At the Front Door: Climate Change & the Bay Area – a column on climate change in our lives
A few years ago, I started to wonder what success means to me. I came across the story of Watsi, the first non-profit to join Y-Combinator. In his startup school video, Chase Adams, the founder, talks about his journey building Watsi. The most impactful part of his story is the message that success to him meant helping just one more person and trying to do something that mattered more than his personal needs. This message resonated with me. The companies we work at, the job titles we hold, the money we make, the size of our homes, the cars we drive, the holidays we take, are not a measure of how successful we are.
The question to ask is, can we make a positive impact on at least one life, human or otherwise? If so, it is impossible for us to fail.
I started on my journey to find something that mattered more than just my personal needs and wants. I found that environmental related charities received only 3% of all charitable donations and volunteering hours. This was a surprise to me given that climate change is the biggest threat we face. There were large gaps in awareness of the climate change crisis and a lack of involvement from governments, business leaders and communities to solve the problem.
I started looking into how to be part of the solutions and where to start.
Through friends at work, I connected with organizations such as Save the Bay and started seeking out other local organizations. I found that Our City Forest held several volunteering events over the weekend to plant trees in the Bay Area. It was a perfect opportunity to engage our children in something we can do together outdoors while also helping to make our community greener.
I enrolled in Climate Reality Leadership Corps training led by Al Gore and engaged with my employer’s Green Employee resource group. As I started to become more aware of the various problems we face, so did the kids. They started to ask questions about things that didn’t look right.
“Mom, why is there so much plastic packaging?” “Why are there so many cars on the road?”
I encouraged them to pose the same question to business leaders and government officials – how will they solve these problems? I helped my kids write letters to the head of BART, the mayor of San Jose and to business leaders at Emirates, Kiwi Crate, and Amazon. Sometimes we heard back, but more importantly, we talked about how important it is to use our voice and refuse to accept the status quo in situations that can be harmful to our future. Kids are now using their skills to help create media to spread the message of climate change and what each of us can do about it.
Last year, on a cold November Saturday morning, I woke up my 7 year old son and 4 year old daughter early, packed some snacks and headed towards Marin. We were going to volunteer with Save The Bay at Bel Marin Keys to help restore wetlands. This was our first volunteering event together and we had a blast being outdoors, working to help restore nature. Since then, as a family, we have volunteered to plant trees, created videos and stories to share information about climate change, written to business leaders and government officials to do their part to tackle climate change and designed clothing to promote climate advocacy.
At home, we started with small changes to reduce our personal impact. We switched to bamboo toothbrushes, started to buy used books, exchange clothes instead of buying new ones, limit water wastage, use refillable bathroom products and to limit the use of products that have plastic materials or packaging. But we know that the biggest impact that we can have at a personal level is transitioning to clean energy for heating, cooling and transportation and changing our diets to be meat and dairy free.
We have taken advantage of the opportunity to switch to 100% clean electricity through TotalGreen San Jose and are looking into how to transition to electric heaters from natural gas. And, while being vegetarian is an easier change for us, growing up with dairy products makes this change harder. However, black tea is turning out to be just as satisfying!
When we think about sustainability, what we have to give up is not as important as t what we will gain. We will gain a healthier life, breathe cleaner air, drink purer water, live in a world where nature and biodiversity are thriving, giving us the opportunity to explore nature at its best.
Start with small changes and work your way towards a truly sustainable lifestyle that becomes second nature to us.
Seema Jethani is a sustainability advocate and a Climate Reality Leader with the Climate Reality Project. She lives in San Jose with her husband and two elementary school age kids with whom she has been actively working in the community on the climate crisis, through various initiatives such as volunteering, social media engagement and petitioning elected officials and business leaders.
Edited by Meera Kymal, the contributing editor at India Currents.