Q. Dear Umbra,
Well, I guess it’s the time of year for resolutions again! I’m trying to be more climate-conscious this year. What should I resolve to change about myself in 2020?
— Seeking To Unveil Climate Kryptonite
A. Dear STUCK,
My father’s life motto is that low expectations are the secret to happiness, which is kind of ironic because he has extremely high expectations for himself, but WASPs don’t generally aspire to happiness. Not in their DNA! Anyway, my dad is doing great, and the lesson I’m trying to communicate here is that very specific or exacting resolutions are almost sure to result in disappointment and self-flagellation.
And trying to change oneself to be more climate-conscious is a process particularly prone to letdowns because there are just so many horrifically daunting structural barriers to doing the good or right thing. But because I am a professional climate advice columnist, trying to overcome those barriers or confront them in some meaningful, productive way is basically my bread and butter. And over the past year of advice dispensation, I’ve noticed some recurring themes that I can share with you to help you formulate your approach for 2020.
If the idea of self-improvement brings on an anxiety fit — I don’t blame you — and you don’t want to go through and read any of the below, I can boil them down to one very simple resolution: Just think more about what you do. That’s it! That’s all. And then, when possible, choose the thoughtful option over the easy, automatic one.
Be more conscious about what you have. I’ve argued that consumerism and the desire to have lots of things for the sake of having them are dual fundamental sources of a lot of climate problems. But the good news is that they are pretty low-lift impulses to phase out in the year to come! Simply appreciating and rethinking what you have instead of trying to get “nicer, better, and more” can change everything from how you manage your money to what happens after you Konmari your home to your wedding registry to your role in the plastic pollution crisis.
Eat like it matters. That really just means being more thoughtful about what you eat! And because there are no easy answers to what makes a “sustainable diet,” everyone might come up with slightly different results. That’s fine! We covered the complexity of climate-friendly eating this year with fish, vegetables, and local food.
Change the place you live by changing how you get around. City infrastructure gets defined by the people who use it, and arguably the most effective climate action that you personally can undertake is to influence the place you live for the better. For more context, catch up on what I wrote this year about biking, buses, and cars.
Be patient when it comes to trying to change other people. OK, you’re never going to change other people as much as you’d like. But you can change their opinions or their behavior, if you take the right approach and you have the right reasons. This applies to your parents, your spouse, first dates, friends, strangers — pretty much anyone you’ll ever talk to! But the short rule is: Listen, and be generous.
Set your priorities and stick with them! On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, I wrote all about the practice of teshuvah, which is essentially defining your values and centering your life around them. That can apply to the Gregorian New Year too. Or any day of the year!
Be good to yourself, and Happy New Year!