As I stood at the grocery store watching a woman at the self-checkout station put every individual item she had in a plastic bag, and then place them into another plastic bag she then doubled, I had a revelation: Those bags are free. There’s really no limit on how many you can use. It’s her freedom to take as many as she wants — even if it’s excessive, wasteful, ultimately costs everyone more, leaves the next person without any and is just dumb.
Climate change deniers are essentially the excessive bag lady at the grocery store.
Follow along with me for a moment. It’s not about not believing humans have impacted the climate and can make positive changes, or that the scientists are engaging in some grand conspiracy to get rich. If nine out of 10 doctors said you needed surgery, you’d get the surgery even though the doctor is making money on it. If nine out of 10 labs said your well was contaminated, you wouldn’t drink the water, even if they also sold filtration units. If nine out of 10 contractors told you your house was about to fall down, you’d get the repairs done by one of those contractors. Therefore, if nine out of 10 scientists believe climate change is caused by humans, it is absurd for anyone to choose the one outlier scientist who doesn’t as their expert on the subject.
It’s a force of will to deny science, one that’s fueled by a fear of change and the additional effort it would require. Being “green” in simple ways is tough enough: sorting your trash and recyclables and hauling out multiple cans, bringing cloth bags to the store, skipping disposable single use products like paper towels and plates, washing and refilling water bottles, laundering cloth diapers, skipping plastic straws, maybe even spending a little more on energy efficient products like upgraded windows or hybrid vehicles. No one can argue those things are the right thing to do, however small they are, but they all create a change in our lifestyles and extra work.
Now let’s look at things with a bigger impact, like moving to all renewable energy sources, creating more efficient modes of transportation, committing to industrial pollution limitations, creating better, sustainable farming methods to keep up with growing populations or even requiring all the small things I first mentioned instead of leaving them optional. That would create bigger change and possibly more work and expense on for us.
People say it’s their freedom as an American to drive a huge belching truck, even though they never go off road, tow anything or carry materials: It’s my right to own my vehicle of choice and pollute. People claim it’s their right to eat an all-carnivore, factory farmed diet, die of heart failure and support industries that spray pig feces into neighborhoods and waterways. It’s my right! People want to pay the smallest amount possible on their electric and fuel bill, even if that means destroying someone else’s water with fracking, young men dying in coal mines and crud being puked into the air and water.
America is capitalism. Let the free market decide. It’s my right.
Is it, though? It is your right to do whatever you want right up to the point it adversely affects someone else?
It may be the woman’s “right” to take every bag in the store, your right to throw 100 water bottles a day into a landfill — or fill the chicken poop cesspools that will overflow during floods in pursuit of your McNuggets — but it’s ethically wrong.
It is our duty leave a habitable world for our children and grandchildren and their grandchildren. It is their right to live and thrive above all else, trumping our right to convenience, ease and just not wanting to change our ways.
The horse-drawn carriage builders railed against the automobile. Coal and oil companies laughed off the electric lightbulb as a novelty that would never succeed in the mass market. The movie industry predicted television would never succeed because no one would want to “stare at a plywood box.” When digital surpassed film cameras, the government was not promising to “bring back film” despite technology leaving it in the dust. Times change. Things move on. Change is American. Advancement is American. We invent. We create. We build. Any hindering of that is plainly un-American.
Advancing technology to make our old, unsustainable, polluting ways obsolete and replacing them with efficient, clean systems that will ensure a healthy world for future generations is the right of the next generations and their “pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.” My kid’s right to breathe clean air, drink clean water and have enough food to eat outweighs your right to pollute.
Kimberly Lynch (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a mother of three daughters advocating for a healthier planet.