Is Modern Entertainment Making Us More Lonely?

Is Modern Entertainment Making Us More Lonely? 1
Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

In the summer of 1996, when I was about 13 years old, my buddy Neil got himself a handheld video camera. For a group of impoverished teenagers, it was a thing of wonder, and the first thing that our group of friends wanted to do was to fake an embarrassing fall, so that we could post the video to entertainment show You’ve Been Framed. For those unfamiliar with the program, it features a string of home-video gaffes such as people falling off tables at weddings, dogs running headfirst into bushes, and children using footballs to splatter ice creams over their dads’ faces. If we were able to stage a convincing fall, where one of us trips at just the right time and bundles into the unforgiving concrete, we might become television stars!

The stage was our usual spot for playing football—a vacant, semi-detached house with a large windowless side, which we could blast the ball at without complaint. Most of the game was played in the road itself, with only the goalkeeper on the footpath, slightly raised up on a kerb. The plan was for Lee—the oafish, bravest lump of our friendship group—to line up a shot on goal, trip on the kerb, and crash into the pavement. It was full-proof.

With the camera rolling, the ball was passed towards Lee, and the confusion caused by the charade made him trip on his own feet, and his great mass of flesh was sent flailing into the air, followed by a spectacular clattering onto the footpath. We watched the clip again and again, until our cheeks and sides ached from laughter. The clip never did get featured on You’ve Been Framed, but it didn’t matter—that little moment of joy was what we really needed. I loved my group of friends, and wouldn’t have changed anything for the world.

Having close friends and spending time with them is arguably one of the best aspects of human existence, but despite being awash with technologies that allow us batter our chums with messages, photographs, and video clips, people around the world are feeling lonelier than ever. Nearly half of Americans claim to feel regularly lonely¹. A third of Britons say the same¹. In Japan, there’s half a million people under 40 who haven’t interacted with anyone for at least 6 months¹. A study from the General Social Survey showed that between 1985 and 2004, the people with whom the average American could discuss important matters dropped from three to two, and the number of Americans who had nobody to discuss important matters with tripled⁵. Since the 1970’s, American teenagers have been meeting with their friends significantly less—roughly half as much as they used to⁶.

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US teens who meet up with their friends “almost every day”. Image from The Conversation

The problem is so urgent that scientists have declared a “loneliness epidemic”, with great concern for the public’s health. Lonely people are 30% more prone to stroke, or to develop coronary artery disease². People who are blessed with supportive relationships have lower blood pressure, and reduced anxiety². Shockingly, loneliness carries a bigger risk for premature death than smoking or obesity³. The people sitting in their homes pining for human connection are 32% more likely to die than those who have friends⁴.

“A robust body of scientific evidence has indicated that being embedded in high-quality close relationships and feeling socially connected to the people in one’s life is associated with decreased risk for all-cause mortality as well as a range of disease morbidities.”

Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Theodore F. Robles, David A. Sbarra³

As a teenager in the 90’s, if I wasn’t in the mood for galavanting the streets with my friends, I stayed inside and entertained myself with reading, television, or Super Mario Bros. Eventually, I’d get bored and go out anyway. Today, we’re faced with an onslaught of solo entertainment, of anything we could possibly imagine. We can spend eight hours absorbing the spectacular neon storytelling of Stranger Things, or committing virtual murder on Call of Duty. We can listen to a fascinating Joe Rogan podcast, as he quizzes a guest about the spiritual benefits of ingesting magic mushrooms. We can shift into zombie mode and scroll through our Instagram feed, with an endless number of adorable puppies to light up our cute receptors. We can fire up a virtual music studio and compose a thundering techno track. Or we can strap on a VR headset, leave this cruel world behind, and forge virtual friendships instead. There’s a form of entertainment suited for everybody, and it’s becoming more and more accessible.

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Photo by Uriel Soberanes on Unsplash

With so much guaranteed entertainment at our fingertips, why bother with the effort of interacting with real people, with its risks of mediocrity? Human interaction is a roll of the dice—you might win and end up with closer friendships, or you might lose and lumber home dejectedly, after having bored your companions to sleep with stories of your dog’s archaic bowel movements. Being a conversation conjurer is a tough job, particularly if you have a problem with being vulnerable, or a burning desire to be always right. Even the most confident socialites fail from time-to-time, temporarily blighting the group with awkwardness, until someone in better form steps in to relieve the tension. Moments such as these can drive us away from our companions into the soothing arms of the latest Netflix sensation, pleasure all-but guaranteed, and not a social faux pas in sight. But despite its many excellent benefits, Netflix isn’t going to keep you warm at night, or lend a sympathetic ear for your creeping sense of sadness. It can’t offer concerned advice about your burgeoning drinking problem, or innocently tease you about the additional weight that has found its way onto your face. It can only entertain you, and while it’s a champion in its field, it doubles up as a devil that steals away the time needed to fortify friendships, and stave off loneliness.

Measuring up to modern entertainment is tough. My conversation doesn’t have the depth of an episode of The Wire. It doesn’t transport you to an entirely new world, weaving a beautifully-constructed narrative that portrays the precariousness of being a resident of Baltimore. It isn’t as thrilling as gunning down outlaws on Red Dead Redemption 2, nor does it offer the same sense of achievement. Reddit’s most popular posts are all funnier than me. Why settle for something subpar, when you can have something sublime? But as we hide ourselves away in our homes, distracting ourselves with all-singing all-dancing entertainment, our sense of loneliness swells. The descent into social isolation isn’t accompanied by a melancholy solo violin, but the optimistic chimes of candy being crushed, amusing you into solitude, one lemon drop at a time. In the small window of downtime when YouTube counts down to the next autoplay, you might receive a whispered internal reminder of your social isolation, followed by cravings of human connection, difficult to alleviate after years of rejecting invitations in favour of sofa-bound inertia. Can we be blamed? Social interaction can be a messy business—entertainment is anything but, and can even be addictive. One only has to witness the madness of a teenager having his World of Warcraft account deleted to get an idea of how important entertainment is for some people.

The advance of technology provides new opportunities to gratify us, with artificial intelligence being used to create even more potent forms of entertainment. As we happily sign up for brand new apps in exchange for unbridled access to our personal information, artificially intelligent systems are able to gorge themselves on our data, producing models that accurately predict the most effective way to entertain us. Data gurus PricewaterhouseCoopers predict 2019 to be the year of media personalisation⁷, with refinement and filtering of our entertainment becoming more popular, allowing us to curate endless hours of tailor-made fun. This is like injecting steroids into an AI system. As we endow it with unbridled access to our preferences, it can use that information to offer up even more enthralling forms of entertainment. Eventually, and oh-so-gradually, we might find ourselves transformed into the chair-bound blobs from WALL-E, thoroughly entertained, but lonely beyond belief.

Back when the world was black and white, our grandparents would huddle around the radio as a family. Since then we’ve gained access to the television, VCR, game console, online news, Compact Discs, MTV, the world wide wide, talk radio, DVDs, blogs, the iPod, social media, smartphones, and more. The plethora of entertainment now available to us has quashed the possibility of boredom, but makes the forging and maintenance of solid relationships a secondary thought, as though it’s more important to be entertained than loved. Nothing could be further from the truth. As we become exposed to even more forms of entertainment, bigger and better than before, we may find ourselves slipping further into isolation, delighted by rainbows of colour and sound, but estranged from the only thing that can offer us a treasured sense of belonging: our fellow humans.

**

References

  1. Neil Howe, 2019, ‘Millennials And The Loneliness Epidemic’, Forbes
  2. Selby Frame, 2017, ‘Julianne Holt-Lunstad Probes Loneliness, Social Connections’, American Psychological Association
  3. Holt-Lunstad, Julianne,Robles, Theodore F. Sbarra, David A, 2017, ‘Advancing social connection as a public health priority in the United States.’, American Psychological Association
  4. Sonya Collins, 2019, ‘The Loneliness Epidemic Has Very Real Consequences’, WebMD
  5. Olds, J. & Schwartz, R. S., 2009, ‘ The lonely American: Drifting apart in the 21st century’, Beacon Press
  6. Jean Twenge, 2019, ‘Teens have less face time with their friends — and are lonelier than ever’, The Conversation
  7. 2019 ‘Getting personal: Putting the me in entertainment and media’, PricewaterhouseCoopers

Why Honesty is the Best Policy

Why Honesty is the Best Policy 4
Image from Spotnphoto

In a few short weeks, I’m about to re-enter the world of unemployment, with the intention of moving to a writing-based career. At this point, what bothers me most isn’t the sudden lack of income, or the fear of measuring up in an unfamiliar endeavour, but the fakery that tends to accompany job interviews. These rare and awkward encounters seem to me like a game of poker, in which I’m trying to convince my opponents that I have a full house, when in honesty I have little more than a pair of two’s. The deception required to bluff through a job interview, persuading your potential employers that you have all of the necessary tools to bring value to their company, is something that I’ve always loathed. What I’d really like to do is put all of my cards on the table and say “this is what I have, and I’m a nice guy who gets along with most people. Can I have a job please?” Nothing contrived or rehearsed—just pure, unadulterated honesty.

Given our species’ penchant for putting on appearances, such a situation seems foolishly utopian. Certain scenarios require us to dance the dance that has been chosen for us, or withdraw from society completely to live on our own terms, like Viggo Mortensen’s character in the wonderful Captain Fantastic. But in my experience, the varied situations that I’ve undergone during my time as a regular, city-dwelling homosapien have proven to be best tackled by being honest, as often as possible. People just seem to like you more when you’re straight with them, and those who mutter offended scoffs can go and boil their heads. This isn’t giving yourself license to act like an arse—politeness and social niceties are essential for emotional creatures such as ourselves, with the capacity for horrific violence. It’d be impossible to make friends or get along with anyone if you’re staring them down with a chimpish grin.

“Masks beneath masks until suddenly the bare bloodless skull.” 

Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses

With honesty, all manner of playacting is made redundant, and with it, all of the exhausting responsibilities required to convince the world of your brilliance. It’s the relief a theatre actor might feel when stepping away from their persona for the evening, unshackled from the obligation of remembering lines, striking poses, and fabricating emotions. Instead, every emotion is allowed to rise naturally from the depths of their soul, rather than their intraparietal sulcus—a part of the brain used when acting a role¹. New-found legitimacy engenders a wonderful lightness, as though we’ve been wearing heavy work boots for most of our lives, and have just swapped them for obscenely fluffy, Merino-wool slippers. Given the stress required to live a life of pretense, the buoyancy of honesty might even extend beyond the metaphorical, as stress makes you gain weight. As every little morsel of chicanery dissipates into the ether, our relaxation increases, until we feel able to navigate the world as unapologetically ourselves, in full defective glory. As if by magic, the words that we were previously too frightened to mutter come bursting forth, with little worry about whether it splits our audience in two, or whether we’ll upset the sourpuss in the accounts department. Honesty can have the same effect on our inhibitions as a glass of the Hunter Valley’s finest Shiraz, and feels comparably soothing. In fact, as I’ve gotten older and become gradually more honest, I find that alcohol has much less of an effect on my inhibitions, because they no longer have such a ferocious hold to begin with.

I can’t begin to imagine how much energy I’ve wasted in my life trying to paint the “perfect” picture of myself. 300 hash browns worth, at least. The kicker is, regardless of how perfect you assume your behaviour to be, there’s always a select group of people who’ll continue to dislike you. With honesty, those people are lit up like the Star of Bethlehem, which you can quickly turn your back on in pursuit of something a little more your style. Most people seem well-equipped to detect pretentious behaviour anyway—trying to hide your faults can have the unfortunate effect of bringing them into the limelight. Why not just cut the bullshit and be yourself? No longer will there be any requirement to paint yourself cool, admirable, smart, capable, attractive, or anything else that society deems important. Think of the brainpower that you’ll save for something that’s actually worthwhile, like watching season three of Stranger Things.

“To conceal anything from those to whom I am attached, is not in my nature. I can never close my lips where I have opened my heart.” 

Charles Dickens

The universe can be a pretty cruel place to exist, especially during those uncomfortable moments when we reflect on our own mortality, and what the hell it all means. Slipping into a role for which society would give a boring and predictable thumbs-up is dangerously easy, putting us on a cookie-cutter path that might destroy our uniqueness. The more honest that we are with ourselves, the likelier we are to discover off-roads that could lead us places that feel wholly authentic. We’re born into a greyscale world, devoid of any intrinsic meaning. Honesty is a paintbrush that allows us to colour the world with meaningful vibrancy—we know which colours make us wide-eyed, and we can use that knowledge to paint our masterpiece, with no instruction needed from a higher authority. Only when we muster the courage to be honest can we carve out a meaningful path for ourselves.

“Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.” 

Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

At times, reality can be a tough cookie to crack. Our existence as unique, separate beings makes us prisoners of our own subjectivity; we understand reality in terms of our senses, and from what others say about it. If everyone went about their day lying through their teeth, it’d be a lot harder for us to determine what reality actually is. Our brain’s interpretation of our senses would become king—a mediocre choice for a mass of tissue that has a ton of biases, uses mental shortcuts to make decisions, and can hallucinate the most fabulous nonsense imaginable. The level of honesty within our species plays a large role in determining our understanding of the world. If Google decided one day that its maps should only be 50% honest, you might find yourself in the middle of the desert, wondering where all of this sand came from. We owe it to our fellow humans to give them an accurate reflection of the world, whether it’s an external, shared truth such as the weather, or an internal emotional truth, like the grouchiness you’re feeling after last night’s tequila competition with a rustic hidalgo from Guadalajara. With truth comes clarity of vision for all.

“Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs. This state of mind is not common, but it is essential for right thinking…”

Leo Tolstoy

Bending the truth only seems necessary in times of peril, when the stakes are extremely high. You probably wouldn’t want to tell a suicide-risk friend that their new haircut makes them look like a deranged poodle, lest they make a beeline for the nearest precipice. The loveable robot TARS from Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is programmed with a 90% honesty setting, claiming absolute honesty to be an unwise approach for dealing with emotional human beings. I’d argue that 99% is the preferred setting, with the 1% reserved for those rare moments that dishonesty seems to be the correct moral choice. Anything greater seems to be unnecessary, exhausting pretense—strapping on a straitjacket and a plastered smile. In an era infected with all manner of falsity—Donald Trump; tampered elections; fake news; climate change denial; the efficacy of Capitalism; Flat Earth theory; anti-vaxxers, and much more—honesty isn’t just chicken soup for our souls, but a moral necessity, to give us the strength to claw our way out of this filthy bog of crock into which we’ve fallen.

References

  1. Stuart Jeffries, Inside the mind of an actor (literally)

Why I Was Cluelessly Racist in My Youth

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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

At school, for a period of a few years, I was a racist little bastard. Most of the black kids in my school were taller, wider, and a hell of a lot tougher than I was, putting their physical prowess to use by skipping lunch queues, taking the best seats in class, and shouldering me effortlessly off the ball during games of football, as though I weighed about the same as a cocktail sausage. During break, they’d nestle into their desired spot in the playground, and blast the surrounding concrete with the tinny, harsh sounds of 2Pac and Busta Rhymes, to the distaste of every Verve or Lenny Kravitz fan in the vicinity (this was a boy’s school, so no self-respecting lad in the 90’s would own up to liking the Spice Girls). These injustices, together with the fact that I could do nothing to restore them without receiving an eye-watering pummelling, created a burning rage inside me, discharged among friends with mutters of “fucking wogs” or “those black bastards are at it again.” At the time it seemed the most natural thing in the world; a righteous point-of-view that dragged us from the lowly position of pathetic, weak and useless, to an elevated position of power and superiority, even if it was just in our minds. Puberty was the boggiest of slogs, and when you’re just trying to drag yourself through something in one piece, reality and truth seem to have less importance. Racism just happened to be a readily-available psychological defence mechanism, used to cover up feelings of ineptitude and worthlessness, protecting my meager sense of self-esteem. I just felt like a skinny, useless white boy, surrounded by all manner of kids who were bigger, stronger, and smarter than me. I was like the frightened little dog that barks because of its fear, fooling nobody aside from myself.

In the first year of sixth form, I escaped what would have undoubtedly been a severe beating, after my racists comments were overheard and passed onto the most enormous black kid in the entire school—a six-foot brick shithouse who, if my memory serves correctly, went by the name of Kwame. The charge against me was “wanting to stab a black boy”, which proved to be a complete lie on the part of the informer—a compact Indian kid who wanted to embellish my intolerable racism as much as possible, in order to see me punished. After weeks of successfully dodging the formidable wall of muscle that wanted to squeeze me to death, the snitch pointed me out to him in our common room, and after politely asking my nemesis to step outside (a request that he took as an invitation to fight), I talked myself out of the entire pickle by declaring that someone with mixed-race cousins such as myself wouldn’t dream of saying something so abhorrent, because such a thing would technically apply to my very own flesh and blood, as though I harboured desires to stab my own family to death because of their darker complexions. That part is true, by the way—I do have mixed race cousins. My silver tongue saved me from a trouncing on that day, but in hindsight, I probably deserved a smallish beating.

Today, whenever a racist peeks over the parapet with a unintentionally blatant comment, my first response is usually contempt. I marvel at their ability to pigeonhole an entire race of people, while conveniently forgetting that I used to do exactly the same thing, for probably the same reasons. Thankfully, my confidence and self-esteem increased with age, blessing me with fresher, clearer perspectives, and a hardier ego that didn’t require cowardly racism in order to protect it. For the remaining racists wandering the world—shaking in their steel toe-capped boots whenever a burly black gentleman passes them in the street, and cursing them quietly under their breaths—changing their views might be a lot more difficult, particularly when surrounded with like-minded friends, each one more chicken-hearted than the last. Many racists appear to be nought but frightened pussies who never developed the true confidence of adulthood, but instead remain in pitiful immaturity, shielding their fragile self-esteem with hateful vitriol, but lacking the knowledge or the motivation to understand why they behave in such ways. To know thyself is tough, but judgement is easy, and feels oh-so-good. The easier path is always more tempting, particularly for the psychologically weak, who might trapse along it comfortably for their entire lives, lacking the courage and will to take the harder road, and forgoing a happier existence in the process. Ignorance is most certainly not bliss.

Art has a way of blessing us with truth and understanding, in unintended ways. Aside from an increased sense of confidence, a turning point for my own bigotry was reading Lee Harper’s To Kill A Mockingbird, a book so beautifully written, weaving a story of such crystal-clear clarity, that you’re left with the fiercest sense of injustice for the main characters, and a greater sense of empathy for their terrible plight. I suspect that Harper has softened the views of many a small-minded bigot, with the potential to remedy many more, but in our age of ignorance, where social media and tabloid journalism serve as dominant teachers, conveying little but righteous outrage and fear, the likelihood of such a person reading the book seems about as feasible as Tommy Robinson marrying Malala Yousafzai. These types of noxious media can act as tribalistic echo chambers of disdain, shrinking our world down to scant collections of regurgitated hate, with little existing outside of it, and little chance of us breaking away to something good and admirable. Such comfortable bubbles have a limited amount of oxygen, before we suffocate. An exceptional story, on the other hand, can be a masterful teacher of empathy, and help to shift the views of the most stubborn extremist, if we could somehow force it upon them without impinging on their freedom.

For me, school was a time for survival, rather than self-improvement. I’m fortunate enough to have been raised with the support of kind, caring parents, satisfying the majority of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and once school was over, affording me the luxury of self-actualisation in the guise of endless books. Some people aren’t so fortunate. It’s tempting to become immediately self-righteous when faced with intolerance, but such a response displays a lack of understanding in itself, the exact same source as the racism. Babies don’t emerge from their mothers with their arm held aloft in a hateful seig heil, but instead develop such behaviours as a way to soothe their fear, protect their delicate egos, and forgo the effort needed to actually understand the world. What is a racist, after all, than a frightened dog, yapping to protect itself?

Tales of Sin City

Tales of Sin City 6
Photo by Ameer Basheer on Unsplash

Out in the barren desert exists a swollen spread of light and colour, as though mustered and plonked by some alien species—a kind of base experiment, to be observed with scientific, oversized eyes. It glows like a party of a million writhing fireflies, criss-crossing their way across sandy dancefloors, and buzz buzz buzzing through the all-too-quick night, spindly legs shaking in protest at the emerging glares of the unsought sun as it peeks over the horizon. No matter, another night awaits, and another, and another, until bellies, livers and minds become bloated to excess, desperate to burst with raging torrents of sickly vomit.

Spic and span is the money-making plan—every surface must be gleaming, carved from imitation marble, threaded with lavish bands of silver and platinum. How better to gain riches, than to present richness? How better to stoke vanity than with the illusion of splendour, nourishing the confidence of its imprudent admirers? Here’s a gleaming pyramid, surface spotted with warm, yellow luminance; here’s a soaring water feature, radiating with the sheen of a thousand beams of light, undeniably beautiful, but designed to hypnotise nevertheless. A city filled with gratified cooing, senses endlessly feasted, treated like the kings of old, perched atop their garish thrones peppered with gold and jewels, celebrating their awesome stature with the enthusiasm of a thousand unhinged men. Every seat suitably padded, every bed perfectly soft, every whim wholly satisfied—grunting, belching, slapping and snorting our way to hedonistic ecstasy, ingesting Mitsubishi-stamped pills and mounds of white powder with the stench of chemicals, blood trail leading back to the slums of South America, too dark and distant to be perceived.

Luckless ladies weave throughout the grid, targeting men of every kind, their ill repute disguised beneath a glossy-lipped smile of feigned interest. Wife waiting back at the hotel? No problem—we’re here to please, not to judge— take my hand and let me lead you to the softest of places, that may or may not be smeared with hair-clinging crustaceans, waiting for the opportunity to clamp their yellowy claws onto a victim new. We even take chips as payment. Swappin’ plastic for fellatio, just don’t ask us to swallow—a hangover remains. Not interested? Then fuck you. Flee to the pole-clinging strippers, stuff their lace with paper, and forego the satisfaction of a real happy ending. Try to ignore the empty look in their eyes as they thrash about like reluctant puppets, wondering how it all went so tragically wrong—but wait, I love this song!

Rooms packed with sweat-glistened bodies, jostling and grinding to the sunken soundwaves of the latest musical fad, sipping extravagant, overpriced vodka—same stuff, different label—obvious, pitiful peacocks, drowning in feathers and arse, deficient in novelty. Swanky swimming pools peppered with brown bodies, arms flailed in the direction of a sunglass-wearing douchelord—a commander of the most basic of sheep. Respite is taken in the squishy comfort of a private poolside cabana, waited on by a bony young waitress wearing a plastered smile, serving spirit from a $750 bottle—every penny soothing our insecurity through the illusion of status. In the Nevada desert, eminence is expensive, and oh-so-fleeting.

Just a couple of colours to determine your destiny, with another thrown in, sometimes twice, to cheat you out of it. A table surrounded by expectant faces, one moment joyful, the next despairing, as the chips inevitably make their way back into the owner’s overstuffed pockets, ready to be reinvested into some shiny new thing—a glistening fountain; a glossy chrome staircase, or a younger, red-lipped waitress—whatever it takes to bring in the hapless punters. At table forty-two is a man with his head in his hands, who sold his home to make it big—a hundred thousand chips shrunk down to one, with remorseless masters grinning in the shadows, and beaming as a fresh-faced mug nestles into the seat next to him.

It isn’t really the money we’re after, but dopamine, to be got at all costs, with peril ignored—a teeny brain squirt after every little success, scantly experienced, yet catching us hook, line, and sinker, over and over again, until our mouths are dry, and pockets desolate—an empty space where even the most dishonourable moth wouldn’t be caught dead. Success at the table is not the same as success at life. Moments of jubilant triumph, laden with chips of the richest colour, are equalised by periods of exhausted devastation, when you’d better hope that there’s someone who loves you enough to comfort you. On its most lucrative days, the city carves out our insides until all is hollow—nothing left but an empty shell whose hopes and dreams have been efficiently collected and deposited. 

But don’t worry, you can win it all back next time.

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.

The Miracle of Finding Beauty in the Mundane 9
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 Invasion of Mindless Entertainment

The Invasion of Mindless Entertainment 10
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 11
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 12
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 13
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 14
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 15
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.

 — 

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

The Ultimate Guide on How to Fight Climate Change—part 1: Political Action

The Ultimate Guide on How to Fight Climate Change—part 1: Political Action 16
Image from The Intercept

Table of contents

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

 — 

Scientists have issued a horrifying “final call” to save the world from climate catastrophe. Our species is staggering on a knife’s edge—never in our history has something been of such urgent importance.

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 the most effective area for tackling climate change—political action.

Vote for environmental action

Your vote is one of the most effective ways for you to fight global warming.

It’s time to support a political party that puts the environment at the heart of their policies. We cannot continue electing greedy politicians who support huge, polluting corporations. These rapacious companies are widening the gap between rich and poor, and destroying the only home we’ll ever know.

If there’s upcoming elections in your country, take the time to research each party’s policies, and vote for the party who are dedicating themselves to environmental action. The Greens are usually a good bet.

Join advocacy groups

Advocacy groups influence public opinion, and help to change laws. These groups can evolve into huge social movements that change the course of history:

  • Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights Movement
  • The Suffragette Movement for women’s right to vote
  • The Boston Tea Party for American independence
  • The Abolitionist Movement against slavery

With enough people, the same can happen with global warming. Politicians can’t ignore a million voices crying out in unison. Advocacy groups can help to make big changes, and we need big changes fast.

How to find advocacy groups

Discover your local climate change movements with this link, or local environmental advocacy groups with this link.

Advocacy groups can be focused on a range of environmental concerns—sustainability, renewable energy, efficient agriculture, deforestation, carbon pricing, etc.

When you’ve found some groups that you like, browse their websites to see how you can take action. A half-hearted glimpse isn’t enough—we must get involved if we want to make a change.

To keep up to date with their work, sign up to their newsletter, like their Facebook and YouTube pages, and follow their Twitter and Instagram accounts. You’ll be provided with regular, invaluable information on how to make a difference.

Consider doing the same for these major organisations:

Greenpeace
Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

WWF
Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

350
Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

The Years Project
Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Earth Justice
Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Connect4Climate
Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

GetUp Australia
Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

How to find upcoming protests

Find US protests using the these sites—Indivisible | Resistance—or with this link for other countries.

There’s been climate change protests all over the world in recent months—your voice can help to raise the noise level of the crowd to a mighty roar. Research shows that protests can create long-lasting political change[1]. Your attendance is vital.

Contact your local elected official

Your local elected official has the political influence to fight global warming, but will only do so with your persuasion. Politicians want our votes—if we make them aware of our environmental concerns, they’re much more likely to push for changes in this area.

Find out how to contact your local official here (US and other countries), or here (UK and Australia). Once you have the necessary details, you’ll likely be able to do three things:

  • Email them
  • Phone them
  • Meet with them

Ask about their stance on climate change, and stress your severe concerns about the future of our sickly planet. Or consider sending them the below:

Hi [politician name],

97% of climate scientists agree that our planet is dying, with potentially devastating consequences. Could you please outline your stance on climate change, and any changes you’re willing to make that will have an impact?

If you’re willing to take action, you have my vote.

Regards,

[your name]

With enough pressure from enough people, they may be convinced to put a plan in place.

**

Change can only happen with us—we must put effort into the above suggestions. We’re quickly approaching a global temperature increase from which there’s no turning back[2], but with a little work from each and every one of us, we can change the course of our planet’s future.

Read part 2 of this series—Food.

References

1. Shom Mazumder, Yes, marches can make a difference. It depends on these three factors
2. Jonathan Watts, Met Office: global warming could exceed 1.5C within five years