New Report: Small Habits' Big Impact On Climate
In the 20th century, the greatest threats to civilization arose out of ecstatic emotions, especially when they united thousands of people. The last century's true believers rallied, wept and sang about superhuman faith, overwhelming feeling, single decisions that changed their lives and the world. They quivered to think of their heroes, who had "the power to raise up broken hearts and despairing souls." They believed that History was calling.
Decade after decade, the consequences were disastrous: rabid nationalism, Fascism, Nazism, Communism, anti-Communism and all the other isms in whose name millions died. (That praise of heroes who lead noble causes comes from Mein Kampf.)
The 21st century is different. Today, it's the small emotions—undramatic, common, seemingly inconsequential—that most threaten humanity. Enjoyment of those comfort foods you grew up with. Anxiety to get along with the neighbors. Guilt that makes you want to keep the children happy. Thousands of little daily impulses like that are the reasons people in the United States might, for instance, drive the neighbor's SUV to pick up the kids at school, then let the car idle, and then drive somewhere for a cheeseburger.
Today, at the end of the Garrison Institute's conference on behavioral research and climate change, I heard an announcement that quantifies the impact on climate of humdrum daily American life. According to research prepared by the Natural Resources Defense Council (pdf downloadable at the link), the United States could reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases by 1 billion tons per year with minor changes in the way people travel, eat, work and spend their time at home. (Full disclosure: I have written for OnEarth, the NRDC's magazine, as have many writers I admire, but I have no connection with this work.)
One billion tons would be almost 15 percent of total annual greenhouse gas emissions from the United States—removed by actions like letting cars and buses idle only half as much as they do now, eating chicken instead of red meat once a week, inflating everybody's tires, and cutting by one quarter the amounts of food Americans waste.
The work assumes 100 percent compliance with its recommendations. So it's a goal, not a plan. And even a cut of 15 percent by 2020, as imagined here, is not enough (80 percent is more in line with what looks necessary to avoid disaster), which means this problem can't be solved by individual virtue all by itself. Hard political struggles are still waiting.
But it's impressive to see how much "trivial" choices and small habits affect the fate of the world.
Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.
No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.
In his final years, Martin Luther King, Jr. become increasingly focused on the problem of poverty in America.
- Despite being widely known for his leadership role in the American civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. also played a central role in organizing the Poor People's Campaign of 1968.
- The campaign was one of the first to demand a guaranteed income for all poor families in America.
- Today, the idea of a universal basic income is increasingly popular, and King's arguments in support of the policy still make a good case some 50 years later.
She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.
- For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
- These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
- Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
For Damien Echols, tattoos are part of his existential armor.
- In prison Damien Echols was known by his number SK931, not his name, and had his hair sheared off. Stripped of his identity, the only thing he had left was his skin.
- This is why he began tattooing things that are meaningful to him — to carry a "suit of armor" made up the images of the people and objects that have significance to him, from his friends to talismans.
- Echols believes that all places are imbued with divinity: "If you interact with New York City as if there's an intelligence behind... then it will behave towards you the same way."
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.