The most unlikely climate hero of 2019 is Steve Castor's grocery bag

I don’t know why Steve Castor, the Republicans' counsel in the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, decided to bring his stuff to Monday’s hearing in a reusable plastic grocery bag instead of a briefcase.

But here is what I, a slightly overworked climate change reporter, like to imagine is what happened.

Over the weekend, Steve Castor was at home preparing his documents for Monday—when he realized that he left his nice leather briefcase at his cousin’s apartment. Or he realized his briefcase was broken, or stained, or wasn’t big enough to hold all his files. I don’t know. The point is, something happened and he was unable to use his normal briefcase.

Our boy Steve had more than enough time to buy a new briefcase before Monday’s hearing. In fact, he’d been eyeing this dark mahogany-colored Shinola jaunt with gunmetal-toned hardware; a real looker. It was expensive, but hey—he’s Steve Castor, a rich Republican lawyer person who I definitely knew about before yesterday, when the entirety of Twitter nearly exploded over his grocery bag decision.

Anyway, in my completely imagined version of this story, Steve was hovering over the “buy” button online, just about to click that “overnight shipping” option on this hot new briefcase, when he realized something: We are in the middle of a climate crisis—one caused, in part, by rampant unchecked production of goods that are made from and shipped using petroleum products.

You see, a few days or weeks or months ago, Steve had read about this 2009 study from the EPA, which looked what portion of greenhouse gas emissions come from consumerism—that is, our collective habit of buying things we need and don’t need. Mostly the latter, as we are Americans.

That study found that the way Americans procure, produce, deliver and dispose of goods and services accounted for nearly half of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Steve didn’t feel personally guilty for this. After all, the study found that the most climate-damaging part of consumerism is not the way consumers use and dispose of stuff. It’s the way manufacturers make our stuff. Every time a new piece of clothing or shoe or briefcase is made, materials have to be extracted from the earth. Extraction is the most greenhouse-gas intensive phase of the goods production cycle.

But still, even though Steve knew that his purchase of a new briefcase wouldn’t contribute much to the worsening of the climate crisis, he didn’t want buy a new one, and create more demand for extraction. Instead, he wanted to create incentive for briefcase manufacturers to change their ways, and start using recycled materials.

Also, Steve had read recently that reusable plastic grocery bags were actually becoming more environmentally harmful than the single-use plastic bags they were intended to replace, because Americans weren’t actually reusing them.

Thus, the plastic grocery bag. Because yeah, a new Shinola bag looks pretty cool. But you know what looks cooler? Promoting re-use of materials in an attempt to limit consumption-based emissions, and incentivizing businesses and governments to make changes in the way goods are produced, in order to prevent climate catastrophe. Be the change you want to see, ya know?

Of course, this is probably not what happened in the lead-up to Steve’s grocery bag decision. So I’m going to give the Most Unlikely Climate Hero award to the actual bag, because that’s who really inspired me yesterday—not the Republican lawyer guy getting paid to defend the president from impeachment.

That single-use plastic water bottle on the table next to the bag, though? That guy’s an asshole.

HOT ACTION: Use a fossil fuel-free banking service

Welcome to HOT ACTION, a once-in-a-while section where readers suggest actions individuals can take to help solve the climate crisis. I intentionally don't vet the suggestions very much, because it's a place for conversation among readers about what’s best for them and why, and how they view effective individual action. Have an idea for individual climate action you want to see featured in HOT ACTION? Email action@heated.world.

Today’s suggestion comes from Kira Barsten, a student at U.C. Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources. It relates to my October 3 newsletter, which looked at the climate commitments of big banks—ie, which banks are truly prioritizing sustainability, versus which ones are saying they’re sustainable but actually prioritizing fossil fuel investments.

The worst offender on that list was JP Morgan Chase. That wasn’t very surprising, considering Chase’s long history of loving fossil fuels more than any other bank.

(That graphic is from the 2019 Fossil Fuel Finance Report Card, which is a great resource for learning about which banks are the biggest financers of fossil fuels around the world).

Anyway, with Chase’s climate buffoonery in mind, Barsen emailed the HOT ACTION inbox to share how she recently decided to “REALLY put my money where my mouth is,” and switch her checking account from Chase over to a company called Aspiration:

Aspiration is a fossil-fuel-free banking service, and I've been really happy with it so far!

They also give you 1 percent interest which is, not exaggerating, 100 times more than what Chase gave me for my fee-free savings account.

They also have fossil-fuel-free IRAs (finances are scary).

They only have a debit card, so I'm keeping my credit card with Chase as a back-up, but am also on the lookout for better credit card situations. I don't have much money in the bank, so I don't know how much Chase cares, but I figure this is a step in the right direction!

I was particularly interested in this suggestion because—oh God, here it comes—I’ve had my personal checking account with Chase since I was 16 years old. It seems like a huge pain in the ass to change checking accounts, so I haven’t done it yet. I know, I know!

But I wonder, just how big of a pain in the ass is switching banks, really? And this is the question that really intrigues me—what would Chase employees actually do if I waltzed in and told them I wanted to cancel my account because of the bank’s fossil fuel investments?

Perhaps that’s something to explore for a future issue. In the meantime, if you want to learn more about Aspiration, here’s some links to further reading:

Have thoughts you’d like to share on Aspiration or fossil fuel-free banking in general? Post them as a comment in HEATED’s brand new fancy comment section! You can find a link to comment at the top of this email—the little talk box icon by the headline—or at the bottom of the web version of this article.

Have an idea for individual climate action you want to see featured in HOT ACTION? Email action@heated.world.

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Suggestions for an action readers can/should take in response to something I’ve written in this newsletter? Send those to action@heated.world.

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