The scientific evidence is irrefutable — anthropogenic activities are accelerating the rate at which our planet is warming. Burning fossil fuels, industrialized animal agriculture, and deforestation are causing a ripple effect around the globe resulting in heatwaves, forest fires, melting ice caps, insect infestations, crop loss, and animal extinctions.
Collectively, we have the power to slow the effects of a changing climate, but we have to work together…and quickly.
What is Climate Change and Why Should We Care?
Climate change is the long-term alteration of temperature and normal weather patterns exacerbated by global warming. Global warming is an increase in the planet’s overall temperature caused by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These GHGs stem mostly from anthropogenic actions like industrialized agriculture and burning fossil fuels.
Though the effects of climate change might not seem apparent where you live, forests are burning, icecaps are melting, and ecosystems are dwindling around the world as we speak.
But how does that affect humans? Disrupted weather patterns due to increasing temperatures impact how plants grow. Some crops might drown as a result of increased rainfall while others are parched by sweltering temperatures and droughts. Warmer temperatures also make plants vulnerable to invasive bugs and diseases which can kill off scores of crops at one time.
This means “staple” crops like coffee, corn, and wheat could be in danger.
In addition to food shortages, a changing climate also threatens global water supplies. Increased temperatures promote evaporation and disrupt water patterns, which interfere with the water cycles that regulate the planet’s water sources – including our drinking water.
Wetlands are disappearing as a result of climate change, which is killing off the wildlife living within them or using them as a means of fishing or drinking. Some areas, like the Aral Sea in central Asia, are drying up and salinating due to man-made pollution and power generation.
If plant and animal habitats continue to disappear, massive extinctions will continue to occur. Delicate ecosystems will crumble and life as we know it would be forever changed. Plants, animals, and insects help regulate carbon, manage populations, and pollinate our food sources.
In order to preserve essential plant and animal species and ultimately life on Earth, we must acknowledge our mistakes and take action as soon as possible. The following are 10 simple steps each of us can incorporate into our daily lives to curb the effects of climate change and keep them from getting worse.
10 Simple Steps to Fight Climate Change
1: Get Informed
In order to combat climate change as effectively as possible, you should first understand what it is and what causes it.
There are a plethora of reputable online resources available from documentaries to books or even podcasts if you are always on-the-go.
Knowing the facts about the most urgent facets of climate change will help you educate others in a more effective way. As mentioned above, climate change is the alteration of Earth’s temperature and weather patterns, mostly influenced by human activities.
Transportation, animal agriculture, and dirty energy sources are among the top human-induced contributors of greenhouse gases which promote global warming and climate change. Though these contributors are ubiquitous around the world, we can make simple adjustments to our lifestyles to hinder their damaging effects.
2. Eat Fewer Animal Products
Animal agriculture is a leading cause of deforestation and GHG emissions that exacerbate climate change.
Beef production is a major contributor to climate change due to its heavy resource use and methane emissions. This is largely due to the fact that there are nearly one billion beef cattle on the planet, but the dairy industry is just as guilty. Beef cattle are slaughtered at just under 2-years-old, but dairy cows can live for 8-12 years depending on the quality of their care. That means 8-12 years of nearly 270 million dairy cows eating, drinking, and releasing methane into the atmosphere globally.
In addition to high GHG emissions, the meat and dairy industries are thirsty businesses. It takes an estimated 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. In American alone, people are expected to consume over 200 pounds of beef and poultry each year per person. If that number continues to climb – like it is projected to – the climate crisis will only get worse.
Cow’s milk production requires significantly more resources and produces higher emissions than any kind of plant-based milk. Even compared to almond milk, which is the most resource-heavy dairy-free option, cow’s milk still has the biggest environmental impact.
Worrying about climate change with a burger in one hand and a milkshake in the other is counterproductive. One of the most meaningful changes you can make is to switch to plant-based meat and dairy alternatives (which are just as delicious).
Choosing a burger made from beans instead of beef will mitigate environmental threats while consequently reducing cruelty and improving your health.
3. Plant a Garden or Eat Local Produce
Cultivating your own produce is not only a satisfying accomplishment, but it helps curb transportation emissions, allows you to regulate chemical use, and reduces packaging waste.
Intensively farmed produce puts animals at risk, too. When buying produce from large farming operations, small animals like mice and rabbits are often injured or killed in the cultivation process by traps, poison, or heavy machinery. Once these crops are harvested, they travel hundreds of miles by boats, planes, or trucks to reach store shelves, increasing GHG emissions along the way.
When growing your own fruits and vegetables, you are in control. You can choose to only use organic fertilizers and natural insect repellents, which will reduce harmful chemical runoff. Large farming operations use chemical and animal fertilizers to grow their crops faster and larger, but excess nitrogen and phosphorous are often washed into local water supplies. This causes eutrophication, which results in excessive plant life that diminishes oxygen levels in the water. Reduced oxygen levels kill the plants and other aquatic life that our biodiverse systems depend on.
Planting your own garden will also reduce your consumption of GMOs, which stands for Genetically Modified Organisms, or crops modified by scientists to improve size, taste, appearance, or resistance to pests or herbicides.
Growing your own food will ultimately save you money at the grocery store, reduce harmful chemicals in our soil and water, and ensure wildlife will not be harmed by large machinery or inhumane traps.
If you cannot plant your own garden, purchasing local produce, preferably organic produce, is another earth-friendly solution. Local fruits and vegetables often hold nutrients better than ones that have traveled across the country since they start losing nutrients after they are harvested.
Buying local and organic means you are also supporting small farm owners and the local economy while enjoying fresh fruits and veggies that have not been ripened by gas or covered in wax.
Purchasing produce, milk, and meat that is sourced from across the country, or worse – across the globe, requires significant amounts of energy to transport products to our grocery stores. Greenhouse gases from fossil fuels are tirelessly pumped into the atmosphere by planes, ships, and vehicles to stock store shelves each day. If you are purchasing meat and dairy products, these GHGs do not include the excessive resources used to grow feed crops, raise and slaughter millions of animals, or process them.
4. Reduce Food Waste
Food waste is an epidemic around the world. With a projected population of 9.6 billion by 2050, reduction plans must be set in place immediately.
Roughly one-third of food produced globally is never eaten due to spoilage during transportation or because it is discarded by businesses or consumers. Around 28 percent of agricultural land is used for wasted food which equals around 3.5 billion acres. Land, energy, and packaging materials are being wasted and destructive GHGs are being produced futilely.
Around 50 percent of global food waste consists of meat, dairy, and fish, meaning that millions of lives were forcibly taken and resources used only to be discarded. Of the 263 million tonnes of meat produced globally, more than 20 percent is wasted – the equivalent of 75 million cows.
In Europe alone, 29 million tonnes of dairy products are thrown away annually, and the equivalent of nearly 3 billion fish are lost each year due to overcatching and food waste.
Considering that meat and dairy are two of the most resource-intensive protein sources, reducing consumption and food waste will reduce land, water, and energy use as well as decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Cutting back on seafood will reduce overfishing and bycatch, which take the lives of billions of sea creatures and land mammals every year.
Scientists estimate up to 14 percent of agricultural emissions by 2050 could be avoided by reducing food waste through reformed food management and distribution plans.
5. Shop Smarter
By now, you probably understand how you can reduce your carbon footprint by adjusting your dietary choices, but you can also make a positive difference by choosing eco-friendly consumer goods like clothing, cars, and furniture.
Many unethical and environmentally harmful materials exist today, but there are just as many sustainable alternatives. Natural and biodegradable fabrics like hemp, cotton, and bamboo can be rendered to make soft, durable clothing and household items. You can also visit your local thrift store which keeps products out of landfills and reduces the demand for new items which require additional resources.
When it comes time to furnish your home, retailers and Etsy sellers are offering stylish furniture pieces and homegoods items made from repurposed materials like wood, metal, and plastics.
Now, let’s tackle an extremely common material sourced from one of the most polluting animals on the planet: leather.
Leather is used for jackets, purses, wallets, car interiors, and shoes. Thousands of years ago, leather was a useful fabric source and rendered without harmful chemicals, but today’s leather industry is dumping cocktails of hazardous liquids into waterways around the world.
Formaldehyde, anthracene, and arsenic are just a few toxic carcinogens used in the leather tanning process. These substances are incredibly harmful to humans working with them and even more so to the aquatic creatures living within the waterways they are dumped into.
Fortunately, animal-free leather options exist. Clothing and accessory companies are now using pineapple leaves, mushrooms, tree bark, and even agave plants to create eco-friendly leather alternatives.
Car companies like Tesla are embracing sustainable materials by incorporating animal-free leather interiors. Additionally, Audi currently has two concept cars that even include carpeting made of repurposed materials like plastic bottles and fishing nets.
Aside from sustainable vehicle interiors, we can also make shop smarter by purchasing cars with eco-friendly engines. If you cannot afford or do not have access to completely electric vehicles (which do not require resource-heavy fossil fuels to run), hybrids are also a good choice.
6. Reduce Transportation Emissions
The transportation sector is a leading producer of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. Fossil fuels are effective at powering cars, planes, and trains, but they come at a massive environmental cost.
When we burn fossil fuels, GHGs like methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide are released into the atmosphere. These gases are exceptional planet warmers naturally, so excess amounts from factories, aircraft, and the 1 billion vehicles on the road today are creating more heat than our planet can regulate.
Excess carbon dioxide in the air leads to ocean acidification, which threatens coral reefs and the 25 percent of fish species that depend on them throughout their lives. This also impacts humans since over half the air we breathe comes from marine plants and phytoplankton in the ocean.
If cars and planes are so bad for the environment, how can we travel while treading lightly on the planet?
There are plenty of ways to get where you need to go without expelling exorbitant amounts of planet-warming GHGs. If feasible, walking or riding a bike are both climate-friendly methods of transportation. If traveling a bit farther, riding a motorcycle, carpooling, using public transportation, and/or purchasing a hybrid or electric vehicle can reduce your carbon footprint significantly.
If your city does not have adequate eco-friendly forms of public transit in place, consider petitioning or speaking at city hall in favor of incorporating sustainable transportation methods like Eco-Rapid Transit.
7. Start a Climate Conversation
Climate change is a popular topic in the news, but that does not mean it is easy to talk about with friends and family. Debatable topics, especially those deeply rooted in religion or cultural norms, should be addressed respectfully and empathetically.
Most people have been living a certain way their entire lives – eating the same foods, creating the same types of waste, and believing what they have been taught is normal. Though the status quo might be comfortable, it is in need of reform, and we must oblige for the sake of the planet and its inhabitants.
As famed computer scientist Grace Hopper once said, “The most dangerous phrase in the language is, ‘We’ve always done it this way.’” If something is uncomfortable to discuss, it is probably worth talking about.
Understanding the facts about climate change and its links to our everyday habits is the first step in taking meaningful action.
8. Get Politically Active
Using your right to vote for candidates with meaningful environmental policies is one of the most empowering and effective ways to tackle the climate crisis. Search for candidates with clear, sustainable plans to reduce carbon emissions, invest in clean energy, and protect our planet’s biodiversity.
Urge representatives to better monitor chemical use and runoff from agriculture, adopt more effective recycling programs, and improve public transit systems.
Even if you aren’t able to vote, advocating for the importance of reform or even the introduction of new environmental policies can persuade others to vote in favor of the planet, too. As we’ve seen with recent climate strikes, humans love banning together for the greater good. Joining these movements and getting this information into the public eye puts pressure on the government to make meaningful changes.
Click here to learn how to connect with your federal, state, and local elected officials.
9. Show Your Support
Talking about the climate crisis and enlightening others on how they can help is great, but it is just as important to put your money where your mouth is. Your dollar has the power to shift consumer markets toward sustainable, plant-based foods and eco-friendly products.
By spending money on ethically and sustainably sourced consumer goods, you are driving up the demand for these products. Purchasing these items from large grocers confirms the demand and persuades stores to stock more of these items, ultimately helping the planet, animals, and our health.
When new eco-friendly technologies emerge, invest in them. When cell-based meats or new vegan foods hit store shelves, purchase them. Share these items with your friends and family and watch as more people start to get involved too.
10. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
When you hear the word “reduce” associated with the 3 R’s, people might think this means to simply reduce the amounts of plastic, water, or electricity you use. Yes, this is advisable, but what about the resources you inadvertently use by consuming meat, dairy, and overly packaged products?
Recall your typical day. Breakfast might consist of yogurt or a cereal bar, lunch is probably a pre-packaged sandwich or microwavable meal, and dinner is some sort of meat lovers pizza wrapped in plastic or maybe pasta from a box. All of these items require energy for production and processing, glass or plastic for packaging, and fossil fuels to transport them to your local restaurant or grocery store.
Meat, especially beef, is an incredibly resource-intensive protein source. Producing meat requires land for the animals to occupy, plus land to grow crops for them to eat. Animals also need water – and so do the crops they consume. Less than 1 percent of freshwater on Earth is available for human consumption, but 70 percent of it is used to grow food and raise farm animals.
The average American produces nearly 5 pounds of solid waste per day. Less than one quarter of that solid waste gets recycled properly and the rest is buried or burned. As mentioned above, around 50 percent of global waste consists of resource-heavy animal products that spoil during transportation or are discarded by grocery stores, restaurants, and consumers.
The best waste management solution is to reduce the amount of waste you produce in the first place. When grocery shopping, only purchase what you need and will use. Plan out your meals in advance so you know exactly what you’ll need and how much. This will help reduce the risk of purchasing forgotten foods that will sit in a drawer and rot.
Bring reusable produce bags to store fruits and vegetables, glass jars for loose items like nuts and coffee, and stock up on reusable food storage containers to store leftovers instead of relying on meals encased in single-use plastics that cannot be recycled and clog up our waterways.
The global recycling system is in need of reform, but that does not mean we should stop recycling altogether. By understanding recycling regulations for your area and acting accordingly, you are keeping reusable materials out of the landfill, reducing GHG emissions, and saving wildlife from ingesting non-food items in the process. This is also an opportunity to speak up and urge elected officials to improve current recycling practices.
The climate crisis we are facing is definitely intimidating, but that is exactly why we should do everything in our power to mitigate its effects and prevent further agitation. The simple lifestyle changes we implement today will leave a lasting impact on the planet for years to come.
Reducing meat consumption and food waste, voting in favor of sustainability, and using our money to support eco-friendly businesses are just a few ways to make a meaningful difference. The planet gives us everything we need, so the least we can do is take care of it.
Click here to take Earth Day Network’s carbon-cutting pledge.
Taylor Meek is the community manager and a contributing author at Sentient Media. She oversees all social media content and strategy and manages the social media team and Social Media Fellowship program.