Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their latest report confirming what we have all been experiencing in different levels around the world: The Earth is warming at unprecedented rates as a result of human activities, bringing with it more extreme weather, floods, less predictable seasons, and changes in worldwide air and ocean circulation. Scientists say that to preserve a livable climate, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must be reduced to net zero by 2050, and that bold, fast, and wide-ranging action needs to be taken by governments, businesses, and all citizens.
A few months later, at the 26th UN Climate Conference (COP26), held in Glasgow, world leaders failed again to make bold commitments towards the reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other GHGs, but there is still hope. Individuals can be important drivers to solve this climate crisis, not only by adamantly demanding urgent actions from their politicians and institutions but also by making choices that have less harmful effects on the environment.
“Personal actions are important for the impact they can have on those around us by encouraging friends and family to change their behaviors, businesses to amend their practices or elected officials to implement pro-environmental policies,” says Dr. Neil Jennings, Partnership Development Manager at the Grantham Institute–Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London.
“Many climate actions also provide benefits to our health—whether via improved air quality from reducing car use or reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease from reducing meat consumption and moving toward a more plant-based diet,” he adds.
So, what can you do that will have the biggest impact? Here we show you five simple and realistic ways you can help fight climate change.
1. Changing Your Diet
Meat and dairy account for around 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, so avoiding meat (or eating fewer portions of meat) and shifting to a more plant-based diet is one of the biggest ways to reduce your environmental impact on the planet. “By eating a little less of the climate impactful foods like ruminant meat and animal-based products, people can help to reduce their climate footprints,” explains Edwina Hughes, the Head of the Cool Food Pledge at World Resources Institute (WRI).
“Try to choose fresh, seasonal produce that is grown locally to help reduce the carbon emissions from transportation, preservation, and prolonged refrigeration.”
Studies suggest that a high-fiber, plant-based diet is also better for your health—so it can be a win-win. Try to choose fresh, seasonal produce that is grown locally to help reduce the carbon emissions from transportation, preservation, and prolonged refrigeration. And, if you make this smart choice, you are not alone. “Meat Free Monday” is a global initiative to encourage people to have a healthier diet and save animals and the planet at least once a week.
2. Walking and Cycling
Transport accounts for around a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions in the world, and road travel accounts for three-quarters of transport emissions. Most of this comes from passenger vehicles—cars and buses—which contribute 45.1%. Therefore, consider leaving the car at home and walking and cycling or using public transport, when and where possible. If the infrastructure is not in place to walk and cycle, contact your elected officials to ask them to make the necessary changes. This can be a life changer for you and your community.
In Waltham Forest, Northeast London, the council ran a project called “Mini-Holland” to encourage people to travel via more active forms of transport to improve air pollution and reduce GHG emissions. Through a combination of cycle lanes, road closures, and cycle training, they helped create an environment where walking and cycling were the norm.
Over three years, car ownership decreased by 7%, street crime reduced by 18%, and there was a 75% reduction in the risk of being injured in a road traffic collision. Also, research by King’s College London estimated that, as a result of the cleaner air caused by the project, the local population could gain around 41,000 life years over the next century. The success of the project led to nearby neighborhoods contacting the council to ask if they could be provided with similar infrastructure as well.
3. Changing Your Home
Take a good look at your house and see what you can do to help the environment. The costs of reducing your home's carbon footprint can vary from a few dollars for better draft-proofing or using low-energy lightbulbs, to hundreds of dollars for renewable energy generation, such as whole-house insulation systems. Here you can find 101 tips to make your house a more environmentally friendly place.
4. Flying Less
The COVID-19 pandemic showed us that it is possible to meet remotely for meetings or even a big conference. So, if you need to gather with others for business, consider using video-conferencing instead. Around 2.4% of global CO2 emissions come from aviation. Together with other gases and the water vapor trails produced by aircraft, the industry is responsible for around 5% of global warming. It might not seem much, but just one flight from London to San Francisco, for example, emits around 5.5 tons of CO2 equivalent per person—more than twice the emissions produced by a family car in a year. When flying is unavoidable, keep the emissions to a minimum by reducing the weight of your luggage, choosing the most environmentally friendly airplanes and paying a little extra for carbon offsetting.
5. Spreading the Word
Encourage your friends, family and co-workers to reduce their carbon pollution. Join global movements such as Fridays for Future, contact your member of Congress or the Senate. Ask them to support climate legislation. You can also send a signal to the market that people want zero-carbon alternatives. If you buy local and choose products committed to contributing to a more sustainable future, you will stimulate the industry to this new deal. Also, never stop learning about new ways to help reduce emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses.
*Jaqueline Sordi is a Brazilian journalist and biologist, specializing in science and environmental journalism. She has a master’s degree in environmental journalism at UCLA and is currently a PhD candidate in communications at Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul.