Eco anxiety, in my experience, doesn’t really go away.
On my best days, when I think I’m making all the right environmental choices as a mom, I still feel overwhelmed and afraid. There’s just so much damage being done to the planet and we may have even less time than we thought to stop global warming. In my last post, I talked about some of the ways I manage the stress of these thoughts. In this post, I want to focus on some of the larger choices we can make to make a positive difference in the fight against climate change and thus reduce our eco anxiety.
But what can we do? We can make different choices about how to live our lives
The warmer the planet, the less likely we’ll be able to live here in the future. If we’re going to stop or slow climate change, we have to concentrate our efforts on the choices that will reduce our carbon footprint the most (remember the more carbon we produce, the more heat is trapped in our atmosphere and the worse off we all are). I have to admit that once you’ve reached the point of starting a family, it can be hard to drastically alter your lifestyle. The following are the personal choices that researchers have identified as having the greatest impact on reducing your carbon footprint. I review them below and offer my experiences with each suggestion.
Eat a plant-based diet
At first glance, I thought I had this recommendation nailed: the girls have been pescatarians since birth! Then I caught myself pouring my daughter a glass of milk to go with her mac and cheese one night for dinner and realized I still had a ways to go to have a truly plant-based diet. But while giving up ice cream and yogurt is not yet in the cards for my family, the girls and I are healthy eating a large variety of non-animal proteins with a limited amount of seafood and probably more dairy than we need.
I will add that being raised on a largely vegetarian diet has made my girls enthusiastic eaters of most any vegetable. Bonus!
If you’re trying to be more eco conscious, this may be the easiest starting point. You don’t have to become completely vegan though, to make a difference. Just eat beans for beef (this great video describes how this choice can make a difference). An article in The Atlantic offers the following tidbit for anyone thinking of giving up hamburgers:
“Recently Harwatt and a team of scientists from Oregon State University, Bard College, and Loma Linda University calculated just what would happen if every American made one dietary change: substituting beans for beef. They found that if everyone were willing and able to do that—hypothetically—the U.S. could still come close to meeting its 2020 greenhouse-gas emission goals, pledged by President Barack Obama in 2009.”
Doesn’t it seem doable to give up one kind of food for another? Sure, you might miss it at first, but maybe, over time, you’ll find yourself expanding your food choices in other ways and feeling healthier for it. Personally, we’re working on cutting back on the dairy front by having one vegan night a week. Maybe your family can embrace Meatless Mondays?
Have one fewer child
Many of us debate having more children and I recognize that it’s a deeply personal choice. The climate research makes me wonder if as part of that, “should we or shouldn’t we,” debate, we might also consider the environmental impact of having children. I don’t think my own personal choice to have a second child would have been different in the end, but if you’re weighing everything else that goes into a decision to have a child, why not consider the health of the planet as one more factor?
Here too, I fall short. The demands of my job have always necessitated having a car. Going carless as a choice works only if you have strong public transportation options.
My husband and I have chosen, however, to commit to just one car as a family. The burden of this choice has largely fallen on him. When the kids were little, we both had hour-long commutes: mine in the car, his on the bus. This despite our daycare being only a 15-minute drive away. I’ve always struggled with my patience when it comes to public transportation, so the one car choice never seemed to be a big deal to me. Plus it saved us money!
My blase attitude came to screeching halt one day when I didn’t have to go into the office and my husband needed the car for a dental appointment. I volunteered to take my turn picking the kids up from daycare on the bus. To make a long story short, when I got home that night I announced, “We’re moving.”
It didn’t happen overnight, of course, but we did eventually move into town which made living with only one car much more workable for us. The kids now walk to school and we look for ways to avoid using even the one car as much as possible.
Avoid airplane travel
As a travel lover, this one makes me cringe. I’m always ready to hop on a plane when given the chance to go someplace new. Discovering that a single airplane trip can equal the amount of carbon my car puts out in a year has definitely put a damper on my enthusiasm. I think twice about trips and consider what adventures my family might have closer to home or in the region (Acadia Park, anyone?)
I’m also starting to explore carbon offsetting. On a recent trip to Chicago, fearing the worst, I checked out an airline’s carbon emissions calculator. For the 762 miles I’d flown, my emissions one way were 0.244 metric tons of CO2. To offset this trip, I would have to pay $3.66. Upon l seeing this, I happily made a donation to the Nature Conservancy as part of the airline’s offset program. I actually paid more than the calculator suggested in an effort to not just neutralize my carbon emissions, but to actively attempt to reduce carbon.
There is definitely some criticism of the practice of carbon offsetting. By paying an offset, I didn’t change my lifestyle at all which is really what the planet needs. It’s obviously an imperfect solution, but I’m trying to see it as a step in the right direction.
On a personal level, the daily choices we make have an impact on the environment.
If we all start to shift our choices, we can have a dramatic impact on the planet. As moms, we’re particularly well-positioned to make change and to have a lasting impact on our planet for our kids for years to come. Don’t we owe it to them to at least try?