The Five Best Things You Can Do About Climate Change

  • Posted on: 28 July 2017
  • By: lyanabu
Photo of the author on the Holy Ghost hiking trail, near Pecos, New Mexico

We have a problem. It's clear that global climate change is upon us, but what do we do about it?

Finding out which actions work best to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is a challenge.

There are plenty of suggestions on a macro level, and even on a personal level: Switch to a fuel-efficient vehicle! Plant some trees! Fly less! Bring your own plastic bags to the grocery store!?

But there were so many options, I started to wonder. Which of these actions made the most difference? Which were the things I, individually, could actively do that have a measurable effect?

Up until this year it was hard to find comparative data.

But earlier this year, author and activist Paul Hawken put together a project and a book that has some answers. The book is called Drawdown, a collaborative effort of "geologists, engineers, agronomists, climatologists, biologists, economists, financial analysts, architects, and activists" who assessed over a hundred technologies that reduce greenhouse gases by avoiding emissions or by sequestering atmospheric carbon dioxide.

On the website, you can look at a table comparing solutions they came up with, sortable by the amount of carbon dioxide or equivalent atmospheric reduction, the cost, and the savings represented in billions of dollars.

The book is divided into seven categories:

  1. Food
  2. Energy
  3. Land Use
  4. Women
  5. Materials
  6. Buildings
  7. Transport

Beyond the very heartening sense that there are things we can do, I was thrilled to learn there are people whose life's work is to tackle this problem, and that we can work together to avoid the worst-case scenarios.

Some of the solutions and their impact are surprising. First on the list is refrigerant management. The chemicals we use for air conditioning and refrigerators are incredibly harmful to the environment. And, as people in India and China get more money, the first thing they want to do is have air conditioning, especially in a warming world.

But similar to the way we were able to ban Freon in the late 1980s and the ozone layer is recovering, an international agreement signed last year will phase out these destructive chemicals by 2028.

So if you happen to dispose of an air conditioner or a refrigerator, be aware that it has potent chemicals inside that need proper disposal.

After wind energy, solutions three and four are eliminating food waste and eating a plant rich diet.

Those two things combined have even more of an impact than refrigerant chemical management. Why?

It takes energy to plant, fertilize, water, harvest, process, package, transport, store, and prepare food. If you then do not eat it and it goes to the dump to rot, the food turns to methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas in itself. So not wasting food, not ordering too much, not buying too much, and managing the food in your pantry or refrigerator, could be the most important individual thing you can do to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Similarly, going vegan can reduce emissions 70 percent, and going vegetarian can reduce emissions 63 percent.

I used to be vegetarian, and I can certainly eat lower on the food chain. There are many appealing vegetarian options these days, plus it's often cheaper, and better for your health. Like many of the Drawdown solutions, it's a better way to live as well as reducing pollution.

Number six and seven on the list may surprise you: Educating girls and Family Planning. Here's a quote:

Education lays a foundation for vibrant lives for girls and women, their families, and their communities. It also is one of the most powerful levers available for avoiding emissions by curbing population growth. Women with more years of education have fewer and healthier children, and actively manage their reproductive health.

There are 7.5 billion people now, projected to increase to 9 or 10 billion by 2050. Whether in rich or poor countries, every human contributes to carbon emissions. And in both rich and poor countries, hundreds of millions of women do not have access to birth control. In the US, just under half of all preganancies are unintended. Education, better career prospects for women, better access to family planning and women's health: again, those are good in themselves as well as contributing to drawing down the world's climate emissions.

Here's the link to the complete Drawdown Table of Solutions. Although the website is helpful for an overview, the book has more detail and explanation. The book is dense, but it's also written in an accessible layperson's way, without jargon or too many acronyms. The website has data, the book tells stories.

I've just highlighted five of the top solutions: refrigerant chemical management, avoiding food waste and going vegan/vegetarian, and focusing on female health and education. The list considers 95 more options, including solar, forests, wind, energy-efficiency, recycling, composting, and mass transit.

But best of all, I found this book practical and inspiring. Knowing that people are also working on solutions, some of them making it their life's work to bring down greenhouse gases and reverse climate change, inspires me to do my utmost.

Some critics have said it's crazy to think that individually, we can have any effect on such a massive challenge as global climate warming. But I refuse to believe anything we do will be too small of an effort. If we realize our actions are causing these effects, we must equally realize we can make a positive impact. Let's do what we can, as individuals and together.