Life Changing Magic in Unexpected Places

“Is being able to sustain enough?”

My love affair with the word, “sustainability” is waning . This shorthand term, on the surface, seems to encompass environmental principles of protection and inclusion. Like many environmentally minded people, I have been known to use it quite frequently.  I’ve tossed this word around in climate conversations and land-use discourse, I float it like a bob on waves of discussions about ocean health. Lately, though, “I ask myself is being able to sustain enough?” The term falls short in principle and may be leading us away from the deep systemic change needed to protect planetary and personal health.  The word sustainability directs us onto a path of environmental consideration and perpetuity but not onto a path for truly healthy systems.  Reviewing the lexicon of terms that we use, sustainability seems to be on the surface the most encompassing; yet being able to sustain does not seem to be nearly enough. We actually need to be able to restore systems to thrive. We seem to forget that we are in communion with the worlds living systems, we are interdependent with the very systems that we are degrading. Restorative in many ways, it is more apt to set us up for the psychology of healing and protecting natural systems and human health.

From my perspective carbon is natures currency and until we account for and balance that on every bottom line, personal, business or otherwise we won’t thrive, nor will we be able to sustain ourselves.
We certainly will not be restoring the worlds complex living systems. With some urgency every household, company, school, hospital, hotel and roadside ranch should not only know their carbon footprint but actively be working hard toward significantly reduce it.  Every decision-maker has an opportunity to bring this issue up and strive toward finding efficiencies that reduce CO2. By balancing carbon, we can begin to restore systems and thrive. For example, when designers account for carbon emissions at the inception of their design frameworks one finds a lot of other toxicity naturally drops out of the system, in addition, unexpected efficiencies come forth that often provide both financial as well as restorative benefits.   

We literally have trillions of dollars of excess CO2 in the atmosphere that is the environmental debt of the industrial revolution and we have run out of time on this loan from nature. We need to Drawdown CO2 from the atmosphere as quickly as possible while also curbing our enthusiasm for burning more fossil fuel. Restoring forests, wetlands, and algae ponds can help sequester (Drawdown) carbon dioxide emissions while improving biodiversity and buffering some of the effects of sea level rise. If we Drawdown carbon into sustainable development that better serves society, we not only slow climate change we may be able to end hunger in our lifetime. https://www.drawdown.org/ 

Accounting for carbon is an opportunity, not war. This is our chance to realize we are co-beneficiaries of a healthy planet. Building a restorative economy will be more productive and possibly more lucrative than the Industrial Revolution which left all this environmental debt. for future generations to pay. We, by the way, are that future generation.  

I know that climate change is alarming and overwhelming and often hard to face. Fessing up to and doing something about our carbon footprints is also an opportunity to find some piece of mind. We can evolve the system by finding solutions that include natural capital and CO2 (natures currency) in the value proposition. It is for individuals an opportunity to take better care of your heart by eating less meat, it is an opportunity to have some mindfulness around flying, and driving and shopping and consuming and wasting. Addressing climate change gives us each an opportunity to reclaim our lives in a meaningful way.  Like many of us, I have been introduced to The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo and I can’t help but think, “if our carbon footprint had been important to us as individuals would we have cluttered up our closets in the first place?” 
 

Marie Kondo’s book and now Netflix series on the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is also a great lesson in doing more than just sustaining our life systems at home. I am currently reading the book,  A More Beautiful Question The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas by Warren Berger,  it explores the importance of forming our questions in a way that will lead us to more magnificent solutions. What if we were all asked to clean up our environmental footprints before cleaning up our closets, wouldn’t that prevent the gluttony of stuff in the first place? Consumerism and stuff is suffocating many people’s homes and lives.  Knowing how to fold your underwear and organize your sock drawer without addressing consumption as the underlying problem is like organizing deck chairs on the Titanic. Research shows that more often than not having less and using less seems to increase our happiness, our sense of control and our well-being. It also saves money, and can significantly improve your dietary health. I pose that there is also significant life-changing magic in cleaning up our carbon footprint. When we tidy up our carbon footprint our diets change because we eat less meat and more vegetables, we improve our health and trim our waistlines. We bike more and drive less. We telecommute more and fly less which lowers our stress and cortisol levels. We automatically become more mindful of our consumption habits as well as our intrinsic relationship to mother nature. By consuming less our homes don’t get as cluttered. Consumption is also food waste, gas and electricity. To reduce your carbon footprint at home, insulate, electrify and sign up for 100% renewable energy https://mcecleanenergy.orgConsider making your next car an electric car. 

Marie Kondo’s clients seem to find that by reducing clutter in their homes they find more peace of mind. It may not matter which you do first, clean your home or clean your carbon footprint you may end up in the same happier place.  To do your own carbon accounting with the goal of reducing your emissions to under 10 tons per person visit https://www.footprintcalculator.org/. Some people who fly for work may have to carbon offset with an organization like https://www.cooleffect.org/ to get to a responsible level of emissions. In my home design practice, I include an environmental footprint assessment and recommendation list along with organizing and arranging people’s personal effects. This is often a big moment for my clients. It inevitably leads to the client saving money, and getting more organized around bills and consumption. This holistic approach streamlines one’s tasks so that there is more time to enjoy life and your home. So if you are taking a deep dive into Marie Kondo’s Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up consider adding two more categories, environment and finance.  Investment portfolios often have more fossil fuel investments than we realize and they may not be aligned with our personal beliefs. Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) strategies have returns that are on par with traditional portfolios while also helping to build a restorative economy through targeted investments. This is an important place to tidy up your life, go to https://fossilfreefunds.org to assess your portfolio’s carbon footprint. If you don’t have a portfolio you may find by consuming less you will have more cash around to invest in the world you want while growing your nest egg.  

Our culture and consumption habits are interwoven with living systems. We are co-beneficiaries of one another’s health. When the planet is doing well, we are doing well. When the oceans are abundant and vibrant, we are abundant and vibrant. When the forests are thriving and teeming with life, our air is crisp and uplifting and buttered Chanterelles can fill our plates. We need to ask ourselves to do more than just sustain life on a life support system. We need to ask ourselves to restore systems that in the end we are absolutely comingled with. To thrive we must consider all living systems as part of our own.  Our driving and shopping and flying and eating absolutely affect the land, the sea, and the atmosphere. We are entwined for our every breath.  

I am one of those people with a big voice at the dinner table but have hardly a whisper in the public forum and yet this idea of a restorative economy with carbon accounting seems so fundamental that I have to pipe up. Adding the questions, “How does this activity affect the environment and atmosphere?” to our decision making will give us a leg up to being able to create an operating system that includes the longevity of natural systems.  By including a fundamental measure of CO2 we include nature in the equation. By using Biomimicry and asking ourselves, “how nature would do it?”, we draw from billions of years of nature’s evolutionary research on how to thrive and consume more efficiently. To learn how to frame your question with nature in mind visit https://biomimicry.org. There are many companies already doing this, and carbon was the fastest-growing commodity in the European markets last year.   

Having a personal carbon accounting and tidying up our carbon footprints at home will create more than a little life-changing magic. “According to the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), carbon dioxide levels in the air are at their highest in 650,000 years, and average global temperatures are 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they were in 1880. Seventeen of the 18 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001.” This is an expensive problem and may be an expression or our need for a more beautiful question. What question do you want to ask to find balance, “How can my life be in balance with that of nature herself?” “How can I live with more wonder and less waste?” “Can I tidy up my carbon footprint to find some life-changing magic?” “How could my life be as efficient as the forest?” Write to me about the question you think we should be asking and in the meantime consider tidying up your environmental debt for a little life changing magic as we can’t depend on the fossil fuel industry to ask themselves the right question.  daisy@coolhive.com 

Daisy Carlson is a designer and climate journalist. She is also the Founder of CoolHive.com which seeks to “Make the Planet Cooler” by helping people create a low-carbon life with style!  

Photo by C. Swab Design