Last week there was an eye-opening infographic in The New York Times showing the escalating disappearance of two of Antarctica’s glaciers into the Amundsen Sea. The piece’s graphics were almost more astonishing than the facts themselves, for they showed a truly bird’s eye view of the southernmost parts of the world—a sight that we humans aren’t able to see with our eyes so easily—and how important these seemingly tiny parts of the great continent truly are.
The feeling I had when I saw this piece came up again recently while watching two documentaries, Overview (2012) and Planetary (2015). Directed by Guy Reid of The Planetary Collective, an organization whose mission is to change our social narrative of fragmentation to one of integration, both short films bring together astronauts, writers, scientists, anthropologists, and other experts who attest to how the degradation of the earth is not only the most important and urgent problem of our times, but also causing the rapid degradation of human society and relationships. In the former, we hear from astronauts who have seen the planet from space and subsequently experienced a nearly indescribable feeling of awe and connectedness. Nothing in science or religion could explain it until a library search unearthed a sensation from ancient philosophy: “Salva kapa Samadhi,” which means that while you see things with your eyes as they are, you approach them with a state of “ecstasy and total unity and oneness.” It’s a feeling one can only have when vastness of our planet is within our line of vision, and thus our own tiny place in it. Planetary goes beyond that, offering scenes of wildlife and vast natural landscapes juxtaposed with sprawling cityscapes and human dwellings, the latter (as one commentator says) growing bigger and bigger and farther apart.
This information was not necessarily new to me, and it probably isn’t to you either. Climate change is real, and daily we’re reminded of the danger we’ve wrought upon the planet through our generations-long social habits and desire for everything bigger, faster, and more. But seeing the impact of our choices in this way is something else. We often like to argue with the cliche that “seeing is believing,” but in this case I couldn’t agree with it more. As one of the commentator describes, we need to change our worldview in order for anything meaningful to change. What we need is a truly world-view that reminds us of all that exists beyond the bubble of our individual lives and the tiny screens we cling to with gross devotion. This goes not just for our natural resources, but also for the other people we used to be close because we lived nearby, talked to on the phone, visited in person, but with whom we are now content to call “friends,” click “like” a few times a week, and consider ourselves “in relationships” with.
For hours after watching these films my mind was spinning with what more I could do to positively contribute to the Collective’s disruptive goals. I can stop buying new clothes, stop buying plastics, insist on calling Mom instead of just emailing and texting. Even as I write this, I’m in a cafe peopled by customers hunched over their laptops and phones (myself included), all together but separated by our screens. The picture is very backwards, and nowhere near as beautiful as that of the earth from space, or even the lovely autumn block in Soho just outside the window I get glimpses of every few minutes.
But what I realized would be a more effective strategy than focusing on me is finding ways to share this information with those who are perhaps less on board with the fact that climate change is real. With the holidays coming up, too, I could imagine countless ways to combat the barrage of questions about why my veganism can actually make a difference that are more informative than simply defensive. With these techniques and conversation starters, you might also find a natural entry point into convincing those in your circle to join #TeamEarth, and bring us all a little closer than we were before.
Share: Use your social media accounts to promote positive, not negative, complainy, or bashing, messages and posts about climate change. Including #dyk stats and images like those in the films also reinforces a more neutral, fact-based commentary, and it’s guaranteed that the beauty of our planet will be enough to stop people mid-swipe to admire.
Reconnect with nature: The films remind us that most of us live in urban areas these days, where viewing some weeds between cracks in the sidewalk may be the most interaction with have with the living planet we get. By finding ways to get back into nature, we not only visually see our Earthly home, but we reap myriad wellness benefits, including reducing cognitive fatigue and anxiety and improving the very quality of the air we’re breathing and hearing (yes, noise pollution is real). When we can take deeper breaths in a quiet environment, our parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, turning off the fight-or-flight response we’re in when we’re constantly connected. Exercise, long walks, mini-vacations, and social events are great ways to get your daily dose of nature.
Reconnect IRL: The next time you like a friend’s post on Instagram or Facebook, ask yourself when was the last time you saw him or her in person. Was it last week, or last year? What about calling? Scheduling real face-time with those you love isn’t just fun; it has real effects on your mental and physical health and can even increase your lifespan.
- Call in the experts: News outlets are such sensitive touch points these days, especially among those with different political views, so turning to good old fashioned books can be a good way to share facts and research about climate change (also great gift ideas). Elizabeth Kolbert, Michael Stone, Colin Beavan, and Frans de Waal are just some people whose expertise speaks for itself, and often times people just need the nudge of being presented with information before it soaks in.
Keep your habits in check: Living by example is still a wonderful way to convince people of why they, too, should change parts of their lifestyles. Whether you’re vegan, a thrift store maven, the compost junkie in your building or on your block, or all of the above, don’t think that your habits go unnoticed or feel defeated when you’re busy or slip up. This holiday, I’m thinking of how I can incorporate a less-is-more mentality in my gifting, sharing experiences and time with loved ones instead of material goods we don’t need or want.
Be patient: While climate change is an urgent dilemma, it can take time to have people change their stripes. It may not happen overnight, but don’t lose steam and don’t try to force ideas down people’s throats (it will only worsen the situation). Let the practice of sustainable living do its work, and the effects of being more present with others and mindful of one’s actions will inevitably produce the feeling of greater wellbeing we all want.
We already have all the tools we need to stop climate change, all we need to do is put them in action. Start by changing your worldview today, so that the view of the world remains as gorgeous as it is today forever.