Staying you in the climate crisis
It’s a quintessential college moment: My friend and I are reading under a tree on the quad. We each have an iced tea in hand. Students throw a Frisbee nearby. My friend and I start talking about the climate crisis. We feel helpless. We don’t know what to do.
Over the past several years, the gravity of the climate crisis has become increasingly clear to me and my peers. This week, in about 185 countries around the world, millions of strikers—especially young adults—are demanding that governments take action against the fossil fuel industry and global warming.
Surrounded by news of the Amazon along with other forests around the world burning and Greenland melting, it’s easy to forget that climate change hits close to home. Our local actions and reactions matter. Recently, Vox created an interactive map showing how every city in the United States is likely to be affected by climate change. According to this graphic, in St. Louis, summer temperatures will raise from an average of 88.5 degrees to a predicted 94.2, and winters from an average of 25.2 degrees in 2000 to a predicted 29.7 by 2050.
What this means is that cities around the nation, like ours, will likely experience heat waves, severe rainstorms and droughts, causing economic and political shifts we cannot anticipate. On top of this exists the general uncertainty of being 20-something years old; we cannot anticipate what our own individual futures will hold, if we will have children, what our careers may look like, who we will turn out to be.
What I do know is that my own perspective on life and my values have changed in the present. That has been both frightening and challenging.
Before the majority of my attention was diverted to the climate crisis, I had always valued my personal health over everything. Both of my parents are healthcare professionals. Their collective mantra rang clear in my head for as long as I can remember: As long as we have our health, everything will be okay. As a result, I’ve always seen my health as the most important aspect of my life. I take my vitamins, exercise twice a week and eat nearly vegan. On top of that, I do all in my power to fend off germs. I carry hand sanitizer at all times, douse paper towels in antiseptic to wipe down the kitchen counters and bathroom surfaces at least once per day, use paper towels instead of hand dryers in public restrooms, push around a Swiffer as often as possible and view Clorox wipes as my greatest savior.
A lot of my habits have gone unquestioned. They help me feel I can exert some minor control over having a long and healthy life. But now the climate crisis has taken away that sense of control. My concerns about the environment greatly outweigh those about my personal health.
For instance, I am physically active because I have always known that doing so will have benefits on my cardiac and cognitive health as I age. Now, grim as it is, every time I’m at the gym I wonder if this planet will allow me to even see old age. I feel like I’m living in the beginning of an apocalyptic film.
It takes effort to push back against that, to take care of yourself and remind yourself that your life is happening now.
When I am stressed—as I am about the climate crisis—I tend to lean on those habits and actions that have consistently brought me peace. For me, that’s the attention to cleanliness that provides a respite in a messy, chaotic world (I’m looking at you, tiny keychain of Purell that demands to be replaced every few months). Now, every time I toss a single-use item—which I have often chosen to use in the past for their illusion of cleanliness—I feel a pang of guilt. I have begun to fundamentally rethink how I interact with objects around me, even when it comes to those items I have typically associated with health and cleanliness.
Whether your stress outlet is shopping, eating, or if you’re me, cleaning and exercising, there are ways to rethink small actions in ways that can benefit the very environmental crisis that is making us stressed. That can mean thrifting instead of fast fashion, a veggie-based meal instead of a beef one or if you’re me, swiping the kitchen counter with a rag instead of a paper towel. I’ve even started looking into how to make my own cleaning solutions.
We all have habits we could improve that would benefit others around us as well as ourselves. As much as possible, I’m trying to view this time as one where I can learn how to adapt and improve my habits—for my sake, for my local community’s sake and ultimately, for the world’s sake.