Over the last several months, several alarming reports on climate change have been released (see IPCC and US assessment reports). Many people are asking themselves (and us!) what they can do. I frequently hear people say, “I can’t really do anything - I am only one person.” Or, “Big oil companies are too hard to fight,” or, “This government will never enact anything.” I can appreciate those perspectives, but I vehemently disagree. Those thoughts go against every value that this country was founded on and against the very principles of freedom and choice that we have all grown up believing in so strongly.
We DO have power. In fact, we hold all the power in the choices we make. We can choose to vote for the people we want in office. We can choose to purchase certain products over others. We can choose to conserve and not consume so much. We can choose to start up conversations with our friends and neighbors about scary and challenging subjects like climate change. We can choose to find solutions instead of passively allowing things to go from bad to worse. And, if each one of us does these things with a mind towards saving humanity from destruction, we absolutely have the power to make a change. The reports even tell us so. The catch is that the window of time to act is unquestionably short. And the mountain to climb is big. We need to start NOW. There is no getting around it if we want to beat this.
In that vein, I have put together my top ten list of things that each of us, as individual citizens, can do to have an impact. Let’s be honest - these things are not hard. In most cases, they will actually save money and give us back time in our day. Yes, they take mindfulness and commitment. They do require thinking differently about our lifestyles and priorities than we did before. But, when survival of the human species hangs in the balance, is that really a difficult choice?
Jennifer’s Top Ten List
- 1. Educate yourself. Read the science. Really, it won’t take too long. The US government has made this much easier with their new website at www.GlobalChange.gov. The content is easy to digest, relevant to our lives, and engaging. And, there are links to many more reports if you want to dig in deeper.
- 2. Stay connected. Follow the information coming out of just a few organizations you like. The Chester County Citizens for Climate Protection (4CP), for example, is a group outside Philadelphia with a great quarterly newsletter that is relevant to everyone. There are also a multitude of national and international groups providing information and ways to get involved such as the US Climate Action Network, Responding to Climate Change (RTCC), and the Climate and Urban Systems Partnership.
- 3. START TALKING ABOUT IT. To me, this is the most important action on this list. Once you feel grounded (see items 1 & 2), ask people you know what they think about climate change. Relate what you have heard. Listen respectfully, but also assert your perspective. Share resources. We will not solve these difficult problems without collaboration. Don’t be afraid that you might not know an answer. No one knows all the answers. The way to get around debates is to be solution oriented in your quest. Ask, “How CAN we make an impact?” or “What can we do if we work TOGETHER?”
- 4. MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD. Let your legislators know you care about our longer-term future. Weigh in on issues. Demand that we re-direct the subsidies that are going to fossil fuel companies to renewable energy development. Renewable energy development also creates jobs – many more long term jobs, at that – and it is a critical step toward combating climate change.
- 5. Eat less meat. One of the single most impactful things individuals can do to reduce carbon emissions is to eat less meat. This is due to the process of raising animals for food and the powerful greenhouse gas methane that is produced during the course of animal agriculture. Try Meatless Mondays!
- 6. Consider alternative travel. Use public transit. If a train is accessible, train travel is often much less stressful than battling traffic, finding parking, etc. From a business perspective, check out this article for ideas on commute and business travel. Air travel generates substantially higher greenhouse gas emissions than driving. Consider family driving vacations as an alternative to flying.
- 7. Switch energy providers. Pick an energy provider that offers renewable energy in the mix. This does not mean that your energy is coming directly from renewable sources, but you are supporting the generation of renewable energy provided to the grid. For those in PA, check out options on here.
- 8. Change your light bulbs. Change all of the light bulbs in your house to LEDs or CFLs. If you change them now, rather than before they burn out, you start saving immediately. The payback is often less than a year. Want to do more? Have an energy audit done and implement the recommendations.
- 9. Buy less stuff. Manufacturing is a major contributor to carbon emissions. Add in a trip from China and you have a killer footprint for that cheap plastic thing. Do you really need it?
- 10. Buy local and in-season food. Food transport from faraway places generates massive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. Buying local also supports the development of local, more self-sustaining economies. Join a CSA or check out your local farmers market! Even better, ask your grocer to supply more local produce. And when you want to eat out, find and support the local restaurants that are making an effort to be sustainable. Look here for some great examples.
We would love to know what is on YOUR list. What will you commit to start doing today?