Thompson: UN climate change report should make us examine our personal choices

Madison Thompson

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

The Arctic ice is melting. The sea level is rising. The ocean is full of plastic and hurricanes are ravaging American coastlines at an unprecedented rate — it’s only predicted to get worse.

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The most recent United Nations climate change report warns that we only have 12 years to act on climate change to stop a rise in temperature of 1.5 degrees Celsius or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit.

Regardless of the fact that only 100 companies are reportedly responsible for over 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, individuals still have a greater duty to adjust their personal choices to help mitigate the effects of climate change than corporations. 

You might be asking yourself, “Is my degree even worth it anymore?”

Businesses takes time to change practices. Humans can change their behavior any time they want to. We don’t tend to recognize this power because of the responsibility that comes with it.

Consumers drive demand, meaning businesses don’t exist without us. We have the power to force their hand by prioritizing more responsible and sustainable lifestyles.

The report lays out different pathways to reorganize and restructure our industrial systems to effectively remove more carbon dioxide than we emit.

The rest of the world could take a lesson from Bhutan, the only carbon-negative country in existence. This is largely achieved through the protection of their forests by the constitution. It mandates that 60 percent of its total land should be maintained under forest cover at all times. Other countries have also made efforts to protect the environment.

Sweden is so good at recycling that the country has run out of trash, and they’ve pledged to be the first fossil-fuel-free country. Germany plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 95 percent by 2050.

These goals are ambitious and we should surly hope they are carried out to the best of the countries’ abilities. But it is easy to become paralyzed with frustration or even blinded by hope that if they’re working it out, you don’t need to think about it.

This can seem like an overwhelming prospect when you consider the amount of individual decisions that happen in every day life which affect the health of the planet.

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It does take some re-learning and conscious implementation, but there are a handful of things you can do every day to minimize your carbon footprint.

If you go to a coffee shop and plan on staying for a while, ask for a reusable mug like the ones you use at home. Buy a few reusable bags from King Soopers and leave them in your car so you don’t have a reason to forget them. Avoid buying single-use plastics if you can. Bike, walk or take the bus to get you where you’re going. Buy local products that don’t need to be trucked across the country (looking at you, Amazon). 

These are all options you can make on a day-to-day basis that shouldn’t cause too much stress. Still, according to the report, your food choices are the single biggest contributing factor to helping or hurting the development of climate change.

We need to effectively eliminate the consumption of animal products in our diet to have the biggest impact possible on mitigating climate change. Livestock production accounts for 83 percent of total farmland yet produces only 18 percent of calories and 37 percent of protein. 

The lowest impact meat and dairy products still cause a significant amount more environmental destruction than the lowest impact fruit and vegetables.

During a 2018 interview with The Guardian Lead researcher Joseph Poor from the University of Oxford, said in the 2018 Guardian article “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use.”

Pointing the finger at an outside entity is the easy route because it essentially removes any responsibility for your own participation in the mitigation process. No one wants to be constantly bogged down with decisions that force them to repeatedly examine their own priorities.

With over 7 billion people and counting, it’s easy to convince yourself that your actions don’t matter, but you have the power to influence your little slice of the world. We can’t expect corporations and governments to handle everything for us. Their goals are admirable, but true change will always come from the bottom-up and it starts with you.

Madison Thompson can be reached at letters@collegian.com or onTwitter @heyymadison.