What Can I Do About Climate Change?
People ask me all the time: ‘what can I do to fight climate change?’ And it’s a great question, because the problem seems so big, and we seem so small, that it’s hard to imagine there’s anything we could do.
For years, environmental groups focused on individual actions: new light bulbs, different kinds of cars. Those sort of changes are useful: the roof of my house is covered with solar panels, and I can plug my car into them.
I’m glad about that–it’s environmentally sound, and it saves me money. But I try not to fool myself into thinking that’s really how we’ll solve global warming. Because by this point, with the ice caps melting, we can’t make the math of climate change work one person at a time.
Instead, the biggest thing an individual can do is become…a little less of an individual.
Join together with others to form the kind of movements that can push for changes big enough to matter. Those changes fall into three broad categories.
100% Renewable Energy
One is to push for 100% renewable energy in every town and city–and it’s a push that’s really working. Diverse cities from Atlanta to San Diego, from Salt Lake City to Portland, have all announced that they’re going to go fully renewable. In fact, when the president pulled America out of the Paris climate accords, he said it was because he’d been ‘elected to govern Pittsburgh, not Paris.’ That afternoon the mayor of Pittsburgh announced that his city was going 100% renewable.
Keep Carbon In The Ground
Second, is to keep carbon in the ground. Scientists have made it clear that at least 80% of known reserves of coal, oil, and gas have to stay underground if we’re to have any hope of meeting the climate goals the world has agreed on. That’s why we fought so hard against things like the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, or for a moratorium on new coal mines on public land. We win a lot of these fights around the world–and every time we put up a fight we slow down the fossil fuel industry, giving the engineers another year or two to drop the price of clean energy even further.
And third, we work to staunch the flow of money to the fossil fuel industry. Our biggest tool is called divestment: convincing cities, states, universities, foundations, and corporations to sell the stock they hold in fossil fuel companies. This tactic–pioneered in the fight against apartheid–really works: new studies show it has focused attention on climate change and robbed companies of some of the money they need for further exploration. New York City was the latest convert, divesting its $200 billion pension funds from fossil fuels–and taking the total global commitment to nearly $7 trillion.
These are big goals–we can only accomplish them through movements. That’s why we join together, all around the country and all across the planet.
While the best thing that we can do to fight the climate crisis is to join together, we can also pair these group actions with the individual ones that climate organizations have been pushing for years.
Reducing our Carbon Footprint / Be More Energy Efficient
The Environmental Protection Agency has reported that being more energy efficient helps the environment, as well as the checkbook. To increase your energy efficiency and reduce your carbon footprint, you can do the following:
- Do not heat or cool your house as much as you would usually.There are two ways to do this: 1) when you are going out of the house, try setting the thermostat to 5 degrees or 10 degrees closer to the outside temperature. 2) Slightly change the temperature consistently. If you usually have it at 70 degrees in the winter, set it at 68. Heating and cooling use a significant amount of energy.
- Unplug electric appliances and chargers when not in use. Energy.gov states that “mobile phone chargers that are left plugged in after your phone is disconnected consume .26 watts of energy — and 2.24 watts when your phone is fully charged and still connected.”
- Use cold or warm water to wash your clothes. 90 percent of the total energy used by a typical washing machine is used to heat the water, while only 10 percent is used to power the motor. By simply setting your washing machine to “cold” you will be saving money on your electricity bill and reducing your carbon footprint.
- Replace old incandescent lightbulbs with energy efficient LED lightbulbs. LED lightbulbs last longer and use much less energy. LED light bulbs use only 2-17 watts of electricity (on third to one thirtieth the amount of electricity used by older lightbulbs.)
- Seal drafty windows and doors. Both cold and warm air can escape from your home though drafty openings which cause your heating or air-conditioning to work harder to keep your home at the right temperature and therefore consume more electricity. Weatherstripping and using caulk on cracks and gaps can go a long way to helping you save on your electricity bill and reduce your carbon footprint
*Note: this is not an exhaustive list of activities to increase your energy efficiency.
As shown in many of the examples above reducing your carbon footprint and being more energy efficient also saves money on your energy bill. It’s a win, win situation.
Choose Renewable Power (if possible)
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “electricity generation is the largest industrial polluter in the country.” Reducing this dependence is critical to slowing global warming. Switching to renewables will significantly reduce your carbon footprint.
There are a number of ways that you can use renewable energy in your home. The most independent and involved way to do this is to invest in personal renewable energy generation on your own property. Department of Energy lists a number of different renewable energy solutions and the steps that you would need to take to install them.
However, installing renewable energy like solar panels on your home can be expensive and a daunting task. Luckily, there are other, less involved, options available in many states.
According to the Institute for Energy Research (IER), 12 states currently mandate green pricing programs for utilities while many others have voluntary green pricing options. These work by allowing individuals and households to buy green energy rather than energy produced by fossil fuels. These green pricing programs work by “charging participating customers a prescribed cost per kWh of green energy purchased.” The IER states that it results in “nominal bill increases.” A couple minute phone call or email communication with your utility company can let you know if they participate in green pricing.
Eat Foods With Lower Carbon Footprints
Different foods contribute differently to your carbon footprint. The video below from Vox outlines how changing your diet can reduce your carbon footprint. Some of the elements they suggest are: reducing the portion size of the meat you eat, choosing meat that has less of a carbon footprint (e.g. choosing fish or chicken instead of beef and lamb), and even cutting out meat and eating a vegetarian, vegan diet.
In addition to adjusting your diet to eat less meat, planning meals and reducing food waste is another great way to reduce your carbon footprint. According to the National Resource Defense Council, “Approximately 10 percent of U.S. energy use goes into growing, processing, packaging, and shipping food—about 40 percent of which just winds up in the landfill.” Through decomposition in landfills, wasted food also produces greenhouse gasses and contributes to climate change. Therefore, we are not only contributing to climate change through demand for the creation of the food products, wasting the produce that we buy contributes as well.
The simplest way to address this is to waste less food. Savethefood.com has put together a simple and clear website describing some of the ways to do this, through shopping techniques (a menu plan helps!), information about what due dates mean, as well as recipes for the most commonly thrown out ingredients.
Ultimately, eating local, in season produce and cutting back on the food groups that produce higher emissions will lower your carbon footprint.
Make Green Travel Choices
Private vehicles produce more C02emissions than any other form of ground transportation. For instance, a private car produces on average 0.96 pounds of CO2 per passenger mile compared to 0.64 from a bus, and 0.33 for commuter rail
The more that you can commute or travel by foot, bike, or public transportation, the lower your carbon footprint. Similarly, reducing air travel will also reduce your carbon footprint.
However, in many areas around the country or because of a number of factors, personal vehicles may be the only option. Luckily, there are some minor change that you can implement in your own vehicle to reduce the CO2emissions including:
- Accelerate more slowly. While flooring the gas gets more immediate results, it also wastes gas.
- Speed less and use cruise control. Cars operate at peak efficiency at around 50 to 60 miles per hour. Staying within the speed limit on highways will not only make you a safer driver, it will help you save at the gas station and reduce your carbon footprint.
- Ensure your tires are inflated to the recommended levels and your engine is tuned. Simply put, the easier it is for the engine to move the car forward, the better your gas mileage will be.
- Avoid idling in traffic, if possible. Many cars continue to burn gas while sitting at a stoplight or in traffic. However, none of the energy produced is being used to move the car anywhere.
- Remove excess weight from your car. Simply put: it takes more energy and therefore more gas to move a heavier car.
These and other pieces of advice to make your car more efficient and contribute less to your carbon footprint can be found at Cotap.org.
While this is the most commonly cited way to “help the environment” that does not make it any less important. Many people do not realize the impact that creating so much wast has on the environment. Some quick facts to put this int perspective: Almost 80% of plastics end up in landfill or dumps or is littered into the environment and almost half (47%) of plastic waste is made up of plastic packaging.
A clear example of this waste can be found in our use of plastic bags. Americans use 100 billion plastic bags each year. That breaks down to 1,500 plastic shopping bags that are taken home by the average American family. In addition, these bags are only used for about 12 minutes. They are also very unlikely to be recycled: only 1% of bags are returned for recycling. This must change, not only for plastic bags but for many different single-use plastics.
Landfill produces significant amounts of greenhouse gasses and therefore reducing the amount of trash we produce would greatly reduce those emissions.
Recycling also reduces the demand for new products and therefore slows the use of limited natural resources. The organization LessIsMore.org lists some of the way that recycling helps conserve the environment:
- “One ton of paper recycle saves 17 trees.”
- “One ton of plastic saves 16.3 barrels of oil.”
- “One ton of aluminum saves 4 tons of Bauxite Ore.”
- “One ton of glass saves one ton of mixed limestone, soda ash and sand.”
Taking a couple extra moments every day to recycle can have a significant impact on the environment.