Climate Change: What Can the Average Joe or Josephine Do?

Polar bear

Polar bears have become a symbol for climate change.

So, what can the average person do about climate change? Plenty, actually.

Even though climate change is HUGE and impacts millions of interconnected ecosystems, many of which cannot be properly modeled to anticipate all of the possible outcomes, one thing is clear, we can’t wait for companies and governments to make changes. We need to step up.

(Case in point: the EPA climate change link above has this note at the top of the page: “The federal government is currently shut down. The EPA website and social media channels will not be updated until the federal government reopens.” Sad, right?)

Thankfully, we don’t need the government, I mean, it would be nice if they decided to tax carbon emissions or weren’t basically run by corporations, but each of us can (and many of us have already) help to reduce carbon emissions and reverse the effects of climate change.

Say climate change and it brings to mind the sound of thundering ice calving off of glaciers into the ocean and polar bears clinging to a sliver for dear life.  Polar bears have become the poster children for climate change. However, so many unexpected things are starting to happen at once that it’s clear we all need to work to save our life support system (earth). I mean, who could have anticipated drunken trees in Alaska? Or, Montana’s snowshoe hare coat-color change no longer synching with the seasons?  Or, the earth’s jet stream patterns altering?

The nice thing is all we need to do is focus on reducing our impact on the plant. Period. And, as luck would have it, some of those same carbon-footprint reducing lifestyle changes will have a positive effect on our wallets as well as the environment. Here are four steps you can take to reduce your carbon footprint:

  1. Fly Less. I’m not suggesting (although, actually, I’d like to) that you vow to never fly again, like the meteorologist did after reading a recent IPCC report. But, it would help if we all flew less. I’m betting most travelers are business travelers, so if there is any way to use an alternative method such as Skype, GoToMeeting, or video conferencing versus travel to meet and discuss business that would go a long way to reduce carbon emissions. Don’t think your company will go for that? Here are some tools to suggest how they might become more sustainable and even save money.
  2. Buy Less NEW Stuff. If you haven’t seen the Story of Stuff video from 2007, now’s the time. Annie Leonard and her friends did an incredible job of illustrating (literally) our linear system of stuff development and disposal on a finite planet. She really nails it when she says “the United States values people who own and buy a lot of stuff.” She calls it THE GOLDEN ARROW OF CONSUMPTION – the heart of our economy. And, it’s true today that  as humans, “our value is measured and demonstrated by how much we consume” not by our compassion, knowledge, or integrity. Just stuff. Shockingly, 99% of stuff we purchase is trashed within 6 months, but the resources we’ve consumed are gone forever.
      1. Note the emphasis on buying new stuff. There are still many great ways of buying used stuff. Here are a few: Freecycle, CraigsList, and the Buy Nothing Project.
  3. Eat Less Fish, Meat, Dairy. The good thing is that there are so many of us on this planet, so if all of us just make a little change in our diet it’ll go a long way to reduce carbon emissions and may even have the added benefit of reducing our waistlines a little, just saying. If you think about it, we do eat a lot of meat, some of us do every meal (bacon, sausage or ham for breakfast, deli meats for lunch, steak or chicken for dinner).  If you’re game to try a meat/fish/dairy-free day or two, here’s a link to a page of my current favorite plant-based meals to get you started. Still not convinced changing your diet will help the plant? Here are a few facts for ya:
      1. 70% of global fisheries are fished at or beyond capacity. Mission Blue noted that unless something changes, all global stocks of fish that are harvested for human consumption will collapse by 2048. We’re taking fish out of the water faster than they can regenerate.
      2. Forks Over Knives Blog: “Even with increased climate change and ominous weather extremes, we are producing enough grain globally to feed two times as many people as there are on Earth. In 2011, there was a record harvest of grain in the world, with over 2.5 billion tons, but half of that was fed to animals in the meat and dairy industries. 77% of all coarse grains (corn, oats, sorghum, barley) and over 90% of all soy grown in the world was fed to livestock. Add to that the 30% food waste from farm to table, and we see clearly that the difficulty is not how to produce enough food to feed the hungry but rather where all the food we produce is going.”
  4. Get Involved. Sign-carrying and petition-signing may not be your thing, but even if you get involved in a local nonprofit, or go to free lectures on living sustainably you will learn new, easy ways have a positive effect on the environment and reduce your carbon footprint.

There is resistance to change. You’re not just imagining that. You might think everyone would be on board with reducing greenhouse gases and reversing climate change, but there are quite a few industries that stand to lose serious money if that happens. I bet you can guess which industries will be impacted the most.  Not only that but the US measures its worth by our gross national product, so we have quite a bit of pressure to keep buying products, houses, cars, tech gear, etc.

Ultimately, being less grid-dependent is not only good for business but it’s good for our national security. Think about it, distributed energy versus the grid – harder to attack and destroy. Everyone knows solar energy equals environmental benefits, but did you know solar also adds up to a competitive business advantage for some of America’s largest corporations?

Evidence that Individuals Make a Difference

So, show me the change! Here are some examples of how grassroot efforts or a shift in values have made a positive difference:

Remember this is all about supply and demand, and who controls a lot of that? Us. Less demand, less supply and it’s silent cousin, natural resource exploitation.

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