I’m currently having a discussion with friends (partially driven by my last post-Do No Harm) about whether personal action counts for more than corporate responsibility when it comes to impacting climate change.

There is a difference of course between how much an individual impacts climate change and how corporations are reacting to what the individuals want. I can promise you Evil Corp would become green very fast if all its customers demanded it. Case in point, plant milk. Old hippies and vegetarians/vegans kept asking for it for decades and the market complied.

So, let’s talk about personal accountability.

Of the choices with the highest impact that an individual can have on the environment, switching to a mostly plant-based diet is near the top according to this oft-cited study (you can get a summary and a great visualization of the results here). It’s not at the very top of actions one can take, but I feel that it’s the most accessible compared to, say, choosing to not reproduce or living car-free which depends on your local infrastructure and a bunch of other factors (and there’s also green energy, which I’ll touch on in another post).

This impact calculator of various foods by the BBC and these statistics point to the same conclusion. Beef, dairy, and shrimps are having a huge impact in comparison to other foods. The lower you get in the food pyramid, the lower the environmental impact. Which is a shame, because I’m sure you love your steak as much as I used to love shrimps.

But, don’t worry. I won’t go into preachy vegetarian territory. This isn’t even a post on vegetarianism.

Look…Let’s be pragmatic. No one can change their habits overnight. It took me years of research to switch to a low-carbon diet.

But I feel that I can’t sit on my ass waiting for the world around me to get fixed. Things don’t work that way. Corporations want nothing but your money. That’s the hill they’ll die on. They will burn down the Amazon and turn it into pastures because there is a demand they are willing to satisfy. Hell, they’ll kill people to cater to the market. No one’s culinary preference is worth all this misery and destruction.

Could you consider changing your habits bit by bit? Say, go meatless for a couple of days a week or switch to chicken? Would you consider cooking seasonally? Transportation plays into the equation as well. Eating plants shipped from halfway around the world won’t help the climate cause either.

You and I are the market. We make the rules. The best corporations can do is lie about what’s good for you, like that time they convinced us that cocaine in soda was an intellectual’s drink, or that time they convinced us that we had to propose with a diamond ring, then made us pay out of the nose for one.

I’ll leave a few resources below on low-carbon eating, I hope you can get some use out of them. Please don’t wait for others to save the day. Start with yourselves. And please write to me with suggestions on how to minimize impact on the environment, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What is a low carbon diet

Good guidelines for a low carbon diet

Low carbon recipes and how transportation and seasonality play into the equation

More recipes

Let’s get something out of the way.

While our future regarding climate change is precarious, things won’t shift overnight. If COVID taught us anything, it’s that there will always be deniers in times of crisis, even in the face of hundreds of thousands of dead. Even at government level.

We will not change to a zero fossil fuel, no food-waste, low footprint economy overnight. For the most part, successful governments are judged on stock market performance, GDP increases, and other metrics that have nothing to do with avoiding environmental disaster. I’d go as far as to say that they are conflicting goals.

One thing I hate is when people keep pointing out negatives about a system but don’t make proposals to change it. “It’s all capitalism’s fault” is a slogan, not a solution. So, here’s my suggestions about how to go about changing things;

Practice good judgement when buying stuff. I recently come across the Ethical Consumer website and I’m excited about how it ranks companies according to sustainability and fairness. Things such as electronics are a huge burden on the environment due to rare metal extraction methods and the chemical processes involved (not to mention the waste they generate).

I’ve mentioned before how the meat industry is a main contributor to climate change and there’s others who have catalogued the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet. But, I get it. Not everyone can or wants to switch to a vegetarian/vegan diet. If you cut down on meat, though, to twice a week, congratulations. You’re doing more for your health and the environment than most people. No one’s asking you to become a soy milk-loving hippy from one day to the next. Meat tastes nice, I get it. Just make an effort.

Last bit. I won’t go into arguments against capitalism, because I don’t have a realistic alternative. I do think it’s the number one reason for ruining our environment. I also think its cousin, social entrepreneurship, may be a solution towards a lot of problems. In brief, SE uses capitalist methods to generate value and give back, as opposed to making a profit only. My publisher, Inspired Quill, funnels profits into LGBT+ and literacy programs. With my upcoming book, The Hush, we’ll be using some of the profits for reforestation purposes. Inspired Quill is not the only company operating in this manner. Patagonia famously pledges 1% of its profits towards environmental causes. Could Patagonia do more? Sure. Are they doing more than 99% of companies out there? Absolutely. Seek those companies out. Vote with your wallets and support their causes.

I personally feel we need to change our mindsets regarding how we operate in nature. And I do think the rhetoric of leaving nature alone is faulty. We are part of nature. We need its resources and will have a footprint, just like a wolf stalking deer does, or a beaver taking down trees. This mindset change won’t happen overnight, there’s too much cultural baggage holding us back. That doesn’t mean we can’t try to get into a position of doing no harm. It’s better than nothing.

The science behind climate change is pretty clear cut (for the skeptics, please check what NASA, the Scientific American, the British Royal Society, the National Academy of Sciences of the US, and Skeptical Science have to say). And what the science says is, we’re heading headfirst into an apocalypse.

Imagine being in a spaceship called Earth. Imagine that an average increase of 1.5 degree Celsius has messed up the sensitive food production system, has turned large parts of the spaceship uninhabitable, and fresh water production is failing. Desperate, people start forcing their way into areas where food can still grow and where there is still water. The people living there already don’t want to share. A fight starts. Blood flows.

Scary thought?

The problem a lot of people face when discussing climate change is not knowing what to do on an individual level. “What can I do?” There is a lot of noise about this or that international agreement, but they don’t translate well to every day life. I’ve yet to find one person who can explain to me in concrete terms how my life will change because of the Paris Agreement.

I’ve found this interesting article by the BBC that outlines 10 individual changes you can make. I don’t agree all of them are achievable or even realistic for individuals, but hopefully they will provide some food for thought.

It is possible to take individual action. Given how the climate crisis isn’t on any government’s agenda (except for poor Tuvalu), don’t rely on anyone other than yourselves to change things.

And, if you think individuals can’t make a difference, keep an eye out for the next blog post.