Seismic shift (on a personal scale)

Hi, friends- it’s been a while since I’ve written as anything other than Junket’s ‘we’ persona, and it’s not without some hesitation that I start speaking in my own voice here. Will I be able to sustain a somewhat-regular writing effort without getting thrown off my game by shop emergencies? I don’t know – and I guess we’ll find out together.

What I do know is that something personally seismic happened over the weekend, and it’s led me to conclude that now is the time for some important personal change.

Back story: I started Junket out of a sense of helplessness: everything I knew in 2010 told me that it was impossible to exist in America without taking up more than my fair share of global resources: I had filled out an online carbon footprint calculator several years prior, and, despite living in multi-family housing and sharing a car at the time, my footprint was not only more than the planet could sustain (by several planets’ worth of consumption), but every time I threw a dart at a ‘hypothetical carbon footprint’ target (stop eating meat? Stop driving completely?), I found that nothing short of moving to a hut in an undeveloped country would make it possible for me to live a life that didn’t overstep the planet’s capacity to support me.

Facing this sense of existential powerlessness while pondering how to make ends meet without a day job led to the premise behind Junket: if my merely existing was too much for the planet’s health, then I’d better do something that allowed me to offset my impact (and heaven help me if I launched something that covered my costs while trashing the planet… even as I knew it would be more efficient and lead to an easier daily existence, I knew that Selling New Shit on eBay Was Simply Not An Option).

My carbon efforts since then have been almost entirely bent on enabling scalable social adaptation: in 2016, Junket was able to account for the equivalent of six cars’ emissions avoidance by selling secondhand stuff in lieu of new stuff, and in the time since this discovery, I’ve doubled down on building out the infrastructure required to scale this impact and drive social awareness of the direct data-based connection between our individual purchasing decisions and our shared existential circumstances.

During the last several years, I’ve struggled with the details of running a retail operation when my heart is in it for something bigger. Responding to the day-to-day challenges involved in keeping the doors open (through road construction, cash flow constraints, and extended burnout) has interfered with developing the kind of broader social traction I’ve been wanting to make.

Fast forward to this past weekend. On Saturday, I came across an interesting tweet which put the estimated social cost of carbon emissions at $100 per ton. By this estimation, for every 2000 lbs of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere, the result is roughly $100 dollars in socially-incurred damages (i.e. concrete financial costs of things like asthma inhalers, toxicant-related cancers, or the repair costs of flood and fire damage in places like Houston, Puerto Rico, and Santa Rosa).

I wondered how absorbing my share of these social costs (i.e. taking responsibility for my own negative social impact) would hit my pocketbook if I were to commit to offsetting them in a tangible way (without regard for my Junket machinations), so I pulled up Google and started running numbers. Gasoline, for example, emits 20 lbs of CO2-e per gallon burned. That math was pretty easy: If a gallon equated to 20 pounds, then 10 gallons would produce 200 pounds, and 100 gallons would produce 2000 pounds (or, a ton, i.e. $100 in social cost for every 100 gallons of gasoline burned).

Can I afford to spend another $1 per gallon of gasoline to offset my driving habits? Given my low annual mileage, probably. But what about my home energy use? My food choices?

There’s something powerful about being able to boil things down in this way – it allows us to align pocketbook and planet conscientiously, even as we may not be able to change all of the things we want to change about our lives as quickly as we’d prefer to change them given the circumstances (these things take time). And, hey- if we can’t afford to absorb these social costs, that’s perhaps the clearest direct indicator that we’re literally consuming beyond our means to support our cost of participating on this planet.

As I started mathing about how I could financially hack covering my own adverse impacts on the planet on my current (meager, single mama, entrepreneuring-while-bucking-the-current-financial-system) income, it struck me that there were probably easier ways to get at rolled-up data than the spreadsheet I had started. My quest for efficiency inevitably led me back to an online carbon footprint calculator (more than a dozen years since I’d promptly given up on having any chance at being a good global citizen by footprint-calculating standards).

One of the first things I learned upon jumping back into online self-assessment mode is that online assessments have become more sophisticated, generally, during the last dozen years: I found specific questions about waste and material consumption that hadn’t existed in the tool I’d used in the mid-aughties.

Given my commitment to reuse, the opportunity to account for my secondhand ways was a welcome one, and it was a pleasant surprise to find that my current footprint (1.4 planets) isn’t as bad as I had been expecting.

In fact, after testing a few things in both directions (what would happen if I did buy stuff the same as an average American – or maybe what would happen if I cooked more whole foods and ate fewer Pop Tarts?), I not only was able to feel good about the changes I had already made (even though it would still take 1.4 planets if all 7 billion of us lived like I do), but here was the seismic thing:

I realized that with some additional changes (and not completely crazy ones, either), I could live – here and now – in a way in which, if all 7 billion of us consumed similarly, can be supported by 1.0 planets.

I hadn’t imagined this was possible.

It obviously helps that I’ve been adjusting in structural ways for more than a decade, and during that time, I’ve made environmentally-strategic decisions with regard to housing, commute, and occupation. My near-exclusive reliance on secondhand goods has also brought my 1.0 footprint goal into ‘doable’ territory: according to the footprint calculator, this choice alone – contrasted against a ‘same as average’ consumption level with all other factors being precisely the same – allows me to take credit for more than a planet’s worth (1.1 planets, to be exact) of ongoing positive impact (while still needing to figure out a way to further cut my impact by another 30%).

Armed with this data, now is the time to make that happen.

This won’t happen overnight: I’ve had a decade to experience and observe a simple truth: it’s easy to make better environmental choices when you have an abundance of income and/or time  – and when you’re short on both, making good daily choices become more difficult. The shop is still not clicking along without hiccups (though recent staffing changes have been powerfully positive and make this personal adjustment more doable). But it’s time to refocus some of the time I do have on adjustments that will get me where I want to go- and I’m confident that this will be a win on fronts both personal and professional.

Choosing to align our lives with the sort of future we want to see for ourselves, our children, and our species is powerful beyond the environmental impact of this choice: science tells us that taking steps to reduce the magnitude of our own cognitive dissonance is psychologically soothing – and when faced with a threat, taking meaningful action is a powerful preemptive antidote to experiencing intensified regret down the road.

These psychological benefits are what I’m after in choosing to pursue a 1.0 planet strategy. I’ll be clear: I haven’t yet figured out a clear plan for Junket operations that will make it possible to reduce my driving enough to get to 1.0 or fewer planets (but I’m now pondering it), my food intake needs attention, and there will likely continue to be occasional McDonald’s drive thru visits as I continue to grapple with (and seek to mitigate) our neighborhood’s dearth of quality food options – but I will aim to be transparent and honest about the process, and I’ll trust you not to judge (we’re all at different points along the same path, after all).

If you’re curious about how your own choices are stacking up to our planet’s capacity, I’d love to have friends in these trenches! To get a grip on your own carbon footprint, you can start here (it’ll take about 10 minutes).

Knowledge is power,

Julie

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