The Happy Atmosphere Challenge

I have been hating climate change for over two decades. Willing it to be untrue. Sure that the scientists (one of whom I am married to) were missing something, that our beautiful, resilient planet would have some trick up its sleeve.

Reading about it, I shut down. I’m either hopelessly bored by all of the jargon or what I hear is all the things I do that are bad. Invisible gases will doom the earth and humanity and all I need to do is stop using electricity and driving. It is that simple.

It is not on one’s bucket list to be a “greedy American”. You don’t want to doom the planet or for little kids growing up on islands to be afraid they won’t have a home say, next year. But your house was built in 1940, your job is fifteen miles away, and you can’t afford a Tesla.

Plus, it seems like your feeble efforts to save 2% of your fuel by taking heavy items out of your trunk is a teardrop in the ocean of climate change and you know your neighbor doesn’t give a flip about the climate. You notice her sprinkler watering the street every morning, see her back door open all day in 95 degree heat, smell her grilling those juicy feedlot ribeyes.

Better hope that a widdly-wee machine is invented to fix the problem, if it actually turns out to be as bad as (more and more) people say it might be. It’s too big for one gal.

In the midst of this hopelessness, or denial, you might receive emails from well meaning NGOs about what you need to do. Call X to “demand” action (though I am not sure, in a democracy, that one ought to demand). Reject the big bad oil or coal companies that we oppose (yet depend on to get to work each day or to run hospital equipment). Divest — do not give your money to the bad guys. Telling stories designed to make you feel — thinking this feeling will prompt action.

But this fear and anger, guilt and sadness — these are paralyzing.

I say this because I have spent many more hours than I would have preferred reading the science, seeking to (mostly) understand it, and recognizing it is dangerous and unfair in its potential impacts. And in all this time (I wrote my first article about climate change in 1999) I have taken few steps in my personal life to decrease my ‘carbon footprint’.

I might go on Facebook and feel upset about Paris, or any other thing, might sign a petition or make a phone call. But hells teeth my house gets a slight bit less comfortable if I turn the thermostat up by two degrees. What we need is a global agreement, not my messing around with my thermostat or declining a trip to Mexico!

(The answer is too big for one gal. Of course. That is why all of the governments on the planet have been working for 24 years to come up with a solution that they could all work towards together. An approach recognizing that the wealthiest countries on Earth got to where they are in part from burning stuff and sticking gas in the air (unknowingly at first) and wanting to make sure countries who have burned less don’t remain impoverished but also don’t burn the same amount of stuff we did to get where we are.)

But back to my inaction: If I were to use one of the available “carbon calculators”, a tool to help me understand the volume of invisible gases that my family creates through different activities (driving, heating, etc.), I can come up with a number, say, 50 tons each year. Then I can take steps, large and small, to decrease this number. Maybe I work really hard and cut it in half – in half! That’s not an easy feat, but do-able. But after all that work, and expense, I am still generating 25 tons of emissions each year. After all that effort I am doing less bad. But still bad. Focusing on that number, and on decreasing it, in the end still draws my attention to what I don’t want to be doing.

It is difficult to summon the energy, the spirit, the will to act from hate, or from fear, or against something. There is a powerful surge of emotion but those emotions drive me straight into the arms of my beloved world-building, pastoral iPad games – a world of no feelings and cheap, endless serotonin and dopamine. But what I know about myself is this — that I miraculously somehow seem to find the energy to act from love, from optimism, and for something. I have not managed, in twenty years, to take substantial action to do less bad. But I have a hunch that I could take a lot of action to do more good.

So that’s the plan. And in this spirit, I have come up with a challenge for myself — and for anyone else who might also be motivated by doing more good. A moderately epic battle to support good guys everywhere. And when I finish the challenge, I will decrease my energy bills, improve my health, breathe cleaner air, have less road rage (this would be a pretty big win), support job growth, support local farmers, waste less food, educate girls (which is good for girls and boys), increase carbon in soil and forests (where we like it), drive innovation in energy, batteries, lighting, appliances, and transit, and incidentally send fewer invisible gases to the sky (details on challenge activities can be found here or downloaded below).

The challenge is meant to be played as a game – on your own, as a family, with a friend, a group, or a virtual community.

I take on this challenge accepting that doing something, taking some concrete action, may not fix the problem. Doesn’t change anyone’s mind, might not change the world, takes time to figure out, and can cost money (and save money, there is a bright side!). But doing something– in this spirit — is good for me. It directs my thought towards what is possible, what is feasible, what I can support. For me, it’s the only option.

The challenge is a work in progress that will be updated as I go. I’ll share further thoughts and resources under the Happy Atmosphere Challenge. If anyone else in this wide world decides to take the challenge, I would love to hear about it, either in the blog comments or through the contact form. Resources or tips shared via comments will improve the challenge and be added to the resource section. Corrections or different opinions are very welcome. You can subscribe to the blog to receive further details, resources, and updates for the challenge.

I am hopeful. Hopeful that there is something we don’t yet understand that will mean that all of the models run by all of the scientists don’t come to pass. Hopeful that the pace of innovation is breathtaking and people are working — this very minute — on solutions that, given our investment and support, could store carbon back in the earth by 2050 (more about the book Drawdown in future posts). And hopeful that – one month from today – I’ll (finally) be able to report on the multiple steps forward – towards the good – that have eluded me for too long.

Download the Happy Atmosphere Challenge Now!

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