Taking a Leap with The Great Green Life


Hey everyone!

Welcome to our first blog post and a community that we would like to call The Great Green Life.

On Earth Day 2019, we start our journey as a couple that hopes to make the transition to a more sustainable and eco-friendly living. We know how sad and depressing it is to live in a world where TVs and social media feeds constantly throw at us the bad news on climate change and how we seem to be failing our planet. As millennials, it doesn’t help to know that our future is heading towards rising sea levels, food insecurity, extreme weather, species extinction and environmental conflict. We know that we have all dreamed of a peaceful and stable life, where we can own homes, raise happy children and have fulfilling careers – just like our parents.

Unfortunately, in this tumultuous world, that stable “boring” lifestyle is not a given anymore. The reason why we chose to start a community on how to make life more sustainable, was this uncertainty in how our futures looked and why we need to do our part by reducing this “climate anxiety”. We know it is easy to sit back and complain about how only governments are in-charge of big changes or why politicians need to care more, but the real transformation is already happening when we choose to make small yet impactful changes in our day-to-day lives. It is our consumption, our travel, our food and our lifestyle that gets added up (x7 billion) and affects our planet.

So on this Earth Day, we are choosing to live a less consumptive, less carbon-intensive and less toxic lifestyle instead. Come join us in our journey as a couple that has decided to go green and we hope that it inspires you to make those changes in your life as well. We welcome guest blog posts (so feel free to write to us with your own stories of green living)!

Matt wrote the following story about how we spent Earth Hour earlier this year, and how that got us thinking about living more sustainably and eventually getting the inspiration to start this community.

Spending Our First Earth Hour Together

MATT: With Earth Hour being on a Saturday this year, many ideas come to my mind about fun and interesting things we could go out and do. But being March, it meant going out involved using some kind of power (it is cold and dark out here in Canada, and we would have to drive to our destination which meant using fuel). So instead, this year we decided to stay in and play some cards (decided on UNO) by candlelight and have some Rosé.

Spending this uninterrupted time together (without phones or lights) turned out to be better than anything going out could have provided. Earth hour, as advertised is only one hour, but the time flew by and we played for much longer. Vasu jumped out to an early lead, but we ended up both winning three games. Both our competitive natures came through, but the whole experience itself was great fun. The time spent together, not worrying about what’s happening on social media or the internet was a nice break from the usual routine.

Sometimes we forget how fun just staying in and not doing anything that involves electricity or some kind of power, is sad given how much more enjoyable life can be without it. We automatically think that for something to be fun now we need to be doing something exciting or ‘like’ worthy, but we forget that the best times can be had with those around us and it doesn’t involve our phones, computers or TV. Earth Hour reminds you that the most important things are not electronic, they’re right there in front of us and one doesn’t need power or electricity to enjoy it. That’s what we’ll try to explain with this blog, that you don’t need to always be focused on what’s going on where you are or what trend is popular at the moment – life is always better when you enjoy it with people close to you. And sometimes disconnecting and spending quality time with those close to you is what often gets overlooked when it comes to changing our lifestyles.

A snapshot of our monthly electricity consumption.
Love how our electricity provider gives us an idea of what 1 kWh means. Perspective makes all the difference.

What’s Risk Perception & Ideology Got To Do With It? How One’s Worldview Influences the Response to the Pandemic & Climate Change

Source: Financial Management magazine https://www.fm-magazine.com/news/2020/jul/risk-management-lessons-from-coronavirus-pandemic.html

What is ideology but a set of beliefs or philosophies that someone holds at a point of time and is 100% shaped by our social environments – where we live, how we live, based on our politics, our families or friends, our shared and individual social norms and experiences. Although we aren’t born with it, but wow does it have an important role in shaping our present and our futures (and now our planetary pathways too)!

A big influence on how we perceive major risk issues – be it the environment/climate change, technological change, war, economic troubles and social deviances – is determined by our ideologies and how we think individuals and societal institutions should function. Risk is a big factor in what decisions we take (for the current and future) and our culture and ideology more than influences what we see as being risky.

Given that climate change is a big issue where future wellbeing is determined by current risk reduction, it becomes necessary to understand how our own behavioural biases are preventing us from making overall better (or optimal) decisions in the present. A very interesting preview for what is to come (in reacting to climate impacts) can be seen with our current response in the ongoing pandemic! This blog post is a result of a frequent discussion we have, on why people don’t respond as easily to climate or risk information and why culture and communication have a huge influence on what is seen as a social and individual priority.

Before we start talking about the past 8 months of 2020, here’s a quick summary of what is documented in academic literature as risk- and cultural- biases. Based on culture theory there are three distinctive patterns of social relationships – hierarchical (highly influenced by social norms and social structures of society), egalitarian (value strong equality and reducing inequality among people based on wealth/gender/social class etc) and individualist (support decisions best for individual, i.e. more freedom and a more self-centered view).

VASU: These cultural social relationships are the basis of what forms our ideology and how our distinctive culture can influences our views under high risk scenarios like climate change or the pandemic. Unfortunately, the influence of scientific facts and knowledge is subsequently reduced in the face of these biases and social influences. If it wasn’t the case, we would have likely solved societal problems like climate change and pandemics already!

According to cultural theory, our social relationship biases influence our priority on things like environmental risks (climate change) or even health risks (pandemic response). For instance, if you were more egalitarian in nature, you would see environment/climate change as being more important as opposed to risks posed by economic troubles. Hierarchical society is driven by following social rules and maintaining social norms – anything that deviates from this is seen as a risk. And individualist societies are more likely to perceive risks on things that restrict their personal freedoms (think America and protests against wearing masks).

Even as I write this, the tweets on my twitter timeline are telling of the polarization of the pandemic and other societal problems like climate change. Some argue for it, others against it. Some say its getting better, others say it’s getting worse. In some countries COVID numbers are rising, in other countries the numbers seem to be falling. Due to a globally connected society, I am able to access the same information as someone from around the world – allowing us to truly educate ourselves and keep informed. And information can be a direct influencer of what we believe to be a risk – but whether that information is reliable in this age of social media is a highly debatable topic. Whether it is even reliable from a government can be highly contested – as seen in the early days of the pandemic and on how certain governments handled COVID disclosures. As one study puts it, even in straightforward global issues like climate change (which has full scientific agreement),there is still ongoing debate on whether it is urgent and if any changes need to be made (even as we lose valuable time) because cultural norms tend to encourage short-term thinking and reinforce our biases.

This brings me to what we hear around us and how we process this information to fit within our worldview – what are our friends, family, colleagues, politicians, policymakers etc. actually saying and how does it reinforce our idea of a response in the face of a societal threat? As humans we constantly look to reinforce our beliefs and our way of life – we like the status quo and nobody likes having their world views questioned or critiqued. This is known as confirmation bias and is documented in everything we do! We want to reinforce what we believe in – same goes with the pandemic and how we perceive it, with a little help from friends/family/peers of course!

Here’s why social circles matter and based on your social relationship biases (hierarchical/egalitarian/individualism) one tends to filter the information in a manner that fits within ones worldview – influencing whether we perceive the pandemic as a threat or not! Sadly, climate change is a threat multiplier and social problems seen in this pandemic (job losses, housing instability, food insecurity, mental health issues etc) are only going to get worse with more climate disasters – making our confirmation bias even more likely to kick in and influence our reaction and our social situation (better or worse).

VASU & MATT: An evident example of this in our experiences has been when it comes to social gatherings. In Canada (where we live), indoor social gatherings are highly discouraged because they are a major cause of COVID spread – with limited ICUs and extended strain on healthcare workers – there is a social stigma on those that go ahead with social gatherings, especially during a lockdown. It is socially bad to meet others in a setting that will enable a greater spread (or is inconsistent behaviour to the rules) – and because it is socially unacceptable, people are less likely to do it. In fact it encourages a sense of social repercussion for people that do take these actions, like the recent hypocritical case of Ontario Finance Minister who was away on international vacation as the provincial lockdown that started in December (people to stay home and avoid social gatherings or travel). This caused a public outrage and has led people to demand his resignation – a consequence of how social pressures can also evaluate leadership in times of crisis. But social pressure also depends on what sort of issue is taken seriously and prioritized by a society – economic recovery? those affected? the environment? social norms? Only time will tell what is truly important to a society, but in the meantime we end up losing lives as collateral in a totally preventable crisis.

In India (where my family lives), social gatherings have always been a big part of society (even more so than other parts of the world). Even in a pandemic, social gatherings like weddings and family get-togethers have continued, although at a limited capacity than before. But the social stigma doesn’t exist for those that hold these events, rather for those that do not attend them. As you can see, each place has a different kind of risk perception for the same problem and it is most definitely influenced by the social pressures and social relationships among people. Now you can understand how hard it is to convince people that climate change is an important (social, financial, physical and mental) risk -there is no single global agreement or definition for risk (even as we live through a global pandemic)!

MATT: If we were to look at these global events – whether it be pandemic or climate change – based on solely on what information they provided (not always through a social lens) and reacted to them accordingly, the solutions would be straightforward. New Zealand has been an interesting example of controlling the COVID spread based on its quick and efficient response, evolving guidelines based on scientific expert advice, clear leadership and effective rule following by its citizens. Although it is a small nation, we can all learn a lot when it comes to responding to such crisis – better knowing our cultural biases, (re-)evaluating our risk perceptions and understanding how our social spheres influence our reactions to threats we perceive (which might not always be a good thing).

Leading by example in the pandemic situation is seen by those that are well informed (based on scientific information and not social media), exemplify consistent leadership behaviour (evolving with the situation and not giving in to traditional management approaches/social pressures – a good example is companies that have changed back to working from home for employees after seeing a second wave), concern for others as opposed self concern (not meeting as many people that you usually would/keeping a closed bubble/taking precautions with vulnerable people).

Nobody likes making sacrifices (after all it wouldn’t be called a sacrifice if we did like it) – but that is what real leadership and response to rational information is all about. It is making decisions that might not be popular or might go against the status quo – for the greater good (which is obviously a very subjective thing based on where you live). Fortunately, in Canada the greater good is seen as the state of the health, rather than the economy (and we are fortunate to have this frame of mind) – however, this is also a short-term problem that has a visible impact from political decisions. But when it comes to climate change, these decisions have to be made again (and may not have a visible present day impact) and sometimes the economy ends up winning. If we were in fact a leader, it would mean making sacrifices in the present (transitioning away from fossil fuel industries) to allow for wellbeing in the future (a safer environment for future generations): A lesson from the pandemic as we live it – because as nice as it would be to meet our friends and family across the world (short-term thinking), it doesn’t mean that we should (long-term thinking) because it might mean exposing them to the virus. To us, this is what the greater good is all about!

VASU & MATT: As more climate impacts occur – some of which may come in the form of new and deadlier pandemics – our social and individual resilience might try to get us back to our old normal, but sometimes we need to go beyond normal to really tackle the problem in a way that prevents it from occurring again. Risk perception and risk taking is good in certain contexts (career/social situations etc.), but the real (bad) risk happens when we as a society cannot come together to address a future where our livelihoods, our societal structures and our sense of climate safety are gravely threatened just because we did not listen to the warning signs and gave in to our biases.

Here’s a great video that explains (in animation) why facts don’t work and why ideologies need changing:

What Happens When Social Inequality, Pandemics and Climate Change Collide?


Vasu’s Note: This post is a different one than our usual ones (that are more research based/data linked/have recommendations about carbon footprints). I wrote this op-ed back in 2015 (and didn’t end up sharing) until today. I have added a few updates regarding the ongoing social unrest and pandemic situation around the world, but most of it has stayed the same. Surprisingly, I didn’t think something I wrote back in 2015 would hold five years later.


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness”

Remember Charles Dickens’ famous book, ‘The Tale of Two Cities’? It opens with these lines describing the turbulent times of the French Revolution. The story is that of the common citizens of London and Paris, who lived nasty, brutish and short lives. The elite on the other hand, had a powerful influence on the way society functioned. What has changed since the 1859 French Revolution? Not much, the poorest sections in our society are deprived, demoralized and powerless whereas the richest 1% of the world owns nearly half the global wealth. 

Although it might not be the 19st century anymore, issues of social injustice like inequality and poverty very much exist in 2015. We now live in an age where people have access to cellphones but not safe drinking water. How did this happen? With too many people and too few resources, basic necessities like safe drinking water become less accessible than buying a cellphone. When fundamental human rights such as safe drinking water become expensive and insufficient, one can see that humanity’s future stands on uncertain grounds.

This race to survive is evident in Mumbai’s traffic. A few years ago, this was only obvious during peak traffic hours. When cars got stuck in traffic lanes that extended for miles during rush hour. However, now even in the non-peak hours, there’s always a car or twelve trying to cut through the lights and ends up causing a traffic jam. In countries like India where there is additional enforcement of traffic rules by a traffic policeman, there’s a complete disregard for rules due to an absence of the fear of getting caught. In case of a problem, one can easily hide in the crowd. And it is this crowd that keeps growing by the second. This situation is seen in most developing countries that have poorly planned roads and a growing middle class. With an increasing disposable income, buying cars just becomes that much easier. And it’s no secret that more cars equals bigger traffic jams and greater air pollution. In cities like Mumbai or Jakarta, there always seems to be a rush to get somewhere or past the next light before someone else does.

As human population starts growing bigger, the world starts getting smaller. With extreme disparity everywhere, slums and high-rise condos co-exist in almost all cities. Unfortunately, global problems like climate change just end up amplifying this disparity, which in turn expose the social fault lines of societies. The elites of the world always have been in a better position to deal with any crisis, whether natural or man-made. The poor, however, are left vulnerable and expected to survive in the most brutal conditions possible. When the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, most countries sent in missions to help with recovery and relief. But even before this earthquake struck, geologists had warned about the risk for decades. These warnings had not prompted any planning for disasters. There was neither a contingency plan nor enough resources for proper planning. With the official death toll at 7000 and rising, less structural damage could have reduced the number of deaths. When perceived risk is high, society is very much capable of taking measures to reduce such damages. In July 1993 when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the coast of northern Japan, it reportedly killed only 36 people and left much less structural damage than the Nepal earthquake. For a developed country like Japan, the risk of earthquakes has always been high but the damage caused has been controlled with proper planning. Similarly, we have missed the mark on pandemic preparedness (either through stockpiling) or the social safety nets (high unemployment, lack of savings and healthcare options) we are unable to provide to those affected the most.

When you look at a transboundary problem like climate change, its effects seem too big to fathom as well. For a person living in resource-rich countries like Canada, problems of drought in Africa sound too foreign to care about. Yet one notices that the weather around us is changing. It might be something as small as an unusual bug infestation affecting Ottawa to something as big as polar vortexes affecting all of North America. One might not understand issues that affect developing countries; such as lack of clean water, malnutrition or even natural disasters, but what one does understand is that the weather around us is becoming more severe and uncertain. 

The crux of the matter is that we rely too much on free market economics and let it shape the inequalities of the world. In the game of globalization and free trade, there have always been winners and losers. Traditional economics looks at how individuals or even nations can maximize their own benefit rather than the benefit to society. Based on this assumption we have built entire market systems and even countries that reward this behaviour. Markets don’t take into account the gains to nature – only the gains to consumers! ‘Externalities’ such as drinking water shortages or species extinction are almost never counted. Most traditional economic models assume that resources are non-exhaustive and assume having a safe natural environment as being a given. In all of human history, there has never been a market for nature and its conservation, just for more consumerism. And more importantly, we as a society seem to have failed in maximizing our utility. Not only is there greater economic disparity and issues of social injustice in the present, but we have also alienated the environment to the extent that freak weather patterns are now becoming the norm. 

With increasing environmental problems and no constraint on population growth, the future looks bleak. Although studies have shown that we have the willingness to save our planet, we lack the urgency to do so. And in the age of information, it is hard not to become egotistical. With the amount of news that is now instantly available, hearing about people dying in Malawi, South Africa due to floods seems distant and un-relatable. Has the worth of a human life diminished or are we just blocking out emotions in order to deal with the constant bad news that comes our way? This is no different from the current stream of bad news related to ever-increasing COVID19 cases that we just don’t want to see anymore.

Empathy, being the cornerstone of human behavior is what makes us understand other people’s sufferings. However, in recent years, studies have shown that empathy levels are decreasing and narcissism is on the rise; the Millennials have now become ‘Generation Me.’ With the constant stream of bad news from various newspapers and news channels, we have developed a defence mechanism. The lower empathy levels and constant bad news seems to have pushed thoughts of gloom and doom at the back of our minds, leaving us more apathetic than before. 

With increasing disparity it seems impossible to care about what happens in a far away country; especially where we have nothing in common with the people, the culture or the environment they live in. The most important solution to global problems like climate change, social injustice or even a pandemic (and keeping in mind that our actions have consequences for others) lies in being empathetic and acting on it. This begs the question, how do you empathize with someone you seem to have nothing in common with?

The answer is by connecting individuals and families. If your friend is going through troubled times, you do everything you can to help them. As John Steinbeck put it, “It means very little to know that a million people are starving unless you know one person who is starving.” And I am not talking about volun-tourism or posting about it on social media, but empowerment through education and engagement. The West has the money and knowledge whereas the East has the need and manpower to convert these ideas into actions. With the level of globalization and technological advances, connecting with someone on the other side of the world is just a Skype (or Zoom) call away. 

The youth around the world are the future and there has never been a better time to identify with someone from a different culture or country. An empathetic network needs to be established between the Global North and South as well as between those that are privileged and those that are not. By creating a connection around issues of the environment and global warming, we can create an equitable global community (or as close to one as possible)- that will also allows us to address other related issues like global health or systemic racism. Having such a network where a privileged youth can connect with someone who isn’t privileged would help establish an empathetic connection based on the common issues affecting our planet – and that in itself would be an important step towards a sustainable future. 

Much like the COVID-19 pandemic, if future risk around climate change and global warming is left unaddressed, problems like rising sea levels and food shortages (among many other climate impacts) will have a domino effect into social and economic issues of immigration, race, religion, terrorism, poverty, economic markets, businesses practices and standards of living around the world. It is our job as citizens to ensure that the political will of our country is addressing these issues in the most just and equitable way possible. Although governments will continue to behave in typical ways that are in-tune with archaic politics or pleasing the elites, it can be through individual stories (the likes of Greta Thunberg or George Floyd) that we are able to create a global social movement which ultimately changes voter priorities and makes elected officials care about distant (and social equity-linked) issues like climate change. Caring is an important act in our journey towards action, and if we can make a difference by creating empathy through conversations with those around us, we are able to change the world in our own little way. These are important times that we live in, where our future (and our humanity) lies in our decisions and our conversations in the present.

Fight, Flight or Maybe Just Better Preparedness? Thoughts on COVID-19 and Climate Change

MATT & VASU: We are writing a blog post after what seems like a decade – well, six months to be more precise (last post on October 2019)! Ever since our last post, we’ve gotten married in India (a blog post for another time), trying to plan a Canadian reception, getting through busy days at work and school as well as dealing with the biggest worldwide issues in 2020 – like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although we usually talk about our experiences with changing our carbon footprint, this blog post is a bit more urgent and relevant to what’s going on around the world today. As most of you know, COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic by the WHO since March 11, 2020 – just 11 days ago! Feels like a lifetime ago because so much has happened since then – countries closing their borders, international travel winding down, economies are showing volatility and might be heading towards a global recession, food shortages are being caused due to people’s hoarding mentality and things like toilet paper/hand sanitizers are running out.

In order to address the fear that COVID-19 will infect everyone and at the same time, it feels like the world is gearing towards a shift in day-to-day life. Suddenly we have social distancing in place (upside: an increase in contact with friends and family through social media/skype etc), offices are making employees work from home (upside: cutting down carbon dioxide emissions from daily commuting) and people want to support communities more (upside: supporting more local business in innovative ways).

All the business-as-usual (at work, communities and even at home) has suddenly stopped and we think a lot more people are faced with the idea of sudden change (including us!). Which is why it made us reflect on what exactly was “business-as-usual” for us – why commute when you can work remotely? Why travel when you can stay at home and enjoy a nice evening together? Why go to different places unnecessarily (including multiple trips to the grocery store or for non-essential things) when you can plan and make one trip? It’s because of COVID-19 that we’ve had to put a break on our “life-as-usual” and think about what was really necessary and what was being done to fit the social norm/because it had no consequences – a lesson we will continue into life after COVID-19 as well (especially given that climate impacts are around the corner!)

But the downside of this global pandemic has been the sudden fight and flight response among people (who probably never anticipated experiencing such sudden change in their lives). Since both of us have a risk averse nature, we always thought about different scenarios (both good and bad ones), especially given climate impacts and of where and how our lives would turn out in the future. For instance, would we want to live in a place that could be experiencing greater flooding/wildfires/heatwaves in the future? The answer is no and our life-decisions have always been based on such basic risk/climate information. But sadly, not everyone thinks in these terms because decision-making is more geared towards the short-term. Yet the irony is that all global phenomenas like climate change or pandemics, are impacted by short-term decisions (things we can change now) having long-term consequences (how bad the future will turn out).

Taking COVID-19 as an example, we see more countries encouraging social distancing (staying at home to avoid unnecessary spread), yet it becomes hard to do if there is no immediate impact, you can’t see the benefits right away or it has an economic loss of some sorts – the best example for a short-term decision with a long-term impact! And yet, this is hard for people to implement in their daily lives because we are all part of some social/work/traditional routine. We see this in places which are used to being social/community-oriented as well as how it affects our present or near-future plans. One of the reasons why we are not prepared to change with the times so quickly, is the lack of willingness to anticipate risk events and change itself.

Climate change and COVID-19 definitely have things in common where global change is coming, whether or not we like it. So a good way to deal with massive societal change (in good times and bad) – is to see how we can prepare for it in advance. In climate change studies (where I work) as well as risk mitigation (where Matt works), we use scenario analysis to see how we will react to different situations (the good, the bad, and the ugly).

Similarly, if we are going to get through this with our heads on our shoulders (without fighting with each other or escaping into denial), we need to prepare like never before. A good first step is having a purposeful mental health strategy that allows one to stay up to date with information (reading the news once a day or taking an hour to speak about it with friends and family everyday), but in a way that doesn’t create more panic and allows us to keep up with the evolving nature of the pandemic. It’s highly necessary that we keep functioning in a way that keeps our immunity high in such times of unexpected and ongoing stresses.

So self-care is important and take time to do something for yourself every day – whether it is watching a feel-good movie, sports highlights of your favourite teams, making good meals at home, reading a good book, partaking in a old or new hobby, going for a walk (we’ve been doing this everyday and it really helps being out in nature – but make sure to keep distance with others out as well) and talking to your loved ones.

When talking with your friends and family, its important to not overwhelm anyone – whether it is “why are you freaking out vs. why aren’t you freaking out” types of conversations. Since you will react to the stress of a pandemic in your own way (some might overreact whereas others might under-react based on their personalities), it is important to reassure yourself that balance is the key and that you can learn from each other. Those that are overreacting (e.g. it is the end of the world) should learn to take a step back and see that this will end eventually (once a vaccine is out or we are able to flatten the curve). Those that are under-reacting (e.g. going about their lives with no significant changes) should realize that this is an important situation where their actions and decisions impact not only themselves but others that are more vulnerable (or that depend on them) as well. Thinking and more importantly talking about different scenarios (such as self-isolation, community spread, changing resource-use and affecting future plans) will help both types of people get through this in a helpful way.

Applying it our lives: we see our own future plans changing due to COVD-19 impacts, but right now the best course of action is to be proactive in planning how that change will come about as well as taking new/sudden changes day-by-day (so as to not overwhelm our mental health).

In terms of the short-term planning (now to 6 months): if one of us gets sick, how do we live in the same house? Do we have enough cleaning supplies to make sure we don’t spread it further? If we don’t have access to food/are too sick to cook, do we have enough stock to get through for a few days? Do we have enough medicines/energy drinks etc. to get us through a few weeks? Are we making sure to wash our hands after coming home/going out? Do we have enough stock of fruits and veggies to eat healthy? How are we able to maintain an exercise routine at home?

In terms of the mid-term planning (6 months to 1 year): What insurance options are there and what should we be getting for things like our wedding reception/planned vacations etc.? How often should we be keeping in touch with our families if we can’t seem them over the next few months to a year? Are we taking care of our health and immunity through good eating and exercise routines?

Long-term planning (1 year and over): Are we saving enough to get us through things like a recession or big economic losses? What kind of decisions to make around life-changing milestones such as having kids/getting pets/where to live? If this situation happens again (a high probability, given that melting arctic is releasing old and new viruses), how should we be prepared for it?

You should think about making lists like these so that you are better prepared (but keep in mind the context of where you live and your current lifestyles). If you are able to purposefully plan for different scenarios, it will not only ease your mind, but also give you a plan of action when it comes to unexpected yet long-term global changes like an ongoing pandemic or climate impacts in our futures.

To end and summarize our suggestions, here’s a great video by Astronaut Chris Hadfield on a guide to self-isolation:

Fast Fashion or Faux Fashion? Our Take on Clothes, Shopping and Buying Secondhand

Last summer while visiting New York City, we saw 2018 The Met Gala display! The Met Gala is known as the “Superbowl of the Fashion Industry”.

Imagine This: The latest line of amazing new colours, trendy new styles and ridiculously cheap deals! Malls are lined with the latest sales (fall, spring, summer and whichever holiday falls in between) where all the previous season’s inventory needs to be sold or gotten rid off before the shop gets flooded with new clothes and shoppers wanting to buy a new outfit or two. We’ve all been there – and it feels great to go into a clothes store, full of excited and smiling people who are only too happy to offer you colourful new things (who doesn’t love retail therapy?).

VASU: As much as I love shopping and buying new things, what we don’t realize is the huge amount of waste and carbon footprint the fashion industry has! One aspect of being in a highly connected and globalized world is that it has led to a greater level of consumerism than ever before!

Although it has brought many benefits, it has also led to the era of fast fashion (or the rapid production of new clothes in response to the latest fashion trends and fulfilling consumer demand). But remember, this is Catch-22 problem at its best – the clothes get created because we buy them, and the more they create, the more the demand for new things rises (because who doesn’t love new things)!

But it is in this loop where we don’t realize how much it affects our environment and the climate. For example:

  1. The fashion industry alone produces 5% of the total global emissions. Just one industry!
  2. Textile production is one of the most polluting industries (1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 every year – that is more than the combined emissions of international flights and maritime shipping!). For those of you interested in the carbon emissions from flights, check out our earlier blog post – https://thegreatgreenlife.com/2019/06/21/being-an-international-tourist-vs-tourist-in-our-own-neighbourhood-our-take-on-vacation-travel/
  3. More than 60% of the textile produced in the world happens in China and India (parts of which rely on coal-powered electricity, and only increase the carbon footprint of the textile). This doesn’t mean we stop buying clothes coming from these countries, but rather understand that it takes more energy to make and probably harms the local environment there in terms of air pollution. So think twice before you throw a dress or shirt away!
  4. Polyester or the synthetic material (especially those in your athletics or wrinkle-free clothes) can be quite bad. According to this scientific article: “A single polyester t-shirt has emissions of 5.5 kg CO2e, compared with 2.1 kg CO2e for one made from cotton. However cotton is a thirsty crop and its production has greater impacts on land and water.” So remember to pick cotton but use it for longer!
  5. It is estimated that almost 60% of clothes made in a year get sent to the landfill or incineration, due to limited recycling or reusing options. That is one garbage truck per second to a landfill!

However, not all is despair! There are some new and exciting initiatives coming out:

  1. In 1993, an outdoor clothing company, Patagonia, made polyester fleece jackets from recycled plastic bottles.
  2. Approximately 75% of Nike’s products claim to use now contain recycled plastic products. A big part of this is their Football Kits – where some jerseys are set to contain 12 to 18 recycled plastic bottles!
  3. Some big name stores like H&M, North Face and even Levi’s takes your old clothes to help them get recycled. However, be careful of doing this as it is known to cause more harm than good! For example, less than 13% of the clothes you recycle actually get turned into new clothes or products. Most of them just end up in landfills or get incinerated.

It is interesting to look at all of this and say that things are moving along and awareness is growing! However, the problem of carbon footprint as well as water use and waste, which comes from new clothes and more shopping will never reduce if one just keeps buying new clothes every few weeks.

Another way to make sure these big-brand/fast-fashion companies are accountable is to ensure that they know what consumers want – more energy and water efficient production methods, better recycling, better employment practices in the industry and the use of long-lasting and sustainable fabrics for a circular economy. Talk about it with friends and family, and make sure to think about the impact of a sale or going on a shopping spree next time.

MATT: Nowadays, more people are also starting to look at secondhand clothes or thrift stores for reducing their environmental footprint. A few years ago, I wasn’t a huge fan of shopping for second hand items, specifically for used clothes. I didn’t really think that thrift shops ever really had anything good and thought: Why would someone give it away if it was so good?

Thrift shopping for clothes isn’t about going out every single time and finding something amazing. There are definitely times where you go and don’t find anything in comparison to the times when you do find that one awesome thing.

In Canada, we have a thrift store called Value Village, where Vasu and I have been countless times. Many times it takes sorting through a lot to find something one likes and as Vasu says, “The treasure hunt is exciting!” Like a couple years ago when we were shopping for Halloween costume accessories, I found a Hugo Boss blazer – yep a real Boss for just $15.

There are many such good quality clothes that are barely used, but end up making it to the thrift store.

Another thing I have found through shopping secondhand is that older clothes were of way better quality than what is being made now. When you go to big places like H&M, the styles might be trendy, but they don’t last at all. You can wear it maybe for a year and then it will stretch and wear.

With secondhand clothes, they usually last way longer and seem to hold up even after much use. Even though most people say this now, but the quality just isn’t the same anymore. Here’s a link to an article that describes how to spot bad quality clothes: 10 signs that your clothing is actually low quality.

The rise of consumerism in fashion has to do with our need to always be on trend. However, it seems that older 90s styles are making a comeback nowadays. And with a variety of styles and fashion eras offered at a thrift store, you can even make your own style, get what you like and rock it! We can reduce how much we use by reusing perfectly good clothes that someone else has handed off.

Here’s a cool yet used pair of shorts that I found in the local thrift store in the summer. There’s definitely been a rise in the number of trendy looking and sophisticated thrift or secondhand stores in Canada over the last few years!

An interesting thing we’ve noticed lately is that most people (especially in Millenials and Gen-Z) like to wear similar (and fast-fashion) styles – but we forget that sometimes wearing comfortable clothes and finding your own style doesn’t always have to be what’s in at the moment.

All this isn’t to say that if you find that one “must-have” piece of clothing that you should avoid it, but rather that consumerism is telling us we always need new and cool things. One trick to know what you really want (ask yourself if you want it vs. need it), take your time (take a day or two to think about it, and come back if you really want it) and limit how many clothes you buy (keeping it down to a handful a year – and buying secondhand is even better!).

P.S. If you’re wondering why we haven’t written a blog post in sooo long, it’s because life suddenly got busy for both of us. A few things happened since we last wrote to you: Matt got a new job and switched careers, I started my PhD, and a month ago my grandma underwent some major health issues (being the amazingly strong woman – she is on her way to recovery now!) so it felt like taking a break was much needed.

But knowing that life is only going to get busier, we hope to keep writing as and when we get time. Our goal right now is once a month 🙂 but please feel free to reach out and let us know if you want to read more! It will only serve to motivate us to keep going.

Is Having A Highly Sensitive Personality (HSP) the Common Link for People That Have A High Concern for Climate Change?

Self-awareness and learning is one step towards figuring out the solutions to climate change. We saw this very insightful question while on a nature hike.

VASU: So this blog post is a bit different than our usual ones – where Matt and I share stories from our everyday life and connect it to climate change and carbon footprints.

Today’s blog is me sharing some thoughts and hopefully a creative insight that has been on my mind for a while now. It all started last year with a conversation among friends, who like me, are studying environmental studies and doing research linked to various aspects of climate change.

Our individual research looks into vastly different things like finance, water and even social change – yet what links us is our passion to see the world change for the better. What’s more interesting is that all of us come from different parts of the world and have vastly different upbringings. Yet we share this common passion for the environment so strongly that it made me wonder: what is the common link?

For me, it’s been a question at the back of my mind ever since we had the conversation. However, it was only in the last few weeks, when life happened and all well-laid plans of starting a PhD in the fall (for those of you who don’t know me, academia is my dream career!) seemed to be on the brink of falling apart, that I had an ‘aha’ moment.

The reason why we haven’t posted very often the last month has been because of a bunch of reasons – one being career shifts (for both of us) and also figuring out immigration issues. Dealing with multiple stresses really doesn’t help when the world itself seems to be going in the wrong direction (see – Arctic having wildfires and heatwaves or countries moving away from democracy or even a potential global food crisis caused by climate change).

For most people it seems like the world is moving forward, but for me, in times of higher stress, it seems especially overwhelming. It was over the last few days that I happened to come across a timely article in Psychology Today about Highly Sensitive People (HSP). HSP is a personality trait highlighted by psychologist Dr. Elaine Aron in the mid-90s.

According to Aron, “Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) are individuals with genetic characteristics that makes them deeply attuned and sensitive to their environments and relationships. They have high levels of empathy and emotional responsiveness – because their nervous system is wired slightly differently and is more prone to sensory information.  All this attunement and processing means they are also often easily overstimulated. Given this high stimulation, HSPs also often display great creativity, insight, passion and caring for others” She mentions that about 20% of the population possesses this trait and if you are curious, you can self-evaluate via the HSP Scale.

This peaked my curiosity as I was intrigued by the description – it helped explain what I’ve always known about myself but unable to put into words. I am a person that cares a lot, even about things that do not affect me directly – sometimes this is a good thing as it creates more empathy and makes one concerned about abstract things like the environment or climate change, whereas other times (like over the past few weeks) it can be overwhelming.

My researcher mindset immediately pushed me to critically evaluate the concept from the point of science and what academic studies say on the topic. So here’s a small summary of what I found on HSP research studies:

  1. Changes in environmental conditions can cause a shift in our gene structure even in short generation times – which means climate change will have a direct impact in how future generations adapt and more importantly how they react psychologically to it.
  2. Apart from humans, animal studies show that approximately 100 other species (like fruit flies, monkeys and even certain fishes among others) have this minority trait. This is interesting as it shows that there is no ideal species type, but rather versions that can allow one species to survive various environmental dangers or changes. This is super important, if we are talking about Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest and the evolution of species – which means that personality traits in humans might actually play a role when it comes to climate change adaptation!
  3. Being HSP is only an advantage if its in the minority – for example, if a particular patch of grass is especially nutritious, and if all cows go there to eat it – there is no value in it. Aron gives the example of a traffic jam and if only a few people know the shortcuts, it serves the situation better as traffic might reduce. But if everyone goes through those short cuts, then it is no longer of any value and creates another traffic jam.
  4. Another study looking at this trait in Rhesus monkeys show that those monkeys that were paired with more skilled mothers vs. ordinary mothers were raised with huge advantages. This study done by Soumi (2011), showed that those raised by skilled mothers were found to have better resilience to stress and in fact became leaders of their social group. This is amazing news for HSPs – as it means their high responsiveness can be used to guide others when it comes to stressful times like those posed by climate change.
  5. According to Aron, HSPs exhibit four very interesting traits, which is seen under the acronym of DOES:
Walking home yesterday, I spotted this weird but cool bug on a tree bark. Notice how well it camouflages with the bark. I couldn’t help but notice it 🙂
A more obvious view of the bug: seeing it sideways to the bark.

Now that you know what being an HSPs means, it is important to remember that genes are not destiny, but rather a predisposition at the most. That is why, if you are an HSP, I suggest using your high responsiveness, empathy and creativity to your advantage and for the good of others (especially when it comes to climate change).

Listening to an AOM podcast of Prof. John Kounios, it seems that for creativity and insights to kick-in, there is also a need for safe space. Mood is the single most powerful factor when it comes to inspiring powerful insights. It is much like thinking on a full stomach, rather than an empty one. This is why if you are not an HSP, then you are even more integral to creating the ‘safe’ space (much like that skilled mother monkey) that is needed to allow creative minds to come up with innovative solutions related to climate change. For me, in times of stress, it means surrounding myself with support systems that not only understand my personality (part of which also means becoming more self-aware), but in doing so, allow me to take chances with crazy ideas that might just be insightful.

Although I think mental health is top priority, sometimes a safe space can also mean physical – a place to escape the noise and reorganize thoughts to figure out how to get back to being balanced. Walking or taking nature hikes is a great way to cut overstimulation that life can throw at you from time to time.

Being in a safe space (mentally and also physically) has allowed us to share personal stories that could inspire others to look at sensitivity a bit differently. Whether it is about the environment, the people around you and also in terms of climate change – sensitivity is a trait that should be treasured rather than dismissed. Because noticing every little change (including hotter days, more frequent extreme weather, more floods, and a less rich biodiversity) can matter if we are to address our carbon footprints and climate adaptation in time.

Summer of Heat Waves: A New Scary Normal?

A tourist cools down at a fountain on a hot summer day in downtown Rome.
Source: https://www.climatecentral.org/news/half-world-deadly-heat-waves-2100-21554

MATT & VASU: Have you noticed when climate change deniers talk about global warming, especially when its really really cold out and somehow that means it doesn’t exist?

Well it’s days like today that kind of tend to prove them absolutely wrong about how hot the planet is getting with every ounce of carbon in the atmosphere. And it’s about to get much worse if we don’t stop our carbon emissions or cut our carbon footprints immediately!

We are currently sitting in Waterloo, Ontario and today’s temperature forecast high is a whooping 44 degrees Celsius (that’s 111 F for folks in the US)! This is not only happening here, but around the world summer records are being broken by “unusually hot weather” and heat waves spanning for days on end.

Is this normal? The answer is NO! and please don’t say “it’s the summer – there are going to be days when it is hot”, because normalizing unusually hot days is not going to make the problem of climate change just disappear. In fact, if anything, it’s going to make us forget that this time around we are the ones responsible for causing major shifts in our planet’s normally stable climate.

MATT: I still remember the good old days when I spent my summers going to the park and on the way back home you could see the mirage on the road because of the heat. There were always one or two days of the year where it was just too unbearable to be outside, days where it was necessary to stay indoors with the AC on. These were the days, even as a kid, when adventure could wait for another day because it was just too hot outside!

Those days now seem so long ago, with extreme heat lasting for weeks nowadays. Currently we have been experiencing a week straight of extreme heat and humidity. It’s funny because it doesn’t seem like it’s been as bad this year as last year, yet when I looked it up it’s actually been worse so far this year. We always hear about how every year is the hottest on record and it really does seem to be true.

Screenshot of 2018’s hottest temperature around Ontario, Canada.
Screenshot of today’s (July 20, 2019) temperatures across Ontario, Canada.

Last year’s extreme heat may not have been as hot, but it was just longer. It seemed like the heat was just continual, it went on for days and days with no relief – imagine what it must be like for countries near the equator! It is ironic how human memory just forgets these things and adapts to the short term, yet it now seems more important than ever to remember and plan for it.

This year we decided to plan for it – and that is why we purchased a portable air conditioner in the spring. Which now it turns out, was not only a smart purchase, but a necessary one! We don’t use it super frequently, just when we really need it and so far its really come in handy. Last year we would have to go out somewhere that had AC in order to avoid all the heat, but that’s not always a viable solution. You have to sleep at home and you cant always be going out and spending money at places because it’s got AC. I’ve noticed a lot of people in our building have purchased them over the past year too – it seems like other people are also trying to beat the heat in their own homes.

VASU: Yes, heat waves are never a good thing. If you think about it, human body is not geared to adapt to extreme heat. I mean sure, we may have evolutionarily evolved to have darker skin when exposed to greater sunlight, even developed more sweat glands to adapt to high heat or started to change our metabolism if we lose too many electrolytes. But this evolutionary adaptation took hundreds if not thousands of years to reach. Looking at how the last 6 years have been the hottest on the record – and across the planet – do we realize how unbearable it is going to be living with extremely hot summers?

Sometimes when I am working from home in the summers – even here in Waterloo (where we do not have central AC and mostly use a standing fan) – I find that on days when the heat index goes to that uncomfortable temperature range (see chart below), I not only stop being productive, but also find it hard to stay calm/relaxed. That uncomfortable humidity combined with high temperatures makes my body physiologically react to it – with eyes starting to water or getting a headache, and making it impossible to function as myself until the AC is on. But as soon as the room is cooled, I can instantly feel the change in the body’s reaction to having this cooler or “safer” temperature.

Thermal discomfort using temperature and relative humidity described in a paper on heat disasters from climate change (Source: https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab0bb9/meta)

This article in the Atlantic talks about the dangers of extreme heat causing damage to internal vital organs like kidneys or the brain and even increasing risk of heart failure. This risk is even higher if you are older or younger and cannot actively take care of yourself. It is no wonder that in times like these, there are several deaths in places that have no AC or cannot remember to take care of themselves (senior citizens or babies).

Like the article says, “Heat waves like this one—multi-day episodes during which temperatures barely budge overnight—can be especially deadly, because people without air conditioning at home can’t open their windows and cool off while they sleep.” This heat disaster gets even worse if you are living in a city surrounded by concrete or buildings that are more likely to trap the heat and create an urban heat island effect.

MATT: When I think about the hottest days I have experienced, I remember being in India in the summer of 2017. On our trip to see the Taj Mahal in the month of May, temperatures would reach the 40’s by late morning. When we came back to Mumbai, it was still in the lower 30’s, but with the humidity it felt incredibly hot. I remember thinking how can people adapt to this heat, let alone stay outdoors for longer periods of time.

Hot summers and the month of May are usually the low points in tourism to places like the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. On our trip to see it, it reached 40 degrees by 10:00am that morning and we had to quickly finish our visit to escape indoors.

I always hear Vasu tell me, “it wasn’t always like this”, and that it used to still be hot, but never this hot. It’s the same thing here in Canada now – it would always get hot in the summer, but never this hot and never for such long periods of time. We have normalized this type of extreme weather and we have learned to adapt to it because we have to.

MATT & VASU: We buy AC units, we stay indoors to avoid the heat, and eventually move on with our lives because we have to. But there’s still something we need to remember: this isn’t normal! It has not always been like this. Hotter summers are a very noticeable change and even just in our own lifetime, with many more decades to go. All of us need to recognize this and make the necessary carbon footprint changes so our earth doesn’t become inhospitable and things improve for the better.

To end with, here’s an interesting read on how to cope with heat waves from The Conversation – https://theconversation.com/coping-with-heat-waves-5-essential-reads-99495

If you would like more suggestions or tips on what we do, please comment or message us. We would love to hear from you and do a follow up to this article, as we know unfortunately that summers of heatwaves are here to stay.

Being An International Tourist vs. Tourist In Our Own Neighbourhood: Our Take on Vacation Travel

MATT: That prefect shot for Instagram or a YouTube video in a cool new country, seems to be what everyone is going for right now. Every week there is a new “must go-to” place where everyone flocks to so that they can get those amazing photos.

MATT & VASU: And don’t get us wrong, we have our share of wanderlust to explore new places and things, but keeping this blog going means we are now taking a hard look at ourselves and our habits to see what is not good for our planet. For both of us, traveling has meant wonderful personal and relationship growth, learning different perspectives, meeting new people, indulging in amazing food, experiencing new cultures and getting a better understanding of the world.

MATT: But now more than ever, I think people are getting too caught up with seeing what others are doing – and they want to do that same thing, or something better, more adventurous or definitely more “instagramable”. Travelling and going to new places is always fun and it helps to create great memories, but people forget the impact that they are having on the environment with all that travel. Travelling all the way across the world has never been more easy – you can book a flight from where you are to the furthest countries in the world, without having to even leave your living room. We see people going to cool places and think, “wow that looks amazing!!”. With globalization and countries encouraging tourism, it is now super simple now to go and do that exact same thing with the click of a button. People forget all the exhaust (pun intended) of your carbon footprint, your wallet and your energy, that goes into travel because it’s been made so easy for us to book.

While researching for this blog, I googled the number of daily flights and found this crazy image (featured below). Flights have only been increasing and this is not a good thing because airplanes are a huge contributor to CO2 emissions. In 2017, there was an average of over 9700 planes carrying over 1.2 million people in the air at any given time. It seems like a high number and it is! I’ve included this screenshot of North America at 5:30pm on a Thursday. More people are taking more flights, more often and to more places than ever before! Our interconnectedness is a good thing, but we have to remember that that planes are running on fuel, which is finite and which also causes a lot of emissions in a time where it is imperative to reduce our emissions.

Screenshot from FlightAware.com’s real time flights in North America. You can see some routes are really busy.

VASU: Exactly – for each kilogram of jet fuel burnt creates 3.16kg of CO2 – that’s three times the impact for every 1 kg. And according to this Vox article, stats show that in 2018, carbon dioxide emissions rose by 3.4% with transportation sector leading the way! But interestingly, it wasn’t cars that increased this number, but the demand for jet fuel and diesel (used in trucking). The increasing emissions from more people having accessibility to flying and air travel around the world is not a good thing for our climate. And like the Vox article states, the “demand for air travel is surging just when our window to limit catastrophic global warming is closing.” Which means that all those beautiful and exotic places that are on your bucket list will eventually stop existing, because of more extreme weather events or socio-ecological disasters exacerbated due to climate change.

What is scary is that every round-trip trans-Atlantic flight emits enough carbon dioxide to melt 30 square feet of Arctic sea ice. And if you’ve seen the recent photos of a scientist and his dog sled in Greenland, it gives you an idea that never-before-seen change is about to hit us head on and we have no idea how it will change our lives, especially if we live in coastal cities where sea levels are going to rise.

A photo by Steppen Olsen, a climate scientist from the Danish Meteorological Institute, in Greenland. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/RasmusTonboe/status/1139504201615237120

Another recent study from Australia shows that the carbon footprint of tourism is worse than we thought. The entire supply chain of tourism, from food to actual travel, creates a bigger footprint for those that are traveling across countries and especially internationally. For example, as the authors mention, a backpacker from the UK travelling to India (staying in Airbnbs and eating street food) is more likely to have a larger carbon footprint than luxury travel of residents within India. This means that maybe we need to reconsider what holiday travel means for those of us that are looking to reduce our footprint – travelling to local destinations, within countries and as less as possible!

MATT: Yes, if we want to keep enjoying far away places and destinations we are going to have to be moderate and reduce the amount of travel that we do. The next time you see someone on social media or Youtube who is in some exotic new destination, just remember, these people are doing this as a job..and yes, it’s cool and it would be awesome to go there, but is it really worth it?

For every place that’s far away that’s cool to see there’s guaranteed to be a place close by that is worth a visit. Instead of driving for hours or hopping on a plane and going far off, find a trail to walk, hike or bike on that is close by or a cute airbnb in a small quaint town nearby. Maybe you’ve even been to these places before, but try to go back and take your time there, you are bound to see something that you haven’t seen before. For example, instead of flying to Montreal or New York for a weekend, we decided to explore a town near where we live. That not only helps us feel better about our travel footprint, but also supports local businesses (which is only a good thing!). And of course there will be times you go somewhere new and far away but just be conscious about the impact it is having on the planet.

VASU: Another thing is that we travel between Ottawa (a few times a year) and Mumbai (once or twice a year) to see our families. And although our trips are purposeful and we take time planning them, we realize how much of an impact it has on our carbon footprint. It makes us wish how nice it would have been to be close to our families or be together in one city instead. Unfortunately, currently our lives happen to be in different parts of the world for now and that means long distance trips will be part of the package. But even then it makes us think twice before we plan an impromptu vacation or a trip somewhere new – because it means a trade-off with trips to see our family. I think more people can relate to this as jobs and education make one move cities, countries or even across the world! But keeping any extra or unnecessary trips to a minimum may be one way to start reducing your footprint.

If you must travel (and I mean absolutely necessary), think about different ways to neutralize your footprint. One excellent example of seeing people become more conscious about the impact of travel is that of voluntary carbon-offsets. I am attending an academic conference soon and as part of the ticket there is an automatic add-on for carbon offsets if you are traveling in for it. Making one think whether travel is necessary, and if it is, then thinking of providing an off-set, is a real simple way to change behaviour.

MATT: An interesting example of an off-set is The Gold Standard, which provides great information on how you can help reduce the impact of climate change and global warming in various places (and importantly in developing countries). You can check them out here: https://www.goldstandard.org/ There are many more such carbon off-sets that you can find here: Introduction to Carbon Off-Sets.

MATT & VASU: And since we cannot tell you how to reduce your travels (as you know best), we thought it would be great to share some more relevant articles on tourism and its carbon footprint for you to think of ways to reduce your own travel footprint.

Vox: Air Travel is Surging. That’s a Huge Problem for Climate Change.

The Conversation: The carbon footprint of tourism revealed (its bigger than we thought)

The Conversation: Can you be a sustainable tourist without giving up flying?

Carbon Brief: Aviation could consume a quarter of 1.5 C carbon budget by 2050.

Carbon Footprint: Tips to Reduce Your Travel Footprint

VASU: We hope this blog post makes you pause and think about how your next vacation or business trip is going to impact our planet in the next few years. It doesn’t mean that vacations or trips to new places are bad, but rather there is a need to prioritize on what your must-sees are and what is the best way to go about it.

Keeping air travel to a minimum is a good thing, but also exploring alternatives like train travel or closer destinations can help keep our footprints low. I can tell you one thing, bringing our own footprint down from 9.98 metric tonnes per year (our average) to 2 tonnes (world average if we are to keep to climate targets) is going to take a lot more than cutting down red meat or using less plastic straws. So maybe let’s get thinking on how we can make the places we live more exciting and feel less need to escape to a far off holiday destination for a few days every year.

We calculated our travel carbon footprint using a calculator from https://www.carbonfootprint.com/travel.html. Although we are lower than the Canadian average, we still have a long way to go if we are to be sustainable and low carbon in the next few years.

On How Grandparents Can Teach Us A Thing Or Two About A Better World

Is it a coincidence that the Lorax reminds us of a lovable grandfather? We think not 🙂 Source: https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/418834834076379316/?lp=true

VASU: Today morning, in my daily video chat with my parents I had an interesting conversation with my grandmother. Usually she’s based in our hometown (which is a few hundred kilometers away from Mumbai), but has been temporarily visiting since temperatures have soared up (with 40 degree Celsius days – which is unusual even for us tropical folks) and water availability has gone down (currently the State of Maharashtra in India is facing a bad drought – and climate change makes it worse). I usually make it a point to call her once a month and catch up, but in these last few days in Mumbai she seems less of her usual self. Which makes sense given that her routine is interrupted and she’s had to adjust to a different sort of life (even though it may be temporary).

I think we all know the feeling when that happens – our routines are important reminders to us that life is all about having safety, security and a sense of certainty that tomorrow is not going to look any drastically different than today. For me routine is a concept I’ve had to grapple with for several years as I lived on an 8 month lease during the school year and on a suitcase that changed depending on the season (whether it was in Canada or in India). However, that is a different story for a another day 😉

Today’s story is actually based on some thoughts reading this book called Doughnut Economics (by Kate Raworth) and the idea of living in within the Doughnut or this “safe and just space for humanity” and also why connecting with our grandparents or a previous generation might teach us a thing or two about inspiration and the road ahead.

Raworth makes an interesting case for how society is functioning on economic models and ideas that were written 70 years ago. These theories fixated on abstract things like GDP as an indicator of human progress. She mentions that in the current world, progress indicators need to look quite different if we are to save our futures in time from climate change. Her solution is to simply start caring more and use these “touchy-feely” economic ideas (of social, environmental and human progress) to ensure that our decisions are actually humanistic in nature. She says, “today we have economies that grow, whether or not they make us thrive; what we need are economies that make us thrive, whether or not they grow”.

Around the same time that these traditional ideas of economic growth took off, some of our grandparents lived through one of the most turbulent times in the world – with World War II just ending and the birth of modern globalized society starting to emerge from its ruins. We all know how far we’ve come in that short span of 7 decades – where collectively humanity has overcome some of the greatest obstacles such as worldwide health epidemics (small pox, polio, Ebola just to name a few), travelled to the moon (and now Mars), reduced poverty a great deal and innovated technology that makes connect with each other than ever before.

But yet, we see countries are trying to build walls to keep diversity and change out. One example is India – where general elections just took place and the grounds for winning was nationalism (which in India means a religious majority winning on regressive cultural issues like cows, patriarchy, among other things). It took me a while to accept the fact that the world’s biggest democracy (consisting of millions of educated individuals) choose to elect a government based on this notion of so-called Indian tradition and why things like climate, food, water and good jobs were not the most important issues for the future.

MATT: For several people that are educated, empowered and consider themselves to be global citizens, it becomes hard to understand why others do not think that way when it seems more progressive, fairer and more inclusive alternative than the opposite. Yet we see populist politics rising every where – from Trump’s US to UK’s Brexit and from India’s nationalism to other authoritarian governments around the world.

VASU: I’ve been trying to figure out why and what is making people think that being regressive is the best option. And one thing crossed my mind as I was talking to my grandmother – is that people do not like change, but more importantly if they have to change (as the future will be when it comes to climate change) it will only happen when they feel safe, a sense of belonging and have certainty that their future is secured. And with all the things that globalization and capitalism brings, it has also brought with it a sense of uncertainity, insecurity and unreliability on those that are around us – making it the opposite environment to foster a safe space for large-scale and systems-level change.

As humans, we have a strong need to belong and feel accepted. But more recently, in the age of changing cultural identities and technological distractions, our sense of community has definitely taken a hit. It is in uncertain times like these that talking to our grandparents might teach us a thing or two about dealing with change. A good quote from another blog that we follow says this:

It’s the duty of Millennials to offer a wormhole, via our personal memories of our grandparents, that keeps alive the reality of certain truths: that there are times when the forces of good and evil really do starkly collide, all men (and women) must be ready to serve as citizen-soldiers, and mass solidarity and sacrifice is required. And that it’s possible to make such sacrifices and then modestly act as if doing so was really no big deal.

Similarly, my grandmother is someone that has lived through such times of volatility, raised four children mostly by herself and even managed to start farming afterwards. She’s been inspirational when she has shown confidence in the face of adversity. But today when I asked her about taking a walk in the park next door, she answered that she wouldn’t feel comfortable going alone.

For a woman who has led an unapologetic life and broke some stereotypes along the way, it made me wonder when did she start needing someone to be there when things changed. She, like the world war veterans, has had a life of ups and downs and yet now she falters when it comes to change. We often forget that grandparents are a vital source of knowledge of the past, of mistakes to avoid and of adventures to have. For anyone, old age is scary enough – but combine that with climate change and extremes (whether it is ideological or weather-related), it makes me realize that keeping those wise-old branches nurtured and feeling treasured is an important means of dealing with change.

MATT: But getting people involved in change can be a difficult task when you are dealing with someone who is more set in their ways of thinking – especially those that are one generation apart. For instance, I remember talking to my Nana about climate change more than a decade ago. We were in the middle of a cold winter and a cold spring, and she mentioned that she found it interesting that people talked about global warming considering it was so cold that year. But even as a 13-year old I knew that climate change and global warming were not just linked to the weather getting warmer. It had an impact on the earth’s climate – making hot days hotter and cold days colder. I remember saying there might be less of a distinction between seasons in the future, and now decades later we are finally starting to see it happen. Of course my Nana listened as any grandparent would, but I feel just talking about it regularly with someone who might be very set in their ways (a grandparent, parent or even someone older than you), can make a bit of a difference.

VASU: Yes, I think we need to remind those of an earlier generation that doing new things shouldn’t have to be necessity or anxiety-driven. By keeping a connection with the old and the new, we can prove that the future is better when we aren’t looking back at out-dated traditions (like in the case of India or other populist movements) or making mistakes of a past that isn’t sustainable anymore.

Today I also heard a podcast on this new book called Power of Agency – The Seven Principles to Conquer Obstacles, Make Effective Decisions and Create a Life on Your Own, and it made me realize that change often comes when something matters to you. This book is really interesting as it talks on the power of agency or confidence to do something different without feeling overwhelmed about it. It describes that isolation is the kryptonite to human agency – where it diminishes our ability to accept change/evolution. And who better to understand the cycle of change better than our grandparents.

I found it interesting that the booked talked about our ability to adapt to changing times through the 7 Principles of Agency, which are:

  1. Control our stimuli (keep those phones and distractions away!)
  2. Associate selectively (surround yourself with positive people)
  3. Move (endorphins through exercise make people happy!)
  4. Position yourself as a learner (in all situations – no exceptions)
  5. Manage your emotions (as though it is a balancing act)
  6. Check your intuition (not impulsively but as a source of additional data)
  7. Deliberate first and then act (think -> deliberate -> action)

MATT & VASU: So keep your phones down and take a walk (maybe literally) with your grandparents down the memory lane – ask them what stories they have, how they learned to accept change and make them feel valued before you start expecting them to understand today’s problems like climate change. These very human and personal connections are what will keep us going when change (including climate change) inevitably arrives in our lives.

The Plastic Dilemma

MATT: With the weather getting warmer and summer finally around the corner, it has been great to get outdoors and go for walks around town on weeknights and weekends. While its always nice to get out and enjoy a beautiful sunset and some fresh air, it is also fun to treat yourself every once in a while. On one such walk, we went to our local Dairy Queen for the first ice cream of the summer.

Of course my sweet tooth was absolutely craving more than just an ice cream cone – and given this long cold winter, it had been months since we had gone out and enjoyed a nice cool treat in the sun. Since this was the first ice cream of the season, I went all in and got a chocolate fudge cookie sundae 🙂 Not only was it delicious, but I couldn’t wait to go back and have another one. On finishing the delicious chocolate sundae, I realized that it had come in a plastic container, and there was nowhere to put that plastic container (and plastic spoon) other than in the garbage. Since started this blog, I have become more aware of things that are bad for the environment and one of the biggest culprits is the abundant use of plastic.

Sad to see plastic bags lining the branches of a beautiful tree on our evening walks 🙁

VASU: With each year almost 8 million tonnes of plastic being dumped into the ocean, it is no wonder that even the deepest parts of the planet are now plagued by plastic. Recently I saw how plastic wrappers and bags were found in the deepest part of the ocean – in the Mariana Trench, where even light doesn’t reach!! Imagine that, our destructive habits are now changing vulnerable ecosystems that have existed for thousands of years, even before our species came into existence.

According to a California-based non-profit called Plastic Oceans, microplastics are now found everywhere – including in food, drinking water and even our blood streams. Countries like Canada are big waste producers and those of you that follow the news must have heard about the recent scandal about how Western countries are exporting their plastics to developing ones like the Philippines.

This definitely makes us think that the blue box (plastic recycling we all feel so good about) is now ending up half way around the world – creating different problems (like a public health crisis due to plastic burning and land contamination). I hate to say it, but this is a classic example of a “not-in-my-backyard” attitude and it is definitely not helping reduce our plastic addiction.

Here is an excellent article in the CBC that talks about how our consumption-based lifestyles (where even small things like buying take-out) are making recycling products like plastics unsustainable. This article also talks about how the recycling industry is unable to keep up the demand that every disposable plastic (think about what’s in your fridge – from yogurt containers to individually wrapped cheese slices to frozen veggie bags) is now bringing. Yet governments or municipalities are not creating more recycling centres or even changing the supply chain (from plastic to zero waste) to meet this demand.

MATT: When you really think about it, there is plastic that comes with all foods that we buy or things we use. When we go to the grocery store, basically all the processed food is packaged or wrapped in some sort of plastic and so is the produce. Cucumbers, peppers, coconuts, even avocados are individually wrapped to “preserve freshness” and provide “appropriate portion sizes” to the consumer. Foods that are wrapped in plastic and then boxed in plastic are then purchased and placed into plastic grocery bags. We then take it home and throw that plastic away.

MATT & VASU: And with more and more landfills getting filled up and even other countries (like China and the Philippines) are finally saying no to waste – does the responsibility not lie with our elected representatives or even our large grocery-chains to deal with the plastic problem. So here you may ask, if it is their issue, why should we individuals care? Well, simply put, you are the ones that elect them or end up buying your weekly groceries from them. And these elected representatives or large grocery-stores need to respond to changing customer and social values if they are to stay relevant. Times are changing, especially with more and more young people getting access to information on harmful impacts of plastic.

We found this really interesting video from CBC marketplace which shows how different families and individuals are changing their habits when it comes to plastics at the grocery store.

CBC Marketplace video on how buying plastic-free groceries is harder than you think, but the solution lies in individual and collective action on demanding change.

Sadly, we have all seen the videos of how disposable single-use plastic straws can create havoc on marine life. The plastic dilemma is not an issue for just the government or companies. It is a question for all of us that use it in our daily lives, as to how much do we think we can do something about it?

MATT: Even if we put in the extra effort and sort and recycle that plastic most of it doesn’t end up being properly recycled. People are aware of all the needless plastic we consume and are willing to use less of it, however retailers find it cheaper and easier to use plastic to ship and sell foods so they keep doing it. When we go out shopping, we need to make a conscious effort to choose foods that have less or no plastics – that way retailers will notice our changing purchasing habits. It is a small step, but it definitely has a big impact on how many plastic bags we use!

MATT & VASU: So here are some tips from our life that can help you reduce your own plastic footprint:

  1. Bring reusable plastic bags when you go grocery shopping – now we are buying reusable cloth bags to bag produce (like carrots, peppers, beans, tomatoes, apples etc) at the grocery stores. You can check similar ones on Amazon or Well.ca.
  2. Go to your local farmer’s market to buy fresh and non-packaged food. Bring your reusable bags and don’t forget that supporting local is another step towards reducing your grocery’s carbon and travel footprint.
  3. We are looking into switching from plastic resealable bags to getting a compostable and natural alternative called bees wrap. However, this is a choice you can make by looking in the pros and cons of it. If not, try to rewash your plastic reusable bags and reuse them more than once.
  4. Know which plastic can be recycled and which cannot. This is very context and region dependent so make sure to check out what your municipality recommends. For us, here is what the Region of Waterloo recommends.
  5. One interesting tip is to reuse those milk bags and other plastic bags. Here is an article that talks about repurposing them in 11 different ways. If you are into arts and crafts, think of ways you can repurpose them into artwork or even mattresses. Here’s one resource to check out how to turn grocery bags into a rug.
  6. We recently switched from using plastic tupperware to glass tupperware for our lunches as well as in storing things. An excellent online store that is solely dedicated to not using plastic is Life Without Plastic! Check them out and see what cool home and wellness products you can buy, that will make you feel good about taking baby steps to cut your plastic lifestyle.
  7. And lastly, start talking about it! Even if it is just with your friends, partner, kids or colleagues. The first step is always awareness. And the second step is sending a letter or calling your local politician or grocery store to find out what they are doing about transitioning away from plastic.

Food Waste to Food Research

Shopping at the local farmer’s markets is a great way to make sure you have quality, delicious produce for the week.

VASU: This week started off with two things going bad in the fridge. The spinach went soft and the corn on the cob went kinda mushy – not the most ideal week when we were looking forward to having some palak paneer (pureed spinach and paneer) as well as pairing the corn on the cob with our Taco Fridays.

As upset as we were at the Kelvinator aka our fridge (the landlord refuses to upgrade or respond to any of our non-urgent requests), we also shared the blame in this week’s food disaster. To be honest, there have been times before when the food has gone bad due to the Kelvinator having a mind of its own (being from the late 90s, it sometimes gets super cold and other times it goes to room temperature – no wonder food goes bad!). And although we always feel guilty and a bit upset about having to throw food out, since starting this green life challenge to reduce our carbon footprint it makes us even more guilt-riddled than ever. So by sharing even our bad experiences, we hope that you can be inspired to make a change (like we are doing) when it comes to food waste!

Meet the Kelvinator! Okay we are guilty of overstuffing the fridge here -but hosting dinner party’s is no joke 😉

MATT: Another helpful way to look at food waste is how it affects your budget. Throwing out food literally feels like you’re throwing your money in the garbage. In Canada, more than half the food that is produced ends up going to waste at some point in the cycle, whether it be during production, retail or after the consumer has purchased it. It may seem like we’re just throwing out a little bit here and there every week, but the average Canadian household has over $1700 worth of food waste ever year.

Second Harvest, a food rescue organization, estimates that there is over 56 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions are created every year from food waste in Canada alone. A study done by the EU also says that 8% of all global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by food waste. The amount of energy that goes into food waste is shocking when you think about all the processes in place from when food is produced to when it is brought home. All the energy that goes into producing the food, then shipping the food to retailers and then transporting it back home for it to not even be eaten is crazy. I remember working my first job as a butcher at the local grocery store and even meat (which has the highest carbon footprint) was thrown out on a daily basis.

Two of the main culprits for avoidable food waste have to do with buying unnecessary amounts of food and not understanding proper storage shelf life for food. People tend get all excited when food items go on sale and end up buying bulk amounts – some of which eventually gets thrown away if it is not eaten in time. We also go to the grocery store and buy food without a plan for the meals we will make that week – this is something we are trying to change in our own lives now. We found that sometimes we bought unnecessary foods that didn’t get eaten because they didn’t go in the meals we made that week.

A simple fix is to plan our meals throughout the week better so that we buy properly for the week ahead. We also need to improve our understanding of how different foods need to be kept. The shelf life of food is drastically impacted by the conditions it is kept in, whether it’s the fridge or at room temperature. Having worked at a grocery store, I know that sometimes we are also too strict about “best-before” dates and take it to mean that after that date the food is automatically no good. These dates are usually very conservative and nothing will happen once it hits midnight on the best before date. If we just make a few simple changes daily in how we purchase and eat food it can have a big impact on the environment in the long-run.

MATT & VASU: The following are some tips we found on this awesome website called Save The Food, which not only helps with food prep ideas and meal plans, but also how to store your food the right way (who knew that eggplants and tomatoes needed to be stored at room temp)! We came across this website while doing research on food waste and how to reduce it when you do meal preps. Another super helpful resource is this video by a YouTube food vlogger called Fablunch: 10 Food Waste Hacks.

A good way to eat different kinds of produce (that is about to expire) is to experiment and make recipes – here is an avocado toast with eggs and cherry tomatoes for breakfast!