Put Down Your Phone, Pick Up Your Planet

Saving your mind from Big Tech and saving the earth from Big Oil are intimately connected

Paul Greenberg

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Paul Greenberg and son working in their garden at Ground Zero in Manhattan (photo by Jackie Snow)

How can we possibly save the planet if we never really experience it in real time with our own senses? Lately, this question has been my primary concern and resulted in two books written in the same pandemical year: Goodbye Phone, Hello World and The Climate Diet. In the first, an illustrated book published by Chronicle, I wrote about the steps you can take to minimize smart phone influence on your peace of mind and family life, in the second from Penguin Press, I set down to condense the advice from dozens of experts on climate change (farmers, engineers, activists, investors) into a short, readable book on steps you can take as an individual to reduce your carbon footprint.

For sure I never intended to pursue these two avenues at the same time. Before the pandemic hit, I was mostly known for writing about the ocean. Four Fish is the book by which people tend to know me. That and my two follow up “fish books” American Catch and The Omega Principle led me to write regularly for The New York Times, do a TED talk and make a documentary with PBS Frontline. It’s those books that took me from the North Atlantic to the South Pacific in what now seems like a watery, pre-pandemic blur.

But in 2020 and 2021 I took a step back (like so many of us). I focused on my garden at Ground Zero in Manhattan. I took the travel restrictions as a cue to stop being so goddamn peripatetic. I started focusing on staycations — exploring the Erie Canal upstate on a barge, doing a deep dive (literally) into nearby Jamaica Bay and the Rockaways and the barrier beaches that could disappear in the next few years if the seas continue to rise.

Most importantly I tried to focus on daily actions that would improve my life and hopefully by extension the lives of my readers. I got rid of my iPhone. I started, step-by-step to take the advice of all those climate experts and change the way I cook, eat, spend and travel. I’ve tried to listen to the advice of doctors and fix things like cholesterol, blood pressure and weight but at the same time tried, as a science writer, to understand why certain things work and others don’t.

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Paul Greenberg

New York Times bestselling author of Four Fish as well as The Climate Diet and Goodbye Phone, Hello World paulgreenberg.org