Few things make me more unsettled than the latest climate change statistics, and that pit-of-my-stomach feeling that there’s very little we can do on an individual basis to “change the world.”
But you know what? Somebody’s got to do it. And our individual actions can have a bigger impact than we might think. If you’re looking for impactful (and affordable) ways you can minimize your carbon footprint, check out our list from futurist and Georgetown University Senior Scholar Bryan Alexander.
Go Green — In Life, And On Your Plate
There’s been a lot of discussion around the amount of methane produced by cows – it’s a much more powerful climate-impacting gas than carbon dioxide, but beef is only one part of the equation. One small step for moms might be to start early and get your kids hooked on plant-based chicken nuggets instead of the real thing and add more sustainable, locally-grown fruits and veggies into the family meals.
“Diet is a key part,” Alexander says, and a good goal would be to transition humanity “to vegetarianism or veganism, reducing meat, dairy and other animal products. But that’s a very deep transition to make because food is radical to us.”
And no, we probably won’t be able to get the whole world eating Impossible Burgers. “But it’s not just what you eat,” Alexander says, “it’s where it comes from in terms of transport. So much of the modern food system is based on transportation from far away, so you get more CO2 concentrations. If you want to keep eating meat, try to get it locally sourced.”
Strategize Your Travel
We know cars are expensive right now, and buying a new one (or used one) might not be on your shopping list for a while, but Alexander recommends transitioning from a petroleum-burning ride to one that’s hybrid/electric as soon as you’re able. For now, EVs (electric vehicles) tend to have a higher upfront cost and, Alexander says, so if one is not in your budget, take a look at whether or not it’s possible to commute to work on foot, by bicycle or mass transit.
“In the U.S. that’s not an easy thing to do. We don’t have a great network for it,” Alexander says. Lobbying politicians for better, more affordable mass transit options is a good option. If you’re in the northeast, traveling by train or bus is not that difficult, but if you’re in the midwest, you might want to look into carpooling or biking instead.
“People also need to think about where they travel – and how,” Alexander says. “Do you change your vacation? How do you schedule trips? Do you take one mega-trip that gets everything done at once, so you spend less total time in the air? Alexander says that one of his futurist groups is discussing making its annual convention more virtual so conventioneers don’t have to fly. The goal is that we’re all being more thoughtful about when and where we fly, and making our time in the sky really count.
Know where your power comes from
Where do you get your power, beyond just “from the electric company”? Alexander says consumers should ask where their utility gets its power from — Is it nuclear, coal, gas? Is it possible to find a renewable power source, or switch to solar? “If you have access to a utility that sources from hydro or solar or wind,” that’s better, Alexander says, “or otherwise to try to host some power generation yourself – put solar cells on the roof, put up a wind turbine or partner with a community effort that might be doing that.
As for what type of renewable energy you should try to generate, it depends where you are. “If you don’t have a river nearby, you don’t do hydro,” Alexander says, but he adds that you should also look into what type of support or tax breaks are being offered in your township, city or state. Many places have grants available or non-profits which offer help.
Learn about the climate crisis
Becoming more knowledgeable about the climate crisis will allow you to be a better consumer of information and help discern facts from fear. There’s a ton of material out there. IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reports are available to the public, and there are also documentaries and podcasts.
Alexander says people should think about what life is going to be like in the next 5-10 years. “And frankly,” he says, “people in the climate world are pretty divided on that.” But that doesn’t mean they’re arguing over the severity of the problem, rather over whether we’re going to be able to solve it. “Some climate experts think we can just switch our civilization over [to renewables] and things will be fine. Other people are more concerned and think that we may suffer some degradation of our quality of life. Societies whose economies are based on oil and gas may take a major hit. That’s something to be worried about.”
Make plans for the future
If you have kids, Alexander says he’d recommend encouraging your children to get an engineering degree with a focus on, say, wind turbines, rather than a petroleum-based engineering degree. And, if temperatures continue to climb, he adds, you might want to think about selling beachfront property and move to places less likely to be damaged by flooding or heat.
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