When it comes to climate change, I often feel like a hypocrite. I make a lot of noise about the problems climate change poses, but fail to turn that noise into action. I’ve known for years that we need to drastically reduce our collective fossil fuel consumption, yet I continue to take cross-country road trips, buy consumer plastics and fly home to Minnesota for breaks. I can’t really justify these luxuries to myself, because doing so would be difficult. Instead, I choose not to think about them. In the meantime, I raise my hand in class and decry “big oil” and its dirty grip on our nation’s politics, distancing myself from fossil fuels, party politics and the problem of climate change itself.

On the occasions when I do step back and consider my place in the larger climate change narrative, I am often frustrated by how small I feel. Our climate, our world, our future … it all seems so massive that my own place in the solution isn’t clear. Sure, I can choose not to eat burgers in the dining hall because of the considerable carbon footprint of beef production; but the fact of the matter is that even if I never ate another burger at Yale, the beef would still be delivered to our dining halls every day until I graduate. When I think about this as I’m standing in front of the burger grill, it’s not hard to justify picking up a burger. After all, the carbon has already been invested in the process; why waste it?

Clearly, the burger dilemma isn’t one that can be applied to all decisions concerning climate change. However, I mention it because it does a good job of illuminating one of the key mental roadblocks I face when considering climate change — the “drop in the ocean” philosophy. It’s the idea that the individual actions that we take to make a positive impact, like carpooling or recycling or refusing to eat industrial beef, matter very little in the grand scheme of things. It’s the idea that even if I don’t get on SunCountry Flight 243 to MSP International Airport, that plane will take off from JFK with a full fuel tank and land in Minneapolis with an empty one — the process is already set in motion, and I can’t do anything to stop it.

That’s a scary thought. It’s hard to hope for a better future when you feel like one drop in the ocean. It can be impossible, even.

But perhaps I feel so hypocritical because I’m framing the entire climate change narrative the wrong way. Climate change is difficult to grasp, both because of its geologic time frame and scary implications. Boiling the entire problem down to a situation in front of the beef grill in Pierson is too simple; it’s unproductive. Climate change is much more complicated than a single decision made here or there. It’s complex, webbed and overwhelming.

To create the kind of collective political will that will generate concrete action, it’s essential that we come to terms with that complexity. By doing so, it’s possible to eliminate some of the internal conflict I mentioned earlier. Leaving the guilt behind means we can approach the issue from a whole new angle — we can view ourselves as part of the solution, not as part of the problem.

Partially because of this optimism, I’ve decided not to fly home for October break. Homesick as I am, it just doesn’t feel right. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think that skipping this one flight will make much of a quantitative difference in our carbon crisis. The flight will definitely take off without me. But by framing my decision as a personal symbol of my commitment to tackling climate change, I think I can accomplish something. I can advocate for political action if I’m willing to accept the lifestyle changes that serious policy reconstruction will bring about.

I’m not flying home for October break because I want to explore my own relationship with climate change more thoroughly. I want to discover how invested I really am in reducing carbon emissions. I want to spend the break productively, working with the Yale Decarbonization Challenge, hanging out on the Yale Farm, catching up on sleep. Climate change is here to stay, so I’ll be on campus trying to figure out my place in the solution.

Emmet Hedin is a sophomore in Pierson College. Contact him at emmet.hedin@yale.edu.

  • theantiyale

    Never underestimate the power of lighting one liitle candle in the dark; or, as Dr. Pangloss says in “Candide,” Il faut cultiver notre jardin (We must cultivate our garden.)
    I admire your decision to control the one thing in the world you can absolutely control: Your self.

    • Stating the Obvious

      cultiver*

      • theantiyale

        Thanks. Proofreading is endless.

  • charliewalls

    You could use the extra time at Yale to run through a personal mini-course on the subject by reading The Climate Casino, authored by Yale Prof. Wm. Nordhaus. Thus you could ask him some questions afterwards. It is a bit pedantic but comprehensive and informative — very much like a compact classroom course.

  • http://www.ntw.110mb.com/sustainability/sustainablelandaccess.htm @landrights4all

    Good on yer mate. We need many more like you!

  • sy

    Fossil fuel activists/FFY do not work to promote voluntary individual efficiency and sacrifice like yours. FFY wants to raise fossil fuel prices 2X or 3X current prices, as in Europe, to coerce a bit lower energy and coal use. FFY knows that there is not any alternative energy to fossil fuel for jets, private jets, ships, trains, trucking and long-distance travel. Typical of all coercive political projects, FFY’s approach to fuel is to restrict (lower-income) travel and prosperity, while the enlightened activists often will buy and use all the air tickets, and the heat, light and hot water from Yale’s own fossil fuel utility, and the other stuff that they are able to afford at the higher prices. FFY chants vague slogans like “climate justice” while substituting some (bird-killing) wind and solar power for CO2-free nuclear power. If FFY honestly chanted that they want higher meat prices to cut methane and much higher energy prices to cut CO2 a few percentage points, they would be ignored more completely. That is where dishonest climate justice is now. Climate justice, like a bad religion, will keep demanding much more coercion, much higher energy prices and economic inefficiency before providing adequate energy alternatives. Your voluntary efficient energy use is not as utopian and fulfilling as their wishful thinking, substitute religious zealotry, and political coercion. But it would accomplish more.

  • http://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/lists/the-10-worst-ways-to-die-in-a-hieronymous-bosch-painting-53872 Hieronymus Machine

    “When it comes to climate change, I often [act] like a hypocrite.”

    Honesty always appreciated.

    “I’m [refraining from] flying home for October break because I want to explore my own relationship with climate change…” [Translation: “Me, me, me…”]

    As “sy” implied above, also think about how your “concrete action” might affect, e.g., the emerging-markets underclass who are just now benefiting from “carbon heavy” investment via construction, consumption and the availability of jobs and consumer goods (you know, like birth control, sanitation supplies, cellphone) that are here so taken for granted they are not even noticed.

  • yalecalvinist

    Climate change? More like LIEmate change.

    as G-D tells us in Genesis 9:11 “I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” Translation: sea levels are NOT rising, climate change is false, Biblical proof. It’s so important He says it twice. Why? because G-D knows all and knew that the propaganda of climate change would rear its head like the Beast to introduce authoritarian measures like forced light turn-offs, and keeping people from visiting their families during breaks. Another way that liberalism is opposed to Biblical FAMILY VALUES.

    but wait, G-D says in Genesis 9:13-16 “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenantbetween God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

    Translation: 1. G-D disproves climate change a THIRD TIME 2. every time we see a rainbow it is G-D’s sign that CLIMATE CHANGE IS NOT REAL

    also if i could meet eddin in real life i would point out that G-D says in Genesis 9:3, “Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.” Translation: 1. mankind is here given permission to eat meat, so it would be against G-D not to eat the Pearsin beef grill 2. G-D gives us everything – which includes plane flights!!

    GENESIS 9: don’t forget it.

  • yalecalvinist

    tl,dr – Genesis 9 has the answers you are looking for.

    G-D speaks about rainbows, and how they are the sign that “never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 3 times, G-D says this, so that we do not forget and become worried about rising sea levels.

  • yalecalvinist

    i think He would have something to say about this (Genesis 9)

  • yalecalvinist

    I think we should recognize that there are many opinions on this issue.

  • Danielle

    What is the ocean but a multitude of drops? I think that if we all lead by example we can begin to affect others around us, y’know?