By Benjamin Wolf, Contributing Editor
If one thing has been made abundantly clear by the events of the past two years, it’s this; our world is changing. Raging wildfires, devastating floods , and extreme droughts are wreaking havoc worldwide at a shocking rate. According to the International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest report, we have roughly 9 years left to reduce greenhouse gas emissions before the changes to the earth’s climate are irreversible.
For an expert perspective, we sat down with the Co-Founder/Editor of the Philadelphia based non-profit organization Green Philly, Julie Hancher for this interview.
1. What spurred you to embark on the journey of founding Green Philly?
Green Philly began in 2008 after I discovered that my employer was throwing the contents of our recycling bins into the trash. I’d always felt that I was making a difference and acting more sustainably by recycling, but quickly realized that wasn’t the case. After that discovery, I had a conversation with a co-worker about how sustainability seemed hard and complicated, and most people didn’t seem to understand sustainability.
From there, I came up with an idea to form a website meant to educate and empower people on how to make more sustainable decisions. The way Green Philly has evolved, is similar to my own sustainability journey because sustainability has a lot of flaws and difficulties. I created Green Philly because I felt that there had to be more ways that people could get inspired and take part in making the world a more sustainable place, and that that point of view would be beneficial for everybody. Today, Green Philly is a media outlet that gives people specific changes to engage in sustainability that are both accessible and low cost.
2. How is Green Philly different from other organizations working on solving problems created by climate change?
We’re different because we’re the only online digital publication dedicated to sustainability. Other ones have stories around it, but we’re trying to show that the more you talk about sustainability the more you can make it a part of people’s lives.
3. The recent release of the IPCC’s 6th assessment report has provided new insight into how dire our current climate situation is. When you first read the findings in the IPCC’s report, what was your reaction?
I will say that I was not surprised. I read a book by David Wallace Wells called An Uninhabitable Earth, and that basically painted a picture of what the effects of climate change could look like in the near future. It was Interesting that a scientific report came out that basically showed how spot on the book was in comparison to the IPCC report’s information. People talk about sustainability and climate change as a possible, “can-do” option that’s more aspirational, but this report put more pressure on government leaders and society in general to make more changes.
There’s also this argument of corporations’ vs individuals that I feel isn’t helpful. We need people to take more sustainable actions in their lives and support companies that take action on climate change. People also need to elect politicians and local officials, and support non-profits and community members, that reflect their values and feelings towards sustainability. I don’t think it’s an either or thing.
4. What was the most concerning piece of information you took away from the report?
What was surprising to most people is that there is a certain amount of climate change that is already baked in that we cannot stop. Even looking just at how warm it’s been here over the past few months or seeing Kim Kardashian on Saturday Night Live wearing Fall Fashion even though most people in Philadelphia are still wearing T-shirts and shorts in October. Weather and seasonal patterns are already changing along with many other small things that we can notice but can’t be stopped. That shouldn’t discourage people, but it can be used to add more pressure on people. We need climate action now.
5. Was there anything in the report that surprised you?
The IPCC saying that we only have a few years to stop climate change was pretty jarring.
6. Another study published in 2017 by the Carbon Majors Database mentioned that over 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 have been produced by just 100 companies. Knowing this is the case, how can we put more pressure on corporations to cut down on emissions?
These companies may push out more CO2, but there are a lot of laws that have allowed them to get away with that. We need to elect more leaders who will go against those laws if we want that to change.
7. Following up on that, what, if anything, can the average person do to help turn the tide?
The #1 tool a consumer has is their dollar and buying power. It’s easy to say “this is cheaper because x” and “I want to spend my $ here because it’s cheaper”, but if you look at the entire life cycle of a product you have to ask; is that product cheap because it’s being created using slave labor? What are work conditions like for the people manufacturing it? If it’s a food product, are the animals you’re consuming being treated poorly?
I think consumers have to look at what’s important to them in terms of their values and see where they can make choices to buy from smaller and local businesses.
8. More specifically, what can people in the Philadelphia region do to make the city a more environmentally friendly place to live?
Supporting local food producers and local vendors is one great way. If you’re just thinking of reducing your waste, then something as simple as just buying products that are better built and longer lasting instead of getting things that are more disposable can help. In Philly we have a lot of free resources including free recycling, composting, free rain barrels, free trees, etc. that people can access to help make the city more sustainable. Small changes add up to big changes in the long run.
9. If you had one piece of advice for our readers regarding the climate crisis, what would it be?
I would say that no matter where you are in your sustainability journey, you can always do more. I don’t think there is a point where you’re sustainable or you’re not, everybody has changes they can make. I think it’s a point of reflecting on your own habits and lifestyle and seeing what you have the capacity to do in your life. There are always nuances to that, but it’s best to reflect on an individual level and what you can do in any given situation.
The problem of climate change cannot be solved by one of us; this is an all-hands-on deck issue that will take a massive shift in the way we live and operate as a society. That means collective action across governments, corporations, and people like you and me for a more sustainable world.
If you’re ready to take the first step in your own sustainability journey, you can get started with these great events and resources from Green Philly:
- Green Philly Event Calendar: https://www.thegreencities.com/events-calendar/
- Tips for Recycling: https://www.thegreencities.com/category/recycle/
- CSA Guide to Locally Grown Foods: https://www.thegreencities.com/philadelphia-csa/
You can also subscribe to Green Philly’s newsletter, or follow them on social media here: