Climate change can seem like an impossibly large problem — what can any one of us do?
The answer: More than you might think. Three recent books can help point the way: They have shaped my views on how to eat sustainably, what impact the products I buy have on climate change and how important social justice is to tackling environmental issues.
Barber, a chef in New York, took a hard look at the way Americans eat and decided that it needs to change. He discusses what it means to cook and eat sustainably in a world obsessed with buying farm-to-table products without knowing whether these products are actually helping the environment. Traditionally, Americans have eaten meals similar to what Barber calls the “first plate”: a large cut of meat with few vegetables. The farm-to-table movement launched the idea of the “second plate,” one with free-range meat and locally sourced vegetables. But, Barber says, the best meal for the planet is actually the “third plate”: a combination of vegetables, grains and livestock that is fully sustainable.
This book got me thinking about my own relationship with food — and how we as humans are integrally linked with the ecosystems we live in, and that sustain us. We’re constantly told about the virtues of eating and purchasing locally, but this book takes it a step further, helping me understand the need to reimagine our current food system. We need to do this sooner rather than later for ourselves, for our communities and for the health of our planet.
Klein exposes plenty of the myths involved in the climate change debate. Perhaps most provocatively, she says that climate change isn’t about carbon — it’s about capitalism. Klein argues that climate change is a wake-up call for the world to update its economic system to one that can sustain the Earth and every living thing on it. She says that either we rise to this challenge or we let it devour us.
I believe that humanity will rise to this challenge — in fact, it already is. Klein highlights how climate change is fundamentally an issue of justice and equity and integral to how our society is structured. One of the key tenets driving Conservation International is the understanding that people can thrive and economies can grow without destroying nature or increasing carbon emissions. Klein’s book inspires us to action while respecting and working with communities that we live in.
Jones explains how to simultaneously solve socioeconomic inequality and the world’s environmental problems — no small task. This concept struck home for me because of Conservation International’s rights-based approach to conservation: Local communities who help the environment should be as fully supported and included as the nature that we try to protect. Jones lays out what he calls “the Green New Deal” — a proposal that would create thousands of new jobs that focus on conserving energy in local communities. I think that forms of climate resilience, such as the plan that Jones lays out, is the next wave of the environmental justice movement. Jones shows us how being green isn’t incompatible with prosperity, income generation and livelihoods of people. It’s an inspiring call to action to make the green movement part of the future we envision for our country.
Shyla Raghav is Conservation International’s climate lead.