Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution

7. Trailheads into the Wilderness

Faith is taking the first step
even though you don’t see the whole staircase.
Martin Luther King, Jr

Part I of Being the Change attempted to explain why the age of fossil fuels is nearly over. During the last 200 years, fossil fuels transformed the human experience. Today, fossil-fueled consumption is destroying the biosphere and isn’t even making us happy. Alienation and depression run rampant through our consumer society.1 It’s time to leave fossil fuels and the money-driven culture with which they intertwine, and to begin living well.

Part II is about what we can actually do—as real people with real limitations—to pioneer this next transformation. I’ll describe changes I’ve made to my daily life in response to our predicament.

Is it an extreme path? I don’t think so. I’d take one or two small steps, see how I liked them, and then take a few more. After a few years, these small steps toward living in alignment with the bio- sphere led gradually to a very different daily life. The changes soon came to feel normal and natural.

My purpose in sharing my own experience is to provide a concrete and lived example—my actual experience of practical change, not wishful thinking, speculation, or futurism—and to show that deep change is possible, not all that difficult, and surprisingly satisfying. My changes have demanded no more time and energy than many people devote to their hobbies.

Your path will surely be different from mine. You and I have different priorities, different principles, different experiences, different talents, different interests, different responsibilities, and different resources. Each change you make should be in response to your own reality. Some of my suggestions may work for you; others may not. Be curious: each change you make will lead to a different way of seeing the world and your place in it.

Finally, follow your joy, not your guilt. The changes you make should feel satisfying.

Most of my friends know that burning fossil fuels is a problem. Some of them are also aware that the modern industrial way of life, with its fetishization of separation and material wealth, is not conducive to happiness. But few are changing their lives. They have good intentions, but they are doing nothing.

Doing nothing is one extreme. Giving up fossil fuels cold turkey, if that were even possible, would be the other. I’m walking on a middle path.

Ways to begin (or continue)

Here are a few simple, concrete suggestions to help you get started. They’ve all been a useful part of my own path, but there are thou- sands of other similar steps you could take. Whatever you do, approach it with a spirit of curiosity and goodwill.

Ride a bike

Bicycling is happiness. You can easily see this for yourself: dust off your old bike (or borrow one) and go for a ride.

Grow a plant

In the spring, get a few seedlings from somewhere, maybe tomatoes. Perhaps you know an experienced gardener who could give you seedlings and help you get started. Every gardener I know is delighted to help other folks get gardening.

Estimate your CO2 emissions

This may help if you feel overwhelmed about global warming. Estimate your annual gas and electricity usage from your utility bills, estimate the miles you flew over the last year, and estimate the gallons of gas or diesel you burned. Then look at the “Estimate Your Own Emissions” box in Chapter 9 on page 162, which gives factors to convert these estimates into CO2 emissions, and make a pie chart.

Repair something

Instead of replacing something broken, or hiring someone to fix it, repair it yourself. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by a repair, as when I tackle some mysterious problem with my old car. Now I recognize this as a feeling of challenge and growth.

Get rid of some stuff

Give away (or sell) something you haven’t used in a long while. This action may help you feel unburdened. All material things are in flux, and feeling possessive is a kind of suffering.

Clean up litter in your neighborhood

Take a walk around your neighborhood with a bag, and pick up the trash you see. If you feel irritated by the litter, or perhaps self-righteous as you pick it up, acknowledge these feelings and come back to enjoying your walk. You’ve made plenty of garbage yourself over the course of your life: it’s great to be able to give back to the community in this small way.

Stop using foam food containers

If you happen to feel the world would be better off without all the foam coffee cups and food containers, stop using them! Do you feel empowered? What else can you change?

Stop using palm oil

If cutting down the world’s tropical forests to plant oil palm plantations bothers you, don’t use palm oil. This may lead to an interest-ing and fun examination of your everyday life and its relationship to the biosphere: palm oil is now used in an estimated half of all packaged products for sale at the supermarket.2

Go on a meditation retreat

This is a bigger commitment, but if you’re ready, it will serve you well. There are many meditation or mindfulness practices you could try. If you are interested in trying the kind of meditation I do, sign up for a 10-day vipassana meditation course.3 The centers ask for no payment. They run on donations from students who wish to share the benefits they’ve experienced with others.

Join a community group

Find a group in your community engaged in something import- ant to you, and go to a meeting. If you’re concerned about global warming, consider joining (or starting) your local chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.4

Do something kind for a neighbor

Find some way to do a neighbor a good turn. It doesn’t have to be big. Give them some produce from your garden, a jar of home- made jam, or just smile and introduce yourself. Don’t expect to become friends. Don’t expect anything in return.

Plant a fruit tree

Choose a variety that you like to eat and does well in your area, and plant it. It will be helpful to talk to other orchardists in your area. You might be surprised to find what varieties of fruit are grown—or were grown—where you live.

Be vegetarian for a month

If you’ve ever considered vegetarianism, why wait? Try it for a month. If you eat meat during your vegetarian month, realize there’s no reason to feel guilty. If you do feel guilty, observe and accept how you feel.

Spend time in a wild area

Recharge and enjoy.

Biospherism and your partner

If you have a life partner, he or she may not understand the need to stop burning fossil fuel in our daily lives. Even if your partner wants to respond to our predicament as much as you do, he or she may take a different approach. Be careful not to seek validation for your efforts from your partner. Don’t try to convert him or her. This creates strain. (I’m speaking from experience.) Let your enjoyment be your validation.

If you do things you find satisfying and joyful, your partner will start to change. But he or she will do this in his or her own way. You can’t control or rush it.

If you start meditating correctly, you will also begin radiating metta—compassionate love—to everyone, including your partner. When you begin to deeply appreciate your partner’s presence, when you smile and express your love freely, amazing things will happen. If you don’t believe me, try it and see for yourself.

  1. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, depression afflicts more than 26% of the US adult population; and by 2020 will be the second leading cause of disability throughout the world, trailing only coronary heart disease: US CDC. “Mental Health Basics.” [online]. Drug overdose deaths continue to rise: US CDC. “Drug overdose deaths in the United States continue to increase in 2015.” [online]. /drugoverdose/epidemic/.
  2. Palm oil is used in products such as buttery spreads, crackers, instant noodles, cosmetics, and soaps; it sometimes hides under other names in ingredient lists, such as stearic acid, sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate, and cetyl alcohol: Lael Goodman. “How Many Products with Palm Oil Do I Use in a Day?” Union of Concerned Scientists Blog, April 3, 2014. [online]. -with-palm-oil-do-i-use-in-a-day. Half of all packaged products in the supermarket: Rosie Spinks. “Why does palm oil still dominate the supermarket shelves?” The Guardian, December 17, 2014. [on- line]. -sustainability-developing-countries. Sustainability of palm oil is a complicated question: on a given patch of land, you can either have rainforest or oil palms, but not both. But this is true of other crops in other biomes, as well.
  1. Vipassana Meditation. [online].
  2. Citizens’ Climate Lobby is an international volunteer organization dedicated to creating political will for real climate action. [online].
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