This is a blog about environmental sustainability: why I care, why you should care, and how we can do better.
In my day job, I work in policy research. I trust the power of public policies and the ability of our institutions to do good (perhaps too naively at times). I think challenges like climate change are too daunting, too big, too important, and too existential to tackle as individuals. I think as a society, we need to recognize that climate change, deforestation, pollution, natural resource depletion, and loss of biodiversity aren’t just “environmental” problems, but economic, health, social, and moral issues as well. I believe structural and systemic transformations to our way of life are needed, and we won’t get anywhere without bold public policies and large-scale industry participation.
But where do I fit in?
Most of the time, I feel small. And I worry a lot. I worry that my actions don’t matter. I worry that we aren’t taking this seriously. I worry that people have got “too much else going on” to care. I worry that life is too short to care, and I worry that life is too short not to care.
Though I may sound like one, I’m not a gravely depressed pessimist constantly drowning in a sense of powerlessness. I am both rational and emotional. I want to help, but I have a hard time trusting that I make a difference sometimes. I feel angry, sad, and cynical about the state of our world sometimes, but I also act like “we can be the change we want to see”. But aside from these feelings of contradictions, most often I think about how our planet is beautiful, extraordinary, and magical, and I’d like it to stay that way.
This blog helps me feel empowered. I realized that I can’t stop myself from caring and practicing the things I do (like buying coffee in a mug), even if they are insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I know people who don’t care about these things (sometimes for totally legitimate reasons!), and I don’t think I can convince them to start caring. But I truly believe lots of people do care, and would care if they were more aware of the problems and how to be a part of the solution.
As a kid who grew up in 90’s China, it was, in a way, hard not to care about “the environment”. Air pollution, water shortage, and desertification weren’t just abstractions; we felt it, lived it, and breathed it. For most of my life, this awareness was subconscious, and it wasn’t until I moved to the US for college that I slowly began to think about my role in the world and what I can do to help.
When I hear someone blame China for “polluting the world”, I feel defensive; I want to shout: “but do you enjoy your cheaply manufactured goods!!!”; and I’m heartbroken by the environmental and health consequences that Chinese people have to live with to be the world’s factory.
When I fill a glass of water straight from the tap, I sometimes think about how marvelous it would be if people could do that in China, in Flint, and in so many other parts of the world.
When I am in awe of the inconceivable wonder of a clear starry night in Vermont because I had never seen stars like that in China, I wish everyone and everyone who comes after me would have the privilege to admire these celestial beauties too.
My graduate studies in food and agricultural policy took me from wishing to thinking, researching, and doing. I biked more, I started composting, I learned all about the way we buy, consume, grow, and trade food, and the human and environmental impacts of our food choices. And with that, I couldn’t help but wonder about everything else we do and their consequences too.
Grad school was also where I immersed myself in the delightful world of statistics, research methods, and academic literature. I loved this rigorous way of seeing the world, and felt strangely powerful having the ability to tease through the confusing news headlines. I learned how difficult it is for the average person to acquire and decipher academic literature, and want to do my part to help making scientific research more accessible.
I love nuance, and think the world needs more of it. Even as most of us understand that most things in life aren’t black and white, I see statements online that “all plastic is evil”, “always shop local”, or “you should have fewer children if you want to save the planet.” I believe these sentiments hurt our movement. They feel extreme and impractical; they sound harsh to people who feel they don’t belong to the environmental community because they weren’t aware of an issue or want to contribute only to the extent they can. Especially now, alienating people seems the last thing we’d want.
I want to bring more people into the fold. I want to use my ability to navigate through research and translate the methodological nonsense and p-values into something you can understand and act on. I want to inspire people to think more critically, realistically, and systematically around the issue of sustainability so they can make more informed decisions – about making a new purchase, changing a behavior, or nudging others in a compassionate and respectful way.
I’m glad you are here.