Why Our Willpower Sucks

Why Our Willpower Sucks 1
Photo by Charles Deluvio 🇵🇭🇨🇦 on Unsplash

When it comes to non-habitual behaviours, most of us are terrible at sticking to our guns. Science has revealed routines that are proven to make us happier (exercise, meditation, a healthy diet, etc.), and yet we repeatedly fail to put these into practice, despite fully comprehending the long-term benefits. Why do we screw up so much?

There’s a few reasons, and most of them aren’t our fault.

As with every other living thing on Earth, we’re the products of evolution. Over the course of 4 billion years, our two main concerns were surviving, and procreating. These have been of vital importance for billions of years, and our brains have evolved to respond fiercely to them. Nowadays, when we see a pretty girl with a muffin, it’s a wonder we don’t trample her to death.

The pre-frontal cortex is the part of our brain that regulates behaviour, developing during the later stages of our evolution. Our brains are less a single, coherent unit, and more a collection of tacked on improvements, which explains why we often feel so conflicted. The ancient, primal parts of our brains want to eat and fuck everything in sight, and the modern parts attempt to remind us that those things aren’t always our best options. We have two minds, pitted against each other in battle, with psychological distress as the consequence. Moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt created a fitting metaphor for this, in his book The Happiness Hypothesis:

“The image I came up with for myself, as I marvelled at my weakness, was that I was a rider on the back of an elephant. I’m holding the reins in my hands, and by pulling one way or the other I can tell the elephant to turn, to stop, or to go. I can direct things, but only when the elephant doesn’t have desires of his own. When the elephant really wants to do something, I’m no match for him.” 

Jonathan Haidt

The elephant is very much in control. We shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves after failing to resist a glistening cream-filled doughnut.

In addition to battling against a burly, be-trunked mammal, we’re also up against the brain’s tendency to form habits. Repeating an action and having it ingrained into your mind as a habit is a wonderfully useful technique, until it happens for an undesirable action, such as consuming a fistful of Lindt balls. Every time our willpower fails and we do something harmful to our long-term health, that destructive habit becomes a little stronger. This is probably the biggest cause of failure for us. Even when we do have a moment of strength and hold fast against our habituated primal desires, we’re using a precious reserve of willpower which depletes over the course of the day. The cookie that we defy in the morning takes on an especially delicious glow by afternoon.

The internet and social media are also to blame. We live in an age of instant gratification — social media apps are designed to hack our reward system, turning us into twitching addicts who crave our quick-fix daily memes. We want a million delightful things at once, and we don’t want to put any effort into them. As a result, resisting what’s harmful is becoming much more difficult.

It’s not all doom and gloom, we just need to learn how to build better habits. This is one of the most important skills you can develop; Leo Babauta offers immensely helpful advice on in his blog Zen Habits. He suggests starting extremely small, and working your way up. You won’t develop a running habit if you tell yourself you’re going to run 10km every day. Neither will you be able to completely stop eating sugary treats. This is setting yourself up to fail. You need to give yourself a lot of leeway to begin with, and make slow, incremental improvements. Remember that the elephant is in control most of the time.

Another suggestion is to only focus on a single habit at a time. Figure out what it is that bothers you the most — the one thing that you’d love to start doing — and put all of your effort into that sole habit. You won’t be able to change ten things at a time; you’ll flounder and then feel terrible afterwards because you’ve failed again. Once your new habit is embedded, move onto the next. This is a process that might take years—prepare yourself for a lot of hard work. Realise that you’ll still mess up from time to time, and all that is required is to pick up where you left off.

Lastly, celebrating your success is key. Instead of focusing on what you’ve failed at, look to what you’ve achieved. Illuminate your accomplishments; remind yourself that you’re triumphing over something that you’ve flopped at for years. This will give you the motivation you need to continue.

By slowly building good habits, we can all gain a little more mastery over our elephants.

The One Reason to Complain

The One Reason to Complain 2
Image from Pixabay

Complaining is mostly a toxic behaviour. Many of us can bear witness to the gloominess that washes over us when we’re in the company of a serial whiner—we’d tear down walls to escape the situation. Every self-righteous word seems to vanquish a little bit of your soul. Suggesting a fix for the thing being complained about is futile, because that isn’t the desired outcome. Incessant whiners just want to whine, making the mustering of our own empathy nigh on impossible. People of this kind are often infected with deep-seated bitterness—their lives don’t match their expectations, and instead of having the courage to fix what’s bothering them, they relinquish the responsibility and complain instead. It’s much easier, after all.Th

There’s lots of reasons that people complain, with most them being counterproductive to our mental health. For many of us, the hardest one to resist is physical pain. Hurting is horrible, and it comes with a tendency to vocalise the experience, whether it be groaning, grunting, or divulging to our partner in monotonous detail about every unpleasant sensation. Emotional pain is just as extreme, and carries similar effects. Others may grumble for its bonding power—many a friendship has been forged in the fires of Mount Gloom; our judging and whining is met with nodding heads, and we become a little bit closer. We simply can’t believe that so and so would do such an awful thing, and by stating this fact, we’re elevating ourselves above them, dismissing the possibility that we’d ever act in such an animalistic way. Nothing is more self-congratulatory than a high horse. We’re recruiting an army of like-minded whiners—together we can set this crooked world straight!

Being spoiled is another major factor. A hungover barista forgot to put chocolate sprinkles on our cappuccino, and we can’t find the words to express how much of an idiot he is. He has one job to do. Later on our flight is delayed by an hour, and it’s literally the worst thing to happen to anyone, ever. Never mind the fact that air travel is one of the greatest of human inventions, and we’re incredibly fortunate to have it. This type of spoiled demeanour is often paired with a lack of control, fuelled by our desire to direct everything so that it works out exactly as we want it to. The instant our expectations aren’t met, a complaint flies from our lips.

Uncomfortable silences can also act as complaint enticers. If you’re with friends and an extended spell of silence falls over the group, it’s common for someone to whine or gossip about something in order to extinguish the awkwardness, particularly for older people, who tend to mop up complaints like leftover gravy. Whining feels good—it’s infinitely preferable to the tension of silence. Every complaint strengthens the neural pathways dedicated to complaining, making the road more likely to be travelled. Before you know it, you could be a serial whiner.

So should complaining be avoided at all costs? Not entirely. We all experience strong negative feelings from time to time, and bottling them up isn’t a good strategy. You may be depressed about your tedious career, and need to talk about it with your partner. If we’re to retain our sanity, we absolutely must talk about such things. Our position the most important consideration— are we playing the role of the victim? The poor helpless individual who can’t get ahead in life no matter what we do? Or are we venting our frustrations in order to make things clearer to ourselves, and our partners? Are we having a conversation which leads us down the path to a solution? If you’re complaining about something and you have no desire to improve it (or it’s outside of your control), your whining will probably make you feel worse in the long run. The next time it pops into your head, you’ll be more likely to complain about it again, because you’ve trained yourself to do so. 

The next time you catch yourself opening your mouth to complain about something, you might want to consider your position. Do you actually want to fix what you’re whining about? Or are you just assuming the role of a whimpering victim? The difference is crucial.

“See if you can catch yourself complaining, in either speech or thought, about a situation you find yourself in, what other people do or say, your surroundings, your life situation, even the weather. To complain is always nonacceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in your power. So change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible; leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.” 

Eckhart Tolle

The Foolish Reason We Drift Away From Our Friends

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Complacency is one of the main reasons that we drift away from our friends. Photo by Austin Pacheco on Unsplash

Of the billions of people on our little blue planet, scattered across each and every craggy landmass, there’s only a tiny selection that you label as friends. Not merely social media “friends” with whom you’re yet to engage in a meaningful conversation, but genuine companions, who you’d trust with your deepest, darkest secrets—the select few who perceive the very substance of your soul; the people who recognise, appreciate, and love you in your most honest, unfiltered form, and with who you can be unequivocally, unapologetically, and unashamedly you.

“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.”

Elbert Hubbard

As social animals, immersed in an existence with no inherent meaning, friends such as these can provide the treasured value that makes life worth living. And yet, the people who are most important to us, with whom we share the deepest connections, are the people we’re most likely to take for granted. Our knowledge of their love, grounded in an unshakeable confidence, can lead to the perilous assumption that our effort is no longer required in order to maintain the relationship. We assume that our mutual affection for each other, developed over the course of many years, has gained enough strength to claim itself indestructible—an everlasting, unbreakable bond, joined with the hardiest of glues. This is an insidious notion, working as a passive and covert corrosive, which when harboured for enough time, slowly weakens the bond until it’s nothing but a measly thread. Complacency is one of the main reasons that we drift away from our friends.

Trite as it may seem, it’s worth repeating that all relationships require effort, especially those that we hold closest to our hearts, as these are the relationships that are most likely to suffer from the corruptive forces of unchecked complacency. The more comfortable we become with someone, the more likely we are to take them for granted, whether it’s a romantic partner, a close friend, or a beloved family member, and though they’re often quick to forgive us for our sloth-like apathy, their clemency doesn’t excuse our behaviour. These beautiful relationships can become the very reason for our existence, permeating our lives with priceless meaning, to be reinforced with frequent, determined effort, and a watchful eye on our inflated self-assurity. Though it can be tempting to arrive home from work and spend the entire evening staring open-mouthed at Netflix, offering only a few words to your wonderful partner, such negligence will only be tolerated for so long before your eventual separation, relegated once more to the throes of the ruthless Tinder battlefield, where people appear as dispensable as a used condom. To avoid re-entering such a dire situation, we can take cues from our behaviour at the start of the relationship, when we were eager to demonstrate our desirability, charm nob twisted to the max.

“Do what you did in the beginning of a relationship, and there won’t be an end.”

 Tony Robbins

The contented comfort that accompanies a solid relationship is undeniably tremendous. A calm, relaxed ease can be felt in each other’s company, with the stresses of life temporarily abated, for the good of both souls. But the universe in which we live obeys a fundamental rule—all things must change. Relaxation gradually warps into boredom, with thumbs that were previously still now twiddling madly. Comfort becomes agitation, and your favourite sunken spot on the sofa, shaped perfectly to your arse, doesn’t feel quite right anymore. This situation seems all too common, and can be abated simply by putting in regular bouts of effort. Isn’t your partner worth it, after all? Every wonderful aspect of a relationship develops from the willingness to show that you love them, which could be something as simple as putting your phone in your bedside table before they arrive home from work, and just listening to them as they tell you about their day. There’s nothing quite as precious as our own time, which when wholeheartedly committed to another person, is a testimony of our appreciation. It tells them that they’re worth every single second.

“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.”

Carl Gustav Jung

All personal relationships have the potential to be good, but that goodness can only grow from constant and repeated effort—a willingness to show the other person that they’re worth it. Without frequent work, we drift away from our friends quicker than Wilson after an ocean storm. Effort is what turns strangers into acquaintances, acquaintances into friends, and friends into lifelong companions. This is by no means a one-way process. As our love grows for the other person, so does the likelihood for complacency; the danger of becoming relaxed to the point where we assume that our friendship is secured forever. 

The people whose death would utterly crush you, their dazzling, illuminating vibrancy forever lost, are the people who you’re most likely to be complacent with, and though we’re sometimes too tired to be the perfect companion, only a smidgeon of creative energy is required to sustain the treasured closeness; to remain as affectionate confidantes, bonded in such a way as to make our stressful, obligation-packed existence worth it. Priceless, cherished subjects such as these couldn’t be more deserving of our efforts.

“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.”

Helen Keller

The Miracle of Finding Beauty in the Mundane

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Finding beauty in the mundane makes you appreciate life more. Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

Beauty is typically reserved for the exceptional—the chiselled, masculine jawline of a testosterone-fuelled male; the gorgeously undulating curves of a heavenly, chestnut-haired female; the lustrous, delicate interior of St.Peter’s Basilica, sparkling vivid gold and blue, or a formidable, soaring snow-capped mountain range, spanning the distant horizon. Such things harness the power to take our breath away, and their proclamation as beautiful seems both natural, and right. We may even be tempted to label such things as “perfect,” relegating all else to the sorry state of “imperfect,” and forgoing the need to commit any of our precious attention towards them.

But beauty, far from being confined to the extraordinary, can be found in the most unexpected of places, in the most unexpected forms. It’s the fumbling awkwardness of two teenagers trying to interact; the overly-macho construction worker paying for his workmate’s lunch, without the need to nudge him and call him “bro.” It’s the long, drawn-out purr of the single mother at the end of her day, as she stretches out on her threadbare chaise-lounge to rest. Beauty is all around us, and if we have any interest in appreciating it, we’ll require an attitude of open receptivity, willing to receive that which would usually be met with an upturned nose. Finding beauty in the mundane obliges us to forgo our misguided judgments. Nothing destroys beauty more efficiently than a negative preconceived notion, as illustrated vividly in cinematic masterpiece American Beauty, when Ricky Fitts swells with emotion while describing his favourite homemade movie: a plastic bag swirling in the wind.

“It was one of those days when it’s a minute away from snowing and there’s this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it. Right? And this bag was just dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. That’s the day I realized that there was this entire life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever. Video’s a poor excuse, I know. But it helps me remember… I need to remember… Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.”

Ricky Fitts, American Beauty
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Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley), American Beauty

Trash, by its very definition, is the last thing you would consider to be beautiful. But Fitts is anything but conventional. His slow, deliberate receptiveness equips him with incredible clarity of perception, bringing into focus a world of breathtaking beauty, hidden from those whose default approach is judgment. Our penchant for rapid assessment allows us to navigate life quickly and efficiently, but the trade-off is a decreased appreciation of the sublime. The faster we go, the harder it is to perceive the majesty of our astonishing, improbable existence. Our scope for beauty is reduced to the grand and spectacular—the “perfect” landscape, the “perfect” architecture, or the “perfect” face. The result is a tragically diminished sense of awe. The emblem of American Beauty is the red rose—society’s typical symbol of perfect beauty, but instead consistently used throughout the movie’s most contrived and ugly of moments, and absent during scenes of flawless, graceful honesty. The rose teaches us that there’s much more than superficial appearance would suggest, and that we must look closer to appreciate underlying beauty.

“There is room for beauty in every facet of existence” 

Alan Ball, American Beauty screenwriter

During the Dutch 17th-century period known as the Golden Age, Jan Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch were also trying to teach us how to find incredible beauty in the mundane, by focusing on simple, everyday life for their exquisite paintings, such as women plucking ducks, pouring milk, or exchanging money with servants. Such commonplace activities might be considered dull by most, to be carried out as quickly as possible. But for Vermeer and de Hooch, trivial, everyday life held a fascinating allure that produced worthy subjects for their art. They realised that if we’re able to reject our preconceived notions, and offer our prolonged attention, an abundance of beauty can be found in the lives of ordinary, everyday people, elevating their chores into something almost sacred. The simple act of a kitchen maid pouring milk is as exquisite and important as the most traditionally grandiose of objects, to be equally revered.

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The Milkmaid, Johannes Vermeer. Image from Wikipedia

Our world is delightfully complex—a twisting, warping smorgasbord of vivid colour, sound, texture, taste, and scent, each with seemingly infinite detail for us to experience. As we blitz through our lives like winged bats cast from the flaming pits of hell, flush with desperate ambition, a single, jutted branch can offer us the moment’s peace that we need to hang for a second, take the deepest of breaths, and open up our senses to the wondrous marvels around us. We can recognise the peculiar, humorous amble of the common domestic pigeon, bobbing its green and purple neck along the edge of a train platform; we can listen to the softly shimmering rustle of a towering oak tree, as it sways in a northerly breeze; we can pay attention to the unique texture of a limestone cliff face, as we delicately run our fingers over it; we can extinguish the glow of every screen and focus on the taste of the scrumptious, crispy roast potatoes that we’ve lovingly prepared for ourselves, or we can close our eyes as we breathe in the deliciously subtle, honey-like scent of a Balsam Poplar tree. Each and every experience is brimming with hidden beauty, waiting to be discovered with the use of our wonderful, fortuitous senses. One only has to witness a person suddenly gifted with a previously missing aspect of their senses, to realise how incredibly lucky we are to possess humanity’s full range. Every sense is a gift worthy of the gods, and using them to the fullest is the most fitting display of gratitude we can demonstrate. There’s always more detail to be discerned in the world around us, and we happen to harness five extraordinary ways to reveal it, each one providing a wholly unique, seductive experience.

“Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear. In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough… I become a transparent eye-ball. I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of god.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Time spent in our own heads—those never-ending, anxious ruminations that do us little good—is time lost for appreciating the gorgeous beauty of our world; for finding beauty in the mundane. As our focus turns inward, our senses are dampened—their sharpness dulled to allow better concentration on our internal thoughts, at the expense of noticing the comical little idiosyncrasies of your father-in-law as he tells a war story; the glistening sheen of a canal, being warmed by the afternoon sun, or the polite and orderly queue of a string of Monday morning commuters as the train pulls into the station, begrudging their obligation to work, but retaining their civility nonetheless. Our outward attention is required to enjoy such little delights.

“Life is so fast and hectic and filled with distraction that you have to teach yourself to be still, and be quiet, and allow yourself to look for what I call beauty.”

 Alan Ball, American Beauty screenwriter

Mindful, extended observation is also made difficult by those pesky little gadgets that we’re so obsessed with, stealing away our precious attention with their incessant dinging, buzzing and vibrating. Though our dependence seems entrenched (they’re useful, after all), striking a good balance is critical for our increased appreciation of the tremendous planet on which we live. As we sit in a restaurant and wait for our lunch to be prepared, we can opt for mindful sensing—to look, listen, hear, and smell the world, at risk of seeming a little socially odd—or delve into the luminous comfort of our phones, probably on some form of social media, as bad for your soul as cigarettes are for your lungs.

Beauty is by no means confined to the exceptional. It’s waiting to be discovered in the most unexpected and delightful of places, deserved of our precious attention. There’s endless fascination hidden beneath the surface, waiting to be discovered, and as we open up our senses, it’s revealed to us in high-definition, in the most dazzling, impressive, and unpredictable of ways.

The Evolutionary Phenomenon That Makes Sport so Thrilling

“Zoom in, and then tell me ‘it’s just a game’”

@CAFC_SF88

The above picture is the moment that Charlton Athletic—a English football team based in South-East London—scored the last-minute winning goal that would promote them to the higher Championship division, the culmination of a season’s efforts to climb the ranks of the country’s football leagues.

Observe the faces of each and every supporter in the photo, and you can understand the immense impact that sports can have on people’s lives—the sheer, unalloyed joy that comes bursting forth as their team secures a victory that will enhance their position. There’s nothing contrived about this photo, just a plethora of faces—fresh-faced, wrinkled, spectacled, moustached, male, and female—brought together by a team whose actions have rocketed them into the heights of a collective ecstasy. Non-sports fans might be surprised by the emotional intensity—how can something so seemingly trivial as sport create such unbridled fervor? Isn’t it just a game?

Tribalism is the phenomenon responsible for a sport fan’s extraordinary emotional reactions—the flawless rapture that they feel as their team smashes the clincher into the back of the net. In our evolutionary past, tribalism improved our chances of survival by consolidating us into groups, who we trusted, favoured, and depended on. Our tribe became an extension of ourselves, every loss and victory. When a fellow tribesman returned from a successful hunt with a delicious deer tied to the back of his horse, his achievement was our achievement, and was celebrated as such. Similarly, when Charlton’s Patrick Bauer poked the ball past the goal line in the last minute of the play-off final, even though he was the only person responsible for the act, every single Charlton fan in the stadium claimed the victory as their own, with a roar that echoed throughout the country. When we support a football team, we’re no longer a lonely, vulnerable person desperately trying to survive, but a soldier in a formidable army, protecting each other with fierce loyalty, and marching as one. When the club makes a questionable decision—the hiring of an unproven manager; the precarious signing of an expensive player, or a new unethical owner who cares little for the team’s future—the supporters sense the danger as if it were their own; a direct threat to themselves that must be staved off. The fact that the supporters have absolutely no sway over the club’s major decisions makes no difference. It’s our tribe, we’re fully invested, and it must be protected at all costs. The sense of belonging that comes with following a football club is felt in the very marrow of our bones, and we’ll never turn our back on them. After being a supporter of a team for a prolonged period, to change teams is tantamount to treason; the offender an untrustworthy turncoat. We love our tribe and we’ll support them through thick and thin, no matter how embarrassing the performances.

The intense devotion that tribalism can create has obvious downsides, evidenced by the rise of British football hooliganism, when unquestionable loyalty leads to extreme violence. Football fans are taught that it’s good and proper to hate a rival team, just because they’re a rival team—an idiotic obligation in which all sense of logic is thrown out the window. Rival supporters are transformed into dark and deadly enemies, their basic humanity forgotten, and their pummelling justified. Our tribe is the epitome of everything good and true, theirs all that is wrong and false. Clear parallels can be drawn with nationalism and religion, where unbridled tribalism has the potential to create profound hatred. Though tribalism makes sports endlessly thrilling, evoking fervent emotion in its most dramatic moments, diligent caution is required to prevent us from slipping into illogical idiocy, in which other people can become objects of hate, guilty of nothing more than belonging to a different tribe than ours. The competitive nature of sports can warp games into mock battles, and though this is part of what makes them so exciting, the boundary between friendly competition and violent battle can become difficult to distinguish, especially when being swept along by an impassioned, five-hundred strong mob that screams for the blood of the opposition. Conformism for the sake of conformism is foolishly irrational, and in the realm of football, can quickly lead to hateful violence.

At their core, sports are just games, but our tribalistic nature imbues them with extraordinary passion, with the power to create joyful angels, or odious demons of us. A single kick can dispatch us into giddying euphoria, illustrated in each and every face in the photo above, or heart-wrenching despondency, dreams crushed into oblivion, until next season. It’s a rollercoaster ride of intense emotion, the highs non-existent without the lows; the sky-punching jubilance of victory nothing without the sharp sting of defeat. Tribalism is what makes sports so thrilling to experience, and as your club’s defender lurches forward and pokes the ball in the back of the net in the final minute of a game, sending your team soaring into the higher division, a temporary insanity takes over each and every supporter, flooded with fanatical, turbulent emotion. 

The team’s victory is your victory, and it feels indescribably fantastic.

Why Laughing with Friends Is so Important

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Laughing with friends bonds us to them

The thought of being independent is appealing to many of us, to be able to act like the pristine lone wolf, roaming the rugged lands and fulfilling every need by itself. To survive autonomously is to be clothed in power, lacking the requisite of outside help. Such people are almost impossible to find within our species. We each have a stark dependency on others, whether it’s the food from our local supermarkets, the shelter of our apartment complexes, or our innate need for emotional closeness. The fields of evolution and psychology strengthen the idea of our social necessity, teaching us that in order to thrive in this world, we must get along with our fellow humans.

Of all the behavioural quirks that we exhibit as a species, there’s one that stands out as an accomplished bonder of people, an action that reduces our distance by wrenching us together in the most enjoyable way imaginable—humour. Laughter is a potent weapon in the battle for social acceptance; a razor-sharp cutlass, the nimble swishing of which makes ardent conquerors of us. It’s a universally adored behaviour with the power to turn strangers into friends, friends into lovers, and lovers into lifelong partners—the solid bedrock of many a successful relationship, and the foundational beginnings of new ones. A good sense of humour can transform our lives from a solitary and lonesome quest into a glorious fellowship—filled with playful nudges, digged ribs, and riotous laughter. With humour thrown into the mix, our dependence on each other is made not only palatable, but utterly delicious. It’s one of a small handful of things that makes life worth living.

“I love people who make me laugh. I honestly think it’s the thing I like most, to laugh. It cures a multitude of ills. It’s probably the most important thing in a person.” 

Audrey Hepburn

Some of our dearest memories are created from periods of turbulent, knee-slapping hilarity—that Sunday afternoon in a pub garden, the nip of the winter’s day fought off by the heat of amusement as your impish friends make joke after joke; an early evening spent lounging in bed with your partner, relentlessly teasing and chuckling until your cheeks hurt from smiling; the time after a festival when you used a traffic cone to mimic a cow, and the local creatures seemed convinced by your efforts to communicate. These moments are more valuable than all the sparkling diamonds of the world, and they come about by making a concerted effort to be funny.

Every attempt at humour is a gamble, with either a gain or a loss in social kudos; wide-grinned, beaming faces, in which a glorious victory has been won, or looks of hardened stone, eliciting bored apathy. A failed attempt at humour can be awfully embarrassing, and our aversion to loss can make cowards of us. But the gamble is worth it, because victory is nothing less than unbridled connection to our fellow humans; a shared sense of joyous camaraderie. Embarrassment is fleeting, but friendship is long-lasting. The only way to discover our particular kind of people is by having the courage to put ourselves out there. Jokes are friendship-detectors, which light up our future companions after every ridiculous quip that we dare to make. Who cares that our critics remain silent and stony-faced? We’ll probably never be friends with them anyway. When it comes to being humorous, the gamble is almost always worth it.

“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.” 

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Attempts at humour can dwindle as we grow older and become more comfortable with ourselves, because we’re less inclined to impress others. This is a tragedy—when we stop laughing with our friends, our lives become dull, its colour desaturated until drab and dreary; an existence of humdrum seriousness, in which ambition positions itself front and center. We forget the absolute joy we felt in the throes of a tickle attack from our mother, or the time we hit our grandad square in the eye with a snowball, with him turning up later wearing a pretend medical patch. We swap our superhero outfits for business suits, and in the process, forget what’s really important—a tongue-in-cheek crack at your friend’s new tattoo; a return from holiday with every square-inch of your desk covered in tin-foil, or an uninterrupted, no-holds-barred re-telling of your brother’s insane party antics. The confidence that age brings is an undeniably good thing, but it can be accompanied by insidious complacency, in which we’re so self-assured that we no longer see the social importance of cracking a well-timed kitchen joke among colleagues, or putting a whoopee cushion underneath your grandmother’s worn-out armchair. These are the actions that make us truly loveable—every daring quip strengthens our bond with our audience, creating a wonderful sense of belonging. Laughter is the ultimate social adhesive.

“Laughter is wine for the soul – laughter soft, or loud and deep, tinged through with seriousness – the hilarious declaration made by man that life is worth living.” 

Sean O’Casey

When we’re laughing with friends, we momentarily love them. All cares fall away for the briefest of moments, as though we’ve been permitted temporary entry into a heavenly Nirvana, before stepping back into our anxiety-wracked bodies. There’s nothing quite as effective at bonding people than humour, and our efforts to make each other laugh can create formidable affinities, reinforced with every new joke. Our dependency on each other can be transformed from a position of hesitant obligation, to eager devotion, in which every snicker, chuckle and howl makes us appreciate each other a little more. The strenuous journey of life, in which the highest snowy peaks and lowest boggy troughs must be traversed, is made worthwhile only if we have companions walking beside us, and laughter is how we acquire them.

“Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can; all of them make me laugh.” 

W. H. Auden

The Invasion of Mindless Entertainment

The Invasion of Mindless Entertainment 9
Mindless entertainment is all around us—Photo from Gratis Photography

Entertainment has played a significant role in the history of our species. During our primitive Stone Age, it came in the form of campfire storytelling—an edge-of-your-rock thriller, recounting a face-to-face meeting with the infamous, deathly-black Jaguar, and his phantom-like ways. Then arrived theatre, with its fancily-clad actors, weaving Machiavellian tales of rebellious, snakelike deceit, building towards a heart-wrenching tragedy. Today, we’re inundated with entertainment—TV shows that portray the lives of portly Italian gangsters, feature-length movies that depict the difficult lives of young black men living in Los Angeles, and music, games, books, magazines, sports—an astounding variety of endless amusement, offering us a temporary distraction from our responsibilities, until reality returns to reclaim us. Our sanity requires entertainment as nourishment, lest we become gaunt overachievers, unable to accommodate anything but our potent ambition while creeping ever closer to the white-washed walls of the nuthouse. Entertainment takes us away from ourselves, offering a temporary form of relief—a lightening of the gravity of existence, during which our soul can rejuvenate. 

Not all entertainment is equal, however. The internet has given rise to an entirely new type of entertainment—hastily produced, easily distributed, and effortlessly consumable. These are the memes, short videos, gifs, and any other form of “quick-consumption” amusement that can be found plastered across social media. Their primary purpose is to tickle us in a way that requires zero brainpower, as quickly as possible, until we can move onto something equally as shallow and thoughtless. Though mindless entertainment does have a small degree of value (a hearty chuckle when our brains are fatigued), its proliferation in our lives has a number of negative consequences.

First, there’s our attention span. As we become more accustomed to spending our free time consuming meme after meme, video after video, and tweet after tweet of mindless amusement, when we’re faced with something valuable that requires concerted effort—a Tolstoy novel, with its 1,225 pages of sophisticated plot and bamboozling array of Russian characters—we may as well be faced with Mount Everest. We’ve become so adapted to mindless entertainment, so used to being gratified quickly and efficiently, that the motivation required to read a difficult book, get through a slow-burning TV drama, or just sit and listen to a 10-minute Beethoven masterpiece, is non-existent³; our willingness to put effort into challenging forms of entertainment all but vanished. When we do muster the courage to attempt a demanding form of entertainment, the experience is tainted with an oppressive desire for our phones, skin positively crawling with a craving for something easier, as our brains become flooded with the dopamine and serotonin associated with mindless entertainment. Many of us cave at this point, and the Tolstoy novel—that masterpiece of moral teaching that can teach you how to be a better person—is slotted back into its dusty position on the shelf, perhaps forever.

Our capacity for sustained concentration is fundamental to our success, whether at work, or play, and the teeming plethora of mindless entertainment that pervades our modern lives is damaging it. With adorable puppy videos just a few clicks away, procrastination can become impossible to resist, particularly if you’ve built a habit of gawping at them in your spare time. As we fill our lives with the quick and easy, we impair our ability for the difficult, tough, and often worthy. There’s no doubt that watching an episode of The Wire, with its incredible storytelling, and beautiful, often subtle social commentary, has greater value that spending an hour watching corgi videos. Exceptional drama can teach us about the world that we live in, even improving our emotional intelligence in the process¹. But as with anything subtle and complex, in order for us to recognise and fully appreciate its value, our sustained concentration is required — an act that is becoming increasingly difficult for the modern internet user², more accustomed to the two-second thrill of a meme than a gradually developing six-season drama.

The more time we spend scrolling through mindless entertainment, the harder it is for us to become immersed in worthy entertainment. In our age of distraction, choosing to play a game of chess, with its requirement for gradual, thoughtful strategy, isn’t much of a choice at all, and so we’re impoverished — destined to become the consumers of imbecilic nonsense, created purely for our attention, rather than for its value. It’s as though we have an addiction to easy entertainment, and when faced with something a little more challenging, can only resist our dopamine for so long before inevitably relenting, like puppets without will.

Our intelligence is another consideration. While there’s nothing wrong with the occasional hour spent amusing yourself with Game of Thrones memes, or video clips of hilarious tomfooleries, too much of this kind of entertainment will turn you into a braindead bore. Good entertainment, on the other hand, is often brimming with valuable, educational gems—a captivating Shakespeare tragedy; a ten-part series on the Vietnam War; the closing scenes of gaming masterpiece The Last of Us—these experiences bestow us with wonderfully fresh perspectives, having kicked off the shoes of a brand-new character, recently pitted in a battle against unfamiliar circumstances, we emerge with greater tolerance and empathy. These kinds of rewards can’t usually be found amongst the insipid content of Instagram or Faecesbook, and every hour spent within their grasp is an hour in which we could be learning more about the world that we live in. This is not to suggest that every spare minute should be spent on laborious, hard-hitting drama—sometimes we’re so exhausted that puppy videos are all our brains can handle. But most of the time, we should feel energised enough to opt for more valuable forms of entertainment, to avoid the descent into asinine mediocrity—a place filled with the banal frivolities of social media memes, and the vapid “hey guys” videos of Instagram influencers. The fact that an Instagram influencer even exists is evidence of our adoration of bland, mindless entertainment, at the expense of our intelligence. Immerse yourself in this kind of amusement, and it may become your whole world.

Finally, we have our mental health to consider. Social media, with its memes, videos, and fake news, has shown to increase the risk of serious conditions such as depression and anxiety. As these platforms reel us in with their interminable, flavourless content, and we remain transfixed for hours on end, we’re trading short-term entertainment for long-term happiness. The gross thrills that we’re conditioned to consume end up consuming us instead, until we come to the realisation that we’re wasting our lives on complete and utter garbage, at the expense of some truly magnificent forms of treasured entertainment, with the power to nudge us towards confidence-boosting knowledge, and greater degrees of emotional intelligence.

There’s nothing wrong with the odd cheap thrill. We can’t be forever taut, poised to conquer this and that in an endless attempt at self improvement. Relaxation is just as important as work. But in our modern world of uncountable memes, video clips, and short-form articles, the way we relax has changed for many of us, with dire consequences. After years of immersing ourselves in mindless entertainment, even instant gratification can seem sluggish. Our once stellar attention becomes broken and fragmented, our intelligence stunted, and our mental health contaminated—until the day we decide that enough is enough.

References

  1. Tom Jacobs, Watching TV Can Boost Emotional Intelligence
  2. Carolyn Gregoire, The Internet May Be Changing Your Brain In Ways You’ve Never Imagined
  3. Harriet Griffey, The lost art of concentration: being distracted in a digital world

The Ultimate Guide on How to Fight Climate Change—part 4: Work, Travel, and Everything Else

The Ultimate Guide on How to Fight Climate Change—part 4: Work, Travel, and Everything Else 10
Photo by Alexander Popov on Unsplash

Table of contents

Part 1: Political Action
Part 2: Food
Part 3: Your Home
Part 4: Work, Travel, and Everything Else

Climate change is one of the biggest threats of our species. Unless we act quickly, there’ll be devastating global consequences.

This article is part of a comprehensive guide on what you can do to help fight global warming. Your contribution counts more than you think — we have incredible strength in numbers, but we’re headed towards oblivion unless we act right now.

This piece focuses on what you can do at work, how you travel, and other miscellaneous suggestions.

Work

Adjust the power settings on your computer

Both Windows and Macs have settings in which your computer will automatically sleep or turn off the monitor after a certain period of inactivity. A University of California study found that office computers are idle 61% of the time¹. That’s a ton of electricity to be saved.

Turn down the brightness

Unless you’re a graphic designer, you probably don’t need to have your monitor’s brightness set to full. A monitor uses double the power when set to the highest setting².

Move closer to work

Commuting is a source of misery for most people. The University of Waterloo in Canada even found a direct link between commute time and well being³. The longer your commute, the more miserable you’ll be, and the more CO2 you’ll be contributing to the atmosphere.

Work from home

Days spent working from home are often incredibly productive, because there’s nobody around to pester you—a selling point when pitching the idea to your manager. You can also wear nothing but your underwear (when working from home, not while pitching). Fewer commutes = less CO2 emissions.

Switch off your computer and monitors at the end of the day

If you’re an office worker, there’s a good chance that you put your computer to sleep at the end of the day, instead of shutting it down. Standby energy is responsible for a ton of annual CO2 released into the Earth’s atmosphere, so turning off your computer and monitors will help to alleviate the problem.

Get a reusable coffee cups

Coffee is the most traded commodity in the world, and for good reason—it’s delicious, and energises us. The polyethylene coating used inside the paper cups themselves means they can’t be recycled, so they end up in gigantic landfill sites. Reusable coffee cups solve this issue, and you can buy some awesome ones.

Don’t print unless you need to

Trees are a formidable weapon in the fight against climate change. The more paper we use, the more trees need to be cut down. Don’t print anything unless you absolutely need to.

Travel

Use your car less

It seems obvious—using your car less will reduce the CO2 emissions that you’re releasing into the atmosphere. Opt for a brisk walk instead—there’s tons of mental health benefits from walking, and you’ll get fitter.

Get a more efficient car

Even though you think your gas-guzzling v8 makes you look cool, most people probably think you’re a douche, and compensating for your deep-seated insecurity. Consider trading in your vehicle for something more economical. You’ll be helping to save the planet, and will have more money in the bank.

Service your vehicle

This is a big one — a poorly tuned car can use up to 50% more fuel¹. By regularly servicing your vehicle, you’ll be saving money, and doing your part for the environment. Every 6 months or every 10,000km is the rule of thumb, and make sure you update the little sticker on your windscreen with the date of the service. A six-monthly calendar reminder on your phone is a good idea too.

Get an electric car

If you live in a country whose national grid is not highly dependent on dirty fossil fuels such as coal, buying an electric car is a great way to reduce your CO2 emissions. Hybrids are good too.

Combine your trips

Multiple errands can often be combined into a single trip, reducing the amount of car usage. There’s really no need to go to the shopping mall on Saturday, and back again on Sunday.

Trains instead of planes

Planes are incredibly bad for the environment. If it’s feasible, consider taking a train instead. They’re more comfortable, with more potentially beautiful views, and increased time for reflection. If you must fly, do the right thing and pay a little extra to offset your carbon emissions.

Use public transportation

There’s tons of benefits to taking the bus or train—you can spend the time reading a captivating book, catching up your latest Netflix show, or just daydreaming. Public transport has none of the stresses of driving: battling your way through traffic jams, trying to find a parking spot, or worrying about a wallet-emptying crash.

Cycle

Cycling is an awesome form of exercise, reducing your risk of stroke, heart attack, cancer, depression, diabetes, and obesity⁴. It feels much easier than running too. The less you use your car, the fewer your carbon emissions.

Car pool

Sharing your trips with others is a great way to reduce CO2 emissions, and saves you money. Live close to a colleague? Consider travelling into work with them. Uber also has a car pool option, and Muve is another taxi service designed specifically with ride sharing in mind.

Drive calmly

Rapid acceleration, excessive braking, and speeding all increase your fuel usage, and release greater amounts of greenhouse gas. You’ll also feel calmer if you drive normally.

Remove roof racks

Roof racks can be heavy, reducing fuel efficiency by up to 5%¹. Remove them if they’re not being used.

Properly inflate your car tyres

Every missing unit of PSI pressure results in 0.4% loss in fuel mileage⁵. This quickly adds up if your tyres are badly underinflated. It’s also dangerous.

Check your tyre pressure every couple of weeks—you can find the recommended tyre pressure for your car on a sticker in the driver’s side door jam, or in the owner’s manual.

Turn off your engine

When waiting to pick someone up, turn off your car’s engine. You’ll save fuel.

Everything else

Divest from polluting companies

If you’re invested in a polluting energy company, a food manufacturer that uses palm oil, or any other company that has a direct impact on our environment, removing your investment is one of the most effective actions you can take. These companies want your investment.

This has its biggest impact when larger entities such as other companies, pension funds, and universities remove their investments—$8 trillion USD have been divested over the last six years, from a joint global effort. Using whatever influence you have to encourage divestment can go a long way.

Invest in renewable energy

Investment can affect a company’s share price, with the potential to increase its capital. Putting your money into the renewable energy sector will allow it to continue growing into the future, when eventually, it might be able to completely replace polluting chemical energy such as coal and oil.

Invest in battery technology

Tesla has been breaking ground with battery technology for years. Might we see a future where batteries power entire villages, negating the need for power plants? Elon Musk believes so. Investing in companies such as Tesla is a good show of support.

Invest in carbon removal technology

Carbon removal technology is a means to capture and remove carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere. Though still new on the block, it’s showing a lot of promise as a tool in the fight against climate change.

Donate

There’s tons of charities who are doing great things to fight climate change. Your donation makes a difference. Find a list of charities with a quick Google search.

Become a minimalist

Contrary to popular believe, buying stuff can make us unhappy. The more shit we accumulate, the unhappier we become⁶. It’s also bad for our environment and wallets.

Buy second-hand

There’s some gems to be found in markets, garage sales and thrift shops. Every second hand item that you buy will negate the need for something new to be manufactured, which helps to reduce the amount of CO2 being released into our planet’s atmosphere.

Watch these shows

By using captivating storytelling and vivid imagery, film can be a powerful medium for inspiring change. Check out these awesome documentaries on climate change, and get inspired.

 — 

Millions of tiny actions add up to big changes, and could be the difference between our planet continuing to heat towards devastating temperatures, or reversing the trend and returning to safety. We must keep the climate crisis in the forefront of our mind, and make the right decisions every single day. 

Only we can make the difference, but we must act. Right now.

References

  1. NRDC, How You Can Help Fight Climate Change
  2. Per Christensson, Lower Your Display Brightness
  3. Amy Morin, Want To Be Happier? Change Your Commute Or Change Your Attitude
  4. Better Health, Cycling—Health Benefits
  5. Popular Mechanics, Debunking a Mileage Myth: Can You Really “Pump Up” Your Fuel Economy?
  6. Wikipedia, Economic Materialism

The Ultimate Guide on How to Fight Climate Change — part 3: Your Home

The Ultimate Guide on How to Fight Climate Change — part 3: Your Home 11
Image from Green Home NYC

Table of contents

Part 1: Political Action
Part 2: Food
Part 3: Your Home
Part 4: Work, Travel, and Everything Else

— 

97% of climate scientists agree that global warming is a man-made phenomenon¹. Our planet is reaching a critical tipping point—unless we curb our greenhouse gases, there’ll be appalling consequences for our species.

This article is part of a comprehensive guide on what you can do to help fight global warming. Millions of people can make a huge impact, but we must act right now.

This piece focuses on what you can do to save energy at home.

Hands off the thermostat

Cooling and heating is responsible for the most energy usage in your home—a whopping 47%⁶. Feeling cold? Put some warm clothes on and cocoon yourself in a cozy blanket. Feeling hot? Use a desktop or ceiling fan to cool yourself instead of power-hungry air-conditioning units.

If you must use your home’s heating/cooling, consider setting a less expensive temperature. Even a single degree can save you between 1–3% on your energy bill⁷, and reduce the amount of carbon that’s released into the atmosphere.

“The greenest Watt is the one that doesn’t have to be produced.”
 — Eenovators Limited

Get a programmable thermostat

It’s absolutely crazy to keep your heating/cooling system running when there’s nobody home. Installing a programmable thermostat that allows you to activate the system for specific time periods can save a hell of a lot of energy. Even better, modern thermostats such as Nest learns from your behaviour, and eventually maintains your preferred temperatures all by itself. Hive home is another good option.

Get a professional energy audit

A professional energy audit can help to identify areas of your home that can be improved, in order to save energy. Typical suggestions from an auditor might be installing roof insulation, or fixing “leaks” for draughty doors and windows, but there’s much more. An energy audit could result in a saving of between 5–30%⁸. Usually, the initial cost of the audit is quickly recouped. 

You may even have access to free energy audits—a quick Google search will reveal.

Switch to a green energy plan

Many energy companies now offer “green” energy plans, which guarantees that your power is coming from renewable sources. You can generally opt for a percentage of green energy, or 100%.

You’ll pay a premium (roughly 15% for completely green energy²), but if you can afford it, you’ll be helping to save our planet by reducing the burning of filthy fossil fuels, in addition to supporting the renewable energy sector.

Switch off outlets

Energy used by appliances in standby-mode can add up to 5% of your annual bill, or 1% percent of global CO2 emissions³. That’s a stupendous amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere, for practically nothing.

Get into the habit of turning off your power outlets. If they’re difficult to reach, consider purchasing a power board with its own on/off switch, to make things easier.

Similarly, if you aren’t using something, it has no reason to be turned on. This includes lights, your TV, fans, your laptop, and anything else that uses power.

Switch to energy efficient, LED light bulbs

LED light bulbs use between 1/3 to 1/30th of regular incandescent or CFL bulbs, are much more durable due to their lack of filament, and can last up to 40 times longer⁴.

If everyone in the US switched to these bulbs, 40 new power plants would no longer be required⁴.

Don’t use your dryer

Clothes dryers are one of the biggest energy hogs in our homes. If you’re lacking space, consider getting yourself a foldaway clothes horse instead.

If you must use the dryer, purchase yourself some dryer balls. They decrease drying time by 30–50%, and remove some of the wrinkles from your clothing⁵.

After each cycle, removing the lint from the filter is another good way to save power.

Purchase energy efficient appliances

Make energy efficiency your biggest priority when purchasing appliances—look for products that have a good Energy Star rating. You could save yourself thousands of dollars in the long-run, and reduce your carbon emissions massively.

Try the “dollar-bill” test

Old fridges and freezers have a tendency to leak air — if a bill shut in the door is easy to pull out, you should consider replacing the gaskets. Even better, purchase a newer energy efficient appliance.

Recycle your old appliances

Some appliances can be incredibly harmful to the environment if not properly recycled, particularly refrigerators that contain HFC, a gas that is 1,000 times worse for global warming than carbon dioxide⁹. Older fridges can contain CFC, a chemical banned years ago for its similarly devastating warming effects.

When purchasing a new appliance, many retailers offer a recycling service for your old one. Alternatively, a quick Google search will reveal your other options.

Use energy saving modes

Many modern household items have an eco-friendly setting, which reduces their energy usage. This includes your TV, computer, washing machine, dishwasher, air-conditioning unit, and much more. Have a quick look at the item’s interface for an option that identifies eco-friendly mode, or dust off the instructions. Your power bills will drop.

Turn down the brightness

Your phone doesn’t need to light up the entire room when its turned on—reduce its brightness and save energy. Using your phone and laptop in bed has also shown to confuse your brain into thinking that it’s daytime, curbing the chemical that regulates sleep (melatonin) and damaging the quality of your slumber¹⁰.

The same goes for your TV and desktop computer—turning down the brightness a little can reduce your carbon footprint and help to save our planet.

Turn off your laptop

It’s easy to just close the lid of your laptop instead of shutting down, but it’ll continue to use valuable power. Turning off your laptop and computer will reduce greenhouse gases, and save you money. It’ll also extend the lifetime of the device.

Reduce your water heater’s temperature

The default setting for water heaters is usually 140°F (60°C) , but the US department of energy recommends setting the temperature to 120°F (49°C). This can save you between 6–10% on your energy bill¹³—no small amount.

Get a heat-pump water heater

Heat pump technology is highly efficient—it can reduce your water heating energy by more than 50%¹¹. Though initially expensive, you’ll eventually save on your energy bills.

Request a smart meter

In-home smart meters allow you to monitor how much energy you’re using, on a hourly or daily basis. These are fantastic at giving you a better idea of how much energy your appliances are using, e.g. discovering how much it costs you to air-condition your lounge during a particularly warm weekend.

Smart meters also submit their energy readings electronically, which means that a meter reader won’t need to make any more trips to your home in their dirty diesel van.

Wash your clothes in cold water

Modern washers are well-designed for cold water washing, effectively removing stains such as grass and makeup. Warmer water can even make certain stains (such as blood and sweat) worse.

Between 75–90% of the energy used in a washing cycle is for heating the water¹², creating a massive saving when washing on cold.

Get a water efficient shower head

Water efficient shower heads can save up to 50% of your water usage, making them incredibly economical, and excellent for the environment. Modern shower heads are much better at dispersing water, making them just as effective as their inefficient predecessors. 

Take cooler showers

On the topic of showers, you might want to consider turning down the temperature in order to save energy. Colder showers have a ton of benefits—increased alertness, stimulated weight loss, better muscle recovery, and improved circulation to name a few¹⁴. 

Get solar panels

Why buy energy when you can get it for free? Solar panels are becoming more affordable, and any excess power that you generate can be sold back to energy companies, giving you an additional source of income.

Solar panels are low maintenance — there’s no moving parts, and they only need cleaning twice a year. They usually come with a lengthy warranty period too: 20–25 years.

Ask for e-billing

Many companies now offer an e-billing option, sending your bills via email instead of wasting paper. More trees means more harmful carbon dioxide being converted into oxygen for us to breathe.

Clean your furnace’s air filter

If you have a furnace in your home, a dirty air filter will slow airflow and make the system work harder. Cleaning the filter can reduce your energy costs.

Get yourself a rainwater tank

If you have a garden, you might consider purchasing a rainwater tank. You can use the water in your washing machine, your toilet, your garden hose/sprinklers, to wash your car, and much more. This free supply of water might end up saving you a ton of money.

Plant a tree

A single tree absorbs a ton of carbon dioxide in its lifetime¹⁵. If you have a garden, planting a tree is a great thing to do for the environment. They look lovely too.

Compost your old food

Composting your old food provides you with a natural, valuable source of fertiliser for your plants. It reduces the need to transport the waste, and prevents methane gas creation after being dumped in landfill. Methane gas is 21 times more harmful than CO2¹⁶.

There’s lots of compost solutions available, for all different types of homes.

Boil the right amount of water

There’s no point in filling the kettle or the saucepan to the top — it’s a complete waste of energy. Just boil the amount of water that you actually need.

Buy a reusable water bottle

Less plastic means less pollution, and fewer nasty, carcinogenic chemicals leaking into your body. There’s tons of charity-supporting water bottle companies out there, with awesome designs.

Recycle your trash

An obvious suggestion. If you’re not already recycling, shame on you.

— 

There’s a hell of a lot we can do to save energy in our homes. Every little action counts, and when multiplied by millions of people, adds up to a huge difference.

References

  1. Skeptical Science, The 97% Consensus on Global Warming
  2. Harrison Astbury, Everything You Need to Know About Green Power
  3. Arizona State University, Vampire Energy
  4. Earth Easy, Energy Efficient Lighting
  5. David Suzuki, Wool dryer balls shrink drying time
  6. Jeff Desjardins, What Uses the Most Energy in Your Home?
  7. Welklin, Set Up A Few Degrees For Significant Savings
  8. Energy Sage, Should You Get an Energy Audit?
  9. Matthew L. Wald, When Refrigerators Warm the Planet
  10. Cathy Johnson, How technology use messes with your sleep and what you can do about it
  11. Pierce Delforge, Christina Swanson, Eric Weiner, Very Cool: Heat Pump Water Heaters Save Energy and Money
  12. Ge Appliances, 6 Reasons to Cold-Water Wash—and 3 Not to
  13. Trent Hamm, Turn Down Your Water Heater (155/365)
  14. Lizette Borreli, Benefits of Cold Showers: 7 Reasons Why Taking Cool Showers Is Good For Your Health
  15. NRDC, How You Can Help Fight Climate Change
  16. Justin Quigley, Why Should I Compost?

The Ultimate Guide on How to Fight Climate Change—part 2: Food

The Ultimate Guide on How to Fight Climate Change—part 2: Food 12
Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

Table of contents

Part 1: Political Action
Part 2: Food
Part 3: Your home
Part 4: Work, Travel, and Everything Else

 — 

Time is quickly running out for the human race — unless we make drastic changes in the way we live, our planet’s temperature will pass the point of no return, with devastating global consequences¹.

This article is part of a comprehensive guide on what you can do to help fight global warming. Millions of people can make a huge impact, but we must act right now.

This article focuses on the second most effective area for tackling the climate crisis — your food.

Stop throwing away food

Paul Hawken—author or global warming book Drawdownbelieves that food waste is the single most important food-related action that you can take as an individual. Roughly a third of the world’s food gets lost or wasted every single year⁶.

Plan your meals

Take some time out to plan your meals for the days ahead. There’s some great meal planning apps that you can use to make things easier, such as Mealime. This will ensure that you only buy the necessary ingredients (with fewer impulse buys), and more importantly, the right amount of ingredients. 

Though bulk buying is convenient, it’s been shown to lead to more food waste⁷, so try to shop more frequently when possible. Before leaving for the shops, quickly open your fridge and pantry to see what you have left.

Pick misshapen produce

When you’re shopping, pick the “ugly” misshapen produce instead. Though it tastes exactly the same, our penchant for perfection means that it’s much more likely to go to waste. You can also save money by purchasing discounted, “final sale” food.

Use everything that you buy

Try your hardest to use every single ingredient that you buy before it goes out of date. This awesome tool enables you to quickly get recipes based on what you already have in your home. Older foods should be consumed before newer ones—eyeball and sniff tests can usually tell you whether it’s still good to eat; the sell-by date is far from full-proof. You might also consider prioritising your food based on how quickly it’ll spoil, with hardier foods left for later in the week. If you find yourself with “old” food, research how to still make use of them.

Use as much of your food as possible. Broccoli stems can be shredded to make slaw. Meat bones can produce a delicious stock, as can vegetable scraps. A quick Google search of your ingredients can teach you how to use every part of the food that you buy.

Don’t chop away the skin of your produce—it contains tons of nutrients⁸.

Preserve your food

Instead of throwing away your leftovers, put them into a clear container as a visual reminder whenever you open the fridge, or consider using a different preservation method such as freezing, pickling, drying, or curing. You’ll be saving precious time and money.

Store your food correctly

Keep your fruits and vegetables fresh for longer by learning where they should be stored. For example, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, garlic and cucumbers should be not be refrigerated. Certain foods can also spoil others, by producing ethylene gas. These includes bananas, avocados, tomatoes, peaches, pears and green onions. By storing your food effectively, it’ll be fresher and more nutritious.

Blend a smoothie

Nutrient-packed smoothies are a great way to use up old ingredients, or parts of food that you might usually throw away. Chuck in something sweet like a banana or some strawberries, and you’ve got yourself a glass of deliciousness.

Use an app

There’s lots of apps that can help to prevent food waste. Flashfood lists local food re-sellers, and Food Rescue US enables you to easily donate excess food to hunger relief organisations. It feels wonderful to know that your leftovers are feeding somebody in a desperate situation.

Reflect, and donate

When you do throw something away, consider the reasons why. Did you buy too much of it? Every piece of disposed food is money from your pocket, and carbon in the atmosphere. Discarded food is best given to local food banks (find them here), or composted to make fertiliser for your plants. 

Change the way you eat

Less meat and dairy, more fruits and vegetables

Changing the way that you eat is also an incredibly effective tactic for fighting global warming. It’s as simple as this: eat less meat and dairy, and more fruits and vegetables

Food production is responsible for a quarter of all co2 emissions, with meat and other animal products making up half of that³. Cutting meat and dairy from your diet can reduce your carbon footprint by an astonishing two-thirds². Though a complete boycott is unreasonable, we can certainly cut back a lot, particularly with red meat. Places like the US, Europe, and Australia eat much more meat than is required for a healthy diet¹². Meat and dairy provide only 18% of our calories, but use 83% of Earth’s farmland⁴. 

Eating a beef burger just twice a week for an entire year has the same environmental impact as driving a petrol car for roughly 1500 miles (2500km), or heating a UK home for three months². Those numbers are absolutely insane—if you want to help save the planet, avoid beef and lamb at all costs. You might consider trying some of the new meat alternatives that are appearing, such as Beyond Meat (it’s pretty damn close to the real thing).

The Ultimate Guide on How to Fight Climate Change—part 2: Food 13
Image from New York Times

You can discover the impact of different foods using this carbon footprint calculator.

The Ultimate Guide on How to Fight Climate Change—part 2: Food 14
Protein Carbon Footprints—image from BBC

Lost protein from meat is best made up with plants such as beans, legumes, nuts, and grains. If you must eat meat, go for chicken or pork.

More wild seafood

Seafood caught in the wild generally has a small climate footprint¹³, making it a climate-friendly source of protein. Much of the world is overfishing though, so it’s important to use an app such as Seafood Watch to check whether the food is sustainable.

Adopt an eco-friendly diet

The Western meat-heavy diet is making huge numbers of people fat and sick, causing roughly 11 million deaths a year⁵. By eating healthier, eco-friendly meals, you’ll lose weight, have more energy, reduce your risk of chronic disease, have better focus, and experience better moods⁹. Your diet is fundamental for your happiness.

One of the hardest things about changing your diet is knowing what to eat instead. Thankfully, there’s tons of websites that list eco-friendly recipes. Greener Ideal is a good option, or you can search for other sites in Google using this link. Vegan recipes are also a good bet, and can be tastier than you might expect.

If you’re eating out, go for the occasional veggie option.

Ban palm oil

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) estimates that by 2022, 98% of Indonesia’s tropical forest will be destroyed for palm oil production and illegal logging. As tropical rainforest is removed, there’s fewer trees to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, and the newly-exposed peatland releases massive quantities of stored carbon¹¹. Palm oil is awful for our environment.

Tropical forests can provide a massive 24% of the climate change mitigation that we need to meet Paris Agreement goals¹¹. This won’t happen if we continue buying products that contain palm oil.

Take a few seconds to check the ingredients of your products. Palm oil is one of the most common types of vegetable oil, so if your product contains vegetable oil and has some saturated fat, it’s almost certainly palm oil. Common products that contain palm oil include bread, chips/crisps, ice cream, pizza bases, instant noodles, shampoo and chocolate. Try to purchase items that contain a different type of oil—olive oil is a healthy option.

Eat local, in-season food

Locally grown, in-season food doesn’t have to travel the world to arrive on your plate, making it an environmentally-friendly choice. It’ll be fresher, therefore tastier and more nutritious, and there’s less chance of pesticides and preservatives being used. Locally grown produce is undoubtedly healthier.

Farmer’s markets are a way to source local food, and the hard-working farmers in your community will get better margins from your purchase, instead of having to sell their produce at reduced prices to profit-hungry supermarkets. You can find your local farmer’s markets here.

Grow your own food

Home-grown food doesn’t need to be shipped thousands of miles to get to your plate, it’s right there for the picking. This makes it fresh, delicious, lacking in nasty pesticides, and incredibly nutritious. You’ll be saving money too.

You don’t necessarily need a garden to grow your own food, it can be as simple as a tomato or chilli plant on your apartment balcony, which also happen to brighten up the space. If you do have a little land (even the tiniest plot will do), you can consider growing potatoes or lettuces.

Check out this awesome guide to get started.

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Our food habits play a crucial role in tackling climate change, but only if we make a concerted effort. When millions of people change the way that they eat, our planet will become significantly less choked. Be the person who makes a difference, and help to save our planet.

References

  1. Matt McGrath, Final call to save the world from ‘climate catastrophe’
  2. Nassos Stylianou, Clara Guibourg and Helen Briggs, Climate change food calculator: What’s your diet’s carbon footprint?
  3. J Poore and T Nemecek, Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers
  4. Tim Lewis, Have we hit ‘peak beef’?
  5. Felicity Lawrence, The way we eat is killing us — and the planet
  6. Green Indy, 8 High Impact Ways to Fight Climate Change as an Individual
  7. Victoria K. Ligon, Shop More, Buy Less: A Qualitative Investigation Into Consumer Decisions That Lead To Food Waste In U.S. Households
  8. Healthline, 20 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Food Waste
  9. Unity Point, 10 Reasons Doctors Talk About The Need For Good Nutrition & Diets
  10. Wikipedia, Social and environmental impact of palm oil
  11. Christina Nunez, Deforestation Explained
  12. Prof Walter Willett, Prof Johan Rockström, Brent Loken, Marco Springmann, Prof Tim Lang, Sonja Vermeulen, et al. Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems
  13. Julia Moskin, Brad Plumer, Rebecca Lieberman and Eden Weingart, Your Questions About Food and Climate Change, Answered