As the world held its collective breath waiting to learn if George Floyd’s killer would be held accountable, the ability of all beings to continue breathing was put under pressure in another way. A Guardian report published that same week highlighted an ominous warning from the International Energy Agency. The agency has reported that carbon dioxide emissions are on track to jump this year by the second biggest rise in history. Emissions dipped in response to pandemic-related lockdowns.

Make no mistake, the haves of the world are better equipped to handle rising air pollution levels as well as sea level rise. Those of us who are the greatest contributors have the greatest responsibility to make changes. Yes, that means me and yes, that means you, if you have the leisure and access to read this.

Rising climate despair

Another article in the Guardian reported that therapists are seeing a rise in PTSD like symptoms related to climate crisis despair.

While time may be running out and we see little if any improvement in spite of efforts reportedly we make, we cannot give up any effort to turn this juggernaut around. Remember, the planet is like the Titanic. Even after we put the full stop on the engines and kick them into reverse, we will continue moving towards the iceberg of doom. We have not yet done nearly enough.

What is “Enough”?

Speaking of enough, what is enough? What can any of us do and do quickly enough to effect. change.

There are three general attitudes towards what actions we can or should or need to take. One is each individual talking responsibility for their own carbon footprint. Some say this is insufficient and lets government and big business of the hook.

Second is the claim that serious times call for serious and large scale measures. Government policy is the only way to make the kind of changes needed. It does not take a political scientist to poke holes in the idea of relying on world governments, leaders, and politicians to get policy changes in place. Any policies would require adaptation and change by individuals anyway. We are the only ones who can make the impact on our elected officials to take action.

Behind the Third Door:

Which brings us to the third necessary leg in this three-legged stool. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, this is one of those trick questions. If you have already figured out the last answer is the correct one, you probably know the third assumption of what is needed. It’s what some would call a middle ground and others might refer to as a mediating institution. (see part two for the conclusion to how to keep breathing)

Breathing and the Climate

In neon pink script, the word breathe
The word “breathe” in neon pink script.

Yes, the climate crisis is bigger than any change individuals can impact. No, we cannot wait for government and business to act. It will take ALL of us, working with members of our families, our neighbors, HOA’s, city or town councils, counties or parishes or churches or school boards or any other other collective body we can choose to engage with. Only in coming together to make change in our own communities and pressuring law makers into establishing policies and real consequences and programs will we heave a chance of evading catastrophe.

But where to begin? Before anyone makes a change, we need to acknowledge that change is necessary. SO, the first step is to inform yourself. If you are reading this, you may already be on that path. You may not know, for instance, that the number of deaths of ALL violent crimes, homicides, suicides, wars and any death of one person attacked or assaulted by another, with or without a gun or other weapon, is far less than the number of people who die from the effects of polluted air, water or other environmental contamination. Not only that, the alarming numbers the media barrages us with of numbers of people succumbing to COVID-19 are small in comparison to the number of people dying of pollution related causes annually. Sorry, I don’t have the exact reference, but the source was most likely the New York Times, NPR, The Guardian, or a scientific report that I heard of through one of those sources.

These deaths are quiet, obscure, often slow and excruciating and don’t make headlines. The problem may grab our attention when it is smoke filled skies from raging wildfires. But wood stoves, campfires, or cars driving in traffic may be just as much a cause. Do you remember just a year ago seeing images of city skylines against clear blue skies compared with the “normal” conditions? We did it then and we can and must do so again. Instead of getting “back to normal” with unhealthy air again invading our cities and towns, we must halt that onslaught.

Single most effective action

Another piece of news, the source of which I have not been able to recover after it lodged in my brain is that of all the choices for the most effective individual actions, putting solar panels on their home, driving all all electric car, insulating and installing a heat pump and LED lighting, turning off electrical appliances when not in use, etc., making ALL of the changes to reduce emissions from building and transport do not make as significant an impact as choosing a plant-based diet. That doesn’t require all of us going 100% vegan 24/7. But making the switch for most meals to non-animal sources would keep more greenhouse gases out of the environment than all those other changes combined.

This does not let us off any of these hooks. If we want to continue breathing (raise your hand if you do!) we need to do as much as we can in any way possible. But the quickest action with the most immediate results is to stop eating animals and their products as soon as now. Pick one meal this week, two next week, a full day the week after that and keep adding to your repertoire of meals without fellow breathers. You can do it. There is an increasing number of us making this choice. Join us and let us know how it is going for you.


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