Types of Change

There are two kinds of change. The kind of change that you want to embrace, and you might need some motivation to do it — a kick in the pants so to speak. And there’s the kind of change that you know is needed but that you don’t want to do. Since I prefer to talk about specifics over generalizations, let’s break down what we’re really talking about here — climate change.

Now, there’s an immense debate to be had over what level of responsibility that the individual has, versus the responsibility of the system — governments, corporations, cultures. We could discuss this at length, and probably will in a later post, but let’s assume for a moment that the individual does have a responsibility for his or her own carbon footprint. There are, broadly speaking, three things that the individual needs to do in order to impact that footprint:

One — stop eating meat.

Two — stop driving a gas powered car.

Three — stop buying consumables that are delivered via container ship.

Taken together these things would represent the largest impact that any single person (or rather, the impact of many people all doing this) would have on their carbon footprint and that of individual people as a whole (contradiction aside). Of course, it’s all easier said than done.

Each of these three actions is easier or harder depending on your circumstances. For some, not driving is almost impossible — they simply work and live too far a distance apart for any other method to be practical. For others, it’s just a matter of changing habits and putting some creativity into it.

This is about choice, and the types of choices we have to make, so for me personally, this example was the easiest of the three. I used to walk, bike, ride the bus, and drive my car to work, depending on a variety of factors (weather, mood, time, etc.) I’m lucky enough to be in a position where I have this variety of options, but when it came to making a hard and fast commitment, I still had to go through some of the steps of what I’d call, for lack of fancier name, “easy change.”

Walking was too slow. Riding the bus was annoying and almost as time consuming as walking, plus it cost money. Driving was fast and easy, but I felt guilty making a 10 minute commute every day, much of it sitting in traffic, in a way that I knew was directly impacting the world around me in a negative way. So I settled on biking. This was an easy choice, because it gave me the best possible outcomes for a variety of different problems. Or put another way, it had the most pros to the fewest cons.

For one, it was fast — the fastest of any method by far. I exerted less energy than walking, and I still got there faster than any other method — zipping past cars and busses stalled in lines of traffic was oh-so satisfying. Plus, add on to that the fact that it was basically free (the one time cost of the bike plus a few dollars and a few hours of elbow grease per month was all that I had to put in), and the fact that I was getting much needed exercise everyday basically put me in a mood that can’t really be described as anything less than smug.

I was saving the planet, saving my body, setting a good example, and it was fast, free, and fun. Were there any downsides? It was a little riskier than any other method — the safety of the sidewalk, professionally driven bus, and airbagged and seatbelted car versus the fairly dangerous prospect of a collision with nothing but a steel frame, a helmet, and my body to absorb the damage. This was the only real trade off, and a risk I was willing to take.

I got to make an easy choice and I did it. I make the daily commute by bike year round, rain or shine, with a few obvious exceptions (actual blizzards and/or hurricanes). It’s a great thing I did but in the end I didn’t have to sacrifice very much at all. As I write this, I’m eating a ham and cheese sandwich, and it’s delicious. To briefly state what will no doubt be a full length rant in the near future, I have a problem with food. I don’t like it. I don’t like buying it, I don’t like making it, I definitely don’t like eating it. I’m a classic picky eater. I like what I like and I expertly dissect and expunge what I don’t.

This presents a hard choice for me. To have an even greater impact on the environment and on our culture, not to mention my own body and health (all reasoning for biking) it would be a good choice for me not to eat meat. But I don’t want to stop eating meat. The excuses or justifications come easily — my meat consumption alone is so small that it can’t make any difference; the meat I eat is local and humane/organic/free-range/hormone-free/etc.; I have so few options to eat already that I need everything I can get. If I don’t eat meat there is almost literally nothing left for me. Bread. I would live off bread and water. Who could live like that?

And so faced with two clear choices with two clear answers, I find the excuses to make one easy and one hard, even though their pros and cons are essentially almost the same in some ways. Somehow, despite logic and reason clearly favoring both changes, I embrace one and reject the other. I feel, perhaps as a coping method, disconnected from these choices — I tell myself that my brain, the unconscious lizard brain, the gut is making these choices. That like the pregnant woman who craves pickles and ice cream, my body is telling me, “no, you need that iron/protein and you can’t live without it.” My thinking mind wants to change but my full body process can’t make it happen.

It’s hard change and it’s called that for a reason, and maybe it’s what’s slowing us all down from making the changes we know we need but can’t make happen.

But, I don’t shop at Walmart, so two out of three’s not bad, right?

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