I've been pretty conscious of climate change since taking Environmental Science in high school, and while I still am, some of my environmentally friendly habits have fallen off in the past few years. Spending most of my time working, moving further away from an affordable grocery store, and getting caught up in New York's take-out culture definitely contributed. And I'll also be the first to admit getting in a new relationship made me want to go out more and spend less time grocery shopping and cooking at home.
But President Trump's decision to remove the US from the Paris climate deal was an abrupt wake-up call I didn't expect. For one, I didn't think I needed a wake-up call — I know humans contribute to climate change; I wrote my college thesis on what happens to New York City's recyclables; I remind my friends to recycle their plastic coffee cups. One political decision couldn't possibly alter my thinking that much, or so I thought.
I suddenly found myself questioning the packaging of my take-out meals, whether I could compost the almost-mouldy cheese in my fridge, and how to talk my boyfriend into eating less meat.
It's not like the decision to recuse America from the climate pact through which almost every nation pledged to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions was all that surprising — President Trump already rolled back some of Obama's clean energy initiatives and was expected to withdraw from the Paris Agreement days before he made the announcement.
To be completely honest, I normally pride myself on being fairly environmentally friendly — I don't have a car; I haven't eaten meat in about eight years; I save my food scraps and take them to the farmer's market to be composted.
But over the weekend I started realising how much waste my lifestyle generates despite all of that.
Friday night, I ordered dinner after a long day at work, and as I unwrapped my burrito and multiple hot sauces in my fully air conditioned apartment, I realised how much paper, plastic, and energy I was using.
Thinking back on how often I'd ordered out over the last month (at least twice a week, if not more), the clothing I'd ordered in the mail (I'm a recent MeUndies convert), and the number of beer and wine bottles I put in the recycling bin, I started feeling very complicit in America's waste.
America is currently the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, and the nation's leaders aren't willing to do anything about it. For me, the news last week became an opportune time to reflect on what I was doing. America's consumer-driven culture inevitably leads to a lot of plastic bags and containers, wasted food, discarded clothes, and Uber rides.
While small island nations that import a lot of goods produce the most waste, the U.S. falls in the top five producers among developed countries. And a 2015 study published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology shows that everything households across the world consume contributes to about 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions, from the industries producing everything we buy to the physical waste it inevitably leads to.
In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle, a research professor and project manager at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute respectively, said the best way for Americans to help the environment is switching to a more fuel-efficient vehicle. But outside of getting a new car, cutting back on the distances you drive and fly, replacing incandescent light bulbs with LEDs, and reducing the amount of meat and overall calories you eat, as well as throwing out less food, are also helpful changes.
It's easy to get distracted by life and forget about all the little ways our actions impact the Earth, which is why you shouldn't feel bad if Trump's decision to remove the US from the Paris climate deal either reminded you of this anew, or opened your eyes for the first time.
I'm outraged by America's regressive climate change policies, especially since global warming disproportionately impacts women, and I don't feel disingenuous for suddenly caring more. After all, change only happens when people care.
There are small changes everyone can make to be more environmentally friendly. Look up what you can and can't recycle in your area, and make sure your parents are recycling, too. Try to cut back on ordering take-out and going out for lunch at work. Plan ahead to make sure you eat the food in your fridge before it goes bad. Find a local farmer's market or garden that will compost your food scraps. Turn your AC off when you leave the house. Walk and take public transportation instead of driving or calling an Uber.
If you're worried people will think you're just jumping on the climate change bandwagon, tell yourself it's better late than never. And if, like me, you thought you were already doing an okay job of respecting the environment, you could probably be doing more.