50 Things You Can Do for the Earth Right Now

In “The Climate Diet,” Paul Greenberg offers some suggestions for combating climate change, from switching out your light bulbs to asking your municipality to think about where it gets its energy.,

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THE CLIMATE DIET
50 Simple Ways to Trim Your Carbon Footprint
By Paul Greenberg

Partway through the third section of Paul Greenberg’s new book, “The Climate Diet” — the particularly nonsexy stretch on household carbon use — something happened to my body, right between my scapulae. Reading about the ease of finding local renewable energy service companies, I took a deep breath so noticeable that I put the book down and realized I’d been holding my shoulders up in my ears for … ever?

I am exhausted by the world getting worse, worn down by decision fatigue, the persistent, paralyzing angst of planetary degradation and the creeping sense of guilt that if I’m not responsible, exactly, I’m still complicit. And here was something that felt like a solution, or at least a tip so useful and relevant that my body reacted.

That reaction is the point of “The Climate Diet.” When it comes to curbing carbon use, Greenberg asks, on the very first page: “Should we do something or should we do nothing?”

ImagePaul Greenberg
Paul GreenbergCredit…Justin Schein

Yes, duh, of course we should do something, but “should” is so squishy. Conviction is not the hard part. Change, especially broad change, is where it gets tough.

Facing the onslaught of climate change there’s often a chicken-and-egg dilemma between personal action and greater political or economic change: Why should I change my behavior when I’m nothing compared with multinational oil companies? Why should industry pivot when individuals are still sucking up resources, especially in the United States, where the average citizen gluttonously emits more than 16 metric tons of carbon a year — more than any other country on the planet?

The United Nations recommends closer to three, but there’s no real impetus to cut back besides that sense of “should,” and there’s a narrative that the good-for-the-planet personal choices are often too expensive, inconvenient or just lame.

But that’s not really true. To counter, and connect the personal and the political, Greenberg outlines 50 tips for scalable personal changes. Not just switching out your light bulbs, but changing where your electricity is coming from and then asking your municipality to change, too.

Greenberg’s writing is clear and concise. Each section starts with easy tips, like keeping your lids on your pots to conserve energy, then wades into bigger, trickier concepts, like the morality and impact of having children.

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The book treads the line of too simple, especially in the political section, where Greenberg advises being precise in your requests to local politicians but doesn’t say how. Tip No. 23, “Fix the rest,” referring to household appliances from water heaters to dryers, could also have gone a little deeper. But generally the snippets show the data-backed good side of sustainability, the kind of change that can unkink your shoulders. Cutting food waste, one study found, could save the average American $1,300 a year.

The biggest failing of “The Climate Diet” is the diet part, which is neither an appealing framework nor, truly, what the book is about. “Diet” implies some kind of temporary withholding, an ascetic skimping and a sense that you are being deprived. This narrative, that to confront climate change will be limiting, annoying and hard, is also what has inhibited action of any sort.

We’re not focusing enough on how good a post-carbon economy could be or talking about the implications of not changing our ways. Greenberg outlines this but he does so quietly, and I think there’s value in saying it loud, right from the title page.

Call it climate self-care instead? Climate wellness, perhaps? If we can choke down charcoal for health, maybe we can swallow Greenberg’s tip (No. 4!) to eat oysters instead of shrimp. Frame it instead as a path to happiness, not something you have to suffer through. Here’s a future you can work toward. It might not be easy in the process, but it will be better in the end.

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