When I started planning my move to California, there were roughly a million and a half things that I was excited for.
Warm weather, no snow, life on the beach. (I was basically just very, very afraid of struggling through another winter in Buffalo.)
But if I’m honest, I was mostly excited to live in a place where people cared about where they lived, from their apartment complex, to their neighborhood, and our environment.
I used to live in an apartment complex where people didn’t care. There was garbage outside our door every day, no matter the season. People would drop trash on the way to the dumpsters and just leave it in the parking lot. On days when the recycling bins were overflowing, maintenance staff would stand by the dumpsters and make sure residents put their recycling in the garbage bins instead (because god forbid empty boxes sit on the ground for 30 minutes until the garbage trucks arrive).
So when we arrived at our new apartment complex, I was ecstatic to see how clean everything was. There was no trash on the grounds. There are stations stocked with doggie bags every few feet across the complex for pet owners. There’s even a garbage can next to the mailboxes so you can throw out your daily spam coupon books ON THE SPOT.
But then I realized that there’s nowhere for me to recycle.
And then we drove to the beach.
I was devastated.
Offshore oil rigs as far as the eye can see sit almost inconspicuously along the coast. If you aren’t paying attention –– or you just don’t know any better –– you could even mistake the far ones for ships.
And the land you see across the ocean in that photo?
We didn’t even know that existed for the first month and a half that we lived here. Smoke from fires across the state polluted the air so much that we didn’t even realize we can see Catalina Island from the coast.
And then we drove to Los Angeles.
Oil wells line the highway. They sit in the backyards of homes in low income neighborhoods. In some places they’re close enough to touch when walking down the sidewalk.
That’s when I realized, California is a fake ass bitch.
Maybe my expectations were too high (shocker) but with all of the state’s measures to offset global warming, it just seemed so counterintuitive to have oil rigs lining the coast.
We laud California for its sustainable conscience –– both in the Golden State and from afar. There are smog check stations for cars in just about every neighborhood, and it’s anticipated that California car dealerships won’t even be allowed to sell gas powered cars by 2035. I can’t make a left turn in my apartment complex without reading about the dangerous effects of pool chemicals, all while you can watch the Earth literally being drained of its resources right from the comfort of your preferred Pacific Coast beach.
But the offshore rigs that conservationists and residents protest against today were once the reason that people moved to Southern California.
The Huntington Beach Oil Field began in 1920 with one single oil well. By the next year, there were 59 wells. Oil became one of California’s most important resources. As people moved to the area to work in the thriving market, then came the real estate boom.
By 1926, only six years after the first oil well’s production, a trip to the Huntington Beach Pier no longer offered a relaxing day at the beach.
Instead, it offered views like this:
By 2000, the oil field had produced over one billion barrels of oil.
Some residents are grateful for oil drilling. They worry that gas prices would be astronomical if the state was dependent on foreign oil production. (Although, $4.25 per gallon still seems pretty high if you ask me…)
Still, the area has come a long way since, and views from the pier look nothing like they did in 1926.
This is largely thanks to sustainability initiatives which have been on the rise globally, and for good reason.
Nasa’s climate change statistics are looking pretty bleak these days. Carbon dioxide levels are the highest they’ve been in nearly 650,000 years. Global sea levels are rising every year. And 19 of the 20 hottest years ever have happened since 2001. (In case you didn’t realize, there have only been 19 years since 2001.)
Every year our Earth is getting hotter and hotter, meanwhile I can’t wait to get my hands on that new Shein lounge set (did you see how cheap it is?!).
Americans’ favorite pastime seems to be meddling in other people’s problems instead of fixing our own (which, me too, but we’ll talk about that later). But while we sit around and point fingers at countries like China for polluting the atmosphere, we’re ignoring the very real changes that we could be making for our own country and for everyone’s –– yes, even the bugs’ –– world.
Individuals and even some communities have been taking steps toward sustainability for decades. (Why do you think so many people joined cults in the ’60s?)
Countries like Switzerland, France, and Denmark have even implemented sustainability laws and practices and they’re working. Switzerland is expected to be carbon negative by 2050. France plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% in the next 10 years. Denmark is already home to the “world’s greenest city.”
But in Huntington Beach, you can still watch as wells pump oil from the Earth.
Just living near an oil extraction site has been proven to increase minor health risks like headaches, nausea, and upper respiratory illnesses. Longterm proximity to oil wells is even believed to increase your risk of developing cancer. And Huntington Beach residents still have to worry about whether or not there are abandoned oil wells under their homes.
As apathetic as Americans generally are, even we’re starting to get fed up with our exploitation of the planet.
And these are the changes that we, consumers, need to demand.
Because the efforts of the few are far outweighed by the efforts of the rich. And we can sit around and sing Kumbayah and pat ourselves on the back for biking and recycling as much as we want, but we need to stop ignoring the large-scale damage we’re allowing humans (and corporations) to inflict on this Earth.
So now comes everyone’s big question: What do you want us to do then, Jacklyn?
To be honest, I don’t know Margot.
But if we want to keep living on this planet (only the rich kids get to go to Mars with Elon), we need to get our act together.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t think we can be mad about what people did in the past if we aren’t willing to actively learn from their mistakes.
Because there are still ways that we can fix the damage that we’ve done, or at least some of it.
Oil and gas companies are starting to invest in the potential for offshore wind farms, rather than oil farms. Some are suggesting that current offshore oil rigs could be converted into these sustainable energy sources.
And for the love of god can we stop buying into fast fashion?? (That one was mostly for myself, but if the shoe fits…)
I know it isn’t easy and I know it isn’t cheap. But for those of us who are in a position to minimize our carbon footprints, shouldn’t we?
Because I can’t justify feeling like a polyester pant suit with weak stitching is worth more than the actual future existence of our planet.
For those who are mentally screaming at me about poverty and classism, I feel that. I feel it with every bone in my body and my heart aches for all of the change that needs to be done.
But climate change isn’t a matter of the rich and the poor, it’s about the power of the people.
So if you’re really stuck –– you want to contribute to change but you just don’t know how or you can’t afford it or you’re so busy with work and school and worrying about covid that you literally can’t exhaust yourself any further –– go vote.
Vote for the candidate who will prioritize the planet (or at least who won’t actively destroy it). And please vote for someone who can actually win this thing (I don’t mean to be cynical, but your vote for the Green Party just really isn’t going to cut it this year, just like it didn’t in 2016).
Even when it feels like you have no voice, no money, and no power, remember that you are part of this world and that means you can contribute, too. We can become conscious consumers, car poolers, and early voters.
I know I don’t have all the answers. But I’m starting to think that as much as we assume the little things don’t matter (like throwing that recyclable water bottle into the trash, or buying only the most perfect produce from Whole Foods), when you add up how much we buy in to ruining the planet, we could buy in to saving it, instead.
So do the little things daily, and the big things when you can. And for the love of every god that anyone has ever believed in, please go vote.
2020 sucked, but maybe instead of giving in, we can start buying in to change.
Demand more. Then do more.
With love, and a new appreciation for every stupid creature on our planet,