The climate crisis can leave many feeling helpless, as though there is nothing they can do on an individual level to affect change. However, behavioural changes go a long way in shifting to a greener society. Implementing small habits into your everyday life will help you live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. In honour of International Day of Climate Action 2020, here are 15 simple things that you can do to help the planet.
- Be Vocal
It’s important to use your voice and speak up about the harmful human activities that are destroying our planet. Become a climate activist by discussing climate-related topics with friends, family, your neighbors, your local community or even your barista- whenever, wherever and whomever. Bringing the climate crisis into the limelight will help those around you become more aware and conscious about the current environmental problems we are facing. If COVID-19 can be a frequent topic of conversation, so can the climate crisis.
- Travel Sensibly
One of the most overlooked yet effective ways of becoming more environmentally sustainable is through sensible travel. When planning your route, consider whether you can reach it by foot or bicycle. Is driving necessary? Is the travel distance short enough to avoid unnecessary carbon emissions? If walking or cycling is out of the question, perhaps consider using public transportation.
Going on holiday? A short haul return flight can account for 10% of your annual carbon emissions. Think about opting for a domestic staycation, travelling to a destination closer to home or exploring other means of transport beyond flying, such as by train or coach.
In the case where you do choose to travel abroad, practice ethical etiquette. Avoid supporting companies or brands that do not operate in favour of the environment, visit environmentally sustainable attractions and/or support local conservation projects. Keeping yourself informed on what is and is not considered environmentally ethical at your holiday destination will help mediate your climate and carbon impact. These small changes needn’t ruin your holiday- you will still have fun, and you can help the planet as well.
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- Consume Sustainable Foods
Tradition and culture allows us to justify and accept consuming animal products. However, due to technological innovation and automation, society is now privileged with an abundance of plant-based alternatives that taste similar to their meat counterparts. Not only do such products spare the lives of innocent and farmed animals, but our meat consumption is a large source of greenhouse gases.
Food production is one of the main driving forces of wildlife extinction. In fact, what we eat is liable for close to 60% of global biodiversity loss and contributes to approximately a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. Farming animals for meat and dairy requires space and resources, such as large amounts of water and feed. One of the biggest causes of forest loss is the transformation of land for animal agriculture. Animal products contribute to greater carbon dioxide production than plants and plant-based products do. Incorporating more vegetables, grains and legumes into your diet, and limiting the amount of meat and dairy consumption, will help tackle this problem.
Furthermore, plant products tend to be cheaper- in addition to saving the planet, you will save on your weekly food bills. It is a win-win situation!
- Reduce Plastic Usage
Single-use plastic is one of the greatest threats to the environment. Approximately 300 million tons of plastic is produced worldwide every year, with more than 90% ending up in landfills, the ocean or simply dumped.
When ordering takeout, consider using your own reusable food containers. Going for coffee? Bring your own portable mug or thermos. Going grocery shopping? Bring reusable shopping bags. Opt for reusable products instead of single-use plastic to limit your plastic consumption. Being a bit more aware of your consumption habits will definitely help you help the planet.
- Be Informed
Be environmentally aware and knowledgeable on current climate-related affairs. We have access to numerous news outlets at our fingertips- it has never been easier to stay up to date with news about the climate crisis. Staying updated will help you become more mindful of your everyday habits, and will hopefully inspire others around you to implement the same small changes to help the planet that will eventually add up.
- Take to Social Media
Social media can be used as more than a tool to share your personal life. Take inspiration from Leonardo DiCaprio and post on instagram about the climate crisis, share links to news articles to educate others or follow environmental charities and organisations to help increase their audience reach.
- Donate or Volunteer
Donating to environmental organisations helps fund projects that fight against the climate crisis and tackle the causes behind environmental decline.
There are many ways to donate beyond giving money. You could set up a birthday fundraiser, get sponsored to run a charity race, set up a bake sale or sign petitions- the list is endless.
- Burn Calories, Not Carbon
According to a publication by MHealthy, a green initiative at the University of Michigan, the average person generates approximately 6.5 kg of carbon emissions annually by using the elevator. In order to save electricity and limit your carbon footprint, think about using the stairs whenever possible, which, in addition to helping the environment, will benefit your health and fitness too.
- Optimise Your Voting Rights
In most countries where citizens can vote, everyone over the age of 18 is eligible to do so. Vote for those candidates whose values align with yours and who will make the environment a priority (if that is how you politically identify).
Politicians need to be held accountable for actions that harm the environment. Writing directly to your government will make your voice heard and help call for action.
- Support Sustainable Brands
There are many brands available that add value to the environment and practice ethical regulations, from sourcing sustainable materials to ensuring fair trade practices are upheld and optimising the wellbeing of workers.
Ethical sourcing includes finding suppliers that limit their water use, use no hazardous chemicals, limit their waste production and employ better agricultural practices (such as using no pesticides to grow cotton).
Sustainable brands can be seen across the market, from fashion to beauty to homeware to packaging. Supporting such brands will help them gain traction in the market and because of demand and supply, will eventually limit the market power of other less ethical brands.
- Limit Fast Fashion Purchases
Fast fashion brands like Zara, H&M and TopShop are among those that contribute to the climate crisis. A recent study published in the journal Nature Reviews Earth & Environment found that the fashion industry produces 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions annually, and is estimated to use around 1.5 trillion litres of water every year. The industry’s water consumption, carbon dioxide emissions, textile waste and chemical use pose both environmental and health risks, especially for those involved in the industry.
In addition to supporting sustainable brands, limiting fast fashion purchases will further propel you towards a greener lifestyle. Other solutions include thrift shopping and donating old clothes to charity.
Recycling can help reduce the amount of new materials being produced, and upcycling is an innovative way of transforming old items into something valuable and ‘new’. This could include reusing jam jars as candle holders or using old tins as plant pots- the possibilities are endless and projects like these give you the opportunity to be creative.
Food waste is another factor to consider when thinking about recycling. An estimated one third of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted. This is shocking, especially when considering that more than 820 million people around the world do not get enough to eat.
Bringing excess food to homeless shelters, optimising leftovers or composting organic waste, for example, goes a long way in reducing food waste.
- Participate in Local Clean-Ups
There are many local projects that you can get involved with that help the planet. Beach clean-ups are one of the most popular ways to help clear litter, prevent waste entering marine ecosystems and reduce the amount of waste products polluting the environment overall.
Devoting a morning or an afternoon once or twice a week will make a big difference in the long run, it is also a fun way to get friends and family involved in an activity that benefits the environment.
- Raise Awareness at School, University or in the Workplace
Whether it be through starting a club, society or a corporate programme, any green initiative at your work environment will help increase awareness about the climate crisis. Green initiatives like these will look great on your CV or on your business plan and will help society shift to more sustainable practices.
- Join an Environmental Organisation
Climate activism is important; with greater support comes greater awareness. Organisations such as Extinction Rebellion and Friends of the Earth are prevalent across the globe and are very easy to join, as they have chapters in many cities around the world. Getting involved with organisations like these will benefit the environment through raising awareness, calling for government intervention, and ultimately, shifting towards greener practices.
Becoming more environmentally conscious seems daunting. But when broken down into smaller fragments, adopting a greener lifestyle is not as overwhelming to achieve. These 15 examples of things you can do to help the planet are within everyone’s reach, and it takes one positive action to spark a cascade of positive outcomes.