Interview of the Week: Tatiana Schlossberg

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Image: Today Show/NBC

Journalist and author Tatiana Schlossberg recently wrote one of our favorite environmental books of the year: Inconspicuous Consumption. We sat down with Tatiana to ask her about the experience of writing this book and her unique approach to making readers more aware of how their consumption is directly connected to the health of our planet.

ODP: In the past decade or so there have been numerous books published about the climate crisis, how did you decide on the angle you wanted to take for this book to deliver a unique perspective? 

TS: So many of the books and articles about climate change over the last decade have been scary, which can make people turn away in dread; technical, which makes people feel like they don’t understand; or moralizing, which can make people feel guilty and want to avoid the subject altogether. I wanted to write a book that made readers understand that, yes, this is a serious and sometimes frightening issue, but it’s also incredibly interesting and engaging, and the only way we will find solutions is if people feel excited about the opportunities to make a difference. In general, I hope that when people read my book, they will feel like they are learning about their world from their friend who sometimes gets too excited about intricate details, but is funny enough that it stays interesting.

ODP: In Inconspicuous Consumption, you do such a good job at conveying unsustainable consumption through products and services that are integral components of our lives, like jeans and Uber. Was it difficult to strike the right balance between bringing awareness through these relatable examples and making people feel overwhelmed because so many aspects of our lives aren’t very sustainable?

TS: It can definitely feel overwhelming (even paralyzing!) when we learn how fossil fuels are embedded in the things we use all the time, and how our stuff connects to climate change and pollution all over the world. I hope that the effect of writing about the systems in which these items are produced or transported is that readers feel collectively responsible for figuring out better ways to produce stuff or consume it, not that they feel individually guilty for their behavior up until now. Very few of us are actually responsible for the amount of water used to produce our jeans, for instance, but that doesn’t mean that learning about it doesn’t require any changes: We should demand that companies produce the jeans in a responsible way. We have to be involved in the solutions too.

ODP:  This line from your book was particularly powerful:

“It made me think again that there is no corner of the earth that our actions don’t affect, and that our indifference to the value of our resources and to their limits threatens everything, including our own success and survival.”           

Do you have hope that Millennials and younger generations will forgo convenience to make better decisions for our planet?

TS: The level of engagement we have seen from my generation and the next is really inspiring to me. There have been young people who have been leading on this issue for a long time, but the wider participation over the last year – from the Youth Climate Strike to the Youth v. Gov lawsuit, school walkouts and the Sunrise Movement – shows that young people are not willing to wait anymore for leadership in this crucial moment.

ODP: You leave readers with a pretty detailed list of actions they can take to help change our culture of consumption, but what’s a good first step that we can all take in our lives right now to make an impact?

TS: The most important thing we can all do is vote: vote for politicians who are willing to lead on the issue and hold them accountable if they don’t. After that, we can all make an effort to talk about climate change more with our friends, families, and colleagues: a study from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found that about a third of Americans talk about global warming with their family and friends, and less than a quarter of Americans hear about global warming in the media at least once a week. They also found that those who do discuss climate change or global warming are more likely to consider it a risk and support policies to mitigate it.

Outside of our personal circles, we can demand better corporate behavior by not buying goods from companies that aren’t, at the very least, transparent about their practices and working on lessening their environmental or climate impact. But I think if people ask themselves if they really need that new sweater or if maybe they could have some vegetables instead of another burger, we’d be heading in the right direction.

ODP: What was the most surprising thing you learned in writing this book?

TS: It’s hard to pick just one, but I didn’t really know a lot about the many impacts of shipping before I wrote this book. I figured it probably wasn’t great, but didn’t know much beyond that. I learned that cargo ships use bunker fuel, which is one of the dirtiest fuels and emits lots of black carbon, which is basically soot, and can cause 3,200 times more warming over a 20-year period than carbon dioxide, and may be responsible for more than 30 percent of warming in the Arctic. We talk about how it’s cheaper to get certain things from China or other faraway places, but it’s only “cheaper” because no one is paying for the climate and environmental effects of things like black carbon. It made me think really differently about the true value of goods, and what is the cost from beginning to end of a product’s journey from production to consumption.

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