The Poor Person’s Guide to Saving The Planet

The Poor Person’s Guide to Saving The Planet
Photo by Jennifer Coffin-Grey on Unsplash

Eighteen years ago, I befriended a wild coyote in the California desert.

I don’t think you’re supposed to do that, but it was the happiest moment of my life at that point. I was 18 and slightly stupid.

For most of my adult life, I had one bowl.

I had one plate.

I had one fork. I had one spoon. I had no furniture. I slept on a mat on the floor. When I moved, I could fit everything I owned into my car. I got that idea from one of my dad’s work friends. “I only ever take one thing with me,” he said. “My jazz albums.”

In college, I spent my weekends backpacking, rock climbing, canoeing, kayaking, camping, and mountain biking. My life has depended on someone else knowing how to wedge a cam into a crack. It steeped me in a deep love and respect for the planet.

When I was 21, I could climb a rope up and down without using my feet all day long. I could climb across your ceiling. Then for some reason, I decided my true calling was education.

I didn’t buy a couch until I got married.

We also got a bed.

He insisted.

Here’s an interesting fact:

The wealthiest 10 percent of the planet generates 50 percent of all carbon emissions. The poorest half contribute almost nothing. The average American produces 10 times more carbon and pollution than anyone else on the planet. Their greed is killing everything.

Poor people don’t need Bill Gates telling them how to save the planet. That’s laughable. That’s ridiculous.

They don’t need a guide.

They are the guide.

For most of my adult life, I lived downtown near a university. I walked everywhere. I walked to work. I walked to the store. I walked to coffee shops. I walked to most of my dates.

Sometimes I forget that.

I’ll probably never have enough money for an electric vehicle. Instead, I drive a compact car with great gas mileage. I drive it to my kid’s preschool and back, and that’s about it.

One day, I’ll probably buy a bicycle. I’ll get one with a cart, maybe a little trailer to haul things with.

It’ll keep me in shape.

I live in a quiet, forgotten neighborhood.

You might consider it a poor neighborhood. The houses are small by American standards, barely 1200 square feet. There’s no neighborhood association to boss me around.

Nobody complains about my wild yard. Nobody tells me to stuff my leaves in trash bags and leave them on the side of the street. Nobody gets upset when we hang laundry out.

I love it.

The average American household washes a staggering amount of laundry. We don’t do that around here.

We wear our clothes until we spill something on them or they start to smell. We don’t use the washer until we’ve got enough dirty clothes to fill it up. It’s not hard. It’s a habit. For a long time, I lived in apartments without washing machines. When you have to haul your clothes back and forth to a laundromat, you learn to be frugal.

It trains you.

Meat has always been expensive.

The only meat I ever ate on a weekly basis was free-range turkey. I gave that up last year. I miss it, but not that much.

I eat oatmeal for breakfast. I eat rice and beans for lunch and dinner. Once or twice a month, we do takeout.

It’s a splurge.

I don’t buy stuff.

If you don’t buy stuff, you won’t have the stuff to throw away. We produce maybe one bag of garbage a month.

We compost.

I don’t understand the American obsession with gadgets. I have a desktop. I have a laptop. I have a smartphone. When they stop working, I try to fix them. My computers last 8–10 years easy.

I don’t throw away old electronics. If it still works, I give it to someone. I’m in a buy-nothing group.

I haven’t bought a television since 2011. Actually, I didn’t buy that one either. It was a present.

It still works.

We did make one big investment this year.

We bought solar panels.

They produce almost all of the electricity we need. Before that, we paid extra to source power from windmills. We live in the south, so summers are tough. We try to keep the house around 75–78 degrees. We have a window unit in the bedroom.

I like it cool at night.

We had one kid. That’s all we could afford.

It’s all the planet can afford, too.

Where I live, we’re in a severe drought right now.

We put a bowl under the faucets to catch water. We flush every third pee. We shower every other day for a few minutes. I used to love long, hot showers. It feels irresponsible now. We’re going to replace our shower heads soon. It’s an easy way to save water.

I’m going to get a sink twice.

I’d love a composting toilet.

We’ll see.

One day I was out on a 10-mile run.

I got caught in a severe thunderstorm. A tornado siren went off. I was out on the plains. There was nowhere to hide. I had to run all the way home in the wind and rain. I thought I might die. Another time, a storm blew up while a friend and I were camping in the mountains. We thought it was going to blast us right off the cliff.

One time I was out walking in the snow. The flakes were floating down. The clouds start flickering pale blue.

Thunder washed over snow.

That’s planet earth. It will not be tamed. It will not be killed. If we’re not kinder, it will get rid of us.

We’re easy to kill.

The affluent talk about their EVs. They talk about their eco-friendly mining rigs. They talk about limitless energy. They talk about injecting sulfur compounds into the atmosphere.

They call these things “solutions.”

They’re not doing any of it for me. They’re not doing it for you. We don’t need any of this nonsense. These solutions are for them, so they don’t have to give up their precious lifestyles.

It’s so they don’t feel guilty.

They don’t want to live like us. That’s revolting to them. If you even suggest it, they get mad. They call you names. I finally understand why. They look down on us. They think they have all the answers and they should be the only ones allowed to speak.

They always will.

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