By now I think we can all agree that climate change is real. We see evidence of it throughout the world on a daily basis: extreme heat waves, wildfires, droughts, floods, unpredictable weather and more. It can be rather depressing to let the gravity of it all sink in, and I think many of us are not really sure what we can do to make a real difference. But I have been heartened recently by two books I have read, Under the Sky We Make by Kimberly Nicholas, PhD. and We Are the Weather by Jonathan Safran Foer, that both agreed on the four most important steps that individuals can make to help mitigate climate change as quickly as possible. Start with the one that feels most feasible for you. If you can’t totally go without, make an effort to at least cut your consumption in half.
- Go car-free. For the average American household, gas for cars is the largest climate polluter. Sadly, the rising emissions of the SUVs that most Americans drive nowadays have more than canceled out the savings from electric cars so far. Instead of looking to new technologies as the answer, we need to look at behavior change. Simply put, that means driving less. Do you have to make four separate trips to run errands a day, or could you combine them into one trip? Could you carpool to work with a co-worker (or work from home) at least a couple days a week? Do you live close enough to town to ride your bike or walk places (and get some good exercise in the process)?
- Go flight-free. Are you a frequent flier? The 1% of the global population that are considered frequent fliers cause half of all air travel emissions. If you fly at all, it’s your most intense source of climate pollution. While I just encouraged you to go car-free above, if you have to choose between taking a vacation that involves getting on a plane and one that involves getting in a car, choose to stay on the ground.
- Go meat and dairy-free. Research shows that a vegan diet is the highest-impact personal climate action when it comes to food. Analyses show that we simply cannot meet the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius without reducing meat consumption. If you think there’s no way you can go ‘cold turkey’ (pun intended), then how about setting a goal of two vegan meals a day? Need a helpful nudge to push you in the right direction? Contact me for details about my Vegan Dinner Club, and find all sorts of recipe inspiration in the Plant-Based Nutrition section of my Wellness Blog. There are even more resources on the City of Ann Arbor’s A2ZERO Plant-Based Challenge Week website page. These are all great opportunities to learn more about plant-based eating and the health and sustainability benefits of eating a plant-forward diet.
- Go child-free. This one is probably the most controversial, or at least would require the most soul-searching. Obviously if you already have kids it’s a moot point, but for those that don’t and might be at a place where you are contemplating this decision, research its effects on climate change and consider the world you’ll be leaving this child. Let this research be part of your decision-making process.
I hope that these action steps inspire you to feel like you can make a difference in mitigating climate change. As I mentioned above, start with the one that feels most feasible for you. If you can’t totally go without, make an effort to at least cut your consumption in half. And if you found this blog post helpful or relevant, would you please share it on social media to help educate others?
(All the statistics in this blog post came from the book Under the Sky We Make by Kimberly Nicholas, PhD.)