Climate change can seem like an impossible problem to tackle. If entire countries can't figure it out, then how can individual people?
But part of the problem for larger entities trying to tackle climate change is that they're responding to the wants and needs of individual humans like each of us. And us individual humans are doing a lot of things that make solutions more difficult: we're eating a lot of meat, driving when we could walk, using heat and power inefficiently, and otherwise engaging in habits that, on a large scale, add up to a greenhouse-gas nightmare.
The good news? You can reduce your negative impact on the environment by making lifestyle changes that take aim at the biggest causes of climate change. Many of the big contributors to climate change — fossil fuel use, deforestation, waste — are tied to the small decisions each of us makes every day. That means that shifting those decisions can add up to real impact, if we all get on board.
Here are five big ways you can reduce your climate impact, with many smaller tips within for changes you can make easily — starting now.
Reduce your energy usage
The burning of fossil fuels like oil or natural gas for electricity and heat is the big driver of climate change, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI). If your home or business is heated with fossil fuels, this is one area where you can make a real impact (and save money) with some basic changes.
Keep your thermostats lower, and avoid using air conditioning as much as possible. Toronto Hydro suggests going with 21 C at home, 18 C at night, 15 C when you leave the house. Seal your windows in the winter to prevent heat loss — it's easy to do yourself with an inexpensive kit.
If you have a fireplace, keep the damper closed when not in use to prevent heat loss. Dry clothing outside when the weather allows for it. And when it comes time to replace your furnace, consider energy efficiency, which can also cut your heating costs significantly.
Use your car less often
Transportation is another major contributor to climate change: this includes driving and flying. It may be difficult to cut down on flights, but you can work to reduce your car use: bike, walk, or use public transit.
If the ability to leave your car at home more often is important to you, share that with your public officials, who make decisions about things like bike lanes and transit funding. Run errands in one trip instead of several inefficient ones. And the next time you have to buy a car, get a fuel-efficient model or even consider an electric or hybrid vehicle.
Eat less meat
According to the Guardian, agriculture is a major source of global warming and causes 15 per cent of all emissions, and many experts say that eating less meat — especially less beef — would really make a difference. You can give up meat entirely, but simply eating it less often can also help.
Look for meats raised locally, or game meats, as factory farming is a big part of climate impact. If you choose seafood, look for sustainability guarantees and choose species that aren't over-fished or otherwise threatened.
Try simply making meat a smaller part of your plate and adding more vegetables, or other sources of protein like legumes. There are many great vegetarian recipes available online, and look to cuisines with a focus on veg food — like Indian — for more ideas.
Recycling is great, but don't forget that reduction and reuse come first in the three Rs. As goods become less expensive, it's easy to justify buying instead of repairing, or getting new when used might suffice.
But reducing our consumption can have a real impact on climate change, not to mention landfill use (and landfills produce methane, which also contributes to climate change).
Use things until they are truly unusable, and repair instead of replacing as often as you can. Buy used goods instead of new when that makes sense. And pass things down, or donate to a local shelter or charity shop, instead of trashing them — just remember that a lot of what goes into donation bins can end up thousands of kilometres away, or in a landfill, so don't use donation as an excuse to buy more.
Use less paper
Deforestation contributes to carbon change because trees trap carbon, and of course paper is made from trees. Working to reduce your paper use is another area where you can make a difference. Consider the number of shipments you get: boxes are made from paper, after all, and that adds up.
Only print things out when necessary, and make them double sided. Encourage kids to draw on scrap paper, or use it for note taking. And recycle or compost the paper you do use, as much as possible.