I’m a computer scientist with a minor in geography. That tends to surprise people, as those two fields aren’t very connected.
Why am I a geography minor?
During the coronavirus pandemic, I was taking university classes from home. A few days into the fall 2020 semester (sophomore year), I evacuated from my childhood home with my family. The SCU ligntning complex had grown to 300,000 acres and was heading straight for my family’s front door, causing an uncertainty as to whether we would be safe or our house would remain standing.
After evacuation, I took classes from my grandma’s house for a few days while sleeping on the couch in a sleeping bag. To make matters worse, the excessive ashfall and smoke damaged my cars’ engine to the point that it would no longer run. At one point, I was wearing a P-100 paint respirator, pushing my car back to my grandma’s house as I tried to get groceries, straining under 100º heat and a menacing orange-red sky.
Obviously, that scared the &$#! out of me, so I desperately reached out for more information about what was going on with the weather.
Ultimately, the next spring I sat in (zoomed) Geography 149B: Climate Risks and Impact Analysis at UC Berkeley in order to learn more about what was going on. Taking that class opened my eyes and changed my life, putting me on course to earn a minor in geography from Berkeley.
This blog is not about climate change. This blog is about happiness, finding a sense of meaning and wellbeing, and living in a world surrounded by rapidly-increasing technology. Climate change does impact that goal, so it’s important to talk about from time to time.
A Hostile Environment Impacts Screen Time
When it’s pouring rain, of course there’s not much else left to do but watch Netflix or say hi to friends in the Metaverse. It’s a tragedy, but it only lasts for a few days. Maybe a few friends or family members are interested in playing board games or making meals, but frankly these days the internet is pervasive indoors.
Unfortunately, with heatwaves getting longer and storms getting heavier, we will almost assuredly have to spend an increasing amount of time indoors each year. This means more time spent on screens, and less time spent making friends, making memories, making music, and having a good time.
The Importance of Minimizing Screen Time In The Face Of Climate Change
One of the people in my life I am closest with has family in Sacramento, CA. Due to the changing weather, days over 110ºF are becoming more common, making it dangerous to go outside from 10 AM – 5 PM. These conditions require everyone to spend their days indoors, watching Netflix or–for the younger members of the family–gaming in a VR headset.
It’s not at all unreasonable. You can’t even safely swim at those temperatures, due to heat stroke and dehydration. All you can do is stay inside. Even workers outdoors are required to stop working, causing billions in economic damage. That’s when screen time gets maximized, because there isn’t really an alternative. It’s in-part why VR headset sales are increasing worldwide each year and Meta exists. Apple is releasing a VR headset soon, to add to the frenzy.
As a computer scientists and a geographer, I do not imagine this trend slowing down or reversing anytime soon. Computers will become more present, more relevant, and the digital divide between those with technology and those without will deepen.
Even when I was evacuating during the wildfires, I plugged into my computer and played Call of Duty: WarZone as the mountains burned and ash rained all around my city. There was no way for me to go hang out with some friends or go for a hike, because the mountains were on fire. Unfortunately, these weather conditions are likely to be more common in the future, making the precious time we can spend away from screens so much more valuable.
Our planet is in a tough spot. It will continue to get warmer, even with action. Storms will get bigger, droughts will get longer, and oceans higher. It’s now or never for hiking, snowboarding, skiing, walking up and down the beach, going to the park.
As sad and heartbreaking as that is, it’s important to realize the value of the time we do actually have. Finding 80 more days per year by deleting my social media has changed everything for me. So, maybe it’s not social media for you, but Americans are spending large swaths of their time on their devices.
For those who spend their days watching TV or online shopping or playing video games, please don’t forget just how valuable these climate conditions are. There’s a whole world out there waiting for you. There’s nothing wrong with a few hours a week, but take a good look at your time as there is plenty of it to be found if you feel like there’s never enough.
This section is for any of the >81% of Americans who are somewhat worried about climate change.
Here are a few key facts I know:
- Our planets’ climate is changing.
- Humans are responsible.
- Scientists agree about this.
- Impacts are serious and already visible.
- We can act to mitigate the severity of climate change in the future.
This list is provided for me from all of my classes at UC Berkeley, from scientists at the national lab, and from worldwide researchers. The impacts are serious and already here, you can watch entertaining youtube videos about it. We can still do stuff to minimize the severity of climate change in the future.
There’s a lot to say about climate, but this is not a climate change blog. They do exist, and I recommend you take some time to learn more about our beautiful planet. Climate change is a risk to screen time. It is also a risk to living a healthy and satisfying life. I may write more about this topic, but for now I believe this is a good place to start.