thoughts on one small change we can each make to slow the earth from crumbling

Shannon Byrne
Aug 27, 2018 · 8 min read

tl;dr — think about every purchase you make, bite of food you take, drop of water hitting your skin — where those things came from and the impact that has.

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the plastic bottle is not lost on me (I did not buy it and it’s reused, not that it matters).

The ceiling level of carbon dioxide Earth can handle is 400 parts per million (ppm). In March 2018, the global average climbed to 408.75 ppm, according to NOAA research. That’s not accounting for the roll back of coal regulations announced last week. We’re past the point of no return, folks. We can, however, prevent ourselves from compounding the damage by making one small change on the individual level, then talking about to influence the collective.

Practicing thoughtfulness.

Hang on. I’m not suggesting we meditate climate change away, although, I wish that was an option. I’m suggesting we all (and I’m guilty and very much including myself in this) slow down and think about every purchase we make. Every flight we book. Every “buy now” button we hit on Amazon. Every piece of food we put in our mouths. Every drop of water hitting our skin from our fancy showers. Every time we start our cars. Every piece of plastic we touch. Every phone or lap top we buy (turns out they produce A TON of pollution).

None of this is new thinking but I’ve found that even the most educated, environmentally-conscious (casually or otherwise), liberal-ly people forget what impact they’re having on the earth with every decision they make. And what impact the current and future state of the earth will have on their future and the future of their children, and so on.

Allow me to add some context…

A micro example of a macro problem

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Photo from

I’ve been living in Paonia, Colorado for all of August. It’s a town of 1,500 people in the North Fork Valley in southwest Colorado. The region has a population of about 9,000. I’m here on an artist’s residency at the magical and lovely Elsewhere Studios. I came here as a free agent and quickly tapped into a program they have running: Inspired Art at Work.

Four artists — two local, two from elsewhere — worked together and separately to bring awareness to some of the region’s biggest environmental and social issues. Like many evolving rural communities, this region is divided across liberal and conservative viewpoints on agriculture, energy, climate change, etc. I’ve heard members say it’s split about 50/50. The one thing they can all agree on is that there’s less and less water (and therefore food) each year and that’s a huge issue for everyone, on a commercial and personal level.

My role has been conducting interviews with local people for a mini season of my podcast, The Process, to be called “Sustainability is a Buzzword” because I think I’m funny. The show usually focuses on the process of survival as a creative. I interview people from a wide variety of backgrounds about money, mental health, relationships, career growth, the creative process itself, and more.

My goal with this mini season is bring awareness to my audience (designers, musicians, writers, marketers, small business owners, startup founders, florists, etc.) on their impact on the earth and the earth’s impact on their work, which I promise I’ll get to. I’m not exactly sure what it’s going to look like yet but am excited about what I’ve recorded.

The Inspired program has been running most of the year and culminated with a symposium this past weekend. Of which, I was left with stats, figures, and stories whirling around in my little human brain.

I called my dad and his wife, Jen, after I walked out on Saturday for our weekly check-in. I started spewing facts I heard over the last month. That the Colorado River provides drinking water to about 40 million people across at least four states and irrigation to close to six million acres of farm land. That it’s lost 75% of its fresh ground water since 2004. That the basin has lost 15.6 cubic miles of freshwater in the last 10 years. That “if Lake Mead continues to drop and fall below 1,075 feet, water rationing would result in Southern Nevada losing 13,000 acre-feet per year and Arizona losing 320,000 acre-feet per year” (LA Times). Last year, researchers said that thanks to climate change, the river could drop by 50% by the end of the century. I’m pretty sure that number is worse now. (Ok, I didn’t go into that much detail with them.)

I did pose the question/rant, “what happens when the people of the American west run out of water, farmers included? They move to places with more water. What happens when ‘the world’s most powerful country’ runs out of water entirely? Welp, we’re fucked.”

There’s a reason the World Economic Forum named water scarcity as the largest global risk in terms of potential impact over the next decade.

Egos take the wind from the sails of movements and revolutions

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Photo from, original source unknown.

So, I’m spewing all these learnings and conversations I’ve had and Jen asked me: “so what can we do?” Ah, what a relief. Someone who wants to take action. I stammered through some obvious water conservation techniques and talked about the importance of knowing where your food comes from and what their agriculture and cattle practices are. I didn’t even get into how far your food travels, etc.

It was a lame answer.

Later, I watched Blue Planet and then the documentary How to Change the World about Bob Hunter and the other founders of Greenpeace because why end my Sunday on a light note? The latter is touches on how egos can dilute a revolution or a movement. How the human condition, to be frank, tends to fuck things up. I woke up this morning still thinking about it, wondering what small things each individual can do that lead to collective change.

Side note: I appreciated the film’s seemingly honest exploration of Hunter’s strengths and weaknesses as a leader; what they did right and where they went wrong.

Don’t get me wrong. Movements are needed. A revolution is probably needed to see true change at this point. But they will all burst at the seams at some point. They always do because of egos. That’s ok, I think it’s healthy to be reminded of the human condition and that we’re all a work in progress. They still move the needle as long as we’re keeping our eyes on the long-term goal: to save our planet from self-destruction.

I’m a believer that if we each slow the fuck down and think about what we’re doing. Really think about every single decision we make, we will, by proxy, start impacting our individual communities. And because we’re all so connected these days, these habits will spread.

I’m not saying to shame people, that doesn’t work. Simply being an example and explaining your choices can go a long way in influencing behavior. I’m not an expert and don’t know that for sure, but I feel it to be true.

Small changes in every day decisions we can all make

  • grab the lettuce not shrink wrapped in plastic, don’t put it in a plastic bag. Afraid of germs? Carrots too. Do you know how many surfaces that lettuce already touched? Just wash it, you’ll be fine. Thanks John!
  • buy your produce from farmers markets or local farmers directly. Why the hell would you buy a tomato from five states away when their in your backyard? Think about the pollution from the trucks, planes, etc.
  • grow your own food. It’s so cheap!
  • if you grow your own food, pay attention to the type of soil and irrigation methods you’re using. Try permaculture!
  • only buy grass-fed, humanely raised meat. Don’t even get me started on the meat industry.
  • compost and recycle. Challenge yourself: how little can you throw away?
  • harvest rain water for gardening, at least if not everything else. Thanks Anna!
  • tell your bartenders no straw before they can even touch it.
  • bring your own to-go cup to your coffee shop.
  • walk or bike more, drive less.
  • walk to the corner store for toilet paper instead of buying it on Amazon.
  • avoid fast fashion. Thrift and consignment stores are so much fun and so much cheaper! If you have the money, people are making beautiful conscious clothing.
  • keep a plastic journal. how much are you buying, using, touching? where is it going? where did it come from?
  • put a photo of your favorite place in nature above your sink so you’re reminded of the impact every time you turn it on (I stole this from someone who spoke at the Symposium but I forget who!). Guilt can be a powerful (albeit often destructive) tool.
  • use reusable bags, of course.

Note that I’m not asking you to take things out of plastic and put them in your own eco-friendly containers in their aisle of the grocery store. I know that’s a huge ask for some people, emotionally more than physically. I don’t do that. Just slow down and think. What’s going to happen if a purchase takes ten more minutes to walk to the store vs. push a button? Probably nothing.

The financial factor

There are times I have to eat rice and beans or peanut butter sandwiches. There are times where I can’t afford all local ingredients for my meals. But I try. I find ways to make it inexpensive. I buy local (wherever I am) as much as I possibly can. I get creative in the kitchen. I walk as much as possible rather than drive (which is also cheaper). I have friends who like to cook and hang at home, so we’re not consuming as much packaging and waste out. I turn out lights when I’m not using them. Long, hot showers are my weakness but I’ve tried to make them shorter.

Sometimes, eating local, fresh food is a lot cheaper than the packaged stuff. Lettuce and eggs are very filling. Local eggs are about $5 compared to $3. That’s a worthy expense, in my opinion.

I have plenty of friends who conserve just because they’re trying to save money. They use less energy and water because it costs less. Being frugal is good for the environment. Check out Thor Harris’ how to live like a king for very little for ways to spend less while maintaining a certain lifestyle.

I’m with you

With that, I’d love to know what simple, easy changes you can suggest to help me make a lifestyle change in the name of our environment, our earth, our mother?

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