It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by the climate crisis we’re in. Just when it seems like one more natural disaster couldn’t possibly happen, it does. We’ve seen extreme wildfires rage across the American West and hurricane seasons are only growing in intensity. As the world gets warmer, sea levels are rising, natural land is being destroyed to raise livestock, and thousands of plant and animal species are being driven to extinction. We’re losing our wild places.
Constantly reading and hearing about these difficult issues can cause a numbing effect, where we just push the issue away because it’s too hard to internalize. I just can’t possibly handle any more bad news. Or, I’m just one person — what can I do?
Perhaps the best possible way to reframe your thoughts is to remember that you are not alone in this. We are all in this together — we all want and need to save our home planet. That solidarity can empower us to take action and remain optimistic. “In a world of more than seven billion people, each of us is a drop in the bucket,” says David Suzuki. “But with enough drops, we can fill any bucket.”
Here is where to start saving this blessed planet:
1. Get politically active and vote
Even in the middle of a pandemic, there are plenty of other issues that need our attention. Don’t forget that you have much more influence than you might think to determine what our political system focuses on — all through your vote. Make sure you’re registered and be prepared to vote in all of the elections, not just the ones getting the most media attention. Stay up to date on each candidates’ stance on climate issues, and vote for the ones who are taking it seriously.
What should you look for when sizing up candidates? Make sure they’re committed to science-based targets to curbing carbon emissions, have clear plans to reach these targets, and are truly focused on shifting to a renewable-energy economy — not just talking the talk.
While individual actions can add up, we ultimately will need to change the larger systems that keep us stuck in our carbon ruts. Remember: your vote truly matters.
2. Urge your local government to support a green recovery
Even though it’s easy to see the large-scale issue of climate change as a worldwide problem, remember that you can focus on environmental issues that are relevant to your local community, too. We need all levels of government to cooperate and take bold climate action to make lasting change. For example, cities can take an active role in reducing their carbon footprint by transitioning their local energy grid; investing in quality, green public transportation systems; and supporting sustainable development.
There are a lot of grassroots organizations fighting climate change at the local level that you can get involved with if you’re living in or near a city. These were started by passionate individuals who want to see change now, so getting involved with such a group can really spark inspiration and motivation. To start, try joining the local chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby — there are more than 400 chapters across the U.S. empowering people to work together on climate issues.
3. Use energy wisely
Here’s an action that’s incredibly easy to implement yourself: Save energy. Be smart. Pollute less. You’ll even save yourself money! And though it might seem futile in the grand scheme of things, please remember the ripple effect — your actions can spark conversations with many other people, and that’s how mindset shifts can spread. Consider some of these eco-changes:
- Swapping your furnace for a heat pump
- Installing a programmable thermostat
- Using an electric stove instead of a gas stove
- Hand-drying your clothes and washing in cold water
- Using energy-efficient lightbulbs
- Skipping the air conditioning in the summer
4. Stay in the know about renewable energy
Even if you aren’t planning on installing solar panels or wind turbines, you can still get involved in the renewable energy economy. If you feel ready to invest, you can search online for local renewable energy co-ops to join. You’ll own part of the co-op and receive a return on your investments as a member. Do you have a financial adviser? They probably have some wisdom about renewable energy and clean technology investments.
You can take this one step further and inquire if your bank, investment adviser, workplace, or university invests in fossil fuels. By asking these questions of the institutions you’re involved with, you’ll be letting the industry know that you care about climate change. If you find that they are making investments in fossil fuels, you can choose to join or start a divestment campaign. Make your voice heard!
5. Eat for a climate-stable planet
Some of the most impactful changes we can make today to combat climate change involve what we put on our plates. The decisions we make about what we eat actually have a profound impact on the environment; some types of food (meat, dairy) have a significantly larger carbon footprint than others (legumes, fruit, plants in general). With this in mind, consider these changes:
- Eat more meat-free meals; if this is within your capabilities, why not give it a try? You could even just start with meatless Mondays. Here’s one of my favorite plant-based food blogs for some inspiration.
- Shop at your local farmer’s market; you’ll find produce that’s in season, organic, has traveled a much shorter distance to get to you the consumer, and support the local economy.
- Have you ever tried growing your own food? If not, make it a goal to get outside and plant some of your own veggies. Trust me, nothing is more empowering than picking the ingredients for your salad right before dinner!
6. Start climate conversations
It’s not everyone’s favorite dinnertime topic, but discussing the climate and environmental issues with friends and family can be extremely beneficial for furthering climate action. First off, your loved ones are more likely to listen to you and what you have to say instead of policymakers, experts, and scientists whom they don’t have a personal connection with. If we want to make real change in this field, we’re all going to need to work together. We can’t do this without overcoming the polarization around this subject. If you don’t know where to start, there are chatbots out there that can teach you how to have conversations to cultivate empathy and find common round. So pass the salad dressing — and chime in when there’s a break in the conversation. We all want to hear what you have to say.
7. Green your commute
Changing the way you commute is another action you can take today, depending on where you live or what your work situation is. Does the pandemic have you working from home? As challenging as WFH can be sometimes, it’s great news for reducing emissions! Still need to get around town? If it’s safe, try riding your bike — a good way to get fresh air on your way to your destination. If public transportation isn’t a safe option, try reducing the amount you drive and spend more time walking. Being outside can work wonders for reducing anxiety and stress levels, too!
8. Consume less, waste less, enjoy more life
This is a big mindset shift that I’ve started to adopt myself over the last few years; it doesn’t come easy. Most of us were raised in a consumerist society, taught to always want the latest and greatest. But what kind of planet is that going to leave for our kids? Most likely it’ll be one full of waste and stripped of resources. Try dedicating more time in your day to mindfulness and gratitude. When you stop to appreciate the things you already have, and the loved ones in your life, you might find that you desire less and less. If you do need something, try repurposing, fixing, making, upcycling, or sharing before you commit to buying new. There’s nothing better than a good thrift store excursion!
I know it can be hard to stay positive and hopeful in times where it seems like one negative thing after another keeps happening. Take care of yourself first and foremost — eat healthfully, exercise, meditate, make time for your hobbies — and you’ll be ready to present your best self in the fight against climate change. Remember that change is more than just possible — it’s already happening, thanks to people like you.
Together, we’ve got this.