May as Well Get The Cheeseburger Today

Emma is a 22 year old Portland, OR native, going into her fourth year at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota. Emma became particularly passionate about issues surrounding climate change in her freshman year of college after moving from the West Coast to rural Minnesota. Here she became aware of the drastic differences in everyday sustainable practices between places just in the US. With a major in Environmental Studies with a social science emphasis, aside her Scandinavian Studies major, Emma hopes to go into a career based on sustainable development and public policy after pursuing a masters in a relevant field. Emma is excited to work with Our Climate and fellows from all across the country who are driven by similar interests with a wide variety of perspectives! 

In the fight towards a more sustainable and just society, it’s easy to get bogged down in feelings of hopelessness and insignificance. Insignificance stemming from opposition that can seem to drown out our own beliefs, or insignificance regarding ourselves on a more personal level such as, “well, I’m just one person. Can my actions really make a difference?”. It’s great to set personal goals and say, “I recycle what I can, and have no-meat Mondays to reduce my carbon footprint”, but skeptics will try time and time again to assure you that your individual, good intentioned efforts on the climate-change front are fruitless in their capacity to cut down emission numbers on an impactful level.


Before letting this questioning make you throw in the towel and say, “darn, I may as well get that cheeseburger today”, we should to step back and ask ourselves what’s important to us. Are we composting food scraps, for example, for the benefit of fitting in to a seemingly trendy social scene, or are we doing it because it’s really what we all should be doing when we get down to the nitty-gritty of it? Then take another step back to examine and add up all the little things you do to practice a more sustainable lifestyle: do you buy only used clothing, do you minimize your shopping in any way, or do you use health products that are good for you and the planet? The small things really do add up, especially when considering that where (and on what) you spend your money, you are supporting both financially and politically. 

A study conducted by the University of Oxford found that meat-rich diets (eating more than 100 grams of meat daily) results in a carbon footprint of 7.2kg per day, compared to a vegetarian diet (including fish in that scope) resulting in a daily CO2 emission rate of 3.8. When taken into account that 5% of the US population (roughly 16 million people) maintains a vegetarian diet, we can see first-hand that individual action can make a more substantial impact to carbon emissions than some might think.  

In regards to meat and dairy consumption in particular, going vegan or vegetarian may not necessarily be the one-size fits all approach to personal emission reduction. Choosing to buy locally sourced foods and in-season fruits and veggies of any kind can still be a personal victory to pursue. Choosing to turn the AC or heat on only when it’s really needed, or lowering your consumption of material goods and water usage are all inherently political statements, as well as a personal method of mindfulness, by honoring our moral duty and following through with our good intentions.


Policy and social change are driven by individual action, especially in the US where regulation is somewhat of a dirty-word. In a society where one could say political change reflects the social attitude of a nation, individual efforts are imperative to help create political momentum through the practice of agency. So keep on the good fight by practicing what you preach. Talk to your social circle about your daily efforts to better the planet and yourself, and who knows, maybe you’ll educate someone with a new idea who in turn will want to adopt some new planet-friendly routine. Whether that be as little as taking one less shower a week, or going the full nine yards towards a meat-free diet, we should never dismiss the little things, as they can amount to impactful reductions as more people choose to adopt new habits.


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