Every person counts in the battle against climate change. This means, at some point, real action is necessary to reduce carbon emission levels. 'Raising awareness' can only do so much. Yet it's too easy to feel discouraged about the whole movement. The actions of one person versus an entire oil drilling corporation — how is that even a fair fight?
It's not, frankly. But that doesn't mean we're powerless. In fact, consumer behavior can drive the majority of business decisions. The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC) wrote, last year, that "nearly two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions are linked either directly or indirectly to human consumption." This means that "what we buy, what we eat, how we travel, and how we dispose of our waste all contribute to climate change." By changing our behavior, together, we can hit two birds with one stone: We can reduce the amount of our own carbon emissions as well as influence what corporations do to appease their audience.
Of course, voting for climate-aware leaders and calling for government action against climate change is still needed to push for something big to be done about global warming. But, when it comes to our personal lives, there are still ways we can practice what we preach to help the planet starting today.
1. Shop for secondhand clothing
According to a Nature report, textile manufacturing is one of the most polluting industries in the world. About 5-8 percent of all global emissions comes from the fashion industry. It produces even more carbon emissions than both international flights and ocean cargo shipping.
Unfortunately, the drive of 'fast fashion' brands have contributed to this problem. These are brands that pump out cheap, new clothing to the point of making those clothes seem disposable — Zara, Forever 21, and H&M are a few examples of this practice. Fast Company described this trend as something that "made it easy for someone to pick up a new outfit for a party on Friday night, then never wear it again." This is incredibly harmful for the environment, as The New York Times has noted. "More than 60 percent of fabric fibers are now synthetics," like polyester, which is made from fossil fuels. And, just like other plastic materials, synthetic fabric won't decay if it's tossed into a landfill. This contributes litter and microplastics in the environment.
Consumers can fight against this by donating their clothes and shopping for second-hand garments. This elongates the life of your clothing and keeps them from becoming long-lasting waste. It can also be a hard hit back at the fashion industry, too. Retail stores like Forever 21 have been hurt with financial problems, and are struggling to regain customers as consumer interest has drifted towards eco-friendly, second-hand shopping.
2. Make your home more energy efficient
An energy efficient home won't just help the environment. It'll also save you money, a major win-win. According to ENERGY STAR — the U.S. government-backed brand that signifies energy efficient products — a homeowner can save $126–$465 a year by replacing their single-pane windows with ENERGY STAR windows. For renters, using a draft stopper for the bottom of your windows can keep your apartment insulated and warm without wasting costly energy. Keeping the indoor lights off during sunny days may also reduce the amount of energy you use while dropping lighting-related expenses by 10-40 percent.
When a household lowers the amount of energy they use, they also reduce how much electricity a power plant needs to produce. These facilities, especially the ones that run on fossil fuels like coal or oil, release a large amount of carbon emissions as they generate power. According to the U.S. Energy Information Association, one-third of all CO2 produced in the U.S. can be attributed to power plants, with the majority burning coal as a source. By using less energy, people can create less demand for fossil fuel mining and drilling.
3. Eat less red meat
Ever heard of "Meatless Monday?" It's not just a cute alliteration; it's an idea that dates back to World War I, when the U.S. government asked its citizens to scale back on meat to help preserve resources for the war. Since 2003, Meatless Monday has been brought back to promote better public health and, now, efforts against climate change.
According to a study published by Nature, an international science journal, our current food system is a "major driver of climate change, land-use change and biodiversity loss, depletion of freshwater resources, and pollution of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems" due to the use of fertilizers. Ranching and meat production in particular create greenhouse gases — cows are notorious for releasing potent methane into the air — and raising cattle has become one of the primary reasons for deforestation around the world.
As long as there's high demand for red meat, there will always be more reasons to clear out more space for cattle. Environmental researchers have suggested that people reduce the amount of red meat they eat to prevent additional areas from becoming farmland. Not only will this curb our over-consumption habits, it will also allow our food providers to cultivate enough food for other developing nations to feed themselves without needing more space for ranches.
4. Reduce, reuse, recycle
It's estimated that the phrase 'reduce, reuse, recycle' has been around since the 1970s. As waste and litter became a growing problem, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began to promote the three Rs to help guide the public on ways to save money, energy, and the environment. But did you know that the three Rs are listed by order of importance?
Reducing the amount of waste we produce will go a long way in protecting our local environment. Materials like plastic can linger on the planet for over 400 years — which means, sometimes, it's just plain better to use less plastics altogether. This reduces the demand for plastic products and dampens the amount needed to manufacture for items.
Once you've reduced the amount of waste, try to reuse what you can. Dig into your creativity and 'upcycle' your recyclables by refashioning them into something you can use, i.e. turning empty glass jars into storage or food containers, large tin cans into silverware holders, or bottles into candle holders.
Lastly, recycle the waste you can't reduce or reuse. Recycling still produces some carbon emissions, but it's overall better than littering or sending the items to a landfill.
5. Consider alternative transportation
Lastly, try to see if there are ways you can travel using clean or reduced energy. The majority of cars run on fossil fuels that, when combusted, release CO2 emissions that damage the atmosphere. By lowering our reliance on cars whenever possible — as some locations do need personal cars for travel — we can lower the amount of CO2 pumped into the atmosphere.
According to Carbonfund, carpooling just once a week can reduce our total levels of carbon emissions by 20 percent. Public transit, bicycling, and walking are also clean options that will also help lower your carbon footprint.
For those who can afford it, investing in an electric car is also a valid, clean option for transportation as well. If cars are unavoidable, Carbonfund recommends ensuring your vehicle is well-maintained and has properly inflated tires to prevent you from burning extra fuel.
As a single person, fighting the impact of climate change is a daunting task. As a community, that task becomes a little easier. The recent climate change protests have proven there are people all over the world who are demanding action against our climate emergency.