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Climate solutions, pt. 2: What you can do

Your carbon footprint is just one small piece of the puzzle, but your actions can illustrate the scale of the emergency.

Published: September 22, 2020

Last Updated: 21 months ago

Compiling my last post—which listed the big, high-level steps necessary to halt global warming—was heartening, honestly. In a month when the climate crisis has been so apparent, it's nice to know there are answers. And where there aren't answers, there are real possibilities that might bear fruit with further research. The real challenge is not the science, but building the political will.

Which brings us to you: what can you do? How can you help make that change? One way is to live like the climate crisis is an emergency. Show the world this matters to you, and should matter to them, too.

1. Electrify everything

Gasoline, when it comes down to it, is simply old-fashioned. Imagine a steampunk world where everything runs on gasoline rather than electricity. Or, wait: Nissan did that, in an advertisement a few years ago.

The technology already exists to excise this dirty fuel from your daily life. I plan to make my next car an electric vehicle; the more that are on the road, the closer we get to the tipping point where EVs become the cheap and easy norm. (If price is a problem, there are other ways to decrease your reliance on your fuming car: buy a hybrid—or bicycle—or take public transportation, or just car pool.)

There are likely other, less obvious sources of gas in your life, too: your stove, perhaps, or your hot water heater. These, too, are worth an overhaul, especially when your current appliances reach the ends of their lives. If you want to go even further, and have the money, you can super-green your home by installing solar panels and reducing your reliance of fossil fuel-powered electricity.

Home appliances, from hot water heaters to stovetops, are an oft-overlooked source of emissions. Some U.S. cities have begun to forbid new natural-gas hook-ups. Photo by REEET JANK on Unsplash.

2. Love where you live

If you travel often, for work or pleasure, it's going to be hard to end your reliance on fossil fuels. The emissions from a single plane flight can be massive. (Since most the world's residents are carless, a single airplane flight can release more carbon than the average human does in his or her life.)

People are developing sustainable jet fuels and even electric airplanes, but it'll be years before these are widely available. There are workarounds, of course; Greta Thunberg famously traveled across the Atlantic by sailboat. A simpler option, though, is often to stay in place.

Zoom meetings have become the new normal, which may prove to our advantage in the fight against climate change. Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash.

Many of us have begun to learn how to do so the hard way, thanks to the global coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps these dark times have an upside: companies are learning lessons on how to support working from home. Our new fluency with Zoom will come in handy as we, hopefully, keep more business meetings online, rather than expending needless jet fuel.

For pleasure, too, it's worth looking around where you live and seeing it in the eyes of a tourist. I've been turning to websites like Travel Advisor and The Outbound to remind myself of the local attractions I have long overlooked.

3. Eat for the climate

Once you're avoiding long flights, the next best thing is to think about what you eat—and how much beef especially. Landon Brand, our CEO, has been working on his vegan cooking, and recommends black bean tacos and veganized pesto. Typically, pesto includes recipe pine nuts, basil, garlic, olive oil, and parmesan—but Landon swaps out the cheese in favor of nutritional yeast. But you don't need to go as far as veganism to start reducing your footprint. Per serving, chicken has one-fifth the footprint of beef.

Personally, I try to keep meat consumption to just once or twice a week. And the meat I cook at home all comes from a farm that uses regenerative agriculture, which helps the soil hold more carbon. Beef has become a special-occasions meal.

Adopting a plant-based diet, and a vegan diet especially, can vastly reduce your carbon footprint. Photo by ja ma on Unsplash.

4. Put your money where your mouth is

Next, consider where your money is going. How much stuff are you buying? The less you have, the lower your carbon footprint. The longer your stuff lasts, the lower your footprint. And when you do buy, try to send your money towards companies that are truly thinking about sustainability.

Of course, there is another way to send your money towards climate change: to offset whatever portions of your carbon footprint you can't cut. Perhaps it seems strange that offsetting your footprint is so far down on this list, given that our business is built around providing offsets. Most of the projects we support either increase the number of trees in the world or keep the current trees from being cut down—thereby ensuring more carbon is pulled from the atmosphere. This is essential: it's clear, at this point, that we can't get where we need without removing carbon. It's also not enough. Only if these kinds of projects are combined with technological and social change can we actually solve this emergency.

5. Advocate

I want to end with a caveat: The scale of the climate crisis is vast. Even if this post becomes a great viral sensation, even if everyone who reads it overhauls their lifestyle, we will not stop climate change. That's in part because so much of the problem has nothing to do with our day-to-day choices. We live in a world of natural gas pipelines and steel factories that will be there even if you switch to a vegan diet.

The good news, though: A group of individuals can become more than the sum of its parts. As important as any lifestyle change  can do is the taking direct action to help push for the legislative and economic changes that are required—policy along the lines of what we covered last time.

The Fridays for Future movement in Europe helped launch a rapid rise in green politics—showing how advocacy can help each of us become more than just one small player in a big movement. Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

So, yes, it's worth reducing your personal carbon footprint. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made clear that behavioral changes will be necessary in order to hold emissions to a livable level. These can't just be legislated; some people will have to lead by example. But we can't stop at the easy steps. We won't stop any time soon: the fight to slow climate change is a fight, and it will require us to stand up and push for change.

Want to take action, but need some support along the way? Sign up for our six-week "Climate Camp" email series to get targeted steps you can take

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