What Science Says We Can Do About Climate Change

Recycling is dead and it wasn’t enough in the first place. Science points to key actionable steps we can take as individuals to help mitigate climate change and build a healthier future. According to science, we CAN mitigate climate change, we just need to act quickly and as a community. The following is a list of actions for individuals to take that will make the most impact. Let’s do this y’all. And remember, ultimately, the most important change that needs to be made is systematic. It’s not just a burden that should be held on the individual level, but those individual changes can be catalysts to sparking systematic change.

Note: We recognize that many of these actions require privilege, monetary and otherwise, so rather than judge yourself (or others… mind your own sustainable beeswax wrappers!) for what you can’t do, focus on what you can do. And remember: the best things we can possibly do are to vote and to consume what we need, not everything we want.


Photo by Laura Mitulla on Unsplash

Eat more plants

Healthy bodies are awesome, but what you eat affects the planet way more than it affects your body. In fact, limiting animal product consumption is considered to be the best way to help save the planet and decrease carbon emissions (source). And no, you don’t have to be a Hardcore Henry and buy all the foofoo organic greens from Whole Foods.

According to the UN, the production of animal products is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the transportation sector- aka your car (source). This means that eating a steak produces more emissions than driving to and from work. That’s WILD. But it makes sense when you think about the 7.5 billion people that need to be fed and the processes that put meat, eggs, and cheese on grocery store shelves. 

Producing meat typically requires deforestation to provide land for housing or grazing livestock, which releases massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere (source). This is why the burning of the Amazon for cattle farming was such a huge deal. Then there’s the supply chain, which at its basics includes cutting the meat with machines, transporting the meat in vehicles, and storing it in refrigerators under fluorescent lights, all of which require burning fossil fuels. So, yeah. It makes sense that animal products account for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions (source), which is a lot since most emissions are produced by big industry. This also signifies that there is no possible way to significantly reduce individual greenhouse gasses without decreasing our animal product consumption. 

Theoretically, you can reduce your carbon footprint by 73% by switching to a vegan diet (source). But let’s be honest: although a vegan diet is cheaper than a carnivore diet (source), veganism is a privilege because many people do not have access to inexpensive fruits and veggies year-round. Luckily, we can still greatly reduce individual emissions by eating 90% less meat and 60% less dairy, which is equivalent to eating animal products for one meal a day (source). Yes, this will require some lifestyle changes, but plenty of people have done it before. There are many ways to decrease our animal product consumption, you just need to find a way that is right for you. Here’s a fun blog post on how to get started!

Support reproductive justice

One of the best things we can do, according to data, is to have fewer children (source). This is a complicated topic, but we need to talk about it because climate change isn’t giving us time to beat around the bush. 

We don’t believe in telling people what types of families to have or not have, so we want to offer a way to think about this commonly discussed climate mitigation strategy that doesn’t infringe on individual rights. One of our fave organizations, the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, gives us this definition of reproductive justice that we can use to frame our conversation: “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.” Let’s break that down while thinking about climate change.

“The human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, [or] not have children”:

Telling people to have fewer children to save the planet not only infringes on reproductive justice, but can get, well, eugenics-y. Instead of telling people what to do, we need to vote and advocate for access to education and tools that people need to make the best reproductive choices for themselves. In some cases, this includes having access to resources that allow them to not have children.

“…parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities”:

Further, supporting reproductive justice means voting and advocating for the enactment of environmental regulations to protect the health of our children. This is especially important in areas that have minimal resources because these communities are often near environmentally unsafe living conditions, whereas communities that have more privilege can avoid those areas (source). 

In short, while having fewer humans on the planet does reduce resource use, everyone should be free to have the type of family they want, free from judgment.

Turn off the lights & take the bus

During World War II, CO2 emissions seriously dropped it like it’s hot (source). This is surprising for a time when the production of planes, tanks, and bombs was at an all-time high. The reduction in CO2 emissions was in part due to citizens turning off their lights at night to prevent an enemy attack. Although we are no longer living in war times, we are facing serious environmental catastrophes, which can also be solved by turning off the lights–and taking the bus, driving instead of flying, putting on a sweater instead of turning up the heat, or being as cool as Greta Thunberg and traveling by sailboat around the world (source). 

Our energy consumption in the form of electricity, gasoline, and natural gas produces carbon emissions, the major cause of climate change. Yet, there are such simple ways individuals can limit their emissions. Turning off the light when you leave the room isn’t that hard, taking the bus lets you people watch and listen to a podcast all at the same time, and guys, have you ever seen Brianna Madia’s smile while driving? It’s obviously way more fun than flying. Plus, you get to see all the beautiful landscapes the world has to offer. 

Simple steps can be taken to reduce emissions. Not all climate change mitigation steps have to be complicated, just turn off the damn lights. 

Photo by Josh Carter on Unsplash

Vote & call your representatives

According to the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, we only have ten years to cut emissions in half before climate change causes irreversible effects (source). This means that a candidate’s position on climate change needs to be our top priority when voting because once legislation is finally put into action, those ten years will be coming to an end. Yeah, it’s scary but as difficult as politicians make environmental policy change seem, we’ve done it before.

Since the industrial revolution, there has been one major climate change success — the shrinking of the ozone hole over Antarctica. The main purpose of the ozone layer is to absorb harmful UV rays that cause cancer, cataracts, and limit plant growth among other things. But, we carved a big a$$ hole in it when we started producing chemicals with big scary names like Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) (source). These chemicals were actually very common and found in aerosol sprays, refrigerators, and air conditioners, and break down the protective ozone layer in the stratosphere. 

Then the Montreal Protocol came along. Enacted in 1989, the Montreal Protocol On Substances that Deplete the Ozone is an international treaty that phased out the production of CFCs, HCFCs, and other chemicals (source). Since then, the ozone layer has begun to recover and is estimated to reach 1980’s levels between 2050 and 2070 (source here and here).

So go call your senators and representatives and tell them that climate change is a BIG DEAL. Vote in your local, state, and national elections for policies and people who will get the job done (learn more about that via OIA’s Vote the Outdoors campaign). Share with your mom, your friends, and your co-workers why voting is important. We CAN mitigate climate change. We’ve done it before and we can do it again. 

Other steps to take

This is where we talk about privilege, because it’s a major problem in advocacy and environmental justice. Not all people have the resources to live sustainably because fossil fuel consumption is ingrained into our society. The following are actionable steps we need to take when we have the resources to do so. 

Boycott fast fashion: The textile industry is the most polluting industry in the world (source). So, although the the super cute dress from H&M–or Old Navy, Gap, Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, etc–looks really cool, it is NOT cool for the environment. Instead, you can purchase clothing second hand on websites like Poshmark and Facebook Marketplace or buy from companies committed to sustainability and transparency such as Toad & Co. and Prana. 

Buy local: Supply chains are dirty and food, furniture, household products, and other everyday items have a massive carbon footprint (source). Buying local produce and other products limit carbon emissions from transportation, while also stimulating your town’s economy. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Avoid plastic packaging: Plastics are made of fossil fuels and we’re not really sure if they break down in landfills (source). Yet, almost everything we buy is wrapped in it. Avoiding plastic packaging on food and other household products by buying local or in bulk will limit your carbon emissions and keep waste out of landfills. 

Go outside: No, seriously go outside. Advocacy and environmental justice are emotionally and physically draining, and therefore we need to remind ourselves what we’re fighting for. So go run, hike, bike, kayak, snow shoe, motto, ski, climb, wakeboard, paraglide or whatever makes you feel re-energized. This won’t look the same for everyone and that’s okay because we are all on the planet’s side. And we are one hell of a community.

<strong>Savannah Adkins</strong>
Savannah Adkins

During some daylight hours, Savannah is a climate change scientist studying how dirt makes all of our lives possible. But her real profession is as a house plant addict, mountain biker, & attempter of skiing down mountains. In her free time, Savannah enjoys dancing around the house, drinking wine, and listening to the Grateful Dead. Oh, and making poop jokes… always making poop jokes.

<strong>Chiara Forrester</strong>
Chiara Forrester

Chiara is happiest when she’s in the mountains on skis, a bike, or running. She also loves Ariana Grande (117 hours this year, thanks Spotify), making dinner with friends, and laughing too loudly at her own jokes. An ecologist who’s passionate about science communication and increasing diversity in STEM, Chiara is currently a PhD candidate in Boulder, CO, studying alpine plant ecology, undergraduate education, and the use of science in federal land management.

How Climate Change Affects More Than Just the Weather

So, you get it. CO2 levels are increasing, global temperatures are rising, and weather patterns are changing. But, these aren’t the only reasons climate change is such a big deal. Climate change is affecting every aspect of our lives from the food we eat and the air we breathe to the health of our beloved wild spaces. Below is a shortlist of how climate change affects us, our food, our water, and plants and animals. It is far from exhaustive because climate science is forrealz complex. So if you take anything away from this article, make sure you know that climate change is affecting everything on earth.

Photo by Massimo Rivenci on Unsplash

People

We recognize that this needs an entire article, and we’re working on it! Here’s our summary in the meantime: Climate change is and will continue to have overall negative impacts on human health. As weather patterns change and pollution continues to increase, water and land availability are affected, both of which are essential to growing food, breathing clean air, and drinking clean water. Since food, water, and clean air are vital to human health, climate change has the strongest health impacts on those that are poor, elderly, young, and chronically sick. In the U.S., communities of color are disproportionately impacted because they are more likely to live near environmentally unsafe living conditions, whereas communities that have more privilege can avoid those areas. Globally, climate change will most severely impact communities that are dependent on fishing and hunting, or located in already food-insecure areas, water-scarce regions, and small island states.

Plants

Plants are a crucial part of our ecosystem because we eat them and breathe in what they “breathe” out. With climate change, plants everywhere are greening up and blooming earlier and earlier each year. This can affect their relationships with pollinators (potentially causing them to interact less often if their life cycles are out of sync), but also can serve as a very helpful indicator to scientists of the areas that climate change is most affecting. Not all plants are responding in the same way, with some experiencing population decline and some (often invasive species) responding positively. 

Animals

The biggest problem animals face when it comes to climate change is the loss of inhabitable land. As temperatures warm, species have to move to higher elevations to reach environments similar to their original homes. As of 2011, half of all species (including plants) have moved over 10 miles per decade (source here and here) to more suitable land. But, there is only so much land available at these elevations, which causes crowding and creates competition for food, water, and territory. There are winners and losers in this search for a new home and when a species is outcompeted, they are more likely to go extinct. 

Soil

Soil is the source of all life on land. Nutrients in soils are absorbed by plants, incorporated into leaves, fruit, bark, and roots, and then eaten by animals (including humans). These nutrients such as, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, potassium, and calcium are ultimately incorporated into DNA, muscle, bones, and other tissues vital to life. But, humans have significantly altered the nutrients available in soils by draining the soil of nutrients through over-farming and through causing excess nutrients to accumulate through over-fertilizing. This either depletes the soil of nutrients or acidifies it, respectively, both of which limit plant growth and ultimately limit food sources for animals.

Oceans

The ocean is really taking a hit when it comes to climate change because it soaks up excess heat and CO2. This limits the effects of climate change for us on land, but only for a limited amount of time and at huge costs. The ocean is becoming warmer and more acidic, which is leading to sea-level rise (warm water expands, and land ice is melting which is projected to cause 1-4 feet of sea-level rise by 2100) and extremely negative impacts on ocean life which then reduces fish stocks, food security and income from tourism. 

Biodiversity

The term biodiversity describes the variety of life on earth, which is important because plants, animals, bacteria, and fungi are all interconnected *cue the Circle of Life*. No organism can all alone, and (generally speaking) the more diverse an ecosystem is, the more resources there are. Climate change causes a decline in biodiversity in many ways, but the biggest threat to biodiversity is the loss of habitat. Rises in temperature, extreme weather, and urban sprawl destroy the homes of organisms and force them to move to another similar environment. It’d be all fine and dandy if there was unlimited space for organisms to move to, but there isn’t. The limited environments for certain species to live happily ever after means that some species don’t make it, which creates a snowball effect for all other organisms on earth.

Food Availability

Excess atmospheric CO2 can be taken up by plants and in theory, this is a great tool we can use to help mitigate climate change, except for when it comes to our food. When plant growth increases due to higher levels of CO2,  they incorporate less nitrogen, magnesium, calcium, and other minerals into their leaves, fruit, and roots, all of which are essential to bone, muscle, and brain function (source here, here and here). This means the crops we grow are less nutritious and we will need to eat more to get the nutrients we need, which causes another issue: there is a limited amount of viable land to use for agriculture. 

Water Quality

When water gets warmer there is typically less oxygen in it, which leads to negative effects on aquatic life, and can lead to the excessive growth of algae that degrade water quality. More precipitation is expected to occur in the form of rain rather than snow (in areas that typically get snow). More rain means that more pollutants get picked up from areas surrounding bodies of water, and then carried into the water we consume. 

Chiara Forrester
Chiara Forrester

Chiara is happiest when she’s in the mountains on skis, a bike, or running. She also loves Ariana Grande (117 hours this year, thanks Spotify), making dinner with friends, and laughing too loudly at her own jokes. An ecologist who’s passionate about science communication and increasing diversity in STEM, Chiara is currently a PhD candidate in Boulder, CO, studying alpine plant ecology, undergraduate education, and the use of science in federal land management.

Savannah Adkins
Savannah Adkins

During some daylight hours, Savannah is a climate change scientist studying how dirt makes all of our lives possible. But her real profession is as a house plant addict, mountain biker, & attempter of skiing down mountains. In her free time, Savannah enjoys dancing around the house, drinking wine, and listening to the Grateful Dead. Oh, and making poop jokes… always making poop jokes.

Climate Change Glossary

Anthropogenic: A word to describe anything that is human-caused. 

Biodiversity: The variety of life forms across the world. For instance, areas with lots of species have more biodiversity than areas with not very many species. Organisms from single-celled to large animals interact with one another, so when biodiversity declines, so does the health of the ecosystem. For humans, in particular, the decline of biodiversity means a decline in natural resources, on which our lives depend on. 

Biodegradable: Ideally, a biodegradable product is one that can be broken down by processes like composting. However, just because a material breaks down relatively quickly compared to a non-biodegradable product doesn’t mean it is good for the environment. For example, biodegradable polyethylene is a plastic that breaks faster than other plastics, but it breaks down into microplastics that pollute our water sources and aquatic life (including the fish we eat, so those microplastics end up in us). 

Biofuel: A fuel sourced from renewable sources, which are typically plants, such as trees, corn, and sugar. These plants are burned for energy. 

Climate Change: Long-term changes in the Earth’s climate that include an increase in global temperatures, weather patterns, weather extremes, and changes to populations and ecosystems. The climate change we see today is caused by human use of fossil fuels because of land-use changes combined with the burning of fossil fuels that release Carbon Dioxide, Methane, Nitrous Oxides, and other “greenhouse gasses”. Greenhouse gases trap the heat that would typically escape our atmosphere, increasing global average temperatures. Warmer air also causes more water evaporation, which forms more clouds and causes extreme weather events. Climate change is complicated, and this description is the bare minimum, so check out our Climate Science 101 article for more.  

Carbon Dioxide: CO2 is the main greenhouse gas that drives climate change. It is the byproduct of animal respiration and other life cycles but is also produced through any combustion reaction. This includes burning fossil fuels, wood, trash, etc. 

Carbon Footprint: The net amount of carbon (in the form of CO2, methane, and fossil fuel use) emitted by an individual, company, or during the manufacturing of a product.  

Carbon Neutral: A process where there is no net release of CO2. For a country or company to be carbon neutral, the amount of CO2 they release needs to be balanced out through carbon offsetting. 

Carbon Offsetting: You can think of this as being akin to “I ate a donut for breakfast so I’m going to eat a salad for lunch”. This is a way of compensating for emissions through funding or participating in efforts to remove CO2, methane, and other human-made greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere. You can do this through investing in offset projects that work on renewable energy (i.e. wind, solar, hydroelectric), methane collection and combustion (conversion of methane to Carbon Dioxide, which has a lower global warming potential), destruction of industrial pollutants, land-use change and protection (avoids deforestation and promotes reforestation), and more. Make sure to research the project you are investing in to avoid scams. 

Carbon Sequestration: The process of removing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it naturally or industrially. The “natural” way CO2 can be stored is through growing trees and other vegetation because plants use COto grow (photosynthesis). This is why avoiding deforestation and promoting reforestation is important. Carbon capture and storage is an up and coming technology where CO2 is stored underground. Unfortunately, this method is not reliable because the technology cannot yet be implemented around the world.  

Climate vs. Weather: Weather is the day-to-day, short term changes in the atmosphere that includes temperature, humidity, precipitation, cloudiness, visibility, and wind.  Climate is the weather averaged over a long period of time either for a particular place, region or globally. Climate is usually averaged over a 30-year time period and gives us statistical information about normal weather patterns and the ranges of extremes.   

Deforestation: The permanent removal of forests, which releases massive amounts of CO2 through soil disturbance. When soil is disturbed, all the wee lil soil microbes (bacteria, fungi, and other cellular organisms) are introduced to new food sources and they grow way faster, which releases more CO2.  

Eco-Friendly: just like sustainability, this term is vague unless defined by the company that is transparent about the processes of the product. 

Feedback Loop: This is nature’s version of a never-ending Rube Goldberg machine. Or in science, when a portion or all of a system’s outputs are used as inputs that kick off another process. For example, ice typically reflects light because it is white (the same reason you’re hotter in a black t-shirt on a sunny day, because black absorbs heat while white reflects it). As the ice melts in the Arctic Ocean, there is a smaller area of ice that reflects the sun’s heat back into the atmosphere. This means that heat is instead absorbed by ocean water, which heats it up and increases the melting of the remaining ice. 

Fossil fuel: Non-renewable natural resources such as coal, oil, and natural gas, which are made of hydrocarbons (molecules made of hydrogen and carbon, aka dead things that have carbon in them) that have been pressurized underground over millions of years. When burned, fossil fuels create enough energy to move our cars, heat our homes, and make our clothes, but this releases much more COthan was being released to the atmosphere before the industrial revolution. 

Global Average Temperature: the mean surface temperature of the earth. This is different from local temperatures because the global average temp is found through thousands of satellite measurements, a network of over 3,000 temperature observation stations, and sea surface temperature measurements taken by merchant ships around the world. These measurements are averaged to find the Global Average Temperature. 

Global Warming vs. Climate Change: These two terms are often used interchangeably, but they shouldn’t be. Global warming describes the increase of Earth’s average surface temperature due to human-made greenhouse gas emissions, while climate change refers to long-term changes in Earth’s climate. Climate change includes temperature, changes in weather patterns, variation in snow-pack, sea-level changes, and more. 

Global Warming Potential: The warming effect of each greenhouse gas. For example, methane has a warming effect 23 times higher than Carbon Dioxide. That’s why carbon offsetting projects include turning methane into CO(see carbon offsetting for more information). 

Greenhouse Gasses: Natural and industrial gasses that trap heat from the Earth and warm the Troposphere (the atmospheric layer closest to earth). These gasses include Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Water Vapor (H2O), methane (CH4), Nitrous Oxide (N2O/ NOx), Ozone (O3), and more. Through industrialization, we have exponentially increased these gas concentrations in the atmosphere.  

Greenhouse Effect: The insulating effect of natural and industrial gasses. When light from the sun reaches the planet, it bounces back out as infrared heat. The accumulation of greenhouse gasses causes global temperatures to rise because they absorb heat that would typically bounce back out of our atmosphere.  

Greenwashing: The practice of making an unsustainable product appear eco-friendly.

Methane: CH4is a major greenhouse gas that is the main compound of ”Natural Gas”. It is also a byproduct of cow respiration, which is a major source of atmospheric methane that continues to rise as world populations rise and meat demand increases. Fun Fact: cow methane isn’t from their farts or burps, but from their breath. They actually can’t burp due to the design of their digestive system. 

Mitigation: Actions taken to reduce or prevent greenhouse gas emissions. 

Non-Toxic: This is an unregulated term. Therefore, one toxic chemical can be traded for another and be called non-toxic. Through manufacturing processes, all chemicals end up polluting water or soil because they can escape containment throughout the creation, transportation, and use of the chemical. 

Ocean Acidification: The ocean has the ability to absorb excess COfrom the atmosphere, which in one sense is great because it acts as a buffer to climate change. However, when water and CO2 mix, it creates Carbonic Acid, which makes ocean water more acidic. This affects marine life by killing coral reefs (which are home to many economically important fish) and prevents marine animals from building shells and skeletal structures (also affecting economically valuable organisms, such as oysters). 

Pre-Industrial Levels of CO2: The Industrial Revolution introduced fossil fuel combustion to the western world, which allowed our lives to become exponentially more convenient. Pre-Industrial CO2 levels were about 280 parts per million (ppm) and were 412.4 ppm as of December 16, 2019. We can find historical CO2 levels by analyzing the air trapped in ice cores

Recyclable: Ideally, a recyclable product is broken down and used to make “new” products. However, while many materials are technically recyclable, recycling them is not practical. Most recyclable materials are not actually recycled because it costs too much money or requires even more fossil fuels to recycle them.  

Reforestation: Replanting trees in areas that were once a forest. This increases carbon sequestration. 

Renewable Energy: Energy created from sources that can be replenished in a short period of time. Common renewable energy sources include wood, water movement (dams using water to generate power), geothermal (heat within the earth), wind, and solar. 

Tipping Point: A threshold of change that will have irreversible effects once we pass it. Tipping points common in media include exceeding 2 oC of global temperature rise and ice collapse. On top of this, a tipping point in one ecosystem can lead to a tipping point in another ecosystem creating a cascading effect across the globe.

Sea-Level Rise: This is caused by two main factors. First, as global temperatures rise, glaciers melt and release more water into the oceans. At the same time, as the water gets warmer it expands.  Since the early 1990s, global sea levels have risen 2.6 inches and continue to rise about 1/8th of an inch per year. This is dangerous for coastal communities whose homes and livelihoods are threatened by this rise. More water and higher temperatures also cause an increase in evaporation, which increases cloud formation, which changes weather patterns and is why we can have increased rain in one area and severe droughts in another. 

Sustainability:  Environmentally, this is the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain ecological balance. This is vague, so a company needs to define its own sustainability standard and be transparent about the tradeoffs involved. Defining this will include knowing the sources of all materials and supply chain emissions. 

If there are additional words or a term you would like defined, fill out the form below!

Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

Climate Science 101

Climate Science can get extremely complicated and it’s easy to get bogged down or overwhelmed by the details. So, without further ado, here are the very basics of climate science and how it’s affecting our planet:

Climate change is happening because we are throwing the Earth’s carbon cycle out of wack. Carbon is an element that is essential to life because we eat it, incorporate it into our bodies, poop it, and breathe it out. For us humans, carbon makes up about 18% of our bodies, and our food is made of 50% carbon (source). When we eat and digest this food, our bodies break the food down into less complex molecules, which produces energy that we use to run, dance, skip, and even Netflix and Chill. 

Lots of other organisms do this too. On Earth, carbon moves between the atmosphere, soil, and oceans because plants and animals transform carbon from one type of molecule to another (source). In essence, the CO2 we breathe out is used by plants to make sugars to grow (through photosynthesis) (source). Yes, plants literally turn air into food and it’s rad AF. Animals then eat that fruit, leaf, bark, or root and transform the carbon in the plant into different molecules that provide energy. During this energy-making process, CO2 is made as a waste product and humans, worms, tigers, bacteria, and almost any other living animals breathe it out for plants to use again. Pretty cool, eh? And since there are billions of plants and animals on earth, massive amounts of CO2 are taken up by plants and released by animals every day. 

At one point in time, the amount of carbon dioxide released into the air through animal respiration was roughly equal to the amount of CO2 taken up by plants (source). 

It looked a little something like this: 

But then we found fossil fuels and we threw the carbon cycle out of wack. Fossil fuels made our modern-day lifestyles possible. Clothes no longer took weeks to make by hand, traveling 25 miles no longer took an entire day on horseback, and when your best friend Sofía moved three states away, she was no longer gone forever. Fashion, entertainment, travel, and freedom to do as we please are what fossil fuels brought us, but there’s a trade-off for these luxuries.

Fossil fuels are made of carbon, just like you, me, the plants, and the bees (source). But, fossil fuel carbon was hidden underground for millions of years until we started extracting it (source). When we burn fossil fuels to run our cars, turn on our lights, and make our clothes, large quantities of CO2 are released into the atmosphere. This means that there is now more CO2 in the atmosphere than plants can absorb, which changes more than we could have ever imagined (source). 

Excess CO2 in the atmosphere traps heat from the sun — instead of heat from the sun bouncing out of our atmosphere, it bounces right back toward us, which causes global temperatures to rise (we’re talking the whole world here, folks, not just the city you live in). Higher global temperatures increase the amount of water in the air because more evaporation occurs — you’ve seen this happen when water droplets form on the inside of a lid covering a hot pan. More water in the air forms more clouds and ultimately alters weather patterns, which causes extreme events like droughts, floods, hurricanes, and wildfires (think Australia, California, and Puerto Rico). Extreme weather affects not only humans but plants, animals, our food and water supply, air quality, sea-levels (they rise), and more.

The new carbon cycle that includes fossil fuels looks like this:

These are the very basics of climate change. Not everyone has the time to know every intricacy of climate change, but we all need to know the basics to take action. At the end of the day you, me, the government, and big industry are all on the hook for this, but you, me, the government, and big industry can make the carbon cycle balanced again.

For actionable steps to take against climate change, read: What Science Says We Can Do About Climate Change.

If you want a fabulous visual of climate change, watch this Bill Nye the Science Guy video.

PS: If you can’t access any of the primary sources we’ve cited in this article, reach out and we’ll send you a copy!

Savannah Adkins
Savannah Adkins

During some daylight hours, Savannah is a climate change scientist studying how dirt makes all of our lives possible. But her real profession is as a house plant addict, mountain biker, & attempter of skiing down mountains. In her free time, Savannah enjoys dancing around the house, drinking wine, and listening to the Grateful Dead. Oh, and making poop jokes… always making poop jokes.

Chiara Forrester
Chiara Forrester

Chiara is happiest when she’s in the mountains on skis, a bike, or running. She also loves Ariana Grande (117 hours this year, thanks Spotify), making dinner with friends, and laughing too loudly at her own jokes. An ecologist who’s passionate about science communication and increasing diversity in STEM, Chiara is currently a PhD candidate in Boulder, CO, studying alpine plant ecology, undergraduate education, and the use of science in federal land management. 

NOTE: THIS IS A LIVING RESOURCE! As with all resources on Outdoor Advocacy Project, there is always room to continue the conversation, add a new perspective, bolster the resources, and share new findings. Got something you want to add, change, challenge or amplify? Let us know in the comments, or e-mail team@outdooradvocacy.com to write your own.

How to Talk to Your Family about Climate Change

We’ve all experienced it. Maybe you’re in an Uber making small talk with your driver, out at a bar talking to new friends, or at the dinner table with your family. The conversation is running smoothly, and then they say that they don’t believe in climate change. As someone who understands the realities of climate change, what do you do next?

First, and most importantly, remember that you need to have a conversation with this person rather than direct your best monologue at them. Take a breath and prepare to actively listen. Remember that you have other things in common with them and that you both have reasons to hold the opinions you do. Going on a tirade that makes the other person feel steamrolled, misunderstood, or patronized will not be productive. Research shows that people typically stick with the common opinion of their social group, so to reach someone, it’s important to maintain a positive relationship with them. Treat them with respect and kindness and show gratitude when they are willing to engage in a conversation with you. 

Now that we’ve gotten that jargon and gibberish out of the way, here are some ways to respond to common misconceptions about climate change with scientific accuracy: 

They say: “Climate change models are possibilities, not realities.”

You say: 

Some models you may know (besides Kylie Jenner) are the Netflix algorithm that helps you find your new binge favorite, the weather app on your phone, and the distance that Google Maps calculates to help you find the ice cream store that’s open the latest. 

Here’s how climate models are created and why we can trust them:

  1. Data on factors like CO2 and temperature can be related to one another mathematically – you’ve done this with equations like the Pythagorean theorem (a2 + b2 = c2) when you relate the sides of a triangle to each other.
  2. These mathematical relationships can be used to build a model that describes complex situations between things like human population growth, land use, economics, and atmospheric conditions. Each factor used in a model has been created and refined by groups of informed scientists; they are very much not wild guesses.
  3. After a new model is created, scientists test it by first using it to “predict” the past. The results of the new model are then compared to previously collected data. If the model results are pretty dang close to the actual historical data, then we can assume that the model will be pretty dang accurate predicting the future.
  4. After checking that we can trust it, the model can then be used to describe *big booming movie voice here* the future
  5. Models, and results from these models, are sent to multiple scientists (who are not related to the project) who then anonymously evaluate whether the model is accurate.

And it works–models from as long as 50 years ago accurately predicted today’s climate!


They say: “There’s no consensus among scientists that climate change is human-caused.”

You say: 

97% of publishing (that is, actively working) climate scientists agree that climate change is being caused by humans. Additionally, scientists with more climate expertise are more likely to agree that climate change is human-caused. Those with low expertise (i.e. non-scientists or scientists who don’t typically publish on climate research) are less likely to agree. Also, just saying, 97% of people who are all trained to constantly say “it depends” agreeing is pretty damn high.


They say: “The climate is cooling.”

You say: 

This comes down to the distinction between climate and weather. The simplest way to describe this difference is that the climate is like your closet and the weather is your clothes that make up that closet. Weather refers to short term events, like cold snaps, hurricanes, and monsoons. Weather events vary by location, and different areas have features that alter how the weather is experienced there. For example, morning fogs in the Bay Area of California would never occur in the plains of Wyoming because of the unique topographic/ecological features that cause the fog to be generated and trapped. 

Climate, on the other hand, refers to overall trends and patterns. Therefore, climate change describes increases in global temperature. So, while your city may have a cold snap or not be experiencing as dramatic of temperature increases, the global average temperature is increasing. The ocean is also soaking up a lot of the heat that’s being trapped by greenhouse gases, which means that air temperatures aren’t reacting as quickly as we might expect – but this is still a huge issue as warmer oceans will lead to ocean acidification and sea-level rise.


They say: “Animals and plants can adapt so why does it matter?”

You say:

Resilience is rad, and there are definitely animals and plants that can adapt. A lot can’t though. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. Adaptation takes a lot of time. Adaptation requires many generations, because it is driven by the survival (and reproduction, wink wink – pass down those traits honey) of individuals that live through harsh conditions. Climate change is happening very quickly, and changes are more dramatic than populations have experienced before. If individuals of a given species have a long life span, that species is going to take a very long time to adapt to global change because makin’ those babies take a hot minute. 
  2. Climate change has both speed and scale on its side. If harsh conditions are only occurring on a local scale, then populations can migrate to buffer the effects on total species survival. For example, trees might move to cooler places (higher latitudes and elevations) to escape warming, but this takes decades and they are in a race against climate change. While there are areas that will experience less climate change that will hopefully provide safe spots for species, the pace and scale of climate change would require species to adapt at a rate that is not possible for most species.
  3. Warmer temperatures aren’t the only thing stressing out plants and animals. Species are up against a whole host of tough new conditions. These include rising temperatures, habitat loss, and habitat fragmentation, invasive species, overexploitation, and pollution. These threats play off of one another and make it extremely difficult for species to move or adapt. If you only have one problem, it’s easier to find a solution than if you’re inundated with multiple problems that all exacerbate each other. 

They say: “We don’t know that climate change is human caused.”

You say:

This is getting to a key scientific concept that is completely fair to bring up: causation versus correlation. For example, you can often find a relationship (correlation) between unrelated factors, like rock music quality and US oil production – we can all agree that these two factors are not related, but they show extremely similar trends over time. We don’t have another planet where we’re not adding CO2 at unprecedented rates to see if it affects the climate, so how do we know for sure that COis what’s causing temperatures to rise?

The amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is tightly related to increasing temperatures and has been for a very long time. We also understand on a fundamental level how the two are intertwined physically and chemically. There is no question that we are pumping more CO2 into the atmosphere, and there is no question that this will cause the Earth to warm. 

Lastly, other factors, like energy from the sun, have been ruled out as driving factors of temperature increases here on Earth. The energy coming from the sun has remained constant since 1750, and warming is happening only in the lower parts of the atmosphere and at the Earth’s surface – both pointing to the fact that changes in solar radiation cannot explain rising temperatures. 


They say: “The climate has changed before.”

You say:

Totally! The difference is that the climate is now changing much more, and much more quickly. The fluctuations that have occurred over the past 1,000 years were much slower and far less dramatic than the fluctuations we see now. We are now seeing the highest temperatures and atmospheric concentrations of CO2 that we have ever seen. So, while the climate has changed before, it is truly incomparable in scale and magnitude to the changes we are now seeing.

Rapid climate change is already happening in multiple ways

  1. Global temperature rises – almost 2 degrees F since the late 19th century, with most warming occurring in only the past 35 years, and the warmest 5 years on record happening since 2010.
  2. Warming oceans – oceans are trapping the heat that’s bounced back by greenhouse gases, which has resulted in a 0.4 degrees F increase since 1969. This has caused the global sea level to rise 8 inches in the last century. The rate of sea-level rise has nearly doubled over the last two decades, with that rate becoming faster each year.
  3. Ocean acidification – CO2 emitted by humans is being absorbed by the upper layers of oceans which causes acidification, in turn negatively impacting ocean life.
  4. Shrinking ice sheets – the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased significantly in mass, with the rates of Antarctic ice mass loss tripling in the last decade alone.
  5. Decreased snow cover – the amount of snow in the Northern Hemisphere is decreasing, and it’s melting earlier in many locations.
  6. Extreme events – there have been a rising number of extremely hot days and of intense rainfall events.

They say: “The climate is changing, but it won’t be as bad as scientists say it will be.”

I say:

Scientists don’t like to be wrong. Because it’s a scientist’s actual worst nightmare to publish something that is later found to be incorrect, we are very conservative in what we state to be true. For example, reports published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have been found to actually underestimate how bad the effects of climate change will be. Further, there is a high degree of agreement among climate change models created and tested by multiple independent researchers, leading to a high degree of certainty among the scientific community.

Now that you’ve got science to back up your next challenging climate conversation, let’s revisit those basics. Remember this:

You need to have a conversation with this person rather than direct your best monologue at them. Take a breath and prepare to actively listen. Remember that you have other things in common with them and that you both have reasons to hold the opinions you do. Treat them with respect and kindness and show gratitude when they are willing to engage in a climate conversation with you. 


Chiara Forrester
Chiara Forrester

Chiara is happiest when she’s in the mountains on skis, a bike, or running. She also loves Ariana Grande (117 hours this year, thanks Spotify), making dinner with friends, and laughing too loudly at her own jokes. An ecologist who’s passionate about science communication and increasing diversity in STEM, Chiara is currently a PhD candidate in Boulder, CO, studying alpine plant ecology, undergraduate education, and the use of science in federal land management.

NOTE: THIS IS A LIVING RESOURCE! As with all resources on Outdoor Advocacy Project, there is always room to continue the conversation, add a new perspective, bolster the resources, and share new findings. Got something you want to add, change, challenge or amplify? Let us know in the comments, or e-mail team@outdooradvocacy.com to write your own.

Photo by Max Kukurudziak on Unsplash

So What the Hell is Climate Change Anyways?

Photo by Max Kukurudziak on Unsplash
Photo by Max Kukurudziak on Unsplash

You’ve heard about climate change on the news, in devastating social media posts, and as a hot topic in major political debates. You’ve witnessed the wildfires in California, hurricanes in Puerto Rico, and flooding in Nebraska in real life or on TV. You know that fossil fuels are bad and are the main cause of climate change. But, have you ever wondered HOW climate change is causing crazy weather events and WHY fossil fuels are contributing to these disasters? 

It’s all about carbon, the element that makes up most of you and me. Carbon is essential to life, but can also be detrimental to all living beings. That’s extremely confusing, so let’s break it down.

Fossil fuels. There are three main types of fossil fuels you may have heard of: coal, oil and natural gas. All of these are primarily made of carbon from algae and plants that have been pressurized underground for millions of years (like a mega instant pot). During the industrial revolution, we found that digging up fossil fuels and heating them up releases a BUNCH of energy, which we now use to move our cars, turn the lights on in our homes, heat our water, make our clothes, package our food, and manufacture our bikes, skis and hiking boots. We use fossil fuels to make our morning coffee and our afternoon beers, we use it to make roads and fly to awesome places. Fossil fuels allow us to use computers, call our moms, and facetime our siblings. The list could legit go on forever and ever, but the main point is that we use fossil fuels for EVERYTHING.

Oh, and plastic is made of fossil fuels too.

The Problem. Although fossil fuels have made the Western World possible, paved the path for globalization, and make our lives 876,587,364 times more convenient, they also have a dark side. You’ve probably heard of it too: Carbon Dioxide (aka CO2). It’s what you, me, and all other living animals exhale. But when we burn fossil fuels, a GIGANTIC amount of CO2 is released into the atmosphere, which creates a thick layer of gas that doesn’t allow heat to escape into space. Atmospheric gasses that trap heat are called greenhouse gases and if you remember how Frosty the Snowman died in the classic holiday cartoon, you remember that greenhouses are fab at making things hot. 

Greenhouse gasses ultimately cause higher global temperatures (emphasis on global because excess CO2 doesn’t necessarily mean that temperatures in your particular city will rise). Overall increases in temperature allow more clouds to form because warmer air holds more water, and more clouds change weather patterns. This is why we can have gnarly polar vortexes in one place and record low snowfall in another. It’s also why we can have crazy rain and hurricanes in one area and extremely hot, dry, and wildfire-prone weather in another. 

Our weather is changing for the worse and our fossil fuel consumption is to blame.

Other factors. There are other greenhouse gasses besides CO2. Methane (CH4), which is also termed the nice and pretty name of “Natural Gas”, traps heat in our atmosphere 30 times better than CO2. There are benefits of Natural Gas, but it regularly leaks out of storage facilities and pipelines into the atmosphere.  Nitrous Oxides (NOx) are produced when nitrogen from the air is heated up in our car engines and it traps 290 times more heat than CO2. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are chemicals that we’ve invented to keep our refrigerators cold, the AC on in the house, and to make our pots and pans “non-stick” (aka Teflon). CFC’s get into our oceans and atmosphere and traps heat a whopping 1,000 – 10,000 times more heat than CO2.

If you’re thinking, “Well, crap!”, you’re not alone. I’m right there with ya, along with 99.9% of all other scientists.

Some good & bad news. When it comes to CO2, plants use it to grow. This means that we could potentially reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by planting trees and conserving open green spaces because the plants will turn it into sugar and incorporate it into their leaves, roots, branches, and trunks (aka photosynthesis). Scientists often call this carbon storage because CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and collected in the plant. BUT, we don’t have enough time, money, people power, or land to plant the number of trees needed to reduce an adequate amount of CO2 that will reverse climate change (source). 

So… what can we do? This is the question of the century (and probably the next few centuries). As of now, science points to a few solutions:

  1. Stop using so many damn fossil fuels. This is the BEST way we can prevent climate change from getting worse. We can do this individually, but VOTING for government officials and laws that will regulate the industrial use of fossil fuels will help even more. (Fun fact: 100 companies are responsible for 71% of total greenhouse gas emissions)
  2. Plant trees & preserve green spaces. Although planting trees won’t solve all of our climate change problems, it will still help. Especially since clear-cutting forests and destroying natural landscapes actually releases CO2 (source). Restoring forests and other ecosystems won’t just reduce CO2, but will also increase biodiversity, air quality, and water quality, along with overall human health. To put this together, planting native trees in your backyard and advocating for the protection of places like Bears Ears National Monument and the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area are essential to fighting climate change.
  3. Invent carbon capture and storage technologies. Honestly, this climate change solution is the one we should have the least hope in. Carbon capture and storage is essentially a way of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere and storing it underground. There have been recent advances in this technology, but since we don’t have a way to implement it around the world, it’s an unreliable solution and we don’t have the time to wait around for it.

Thoughts to take with you. You CAN make a difference. Although big industry is the biggest contributor to climate change, you can educate yourself, you can vote, you can change your consumer habits, and you can talk to your family and friends. TOGETHER we can create a movement of change.

Let’s do this fam. We’re all in this together (cue the High School Musical soundtrack). 


NOTE: THIS IS A LIVING RESOURCE! As with all resources on Outdoor Advocacy Project, there is always room to continue the conversation, add a new perspective, bolster the resources, and share new findings. Got something you want to add, change, challenge or amplify? Let us know in the comments, or e-mail team@outdooradvocacy.com to write your own.

<strong>Savannah Adkins</strong>
Savannah Adkins

During some daylight hours, Savannah is a climate change scientist studying how dirt makes all of our lives possible. But her real profession is as a house plant addict, mountain biker, & attempter of skiing down mountains. In her free time, Savannah enjoys dancing around the house, drinking wine, and listening to the Grateful Dead. Oh, and making poop jokes… always making poop jokes.

Photo by Bart Jaillet on Unsplash

What is Greenwashing?

Photo by Bart Jaillet on Unsplash
Photo by Bart Jaillet on Unsplash

Greenwashing, by definition, is a PR tactic that spends more time and money claiming to be ‘green’ than actually implementing business practices that are sustainable and ethical. While typically used to describe environmental issues, it has evolved to include social injustices because these areas are deeply intertwined. Sometimes it’s easy to spot—such as the oxymoron of clean coal—and sometimes, it’s hidden behind vague terms like “made from natural ingredients.” Greenwashing can range from a simple name change like Nestlé Pure Life to Exxon’s Million Dollar Ad Campaign.

Nowadays, greenwashing most commonly takes the form of Random Acts of Greenness—in other words, a couple of tweaks to a product or practice that garner PR points but do nothing to enact systemic change. Eco-conscious PR points go farther with millennials, who are willing to pay more for sustainable products than older generations. Random Acts of Greenness are safe for businesses because they appear to step in the right direction, don’t disrupt profit margins, and cash in on folks who want to do good. In a world responding to the climate crisis, the future of businesses hinges on their sustainability policies—whether those policies are environmentally-sound is another situation altogether.

So how can we make a conscious purchasing decision? It’s all about doing the research and seeking transparency.

Spot It.

Generally, what makes something greenwashed boils down to 5 basic signs. Let’s look at it in the context of denim jeans:

  1. No Proof: making claims like “jeans dyed naturally” without defining or backing up with a third-party certification.
  2. Vagueness: similar to #1, what does “dyed naturally” even mean?
  3. Hidden Trade-Off: the jeans claim to be dyed naturally, but the process wastes thousands of gallons of water.
  4. Lesser of Two Evils: naturally dyed jeans are better than synthetically dyed jeans…but doesn’t change the bigger problem of dye runoff polluting waterways.
  5. Outright Dishonesty: turns out the “dyed naturally” claim is a lie since there are carcinogens in the supply chain.

Yikes. One of the signs I frequently encounter in the wild (of my grocery aisles) is No Proof. Did you know that terms like “all-natural” mean absolutely nothing? The FDA, which regulates about 75 percent of the nation’s food supply, does not define this term, leaving it up to the discretion of companies that use it. Therefore, a “natural” product could include artificial preservatives or a synthetic chemical blend.

Yet, I believe the most dangerous of these signs is the hidden trade-off. By hiding supply chain sins behind the corporate curtain, companies can get away with human rights abuses, releasing all kinds of pollutants, and degrading the environment. Business as usual can continue as long as customers are ignorant of what is actually happening.

Check It.

The beautiful thing about our consumer-centric market is that we have power over these companies—because if we knew that a chocolate brand used child labor, we’d stop buying it. Conscious consumerism believes businesses have a responsibility to come clean about their practices. If their process is ethical, there’s nothing to hide. One such way to ensure socially and environmentally-sound practices is to check for a third-party certification.

Certifications are like fact-checkers—they are independent bodies that make sure a business is doing what it claims. There are plenty to choose from, ranging from B-Corp, the Leaping Bunny, USDA Certified Organic, and a plethora of fair trade certifiers. Many of these hold high standards of sustainability and social justice. For buyers, a trusted third-party seal makes it much easier to determine the green and the greenwashed. (Unfortunately, even certifiers are can be greenwashed–use the Eco Labels Index to find out if that seal is real or not.)

Keep in mind that not all businesses have the funds to hire a certifier. Luckily, small businesses are easier to contact than major operations, so ask them about their sustainability plan and check for actionable goals. An actionable goal is something that can be measured, such as “100 percent organic bamboo by 2020.” Extra points for a business that publishes its plan on its website. But if they won’t or don’t answer you… well, that’s pretty telling in itself.

Here is a list of resources to check greenwashing:

  • goodonyou.eco for clothing brands. Checks for transparency, a living wage, animal treatment, other certifiers, and much more. The results will surprise you.
  • Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database. Checks cosmetics and personal care products for ingredient safety, animal welfare, and health warnings. This one is a little harder to understand at first glance, so I recommend scanning their user guide first.
  • ABC’s of Food Labels by Green America. This one is a little different in that it ranks food label certifications—because false food labels are perhaps the most rampant among the greenwashed offenders. Some of the labels also have overlap with clothing, since cotton and bamboo are agricultural products.
  • This guide by Fair Trade Winds. Like food, fair trade has a lot of confusing labels. This article seeks to clarify that. I would like to point out the criticisms of Fairtrade USA, however; after deciding to certify plantations, which are historically subject to worker abuses, Fairtrade USA was accused of being greenwashed with fair trade certifications. It’s up to you to decide if those criticisms are valid.
  • I often use several of these to cross-check brands, too. For example, Madewell has some Fairtrade USA certified clothing. Given what I know about the Fairtrade USA certifying plantations, coupled with its “Not Good Enough” rating on goodonyou.eco, I hesitate on purchasing. In comparison, Tom’s of Maine deodorant is B-Corp certified (a real label when cross-checked on Eco Labels Index) and is rated highly on the Skin Deep database.

Stop It.

Is it possible to avoid greenwashed products altogether? For most of us, no–but don’t feel guilty. It’s not our fault, but the fault of an economy that prioritizes profits over the wellbeing of people and the planet—yet that same economy gives us power. Greenwashing, while a deceitful business practice, has created a wave of savvy, conscious consumers and a generation of entrepreneurs that address the triple bottom line (re: business model that addresses profit, social, and environmental goals). 

As buyers, we can stop greenwashing by supporting brands that do serious work with our dollars. This raises the standard across industries and makes it easier for all businesses to integrate social and environmental goals as responsible manufacturers grow in demand. It also raises alarms that other businesses must reimagine their practices to stay relevant. 

The second action of combating greenwashing is calling out bad actors. Did you discover that your favorite clothing brand isn’t doing enough? Don’t let that get you down—demand a sustainability plan. This is how we transform business as usual. However, if their goals are not actionable or they’re refusing to release sustainability progress reports— it’s up to you to either demand accountability or take your dollars elsewhere. Supporting companies that refuse to do their due diligence is propping up social injustices. 

As conscious consumers, we can spot greenwashing and stop it from fooling others. We can demand social and environmental responsibility from business. We have the power to vote with our dollars for a better economy. It’s time we use it.


NOTE: THIS IS AN EDUCATED OPINION PIECE, NOT AN OBJECTIVE RESOURCE. As with all resources on Outdoor Advocacy Project, there is always room to continue the conversation, add a new perspective, bolster the resources, and share new findings. Got something you want to add, challenge or amplify? Let us know in the comments, or e-mail team@outdooradvocacy.com to write your own ed-op on this topic.

Mary Meade
Mary Meade

Mary Meade is an outdoor enthusiast, planet advocate, and writer. She breaks down the big ideas of sustainability to promote conscious consumerism and environmental justice.