The headlines said we have 12 years to reduce our carbon emissions or we will experience climate-change catastrophe. Wait—I’ll still be alive then, so this is going to directly affect me. I always thought of climate change as a slow process that would skip my generation. I didn’t want kids anyway, so problem solved. But after the United Nation’s doomsday announcement in October, I realized I was part of the problem that got us here.
When the ban on free grocery bags was put in place, I bought a few reusable bags and put them in my trunk, where they turned into my gym bags. Every time I went grocery shopping, I’d just pay the 10 cents per bag. When I unloaded the food, I’d toss the plastic bags in the trash without thinking about recycling them. Our complex didn’t have a recycling bin, so what was I supposed to do? Put it in a neighbor’s bin down the street? Find a recycling center that I’d have to drive to every week? It seemed like too much effort.
My family tried to warn me about some of my habits, specifically my meat-eating habit. My sister watched a documentary on Netflix about how meat is killing our bodies and the environment and became vegan shortly after. My parents followed suit, but I stubbornly disagreed and rolled my eyes every time they brought it up. If I can’t eat carne asada tacos, I have nothing to live for.
Before I learned the world would deteriorate by the time I was in my late 30s, I was working at a high-stress job and living in an apartment where my rent was set to increase $300. On top of that, I was trying to eat healthy, maintain a relationship with my boyfriend, Sam, work out three times a week, do laundry more than once a month, make time for my friends and family, take care of my new puppy, and, above all, not cry at work. Reducing my carbon footprint to stop the world’s imminent doom was low on my priority list.
Things started to turn around when I found a new job and a great apartment. I felt settled for the first time in years and finally had the emotional capacity to start reading the news, including the U.N.’s announcement. I spent hours reading everything I could about climate change. I wanted to know specifics—when would we be affected? How high would the average global temperature have to rise for it to be considered a disaster? I thought it would be several degrees, but at only 2 degrees Celsius higher, sea levels will rise and areas near the equator will be unlivable. If we rise above an average of 3 degrees, parts of the world will experience extreme drought, and the fires we’ve experienced in the U.S. could quadruple in size. By 2100, the average temperature is expected to have increased by 4 degrees, meaning six natural disasters could strike a location at once. I won’t be around for 2100, but imagine the turmoil we’ll face leading up to that.
If that didn’t heighten my above-average anxiety, the Camp Fire hit in November and quickly became the deadliest in California history. I called my parents and told them they needed to make an emergency evacuation plan in case a natural disaster of that caliber hit Orange County. My mom said I needed to meditate.
I texted Sam and told him to bring home a bottle of wine because I was going to teach him about our grim future, and we were going to come up with a plan to do our part to fix it.
Climate change, which I now refer to as the apocalypse, is happening right now. My anxiety spiked to a panic—even halfway through that bottle of wine. I have an earthquake kit and a plan of action in case of emergency, but is that enough? Is anyone else concerned? Are there any laws in place to turn this around? Don’t politicians realize that nothing else is worth arguing over if we’re all going to be dead in a few years? Shouldn’t someone raise the grocery bag fee to $10?!
“We’re buying a trash can for recycling,” I said.
“We don’t have room for another trash can,” Sam said. “Where would we recycle anyway? We don’t have a bin at our complex.”
“We didn’t have room for your shoe collection, and we made it work,” I retorted. “Orange Coast College has a recycling center we can take it to; we’ll just have to drive it over a few times a week.”
“And we’re going to stop eating so much meat,” I added. “We can only have one meal with meat in it per day.”
“And think of the sea turtles every time you want to use a straw!”
Now that I’ve learned more about climate change (some might say I’ve become obsessive), I’ve begun to advocate to my friends, family, co-workers, and anyone who will listen to make changes in their lives, too. When I attend parties with plastic cups, I offer to recycle them and cut up the straws. I signed up for an account with Arcadia Power so that clean energy effectively makes up half our power use—for free! I posted about it on Instagram, hoping my friends talking about the crazy weather would rally behind me. I emailed my government representatives when Orange County’s temperature dipped as low as New York’s and sent their contact information to everyone I knew to do the same.
After Sam and I talked, we walked our dog around the neighborhood and negotiated which days we’d trade taking the recycling to OCC—a 10-minute drive but an additional errand nonetheless. On the way back, we took a different route than usual through our apartment complex and came across two dumpsters hidden behind a garage that I hadn’t noticed before. “Hold on,” I said. I went through the gate and looked at the giant metal containers. There was a blue one, like the one closer to our door, in which we’d been throwing all our trash, but also a white one with huge letters on it.