Donald Trump’s disregard for the Paris climate agreement has elevated our anxiety barometer to a feverish level, and for good reason. We stress about the immediate implications this may have on our nation’s global stature. We blanch at the thought of what burden our children and grandchildren may bear, long after we are gone.
But venting and rage in the absence of self-examination will get us nowhere. That’s because resistance to Trump ignores our own complicity in the climate change conundrum. It’s been 45 years since Earth Day, but we have yet to come to terms with the choices we make on a habitual basis and how these configure our carbon footprint.
We need to ask why we behave the way we do:
What compels us to have separate bedrooms and baths for our children when we grew up sharing them without threatening the sanctity of our parent’s marriage vows (or escalating sibling rivalries) ?
By what social contract do we deem driving privileges and car ownership to a 16- year old as a bona fide “rite of passage”?
Who among us tolerates living in heavily monitored subdivisions where hanging clean clothes out to dry violates HOA rules and regulations?
What’s the point in driving a few blocks to the barber shop or hairdresser when walking or biking would suffice?
Should we say “no thanks” to the Rite Aid pharmacist who hands us a plastic bag “filled” with a half-ounce prescription canister? And why aren’t we taking matters into our own hands by using cheap biodegradable bags for all routine purchases?
Why do our two-car garages function as 400-square-foot dumpsters, full of cast-off detritus that we never should have purchased in the first place?
Who’s in charge of flipping the master switch that illuminates Uptown skyscrapers every night? Is that for the convenience of the cleaning crews, or is it meant to broadcast our bragging rights to the heavenly firmaments, that yes, we are a major banking center?
Like our president, each time we rationalize such choices, we ignore the dire consequences.
The numbers reflect the status quo. Extrapolating from the 2014 Char-Meck Sustainability Report Card by Sustain Charlotte, the amount of trash generated per person has not changed since 1999. Eighty-four percent of the work force still commutes in personal vehicles despite billion-dollar public sector investments in a multi-modal network. Mecklenburg County has 21 percent more developed land per person than the national average. We’re no better at recycling either.
A friend of mine in the hospitality sector put it this way: "Any hotel maid in Charlotte can tell you that environmental awareness among guests is practically non-existent. She's the one who must pick up the once-used towels, the half-empty coke cans and left-over pizza slices that litter the room. She is the one who turns off the lights, the air conditioning and the flat-screen TV.
When we look in the mirror each morning, do we ever ask ourselves if our consumer-dominated lifestyles differ much from a night at the Holiday Inn? Maybe we need to put as much energy into transforming our own lives as we do in righteous defiance of Donald Trump.
Martin Zimmerman is a sustainable city activist and a member of the Transportation Choices Alliance.