10 things we learned from Alex Honnold’s week of environmental rants
Alex Honnold is one of the best-known outdoor adventure athletes on the planet, but he comes across as something of a private person. We’ve all seen Free Solo by now. We know he’s a bit quirky. And that’s why we thought it interesting to follow along on the acclaimed climber’s Instagram feed this week. Each day he was musing about different issues related to the environment, much of which is connected to the work being done by his eponymous foundation.
It all seemed to start after a brief message on Earth Day, which seemed to propel some deeper thinking on the subject.
“I didn’t say anything of substance because the internet is a difficult place to have real conversations about topics that matter,” he wrote. “But this weekend I’ve been going down an epically deep rabbit hole researching my carbon footprint.”
He is also now hosting Instagram Live sessions on the weekly chatting with experts connected to the Honnold Foundation.
Here are 10 highlights including words of wisdom and interesting projects we thought worthy enough to pass along to our readers:
1. We should all be eating less meat: His opening rant on Monday was dedicated to diet and the fact that eating high on the food chain, a diet that is heavy in red meat, is bad for the body and for the planet. “I grew up eating steak and drinking milk; my family was as middle class American as it gets. And then I read a ton of books and started worrying more about performance and my carbon footprint. So I stopped eating meat (or at least seriously limited it). We have to change as we learn new things.” He suggests documentaries such as @gamechangersmovie or @cowspiracy as well as the book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer as good sources of further information.
“People (almost always overly macho young men) who think that I must be seriously light duty to eat mostly plants. I don’t even know what to say to them, but I’ll just leave then with this Jimmy Chin pic of me soloing the Excellent Adventure, 5.13a (7c+). I think the plants did me well that day, as they have for the last 7 years or so.”
2. Personal versus collective action: Some small easy individual acts done collectively can make in impact: Honnold wrote of trying to figure out. The idea that using a reusable coffee mug might not mean that much when what we really need is collective action like a price on carbon. But, Honnold seems to have come around on the issue.
“The beauty of personal action is that, though it might not change the world by itself, it’s a step in the right direction and one that we can constantly improve upon,” he writes.
3. Credit unions before banks: One of the things he suggests is to switch from a bank to a local credit union.
“I changed my bank to a local, nonprofit credit union. Most folks don’t think about it, but while your money sits in a bank account that bank still uses it to invest in all kinds of things that you as an individual might not approve of, like Wells Fargo loaning money to the Dakota Access Pipeline. By keeping money local you opt-out of many of the worst offenses,” he writes.
4. Carbon Offsets: He also notes that he took a while to come around to the idea of carbon offsets. And one of the organizations that helped him see that value is Mossy Earth, an environmental conservation organization that does reforestation work.
“I like that reforestation actively removes carbon from the atmosphere as opposed to just lowering emissions,” says Honnold, who has since become a member of the group.
5. Solar is the future: “All human energy needs could be met by an area the size of 1% of the Sahara desert. Think about that for a second. More solar energy strikes the earth in a single hour than humanity uses in a year. The potential is staggering,” Honnold writes.
He explains that he doesn’t understand the partisan nature of this issue. Solar can increase energy independence and energy security, so what’s the problem?
“We should be celebrating technologies like solar for keeping money in our local communities and giving individuals greater autonomy. I’ve never met anyone who likes paying a power bill.”
6. Cool projects! The Honnold Foundation is supporting the work of an organization called the Grid Tribal Program that works on renewable energy projects such as solar with First Nations in the United States.
7. Overpopulation versus consumption per capita: Honnold reserves one of his last posts for the thorny issue of overpopulaton — often used as an escape valve for those not wanting to do anything progressive. Why bother? The big problem is there are too many people. Blah blah. But after some interesting reflections, he comes to a thought-provoking conclusion that results in hundreds of comments and almost 150K likes.
“We are the problem, not a country like Niger (which leads the world in birth rate but has .5% of our per capita emissions). And our higher emissions don’t even make us happier or healthier,” he writes. “The happiest countries in the world are Finland or Denmark and they each have roughly half our per capita emissions. Maybe we’re doing it wrong…”
8. Privilege: He also spends some time talking about the nature of individual action. The privileged position he occupies as a professional climber who climbs 20 to 35 hours per week and has the luxury to research and contemplate various environmental issues.
9. Is individual action letting corporations off the hook? Sometimes I think that the emphasis on individual action is just foisted upon us by corporations who’re trying to outsource their own responsibilities. “If we encourage people to recycle then we don’t have to change our manufacturing methods! And that’s not to say that we shouldn’t recycle, we absolutely should. But we really need to force some systemic changes as well, so that not everyone has to do a research project each time they want to do the right thing. This is why we vote…"
10. Is change possible? Hell ya, look around. Honnold concludes by writing, “My biggest take away from COVID-19 is that societal change is possible on shockingly short notice when we actually have the will.”