Irene Panke Hopkins
Irene Panke Hopkins

Since my last column, the pandemic has continued to substantially affect our lives. George Floyd, another in a long line of innocent non-white people, has died at the hands of police. Worldwide protests have resulted from Floyd’s death, including massive unrest in our own city. Twitter has hidden a tweet by our own president because it “glorified violence.” The growing number of tents on the side of roads speaks to the increase in homelessness, unemployment and economic devastation. International conflicts continue to rock the rest of the globe. And that is just a start. The headlines are grim, indeed.

World events are spinning so fast that I feel dizzy trying to keep up. Trying to know how to react. What to do. How to live my life in a way that makes sense given all that is swirling around me.

How do I write a climate action column asking people to reduce plastic use, encouraging readers to save resources, to stay focused on the planet and things we can do to correct the course of the climate crisis when there is so much distracting us, so much pulling on us, so much leaving us feeling hopeless and inept? In a time that instills a feeling of powerlessness in all of us, perhaps the very thing to do is to stay focused on what is within our control.

When grocery stores began forbidding shoppers from bringing personal bags into the stores, I understood the reason and complied but despaired at the number of paper bags that began to pile up. I felt sacrilegious pulling plastic bags off the roll in the produce aisle to collect my veggies and fruit instead of using my own net bags. I cringed as I saw neighbors coming home with boxes filled with plastic-packaged items from big box stores.

But then I noticed that some stores will allow you to bag your own groceries once you are outside. So I do that. Others now allow you to bring your bags in as long as you do your own bagging. I do that. And many offer compostable plastic bags for produce. It’s a bit harder and a bit more time-consuming, and it takes commitment. But I feel that I am making a difference and possibly setting an example and inspiring others to do the same.

We can continue to recycle, to compost, to make our own products. One thing many of us have more of now is time. Time to do right by the planet. The time we used to spend eating out or going to social events can be traded for time doing things that simplify our lives and contribute to climate action. I still make my own yogurt, toothpaste and cook from scratch, saving resources and packaging. Continuing habits I have worked hard to form is comforting and normalizing. There are so many habits that would be easy to lose if we don’t make a concerted effort to maintain them.

As the skies cleared all over the world after industry shut down and people stopped driving as much as they did in the pre-Covid days, we confirmed that industry and cars are major contributors to pollution and the warming of our atmosphere. Can you walk to the store instead of driving? Do it! Queen Anne and parts of Magnolia are marvelously pedestrian-friendly communities. Break your old habit of jumping in the car to drive 10 minutes to a place you can walk to in 20 or 30. You’ll get exercise, fresh air, clear your head and maybe run into a neighbor you haven’t seen for a while.

With all we have lost these days, we have not lost our ability to act in ways that continue our efforts to combat climate change. Those are still within our reach. Those of us who are fortunate enough to be healthy and financially solvent can use this time to hunker down and think about ways to conserve resources and energy.

Because once this is over, once we are on the other side of the pandemic and the riots and the election and the devastation of our economy, we will need our planet more than ever to sustain us. Without a climate, all other issues become moot.

Course Correction: Don’t give up! Never give up! Even if it feels harder than ever, even if other events seem to minimize the climate crisis in their immediacy, don’t forget that this is still happening and that we still must continue our vigilance when it comes to our precious planet.

Irene Panke Hopkins is an essayist and writer whose work has appeared in local and national publications and anthologies.