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.
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.
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.