good for air, soil, and water quality either. Remember, it takes 120,000 gallons of water to produce a car, and 70 gallons of water to produce one gallon of gas — but it only takes 35 gallons of water to make a bicycle. Plus, our increased reliance on cars is linked to the obesity crisis, so a carless life isn’t just good for the environment, it’s good for you.
Step 3. Rely on Local Produce
America is the world’s largest consumer of bananas, but conditions in this country aren’t right to grow them, outside of Hawaii. The bananas you see in your local grocery store mostly come from Central America. So it takes an enormous amount of energy just to get them to you. Not to mention the fact that bananas are also a symbol of political upheaval — go look up where the term “banana republic” came from, and you will fall down a rabbit hole of imperialism and worker exploitation. Fun fact: Colombian authorities have accused several
banana companies of crimes against humanity and funding terrorists. You’d be better off relying on what you can get from local farms. Which, up north, is going to severely limit your access to fresh produce. Maybe you can take a course on pickling and canning.
Step 4. Stop Binge-Watching TV Shows
Remember all those data servers that are sucking up energy and resources? That’s where all your shows are stored. And according to Greenpeace, most streaming services get their energy from nonrenewable sources. It might be a hard pill to swallow, considering binge-watching is the new American pastime, but every episode you watch is another few snowflakes off the glacier.
Step 5. Find a New Place to Live
In the 1970s, houses averaged around 1,500 square feet and the average family was three to four people. Even though family sizes have decreased, house sizes have increased to an average of 2,500 square feet. There are the obvious issues big houses raise — large water and heating/cooling bills, the way new development can screw with local ecosystems (see: Hurricane Harvey in Houston, and the way urbanization exacerbated its destructive power). Big houses are also wreaking havoc on the housing market, as millennials don’t want to buy the huge homes that baby boomers built for themselves (or they just can’t afford to, since wages haven’t kept up very well with inflation). That tiny house movement might not be such a bad idea.
Step 7. Stop Eating Meat
We already know that a diet too high in meat increases the risk of obesity, cancer, and heart disease. But the livestock industry creates as much greenhouse gas emissions as all cars, trucks, and other automobiles. All of them. Conditions aren’t always great for workers, like the chicken processing plant employees who were forced to wear diapers because they weren’t allowed bathroom breaks. Plus, as land is cleared for grazing pastures, we’re losing the trees we need to suck up all that excess carbon. Some scientists say that as the population increases we won’t have much choice — production won’t be able to keep up, and we’re going to have to move toward a mostly plant-based diet. Start practicing veganism now so you’ll be ready.
Step 8. Stop Patronizing... Literally Every Business Ever
It’s a big question: Are there any ethical companies left? A supermarket could pay fair wages and protect its employees and offer them health care. But... does that make it okay to buy bananas from them when those bananas might have helped to fund a paramilitary group? Does the company bear any responsibility for the product it stocks? Is that too slippery a slope? Or is that the problem?
So what have we learned?
That by making small, incremental steps, we can create a world that’s better for our health, doesn’t exploit workers, and prevents the planet from boiling over? Or that our global economy has gotten so big, and is so dependent on low wages and increased profits while simultaneously stalling any kind of innovation, that we’re just kind of screwed? Is it really true that the only way to live an ethical life under capitalism is to live in the woods and not participate in the system?
Maybe. Honestly, I don’t know what the answer is. It’s too big. When I set out to write The Warehouse
— in which one company takes over the entire retail economy and introduces a live-work model, so you never really leave work anymore — I didn’t want to provide a road map to fixing things. That would be impossible. I just hoped it would make people think a little more about their economic impact. To ask themselves if all things really needed to be available at all times in a day or two. Because there’s a human cost to that convenience. For as much blame as we can lay at the feet of Big Business, it hasn’t helped that we participate in this system. That we’re happy to make the convenient choice, because we’ve decided our own comfort is worth someone else’s discomfort.
Lest you think I’m being preachy, I have a smartphone. I binge-watch TV shows. I eat meat and order stuff online and start every day with a protein shake made with bananas.
But I’m making some changes. More walking. Less driving. Getting my produce from a farm in New Jersey. Ordering less stuff —because it’s not always stuff I need, just stuff I want. It might be a little harder to give up my daily bananas, but given the cost, it’s worth at least considering.
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is the author of the Ash McKenna series and the short story collection Take-Out
. He also co-wrote Scott Free
with James Patterson. His latest novel, The Warehouse
, sold in more than 20 countries and has been optioned for film by Ron Howard. He is a former journalist, political aide, and book publisher. He lives in Staten Island, NY, with his wife and daughter.