How to Find Hidden Beauty

Image from Pixabay

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 for some well-earned 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. 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
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 that incredible beauty can be found 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 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. 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 Cheap Thrill Entertainment

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. We might be tempted to call this “cheap thrill entertainment”, and though it 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 cheap thrill 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 cheap thrill 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 cheap thrill 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, cheap thrill 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 cheap thrill 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

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

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

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).

Image from New York Times

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

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

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

How Nature Can Improve Your Health

aerial-view-beach-beautiful-462162Image from Pixabay

By the year 2050, 70% of humanity is expected to live in cities across the globe[1]. Our already gargantuan concrete jungles will continue to grow, swollen with millions of ambitious jostlers, immersed in the higgledy-piggledy game of life.

The sheer scale of our cities can quickly become tiring; their excitement a jangle on our overstimulated nerves, as though being repeatedly zapped with a cattle prod. While there’s much to love and appreciate—delicious coffee; bars awash with friendly, tipsy faces; the soft twinkling of densely-packed skyscrapers—cities can quickly become overbearing, creating a longing for the soothing calm of the wide outdoors: an expansive wood with zigzag walking paths; a serene national park, echoing with the warbles of luminous, tippy-tappy tropical birds; or a soaring, snow-tipped mountain, so utterly glorious that it appears to have been designed with the purpose of taking your breath away.

Nature can be a formidable conqueror of stress. A plodding amble beside a bubbling stream, away from the merciless chaos of modern civilisation, can do wonders for the soul—cortisol levels dampened, ruminations hushed[2], and contentment heightened, as though everything is just as it should be. The smokey topaz hue of a soaring redwood, the millions of blades of fulgent grass that encroach upon it, and the red-tailed hawks that float on the overhead airwaves, are all unquestionably perfect. Their flawlessness bathes us in appreciation, and though it’s tragically difficult for us to realise, we’re an expression of the very same universe, and share their perfection. What’s to achieve, if everything is already sublime? Nature’s sole ambition is to perpetuate into the future—a bespeckled leaf-toed gecko doesn’t dream of sitting in the boss’ chair one day, head swollen with status, nor does a mountain assume that it’ll be more attractive if it attains a gym membership, in an effort to enlarge its craggy north face for the ladies. Everything is already exactly as it should be.

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”
—Lao Tzu

“Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”
—John Muir

For entry into its realm, nature demands our ambition as payment, returned a little lighter upon exit. With our opportunism all but vanquished, there’s nothing to do but open up our senses to the majesty that we’ve gained access to—basking in the tranquility of a tulip-strewn meadow, bobbing in the gentle waves of the Spanish blue Mediterranean ocean, or doggedly trudging up the gruelling slopes of a serrated limestone mountain, offering views that would melt the heart of the most ardent industrialist.

4k-wallpaper-beautiful-bloom-1487010Photo by James Wheeler from Pexels

“This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.”
John Muir, John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir

The inconceivable grandeur of nature can have a powerful diminishing effect, reducing us to tiny specks lost in a vast landscape, and inviting us into a perspective that fills us with humility. There’s nothing quite as humbling as standing before a colossal thousand-foot granite mountain, or watching as a skyscraper-sized chunk of ice detaches itself from a glacier, slamming into the ocean and throwing up a wall of formidable water. Such things are mightier than us, and we must prostrate ourselves before them. Worthier gods couldn’t be found in all the galaxies of the universe.

“Nature is not vying for our attention or demanding anything from us (unlike the media, advertisement and the entertainment industry) but instead always remains in the background, awaiting like a long lost friend, our attention to reignite the friendship once again—for free.”
—Joshua Krook[3]

The term “humility” is derived from the Latin word humilitas, in turn related to humilis, which can be translated as “grounded” or “from the earth”[4]. To be humble is to return to the place from which we came—a homecoming that instills us with a contented sense of belonging. The vast majority of our evolutionary past was spent in the wild, rustling through swathes of elephant grass on the African plains, or darkened by the shadows of oak trees, immersed in a murky deciduous forest. It’s no wonder that we feel so at home among nature—homo sapiens have spent 98% of their history in it. There’s no denying the magnificence of modern living, with its glistening, expansive cities, but in the depths of our soul, some of us feel most at home in the wild. Our desire to “get away from it all” might be translated as a longing to return to the peace and solitude of a wide-set mountain valley, echoing with the hungry cries of circling golden eagles. We feel a profound affinity with nature not just because of our dependence on it, but because we are it. Our tendency to think of ourselves as separate from nature is a grave error. Humans are the universe expressing itself in a unique way—one single form of expression among billions.

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
—John Muir, John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir

For those of us lacking in the faith of an almighty, monotheistic god, or struggling to identify what gives voice to our hearts, nature can provide us with the meaning that we so desperately crave. When gazing upon the rouge-painted slopes of a rolling autumn hill, reflected in the stillness of a shimmering lake, the beauty of what you’re observing is the point of everything, pacifying the need for any kind of ultimate purpose. The soaring significance of nature is often achieved in the most beautifully simple way—not an embellishment in sight, nor any need for bells and whistles, just a torrent of water suddenly suspended in mid-air, then cascading downwards in glad acquiesce to gravity, quietly dissipating until there’s nothing left but fine mist.

G6G6D0UAngel Falls, Venezuela

“Millions of eyes, I knew, had gazed at this landscape, and for me it was like the first smile of the sky. It took me out of myself in the deepest sense of the word. It assured me that but for my love and the wondrous cry of these stones, there was no meaning in anything. The world is beautiful, and outside it there is no salvation.”
—Albert Camus, Lyrical and Critical Essays (The Desert)

The immobilising awe that we can feel as we gaze through a vista in a sun-kissed coastal town, blue sea twinkling in the distance, is a connection to an astonishing universe that requires no point other than its own existence. Awe entwines us with the natural world, strengthening our affinity with this effortlessly ravishing planet that we’re so incredibly fortunate to be a part of.

“Everything seems futile here except the sun, our kisses, and the wild scents of the earth.”
—Albert Camus, Lyrical and Critical Essays

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
—John Muir

Nature’s cadence is one of easy-going plodding—the sweeping Himalayas took 50 million years to form[5], and here we are dashing about like industrious mice, busy busy busy, hoping to achieve even the tiniest thing of significance. It’s impossible to savour something when possessed by a speed demon, hell-bent on achievement, forgoing the joy of peaceful dawdling—doing nothing more than luxuriating in the moment. When we find ourselves gawping at the sun-blistered chasm of the Grand Canyon, the sheer spectacle transforms us from madcap hares into attentive tortoises, forcing us to appreciate its majesty at a more fortuitous pace, one in which we’re less likely to become the victims of a premature heart-attack.

“Nature is a labyrinth in which the very haste you move with will make you lose your way.”
—Francis Bacon

Nature applies a much-needed brake on our ever-increasing acceleration, led astray by the belief that status-fuelled achievement can somehow offer us contentment. All of that nonsense is quickly forgotten when we find ourselves ambling down a countryside-lane, tasting berries as we go, happy with nothing more than the natural delights of the earth.

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“How many hours have I spent crushing absinthe leaves, caressing ruins, trying to match my breathing with the world’s tumultuous sighs! Deep among wild scents and concerts of somnolent insects, I open my eyes and heart to the unbearable grandeur of this heat-soaked sky.”
—Albert Camus, Lyrical and Critical Essays (Nuptials at Tipasa)

Our world is truly magnificent, with so much goodness to offer us. And yet, much of this beauty is in danger of being lost to the ravages of global warming, fuelled by humanity’s unrelenting greed. It’s a tale of incomparable tragedy—as we choke the earth, we choke ourselves. We must do everything in our power to protect our planet, lest we destroy its irreplaceable delights.

It isn’t too late for us to slow the damage, but we must do our part. With collective action, we can help to protect the pristine solace of our natural world, so that we may continue to become willingly bewitched by its abundant enchantments. Our planet can only take so much abuse—the danger that we face cannot be understated.

Never before has something been this urgent. This spectacular world of ours can endure into the everlasting future, its breathtaking magnificence open for all, but only if we become fully conscious of the significance of the problem, accept that the responsibility for change lies with us, and take repeated and consistent action. If we work together, we can save this fantastic world of ours.

If you’d like to learn more about the devastating effects that global warming is having on our planet, check out these awesome shows on Netflix:

References

1. Gregory N. BratmanJ. Paul HamiltonKevin S. HahnGretchen C. Daily, and James J. Gross, Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation
2. Jill L. Ferguson, 5 Benefits of Being Outdoors
3. Joshua Krook, Cezanne’s Writings and Finding Meaning in Nature
4. Wikipedia, Humility
5. The Geological Society, Continental/Continental: The Himalayas

Why Laughter Is the Ultimate Weapon Against Meaninglessness

melanie-dretvic-699931-unsplashPhoto by Melanie Dretvic on Unsplash

If we widen our scope from our narrow, subjective point of view, to the entirety of our colossal, shadowy universe, this species of ours, with our hairless bodies, opposable thumbs, and mounds of belly-button fluff, might be described with a single, incisive word: inconsequential.

We’re really quite tiny. Puny, in fact. There isn’t much that we can do of consequence in our lifetime—even with the lifetime of every humanbefore the steady march of time crushes us underfoot, when we return to the eternal obscurity of pre-birth. We’re all living on borrowed time, as quick as a cursory snap of the fingers, and then oblivion. Our destiny is one of triviality, authored by the fluctuating nature of the universe, whose brutal indifference lives by only a single, ironclad rule—things must change. The universe doesn’t make exceptions. Whether it’s in the next few hours, or the next few billion years, eventually, our species is highly likely to perish, lost to the eternal darkness of the abyss.

“Once upon a time, in some out of the way corner of that universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowing. That was the most arrogant and mendacious minute of “world history,” but nevertheless, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed, and the clever beasts had to die.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche

Depressing nihilism? It doesn’t have to be. Our irrelevance can offer us a beautifully light-hearted, devil-may-care attitude. If nothing really matters, and everything we slip and strain for will eventually crumble into dust, what’s to take seriously? Is it really worth spending twelve hours a day chained to your office desk, expression of hardened-stone, assiduously beavering away to climb a career ladder that will be annihilated soon enough? Our mortality affords us the ability to be blasé—a reminder to check our overbearing seriousness in the face of obliteration.

“The life of man is of no greater importance to the universe than that of an oyster.”
— David Hume

There’s nothing quite as ridiculous as someone who takes themselves too seriously, as though their bustling ambition is their ace-up-the-sleeve against death, securing their immortality. These are the Donald Trumps of the world—ruthless, lacking in humour, hell-bent on control, and without any sense of their own pointlessness. All ego and no spirit. Can you imagine Trump actually having fun while swanning around the immaculately-kept fairways of his Mar a Lago golf resort? Excessively serious people are all work and no play, even when pretending to play. Though their efforts may help to position them atop a towering hierarchy, their humourless attitudes will wreck their ability to enjoy it. They lack the capacity to see their existence as it really is: hopelessly frivolous.

“Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future too.”
Marcus Aurelius

Life is hopelessly frivolous for all of us, and appreciation of this fact—contrary though it may seem—can stoke our sense of humour until it becomes a blazing inferno. We can bristle and weep in the face of our impending doom, or laugh raucously in its face, fully aware of how ridiculous, magnificent, and wonderful it all is. Laughter is rebellion against the meaningless of life. A master of living carries a light heart.

When a Zen Buddhist finally attains enlightenment after decades of practice, they say that there’s nothing left for them to do but have a good laugh[1]. They’ve perceived a fundamental truth—everything that they sought was already within them, and their strivings can be considered as all but meaninglessness. How else to react to this insight? With a serious, hard-boiled expression? Or with laughter?

“I laugh when I think how I once sought paradise as a realm outside of the world of birth. It is right in the world of birth and death that the miraculous truth is revealed. But this is not the laughter of someone who suddenly acquires a great fortune; neither is it the laughter of one who has won a victory. It is, rather, the laughter of one who; after having painfully searched for something for a long time, finds it one morning in the pocket of his coat.”
—Thich Nhat Hanh

The word nirvana literally translates to “blow out” or “extinguish”, which is exactly what happens to your absurd seriousness when you realise the insignificance of it all, no longer harbouring delusions of grandeur, but instead viewing your existence as a wave in the ocean, the flap of a starling’s wing—nothing more. As our seriousness wanes, our playfulness and sense of humour increases.

“[Laughter is a] sudden relaxation of strain, so far as occurring through the medium of the breathing and vocal apparatus… the laugh is thus a phenomenon of the same general kind as the sigh of relief.”
—John Dewey

The earnest among us harbour an innate desire for control, as though we can shape and mould our world into something concrete and everlasting. The playful perceive the futility of such actions—a belly laugh that destroys all illusion of authority over Mother Nature, as if her defeat were ever possible. Good humour is the ability to sense the uncontrollable complexity of the world—an attitude which when translated into words might say “fuck trying to control that wily nonsense”.  In the frequent moments that we become lost in our lives—teeming with seriousness after having forgotten that it’s all just a game—a knee-slapping, riotous howl of laughter might be the most effective way to put everything into perspective.

“Since everything is but an apparition, having nothing to do with good or bad, acceptance or rejection, one may as well burst out in laughter.”
—Longchenpa

Part of a comedian’s job is to draw attention to people who take life too seriously, magnifying their absurdity in comical ways, and transforming gravity into frivolity. There’s no easier target than a stiff, po-faced gentleman with a head full of ambition, whose piss must be taken in the name of tomfoolery. Loftiness is only permitted when sprinkled with humility. Laughter is the razor-sharp weapon that can pierce solemnity, which is why someone like Ricky Gervais can get away with pummeling a room full of movie stars, or make light of something as tragic as the holocaust. Humour is like bottled relief—two large teaspoons taken every four hours can lower stress, reduce anxiety and depression, and lower blood pressure[2]. Comedians may as well be physicians.

“The only thing I can recommend at this stage is a sense of humor, an ability to see things in their ridiculous and absurd dimensions, to laugh at others and at ourselves, a sense of irony regarding everything that calls out for parody in this world.”
—Václav Havel

To be humorous is to temporarily abandon reason, which is rendered worthless during moments of laughter—throwing logic out of the window because it’s all so silly and pointless. When the absurdity of our existence smacks us directly in the face, and we fully regard it for the first time, all that we once deemed important—getting rich, being successful, driving a sports car, etc.—can dissipate into nothing, followed by a sublime sense of relief.

“Don’t take life too seriously; nobody ever makes it out alive anyway.”
—Van Wilder

A sense of humour is like psychological armour against the tragedy of a meaningless existence—a shining suit of Mithril, with every precious link curved upwards into a smile, poised to charge the enemy with a grin on our faces. The universe has spat us out without our consent, and to make matters worse, demands our dissolution after a few short decades. How better to respond than with unassailable mirth?

A hardy sense of humour is an effective rebellion against our absurd existence—a rightfully judicious decision that can turn our story from one of depressing, all-too-serious tragedy, to mutinous, laugh-out-loud comedy. Laughter has the power to turn us into insurgent gods, and though life will never be able to offer us any concrete meaning, during our times of cackling rebellion, for the briefest of moments, it no longer matters.

“Death smiles at us all; all we can do is smile back.”
Marcus Aurelius

References

1. Alan Watts, The Way of Waking Up
2. The Power of Positivity

The Psychological Driving Force That Makes Social Networks so Successful

fran.jpg

Francois de La Rochefoucauldimage from The Art of Manliness
For a poodle-haired French philosopher born in the elegance of a post-Renaissance Paris, a social network would describe the group of friends that he spends his time with, sipping tea in a lavish French salon while discussing the deepest topics of life. Francois de La Rochefoucauld is a philosopher famed for penning a short book of stinging, pithy maxims, aimed at eliminating the illusions that we have related to our own behaviours, with particular emphasis on our desperate need to impress other people.

The gargantuan, overgrown beasts that we call social networks today might be unthinkable for someone from La Rochefoucauld’s time, but despite being beyond that generation’s reach, the man himself would probably have had a lot to say about them. One his greatest skills was his ability to perceive the underlying motives behind people’s behaviour, much of which is focused on our longing for social approval—a desire that forms the foundation of modern social networks. Without the “like” button, there probably wouldn’t be a Facebook, an Instagram, or a Twitter. There may not even be a Medium. La Rochefoucauld was able to fully appreciate the power of social approval, and the extent to which it drives our behaviour.

The lives that we portray on social media can be vastly different to reality, with only the so-called positive aspects of our experiences shared, in an unconscious attempt to disguise the often banal truth of our day-to-day existences. Like actors on a stage, we slip on a more attractive mask, position ourselves in appealing situations, and carry out impressive performances to trick our audience into believing that our lives are something to be envied. We want to be adored, after all. The problem with such bombastic fakery is that the mask can become to the reality, and who we really are slips from our memory, to be replaced with society’s notion of prestige and success—the existence of an subservient toady.

“We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves.”
—Francois de La Rochefoucauld

“In all professions each affects a look and an exterior to appear what he wishes the world to believe that he is. Thus we may say that the whole world is made up of appearances.”
—Francois de La Rochefoucauld

A disguise is never suitable for long—eventually we’ll yearn for our heart’s true desire. We must go our own way, lest we live the life of someone else. Social networks are poison to individualism, with each member striving to impress their hundreds of friends, and selling a little bit of their soul in the process. Flattery—and the vanity that seeks it—insidiously cuts away at our uniqueness, until there’s nothing left but a shell, with social media “friends” permitted to fill it up with whatever they want.

“If we did not flatter ourselves, the flattery of others could never harm us.”
—Francois de La Rochefoucauld

“Flattery is a kind of bad money, to which our vanity gives us currency”
—Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Much of our social posting—our political rants, jokes, daily gripes, TV recommendations, social commentary, or anything else that we deem to share with the world—can be traced back to our desire for approval, eyes darting to the alluring notification icon whenever it appears, yearning for people to like what we have to say. The scope can even be widened to any interaction that we have with people. As highly social animals, a great deal of our mutterings are made with the intention to impress. How often would you make a comment that you know would agitate your audience, darkening your reputation in the process?

“We speak little if not egged on by vanity”
—La Rochefoucauld

La Rochefoucauld believed that without our own rapacious sense of vanity to spur us on, we’d be a hell of a lot quieter. But as long as there’s admiration to be had, we’ll capture it in whatever way that we can (provided it doesn’t offend anyone important).

These assertions about our good natures may arrive with a painful sting, perhaps a righteous, offended position of denial. Other people may be so insecure as to behave in such sycophantic ways, but me? Pfft. Observe your behaviour more closely, and you may discover that the French philosopher is much more accurate than you’d like to believe.

An overly-contrived person—who we might call a “suck-up” or a “try-hard”—is just someone who fails to impress surreptitiously, like the rest of us. There’s a tendency to dislike these kinds of people, because their pronounced ulterior motive shines a glaring, unflattering light on our own. The traits that we dislike about others are often the traits that we dislike (or flat-out deny) about ourselves. The unfriend button never looked so appealing.

“We have no patience with other people’s vanity because it is offensive to our own”
—La Rochefoucauld

Even the deeds that we deem the most wholesome may crumble under meticulous scrutiny. Why do you really give to charity? To help the unfortunate, or to experience the glowing sense of goodness that accompanies it, and the properly-deserved swathes of likes that attach themselves to the social share? How much of your behaviour is ultimately selfish? This isn’t an advocation to stop giving to charity—the motives behind such acts are inconsequential, because a good deed is being done regardless—but an invitation to be inquisitive about your behaviour.

“We would frequently be ashamed of our good deeds if people saw all of the motives that produced them.”
—Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Overcoming fakery in order to live a more genuine life seemed of paramount importance to La Rochefoucauld. A world in which the judgmental eyes of your fellow Facebook friends are banished beyond redemption is a world in which virtue could thrive for its own sake, without thought of reward—a desire to be good for no other reason than goodness itself. What could be more beautiful than that?

“Virtue would go far if vanity did not keep it company.”
—Francois de La Rochefoucauld

“Perfect valour consists in doing without witnesses that which we would be capable of doing before everyone.”
—Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Social networks are an inexhaustible source of fuel for our vanity—a platform that allows us to focus our efforts on getting as much kudos as possible, regardless of its obvious mediocrity, and lack of durability. It doesn’t take much to share a meme on Instagram, but damn, how good do those likes feel? Social networks are an addictive distraction from worthier endeavours—meaningful activities that actually contain the potential to improve our lives, as opposed to having our precious egos soothed with worthless virtual approval.

“Care about people’s approval, and you will always be their prisoner.” – Lao Tzu

Sadly, life is a little more complicated than just doing whatever the hell we want, without consideration of social consequences. Though we may be aching to post a caustic response to our cousin’s imbecilic right-wing social post, self-preservation stays our hand. There’s good logical sense behind our desire to impress—we need other people to survive. Sociality is a delicate balancing act, with soulless flattery on the one side, and courageous individualism on the other. Though it’s possible and infinitely more valuable to sway towards individualism, and live in accordance with our own meaningful values, survival requires us to appear favourably in the eyes of others, or risk wasting away in isolation. The social nature of our species is the reason for our innate vanity, and it isn’t going away anytime soon. Though the razor-sharp vision of La Rochefoucauld may cut through the illusion of our selfish behaviours, it doesn’t deter from that the fact that we need other people to survive, at least in some small degree. These people can be found in the world around us, not just as faces on computer screens, characterised by counterfeit tales of perfectly edited lives.

Social networks are vanity on crack, and the acerbic mind of La Rochefoucauld would probably have condemned them to the dust heap of history, where they undoubtedly belong.

The Therapeutic Power of Psychedelics and MDMA

03-Microdosing-lede.w536.h536.2x.jpgImage from NY Mag

Back in the 50’s, not too long after Albert Hoffman discovered the mind-bending, consciousness-expanding properties of LSD, scientists starting conducting experiments into the therapeutic potential of the drug. It became a popular area of research, and by the mid-60’s had spawned six international conferences, and over 1,000 peer-reviewed clinical papers¹.

Meanwhile, the first sparks of the acid revolution had been lit, spearheaded by passionate acolytes such as Timothy Leary and Ram Dass, who believed that the drug held the key to shifting our global consciousness, to create a more peaceful, loving human species. It’d be tough to find a loftier, more noble objective.

Then it all went to shit. Governments across the world became concerned about the widespread, casual use of such a potent substance, particularly one that caused its users to doubt and criticise the power structures within their society, often calling for a freer, less restricted world. LSD was promptly banned by governments, forcing chief manufacturer Sandoz to halt production in the mid-60s¹. The first era of psychedelic therapy was over.

Thankfully, there’s been a resurgence. Governments are once again becoming receptive to the therapeutic potential of “party” drugs such as acid, psilocybin, and MDMA, whose reputation has been tainted in part by the greedy fear-mongering of the popular press. Scientific studies are becoming increasingly common, some with astounding results. The gold-standard treatment for PTSD is prolonged exposure therapy—MDMA has been found to be twice as successful². Psilocybin—the psychoactive chemical found in magic mushrooms—had an 80% success rate in breaking a smoking habit, compared to 35% for conventional treatments³. It’s also been shown to cure severe depression⁴.

“Perhaps to some extent we have lost sight of the fact that (LSD) can be very, very helpful in our society if used properly.”—Robert Kennedy

Though the hardened conservative will undoubtedly raise his eyebrows in disbelief, the people who have spent their lives taking illegal drugs such as MDMA, LSD, and magic mushrooms may be unsurprised at the results. It’s obvious that these drugs have incredible potential for our psychological health. The pristine empathy and compassion one feels in the midst of an MDMA experience tells you everything you need to know. How could such an emotionally positive experience not have therapeutic potential?

In my late teenage years, I found myself surrounded by friends in the comfortable living room of one of our parents, each of us high on ecstasy. Uninhibited conversation was flowing, and upon reaching the topic of our fathers (Freud’s spirit nestled in the corner, glowing with anticipation), for the first time in his life, one of my friends opened up about his difficult relationship with his dad. He expressed sheer, unalloyed pain at his dad’s early departure from the family, followed by the brutal indifference that he exhibited towards him in the years after. There were floods of tears, but no awkwardness from anybody—just pure compassion and sympathy. Afterwards, he seemed as though a weight had been lifted off his shoulders, finally able to talk about something that had created anguish for years. It remains the most beautiful moment I’ve ever had with my friends.

“What’s unique about MDMA is that it’s actually stimulating but decreases anxiety…it could help people feel calm and comfortable enough to explore painful things that are hard to talk about.”—Julie Holland

The bonding power of MDMA cannot be understated, even with people who you’re already close to. Everyone tends to emerge from a session with a feeling of heart-warming emotional closeness, and a fiercer sense of loyalty towards this magnificent bunch of people with who we’ve spent the last eight hours. Time spent on MDMA can be flawlessly authentic, offering a state of mind that encourages you to delve into profoundly meaningful topics that you’re usually too wary to approach.

As a shy and cautious teenager, I’d often have trouble interacting with people who weren’t my friends—the gut-wrenching awkwardness was too much to bear, so I wouldn’t bother trying. MDMA helped to bring me out of my shell, and not just for the duration of the high, but extending far into the future. The rush of empathy one feels while on the drug, mixed with the feeling of immaculate love towards people around you, taught me not only to more easily identify the inherent good in other people, but to realise that I was worthy of their company and friendship. It accorded me the courage needed to speak and act without restraint, teaching myself—little-by-little—that I was more than capable of being a funny, interesting person, whose company people were eager to keep. By improving my emotional intelligence, MDMA has undoubtedly helped to shape my personality into something better.

Psychedelics such as LSD and magic mushrooms also have a reputation for changing people profoundly. In Michael Pollan’s incredible book How To Change Your Minda treatise on the beneficial effects of psychedelics—he reveals that many people who take these kinds of drugs describe it as one of “the most meaningful experiences of their lives”. Psychedelics dampen our Default Mode Network, which is suspected to be the creator of our ego. As our sense of self dissipates, we can feel a profound sense of unity with the world around us, and our brains are temporarily permitted to make brand new connections, illustrated beautifully in this diagram from the book.

brain-networks

Image from Discover Magazine

This is why creatives in Silicon Valley are spending their work-days microdosing—it unfetters their naturally restricted brains, allowing them to be more creative than ever before.

“I’m glad mushrooms are against the law, because I took them one time, and you know what happened to me? I laid in a field of green grass for four hours going, ‘My God! I love everything.’ Yeah, now if that isn’t a hazard to our country…how are we gonna justify arms dealing when we realize that we’re all one?”—Bill Hicks

There’s a big difference between the occasional drug-taking experience, and using substances as a coping mechanism for the pain in your life. Highly-addictive drugs such as cocaine and heroin are a completely different beast, and should be avoided at all costs. This kind of escapism rarely ends well — it’s usually much better to face your suffering head on, with as much courage as you can muster.

“Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life. LSD shows you that there’s another side to the coin, and you can’t remember it when it wears off, but you know it. It reinforced my sense of what was important — creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could.”—Steve Jobs

When it comes to MDMA, LSD, and psilocybin, it’s no wonder that people are willing to break the law in order to experience them. They can function as a form of self-therapy—a vehicle for fundamentally changing your brain, quicker and more effective than any other method. Since the discovery of LSD back in the 50’s, scientists have suspected its therapeutic benefits, kickstarting a field of research that has shown incredible results. But for the general public, stringent scientific experiments aren’t needed to tell them what they already know: MDMA, LSD, and psilocybin—when used for the right reasons— have the power to improve our lives. This is why millions of everyday people are willing to position themselves on the wrong side of the law. It’s not just about goofing around with your friends—laughing but also terrified at the clouds wiggling and shifting into new shapes—it’s about being equipped with the courage needed to leap over personal boundaries—a shift in consciousness that can teach you how to be a better person, with opportunities to encounter the world from fresher, more fluid perspectives. These drug can equip us with the potential to break out of our tired, restrictive moulds. Scientists have known this for years, as have regular, law-breaking users.

It isn’t a question of whether these drugs have therapeutic benefits, but a question of when our governments will be able to get past their antiquated views and embrace them as valuable weapons in our medical arsenal. Great progress has been made with marijuana. In time, and as more scientific evidence emerges, perhaps the same will happen with MDMA and psychedelics.

 —

Some words of caution
MDMA, LSD and psilocybin are still illegal in many countries, and as such, their production lacks quality control. Drug testing kits are essential to test their purity, and obvious discretion required if you’re willing to take the necessary risks to acquire the drugs themselves. This article is by no means an advocation to do so. It’s also worth noting that these drugs aren’t for everyone, particularly for those with serious mental illnesses.

References

1. Wikipedia, Psychedelic Therapy 
2. Jesse Noakes, Psychedelic renaissance: could MDMA help with PTSD, depression and anxiety?
3. Magic Mushrooms” Can Help Smokers Break the Habit
4. Sarah Boseley, Magic mushrooms lift severe depression in clinical trial