With more than 7.7 billion people calling planet earth home, it might seem preposterous to think that any one individual’s actions could make a difference in combating global climate change…
However, individuals DO have the power to make a difference – because we often influence others’ perceptions and actions. Ultimately, governments and corporations are unlikely to change the status quo unless enough individuals put pressure on them to do so.
Some climate experts believe we are facing an imminent deadline of 2035 for taking dramatic action in fighting climate change. Considering the absence of sufficient action by some global corporations and many of the world’s governments, it seems that the responsibility will largely fall on individuals to take the vitally needed actions.
As an individual, what can you do to minimise your footprint on the earth? Here are 4 suggestions for simple actions you can take that, collectively, could make a significant difference:
1. Don’t buy anything unless you absolutely need it
Australians have a tendency to over-consume, collecting and keeping things we do not truly need. The latest available Choosi Clutter Report reveals that we have nearly 60 billion dollars worth of unnecessary and unused possessions cluttering up our homes.
We need to do better.
These unused possessions take staggering amounts of resources to produce and distribute. Such resources should be put to better use.
As it turns out, many of the unused items in our homes are gifts from our loved ones. An important takeaway: One of the most critical areas to focus on is re-thinking our gift giving.
One obvious solution to the clutter problem is to ask your gift recipients what they want and need. Then take their answers into consideration when you shop for gifts for them. Other clutter-free gift ideas include consumable gifts, such as fruit baskets, bottles of wine or restaurant gift certificates; and experiences, such as concert tickets, dance classes or facials at the local day spa.
2. Reduce the amount of plastic you use
Your food, cosmetics, housewares and office supplies are packaged in plastic. Your kids’ toys are made out of plastic. Many of the items that make your life easier are made up, either partially or completely, of plastic. The stuff is everywhere.
Plastic has revolutionised many industries. It has introduced an unprecedented level of convenience into our lives. Yet, the over-consumption of plastic is turning out to be an environmental disaster.
Even worse, the over-consumption of plastic is also a health disaster – because you end up eating plastics in your food and drinking plastics in your water. Researchers have found that people on multiple continents are eliminating plastics when they defecate.
Many plastics have toxic components that can wreak havoc on your health. They can disrupt your hormones, make you fat and cause birth defects. When you make an effort to reduce the amount of plastic you bring into your life, you will not only help to preserve the environment; you are also quite likely to make a positive difference in your own health.
How to reduce your use of plastic:
The following are a few steps you can take to get started with reducing your use of plastic:
- Stop buying water bottled in plastic. Instead, obtain a glass or stainless steel water bottle to use for transporting your water.
- Stock your desk at work with a set of metal utensils and a ceramic coffee mug plus soap and a dish brush to wash them with.
- Store your edible leftovers in glass jars or glass storage containers instead of plastic freezer bags or plastic storage containers.
- Grow as much of your own food as possible. This eliminates not only the plastic packaging it would take to make the food saleable at retail, but also the need for fuel to transport the food. Even if you live in a small flat, you could grow flavourful herbs on your window sill.
3. Mind your materials
From an environmental standpoint, there is no perfect material – which means that the importance of #1 above (don’t buy anything unless you really need it) cannot be emphasised strongly enough. However, some materials are clearly more sustainable than others. From an environmental standpoint, some materials should absolutely be avoided in favour of the materials that are less objectionable.
Acrylic fibre is one of the materials that should be avoided. It can be used for manufacturing blankets, carpet, jumpers, socks and other types of clothing, accessories and home furnishings – all items which are likely to wear out, go outdated and lose their usefulness in time.
Acrylic is actually a plastic material in disguise, although many people do not immediately recognise it as such. It’s a particularly disturbing type of plastic, because it cannot be sustainably disposed of. Recycling facilities do not typically accept it. Once it exists, there is no environmentally sound way to get rid of it.
Furthermore, the acrylic manufacturing process is toxic. It has the potential to horribly poison the workers who make it. Research has shown that statistically significant numbers of them develop breast cancer and other health problems.
There are better alternatives, which means acrylic should be avoided.
People generally think of cotton as being a sustainable fabric; but, from a sustainability standpoint, cotton, also, has some major downsides to be aware of.
One of the biggest problems with cotton is the massive quantity of toxic chemicals the crop consumes. According to a report published by Pan-UK.org, cotton farmers typically apply harmful chemicals to cotton at a rate of at least 1 kg / ha. Cotton crops had the dubious distinction of being the recipient of 16.1 percent of all insecticides sold globally and 5.7 percent of all pesticides sold globally as of the year 2014. The experts at Pan-UK have determined that cotton crops provide the fourth largest global market for agricultural chemicals overall.
Bamboo is eco friendly in some ways but less than ideal in others. When it comes to home furnishing fabrics, one of bamboo’s main drawbacks is that it is often processed using harmful chemicals. The processing ensures the bamboo fibres will be soft enough to be desirable to end users. However, many environmentalists still believe bamboo to be a more sustainable choice than conventionally grown cotton, for a number of reasons.
Growing bamboo doesn’t require massive quantities of toxic chemical herbicides or pesticides that harm microorganisms in the soil. Bamboo grows at an exceptionally brisk rate of speed, which makes it the ultimate renewable resource. Bamboo requires minimal quantities of inputs such as water and fertiliser. It also absorbs a significant quantity of carbon dioxide.
Limit purchases, or shop second-hand when it’s possible
Considering that no material produced on earth is 100 percent perfect from a sustainability viewpoint, the best approach is to limit your purchases to the greatest extent possible.
Whenever possible, it is beneficial to buy vintage or second-hand materials on the secondary market instead of buying new products. This is because it is preferable to maximise the use of an existing item rather than to produce a new one.
However, in some circumstances, it isn’t practical to buy second-hand items. For example, few people would want to buy second-hand socks, underwear, sheets or pillowcases, even if they were readily available for sale. With purchases such as those, it is beneficial to purchase from manufacturers that have implemented sustainability best practices.
4. Fly less frequently
Traveling is educational, fun and rewarding. It is a necessity in some lines of work. However, the downside is that travel – in particular, air travel — can take a huge toll on the environment.
Recreational travel need not involve flying. You can take an enjoyable vacation without getting on an airplane. Biking and sailing are two environmentally friendly means of travel that don’t leave the massive environmental footprint that flying does.
Perhaps your career requires you to travel. In that case, Katharine Hayhoe, who is Co-Director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, TX, USA, recommends a couple of solutions that could help you reduce the numbers of flights you make every year. As a frequent public speaker on climate change issues, this is an issue she’s had to address in her own career.
Katharine recommends, first of all, grouping multiple engagements together. This way, you can maximise the utility you get from every flight you must take.
Whenever possible, Katharine also recommends teleconferencing or live-streaming your events instead of personally flying to them. If you’re traveling to meet with colleagues in a different state or country, it is possible that teleconferencing instead of flying could accomplish your company’s goals, save the company money and also reduce your company’s environmental impact.
There are many more earth-friendly actions you can take in addition to these. However, even just following these 4 suggestions could make a significant difference in reducing your footprint on the earth.
Image credit: Photographee.eu / Adobe Stock
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