I woke up in a cold sweat, gasping. I’d had a nightmare–one of many–about trying to protect my children in an apocalyptic situation driven by global warming. I’d dreamed that food was scarce, my husband was dead, and my children were dirty, sick, and sobbing.
Earlier that evening, I’d read an article about climate change, saying that not only were the negative effects on our Earth irreversible, but that we need to cut emissions in half by the next decade to reach our goal of not letting the world’s heat exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The day after my nightmare, in a panic, I went to my husband.
“It’s okay,” he said.
“How is this okay?” I asked, my distress raising the pitch and volume of my voice.
“There will be technological innovations to combat climate change,” he said, his tone measured and calm, as he always is. “Humans are creative. Besides,” he continued, “there are things you can do.”
He’s right. There are things I can do. The best way to combat anxiety is to take action. We can circumvent the feeling of helplessness by acting with agency. And there are things we can all do to fight global warming. Here are four steps we, as individuals, can take to reach our goal of not heating the planet Earth:
1. Use Less Energy
We can make our houses more energy efficient. Installing efficient, insulated windows and doors, and plugging air leaks saves not only energy, but money. Using LED lightbulbs is smart, too. They have a higher initial cost, but pay for themselves in energy savings over time. We can also buy energy-efficient appliances. A programmable thermostat is also a must.
We can switch off our lights and unplug our appliances when we’re not using them. Turning off lights when we’re not using them is a no-brainer. But there might be some other things to do that are not as obvious. Televisions, computers, game consoles, cell phone chargers, DVD players–if the electronic plugs into the wall, it sucks up energy, even on standby. If we remember to switch them off and unplug them when we’re not using them, we can significantly save energy, reducing our carbon footprints. New phone and computer apps can help us monitor and switch off our devices even more cheaply and simply.
We can avoid using heating or cooling appliances. Climate control–using air conditioning systems or furnaces–is the most demanding drain on our residential energy. If we can reduce the use of these appliances, we can cut our personal emissions by a significant margin. Obviously, we need climate control during extreme temperatures, but we don’t need to turn on the air conditioning so soon into the summer. And don’t turn on the heater when donning a sweater keeps you just as warm.
2. Use Renewable Energy
We can use solar energy or green electricity. Solar energy is more and more affordable in recent years, due to, technological innovations. Harnessing energy from the sun is as simple as installing photoelectric systems on all our roofs, and there may be tax credits to lower our initial costs. Green electricity is when we purchase energy from the power company that was created using renewable means, like wind or solar. In my area, the power company allows you to choose how many units of energy you want to be renewable, at a slightly higher cost. That’s worth the price.
We can try using renewables to heat or cool our homes. There are many cost-effective ways to heat or cool our homes using renewable energy. Air or ground source heat pumps, geothermal technologies, and pellet stoves are a few. Tax credits and incentives may offset our upfront costs.
3. Change Our Diets
We can eat less meat. The industrial livestock agriculture industry–raising cows, pigs, and chickens–accounts for 51% of all greenhouse gas emissions, more than vehicles and other industries combined. Cutting our meat consumption by half can reduce the carbon footprint of our diets by 40%.
We can eat organic foods. Organic foods are better for us than conventional foods because pesticides wreak havoc on our bodies. But organics are also better for the environment because they’re grown without synthetic fertilizers, which are made from byproducts of oil refining. Over-fertilizing conventional crops creates excess nitrogen, which ends up in the atmosphere as nitrous oxide. That gas is over 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to acting as a greenhouse gas.
4. Change Our Transportation
We can walk or ride our bikes. Cutting down on our transportation via vehicle and riding our bikes and walking to places not only helps the environment, it also helps us invest in our health. Electric bikes are also an option. If your town isn’t walkable, join local initiatives to change that.
We can consider buying an electric vehicle. If we can’t get around owning a vehicle, we can consider an electric one. Improvements in technology have increased the range and affordability of electric cars. The electricity required to charge them creates about half as many emissions as gas-powered vehicles.
We can use public transportation. Try to make use of public transportation, such as buses and ride sharing, as much as possible. Carpooling to work with our coworkers saves money and reduces emissions.
We can try alternatives to flying. Conventional airplanes emit literal tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere with each flight. Instead of flying, we can try busing, trains, carpooling, and ferries.
We can offset our carbon emissions. A carbon offset is a form of trade, which allows us to fund projects elsewhere in the world that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Offsetting our carbon emissions is easy, and the United Nations has made doing so cost effective and affordable. A flight from London to Edinburgh (400 miles) may cost anywhere from $1.50 to $15 to offset. Plug your travel plans into a free, online calculator, and figure out what project you want your money to go to. There are projects with environmental and social angles. For example, there’s Climatecare, which distributes clean drinking water in Kenya and has reduced 32.6 million tons of CO2.
My husband said, “‘What can I do?’ is not a reason to worry.”
He told me the best way to combat spinning in circles is to take action. When I’m able to work towards a brighter future for my children and help save the world, I will calm me down.
So I will. I’ll be more conscientious of my diet, switch off my appliances, use green electricity, and avoid using the air conditioning and heater as much as possible.
What will you do?