Solar panels, vegan diets, no flights: meet America's climate revolutionaries

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

The last time Californian climate scientist Peter Kalmus was on an airplane was in 2012: He says it made him feel physically sick and like he was "stealing" from his children's future, and vowed never to fly again.

US President Donald Trump's administration has made no secret of its disdain for , but that hasn't stopped some ordinary Americans from finding ways to drastically reduce their own carbon footprints, hoping to persuade others through their examples.

Kalmus was pursuing his post-doctoral studies in 2009 when he became increasingly concerned about the prospect of climate breakdown, tipping points such as the thawing of the Earth's permafrost triggering runaway global warming that wreaks havoc on weather systems.

"I was shaking people by the lapels, posting screeds on Facebook, not really getting anywhere," he told AFP in an interview from his home in a Los Angeles suburb.

"Eventually, it dawned on me that I should maybe bring my actions into alignment with my beliefs."

Drawing upon his expertise as a scientist, he calculated the emissions associated with various aspects of his life and was surprised to learn that electricity consumption made up a tiny portion compared to air travel.

"So I started focusing on flying less. I tried being a vegetarian for a month, and I liked it better," he said, quickly realizing that, rather than feeling like sacrifices, the changes he made were improving his sense of wellbeing.

Buying less

Some people, like Tarek Maassarani, take their philosophy to what others may see as extremes.

The bespectacled 40-year-old with long blond hair does paid consulting for the United States Institute of Peace and is an adjunct professor at two Washington universities, but performs the bulk of his work in the volunteer sector.

Two years ago, he moved out of a co-housing community in a Washington suburb when his two sons shifted to Utah to live with their mother, and has been living between friends' houses ever since.

Apart from relying almost exclusively on his bicycle for transport, including deep into winter, Maassarani is focused on avoiding buying new products because of the energy-intensive nature of their production.

He instead depends on hand-me-downs, "and I sort of extend the life of things well past what most people would do," finding ways to keep tatty decade-old cell phones and laptops going.

He gets much of his food from dumpster diving or from the leftovers at buffets from conferences he attends, describing himself as a "supply-and-demand vegan."

What this means is "I don't buy any animal products, I try not to create any demand signal for animal products," he said.

At the same time, if meat is all that is left when he rummages through garbage or approaches buffets (he makes it a point to go last), he will consume it.

Maassarani is quick to admit that his case falls well outside what most people could envisage and is made possible only by living in what he calls a "consumption excessive society."

"I'm aware of course that if the excesses weren't there, it wouldn't work, but then again the problem wouldn't be there."

Others, like Elizabeth Hogan, lead more conventional lives but are still re-orienting themselves toward more carbon neutrality.

Hogan, who works as a consultant on mitigating the impact of ocean plastics on marine life, just outfitted solar panels on the roof of her home in Washington.

She and her husband estimate these will account for 80 percent of their energy needs, with the balance coming from wind power bought at a premium from their electric provider.

'Cultural transformation'

"Both of our careers are very planet-oriented, so it's kind of our whole lives, but I am certainly not claiming to be perfect," she says, conceding that they both fly extensively for work.

Her love of cheese means she's a vegetarian, rather than a vegan, but sources her dairy from a nearby local farm that cleans and re-uses glass bottles returned to them.

But how impactful can individual action be, in the absence of systemic changes from the top?

After all, the United States' current climate commitments are rated by Climate Action Tracker as "critically insufficient" in meeting the goal of limiting long-term warming to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Kalmus, who has written a book on his experiences, said meeting critical goals to avert disaster will require a "rapid cultural transformation," and acts of individual defiance help achieve that.

"The reason everyone's waking up is because there's been this massive grassroots shift over the last year or two," he said, citing the global youth movement for climate action.

One of the many ways people can contribute to that movement is by telling others about steps they have personally taken, "then when you say 'this is really urgent,' your words are backed by the truth of your actions."

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© 2019 AFP

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User comments

Sep 19, 2019
For these people, their current behaviour has nothing at all to do with saving the planet, it's all about assuaging their feelings of guilt about helping to ruin it in the first place. They're simply on a quest for a good night's sleep.

Sep 19, 2019
"United States Institute of Peace"

Well that doesn't sound a bit too Big Brother Owellian does it?

Sep 19, 2019
The thing is: it costs us nothing to think about reducing our own carbon footprint. Often it doesn't even mean you have to forego any kind of luxury or sense of wellbeing (and many times it can even save you money in the long run). 'Different' doesn't always mean 'worse'.

In the end we can wait until action is mandated by the state (or - in a more extreme approach - just accept that the human species dies out in a couple generations)...or we can just ignore politicians and do what's right without someone telling us to.

...I know. That's a totally novel concept for most. Taking responsibility ourselves instead of finding the blame in others to rationalize keeping on doing what we're doing - and never mind consequences.

You won't get a medal or a pat on the back - and that's a problem for many. They're so self-obsessed that without a "what's in it for me?" they are not willing to act.

Sep 19, 2019
Unless and until pressure and sanctions are put upon China and India and other manufacturing centers around the world, I will do nothing to change how I live and what I consume.

I choose to not be a pointless martyr.

Global warming is not a problem, but pollution and overpopulation are. We need to wise up and deal with reality and not the fantasy of taxing ourselves to a cooler world. Trust me on this ... you wouldn't like a much cooler world.

Further to .. I don't fly unless absolutely necessary ... those planes are full of fat bus people.

Sep 19, 2019
Want to save planet?
Save fossil fuel.
Do not burn billion of gallons of oil and gas driving to/from the office, staying in traffic for hours.
Means limit your physical commute. Fly and drive less.
Do telecommute. Skype, Skype for Business, etc.
Work from home as much as possible
Increasing internet and broadband speed , development of electronic communication tools and gadgets is the future.

Sep 19, 2019
Science has nothing to do with Socialist Science, where ridiculous socialist predictions overrule facts and the only "solution" demanded for all real & imaginary problems is more socialism and less freedom. As one would expect, socialist "scientist" models predict only their own dishonesty because they are based on socialist politics (illogic+dishonest/fudged data+desired socialist outcome) instead of science. Thanks to decades of ridiculous predictions and fudged data scandals, the majority of people see the alleged man-made, global warming/climate change racket for what it is -- a means to a socialist end, as confirmed by many socialists, including Emma Brindal of "Friends of the Earth," who said "climate change response must have at its heart a redistribution of wealth and resources."

Sep 19, 2019
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Sep 19, 2019
I think it's great that some people have freely chosen to live this way, but it's not for me. I like my V8 powered vehicles, steaks and whatever else I enjoy as a free man. My only gripe is that there are those people who would use the coercive power of government to force me into a way of life that I do not want. To those people I say please leave me alone. I won't criticize or force you to do anything. Don't you dare come for what is mine.

Sep 19, 2019
This kind of low-fun technological regression is not humanity's future. Unreliables (renewables) can't power our modern lives. What ever you do in the US won't matter due to the emissions coming out of China,India and Africa in the future. Stop all this nonsense and support development of next gen LFTR nuclear power stations - they operate at much lower pressures, fail-safe, produce less waste and use Thorium which is much more common than Uranium.
Instead, spend our efforts on things that can achieve something, like keeping plastics out of the ocean.

Sep 19, 2019
The last time Californian climate scientist Peter Kalmus was on an airplane was in 2012: He says it made him feel physically sick and like he was "stealing" from his children's future, and vowed never to fly again.

The only way this moron is stealing from his kids is the progressive liberal politicians and policies for which he is most assuredly voting.

Sep 19, 2019
Thru the scare tactics of the media and Fake Democrats or liberals that seek a full bank account, this country will spend trillions of dollars to again fix a problem. Typical government direction to throw money at it. Scare tactics as the world will end in a number of years, how the country can control weather temperatures, and how each of us can save the world is not fun to watch. A honest debate on the problem is necessary, but that will not happen. Fake Democrats and liberals do not desire a discussion. Only seek their direction and answer.

Sep 19, 2019
https://www.thegu...nvention 6/23/2019

'A leftward shift': Communist party USA sees chance as progressives surge

"...a moment in American politics in which democratic socialism and progressive ideas are increasingly finding a home in the mainstream of the Democratic party. ...

...and for drastic action to combat climate change including the Green New Deal proposed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the faces of the young democratic socialist movement within the Democratic party."

The political movement responsible for hundreds of millions of deaths throughout recent history luvs them some demokkkrats.... and their climate change oppression.

Sep 19, 2019
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Sep 19, 2019
He gets much of his food from dumpster diving...

Wow, just imagine the tombstone at his very cold funeral.

Here lies Tarek Maassarani.
He was as stupid as he ate.

Sep 19, 2019
Too bad @TeddyXNo is such a paid troll rightwing fascist supporter. Antifa to the rescue on this one.

Sep 19, 2019
Oh.. and oh... we are now graced with the words of the oh... oh ... so holy than thou
@Anti-Al-Gore-acal. Oh joy joy the idiots have landed..

Sep 19, 2019
I won't criticize or force you to do anything
Except breathe your offal and cope with the weather you made and won't pay for.

Meanwhile I'm investing in renewables (in common with two of the richest companies in the world and one of the most successful investors) and you're going to be sucking up dog food and whining for welfare you want to take out of my income in 20 years.

I'm going to be a lot less than sympathetic if you wasted all your money burning carbon and making things worse.

Sep 19, 2019
@Ted..Novak @Norski are both brand new rightwing Sock-Puppet propagandist commenting here for the first time. Well it is a news-making night with the whistleblower story where Trump was reported calling Ukraine to investigate Biden ... Timing. Our Russian buddies are having fun doing counter-propaganda actions on behalf of Putin's best butty.

Sep 19, 2019
Not to mention the whistleblower report and the attempted takeover of California both by Trump.

Sep 19, 2019
Haha @DaSchneib ... Not to mention "American Environmental Revolutionaries" in the article headline. Perfect fish-bate.

Sep 19, 2019
States' Rights!!!


Sep 19, 2019
If the Ruskies just knew what we are going through with this guy... "You don't know how lucky you are boys... Back in the USSR". Oh, sorry, I meant "... Back in Ukraine again (just North of Crimea) which oddly rhymes with North O Korea"
I just and figure-out how to sing it... Pussy-riot could do it I bet. So true there DrSchneib.

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