I don’t read non-fiction books. Not very often at least. Earlier this year I read two biographies in a row and felt like an Ivy League professor (full disclosure: one was the Beastie Boys Book). The last time I got deep into a non-fiction book things got a little out of hand. It’s called Best Evidence by David Lifton and the central idea is that JFK was not killed by Lee Harvey Oswald.
I didn’t finish it. I found myself getting three beers in me and yelling at everyone in earshot how that goddamn bullet couldn’t have caused seven wounds in two men. I mean come on. I know they didn’t have cell phones back then but they definitely still had the laws of physics. And they just happen to find it all nice and neat in the gurney at the hospital? Give me a break.
The point is, I get really proud of myself when I read non-fiction books (or when I find one that holds my attention long enough to finish it). It’s a lot like when I go for a jog. If I do it when my wife isn’t around to know about the jog firsthand, I tell her. I want the goddamn credit for doing something heroic.
I just finished reading We Are the Weather by Jonathan Safran Foer and I liked it a lot. The basic thesis is that the best way to combat climate change is to avoid eating any animal products before dinner. Ideally, it would be all day, but this is a compromise that would make a big difference if it caught on like that terrible Masked Singer show.
Before I even finished it, in full Best Evidence style, I yelled at my friends about it (sorry guys). Now, I don’t exactly remember the conversation (whoops) but it sounds like I wasn’t too nice about it. This can most likely be attributed to two things: 1) The more you learn about climate change the more pissed off you get, and 2) I’m an asshole.
One thing this book drove home to me was that the problem isn’t with people who don’t believe in climate change. Apparently only 14 percent of people deny climate change (by the way, any facts I state are taken from Foer’s book; I can’t claim any research of my own). That blew my mind.
But if so few people hold that opinion, why does that seem to be the dominant opinion in government? That means either every person that doesn’t believe in climate change holds political office, or they do believe in climate change but don’t act on it for some reason (most likely money).
So if 86% of people agree climate change is real, then why aren’t we all doing something about it?
And here’s the holy shit part of the book: We are. But what we’re doing isn’t nearly enough.
The fact that the number of non-believers is so inflated makes those of us who bring our own reusable bags to the grocery store feel like Captain Planet. We get to feel like champions while not actually doing anything that makes a realistic difference. We don’t realize this because there isn’t a noticeable difference between actually doing something and just thinking we are.
I think we all know factory farming is shitty. No one likes the idea of chickens getting their beaks cut off so they can be packed in tiny cages. But here’s a crazy stat (again all research credit goes to Foer) that freaked me out: Livestock are responsible for more CO2 emissions per year than all cars, planes, buildings, power plants, and industry combined.
Fucking cows and shit. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Cows don’t emit CO2 dumbass.” And you’re right. They produce methane. However, methane has 34 times the global warming potential as CO2 over the course of a century. So methane is far worse than what a clunker farts out of its tailpipe.
But even if everyone knew and fully understood what this stuff means (confession: I don’t), I don’t think much would change.
I don’t think people have it in them to do what’s necessary to avert a climate catastrophe.
This is a much easier argument to make when you’re talking about people who think climate change is a conspiracy. It’s much more difficult when you realize it’s yourself.
It’s difficult to delay gratification. Do you sample your own snacks before guests come over? I do. Every single time. Sure, I can call it “quality control” all I want but I know what it really is: I fuckin’ wanted it. And I think most people are like that. Which is generally okay.
But here’s the rub: If delayed gratification is difficult, never gratification is impossible.
Because that’s what’s required of us. All of us. In order to avert climate change, we need to drastically change the way we live our lives. People simply aren’t willing to make sweeping changes, especially if the reward doesn’t exist.
The reward for changing your life to avoid climate change is something doesn’t happen. That’s not tangible. An immeasurable reward is no reward at all. Would you give money to an invisible homeless person? Would you volunteer all day in the hot sun for a charity that doesn’t exist?
The motivation for acting against climate change is that it makes us feel good for trying. We can say we want to avoid climate catastrophes all we want, but we don’t even know what that means. We don’t know what it looks like. We can’t connect emotionally with it so we’re not willing to make drastic changes that could have actual benefits (in the future).
We’re all fighting against a real-life boogeyman. Unfortunately, the way we fight this boogeyman will only affect how much he’s going to fuck shit up for the next generation. And by the time the boogeyman shows his big ugly face, there’ll be no way to stop him.
And when our kids are wondering why we let the boogeyman get so goddamn big and strong, the only thing we’ll be able to do is shrug and say, “We couldn’t see him.”