Living Our Values in the Climate Crisis
Profile of Anthony Leong, Age 28, Winnipeg, Canada
When it comes to taking action on climate change, my greatest motivation comes from my children. My son Anthony inspires me by the way he lives his values in light of the climate crisis. In Winnipeg, Canada, he chose to live in the most walkable, transit-friendly part of the city. He and his partner don’t have a car and travel places by bicycle or bus - even in the wintertime! On the rare occasions they need a car, they use their local carshare co-op. Anthony buys used clothing and tools, captures water from the shower for plants, and eats a plant-based diet.
Even before I became immersed in the climate crisis last year, I found Anthony’s habits creeping into my life – taking glass containers to the restaurant for carry-out, composting food items, conserving water and not wasting food. As I reflected on my own climate story this year, it inspired me to seek out Anthony’s story. I recently interviewed him about how the climate crisis has affected the way he lives.
"My son Anthony inspires me by the way he lives his values in light of the climate crisis."
In this interview, which has been edited for length and clarity, I explored his beliefs, perspectives, concerns, lifestyle choices and recommendations.
When did you first become aware of the climate crisis?
I don't really remember being unaware of the climate crisis. I guess it really started weighing on me in high school. I studied Environmental Science in 11th grade.
What are your biggest concerns or worries about climate change?
I am concerned that children will inherit an unlivable place, or a place that is hostile to life. That it will destroy us or make our lives hell, and irrevocably alter the ability of our planet to support life.
What values are important to you regarding the lifestyle you have chosen?
It's important to me that I do my best to take only what I need. I'm aware that I live in a rich country whose bountiful resources are extracted from oppressed peoples through ongoing colonialism and segregation. These resources are also extracted from the collective good in the form of excessive emissions and resource usage. My decisions about how to draw on these resources, which have been made disproportionately available to me (privilege), should be made with thoughtfulness and care. Many of the options available to privileged people are grossly unsustainable.
Ever since I was a kid, I've thought it bizarre that I can run the tap or the hose or the oven all day with little consequence. Those who can afford to do so can drive, take private jets, or ride in superyachts as much as they like with impunity. They are drawing excessively from the public well and therefore taking someone else's share. It's important that we choose to avoid certain things that are harmful, and endeavor to mitigate the harm we all invariably do as consumers. That means driving less, flying less, eating less meat, using less energy and water, generating less garbage, and electing smart, empathetic leaders. There are a lot of ways to achieve these ends.
How have you adapted your lifestyle in response to climate change?
Though my city is deeply car dependent like almost every city in Canada and the US, I've chosen to live very centrally with access to numerous bus stops. I can walk to the grocery store or bike downtown in 5 minutes or less. When I've had jobs that were far from my home, I still took the bus, even if it took over twice as long as driving would have (a hallmark of car-dependent cities). I don't view time spent on public transit as lost time. I can read and relax on the bus or train in a way I can't in a car, especially if I'm driving. I've also slowly phased eating meat out of my life. I'm not strictly vegetarian, but I eat meat only a few times a year. Of course, I could do more, I could be stricter or go vegan, but even though I'm not vegan I still make efforts to reduce my dairy/egg consumption. I use oat milk, for example.
Like anyone else, I have a lifestyle I'm used to and certain pleasures I'm unwilling to give up at present—like butter. The trick I use is not trying to do everything, but to make my goals for improvement modest and achievable, and work constantly on them. There is a Japanese concept called kaizen of gradual, steady improvement—I believe this to be the most realistic way for most people to make positive change and maintain their changes.
Has climate change affected your career decisions?
Climate change has affected my everyday decisions about where I work, how I spend my money, and my investments. There are a lot of companies that do harmful work where I would only seek employment out of economic necessity. This is a condition that capitalism forces on almost all of us, so it's understandable why many people have to work for these harmful companies. I tend to assume most giant corporations that make the most cosmopolitan products and services are self-serving and avoid giving my money to them. I don't consider investing in the S&P 500 to be ethical—just look at the holdings list and you'll find a host of corporations with abysmal track records on ethical and sustainable behavior. They put their own interests to make a profit as a priority over the health and safety of people in the community. Many investment funds directly or indirectly support fossil fuel industries by investing in banks that invest in fossil fuels. I also avoid supporting companies, such as Big Tech or Big Pharm for the same reason.
Have you or your loved ones been directly affected by climate change?
Really no one is unaffected by climate change, though we know poor and oppressed peoples are disproportionately affected. 1-in-100-year heat waves and fires happening every year affect pretty much everyone. Last summer in Winnipeg the air was smokey for most of the month of July. We lost a month of our already short summer, and we were uncomfortable opening our windows or going outside. That's some apocalyptic stuff. Drought conditions here seem to be turning into a fact of life, year over year. This year we've had a great deal of flooding, a climate pattern that in South Africa was attributed to climate change. My home state of California doesn't seem to be able to go a year without an enormous wildfire.
What actions do you think we should take individually and collectively to address climate change?
One of the biggest single changes many people can make to reduce their emissions is switching to a financial institution that does not invest in fossil fuels. Pretty much all of the world's biggest banks are using the money in our bank accounts to invest in the destruction of our planet through fossil fuel investment.
Of course, climate change isn't going to wait for us, and we also need urgent, decisive, collective action. This is where advocacy, activism, and voting come into play. But with these, too, I urge people not to do them in a way that burns them out. Activism, advocacy work and policy change should be prioritized, and approached modestly, too. We can't afford to lose our activists to burnout, so we must practice self-care. This means not doing too much and not trying to do it all. Our activism must be sustainable.
It's essential that we elect leaders with a sense of urgency about addressing climate change and social inequity, which are deeply intertwined. The rich and powerful are far more harmful to the environment than the rest of us, and many of our elected officials give them license to do so. We must hold the rich and powerful accountable for their disproportionate carbon footprint. We need to shrink economic inequality by redistributing wealth.
I'd encourage people to reach for the advocacy at hand in their local community. Take every small win you can get. It's unlikely you'll be able to move the needle on climate change on your own, but organizations have real power and I have seen them affect meaningful change. As I believe deeply in cycling and public transit, I started volunteering with my local bike advocacy organization recently. There are also transit advocacy organizations. Maybe you have a local “Yes in My Backyard” (YIMBY) organization that is doing important work. If you aren't able to donate your time, donate your money. I set aside $50 a month to donate to local organizations advocating for social and climate justice. And lastly, we privileged must learn to live a less excessive and wasteful lifestyle. There are many ways to do this and Project Drawdown lists them in order of the greatest impact on climate change mitigation.
Anthony Leong and Eugenie Lewis