In early July, Environmental Research Letters published a study by Seth Wynes and Kimberly A. Nicholas, which analyzed 148 commonly cited ways for individuals to reduce their carbon footprint. The researchers found that most actions had little impact on greenhouse gas emissions, but having fewer children had the greatest impact. For parents, however, the decision to not have children is moot.
So how can you help in the fight against climate change?
1. Start with the small changes
A July article in The Guardian argued that we have been fooled into thinking of climate change in terms of problems we can solve at home. In reality, corporations and industries produce the most greenhouse gases.
Recycling in your home doesn't make a big dent in the amount of plastics thrown out at restaurants, but it is something. Taking shorter showers has little impact on water conservation when the vast majority of water usage is in agricultural practices, but still, small actions can add up when lots of people are doing them. Use these small changes as a starting point.
2. Make individual changes with big impacts
According to the Wynes and Nicholas study some of the biggest individual impacts come from owning fewer cars, traveling by airplane less often, and eating plant-based diets. If you cannot make these options work, find something that does work for you.
See what children's toys and clothes your friends and neighbors might have to give away or loan you for a year or two. Avoid buying items you rarely use or can borrow from your neighbors. Then, if something breaks or tears, take the time to see if you or someone you know can fix it before you replace it.
3. Focus on places you frequent
Think about the places you go and the easy wins they might be able to implement. Could you help your church put in a rain barrel to water their flowers? Can you convince your children's school to start recycling? Maybe you could volunteer to wash plastic cups after your kid's soccer games, so they aren't using disposable ones. Ask your favorite restaurant to give up Styrofoam and only give plastic to customers who ask for take-away. Try to improve every place you go.
4. Work toward big community changes
Consider taking on one big project in your area. Could you present the hospital board with a research-backed plan to reduce their waste? Can you organize volunteers to change the schoolyard to drought-resistant plants or write for grants to get solar panels on your favorite gym? Use the skills and knowledge you already have to make an inspiring change in your community.
5. Talk to your government
Call your federal representatives. Write to your governor and state legislators. Go to the city council meetings and even your neighborhood associations. Tell them your concerns and suggest solutions. You can only change so many things without the government's help, so be vocal and encourage others to share their opinions as well. Fight for ordinances and bans.
6. Talk to everyone you know
If a friend asks you about your compost bin, explain it to them and answer their questions. If your neighbor stops over, show them your rain barrel, even if they don't ask. Show people how easy it can be to make some changes and invite them to try as well. Don't try to force them to change, but don't shy away from conversations about climate change. Climate change is a real and serious threat. You can be a leader for widespread change.