Every time climate change pops up in the news, it sounds like a doomsday announcement. And while sensationalist news flies off the shelves, it tends to inspire fear rather than action. For the average person, that response is natural: climate change is a big, scary, intangible thing made up of statistics most people don’t understand and no one can conquer alone. It’s all the things that our survival instincts tell us to run away from.
On top of that, catchy solutions look expensive: the average person can’t afford a Tesla or a solar roof (yet! Fingers crossed). Biking to work + school doesn’t work for everyone. And the subject of climate change itself can be alienating in the midst of polarized politics.
But climate change doesn’t have to be scary. It doesn’t have to make you feel helpless or uproot your relationships. And solutions don’t have to be expensive! There are small changes you can make in your life that will actually foster tangible results and may leave a few extra dollars in your pocket.
1. Eat More Plants.
Going vegan is the least carbon-intensive diet, but it’s also the hardest, especially if you don’t have easy access to vegan restaurants or don’t have the time and financial ability to cook yourself. In this case, a vegetarian diet is the next best step. If these options work for you, then that’s amazing! You are likely already practicing them; however, it’s not realistic to ask every single person to change their eating habits (nor does it give plant-eaters a friendly reputation).
So I suggest this: flexitarian. It’s a buzzword diet that essentially means to eat less meat, but not give it up entirely. Dropping meat + dairy from one, two, three…ten meals a week is a much easier alternative for most people and is still a viable practice in reducing carbon emissions.
2. Source Food Locally.*
Want to up your food game even more? Buy locally.
The real dirt on meat’s carbon footprint isn’t the meat itself—it’s how it’s produced, processed, and transported. In fact, if you buy meat from local farms that practice pasture rotation, the farm can actually be a carbon sink. (Pasture rotation? Carbon sink? What does that mean? 1. A farm that moves livestock from pasture to pasture on a daily basis, mimicking natural livestock migrations resulting in healthier pastures and livestock; 2. A natural environment that absorbs more carbon than it emits.)
You’re also reducing your footprint by negating the oh-so notorious cow farts and avoiding transportation emissions caused by industrial agriculture. (Yes, veganism that requires international transport has a carbon footprint!)
Also, buying locally doesn’t have to be hard. There may already be a solution in your community. In Tallahassee, we have a lil’ amazing operation called the Red Hills Online Farmers Market – a farmers market where you buy your goods online from farms within a 100 mile radius of Tally! Talk about keepin’ those emissions low.
This also applies to buying products, not just food. ‘Cause as convenient as Amazon is, it comes with a pretty steep human & environmental cost.
*Disclaimer: This option is not necessarily cheaper. I have found that buying locally is more expensive—but coupled with buying less meat in general, I’ve found my costs to remain equal to my prior meat-centric diet.
3. Reduce & Reuse.
Yes, I excluded recycling on purpose. Why? Because recycling should be a last resort.
“But I thought recycling was good for the environment!”
Here’s the thing: inherently, it is good. But not the way we do it. It doesn’t change our bad behavior of single-use consumption—we’re still buying something that had an environmental cost to create and throwing it into a bin that will have an environmental cost to recycle. Plus, the rules around recycling change from one municipality to the other, and most people don’t bother to read up on what isn’t recyclable. And all that wishful recycling is putting a strain on the system.
Instead, reduce and reuse. (There’s a reason these come first in the three R’s.) Reduce consumption where you can, and opt for reusable alternatives to fill in those gaps. For example, instead of buying a disposable to-go coffee cup – which isn’t recyclable, anyways—bring a reusable cup to the coffee shop. Lots of places will give you a discount for this, too!
Take a look around your home and your daily routine. Where can you cut back? What can be substituted for a reusable item? You’ll find yourself buying less and keeping that money in your pocket.
4. Build a Slow Fashion Closet.
Fast fashion is the world’s second largest industrial polluter, second only to oil. That means the apparel industry contributes 10 percent to global carbon emissions. And one of the most common fabrics is polyester, which is a synthetic petroleum-based fiber containing micro-plastics. If you haven’t heard about micro-plastics yet, they’re those tiny tiny plastic pieces that marine life eat (and in turn, we eat). And the higher up the food chain you go, the more plastic that accumulates. This process is called biomagnification and it’s a problem because those plastics leach chemicals like the hormone-disrupting BPA, BPS, and BPF.
So what’s the low-carbon alternative? Well, buying organic clothing (yes, it’s a thing!) or not buying at all.
This form of apparel consumption has been aptly dubbed ‘slow fashion.’ And as a consumer, you can drastically lower your footprint by buying new clothes sparingly and opting for gently used clothes from thrift stores + consignment shops. I actually get most of my clothes from Plato’s Closet, and when I need to buy new, I purchase items that will last a long time from companies I believe in.
5. Ask for a digital receipt.
You have more power than you think.
The truth about reducing your carbon footprint is that you won’t be perfect. Our current society doesn’t make room for every person to be a better steward of the environment – we travel in gasoline-fueled cars and planes, food deserts prevent access to healthy, low-carbon food, and we have to purchase some things from ethically-grey companies. But we have to work with what we’ve got.
At the end of the day, millions of people being imperfect environmentalists is better than a handful of perfect ones.