Fresh Ideas: Climate change: Individuals can make a difference
April 1, 2015
There I was, foil strips spiked around my head, hair-coloring ammonia burning my eyes and annoyed at Lisa, my hairdresser and friend of 30 years. Earlier, I'd walked into her shop resolute on my disagreement with climate change expert and best-selling author, Naomi Klein. Now, though, I was in a five-alarm doubt if I could "walk my talk."
I'd been telling Lisa about the excerpts I'd read from Klein's book, "This Changes Everything," as printed recently in The Guardian on March 6. "Klein's right," I said. "We are in climate change denial."
I summarized her premise: to prevent a grim future we must change everything — how we live, how our economies function, the stories we tell ourselves. Because our political leaders are not heeding scientists' advice, we are headed for a catastrophe that only mass movements of regular people can prevent.
"But Klein's wrong …" I said.
Lisa cut me off. "I've got enough on my plate. I'm not going to be a climate change activist." She spun me in the swivel chair. In her shop's mirror our gazes locked.
"You're kidding! You are not going to do anything differently?" Indignation flared up my spine. I wanted to lecture, fight ignorance with fact.
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"No. I want to enjoy life."
I stared at the floor as anger roiled under my skin. With shears jabbing the air, Lisa listed the popular ideas of what one should do (eliminate dryers, use car-pools, embrace vegetarianism, participate in political marches), concluding "no one really knows, and besides, individuals will not make a difference."
I took a deep breath. "Yeah. It's hard to believe one's small effort would matter, but …"
"Let the activists do their job. I'll continue to tread lightly," she interjected.
Ugh. I wanted to argue or leave. Then I thought of my dispute with Klein and looked into the mirror and said, "Practicing mindfulness and paying attention to our reactions and storytelling — that's the first and best thing any of us can do."
I finally relaxed because by stating I realized why my urge to fight or flee — it was my shame over not doing enough either.
"Storytelling?" she asked, her scissors paused above a section of combed-up hair.
"Yes, thoughts we hold true simply because we keep repeating them."
Lisa offered a smile and I continued. "Klein said we fall into a kind of 'magical thinking' because we can't handle our cognitive dissonance between reality (there is a crisis) and our behavior (do nothing about it). We believe technology or billionaires will save us. We hyper-rationalize, crack jokes or say we are too busy to care about something so distant and abstract. She's right. I've caught myself doing all of that but here's where Klein is wrong."
I swiped my phone, scrolled the article and quoted her: "Or we tell ourselves that all we can do is focus on ourselves. Meditate and shop at farmer's markets and stop driving … it will never work."
"See?" Lisa said over the blow dryer's roar.
I laughed. "No, it's through meditation or mindfulness that we notice our disengagement. And it's through an individual's small effort that the groundswell of a global climate change response begins."
A week later we passed each other on the highway. As we waved, I thought of my new backyard clothes line and wondered what, if anything, might have shifted in Lisa's life.
Kathy Walters is the mother of a teenage boy, works for Kirkwood Mountain Realty and lives in Gardnerville. Currently, she is working on her memoir "Enough."