We are in a climate crisis. If you have the privilege to live in a developed country, you might not have personally felt its effect (yet), but it is happening my friends, and it’s scary AF. (CleanTechnica has called climate change a “slow-motion, multi-generational train wreck“, and I don’t disagree.)
But even as similar headlines appear repeatedly, many (or most?) people aren’t making the connection between the climate and themselves. “What I do is a small drop in the bucket”, while true, is exactly the kind of sentiment that translates to “so it doesn’t matter if I recycle, drive less, etc.”
Truth is, we all contribute to climate change, intentionally or unintentionally (though some more than others). And while this crisis can never be solved by individuals alone, governments and businesses will not step up unless there is an activated, informed, and engaged populace. Here are 100 things you can do, because the best way to beat inertia is action.
This list is by no means comprehensive, and not every action item will be appropriate for you. It’s a collection of quick-hits, a resource for ideas, and you can always click on the links to learn more (some of them are my own writing here and on IG; others are writings from others I learn from and admire.) No I have not done every one of them; I’m not perfect!
- Know what we are up against. Read the ICPP special report, at least the executive summaries.
- Rethink and reframe the issue. The earth doesn’t need saving; we do. More of my thoughts on that here.
- Know where you stand by calculating your ecological footprint.
- Make informing yourself a habit. Here are my go-tos for environmental news coverage. Don’t limit yourself to traditional media though; there are so many academics, educators, and activists online worth learning from, all you have to do is look. Start with your favorite platform, whether it’s Instagram, Twitter, or Medium. Laura from the Waste Free PhD has collected an awesome list here. Oh, and book recommendations from educator Polly Barks here.
- Intersectionality – it’s a thing (thank you Kimberlé Crenshaw!) The climate crisis didn’t rise from a vacuum, and it will never ever be solved if we treat it simply as an “environmental” problem. Learn more about intersectionality and why it needs to be a crucial part of the climate conversation here and here.
Say bye to single use (one of the easiest places to start)
- Bring a “zero waste kit” on the go: water bottle, travel mug, utensils, etc. No need to spend $$, here is an awesome starter guide from Zero Waste Chef.
- Party thoughtfully. Cookouts are notoriously wasteful; even if you can’t go 100% waste free, try to be mindful as much as you can. A list of ideas here.
- Learn how to create a simpler and less wasteful cleaning routine here. Ya don’t need 58 different cleaners and tools!
- Ladies, periods are wasteful – no doubt about it. Will you consider some alternatives to pads and tampons?
- Swap, swap and more swap. I mentioned only a few ideas above, but there are so many more! Simply search “zero waste swaps” online. I found these visuals from the Waste Free PhD very helpful!
More ways to reduce your trash
- Go paperless on bills, tickets, etc, and unsubscribe junk mail.
- Compost. Remember: naturally biodegradable things (like food, or paper) do not break down in a landfill devoid of air and moisture!
- Bulk shop in store or online. Plus, some additional ways to reduce packaging waste if your store doesn’t offer a bulk section.
- Be a better recycler. Recycling is not the ultimate solution to our trash problem, but it’s one tool we have in the toolkit. Learn why it’s so important to do it right and how here.
- Get to know the unicorn that is Terracycle, and the recycling programs they offer.
- Buy less, go without, learn to distinguish wants and needs. Here is an article that’ll make you chuckle and a reminder of how much unnecessary stuff we all own.
- Invest in quality, not quantity.
- Use what you already have, reuse, then reuse some more.
- Before letting go, research if something can be repurposed.
- If it’s broken, attempt a repair before replacing.
- Borrow items you only need once or for rare occasions.
- Renting is another alternative. (Just because we like something doesn’t mean we have to own it – wisdom I learned from Lindsay Miles’ book Less Stuff.)
- Shop secondhand: fashion, appliances, furniture, books, you name it!
- If there are functional things sitting idle in your home, sell, donate or give away (but do it thoughtfully). Why? Because it’s still waste if you are not using it (no different from something that’s sitting in a landfill), especially when it can serve someone else a purpose!
- Become a regular library goer – it’s not just for books!
- Stop taking freebies just because, e.g., makeup samples, hotel toiletries, etc.
- Spend less time online, because the Internet makes money by showing us ads nonstop and amplifying our worst instincts. If you must, at least install an ad blocker.
- Be mindful about gift-giving, especially during the holiday season.
- Support the circular economy. For example, this could mean purchasing only paper made with high recycle content. If we want materials to be recycled, we as consumers have to ensure that there is a market for it!
- Buy online tactfully. People love to hate on the excessive packaging, but online shopping – when done right – can be greener than driving to the store. Learn more here.
- Similarly, be smart about sales. Sales are a great opportunity to save money for something you need, not an excuse to accumulate more frivolous stuff.
- Embrace ethical consumerism. Every industry has its problem, whether it’s labor abuse in the chocolate industry, or deforestation from coffee production. An ethical consumer aims to take the social, environmental, and economic impact of a product in mind. This is a super broad topic, and highly specific to the product you are looking for. My favorite resource for ethical consumerism is the Green Stars Project.
Lessen your transportation impact
- Opt for walking, biking, and taking public transit whenever you can.
- Carpool to work and school, if that is an option.
- Combine errands to reduce how often you have to be on the road.
- Drive smarter, such as making sure your tires are full, changing your oil regularly, etc. I’d be the worst person to give you advice on this because I don’t drive, but here are some tips.
- If you are in the market for a new car, consider a fuel-efficient car.
- Electric or hybrid vehicles are another possible option, but know that they are only as clean as your electric suppliers. (This doesn’t mean you should automatically cross them off your list; just be sure to do your research.)
- Telecommute, or collapse your work week to reduce commuting, if it can be arranged. A shorter work week might have additional benefits too.
- Fly less. Read my Q&A with Dr. Parke Wilde on his efforts to reduce unnecessary flying in academia.
- If you can’t avoid flying, purchase carbon offsets. Going Zero Waste has a terrific introductory article on why and how to choose offsets.
- Lighten the load. More weight = more energy = more emission. Pack light when you travel, and regularly do a car trunk cleanup.
Adopt a climate-friendly diet
- Eat fewer animal-based products. It’s one of the most effective ways to reduce you environmental footprint (accounting for emission, water and more). I’m not telling you to quit meat, eggs, milk, and cheese cold-turkey :P, but even a weekly Meatless Monday routine can make a difference. Learn more from this infographic.
- Learn about regenerative agriculture, and support farmers that are using regenerative practices to grow our food. Start by talking to your local farmers!
- Eating seasonally can reduce the need to transport your food long distances.
- Buy local/regional when in season. Shorter “food mileage” is good, but not when things have to be grown in energy-intensive hothouses. Read more about how not to take buying local too far.
- Know your organic. Contrary to popular belief, organic is not definitively a clear winner from an environmental perspective. Still, this short NYTimes piece explains some of the issues at hand, and I agree with its conclusion: “organic food is probably better for the planet, even if the emissions picture is complex. If you can afford to buy organic, try to go small and local.”
- Meal plan to reduce waste. Practical tips from the Kitchn here.
- Batch cook to cut down on cooking time, as well as energy use.
- Cook for one, cook for all. Cooking 4 different meals for 4 people is not neither energy or time efficient. Here is a smart entry from Simply Recipes on how to make a “fork-in-a-road” dish that pleases everyone.
- Bring lunch more often. This can reduce waste from packaging and excessive portion size.
- Cook scrappy to save money and cut down waste. Follow Chef Joel Gamoran for easy and delicious recipes.
- Up your food preservation skills: freeze those pick-your-own strawberries for winter smoothies! Make croutons from stale bread! Can those beautiful summer tomatoes so you’ve got sauce all year long. My favorite blog on this is the Zero Waste Chef (duh).
- Eat down your pantry and fridge. Save money, and prevent waste by cooking what you already have. (I struggle with this too, but you don’t have to stock up every time the grocery store has a sale!)
- Understand expiration dates on food packaging. Without cohesive federal legislation, there is so much confusion in this area. Learn the difference between commonly-used wording here, and as always, trust your nose!
- Store food properly to prolong their life; start with these tips. (Ok, I know this is a lot about food waste, but food waste is a big deal!)
- No-brainer: take shorter showers. Some additional tips from my Instagram post here.
- Toilet: check for leaks, consider upgrading an old model to a water saving model with dual flush options.
- Use a low-flow faucet and shower head. (Wait, before you just order one off Amazon, see point 23!)
- When it comes to washing, leave to the professional. Lots of people know that a dishwasher uses less water than hand washing (for most people’s typical washing behavior at least). This logic applies to car washing, clothes washing, etc.
- Don’t leave the water running unnecessarily while you are brushing teeth, washing hands (proper hand washing takes time!), thawing food, scrubbing dishes, shaving, etc.
- If you have a yard, set up a rain barrel to offset irrigation water. A detailed 101 here.
- Do an energy audit. Here is a DIY guide from the Department of Energy, and here is a nice article to help you figure out the energy guzzlers in your home. You can also search if your state or local government offers free or discounted energy assessments.
- Live in the climate. Summers are supposed to be warm, and winters are supposed to be cold, yes? If you are cold in a t-shirt in the winter, opt to put on a sweatshirt before turning up the heat.
- Upgrade to LED bulbs.
- Switch to renewable energy. This may be as easy as checking whether your existing energy supplier offers renewables and selecting that option. If not, search if there are other renewable suppliers available to you. Be sure to read the fine prints of the contract to understand how this might change your bill; it’s also a good idea to browse reviews of the supplier before you make the switch.
- Go solar. Depending on your living situation, solar panels might be a great option to reduce your emission impact and even save you money in the long term (especially considering the current federal tax credit.) Here is a detailed FAQ from the Department of Energy. If installing panels isn’t realistic for you, consider joining a community solar program.
- Insulate your home.
- Update aging windows, or at least cover up the drafty ones in the colder months.
- Choose an efficient heating and cooling system. Great info here.
- Change to a programmable thermostat so you can adjust the temperature when you are away. Some state and local government even offer discount programs.
- Choose certified energy efficient appliances. Duh.
- Don’t run your dishwasher of washing machine until it’s full.
- While you are at it, don’t wash your clothes unless it’s actually dirty! Your clothes will last longer that way too.
- Use cold water when you can. (Water takes energy to heat up!)
- I only recently learned the carbon impact of emails – yes, emails – and it blew my mind! That email receipt from Amazon 8 years ago? If it’s in your inbox, a data server is running on an ungodly amount of energy somewhere to keep it! Delete those emails asap.
- Utilize nature! As much as you can, open the window when it’s hot, air dry laundry and hair.
- Power down, unplug, shut things off when not in use.
- Invest in some rechargeable batteries.
Don’t forget about your pets
- Adopt don’t shop. This world has plenty of homeless animals deserving of our love to go around.
- Spay or neuter.
- Change your pet’s diet – high quality protein, less fillers, less red meat, etc. More on that here, and there is even an upcoming book to geek out on.
- If you have cats (hiiiiiiiii), keep the monsters indoors!
- Divest and invest wisely. Is your financial institution using your money to invest in fossil fuels? If you use a big bank, chances are it is. Zero Waste Doc has got a comprehensive piece discussing why this matters, and what you can do.
- Downsize. Less space = less space to heat/cool = less space to fill up with stuff.
- Research eco-friendly construction, if you are in the process of renovation or building a home.
- Grow food not lawn! A pristine lawn is nothing but a class symbol, an ecological dead zone, and a huge waste for water and fertilizer, in my opinion.
- Soooorry, that was harsh. Replacing your lawn with a garden isn’t the only way to create a more sustainable yard. Here are some more ideas.
- Compost your yard waste. More on that here.
- Pick up litter. It feels good to keep your neighborhood, coast line, and hiking trail clean, doesn’t it?
Go beyond individual actions
- Lead by example by being you. Your family, friends, coworkers do notice, I guarantee you. My favorite site on raising environmentally conscious kids is Sustainable In the Suburbs.
- Share your knowledge and action with others. Don’t shame people, instead listen, explain, and encourage. Listen to people’s barriers (for not doing something), explain why it matters, courage people to do what’s manageable for them, and be helpful where you can.
- Support good journalism. Journalists are breaking down complex climate topics into digestable pieces. They are reporting on the institutional inertia and political gridlock. They are holding big public and private sector players accountable. Pay them for this important work.
- Attend an event. They can be big or small (from a climate strike, to a public hearing on a new state recycling regulation, or a community meetings to add more buses to your neighborhood.)
- Encourage institutional improvements. Start with somewhere you have a personal connection with: your workplace, school, apartment building. Can we start a compost bin? Can we organize a clothing swap or book exchange? Can we carpool more?
- Write to companies and politicians on the changes you want to see. If this sounds intimidating, look for a template. For example, Chelsea Johnson from the Eco-concious Consumer has an awesome template for writing to your city council on urban mobility. Katherine from Raspberry Thriller has one on writing to companies.
- Organize. Polly Barks is my go-to educator and advocate for ideas on activating your community. You can follow her here and here. And here’s an interview with Polly.
- Volunteer your time. Participate in a river cleanup, plant some trees, table an event for your favorite organization, choose your own adventure!
- Donate. If you can’t donate your time, sending your dollars is another excellent idea that allows your favorite organization to do more.
- Vote. Because every election is a climate election.