2020 was a doozy, and 2021 had its fair share of ups and downs too. Rather than waiting for another crisis to reach a boiling point, we’d be wise to turn our attention back to that other global crisis: climate change.
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If you’re looking to the new year for some hope and inspiration, how about the words of David Suzuki, a Canadian academic, science broadcaster and environmental activist:
“In a world of more than seven billion people, each of us is a drop in the bucket. But with enough drops, we can fill any bucket.”
Here are 7 simple ways you can combat climate change in 2021.
1. Switch your energy provider (if you can)
If you live in the US, it’s likely that your electricity comes from a coal-fired power station. In some states, however, you may have a choice to switch to a green power company that provides energy from renewable sources such as hydroelectric, solar, or wind. As fossil fuel subsidies start coming to an end, you may find that switching provider now could save you money in the long run. If you’re not sure where your power comes from, contact your current provider and ask if there’s a green option available. Or shop around! Ask friends, neighbors, and family nearby if they’ve had any luck finding a green power provider.
For our NYC based readers, many of you have seen the Green Mountain Energy volunteers around the city, maybe 2021 is the year you finally sign up!
2. Generate your own power!
If you’re sick of brownouts, blackouts, and the cost of electricity where you live, consider installing solar panels, wind turbines, and even a microhydro system to produce your own power. These are great choices to produce green power yourself and to reduce reliance on energy providers. And if you’re changing your lifestyle to permanently work from home, consider investing in an energy self-sufficient studio or workspace in the backyard. Going off-grid, or grid-adjacent, can help save you money and may even generate income if you produce more energy than you use.
Check out the best home wind turbines.
3. Make energy efficiency upgrades to your home
As part of the ‘green recovery’ some jurisdictions are increasing rebates on home energy upgrades. Check with your local government and with local contractors to see if you’re eligible for discounts or rebates on things like insulation, door and window upgrades, converting a gas furnace to a heat pump, or similar energy efficiency improvements to your home. These can all help reduce how much energy you use to heat and cool your home throughout the year, which also saves you money and makes for a more comfortable living space!
Other ways to make your home more energy efficient include:
- Installing a programmable thermostat
- Unplugging technology when they’re not in use
- Washing clothes in cold water, hanging them to dry, and using dryer balls
- Choosing Energy Star appliances and the most energy-efficient models for refrigerators, televisions, air conditioners, etc.
- Doing yard work with electric tools such as chainsaws and snow blowers
- Changing old lightbulbs to energy-efficient LEDs
- Getting a home or workplace energy audit to find other areas where you can save energy and money
4. Green your diet
One of the simplest ways to reduce your carbon footprint is to eat a more plant-based diet. You don’t have to go the whole hog and commit to being a lifelong vegan (though, hey, this vegan would love it if you did!). Even switching one steak a week for a serving of legumes or pulses helps cut your environmental impact. Switching cow’s milk for oat milk would also make a dramatic dent on carbon dioxide and methane emissions (both of which are greenhouse gases).
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems looked at exactly this issue. Their conclusion? If more people adopted a predominantly plant-based diet, by 2050 this could free up several million square kilometers of land and mitigate 0.7 to 8.0 Total annual human-caused greenhouse gas emissions relative to current patterns of consumption.
5. Watch your food waste
It’s not just what you eat that matters, it’s what you waste too. The same IPCC report mentioned above also noted that we currently lose or waste 25 to 30 percent of the world’s food. And all that food comes with a huge environmental footprint. In fact, if we looked at food waste as if it were a country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases (the US and China are the first and second).
One of the best ways to minimize food waste is to meal plan. Another good habit is to process and freeze any fresh produce you know you won’t get through before it spoils. You can also donate food to a local food bank or do food swaps with friends, family, and neighbors if you have a glut of something you can’t get through or easily store.
See also: 14 uses for wild apples
6. Green your commute
2020 shook up a lot of entrenched habits, including how we commute to work. If you’ve been working from home and are facing a return to the workplace in 2021 this is the perfect time to strategize and make your commute more environmentally friendly. This might mean taking advantage of discounts and rebates on e-bike purchases or electric vehicles, cycling, running, or walking to work or home a few times a week, or getting into the habit of using public transit (once you’re vaccinated). And, of course, we’re all old hands now at video conferencing, so those long haul or short-hop flights for business don’t look quite so essential.
7. Get political
All of the above are great ways to fight climate change on a personal level, but the reality is that what we do at home is not the biggest contributor to climate change – transport, electricity generation, and industry are.
Transportation accounts for nearly 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, electricity generation accounts for 26 percent, and industry accounts for 22 percent, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Over 90 percent of the fuel used for transportation in the US is petroleum-based and 63 percent of electricity generation comes from burning fossil fuels like coal and natural gas.
Tell your elected representatives that climate change matters
The good news is that as individuals we can put pressure on our elected representatives to make better choices. This means contacting your member of Congress or Senator and asking them to support climate legislation. Find your House member here and your member of the Senate here.
On a local level, contact your Mayor, Governor, or other elected representatives and ask them to support greener choices for infrastructure. This might mean lobbying for more bike lanes, public transport, and walking routes, and greener energy generation projects, as well as rebates and subsidies for green power, energy efficient building standards and upgrades, and other green recovery initiatives. These kinds of initiatives can create much needed jobs in healthy, sustainable sectors.
Finally, ask your representatives about local government investments. Many governments, especially local, have money invested in accounts tied to fossil fuel companies and major polluters. Not only are these investments not good for the environment, they’re also not futureproof as the fossil fuel industry is on borrowed time. This is also a great step to take with your own investments, if you’re lucky enough to have any. Ask your bank about socially responsible investing and if they don’t have a dedicated fund with robust ethics, consider switching to a bank that does.
Taking action on an individual level is an important way to fight climate change, but the biggest impact will come from systemic change. And that means voting into office people who care as much about a sustainable future as you do. If there are no upcoming elections where you live, or you’re not eligible to vote, find other ways to reduce your household carbon emissions by checking out the EPA’s carbon calculator.