At SELF, we’re committed to exploring the many intersections of personal and public health. We’re also committed to believing and trusting in science. So our brand’s stance on the climate crisis couldn’t be clearer: We’re in a state of environmental emergency, and humans are overwhelmingly to blame.
As has increasingly been the case, Earth Day arrives this year on the heels of devastating environmental disasters that underscore how alarming the climate crisis really is. In February, a winter storm swept through Texas, killing at least 111 people; their deaths were mainly due to hypothermia. A few months earlier, 2020’s “record-breaking” and “relentless” Atlantic hurricane season came to a close after 30 named storms, a number so great that it required experts to dip into the Greek alphabet for only the second time. And as a bookend to a ghastly year, wildfires ravaged the West Coast, killing at least 43 people directly and causing at least 1,200 additional deaths from smoke-related causes. The destruction brought to mind the Australian bushfires that rang in 2020 well before many of us had heard the word “coronavirus.” Australia’s bushfire season is only expected to worsen in lockstep with global heating. From India to Brazil and beyond, people across the world are suffering from the effects of “natural” disasters, which many climate scientists point out actually aren’t so natural anymore.
These kinds of events deserve attention. The people they impact deserve empathy and help, yes, but also structural access to the resources that would protect them when these climate disasters strike. Both statements also—or even especially—apply to people grappling not only with climate change but also with environmental racism and injustice. Like the people in the predominantly Black city of Jackson, Mississippi, who, thanks to governmental inaction and winter storms, had no clean water for a month this year. And Black and Latinx people dealing with disproportionate asthma diagnoses due in large part to a higher likelihood of having to live near pollution sources like sanitation facilities. People without homes who face greater health risks while weathering stifling heat waves with subpar shelter. (It’s worth noting that climate change, in turn, can drive up the number of people without homes.) Indigenous people, including the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes, who have put their lives on the line to protest crude oil pipelines that threaten the sanctity and safety of their water.
So, the next question must be: What can we all do about it? That’s the crux of the question we’re aiming to answer in SELF’s Earth Day digital cover story: 30 Ways to Live Sustainably and Fight Climate Change. Rachel Ramirez, a climate and environmental justice reporter, set out to discover what 30 renowned experts in this space think we can each do to actually make a difference. To be clear: The primary causes of climate change come down to much larger forces than what any individual can control. In just one example, the U.S. military emits more greenhouse gases than some countries. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do—or that we can’t make a difference as a collective. So, if you’re ready to do something about it, head over here to read Ramirez’s galvanizing takeaways, paired with a lovely thematic photo set. Creative director Amber Venerable tapped photographers Heather Hazzan and Graydon Herriott, committing to only using props the team already had on hand rather than buying anything new, except for the flowers. Those came from local farms, and Venerable then took them home rather than throwing them away.
It’s been a long year. On top of dealing with the pandemic and news of consistent, harrowing racism against multiple groups of people, the scope of the climate crisis might make you feel helpless. I’ve certainly been there too. But editing this digital cover has helped me realize how much power there is to be found in our individual choices—particularly when we come together.