Do you want to leave your footprints in the sand or in a barren desert?

The climate crisis demands we change our lifestyles

Not next year, not next month, not tomorrow but today.

Now that the heat has abated inside the UN after the Climate Summit, let’s do a self-assessment on how we as consumers can cool things down with our buying habits.

As people we have the power to protest and petition our governments and businesses to mend their harmful ways, and can only hope the radical changes required are not too little too late. We must keep up the pressure.

(For example, the World Heritage Site in Lamu, Kenya is under threat from a consortium of international investors from the US, Europe, China AND the World Bank — to develop a port and a coal-fired power station. Protesters have blocked further development by petitioning the High Court, but the government sees no harm? The people remain vigilant.)

Our footprints

According to the World Economic Forum, China contributes 27% of global emissions and the United States is the second most-polluting nation accounting for 15%, followed by the European Union (for now including the UK) at 9%.

The US has the world’s highest per capital CO2 emissions — 16.6 tonnes per person, more than double China’s 7 tonnes and way more than the global average of 4.8 tonnes per person.

On the African continent where I hang out on the southern tip, our emissions are 1.1 tonnes per person.

The bottom line is that the richest, high-income countries account for 86% of global emissions.


But before you say what’s the point, let’s look at why many of us, the older generation are reluctant to change.

Discounting the future

There’s a psychological reason we find it difficult to act now for a future in which we won’t be present.

(I’m not talking about those who believe climate change is a hoax or the conspiracy theorists who propose that Greta Thunberg has been brainwashed by left-wing liberals.)

In a recent article in Time titled Why Your Brain Can’t Process Climate Change, Bryan Walsh relates how our brains behave when thinking of ourselves, others or the future.

These tests were done using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine.

  • When we think of ourselves an area of the brain called the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) lights up like London’s Piccadilly Circus
  • Thinking about a family member, the lights aren’t so bright. (In my case, they may not light up at all!)
  • If we then think about people with whom we have no connection at all in a country far away. A dim glow. (I don’t agree the result would be the same if they tested me because I DO give a damn about other people.)
  • Consider ourselves years from now? Not so bright.

Jane McGonigal, the research director of the Institute for the Future, writes

“Your brain acts as if your future self is someone you don’t know very well and, frankly, someone you don’t care about. And if we view our own selves in the future as virtual strangers, how much less do we care about the lives of generations yet to be born?”

Let’s change that mindset by asking ourselves:

Are we conscious consumers?

Do we know the source of what we buy?

Do we know the final destination when we have no more use for them?

What’s in your wardrobe?

Do you wear all the clothes you own, or did you buy some of them on a whim?

Do they lie forgotten in cupboards and drawers, never to see the light of day?

Ponder on this for a moment.

  • the fashion industry accounts for 8% of global carbon emissions
  • one cotton shirt requires 2700 litres of water
  • non-biodegradable fabric can sit for up to 200 years in landfills
  • one pair of jeans produces the same amount of greenhouse gases as driving a car 69 miles
  • 60% of textile production is used in the clothing industry, producing 1.2 billion tonnes of CO² equivalent per year. (That’s more emissions than international flights and maritime shipping combined.)
  • we make 20 new garments per person per year
  • 60% of all clothing produced is disposed of within a year of production, most ending up in landfills — that’s one rubbish truck per second to landfill.

I prefer to buy clothes that will last — cotton or linen and classic styles that will not date.

I’m still wearing cotton blouses, T-shirts and jeans that I bought over a decade ago. The only time I buy again is when I encounter frayed collars or the denim of my jeans is so worn and thin, I’m at risk of exposing my derriere when I bend down.

From farm to table

Raising grain-fed livestock for food is inefficient. It takes 5–7 kilograms of grain to produce 1 kilogram of beef. This sucks up energy and water to produce, process and transport.

Grass-fed is a far better idea, with one exception.

Let’s boycott beef from Brazil. Their government’s relentless pursuit of cattle farming is destroying the major lungs of our planet as they clear the Amazon forest and replace with grasslands.

The David Suzuki Foundation shares the following study:

“Lamb raised in New Zealand and shipped 18,000 kilometres to the U.K. produced less than one-quarter of the greenhouse gases than local British lamb. Local flocks ate grains, which take a lot of energy to grow, while the New Zealand flocks grazed on grass. Shipping the lamb to the U.K. was responsible for only five percent of greenhouse gases.”

Let’s go flexitarian rather than vegetarian.

If we cut out meat altogether, we consume more dairy, which is also bad for the environment. Why not buy locally grown fresh produce and not fruit and veggies that have travelled thousands of miles to reach you, such as avocados.

A vegan diet is the most efficient in reducing our carbon footprint. I like my meat but eat less of it now.

(I haven’t yet got my head around eating insects but future generations may have to adapt their taste buds. Hope it doesn’t come to that.)

What about food waste?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report of 2019 has identified this as one of the key areas for action.

In developed countries the major waste occurs at the end of the supply chain. (That’s us.)

We buy more than we consume and reject fresh produce that doesn’t look as perfect as the glossy ads.

We waste between 25% to 30% of global food production.

The US leads the way at 40%!

My home country, South Africa, comes a close second at 33%.

90% ends up in landfills where the food-waste component leads to production of CO² and methane gas which has a global warming potential 21 times that of carbon dioxide and remains in the atmosphere for 15 years. Crazy when 14-million people go to bed hungry here.

There’s a simple solution.

I plan my meals in advance before writing my shopping list. My situation of living on a tight budget forces me not to waste. I look on that as a blessing rather than a curse.

I’m proud to say we have zero food waste in our household and hubby makes compost from the fruit and vegetable scraps and peelings, eggshells and the odd tea bag. (We drink more coffee than tea.)

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”- Jane Goodall

The tsunami of e-waste

That’s what the UN calls it.

Our insatiable demand for electronic devices is creating the world’s fastest growing waste stream according to the World Economic Forum.

Where does your old phone, tablet, laptop or television end up?

The world’s biggest e-waste site at Agbogboshie, outside Accra, Ghana (Photo: Peter Yeung)

Up to 90% of e-waste is dumped illegally in someone else’s backyard. Illicit export of e-waste to Africa and the Far East, facilitated by bribery and corruption is rampant.

Some 39,000 tonnes of this hazardous waste is being illegally shipped from the EU to developing countries per year, with Africa the prime destination. The ship’s manifest lists the contents of the container as “Used Goods.”

The US produces 11.7 million tons of toxic e-waste and recycles 25%. However Forbes magazine claims that many of the ‘recyclers’ just ship most of the e-waste abroad.

A recent documentary on Al Jazeera reveals how they get away with it. The containers on the ship’s manifest describe the contents as either plastic or metal waste.

Developing countries have thus become a major dumping ground for our discarded electronics. The poorer sections of their population make a living from extracting toxic metals such as lead, cadmium, copper and chromium.

They recover the gold in circuit boards by bathing them in nitric and hydrochloric acid. This acid leeches into the soil, water and food.

They work with their bare hands and no masks.

The Agbagbloshie dumpsite outside Accra in Ghana gives informal employment to 10,000 people, but at what cost?

As long as there’s a profit, corrupt and greedy companies will continue this horrific practice.

Ask yourself — do you really need the latest tech gadget?

People Power in the present tension

By adapting our lifestyles, we can set an example to others.

After all governments are people, companies and corporations are people and — dare I propose that politicians are people too?

Let’s not discount the power of one.

Who could have imagined the outcome of a Swedish teenager protesting against climate change outside the Swedish parliament in August 2018?

Earth does not belong to us; we belong to earth. Take only memories, leave nothing but footprints.” — Chief Seattle

Let’s change our lifestyles and leave footprints in the sand, not a barren desert.

Thank you for reading.

Wise Old Woman (WOW). Forever curious. Emotional Health, Self, Politics, Society, Spirit and Music. Essayist, Poet, Humorist.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store