By Ashley Peterson
From the suffocating heat and sticky sweat of Dallol, Ethiopia, to the bitingly cold winds and chattering teeth of Oymyakon, Russia, humans display tenacity when they continue to persist in unlikely circumstances.
We find ways to thrive in terribly inhospitable environments; we invent fans and air conditioning to turn down the heat, we add layers and build fires to warm up when the outside chill becomes too much to bear.
The Oxford dictionary defines tenacious as “persistent, stubborn, or obstinate.” The planet is experiencing major challenges in the face of climate change, but if there’s one thing I know about humanity, it’s that we are a scrappy, tenacious, motley crew.
We face a variety of planetary-scale crises: worsening forest fires, increased drought and decreased access to clean drinking water, and an increased rate of species extinctions, just to name a few. Denial of climate change, given the facts surrounding it, is untenable. The question is, what can we do now?
Radical change requires time and the dedication of many, so we must start on a smaller scale and accomplish what we can. Like a ripple across water, widespread change starts with a single drop. A few increasingly important words spread like wildfire into our terminology:
Adaptation: “to make suitable to requirements or conditions; adjust or modify fittingly.” Mitigation: “to lessen in force or intensity, as wrath, grief, harshness, or pain; moderate.” Resilience: “the power or ability of a material to return to its original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.”
This definition of resilience cannot work for what we are dealing with, however. We cannot return to our society’s original form without expecting similar results. I prefer this forward-thinking definition offered by Oxford, “the ability of a person to adjust to or recover readily from illness, adversity, major life changes, etc.; buoyancy.”
Like in the adaptation definition, the key word here is adjust. Moving forward cannot be more of the same, more of business as usual, more of depleting earth’s resources with no consequences. We must shift our thinking and actions to align with the current predicament we face.
The time to adjust is now. We must learn from our collective mistakes of exploitation and environmental degradation and move forward in a novel way of mutualism and transformation. We need to cultivate a mutually beneficial relationship with the earth to replace our present take, take, take, mentality.
In kindergarten we learned to share, to not keep everything for ourselves, but it appears that after leaving school, we have forgotten such a mentality exists. As citizens of this planet, it is our duty to care for one another and all the creatures and ecosystems within it.
Our adjustment should be from our current train (wreck) of thought to one of reciprocity. Reciprocity can be defined as a relationship in which all parties benefit, one where the earth is receiving care while it continues to provide for us. We are constantly drawing on resources and putting the planet in stressed conditions, but what if we decided to give back too?
We can give back by lobbying for the planet’s protection by attending conferences and rallies and writing letters to politicians, by picking up trash when we see it, by walking or using public transportation, or any slew of other acts.
Climate rally in Salem, OR
We need to adapt by shifting our focus to a sustainable future, and in order to accomplish this, new restorative mindsets will need to be adopted to make some of our most polluting processes (industry, agriculture, transportation) greener.
I’m going to discuss some ways we can shift towards a tenacious mindset. Burning fossil fuels is the greatest global contributor to air pollution. Solutions in this realm are vital to decreasing emissions and giving us a chance to catch up and adjust to future conditions. If you have an interest in entering this professional arena, please do! The more innovators we can get working on sustainable solutions, the better. A large source of fossil fuel consumption is factory farming and the transportation of food in general. Buying food as locally sourced as possible will help lower these emissions.
Our over-consumptive, exploitative mentality that we feel gives us the right to treat nature however we want, has led us to the natural extreme of industrialized society in the form of factory farming. This style of farming is inhumane, and is detrimental to the environment in many ways, and according to dosomething.org, accounts for 37% of methane (CH4) emissions.
The burning of fossil fuels to produce the fertilizers needed for animal feed crops emits as much as 41 million metric tons of CO2 per year. Deforestation due to the increased need for livestock land contributes a significant amount of CO2 emissions as well.
99% of the dairy, eggs and meat found in the U.S comes from factory farms (Sentience Institute). We all play a role in the demise of these farms by voting with our dollar and refusing to buy these products. By continuing to purchase meat from a factory farm, you are playing the role of an enabler.
An enabler helps a situation to continue, and with each purchase, you are directly funding the deforestation of land, directly funding the monocultures of crops being grown for feed, directly funding chickens being boiled alive and other gruesome acts that take place every day on a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation).
If you must eat meat, consider doing it less frequently, for your health, the animals, and that of the planet. You can try Meatless Mondays, or even become a weekday vegetarian; whatever works for you. Try to buy local; find a local farmer that you can purchase food from. Try Parker Pastures for some beef you can feel better about consuming.
There’s a new organic market in town, Wilders, that carries many local and sustainable items from vegetables to soap. When summer rolls around, the farmers market is a great way to get local produce, and you’re always welcome to stop by the garden on campus to grab some as well! Actions such as these support your local economy and reduce emissions, as your food will not need to be driven across the country.
Significantly reducing fossil fuel emissions and pollution in general can be done in many ways beyond the scope of food as well. Everyone has their own story and their own way of making change; be creative and make your own path.
Personally, I have marched (see photos above), and I have worked on microplastics research and awareness, invasive species management plans in wilderness areas, and beach clean-ups. For my undergraduate thesis, I did a research project with Oregon Public Broadcasting looking at microplastics in freshwater rivers around Oregon; I also helped create an exhibit on microplastics for the Oregon Coast Aquarium.
In the Fossil Ridge Wilderness, just northeast of Gunnison, I surveyed every trail looking for invasive species. Although I only found Orange Hawkweed, a cute little flower listed as a Noxious Weed List “A” species in the state of Colorado, there are several pervasive invasives in the Gunnison area, the top concerns being cheatgrass and a few nonnative thistles. The problem with these plants is that they grow and reproduce so well that they take over native ecosystems.
Whenever I find myself in a natural area, I take it upon myself to collect any trash that I see to make the area just a little bit cleaner.
Perhaps the most important thing that you can do for the planet is to talk, to express your feelings and ideas with others. You can talk to friends and family, people on the street, people who agree with you politically and those who don’t, talk to your local politicians, tell everyone what is important to you and what you’re fighting for.
Tell them about your grandchildren and how scared you are about the world they will inherit, about the future of the planet in 50 years. Tell them about the farm you grew up on and the monoculture your family is forced to grow to stay afloat. Tell them you’re a college student on a budget and how hard it is to find affordable, local and healthy options at your grocery store. Tell them how you love swimming in the ocean and the great garbage patches break your heart.
Tell them you are frustrated about the lack of commitment that we show to sustaining positive change. Tell them your story and why it matters to you, and maybe it will matter to them too.
If joining a rally and outwardly expressing your passion is your thing, by all means, get out there! But if marching for a cause feels uncomfortable to you, you can write letters to politicians, administrations, businesses from the comfort of your home, verbalizing your concerns through written word.
The ways in which we can make an impact are endless, and remember, we are a resilient species. We’re tenacious and scrappy and we can adapt. The question is, will we?