We deserve this. We deserve atmospheric CO2 levels of 400 parts per million. We deserve rampant flooding in coastal cities and disappearing islands. If New York City actually does sink underwater in 100 years, we’ll deserve that too.
We, with our gas-guzzling cars, our landfills, our central AC units, and our 99 cent quarter pound burgers, deserve this.
I, for one, am tired of waiting for Congress to do something about climate change. But I’m even more tired of watching everyone else wait for Congress to do something about climate change while doing absolutely nothing themselves. You may have almost no control over how much money the government invests in clean energy, but you have almost complete control over your individual greenhouse gas footprint—you have the power to make decisions that shrink it.
If every single individual who actually cares about the fate of the earth did the five things I’ve listed below, we might be looking at a future that isn’t full of death, destruction, and economic collapse.
If you’d like to prevent those things, here are the choices you need to make:
1. Eliminate beef from your diet.
The foods you eat have a huge impact on your greenhouse gas footprint. One study found that the dietary greenhouse gas footprint of meat eaters is more than double the dietary greenhouse gas footprint of vegans. This is because raising animals for food is extremely inefficient, when you consider energy input and food output.
Now, I know that “vegan” is a really scary word for people, especially Americans. So I’m focusing on beef because raising cattle has, by far, the worst environmental impact of any agricultural activity, and there is no possible way you could argue that eating beef is essential for a healthy diet.
Data suggest that eliminating beef from your diet actually has a greater effect on your greenhouse gas footprint than eliminating driving. Animal agriculture contributes more greenhouse gases than all the transportation exhaust around the world, and beef has the biggest impact because cattle require the most food, water and land to raise, produce the most waste, and release the most greenhouse gases through their digestive systems.
I could go on, but I have four more points to talk about. To learn more about the environmental impact of meat, watch Cowspiracy on Netflix.
2. Buy local food whenever possible.
When you buy produce that was shipped thousands of miles from California or Mexico, you just put more jet fuel exhaust into the atmosphere. I get that not everyone has a farmer’s market close to them, but if you do, there is no reason not to shop at it.
It blows my mind whenever I go to the Union Square farmer’s market and I see people walking into the subway station with Whole Foods bags. You can get the same organic produce for half the price if you just walk across the street and buy it from the local growers. It’s cheap because it’s transported a much shorter distance. Good for the earth, good for your wallet.
3. Reduce your waste.
Trash doesn’t just take up space. It actually emits greenhouse gases. When waste breaks down in a landfill, it releases methane, which traps way more heat in the atmosphere than CO2 does. Every time you throw something in the trash, you increase your greenhouse gas footprint.
Assuming that you already recycle, there are two other main ways to reduce your waste: composting and avoiding buying things that you will throw out.
Many people think composting is too much work and/or too gross for the average person to do, but it’s much easier than you think. Most farmer’s markets and community gardens run compost collections where anyone can drop off food scraps, and most of them are perfectly fine with you bringing frozen scraps. You can keep your compost bin in the freezer so the food scraps won’t smell or attract pests.
Now for the second task: not buying/acquiring things that will be thrown out. Here, I’m mainly talking about food packaging that can’t be recycled. If you’re still using plastic bags for your grocery shopping, there is nowhere for those bags to go but the landfill. Same thing if you put your produce in plastic bags, or if you buy any kind of pre-packaged food.
When you go shopping, don’t bring home any materials that cannot be eaten, recycled, reused, or composted. Put your produce into your cart loose, not in a plastic bag. Shop in stores that have bulk bins, and bring your own bags for the bulk items.
Watch this TED talk to learn more about how and why to reduce your waste.
4. Turn off the lights and open the windows.
This is an obvious one, so I won’t spend much time on it. In short, you do not need to leave the light on at night to guide you to the bathroom. Human vision does this great thing where it adjusts to the dark.
Also, there is no reason for you to be running your air conditioning when it is only 65 degrees outside.
5. Bike or take public transit.
I understand that not everyone feels safe biking or has access to good public transit where they live. These are two serious problems that U.S. states and municipalities need to address, but they are unlikely to address them until there is sufficient demand for improvements. Be a part of the demand for bike lanes and better public transit systems.
If you read this article and think “Maybe I’ll do that tomorrow,” and then close it without making any changes, you are part of the problem. You probably think doing these five things is inconvenient for you, but remember that climate change is really just a result of our desire for convenience: the convenience of automobiles, supermarket food, plastic, weekly trash collection…the list goes on. If you want to prioritize convenience over saving the earth, that’s your decision, but don’t pretend you can point your finger at Big Oil and the government and absolve yourself of blame.
We all made this mess. We all need to start owning it.