Climate change can seem overwhelming and feel like one person can’t possibly make a difference. But there are many practical things you CAN do. Here are 12 ways to take action now.
12 Ways YOU can Fight Climate Change
Before we get to the 12 ways there are 2 important things to keep in mind.
1) First, although we need to act fast to stop climate change. To be successful we need to realize that stopping climate change is a long game. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You can’t just do something one time and then be done with it if you truly want to make a difference. So having that long-range Mindset is key.
Gear yourself up to keep putting one foot in front of the other and take reasonable steps every day or every week and your actions WILL make a difference.
2) The second thing to remember is that even if you can’t do it perfectly and even if you can’t do everything – you CAN do something, even one thing to make a difference. Every action you do take is important.
1. Vote Pro-Climate
People have been voting Pro-Choice or Pro-Gun or Pro-whatever for many years now. If you care about the climate be sure to look at where your candidate stands and make your vote count.
Climate change is a HUGE issue that is impacting our entire planet. We as individuals can make changes and make a difference. But if we can make nationwide systemic changes then our impact is even greater. So when you are voting, consider climate change as one of your key issues and research where your candidate stands. Be sure to research your state and local representatives as well.
2. Hold Representatives to Account
Be sure to stay in touch with your state and national senators and representatives to let them know your thoughts on various climate change and environmental issues throughout their terms. Sometimes actions that will impact the environment and potentially contribute to climate change can get folded in with more wide-sweeping bills. So they can be easy to miss.
You can follow what bills the U.S. Congress is voting on and when at www.govtrack.us You can even sign up to get emailed updates so you know when you need to call or write your representative or senator.
The Environmental Energy & Study Institute can also help you keep track of what bills are being proposed in Congress that relate to climate change.
Phoning your senator or congressperson to let them know what you think about a bill doesn’t have to take a long time and you don’t need to feel nervous about it.
First of all, it’s very unlikely that you’ll actually get your representative or senator live on the phone. It’s most likely that you’ll get an aide or even just a voicemail. So all you need to do is leave a message.
I always make sure to include my name, my city, and zip code so that they know I am from their district or state. Then I state what issue I am calling about and what my stand is. If it’s a specific bill and I know the number of it I’ll include that as well. But if you don’t have a specific number just state your concern and how you’d like them to vote.
If you get an aide it’s likely they will just take down your comments briefly and tell you they will pass them on to their boss. Occasionally I’ve had an aide ask a follow-up question to get additional information. But that’s pretty rare in my experience.
When contacting your rep or senator, it’s best to be polite, even if you don’t have much respect for them or their stance on many of the issues. There’s that old saying about catching more flies with honey… etc.
Not sure how to get in touch with your senator or representative?
Senate.gov has good information on mailing senators and committee chairs. They also offer this phone number for the U.S. Capitol Switchboard (202) 224-312. Just call that number and ask for your senator and they will connect you directly with that office.
For your House of Representatives contacts, you can find your representative here at the U.S. House of Representatives site in case you aren’t sure who it is. All you need is your zip code.
Once the site brings up your representative there will be a link toward the left to contact via a contact form or a link to their website that will give you all their contact information.
I’ve found it easier to look up my senators and representatives by googling “US Senators Wisconsin” and “US Representatives Wisconsin.” Then I put their phone numbers for their Washington office and their local office right in my phone contacts. This makes it very easy to get in touch and share my concerns with them at the touch of a button.
Remember that your senators and representative are there to represent you and your beliefs about what direction our country should be going in. (Or your state at the state level). They work for you. It’s absolutely fine to get in touch and respectfully let them know your thoughts.
3. Use your Social Media Accounts
Social media outlets like Facebook can be a good place to stay informed and to spread the word about the potentially devastating effects of climate change. Granted, social media can also spread a lot of disinformation about a lot of things, climate change included. But you can help spread accurate information.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to “Like” and follow groups that report truthfully on climate change issues to stay informed and up to date. One group I really like is Yale Climate Connections. Their articles are not only informative about the “bad stuff” they also share information about the progress that’s being made and how technology and ingenuity are working to help stop climate change.
You can find their website here and if you just do a search on Facebook you’ll be able to Follow them as well.
Other organizations to check out and consider following either on Facebook or via their websites to stay abreast of Climate Change issues and initiatives are the Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), The Nature Conservancy, The World Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, and 350.org.
It’s good to be aware that there are more effective ways to go about sharing information on climate change and less effective ways. I know that sometimes if a person I’m friends with or following always seems to be on a “soapbox” spreading dark and dire news every day on their Facebook account I either just scroll right past them or snooze them for 30 days so I get a break.
So you might want to be judicious about what posts you re-share. Be sure to share positive messages, too. If you can keep it non-partisan that might be helpful as well to try to catch the eyes and attention of those who are already concerned about climate change as well as the climate change deniers.
4. Support Change with the Power of the Purse
You’ve heard the saying about how if you want to show what you really care about, “put your money where your mouth is.” That’s key with living a more environmentally friendly life and trying to fight climate change as well.
We have so many choices about what we buy. If we can choose greener products that are less harmful to the environment, have less packaging, have safer more natural ingredients, etc. then we are putting our money where our mouth is to support companies who use less packaging and more environmentally friendly ingredients and to help them continue this practice.
What products we choose goes beyond packaging and ingredients. You also may be able to choose products from companies with greener business practices. Some products have their “green street cred” printed all over their labels. Some of this can be misleading. So it’s good to do your own research if you can.
Forbes puts out a Most Sustainable Companies list every year called the Global 100 . These companies are ranked by how well they are doing at reducing their carbon output and waste, how much of their revenue comes from green or “clean” products, and gender diversity in leadership positions. This list might be something to consider when you are following the next tip.
Another way to” put your money where your mouth is” is to invest with green living and fighting climate change in mind. The companies on the Global 100 list might be some to consider investing in.
This article from Investopedia also lists several industries to focus in on when you are deciding where to invest your money. Green investing is getting to be a bigger and bigger trend so there are more options and financial companies are feeling the pressure to offer greener choices!
5. Choose Greener Cars
America is a country in love with the automobile. We have been for decades and decades. And that’s a big problem because personal cars and trucks account for 20% of all US emissions. Did you know that for every gallon of gas used in a personal vehicle 24 pounds of carbon dioxide and other global warming gasses are emitted? Seriously – that’s significant!
Choosing your next vehicle based on higher MPG or even choosing a hybrid can make a huge difference in your carbon footprint. According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
“switching from a vehicle that gets 20-mpg to a vehicle that gets 25-mpg car reduces your greenhouse gas emissions by 1.7 tons annually. “Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
1.7 tons annually is a very good start! You don’t even have to switch to a hybrid or electric car to get 25 mpg. There are lots of vehicles that will get you that kind of mileage. BUT…
You may need a mindset adjustment here. Because imagine you’ve finally saved enough for your “dream car” (ohhh that beautiful Jaguar F-Type!) BUT now you’re supposed to skip it and drive a Prius Hybrid instead?!? I mean seriously, you only live once right??
Even the most environmentally-conscious consumer can have a hard time sticking to their green living goals when it comes to something they’ve always dreamed about having. It can be hard to stick to higher principles for the greater good when there’s something you’ve really wanted for a long time that you may have to pass up.
If you don’t care about cars at all, then that example probably seemed ridiculous to you. But the same thing can happen with making any choice where you have to weigh eco-friendly vs. eco-unfriendly if it’s something you’ve long wanted.
So say you’ve always dreamed of traveling around the world and one of the key modes of transportation you’re planning on using is air travel. Well, guess what – that might not fit with your goals to live a greener life either. See below for more on that.
It’s important not to get discouraged, however. We don’t need to do everything perfectly to still help make a positive difference with climate change.
6. Drive Less
So say you still want your Jaguar F-Type (which technically might get up to 23 mpg city and 30 hwy. Just sayin’!) This gets tough because, again, in general, as a society, we love our cars. So maybe you make a compromise and find a way to drive your fuel-hungry car crush a little bit less.
Can you rideshare with a co-worker or friend who works near where you do? Can you use public transportation? Can you telecommute one or two days a week?
The habit of just jumping into your car and going to work or wherever without a second thought can be a very hard habit to break. But if you start a new habit and just save one trip a week it can really add up.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the air quality got significantly better in a very short period of time because so many people weren’t driving as much as usual. The results were clearly visible. Pun intended! What if lots of us made the decision to drive less all the time? This could make a huge difference.
7. Support Alternative Energies
If you can find a way, consider solar or wind power to power your home. Coal-fired power plants are one of the biggest contributors to climate change. Think about it. Coal is mostly made of carbon. When burned it combines with oxygen and creates a whole lot of carbon dioxide. Using coal as a power source accounts for approximately 25% of energy-related carbon emissions in the US.
Solar energy systems for the home have gone down in price. But they can still run $20,000 or $30,000 before incentives. So it can still take at from 7-18 years to get back your investment in your home solar system depending on your location (how sunny), how much energy you use, and how efficient your system is.
So, if you use a lot of energy, get a lot of sun, and plan to stay in your home for 15 or more years then solar panels might be a VERY good option and investment.
Solar panels can actually increase the resale value of your home. In a study done across 6 states by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory it was found that homes outfitted for solar energy sold for 3.74% more than their counterparts that weren’t solar equipped. So even if you don’t plan to stay in your home for 15 or more years, you could recoup a big portion of your solar energy system purchase price when you sell your home.
Even though it can be expensive to install solar, there are quite a few incentives to install solar on your home (other than wanting to live a greener life!). And these incentives can save you some green!
To find out the incentives available to you in your state you can check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency interactive webpage. Just click your state to see what’s being offered.
Solar Panels Not an Option
If you don’t have the money to add solar panels or your house isn’t in a good spot for solar or you don’t know how long you’ll be living in your home, then consider investing in community energy programs.
For example, Alliant Energy is the energy company in my community. This spring customers are able to buy blocks (or a percentage or shares) of solar power from a local “solar garden.” Each month you get a credit on your bill for the percentage you own of the solar that was produced – up to the entire cost of your electric bill. You can earn these credits for 20 years.
Boom – your house can be solar powered without any maintenance or hassle and when you move, as long as it is in the same area powered by that energy company, your solar “block” moves with you.
There’s also a program called Second Nature from Alliant Energy. This is a program that any household or business can sign up for. In this program, you choose how much of your energy you want to come from renewable sources, and then Alliant will ensure that it has enough wind or solar energy purchased to cover your usage.
You can choose from 25% to 100%. There is a slight upcharge for this. For example, if you select to get 100% of your energy from renewable resources through this program there will be an additional 1 cent per Kilowatt hour added to your energy bill.
An average American home uses about 867 Kilowatt hours per month. So if that’s how much energy you use then that would increase your bill by $8.67/month.
This can be a pretty good deal because it doesn’t require you to purchase any solar panels or maintain anything. If you move to an area that’s serviced by another power plant, there’s nothing to worry about either. You haven’t lost anything because the charge is made month by month.
For this particular program, you can start at your next meter reading and cancel at any time. So it’s a pretty easy way to turn your energy use at home “green.”
You can Google your energy company to see what kinds of programs it offers to help you move to renewable energy. It might be much easier to switch to renewables than you think.
8. Cut your Energy Usage
Even if you are using renewable energy it still pays to use less if possible. Cooling and heating use the most energy in our homes – about 47%. So choosing an energy-saving furnace and air conditioner can make a big difference. Turning the heat down a degree or two and not keeping your house as cold during air conditioning season can help as well.
These are just common sense things, but we can easily end up skipping them out of habit or convenience, or because we don’t think that will help much, and that’s too bad because these are things we can control and CAN actually make a difference.
9. Fly Less
I hate to say it because I love to travel, but air travel is a pretty big polluter and impacts climate change. Not only do planes emit carbon dioxide they also emit other pollutants like nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, and something called black carbon which you can read about more at the Center for Climate Energy Solution’s website. They also emit water vapor that can form heat-trapping clouds,
2-3% of global carbon emissions are created by air travel each year. That might not sound like a lot, but as more and more people around the globe move into the middle class and will be able to travel more, this is likely to go up.
Longer flights are actually more efficient because much less fuel is used when cruising than in takeoff and gaining altitude. So for short hops can you take a less energy-intensive, less polluting means of transportation? It’s not always possible but it is something to consider.
When you do travel via air be sure to pack light. Heavier planes use more fuel and put out more carbon. Hah! You might be thinking. How much difference could this possibly make? More than you might imagine! According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, if you consider all flights in a given year,
“if all passengers packed one less pair of shoes, or roughly 2 lbs/1kg, the aircraft’s fuel savings would be the same as taking 10,500 cars off the road for an entire year.Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
10. Buy Less
Moving toward minimalism can really go hand and hand with trying to live a more environmentally friendly life and stopping climate change. But you don’t have to be an all out minimalist. Just keep an eye on what you buy and try to buy less.
When you buy less stuff, less manufacturing is needed and less transportation is needed. Everything we buy has a carbon footprint. The carbon footprint includes the energy it takes to get the raw materials that go into your product, the energy the manufacturing of your product takes, the energy it takes to transport your product to the store or your home, etc.
For example, a cotton T-shirt made in China has a carbon footprint of 8.77 kg. A pair of Levi’s jeans has a carbon footprint of 33.4 kg. A pair of running shoes has a carbon footprint of 14 kg. An IPhone X has a carbon footprint of 79 kg – (about 80% of this footprint is due to the manufacturing process).
Everything you buy was made somewhere and took resources and energy to make. So it all adds up.
Take a moment to consider, do I really need another pair of sneakers, another pair of jeans, another blue sweater, another… whatever.
When you do buy, try to buy things with less packaging – because the creation and disposal of all that packaging have a carbon footprint as well.
Buy clothes that are made well so that you can use them longer. Repurpose them if you can. Donate them to thrift stores if you can’t. And shop thrift stores for clothing and other items to further reduce that carbon footprint. The more use you get out of something the better!
BONUS: The less stuff you buy the less waste there will be. So less material will end up in our landfills.
11. Buy Smarter
Even when you don’t have time to do research on a product manufacturer’s background before you buy – because unless you are really minimalist and disciplined there will be those impulse buys. Seriously, who hasn’t been at Target or TJMaxx and ended up buying something we had no intention of buying when we entered the store?!? So,be sure to do what you can to buy items that will have less of an impact on the environment.
This can just be common sense stuff.
Let’s take candles for example. I love them. I know they can have negative air quality impacts and environmental impacts as well. But although I’ve cut back on my use of candles I haven’t cut them out entirely. (You can read about whether or not soy candles are better than other candles in a post I wrote here.)
So say you are in the market for some candles and you have a choice of a candle in a jar or a candle that isn’t in a jar. Which do you pick? Well, to keep your carbon footprint lower and help fight climate change, unless you plan on repurposing the jar, pick the candle without the jar. Because that will save on recycling or landfill waste and the cost (in carbon and fuel) to haul it away and process it or put it in a landfill.
Less packaging is one thing to look for. Products with harmful chemicals vs. natural products can be another. Just do what you can to choose wisely.
12. Eat Less Meat
This can be a sore spot for meat lovers. But I have to bring it up. Cows produce a lot of methane. It’s just the way their digestive system works. It’s not just cow “farts” by the way, but rather cow “burps” which produce even more methane. And sheep burps are an issue as well.
Methane is a problem because it is 28 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide on a 100-year timescale and 80 times more potent on a 20-year timescale.
Yes, some methane is produced in ways unrealted to humans. For example,bogs produce methane, and the permafrost melting produces methane, and termites eating wood produce methane, but these and other “natural” causes only account for about 40% of the methane being produced. Human activities are producing the other 60% and raising cattle for meat is a key part of that.
If you don’t want to give up meat altogether, give up eating meat one or two days a week. You can find out more about how eating less meat is environmentally friendly in this post.
Thanks for reading and thank you for caring about the environment and wanting to make a positive difference.
Climate change is a HUGE problem and it can seem overwhelming. But there are many things you can to do help stop it. Be heard. Hold your government officials accountable. Educate yourself and your friends. Make good decisions regarding how you travel and what you buy. Each choice you make counts!