Although the science of human damage to the environment is crystal clear, the steps to reduce our impact can be murky at best.
Here’s why it matters: You’ve probably heard that the climate will warm 2*C, which doesn’t sound bad. But that’s only if we take immediate, effective action. If we don’t, the planet will warm 4*C by 2050, rendering many parts of the planet inhabitable and forcing hundreds of millions of people to become climate refugees.
To do this, you’ll want to switch (where possible):
- Your electricity to renewable sources (here’s a list of providers)
- Your vehicle from gas to electric
- Your home appliances from gas to electric (replacing gas furnaces and water heaters with more efficient heat pumps, and gas stoves with faster, safer induction stoves)
Once you’ve done these three things, congratulations! With no further effort on your part, you’ll help save the planet for the rest of your life. Today, 18% of electricity in the US comes from renewable sources. With your help, we can reach 80% in just 11 years.
If you’ve already made the above system-level changes (or don’t own a house or car), the next best thing you can do is make your life more efficient, consuming fewer resources without changing your lifestyle:
- Wash clothes in cold water
- Buy in bulk
- Use re-usable bags (ask around for spares before buying new bags)
- Use a tablet or laptop instead of a desktop computer
- No longer purchase incandescent bulbs
- Drive more efficiently
- Fly economy when you must fly
- Purchase carbon offsets
While many green efforts focus on behavioral and lifestyle changes, I list them third here because they’re harder and requires an ongoing commitment. But, if you’re serious about saving future generations, making just three changes to your lifestyle will dramatically reduce your footprint:
- Travel fewer miles by any powered source (plane, car, ship, train, etc)
- Buy less (new) stuff
- Eat less meat
These three handy rules will not only save you money, but make you happier and healthier. These rules are based on fundamental physics (it takes energy to move matter, and animals consume more energy), and are simple enough to apply to every decision without carbon footprint analysis paralysis.
Saving the climate doesn’t just require action — it requires group action. Once you’ve reduced your personal carbon footprint, you can have an even larger positive impact by influencing others:
- Support organizations like the Citizens Climate Lobby that is working to pass carbon fee and dividend legislation with bi-partisan support.
- Sharing these ideas with your friends, family and co-workers
- Showing businesses that their choices matter by purchasing from and investing in companies that care about the planet
- Letting your representatives know that you won’t vote for them if they don’t act (here’s a handy website to contact your reps in 60 seconds)
Because of the actions of citizens who care about the future, we’re already seeing rapid growth in renewables and electric vehicles, and the collapse of coal. With your help, we can solve the Climate Crisis so that our children don’t have to.
Huge shout out to David Stack as the inspiration for this analysis!