Climate change is one of the most important issues of our lifetime. At the current rate global temperatures are rising, in the coming years our planet (and us, and our children) will see rising sea levels, threats to wildlife, lands, and agriculture, and more frequent, stronger natural disasters like hurricanes and droughts.
But climate change also can feel like a big, daunting problem. After all, it effects the entire Earth. So what can the average person do to help prevent it?
While we do all need to work together to fight climate change, the good news is there are many easy things you, your family and your friends can do to reduce your personal carbon footprint. Best of all, many of them are easy, small changes.
Here’s a list of 17 ways you can fight climate change in your own life, home, school and community:
1. Only buy and use white garbage bags
Black garbage bags can’t be recycled due to their dark pigment; white garbage bags can.
2. Speaking of which, remember to recycle and compost
Well-run recycling and composting programs cost less to operate than waste collection, landfilling, and incineration, and they have a big positive impact on our environment. When just one college, Stanford University, increased student recycling, it saved the equivalent of 33,913 trees in the first year. Recycling and composting diverts over 100 million tons of waste away from incinerators and landfills every year, preventing that waste from becoming air and water pollutants that harm the Earth and contribute to global warming.
3. Stop using plastic bags; bring your own bag to the grocery store (or, if you must, use paper bags and re-use or recycle them)
An estimated 100,000 marine animals die every year from plastic bags, and plastic bags contain harmful additives like dioxins that can harm our health and the environment.
4. Try to limit your use of plastic water bottles
Next time, skip the Dasani or disposable Poland Springs bottle and use a re-usable drinking container. In a single year, the production, transportation and consumption of plastic water bottles produces 46 billion tonnes of carbon pollution, so every bottle not created and conserved is a plus for fighting climate change.
5. Buy and eat local food
Buy local, sustainably-grown and produced food. Yes, it may cost more, but it’s better for you and reduces your carbon footprint.
6. Eat less meat (especially lamb and beef)
Meat – particularly red meat – are the highest carbon footprint foods in our diet. Not only does livestock use more land than any other human activity (and often treats animals cruelly and unethically), the meat industry is also a major source of water pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions. One study estimates that if Americans went meatless one night a week, it would be equivalent to taking 30 to 40 million cars off the road for a year. And if you do choose to eat meat, consider substituting red meat for fish, chicken and eggs. One kilogram of consumed lamb creates 39.2 kg of carbon emissions, versus 27 kg of CO2 for beef. By comparison, chicken contributes 6.9 kg of CO2 per kg of food, tuna 6.1 kg, and eggs 4.8 kg. If you’re serious about reducing your own carbon footprint, lowering your meat consumption is one of the biggest bang-for-your-buck things you can do.
7. Buy recycled paper products like paper towels and toilet paper
Bonus points: find recycled paper towels that offer half-sheet tears.
8. Don’t rinse your dishes before pushing them in the dishwasher
If the plates not that dirty or doesn’t need an intense scrubbing, put it right in the dishwasher and save the extra water.
9. Turn the water off when you brush your teeth
Always look for other easy ways to not run water when you don’t need it.
10. Turn off the lights and unplug appliances, devices and power strips when you’re not using them
Any easy, creative ways you can find to use less power helps. Buy A-rated and energy saver appliances and light bulbs, take your phone charger out of the wall when you’re not charging your phone (it still uses power), and remember, the electricity you consume is only as clean (or dirty) as your electricity grid, so, if you have the option, connect to a power supply or utility that’s investing in solar, wind, geothermal and hydro power.
11. Switch your work to a laptop
A typical laptop computer uses 75% less energy than a desktop machine. And when you’re done working, turn it off or put it on sleep and unplug it.
12. Use your own mug or non-disposable coffee container
In the United States alone, Americans consume 400 million cups of coffee per day, equivalent to 146 billion cups of coffee per year. A large percentage of those cups are consumed in disposable paper and styrofoam cups, which end up in incinerators and landfills.
13. Use Ecosia instead of Google when you search the internet
Ecosia is a free search engine alternative committed to fighting climate change and improving the environment. When you search and click their ads, Ecosia plants trees, and has already planted 21 million trees and counting around the world.
14. If you’re shopping on Amazon, buy from smile.amazon.com
Amazon’s overall carbon footprint, corporate social responsibility and environmental impacts are debatable — in some ways its supply chain is likely more carbon efficient than its competitors; however ordering from Amazon may be a higher carbon action than getting the same products from your local store. But with over half of product searches on the internet taking place on Amazon, the simple fact is a lot of us buy Amazon products. So if you are using Amazon, order from smile.amazon.com. You have access to all the same products, and Amazon will donate 0.5% of every purchase to charity, including organizations fighting climate change.
15. Do laundry the responsible way
When you use only cold water and hang-dry your clothes and linens every time you do laundry, it can eliminate almost a half a ton of CO2 a year. Clean clothes, cleaner planet.
16. Walk, bike or take public transit if you can instead of driving. Take the train or drive (if possible) rather than flying
We realize you can’t always choose when and how you travel, but when you have greener options, try to take them. If you can’t, you can always calculate the carbon footprint of your trip and plant trees or buy an offset. If you’re buying a new car or trading one in, look at hybrid or electric options; driving or using a normal car is the average person’s largest contribution to climate change. When you do need to drive, typically, traveling at 55 – 65mph is the most fuel-efficient speed per mile or kilometer traveled.
17. Vote for local (city, state and Congressional) politicians who will fight for land preservation, environmental protection and against climate change
We can do a lot to reduce our personal carbon footprint, but one of the biggest ways you can have an impact in the fight for climate is at the ballot box: by supporting politicians who share your views and can help enact them into law. On November 6, 2018, the U.S. mid-term elections are your next big opportunity to elect more climate-friendly representation. To find your local elected officials in the U.S., start here. To find who represents you in Congress, visit GovTrack. Then compare your candidates’ environmental rating and voting record. OpenSecrets.org also tracks candidates who take corporate political contributions from oil and gas companies to block positive climate policy.
For more ways to help fight climate change globally, nationally and locally, you can find all the latest actions and opportunities on Brightest.