The Climate Emergency and a New Ethos

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Consider this a half rant, half an observation on our wasteful society. Humanity increasingly receives that we are in the midst of a climate emergency. We know from experts that time is running short to avoid the worst of it. In fact, it is not getting better because we are having issues changing our ways. These are not minor. In fact, they are radical. Things are degrading at an ever-faster pace, and we seem oblivious. Many of us self aware humans known this, and it is getting harder to ignore, as every year turns to be the hottest on record. Yet, we do, regularly.

The United Nations is speaking of a climate-related disaster a week. You may have heard of Paradise, maybe the wildfires currently burning in Alaska. I am willing to bet the drought in India is surely in your consciousness. According to a recent report in The Guardian

Estimates put the cost of climate-related disasters at $520bn a year, while the additional cost of building infrastructure that is resistant to the effects of global heating is only about 3%, or $2.7tn in total over the next 20 years.

Mizutori said: “This is not a lot of money [in the context of infrastructure spending], but investors have not been doing enough. Resilience needs to become a commodity that people will pay for.” That would mean normalising the standards for new infrastructure, such as housing, road and rail networks, factories, power and water supply networks, so that they were less vulnerable to the effects of floods, droughts, storms and extreme weather.

Until now, most of the focus of work on the climate crisis has been on “mitigation” — jargon for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and not to be confused with mitigating the effects of the climate crisis. The question of adapting to its effects has taken a distant second place, in part because activists and scientists were concerned for years that people would gain a false complacency that we need not cut emissions as we could adapt to the effects instead, and also because while cutting emissions could be clearly measured, the question of adapting or increasing resilience was harder to pin down.

Mizutori said the time for such arguments had ran out. “We talk about a climate emergency and a climate crisis, but if we cannot confront this [issue of adapting to the effects] we will not survive,” she told the Guardian. “We need to look at the risks of not investing in resilience.”

Mitigation and resilience do not only involve policy-making bodies. For that matter, it is not limited to big industries either. It includes the personal, and things that we all can change. It involves personal and cultural behaviors and mores. Some of this includes changing how we do a lot of things. And we are in the wrong direction in many ways.

Here is a personal saga involving a very good bed. After my mother died, well, actually before, we knew we would not need the extra bed we had at home. We also knew we had to get rid of it because we wanted to use that room as a place to play miniature games at home. It is a hobby that both my husband and I share, and this would make it easier. Once we decided to bring some of my mom’s furniture home from Mexico City, we knew we had an extra dining room table that would be repurposed to do it on.

We decided to Bring her dining room set home since it’s a family heirloom, and an antique, and it will get here soon. We also had it fixed in Mexico City so it will last for decades to come. Hopefully, the nieces or nephews will decide to keep it after we are gone. For the moment we will enjoy it, and the memories of my childhood.

However, here is where things got complicated. This speaks to our disposable culture, which needs to change everything, like last week. We literally offered a good bed, in excellent shape to a few people who might want or need a newish bed. We thought, wrongly, that it would have served somebody else for years to come.

These included people who were moving to their first home and fire victims who lost all during last year fire in Alpine. I know insurance will not cover all the losses they incurred either, but we literally could not give it away. There was like zero interest in this.

Then we tried to give it to a local person who helps homeless vets get off the streets and he said a few times he edged furniture. You’d think that would be a good candidate for a good quality bed set. Nope, that did not happen. Finally, we tried local charities, some are local, some national. And we consistently got the same-ish answer. If it’s not taken apart we will not take it. If it has a scratch, we are not interested. You’d think that organizations that supposedly get the furniture to sell second hand would jump on this. Also, one, in particular, could use the opportunity to train staff on how to take furniture apart, and later back together. It is a skill that could be of use.

So we finally did the only reasonable thing at that point. We called a company that disposes of trash at the landfill. It was literally the end of our rope.

Mind you, we tried to give it away, not even sell it, for over a year. I need that space clean and ready to go when the furniture from Mexico shows up. I am running out of time. But this inability to give it away speaks volumes as to where we are.

If I were in Mexico City l would have had zero issues finding somebody to take that bed set. I know because we were able to give away most of the stuff, if not all, that was not trash. And trust me, we all accumulate a lot of things over the course of a lifetime. I would also have little trouble fixing household electronics that here we simply replace because we do not have a tradition about fixing things. The culture in Mexico involves reusing a lot more stuff than we do. While landfills are chocked full, like ours, you can still give things away that others will enjoy and reuse.

This is partly Mexican culture. Mexicans are hardly as wealthy as we are in both economic and stuff things. Reusing things does not have the stigma we seem to have. Simply put, it is still, a less consumer-oriented society where designed obsolescence means you change stuff often.

Granted, those wasteful values are spreading to a growing Mexican middle class. But there is greater awareness of the climate emergency. Partly, due to latitudes, Mexico was hit by major effects much earlier than we in the continental United States from the worst of global warming. This has not been the case in Alaska, or Hawaii. However, this does not mean this helps with the denial. Many in the ruling elites in Alaska are still denying there is a problem, never mind, as predicted in scientific papers I started reading in 2011, the forests are burning. When people act surprised by this, they simply have not done the work required. On the downside, not being surprised by the extent of the fires, or the fact that it is downright hot, is depressing. Alaska Public Radio reported as follows regarding the new governor and some of his early actions regarding the climate emergency.

The 20-member climate task force had been chaired by Walker’s lieutenant governor, Democrat Byron Mallott. In his order establishing the group, Walker described global warming as threatening the state’s natural resources and posing risks to residents’ “health, safety and economic future.”

Alaska has warmed at twice the rate of the global average since the mid-20th century, and the cost to the state between 2008 and 2030 could range from $3 billion to $6 billion, according to a federal climate report released in November.

(Mike) Dunleavy, in an interview on the campaign trail, downplayed climate change’s effects on Alaska.

”I think we have a lot of issues that, in my opinion, are quite frankly and bluntly more important than the climate task force,” Dunleavy said. “And I’ll be focusing on these immediate issues for Alaska instead of focusing on the issues in this task force.”

This is not just that the governor is a Republican, which many Democrats will quickly jump on. There are strong interests in the state that fight anything of substance done to mitigate or adapt to climate change. There is also quite a bit of denial. The fires the state is currently experiencing were posited in science papers. So are the higher average temperatures. They are part of a trend. And if the warming starts melting the permafrost, then we will release of methane. This will hardly be an economic boom as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently stated. According, again, with the Guardian:

Permafrost melt is the main concern. Greenhouse gases — which are released when organic matter that had been frozen below the soil for centuries thaws and rots — have already begun to escape at the current level of 1 degrees Celsius of global heating. So far the impact is small. Ten gigatonnes of carbon have been released from the permafrost but this source of emissions will grow rapidly once temperatures rise beyond 1.5C.

On the current trajectory of at least 3C of warming by the end of the century, melting permafrost is expected to discharge up to 280 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide and 3 gigatonnes of methane, which has a climate effect that is 10 to 20 times stronger than CO2.

This would increase the global climate-driven impacts by by $70tn between now and 2300. This is 10 times higher than the projected benefits from a melting Arctic, such as easier navigation for ships and access to minerals, says the paper.

We have a planetary emergency in front of us. We also are experiencing the deeper effects of a warming earth. Whether it is at the government, policy-making levels, or at the personal, we still act as if nothing is wrong. Those tied to the oil industry are in deep denial. But so are organizations that claim to accept used goods. It seems that trying to do the right thing gets you only deep levels of irritation. There is more, the landfills are quickly filling up. So what happens next? How much of what ends up in them is perfectly serviceable, but we refuse to reuse it?

We need to change. Well, as far as I am concerned, I know I will be shopping more often at places like Goodwill, not just trying to donate as much as possible. If things can stay out of landfills it’s a small victory. Mind you, it is not just because buying at places like this saves money. It does, but if I get a cute outfit I need for a social event, (and I am still losing weight), I can donate it back and keep it circulating. This is why.

>Textile production is one of the most polluting industries, producing 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) per year, which is more emissions than international flights and maritime shipping2. Over 60% of textiles are used in the clothing industry and a large proportion of clothing manufacturing occurs in China and India, countries which rely on coal-fuelled power plants, increasing the footprint of each garment. It has been stated that around 5% of total global emissions come from the fashion industry3.

>Emissions from manufacturing depend in part on the material produced. Synthetic fibres have seen rapid production growth since their introduction in the second half of the twentieth century. Polyester is now the most commonly used fabric in clothing, having overtaken cotton early in the twenty-first century. For polyester and other synthetic materials, the emissions for production are much higher as they are produced from fossil fuels such as crude oil. In 2015, production of polyester for textiles use results in more than 706 billion kg of CO2e (ref. 4). The authors of ref. 4 estimate a single polyester t-shirt has emissions of 5.5 kg CO2e, compared with 2.1 kg CO2e for one made from cotton. However cotton is a thirsty crop and its production has greater impacts on land and water.

>With limited recycling options to recover reusable fibres, almost 60% of all clothing produced is disposed of within a year of production (ending in landfill or incineration)5. To put that into context, that is one rubbish truck per second to landfill2. It has been estimated that less than 1% of material used to produce clothing is recycled within the clothing industry, with around 13% recycled for use in other areas2.

And I will also try to recycle the furniture we need to get rid off. Why? This is the responsible thing to do. Do places like Goodwill or the Salvation Army, or others in this industry have issues? Yes, some are quite severe. But those are less terrible than a warming planet which next generations will inherit. If you need new clothes, I have found things that are brand new at Goodwill as well. And I got some cute clothes for the summer. Next year they will go back. I expect to lose another size or two. May somebody else find them useful.

As I said in the beginning, we need to change how we do things. This includes changing our consumerist habits for the latest possible thing or trends. And the latest thing is fast fashion, and renting clothes. Yes, that is a thing. If you have heard of Stitch Fix, well it is precisely that. And their model is simple. You pay a monthly fee, they chose clothes for you, and you return them after some time. See a problem with that in our warming planet?

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Historian by training. Former day to day reporter. Sometimes a geek who enjoys a good miniatures game.

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