The only thing planet Earth hates more than CO2 is the CO2 that comes from hot puffs of hypocrisy. And in the weeks since President Trump announced he is withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate agreement, temperatures have been rising.
I know we’re angry about the direction our country is heading. To many of us, President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the accord is a crime against humanity and an unfathomable act of arrogance. But here is another bit of unsavory news for the people crying about climate change but still driving to In-N-Out: You are a part of the problem just as much as Donald Trump. If you want government to regulate business, but choose to ignore that, without our purchases, there would be no business, you are just as culpable as the CEO of Exxon Mobil who only sells a product that we demand.
But fear not – there is something we can still do. If Gov. Jerry Brown can sign a climate pact with Beijing, we can sign one with ourselves too.
I’m calling it the Paris workout plan. Get your footprint right for the summer.
1. Repeat after me: Beef is bad
I admit it — the first time I came to L.A. I immediately demanded to go to In-N-Out. After all, if you don’t ’gram a pic of yourself with your Animal-style burger, did you even come to L.A. at all? The problem with this is that beef production uses 28 times the amount of land that pork or chicken does, and emits five times the CO2 thanks to cows’ smelly methane farts and the fertilizer it takes to grow their food. As tasty as beef is, eating it while we are on the crest of an environmental crisis is no longer cool. Next time someone orders hanger steak, look at them like they just ordered kitten.
Luckily, these days, there are so many more delicious options besides kitten. You don’t even have to cut meat out altogether. If you do go veg though, you’ll be reducing your carbon footprint from food by more than two-thirds. As we acquire 3 billion new mouths to feed over the next 30 years, reducing this particular source of carbon is one of the most important things you can do.
2. Quit glorifying consumer culture
We glorify consumer culture when we buy things we don’t need and fawn over people with studio-sized closets. Consumerism is a tough habit to kick because society equates status with how much stuff we own, and love with how much stuff we’re given. Celebrities reinforce this norm by modeling lavish lifestyles on Instagram, where we endorse them with “likes” by the millions. But what exactly are we promoting? That pic of Kim’s PJ is super sexy–until you realize it has the carbon footprint of a large, soot-breathing dragon.
Instead of trying to imitate the rich and famous, why not do a capsule closet? Invest in a few high-quality pieces and wear them for the rest of your life. Or pop some tags in your local thrift store. When you do shop for new items, train yourself to think about how they were made and where they come from. In the abstract magic of the marketplace, where oil masquerades as plastic and China seems close by, it is easy to forget that everything we consume costs energy. Yet this is the very fact you must remember.
3. Reconsider your flying/driving habit
As it turns out, it takes a lot of energy to blast hundreds people into the sky and keep them from falling down. A round-trip flight from New York to L.A. produces over two tons of carbon. To put that in perspective, the average American produces about 19 carbon tons over the course of the year, while a European produces 10. The global average is four. While cars still have a far larger cumulative footprint than planes, that is because more people drive every day than fly.
So what am I supposed to do? I hear many of you thinking. All my loved ones live on the East Coast, while I am in California. It’s not my fault I was born in the United States and not Liechtenstein.
When you hit a wall like this in your in your Paris workout plan, take a deep breath and control what you can. I can’t stop flying today either, but I did sell my car. I take the bus to work now, which reduces my commuting footprint by about two-thirds.
As for the harder things, like flying, it’s time to start having regular and urgent conversations about what a more locally based society would look like. What if we stayed in the places where we were born? What if we only produced foods that grow naturally where we live? It’s a world with less choice, but it’s also still Earth. The reality of climate change means that we can either elect to live more locally and with less, or perhaps not at all.
The most important part of the Paris workout plan is to focus on what you came here for. No one ever said getting the results you want for the planet would be easy. Just that they’d be worth it.
Cassady Rosenblum is an intern in The Times’ Opinion section.