Walking the Straighforward Path

by: EJ on 07/25/2017

Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution by Peter Kalmus is now off press. Peter Kalmus is a climate scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory with a Ph.D. in physics from Columbia University. He lives in Altadena, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, with his wife and two children on 1/10th the fossil fuels of the American average. In the following excerpt, Peter explains why he has chosen to live a low carbon lifestyle.  He says, "My path is straightforward: if fossil fuels cause global warming, and I don’t want global warming, then I should reduce my fossil fuel use."

Why walk on this path?

I’m aware that the changes I’m making to my daily life will not solve global warming or stave off global economic collapse. How could they? We’re rapidly approaching eight billion people on the planet, and I am only one of them. However, my actions do make me happier, and that’s reason enough to do them. I also suspect that, for most of us, individual and local-scale actions are the most skillful means to effect global-scale change. This is a paradox of scale. Our individual actions don’t make much of an immediate difference in the global response to our predicament, but they are pieces in a vast puzzle. As more pieces get added, more people will get excited by the emerging picture and begin to add their own pieces.

The prevailing mindset in our industrial society is to search for a silver bullet solution, some brilliant techno-fix that allows us to avoid personal change (which is assumed to be undesirable). After decades of searching by the world’s brightest minds, however, it seems likely that there is no such silver bullet. Personal change will therefore likely be necessary. Here are the reasons I’m an early adopter of personal change:

Slippery fish

The mind is a slippery fish after all... (image credit: Sam Bower)

It’s enjoyable

In my experience, cutting back on burning fossil fuels became possible—easy, even—when I began to realize that I enjoy my life more when I live mindfully and burn less. I realized that I don’t want to burn so much, and I don’t need to burn so much. And I genuinely enjoy the changes I’ve made, such as biking and gardening.

It’s empowering

Back when I was concerned about global warming but still burning lots of fossil fuels, I was suffering from cognitive dissonance, living inconsistently. This made me feel depressed and confused. Now I live in a more consistent way, which is empowering. It’s the key to connecting with others: my life is my calling card.


Operate from the story of the wave. (image credit: Sam Bower)

I want to help others, not harm them

Burning fossil fuels warms the planet, which harms others. It’s that simple. Although the processes involved are distributed globally, accrue over decades, and are statistical in nature—and therefore difficult for our brains to connect directly back to our individual actions—the harm is nonetheless real. Burning fossil fuels should be unacceptable socially, the way physical assault is unacceptable. The harm it does is less immediate, but just as real. We need to start speaking this truth—burning fossil fuels harms others—so that society can begin realizing it.

It leads to connection and gratitude

Living with less fossil fuels leads to more connection with the land and with my community. It leads to increased awareness that food, water, fuel, and friends are precious. This connection and gratitude makes me happy.


I am walking the middle path (image credit: Sam Bower)

Small  actions  lead  to  larger actions

We need to use our unique talents and interests to make a difference, and changing ourselves can reveal how to do this. Small actions gradually led me to two major actions that might have some impact beyond my local community: becoming an Earth scientist and writing this book. These efforts of mine may have larger impact, or they may not. Either way I’ll keep making simple changes to my life, while simultaneously looking for opportunities to catalyze collective change. I’ve known passionate environmentalists who dreamt of “saving the planet” but who weren’t willing to begin changing themselves. But how can we reasonably expect to contribute meaningfully in the larger arena if we can’t be bothered to make small changes to our daily lives? If I want to contribute to a change in the narrative, I must begin with myself.

It demonstrates a new story

Few people in the US realize that it’s possible to live without fossil fuels. This is a huge failure of imagination. By changing ourselves, we demonstrate what’s possible. We explore the new story, and we tell it. Cynicism and inaction at the national level is nothing more than the collective expression of cynicism and inaction of individuals. When enough of us change ourselves, large-scale change.

Meet Peter in person:

Wednesday August 9, 7:00 PM Vroman's Bookstore, Pasadena, CA

Friday August 11 7:30 PM - Last Book Store Los Angeles, CA

Wednesday August 16th 5:00 PM-Eagle Harbor Book Company, Bainbridge Island, WA

Thursday August 17th 6:30 PM - Community Farm Store, Duncan, Vancouver Island, BC



blog comments powered by Disqus