Declaring Your Own Climate Change Emergency

Time to realize that climate change is the national emergency
We can declare climate change as our own emergency
Credit: Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Creating Some Good from Yesterday’s News

Yesterday, the President declared the immigration situation at our border with Mexico to be a national emergency, justifying his own appropriation of funding to build a wall.   I was upset by this news, given the Constitutional implications.

However, I begrudgingly give Mr. Trump credit for his creativity.  And I’d like to build on his loosened view of reality to think about how we might combat climate change.

Emergency Powers Allow us to Relax the Rules

I read in the New York Times that Federal law authorizes a President to invoke emergency powers, described as “enhancements to his executive powers by essentially creating exceptions to rules that normally constrain him. The idea is to enable the government to respond quickly to a crisis.”

Responding to the Climate Crisis: What Rules Can We Relax?

That led me to ask:  what rules normally constrain us when we think about reducing our carbon footprint?  And how might we create exceptions to them?

Rule #1:  I Can’t Afford it

Many of us use “mental accounting” to create rules for how we spend our money.  Sometimes these rules make economic sense; other times, they do not. Mental accounting can be problematic if it keeps you from spending money on something important. For example, I have a Fun Money account that is supposed to be used for special treats for me (that I wouldn’t buy otherwise).  Technically, this money is interchangeable with the other money we earn and save, but I’ve labeled it in my mind as less fungible because of its purpose.

Under my new National Carbon Emergency, I could create an exception to my Fun Money rule and use some of that money to – say – buy a more efficient heater.  (Not so much fun, but important.) 

  • What about shifting money among your mental accounts so that you can choose your utility’s green power option?

Rule #2:  I Don’t Have Enough Time

My work day is challenging and often long, and I spend time with Mark in the evenings.  I use my weekends to catch up on errands (and write this blog). When it comes to reducing my carbon footprint, it is easy to say to myself, “I’m too busy to think about it now.  I’ll deal with it tomorrow.”

But what if I relax my rule about being too busy by pairing my climate-fighting time with a benefit or reward?  Under my National Climate Crisis, I could take the bus to the farmers’ market and reward myself with my favorite yogurt.

  • What about cooking a meatless dinner to try a type of food you’ve never eaten, or to share with friends?

Rule #3:  It’s Not Possible

According to the Cool Climate Network, the average household carbon footprint in my area is about 50 metric tonnes. The average in more “carbon-intensive” areas of the U.S. (like my home state of Kansas) is more than 60 tonnes.  A “sustainable” carbon footprint is about 2 tonnes per person.  Yikes! 

The challenge seems so daunting that it is easy to revert to my internal defenses, and conclude that it’s just not doable.  Examples on social media – like Lauren Singer, the zero-waste activist who has managed to fit four years of her waste in a Mason jar – reinforce the sense that the challenge is too difficult.

But by using my newfound Environmental Emergency powers, I can drop my usual definitions of success and failure and recognize that I need to start somewhere, and try something.  For example, I could try using my own coffee/tea mug for a month. 

  • What about checking out one of the new carpool/rideshare apps? 

Time to Relax the Rules

I’ll admit that I’m typically a rule-follower. Here, the rules are mostly in our own heads.

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