inconspicuous Consumption on Climate Change

The Environmental Impact You Didn’t Know You Had.

I recently read Tatiana Schlossberg’s new book Inconspicuous Consumption – the environmental impact you didn’t know you had.  A Yale and Oxford graduate, Ms. Schlossberg has written on climate change for The New York Times, Bloomberg and The Atlantic.  She asks the important questions and looks objectively for facts and answers – while confiding  that climate change and the enormity of human impact on earth was overwhelming to her.  Schlossberg has a disarming, winning ‘voice’.  She gives her reader serious information, but she delivers it with humor and forgiveness for our imperfections. She gets her hands around the interconnectedness of energy, manufacturing, consumerism, water, corporate goals and government policy.  I have heard the author speak – she is compelling, passionate and balances urgency with acceptance that this is a complicated issue and individuals cannot be expected to give up their modern conveniences and handheld devices.  Our role as voters, she asserts, is more important than all the reusable bags we bring to the grocery store, but she urges us to keep on using the reusable bags.

“I didn’t like reading about climate change and its effects—it filled me with dread and made me feel powerless. The problems seemed too big and too inevitable for me to do anything about, so it felt like it was probably best to look away.”  ~ Tatiana Schlossberg

Schlossberg observes that fear is not a great motivator, it makes people want to turn away and deny.  Information is power.  This book gives us the information we need to ask the right questions and make educated choices as consumers, as shareholder and as voters.

She has researched key issues with an open mind.  She is practical and she offers facts.  She surprised me repeatedly by diverging from strict ‘green’ orthodoxy.  For instance, while organic food is a great choice for individuals, we need some GMO crops to get the yields needed to feed the world.  She has a favorite orchard in Connecticut which has made practical, sustainable choices between organic farming and yield. She accepts that we are not all perfect and admits that she is not a fan of fish even though she knows that they are a more sustainable source of protein than beef or chicken.

The author’s suggestions on how we can reduce our impact on climate change went well beyond the ‘feel-good’ ideas like turning down our thermostats and sticking to ‘meatless Monday’.  Real reduction in greenhouse gasses will take big, systemic change.  The problems are too large to fix by spontaneous individual action.  Change is going to require governmental leadership and new corporate responsibility.

Schlossberg writes about food, fashion, fuel and the internet. She describes a climate change landscape which is not ‘black and white’ and is full of trade-offs.  Lovely, soft, cheap cashmere, Tatiana explains, comes at the cost of too many goats overwhelming the Gobi Desert, which is becoming a wasteland at the rate of 1,000 square miles a year.

She preferences durable, timeless clothes over ‘fast, almost disposable fashion’, but concedes that it is human to enjoy cheap, trendy outfits.  She uses blue jeans as a proxy for cotton and then tells about the enormous amount of water and power that is used to produce each pair.  She credits Levi Strauss with making jeans with less water – and with sharing their technology ‘waterless’ technology with smaller companies.    Levi’s Water<Less Jeans

She explains microplastic pollution caused by sweat-wicking microfiber athletic wear.  She explores the environmental advantages of e-commerce versus traditional retail shopping. She shows that ride sharing has not reduced car ownership and ‘passenger miles’ in big cities has risen.  UBER, LYFT and others are replacing public transportation more than getting us out of cars.

She changed my view of Netflix and the internet.  She tells us that the ‘cloud’ is a misleading description of the internet.  It is a physical network of wires and serves which requires energy to operate.  Devices are loaded with lithium, mercury, cobalt and other extracted elements which are dangerous to the environment if not properly recycled. Yes, she confides, she wrote her book on a laptop and did research on the internet.  No one is perfect.

She has raised my energy consciousness.  Twenty-five percent of household energy is wasted by devices which we think are off but, are actually resting – and drawing power.  The clock on your oven, the monitor on your computer, your Wi-Fi router and your thermostat are using power without being always being useful.  ‘’Turn them off when you are not using them.”, she says – but warns that you may have to reset the clocks.  Trade-offs.

She ties environmental policy to social justice.  The people who suffer health problems  from leaking coal ash and lead pipes are disproportionally poor and politically weak.

Schlossberg arms us with the information we need to do our best to reduce our individual contributions to climate change.  She challenges us to use our power as consumers and voters to influence corporations and policy makers to make the positive changes which must happen now, if human contribution to climate change is going to be reduced.

I came away from her book with a stronger sense of the sheer largeness of the human enterprise — the number of us now consuming, and the overwhelming effect of all that volume.

Schlossberg reads the audio version of her book.

 Inconspicuous Consumption – the environmental impact you didn’t know you had, Hardcover, $24.

Inconspicuous Consumption – the environmental impact you didn’t know you had   Audio Book, $20.76 or one Audible Credit.