To Help The Environment In 2020, Just Do Less

To Help The Environment In 2020, Just Do Less
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If you’re still thinking about your New Year’s Resolutions, here’s one suggestion that can benefit not only your own life, but also the state of our planet: do less.

What does that mean? Less travel, especially if it involves flying. Fewer car trips; maybe it’s time to drop a few extracurriculars or social activities and block off one or two nights as “stay-home evenings.” Less time spent chasing novelty and entertainment and more time enjoying what you already have—and if you don’t have it already, you might be able to get it at the library.

At The New York Times, author and environmentalist Paul Greenberg lists a number of climate-related resolutions that we can implement for 2020, many of which are already very familiar: eat less meat (and opt for chicken and fish over pork and beef), avoid buying single-use plastics, unplug appliances when you’re not using them, and so on.

And then he mentions the value of spending more time at home, doing nothing:

Busy Americans fret about actually having to do something to address the climate crisis in their already hectic lives. But doing nothing better can add up to something. A 2018 study in the journal Nature notes that tourism accounts for about 8 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Just one long-haul flight emits around a half-ton of carbon per person or a full ton of greenhouse effect if one considers other gases a jet puts into the upper atmosphere. Business and first-class air travel generates three to four tons of carbon per long-haul flight because of the extra space those fancier seats take up.

So doing nothing at home for your next vacation is an easy choice. Other better nothings include turning off your car rather than letting the engine idle, which accounts for about 30 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States a year.

Greenberg’s suggestion to “do nothing” feels particularly apropos after the past year, in which it felt like everyone was discussing burnout and the value of doing less. Anne Helen Petersen’s article How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation went viral in January 2019; Emily and Amelia Nagoski’s book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle released in March (and was one of my favourite books of the year); people have been recommending Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy since it published in April and I still haven’t found enough time to read it.

I don’t agree with Greenberg’s advice that we should all take staycations this year instead of holidays. There’s a lot of value in vacating your everyday life, at least for a little while; an occasional change of scene can help spark new ideas, shake up old routines, and create fresh memories. (Bonus points if you can take a vacation that doesn’t involve checking in with work.)

But I do agree with the idea of doing and/or using less stuff in 2020. Fewer flights and more FaceTime. One less obligation every week and one more night at home. Using up what you’ve got before you go out and get more. Getting to know the people closest to you (literally) and contributing to the community that surrounds you—because you’ll also be contributing to the health of the planet.

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