The past week has not been a kind one for the environment, nor for those who care to read about it. Three monumental reports from the US Government, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and a team of independent researchers ripped through news feeds, with dire headlines like ‘UN Says Climate Genocide is Coming. But it’s Worse Than That.’ The reports are no less alarming. “Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities,” declares 300 leading scientists representing 13 US federal agencies. “The assumption that current and future climate conditions will resemble the recent past is no longer valid.”
As more than 200 delegates gather for the largest climate summit since Paris, the rest of the news reading world remains paralyzed with guilt. The present data dump is a marathon, and every report should be read with time. But for those who need to reclaim control of their climate footprint, we’ve brainstormed 6 immediate action steps to redirect your efforts. The fear is real, yes, but inaction proposes a far scarier future.
- CONTROL YOUR FOODPRINT
One of the easiest ways to improve your carbon consumption is to change your actual consumption. Relying on local vegetables and unprocessed foods removes both high transit and production costs, but also the serious impact of meat (particularly cows and sheep) on our ecosystem. According to recent research, “a vegan diet might make as much as a 20% difference to your overall carbon impact, but simply cutting out beef will deliver a significant benefit on its own.” When you are craving that exotic snack, sometimes its about the specifics of that food’s chain of production. In his book How Bad are Bananas, Mike Berners Lee shows just how growing, packaging, importing, and transport can be calculated. For example, a banana which is shipped by boat with no packaging (gotta love those peels) is actually significantly less carbon intensive than that off-season asparagus flown in from Peru.
- FIRE UP THE COMPOST
Sorting your food scraps can be irksome, but how you dispose of your waste can actually be more important than what you eat. Food thrown in dumpsters breaks down inorganically and produces methane, a powerful contributor to greenhouse heating effects. According to Project Drawdown, collective composting could remove 70.53 gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere. There are so many articles about the exact science of peel and core management, and those can certainly streamline the process. But if you leave a pile of organic matter for long enough, it will break down, so don’t overthink it.
- THE GRASS IS NOT GREENER
While you are busy reducing your carbon use, your yard can actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Every 12-foot tree can sequester half a ton of carbon each year, and deep rooted native plants can deposit carbon in the soil. Explains the author of The Carbon Farming Solution, you can start with the perennials that we already know and love to eat, like berries and fruit trees. Other ground cover crops like moss and camphor can fill out a food forest, replacing that supreme user of resources, grass. In fact, mowing the 40 million acres of lawn in the United States requires over 800 million gallons of gas every year, which results in about 16 billion pounds of CO2 released to the atmosphere. And that doesn’t even include the damage from fertilizers and pesticides.
- BUY LESS…OR SLOWER.
It may sound too simple, but the rapid marketing that powers industries like technology and fashion carry an incredibly large environmental burden. For example, a wool suit may have a carbon impact equivalent to your home’s monthly electricity use. Everyday items like soap and shampoo also require manufacture, including the petroleum intensive and often non-recyclable plastic packaging. If you do need some new threads, consider the material inputs. According to the World Research Institute, “a polyester shirt has more than double the carbon footprint of a cotton shirt (5.5 kg vs. 2.1 kg, or 12.1 pounds vs 4.6 pounds). Polyester production for textiles released about 706 billion kg (1.5 trillion pounds) of greenhouse gases in 2015, the equivalent of 185 coal-fired power plants’ annual emissions.” It’s also important to think about how the item is arriving at your doorstep. While it is often true that shipping companies are more efficient than driving your personal car, expedited and 2-day shipping have an outsize effect on emissions production.
- SOLARIZE, THEN WEATHERIZE
For those who own their own homes, residential solar panels are cheaper than ever. Numerous websites allow you to find an estimate, and cost sharing contracts are easy to analyze. There are also a number of community solar cooperatives that are developing throughout Allegheny County, allowing residents to purchase energy from a local but shared panel site. What kind of energy you use is only as effective as how much electricity your house requires. Prepare your beatiful old house by upping your insulation game, sealing windy windows, and reprogramming your thermostat to truly match your daily schedule.
- EMPOWER FEMALE ADVOCATES
For all the reasons that women are more likely to live in extreme poverty, they are also more likely to suffer at the extreme edge of climate change. But educating women, both with technical and higher achievements, is one of the most lasting ways to change our resource use. Women produce 60 to 80 percent of the food in lower-income countries, and with lack of investment, usually in inefficient ways, according to Katharine Wilkinson of Project Drawdown. Furthermore, letting girls continue their education has a direct effect on their reproductive choices. Wilkinson estimates that the reduced population, including lowered demand for energy, food, travel, and buildings could cut around 120 billion tons of greenhouse gases that we would otherwise emit over the next 30 years.
With news cycles continuing to churn, its hard not to recede into our collective paralysis. After all, the comfort that placed humanity in this position in the first place. The good news is, every choice that you make has an impact, and no decision is too small. As Katherine Hayhoe, a leading climate researcher and atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University explains, “This isn’t information that’s only for the federal government…This is information that every human needs.”