In August 2021, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report that described humanity’s road to catastrophe if we don’t make enormous changes to the way we treat the Earth. The report describes a “code red for humanity,” and shows that, once and for all, “climate change is unequivocally caused by humans,” with temperatures set to rise 1.5°C (34.7°F) by 2040.
This rise can be stopped – if we all work to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and get to net zero emissions before 2050.
While many people spend their time on Earth Day walking instead of driving, picking up trash, or planting flowers, others are looking for more permanent ways to continue their environmentally friendly work year-round.
Six Things You Can Do to Go Greener
These tips are meant only to act as a jumping-off point for your journey to sustainability. And many sustainability initiatives hinge on the idea that all these options are available for everyone when, in fact, that’s often untrue. Sustainability doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, but recognizing that it isn’t accessible (whether financially or physically) for everyone can help contribute to a fairer world. We all must do what we can in our given situations.
1. Shop locally grown produce.
Transporting fruits and vegetables long distances to offer them year-round isn’t sustainable – moving this produce uses barrels upon barrels of crude oil, contributing to pollution and greenhouse gas levels. If you buy seasonally available produce from local farmers’ markets, you can reduce your food miles and cut down on pollution while helping your local economy.
2. Avoid disposable plastic.
Single-use plastic takes more than 500 years to decompose. Meanwhile, plastic rings, straws, and shopping bags pollute the environment and harm marine life. Drinking from metal or BPA-free reusable water bottles, avoiding plastic straws, and carrying canvas bags for shopping are all ways to lower your single-use plastic contributions.
3. Repair when possible, repurpose when not.
Repairing broken or damaged items seems to be a lost art, but there’s a new push to learn the trades necessary to fix things instead of tossing them in the trash. Many items – especially clothing – are discarded after normal wear and tear instead of being fixed or even repurposed. Most electronics can even be repaired instead of thrown away. Some countries (like Great Britain) have implemented “Right to Repair” laws, which mandate that companies make parts for products available so that consumers have the option to repair their possessions instead of discarding them.
4. Recycle better.
Recycling bottles and cans is a great start, but there’s so much more that can be recycled. There are also more rules for recycling than many of us realize, as each state, county, and town can have different regulations for what can and can’t be recycled and how to go about recycling specialty items like batteries and electronics. The official Earth Day organization, EarthDay.Org, has compiled a list of generally accepted recycling tips. Check them out!
5. Utilize public transportation.
As of 2019, one-quarter of all energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in the world come from transportation, with road vehicles (think cars, trucks, and buses) accounting for nearly two-thirds of that. The International Energy Agency (IEA) is an international governmental organization that works with countries around the world to shape energy policies for a secure and sustainable future.
The agency reports that “rail is one of the most energy-efficient transport modes, accounting for 8% of global motorized passenger movements and 7% of freight but only 2% of transport energy use.” In large cities, rail transportation is widely used, but it’s not always an option in smaller towns. Carpooling; ridesharing; and using other forms of public transportation, like buses, are ways to lower your carbon emissions when traveling.
6. Try Meatless Mondays.
Meatless Monday is a global movement that encourages people to reduce meat in their diet, for their health and the health of the planet. Eating less meat – specifically, red meat – is one of the most powerful steps we can take to tackle climate change. A 2018 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations found that agriculture and related emissions accounted for 17% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is down from nearly a quarter in the 2000s, but we can still do better.
Meat (specifically beef) consumption contributes to climate change in two ways: cattle's production of methane during digestion and deforestation that comes from converting natural forest into grazing land for animals. We don’t need to completely remove red meat from our diets; even cutting meat from our diets one day a week can decrease our emissions.
The Bottom Line
Small steps matter, and if we all work together, we can make a difference for our futures. But there’s only so much individuals can accomplish when it comes to sustainability. The bigger problem is large corporations that – while contributing far more to global warming and pollution – lobby lawmakers to allow them to continue unchecked. We can avoid using plastic and shop sustainably all we want, but until governments address the larger problem, what individuals do to combat climate change will not make the kind of difference we truly need.