Gratitude: The Free Way to Combat Climate Change
Updated: Oct 19, 2019
Monday evening, I went down to the laundry floor in my apartment building, feeling stung.
My husband and I had been strongly considering an adorable ranch home in the community of Orchard Park, New York. I love it there because the village has many mature trees and there’s a big, beautiful pond called Green Lake with a walking path around it.
The home boasted a three car garage (where we joked my husband would keep a “fun car”), two ornate fireplaces, three bedrooms, three bathrooms (two full, one half), an expansive backyard, and other lovely features.
However, the kitchen was very small and outdated... and so were all of the bathrooms.
In the end, when thinking about how much the updates would cost to do on a home that was already toward the top of our budget, we decided to tell our real estate agent we were not going to put in an offer.
But I almost immediately regretted the decision after hanging up the phone. I felt like I’d just made a major decision that altered the course of my life. If we’d decided to get the home, in a few months I could be warming up by my own cozy fireplace, or walking the dog I’ve wanted for years around Green Lake. But declining to even put in an offer meant this dream may never become a reality.
With a mountain of laundry to move into the dryer, I decided to use this as a distraction.
There were two young guys also doing laundry when I entered the laundry room.
I opened one of the dryers and felt the clothes inside. Rats, I thought—they were still nearly as damp as when they’d come out of the washer.
As I shoveled as much laundry as I could into a different dryer, thinking there might be an issue with the initial dryer, I warned the two boys to be leery of the dryer that didn’t seem to be working: “Lucky number 13,” I joked.
One of them, a young man who looked to be in his 20s with a friendly smile, said he didn’t think 13 sounded too unlucky--he was born on the 13th of a month. That made me smile and I told him it was my husband’s lucky number. Then we got to talking a bit about the apartment building.
He asked about how long I’d been there.
“Three years,” I replied. He in turn replied he recently moved in and it seemed many people stay in the building multiple years, unlike many other city apartment buildings.
I explained with rent that is lower than most places and great features such as balconies, a gym, and updated rooms, it is a tough building to leave.
He said he’s living with his cousin and can’t believe how lucky he got to find this building.
This wasn’t the first time I’d heard high praise for the building where my husband and I live. However, I still felt so fortunate that just at the right time, when I was feeling down, I’d come across someone who seemed to truly think it was a great place to live (and another benefit of living there, I realized, is the constant opportunity to talk to people you don’t know, which has been shown to raise happiness levels).
There is such an amazing power in feeling grateful for what you have--the almost overwhelming regret I’d felt about passing up the Orchard Park home seemed to melt away nearly instantly.
I’ve been thinking about the power of gratitude a lot lately—it seems to always bring me back to the present moment and it can often douse stress that flares up when I have to make a tough decision or get through work that seems overwhelming.
So how does all this tie into climate change?
The Bad News...
If we as a society don’t make some major changes, namely cutting our greenhouse gas emissions by an astonishing 45 percent in the next 12 years, a United Nations report compiled by over 100 scientists found some startling conclusions.
These include the Earth warming 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (2°C) which would cause, among other things, the spread of deadly forest fires, sea level rise that puts millions at risk, and $69 trillion in damage.
Now I do think it’s easy for consumers to believe that being among 7 billion people on the planet, there’s not much we can do to make a difference.
You might also know, or suspect, this fact: Around 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 can be traced back to about 100 companies—including ExxonMobile and Shell—according to a CDP and Climate Accountability Group report.
I personally wish I could simply give these companies all of the blame, but there’s something else that I feel like I need to keep in mind: these companies aren’t just creating pollution to pollute. They are creating things we as consumers use every day.
While it’s convenient to think big companies are in the driver’s seat when it comes to emitting the fossil fuels that drive climate change, really it’s consumer demand that’s helping fuel the machine, according to many sources.
“What the companies do is produce the fuels, extract and market the fuels, so that we can use them,” Richard Heede, the co-founder and co-director of the Climate Accountability Institute, told Vox. “It’s the consumers that produce the carbon dioxide: They may be corporations, airlines, shipping lines, households, utilities. It’s all distributed.”
He added that oil, gas, and coal companies emit only about 10 percent of greenhouse gasses directly—around 90 percent of emissions are from their products.
So What About Gratitude?
While it makes me uncomfortable for sure to think I’m among the consumers literally helping to drive climate change, I also think it’s strangely empowering: I can make a difference.
Now, I know I can’t alone make the Earth-shattering reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that's needed to save the planet. However, I believe if we can appreciate what we have rather than constantly crave more, we can help slow our damage to the planet.
Maybe I don’t need that extra road trip, new outfit, or fast food meal...this is something I always try to tell myself. I find following these thoughts up with something like, “I’m fortunate to live in a city with so much to do!” or “I already have a lot of cute clothes I can have fun styling differently,” or “I’m so lucky to have had the money to buy the groceries I wanted this week,” are often quite effective in avoiding behaviors that can be unhealthy for me physically and for the planet.
And even small decisions, when they become habits, can make a rather significant difference.
For example, Heede says most U.S. household produce on average around 24,000 pounds of CO2 annually.
However, Heede also says several hundreds of pounds of CO2 can be saved through some simple and free measures, such as turning off the faucet while we brush our teeth and taking shorter showers.
I’ve found one of the best ways to remember to conserve water is to appreciate the fresh water running into my home (I grew up reading a lot of historical fiction where indoor plumbing wasn’t a thing, so I think it’s sort of ingrained in me now).
Also, I think it’s important to remember that according to the World Health Organization, in 2017, 785 million people lacked even a basic drinking-water service.
And climate change is expected to make access to water even more difficult: the WHO estimates that around half of the world’s population will live in water-stressed areas as early as 2025.
This is scary and I sometimes find I can get really down thinking about stats such as this.
However, like I need to remember to be fortunate for my current living situation, I think we can all remember to be grateful for the decisions we can make as consumers to address the climate crisis and to leave a better world for future generations. This is of course thanks to the technology and brain-power that we can take advantage of in this modern time.
I think Heede may have said it best when he told Vox: “I think it’s better to be hopeful and optimistic about our future than pessimistic and gloomy about it. We have the most innovative, intelligent, compassionate humans on this planet that we all share. If we exercise intelligence and compassion, we will collectively help solve this problem — or at least avoid the worst of what climate change has to offer.”
Some additional easy ways to reduce your carbon footprint using GRATITUDE:
1. Savor Fruit and Vegetable Flavors: Appreciate your ability to afford, or even grow, fresh fruits and vegetables. I find salads without meat are much more appealing when they are very colorful and have a lot of my other favorite foods in them, such as chopped apples, nuts, cranberries, and croutons.
Why do this? Meat and dairy cause about 14.5 percent of manmade global greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from feed production and processing and the methane livestock produce (columbia.edu).
Feel Lucky to Buy Local: It’s one of my favorite times here in New York State—apple season! I love trying all of the different varieties and I feel so fortunate to live in a state known for its apples. Find ways to show your appreciation for the foods your state is known for and buy local at the supermarket or visit a farmer’s market.
Even if they don’t grow organic foods, local farms tend to grow more variety that’s better for the environment's biodiversity and they tend to use less chemicals than big factory farms.
Plus, the food usually tastes better because farmers focus more on the freshness, nutrition, and taste of the food without having to worry so much about shelf-life. With the average American dinner traveling around 1,500 miles (2,414 km), buying local helps cut down on fossil-fuel burning transportation. (thoughtco.com).
Embrace the cold (for your laundry): Let’s all be happy we don’t have to find a river to wash our clothes and we have modern technology to get the job done (although that’s still how it’s done in some less developed countries).
With this in mind, here’s a simple switch: instead of washing your clothes in warm or hot water, switch to cold and buy cold-water detergent. The detergent is designed to work better with cold water, and doing two loads a week of laundry using cold water instead of hot or warm water can save around 500 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions a year! (columbia.edu).