5 high-impact climate actions you can take at home

Are you still mostly staying in? Seven months into working from home, I’m starting to feel…a little trapped I guess? This weekend I heard news on the latest lockdowns across Europe on NPR, and was reminded that this thing is nowhere near over… and I’d better get ready to continue hunkering down – physically and mentally – for the winter and until a vaccine comes along. All that is to say, 2020 sucks big time, and I hope you all are doing the best you can to take care of yourselves.

On the other hand, the climate crisis continues every day even as our normal personal and social lives come to a grinding halt, and whatever the future holds is going to make 2020 look small. So here is a friendly reminder and note to self: there is still a lot we can do even in the middle of a pandemic! Here are 5 high-impact climate actions you can take right from the comfort of your home.

Reduce food waste

Eating your leftovers or pickling that sad cucumber in your fridge might not feel like a big deal, but at scale – our collective impact from reducing food waste can be huge. In fact, Project Drawdown – a nonprofit that complies and promotes climate change mitigation strategies, ranks food waste reductions one of the top solutions to reduce green house emissions. According to UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, a whopping 1/3 of food produced around the world goes to waste. Don’t let that be from your kitchen! Some tips:

  • Meal plan like a pro, or buy little at a time. Meal planning can be super helpful for reducing food waste, but I feel like you are either a planner, or…not. I for one, can’t even decide what I want for dinner 3 hours before, so my strategy is generally to not buy a lot of food at once. This way, I can focus on finishing what I have, before going food shopping. Down to nothing in your fridge? Make soup – you can always make soup
  • Learn how to store food properly: while the fridge can prolong the life of some fruits and vegetables, not all belong there! Tubers, onions, garlic, and tomatoes are just a couple examples of what you should keep out of the fridge, in a dry and cool place.
  • Remove excess moisture that can lead to wilting/rotting by patting the produce dry or wrapping it in a kitchen towel or cut up old t-shirts – no need to invest in those fancy produce “swaddle” blankets.
  • Up your food preservation game! Pickling, freezing, fermenting, you name it. One of my favorites is this curry cauliflower pickle recipe.

Try a no-buy challenge

Online shopping can be so temping when we are inside all day fixated on our devices! So – challenge yourself to a no-buy or no-spend month or season, where you don’t buy anything except for the essentials! I’m ever so inspired by Pernille, who completed an entire year of “noconsumption”, which you can read about month-by-month here. But don’t be intimidated! It’s totally up to you to set the rules (what someone considers essential might be totally unnecessary for you), and you can try any length of time (as long as it’s at least a little challenging.)

Plan your future travel thoughtfully

Are you a frequent flyer? I don’t by any means consider myself one, but being on a plane even for a few hours is an incredibly high carbon activity. In fact, flying accounted for over 40% of my ecological footprint last year (the biggest chunk being a 28-hour round trip flight to visit family in China – more on that here). It’s pretty defeating to think that a few hours on a plane absolutely dwarf every effort I make on a daily basis, but! – reducing our impact from flying doesn’t mean we all completely stop seeing family and friends. While some flying might be unavoidable depending on your circumstances, I believe there is a lot of unnecessary traveling that we can cut down collectively.

If you are someone who jets around the world for vacations without a second thought, consider reducing the frequency and planning some future local/regional trips instead. If you are someone who flies a lot for business, think about how much can be realistically replaced by virtual meetings or another form of transportation (at this point, we are all Zoom experts, right?) If you belong to an academic institution, you can read my conversation with my mentor here about reducing unnecessary flying to academic conferences.

Don’t fly much? Re-think your commute! Covid has transformed the way we work in so many ways, and no one says we must go back to the old ways when the pandemic is over. If you are lucky enough to have the option of working from home and feel comfortable raising the issue with your employer, consider having a conversation about future flexible work arrangements. Not only will it cut down on emissions, it might improve your quality of life and productivity too – something a good boss would get behind.

Manage indoor energy use

I’m still resisting the urge to “officially” turn on the heat, but man – it’s starting to get cold where I am! Given that many of us will be spending this winter working from home, now it’s a good time to get smart about energy use. A few energy-saving strategies:

  • Use a programmable thermostat to turn down the temperature when you are not home or in the rooms you are not using. Search if your city or state offers discount programs.
  • Cover up those drafty windows. If you live in a home without insulated windows and don’t have the funds to upgrade, those plastic film window insulator kits could help significantly. Yes the plastics are worth it!
  • Double down with curtains. Heavy fabrics or layer curtains could help keep out drafts. If the room is sunny, open the curtains to let the light in during daylight hours.
  • Bundle up! Winter is supposed to be cold, yea? If you are cold in a t-shirt, perhaps opt to put on a sweatshirt first before turning up the heat. Just a thought 🙂
Take the advice from my cat and bundle up!


US friends, fulfill your civic duty, mkay? As someone who doesn’t and has never had the rights to cast a vote, it boggles my mind there are people who can but choose not the vote. Of course, elections (especially presidential elections) are not the be-all-end-all, but like…do the bare minimum, please?

If you have not made a voting plan, hurry! Depending on where you live, you may not have much time left to register as a voter or request your ballot. (Needless to say, the old fashion way of voting in person on election day is always an option, but hey – remember this article is titled actions you can take at home.)

There are tons of great resources out there that detail the voting rules in your state: this NBC article looks pretty good, so does this new website I recently discovered. If you are unfamiliar with what’s on your ballot, Vote Save America has a handy function that gives you a breakdown of your local ballot measures (written in plain English)! You can even make your (hypothetical) picks online and print/email yourself a copy to make filling out the real ballot much easier.

That’s all friends – try to spend some time outdoors if you can, and VOTE!

(Header image credit: Prudence Earl via Unsplash)