Climate change feels impossibly big and overwhelming as increasing extreme weather events and water shortages hit our communities. It’s easy to feel helpless about what you can do to make a difference. But according to Norwegian climate psychologist Per Espen Stoknes, focusing on hope and small actions rather than giving in to the “doom barrier” is more effective for your own mental wellness and influencing others to act. Instead of spouting scientific facts, take actions like changing your grocery habits or investing in solar panels to spread new social norms. Action helps you tamp down the instinct to “doom frame” and nudges people around you to take notice. Individual solutions may be small but they promote momentum from the bottom up and, in time, push policy change. Momentum begets momentum.
Ready to spearhead some social change? Some actions simply require developing a new routine, while others take upfront financial investment that pays off down the road. Here are 10 things you can do to help the planet, your health, and your budget.
Eat what you buy—and eat less meat
Every year, nearly 40% of food goes to waste in the US during every stage in the production chain. And food is the #1 contributor to our landfills today, sending methane into the atmosphere as it rots. Raising animals for consumption requires more resources, so reducing your meat consumption, especially beef, helps too.
Things you can do: don’t overbuy, meal plan, freeze food, make soup, eat leftovers, and compost. My county has a robust compost program that provides curbside pickup for all food waste and food-soiled paper and cardboard. Maybe yours does too?
Reduce your water use
Even if you don’t live in an area with a water shortage, reducing water use helps your budget and your resources. Take shorter showers, don’t run the tap, and run your dishwasher full. Surprisingly, dishwashers are more environmentally friendly than hand-washing. ENERGY STAR model dishwashers use just 4.25 gallons of water and some use no more than two, a far cry from older models that used 8-14 gallons.
Upgrade appliances to ENERGY STAR
Make a reusable grocery bags a habit
It’s a tiny action, but do you do it regularly? My town enacted a single-use plastic bag ban a number of years ago—the result of community action spearheaded by a neighbor who’s passionate about climate action. People resented paying 5 cents for paper bags and began remembering to bring reusable bags (small pocketbook hits change habits). In 2021, a ban on single-use plastic took effect across my state. That’s what I call momentum.
Buy less, repair, and reuse
With the pandemic, people are spending much less on services like eating out and traveling and much more on goods (cue supply chain issues). But fast fashion brands are particularly bad for the environment because they produce cheap clothing that doesn’t last. Ways to minimize contributions to the landfill: buy better-quality goods, buy second-hand, repair, and reuse. One way to promote reuse—ask for or pass things along on your neighborhood Buy Nothing Facebook page. The Buy Nothing Project is having a moment with two million new members gained in one year.
Minimize online returns
Every time you return something to Amazon, there’s a good chance it will wind up in the landfill. That’s because the time it takes to restock items isn’t worth the cost of the item. But keeping things out of the waste stream helps the planet. Before you one-click shop, consider whether you really need the item and your likelihood of sending it back.
Green up getting around
The car is just so easy, but explore alternatives like carsharing, public bus, cycling, or even walking if feasible. Electric bikes have exploded in popularity, and, yes, they’re spendy, but you gain savings in other ways—on gas and car maintenance like tires, alignments, oil changes, and more. And you’re building exercise into a daily routine, even on an e-bike. Flying less also makes an impact—skipping one trip equals not driving for a full year.
Use cold water for laundry and a clothesline
Many laundry soaps and modern washers are designed for cold water laundry. Cold water is easier on your clothing too. But where you save the real bucks is reducing dryer use. Most Americans no longer use clotheslines, so figuring out where to put one might take some rejiggering. Try Urban Clothesline to knock some ideas loose.
Install solar panels
Did you know solar energy saves 18,000 miles of driving? Since 2014, solar panels have dropped 70% in price and become competitive with conventional energy systems. They’re beginning to go mainstream with 3 million installations completed as of 2021. Take a look at Solar Energy Industries Association for state solar statistics and state rebates available to you. Typical cost after federal tax incentives is around $12,000. Join the movement?
Buy an electric or hybrid car
Electric cars are also going mainstream—check out this list of cars coming soon. Admittedly, going electric isn’t cheap but you can get into the market starting at $31,000 with a Chevy Bolt. The company also covers the cost of a home charging station. Installing a charging station varies wildly in cost, depending on what you’re installing and whether you have a 240-volt circuit available. It can range anywhere from $250 to $4,500. The federal government offers a $1,000 tax credit, and your state might offer rebates too.
If you’re not ready to go fully electric, a hybrid still makes a big difference on mileage, getting as much as 65 mpg. Because transportation is the largest source of carbon emissions, investing in electric or hybrid makes an impact.