Before I tell you this story you need to know that I was the founder of the Save The Earth Club at I. Weiner Middle school in 1994. I petitioned for half a day of school to facilitate workshops and speakers and, yes, I was 10.
I also drove my parents insane insisting we reduce, reuse, and recycle – ESPECIALLY recycle. ESPECIALLY paper and plastic.
I even made my own recycled paper and set up shop in the backyard. My recycled paper was “thick and unusable,” but I didn’t care. If you had to be inconvenienced in order to keep us BREATHING AIR, that felt like a fair trade.
You’re welcome, MOM AND DAD, for saving The Earth.
Except that I didn’t save The Earth.
Worse, 30 years later, I discovered that “recycling” paper and plastic is a waste of time and I’m not even sure I can finish writing this paragraph without having a full-blown panic attack.
Deeeeeep breaths, Margo. Deeeeep breaths.
I have a freaking graduate degree in psychology. I know my brain is being driven by sunk costs and my higher-order cognition is being hijacked by my amygdala. I know my self-concept is identified with the idea of my being a “recycler,” and that is in conflict with The Data. I know that I can hold two conflicting thoughts at the same time. I know that something can be true AND in conflict with what I believe or feel.
NONE OF THAT MAKES IT POSSIBLE FOR ME TO DIGEST THE SIMPLE FACT THAT MY MILK CARTON CANNOT AND WILL NOT BE RECYCLED.
Ok, I feel a little better now. My parasympathetic nervous system is activated and I can actually stomach the data I emotionally cannot handle because my 1990s Reduce, Reuse, and Recycling indoctrination runs deep.
Recycling plastic and paper came from a good place, but it made one fatal flaw (in addition to there being no good way to recycle plastic): 90s era environmentalism was built on a personal-agency approach to what is a systems-level problem.
No matter how much I want to die on the hill of recycled paper, it’s a drop in the bucket because we need systems solutions to system-level problems.
When you make a system-level problem contingent on “personal responsibility” it distracts us.
If I get all hyped up about plastic straws (WHICH I AM)(er…was), I’m going to spend more time in guilt and defending my ego (shaming others for drinking out of a plastic straw or debating the merits of a reusable plastic straw vs a disposable one) than I will be focusing on the more important issues, like concrete.
Did you know about concrete? Or the Exxon memo that predicted climate change 20 years ago? Or the fact that no matter how many straws you eradicate from restaurants you’re still living in a world where you have to drive a car, cook dinner, paint your nails, charge your phone, and do things that cumulatively are WAY WORSE than straws.
We need a systems-level overhaul for anything to change in a significant way.
Keeping us focused on what ONE person can do is a trap. One I’ve fallen for every year of my life and may still be high off of.
It’s not that what one person can do doesn’t matter – it does (seriously, don’t use the straws) it’s just insufficient. And it backfires because invariably you reach a point where you feel despondent and defeated: “What’s the point? Why bother? Nothing we do makes a difference anyway.” <—— THIS is the piece that frightens me the most.
Not the Earth’s temperature rising 1-degree centigrade and life as we know it being over. No no. What frightens me is that we stop caring. That we decide that the powers that be are TOO big, TOO powerful, TOO unpersuaded, TOO fixed and immobile – and that we are helpless in the face of it.
I feel helpless about this issue a lot. It’s caused me to tap out of the conversation entirely at times because who am I to take on a system. Full of people who aren’t listening and don’t care. Didn’t I just publish something that said don’t bother with people who aren’t listening because they can’t be persuaded? Yeah, I freaking did.
I missed something important, though. They are reachable in different ways that have to do with status roles (like why Kyle suddenly cares about The Arts Fundraiser – he doesn’t *actually* care, it’s just ALL the cool kids are going to the fundraiser and he has to go or he won’t be cool AND he has to get a table, so people know he has money because god-forbid someone assumes he can’t afford to go, which is what they would assume if he didn’t go) (Status Roles: the foundation of any good fundraising campaign 😎).
I was also wrong was in assuming that there are only people who don’t care in positions of power. That isn’t true. MANY of us care, MANY of us are concerned, and MANY of us are taking action at scale.
To that end, I’ve been working on a super-secret project taking action at scale I can finally tell you about. This project involved coordinated efforts from 300 people from 41 countries – ALL VOLUNTEERING to solve the climate problem. As of last week, the number is over 1,000. Together, we created The Carbon Almanac, which is already hitting bestseller lists and it’s not even out yet.
The book officially comes out in July, but you can preorder it here.
If you’re unfamiliar with almanacs (which, I was) they exist as foundational documents. A starting point to get you aligned on The Facts. And right now, one of our biggest problems is that, while there is scientific consensus on what’s happening in the atmosphere, there is a public debate about The Facts. There is a public debate about something that is unequivocally undebatable.
So that is where we start: get aligned on the facts. Here is what is happening. Here is why. And here is what we can do to fix it.
Because we can fix it. 👈🏼 👈🏼 👈🏼This is something else that gets lost in the gloom and doom messaging. It’s fixable. We have the technology, we have the tools, and we have the resources – what we need is the infrastructure. The coordinated effort. The power with and power to.
Meatless Monday isn’t enough when 50% of America is basically shooting out cow farts a mile a minute, hurtling methane into the sky like it’s nbd.
We have a culture problem, not a technology one.
[“But none of the sustainable options have proven effective or affordable!” <— also false. And this is why we need an almanac. So you can educate Kyle, who skimmed a headline and got confused about what is true. No, Kyle, we have the technology, we need coordinated action and infrastructure. And everything is cheap compared to being dead.]
We can do this. And it starts with this.
There is still time. But it is right now.
If you’re feeling helpless, like I have been, grab a copy of the Almanac and discover the ways in which we can fix this problem that don’t require you to shame your friends into going vegan with you.
System-level solutions to a system-level problem.
We can do this.
We’re more than 1,000 strong and I’ve lost count of how many countries are involved now.
Preorder your copy of The Carbon Almanac and join the movement today.
Margo, Original Founder of I. Weiner Middle School’s Save The Earth Club
PS: There is going to be a Carbon Almanac Network you can join to work on systemic-level solutions with volunteers from all over the world – I don’t think it’s live yet, but I’ll let you know when it is (website is coming soon).
There will also be a way to preorder 5+ books and get them automatically sent to your state and local representatives. To be clear, there’s nothing new about the Carbon Alamanc’s data, we’ve just written it in a way that busy people can skim – with graphs and charts and section headers that will decode the science and ELI5).