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What Can We Actually Do About Climate Change?

What Can We Actually Do About Climate Change?

Let’s be honest, talking about global warming sucks. It’s a huge bummer, it often seems like nothing can be done. And more often than not, the messages that we receive tell us to do mostly ineffective things that burden individuals with the responsibility of taking care of the big problems instead of the companies and power brokers that helped create the issues in the first place.

Many believe, quite wrongly, that if we are to fix the problems of global climate change, we may end up plunging ourselves back into the dark ages. Though our optimism must be tempered by the very real and lingering effects of what we’ve already done to the planet, there is room for hope. But we won’t get there with renewable shopping bags (which have carbon footprints many thousands of times larger than plastic bags) and recycling.

We can/should switch to more plant-based eating, slowly

Don’t throw your pitchforks and stab me with tomatoes just yet. Yeah, I’ll admit I’m one of them whacky vegans. But as others have pointed out, my individual choices of foregoing meat and riding my bike everywhere don’t magically make my air cleaner. And there’s a rather obvious reason for that which people largely overlook: we’re all in this together.

If the planet is warming (which it is), that is a collective and not an individual problem. It was caused by collective action and can really only be stopped by the same. Even if I manage to convert 100 people to veganism a day, that’s a drop in the bucket compared to what would need to shift — and just isn’t realistic.

Basing meals on beans and rice or lentils instead of heavy, meaty dishes takes some serious education and forethought. People don’t change habits overnight. That’s just not how we humans do.

Instead, it starts with better education and making sure that our kids have access to nutritional information that is diverse, effective, and uses the best science on how to consistently and simply construct healthy meals.

Right now, particularly in the US, we just tell people to eat certain amounts of things, without understanding how to easily combine that into practical advice that people can use. Other suggestions like the Plate Method are much more focused. And yes, they do encourage more beans and other lean proteins, but that’s in service to better health. And, in general, the food that’s pretty healthy for you, isn’t too bad for the environment, either. Lentils, for instance, and other legumes, are strongly associated with longevity and health in countless studies, and they can help fix nitrogen in the soil. An important chemical process that we often rely on fertilizers for — fertilizers that have tremendous carbon footprints.

Teaching children how to make better choices covers a number of bases, and also gives manufacturing and agriculture time to adjust to gradually shifting diet patterns over time.

Hold businesses accountable

The other big step, and admittedly, this is a MAJOR one, is making sure businesses aren’t passing their costs onto you. And this is a big deal, but not one that we haven’t seen before. In previous generations, it was companies that were asked to do the work of removing lead from gasoline and reformulating their products to diminish CFCs leaking into the atmosphere. Similarly, oil companies and car manufacturers have misled Americans about the damage their products do. And, as we once did with smoking, courts are starting to look at the collective damage these corporate choices have cost our societies.

Part of this move will need to be led by municipalities, too. In times now past, public transit systems were extensive and accessible in the US, but thanks to companies that put making money over the well-being of the people, cheap cars and plenty of cheap gas helped fuel the expansion into the suburbs, the construction of new roads, and the reorganization of American cities to be largely car-dependent.

In response, we can build complete neighborhoods and discourage car use by converting parking spaces and extra traffic lanes into bike lanes and transit centers. And, despite likely reservations from drivers, less parking and fewer lanes actually improves the lives of drivers — as well as everyone else. Not everyone will bike, sure, and not everyone can. But taking just a few cars off the road has a dramatic impact on the livability of a city. Cars take up huge amounts of space — far more than bikes or walking, or those on buses or trains — and accommodating them means warping city plans at the expense of the people. With broader, more expansive cities, people have to drive more and further, and those that don’t face thinly spread transit resources.

Unplug your devices

This one is simple and totally your personal responsibility — make sure the devices you use are actually off. Hopefully, this is well-known, but power vampires are a real thing, and for many, the total power draw of our devices when they are off is higher than the total power we consume using them. That’s because, even today, many “low power” or other modes for electronics keep sipping away at juice at a pretty high rate.

You can help by getting automatic power switches and being mindful of what is plugged in and when. It’s small, but it can easily cut your power use in half.

Try to buy less

Just in general. The more you buy, the more resources you use. Save money. Go pet dogs.

Don’t be a jerk

Literally none of us are going to stop this on our own. It’s easy to blame individuals for a lot, but trying to get everyone on the same page working from the bottom, is a lot harder than changing how we approach problems systemically. Vote, call companies and complain about them making you use cheap, reusable plastic bottles instead of offering refillable ones and soda stations, for instance, at grocery stores. There are ways to fight the good fight, but judging someone because they bought one thing or ate whatever when their lives are already probably hard enough is just a douchebag thing to do. Don’t instead.

Climate change is a very real issue for our planet, and it has been affecting several different areas of our society. It’s changing how we make bloody marys, how we surf the internet, but it is creating some beautiful cloud formations too. Stay up to date on all things climate change here.

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What Can We Actually Do About Climate Change?

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