Because your actions matter!
(and these can add up!)
You care about climate change because you’re a decent human being. Climate change affects you, me, every person on earth, all living organisms, and future generations. It can be overwhelming and terrifying to think of where we’re headed over the next 50+ years. But here’s the good news. There are TONS of ways to fight climate change as an individual. And if everyone did even a few of these, it would really add up.
So here’s my list of 50 small ways to fight climate change!
Transportation is our number one source of greenhouse gas emissions. And pollution from passenger flights across the US and globe is a HUGE contributor to climate change. Flights result in massive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions per passenger. It’s much worse than trains and even long distance car rides, especially if there’s more than one of you per car.
You might have family across the country, or places to see on your bucket list. I have those too. But if you cut your flights down even a little, the climate will thank you. Try to combine trips if you need to fly somewhere. Or limit air travel to one really important trip per year.
2. Drive less
Non-electric cars are another MASSIVE source of greenhouse gases. Try driving less and only when you really need to. Combine your driving trips. Go to the store a little less often and buy more when you’re there. Or try finding stores and businesses that are closer to your house to make your driving trips shorter.
3. Bike more
Yes to biking! Biking more means less time in your car, which means you aren’t polluting. And you’re getting to move your body. AND the more bikes on the road, the safer the roads become for bikes. PLUS the more bikes on the road, the more communities have to pay attention to bikes and create better solutions for bike riders. Imagine safer bike lanes, bike paths/trails, and protected bike ways. Yes, please!
And if biking doesn’t come easy to you, consider getting an electric bike. They take all the sweat out of the ride!
4. Ride the bus
I heard an interview with Alan Alda, former actor on M*A*S*H, on how he takes the bus in L.A. as part of his fight against climate change. If Alan Alda can do it, so can you! Lots of buses will let you take your bike on the bus too, if the bus doesn’t quite get you all the way there. In Santa Cruz, we also have some great bike lockers downtown. These let you bike to the bus stop and then lock up your bike in a super secure box.
The more people you get in your car, the more cars you get off the road. And the more efficient your car is in terms of gas per person per mile. If you can set up some kid carpools, it might also save you some time a couple days a week. (Bonus: maybe you can finish your morning coffee before work!). Plus, you can ride in the carpool lane if your freeways have those.
6. Take the train
Trains are a more efficient form of travel, regardless of the fuel they use. So if you can take the extra time to ride by train, DO IT! And as a bonus, you might get to see some awesome scenery along the way. On the west coast we’ve got Amtrak’s Coast Starlight train ride with AMAZING views of the coast. It’s on my bucket list to ride that train.
7. Get an electric vehicle
Have you done it yet? DO IT!!! Electric vehicles are the future of individual transportation. No more wars over fossil fuels to fuel our cars. EVs can be charged at home with renewable energy sources like wind and solar. Get one! Now! Ditch fossil fuels at the pump and never stop for gas again! Also, Tesla has now released their Model 3 which is as affordable as any other new mid-size car. With a Tesla, you can drive pretty much anywhere in the US and stop to charge about as often as you would stop to pee and get gas. DO IT!
8. Install solar panels
Installing solar panels on your house can power your home and put any extra energy into the grid. It can even earn you money! If you don’t want to purchase and pay for your own solar panels, tons of companies will come and install their own solar panels for you for very little cost. They’re basically renting out your roof space from you to put solar energy into the grid. This saves you money and puts renewable energy into the grid, although you won’t earn as much money as installing your own panels.
9. Switch to renewable energy with your energy company
In our community, our electricity company (PG&E) has an account option to use renewable energy to power your home. You can opt in to purchase your household’s energy from renewable power plants. There’s a small fee for using this in our community. But it’s worth it! Imagine if we all opt-in to renewable energy at home.
10. Switch to LEDs
LEDs, in case you’ve been under a rock for the last decade, are super efficient lightbulbs. There’s an LED for pretty much every lightbulb in your house. Recycle those old ones and get on the LED bandwagon!
11. Line dry your laundry
Dryers use a TON of energy. Even the more energy efficient ones. Lucky for us, there’s this awesome thing called sunlight and fresh air that will do the work of your dryer. For free. Without any electricity! We even line dry in the wet winters here in Santa Cruz. Just wait for a day with no rain in the forecast and get your laundry outside! There are also small racks that you can set up in a small space in your home to dry indoors. Smaller racks usually fold up to fit behind a door or under a bed. That lets you dry smaller loads even in the winter. We’ve been without a dryer for 6 years now! Two grown-ups, two kids, two dogs, and lots of house guests!
12. Conserve your heating
Be scrimpy when it comes to your heating. Put on a sweater and warm socks before you crank up the heat. When my kiddos ask us to turn on the heater on a cool fall or winter morning, and all they’re wearing is a tank top, we remind them to put on a sweater! Do easy, no energy steps before turning up the heat in the winter. An ideal temperature for conserving energy is 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
13. Conserve your air conditioning
Same goes for air conditioning. Do what you can personally to get comfortable before turning up the AC. And maybe try feeling a little warmth of the summer air, rather than keeping your space overly cooled. Aim for 72 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer (or hotter) to conserve energy.
14. Turn off the juice when not in use
You probably already know this but one of the easiest ways to conserve energy and reduce your carbon footprint is this: Turn off appliances when they aren’t being used. Put your computer to sleep. Turn off your printer. Turn out the lights when you leave a room. Some older appliances even suck energy when they’re turned off, so you might want to unplug it from the wall. We have an old microwave that sucks energy even when it’s not being used, so we have it plugged into a power strip that we turn off when we’re not using it.
15. Buy efficient appliances.
If you need a new appliance, lots of times it’s worthwhile to buy a new, energy efficient version than to search around for a used one. And when you’re picking out the new one, get one that’s energy efficient (do your research online to find the best one!). Buying new, energy efficient is especially important with refrigerators, which are major energy sucks in your home.
16. Switch to electric vs gas appliances.
If you’re ready to replace your stove or heater or water heater, consider switching to an electric version if you currently have a gas version. We add more renewable energy sources to the grid every year to power electric appliances. Over time, our electricity has the potential to be completely renewable, but natural gas doesn’t.
17. Tighten up your home.
Our homes are major energy sucks when we’re heating or cooling. Laying insulation in your attic and crawl space and sealing up openings can help cut your energy use for heating and cooling and also save you money. Upgrade to double-paned windows when you can afford it.
18. Conserve water.
You may not know this but using water at home and in the office uses up energy. Water gets moved across California and other states by giant pumps. In fact, 12% of California’s statewide electricity use is from pumping and treating water. When we have power shortages, we’re also asked to conserve water. So why not do it all year? Water itself is a precious resources and costs money.
19. Go vegetarian
Here’s the thing about the meat industry – it is a MAJOR contributor to greenhouse gases and a MAJOR consumer of energy, water, and other resources. Not only do cows and other farm raised animals emit methane (insert cow fart joke here 😉 ), a greenhouse gas, but the process of farming itself contributes greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. It also requires lots of land. That means deforestation of natural habitats so that you can eat a burger. Is it worth it? Did you know there’s even vegetarian dog food? Our pups like it just fine.
20. Eat vegetarian sometimes
I know, not everyone wants to go 100% veg. And that doesn’t always work for everyones’ health needs. So, if that describes you, consider cutting down your meat consumption. Maybe make it more of a special occasion food. Or try meatless Mondays. Or one meal a day. Get creative! Reducing your meat eating just a little benefits the climate.
21. Go vegan
The environmental problems that come from the meat industry are the same for the dairy industry. Lots of greenhouse gas emissions and lots of resources are used to make that cheese or yogurt or milk! Eating vegan is even more sustainable the vegetarian.
22. Eat vegan sometimes
Of course, eating vegan isn’t for everyone! You might have dietary restrictions that make this hard. Or maybe you don’t live somewhere that easily supports a vegan diet. Or maybe you’re just not ready to make that change. That’s okay! Try eating vegan sometimes. In my house, most of our dinners are vegan. But we might have some eggs at breakfast, or cheese at lunch. If you’re nowhere near being vegan, you might consider adding one vegan meal to your diet per week just to start. Go on, you can do it! Give it a try! One of the all time easiest vegan lunches? PB & J sandwich! Did you know Michelle Obama ate one for breakfast everyday growing up? I LOVE that!
23. Don’t waste food.
Did you know that the US wastes about 40% of our food on average? Lots of greenhouse gas emissions were released to make that food. Plus money and time and water. So don’t throw it out! Try eating most of what’s in your fridge before cooking or buying more food. Serve smaller portions and get seconds if needed, rather than serving up more than you and your family can finish. Serve your guests (especially those pint-sized guests) small portions and let them know there’s lots more of everything if they want more.
24. Compost non-edible foods.
Once and a while we discover something forgotten in the dark corners of the fridge. If you have food that’s spoiled, compost it. Compost peels/seeds/pits and other non-edible food scraps. Food scraps release methane if they end up in the landfill where they can’t breakdown properly. So compost it at home! If you don’t have a yard, consider a worm bin, which fits in small spaces. There’re also composting services in some cities – curbside pick up with your trash or other compost companies. And sometimes farmers at the farmers market will take your scraps for their compost. Ask around your community and I’ll bet you’ll find some options if you can’t do it on your own. Santa Cruz has an awesome bike-powered compost collection service called Hard Core Compost.
25. Compost other organic material.
Things like wet or food-stained paper, pizza boxes, tissues, all natural fibers like cotton and linen, paper towels, paper napkins, and anything else that’s 100% natural material can be composted. These will also release methane in the landfill if left there. Be careful about packaging that’s a mixed material. For example, a to-go box with a thin plastic lining. Chinese take-out boxes. Or a paper drinking cup with a waxy coating. Those materials are generally NOT compostable. The water-resistant material is usually plastic based or a petroleum-wax based material. So leave the mixed materials out of your compost.
Also, all those “compostable” plastics WON’T breakdown in your home compost, only in an industrial facility. Don’t add them to your compost! Chances are you have to send them to the landfill unless your city has something set up to collect those bioplastics. I hate the problems those have created, BTW. But I’ll save that rant for another day.
26. Use a reusable water bottle
Plastic comes from petroleum, a fossil fuel, and takes energy to produce. Plastic is getting harder and harder to recycle (which also takes energy). And when it ends up in the wild, it becomes a pollutant and a hazard to animals. Even in the landfill it can pollute our waterways and ecosystems. So bring your own water bottle!
27. Use a reusable coffee cup
Those paper cups and plastic lids take ENERGY and RESOURCES to produce. And those cups release greenhouse gases when they breakdown. And plastic lids – well, you know the problems with those at the end of their life!
28. Bring your cloth grocery bags to the store
Don’t forget your bags! Switch to reusables to conserve the energy and materials that go into making single use bags. And if you don’t have a large stash of cloth grocery bags yet, reuse the paper and plastic bags that you have on hand as many times as you can! But be careful of washing the plastic bags – the more friction and heat they are exposed to, the more potential for releasing microplastics into the waterways.
29. Switch to cloth bags for your fruits, veggies, and bulk goods
Those plastic bags are free at the store, but we’re paying the price once you leave. Shameless plug here – we’ve got lots of veggie bags for sale at No Trace that are made with 100% cotton and all natural materials. That means you can compost them at home in your own compost when they reach the end of their life. Check them out here.
30. Switch to cloth napkins
We’ve been using cloth napkins since we had our first child in 2008. We have some that have lasted us that long. We don’t wash them with every use, just once a week (or sooner if they are super soiled). Go for 100% cotton or linen or hemp napkins that won’t release microfibers when you wash them. Plus cotton and linen and hemp can be composted at home when they reach the end of their life.
31. Use a hankie instead of a tissue
It takes a TON of water and energy to produce a box of tissues and ship it to you. Use handkerchiefs instead! I sell cute ones here but you can also just cut up an old t-shirt!
32. Use a dish towel or rag instead of a paper towel
Sorry, this probably feels repetitive to you by now, but there are just SO MANY PLACES in your home where you can ditch single use products for reusable, sustainable products! Dish towels are a great place to start. And you probably have plenty of rag material in your home already. In our house, we turn stained clothes and household goods into rags. With 2 kids in the house and lots of playdates and sleepovers, plus 2 dogs, we go through about 1 to 2 rags per day! Plus a few dish towels a week. We toss these in with our regular laundry – no special treatment needed!
33. Use a beeswax or vegan wax wrap instead of plastic wrap.
Okay, another shameless plug for No Trace products, available here. Wax wraps are more expensive up front than plastic wrap because you’re investing in the planet, not in pollution.
Remember that cheaper isn’t always better. Wax wraps can be used again and again to wrap your food, cover a bowl or jar, or cover a plate of leftovers. Once they’re worn out, you can either compost them or add them to a fire. Even if a wax wrap escapes into nature or the ocean, it’s not going to leave behind a trail of pollution. It’ll breakdown on its own in just a few months.
34. Buy less stuff
All of our STUFF contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Furniture. Clothes. Kitchenware. Tools. Outdoor gear. It takes energy and resources to make and ship stuff to stores near us and to our homes. Consider borrowing or renting things that you don’t need that often. And loan out your own stuff too!
35. Buy used stuff instead of new stuff
If you really need something on the regular, try to find it at a second hand store. We’ve got a few different options in Santa Cruz – Grey Bears, Caroline’s, Thrift Center, Salvation Army, and Goodwill. Goodwill is my go-to for most kitchen needs or No Trace equipment like pots or table-top display bins or fabric for my veggie bags. They have a HUGE homewares section. I also buy used clothes whenever I can. There’s no shame in second-hand! It’s the green choice! Wear thrift store clothes with pride! Listen to “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis if you need more inspiration ;). Check out ThredUp.com if don’t have great thrift stores near you or prefer to shop online!
36. Write to the president
You can call, email, or write to the White House at whitehouse.gov. The chance of your letter actually making it to the president is slim, but staff do generally keep counts of opinions that come in. Make sure to be respectful, succinct, and use facts! Conservation.org has a great list of 11 facts on climate change. Maybe pick just a couple to include in your letter, and why you care about this issue, and what you hope the White House would do. The Union of Concerned Scientists also has great information on what our climate change priorities should be. Check them out here. And the simplest point to make in any communication with the White House is to remind the president of the importance of SCIENCE!
37. Contact your governor
Your state can take action without the federal government’s leadership. California is a major leader in the fight against climate change by turning towards clean energy, clean energy jobs, electric vehicles, and more. See how your state stacks up at the Union of Concerned Scientist. Look for targets to suggest to your governor, and let them know you appreciate any steps they’ve taken! To find your governor’s address, go to https://www.usa.gov/state-governor.
38. Write to your senator and congress member
Senators and congress members can introduce and support important climate change legislation. So contact them and let them know that climate change legislation matters to you! The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions monitors legislation on climate change. So check them out for up-to-date information. One of the most important pieces of legislation that the US needs is a carbon tax. But there are lots of other steps that Congress can take as well. You can find your representative’s contact info here and your senator’s info here.
39. Support candidates that care about the climate
When election time comes around, support those candidates who care about the climate with DONATIONS and SPREADING THE WORD! Nothing shows support like actual money. But if you can’t spare any, share that candidate’s info with your community and encourage others to VOTE.
40. Support your local climate action organization
In Santa Cruz we’ve got the Santa Cruz Climate Action Network. Across the US, there’s lots of city member organizations of the US Climate Action Network. There’s also the Citizen’s Climate Lobby. Subscribe to their email lists. Show up to their rallies. And send them a check if you can.
41. Tell your friends and family to support climate legislation
Are your friends taking action? Tell them what you’re doing and make it easy for them to do the same! Give them one simple step and show them how you did it!
42. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper
The message you’re sharing with your friends and family, and the concerns you’re raising with your representatives and governor, and the president – share these with the media! Write a letter to your local paper and spread the word. Climate action now!
43. Support climate science
Science itself is under attack these days. One way to fight climate change is to support the science that’s happening behind it. That means staying educated and getting your science news from reputable news sources.
44. March for the climate
Santa Cruz marched September 27, 2019, but marches will keep happening all over the US. When there’s a march, show up! Show your support! You don’t even need a sign. Just go and be a part of the movement.
45. Join organizations that lobby for the environment.
The Nature Conservancy and the Union of Concerned Scientists both work to educate and lobby for climate action. If you can’t make a donation, join their email list. Support their efforts by responding to their calls for actions.
46. Build community
Take the time to organize events with friends and family to rally them around climate action. It could be as simple as hosting a vegetarian potluck and getting folks excited to eat more plants. Or maybe you want to invite folks into your home and share how you work towards energy efficiency at your house. Or give a talk at your church or at your kid’s school on climate change. Get creative!
47. Organize a school-wide bike-to-school day.
Santa Cruz has awesome bike-to-work and school events. But anyone can organize this! Just invite other families to bike with you to school some days. If the school can sponsor the event, even better!
48. Participate in Bike-to-Work Day
If you’re not part of a school community, participate in bike-to-work day. Even if you can’t do the actual biking part, volunteer your time or donate to the event! Volunteers run the event so get in there! In Santa Cruz, these days are organized by Ecology Action.
49. Write to big businesses
Companies like Tesla changed in our options for the better as consumers. Tesla made electric vehicles cool. Reach out to other companies and let them know that you care about the environment. Write letters and also show your support with your dollars for companies that are addressing climate change and working for the environment.
50. Plant a tree (and other plants)
Plants help absorb greenhouse gases, so add some green to your life! Keep in mind that planting trees is not the best way to fight climate change, though. There was a paper published recently that used its findings to conclude that planting trees is the best way to fight climate change. The authors have since back-pedaled on the conclusions, describing them as the “theoretical potential” for reforestation, rather than suggestions for action. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is the MOST important way to fight climate change, rather than planting trees to absorb those emissions. But plant trees too! The world could use a little more green.
There you have it. 50 small ways to fight climate change. Which ones are you already doing? Which one will you try next? What would you add to this list of 50? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
Thanks for reading and for all that you do for the