By Julie Kucks
There is an 80-foot-long clock on a building in Manhattan’s Union Square that actively counts down the numbers of years, days, hours, and seconds. This morning, August 16th at 10:48 EST it reads 6 years, 340 days, 1:11:30.
What is the clock counting down? It is a dramatic timer counting the time we have left to effectively limit global warming to 1.5 °C and create zero emissions on our planet.
This week, I had an interesting debate with a friend of mine related to the climate clock. The question circulated around time and individual action. Can individual action enact the radical environmental shifts we need in the limited timeframe we have to reverse climate change?
I said most certainly, yes. My friend claimed that individual action will not get the job done. That is up to governmental policy and massive corporations.
Power of the Few
I think we can all agree that having the people who are in power on board with mitigating the climate crisis is essential to us reaching zero carbon emissions.
However, since 190 countries signed the Paris Agreement in 2015 pledging to create governmental policies to fight global warming, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has continued to rise. An international organization called Climate Action Tracker released a study showing that the leading nations in global emissions are woefully behind in meeting their Paris Agreement commitments. (And remember how the U.S. government proved to the world its feelings about climate change when President Trump totally abandoned the Paris Agreement in 2017?)
Behind a nation’s powerful leaders are the nation’s powerful people. While it may be tempting to leave the job of handling the climate crisis in the hands of “higher-ups,” the truth is that we as individuals have a big part to play.
Power of the People
Yes. The coal industry in China is so damaging, some of its companies create greater emissions than entire nations.
Yes. Chevron along with Exxon, BP, and Shell are behind 10% of global carbon emissions.
Yes. The Saudi Arabian Oil Company has been behind 4.38% of all carbon dioxide emission since 1965.
And yes. It has been shown that household activities also account for 2/3 of global greenhouse gases. The individual American’s carbon footprint is 20 metric tons compared to the rest of the globe’s footprint at an annual 4 tons.
Let’s find our power in remembering that individual action, commitment, and regulation can have a drastic effect on the state of our climate crisis.
Your actions matter!
Top 10 Actions for Individuals to Most Efficiently Fight Climate Change
Research experts around the world in collaboration with researchers at the University of Leeds recently screened 7,000 global studies to determine the most effective, efficient steps individuals can take to help reverse climate change.
[Please know that we are aware not all of these are viable financial or locational options for everyone.]
1. Ditch the car
Living a carless life was the top option for reducing your personal carbon footprint. If it’s not possible to entirely do away with your vehicle, consider biking or walking more frequently in your day-to-day life.
2. Switch to electric cars
While it is true that electric cars tend to have a higher up-front cost than gas cars, there are reasonably priced electric cars – Tesla isn’t your only option! Depending on how well-sourced the electricity is, electric car emissions in their lifetime can be up to 70% less than that of gas cars.
3. One fewer flight
The aviation industry is responsible for 11% of all transport emissions in the U.S. By even cutting out one cross-country flight a year, you are saving about 0.9 metric tons of carbon dioxide.
4. Invest in renewable electricity
While we realize this is not an option for everyone’s living situation, if you own your home or are looking to build, consider putting money toward renewable energy methods. Renewable energy comes from the sun, wind, and water and some methods include installing solar panels for electricity, solar heating, and wind turbines – all of which will save on your annual electric bill and reduce your carbon footprint.
5. Take public transport
Transportation is one of the biggest bug-a-boo’s in the climate crisis. In the U.S. alone, transportation accounts for 27% of greenhouse gas emissions according to the EPA.
By switching to public transportation rather than driving a 20-mile commute in your car, you can save up to 20 pounds of carbon emissions per day, 48,000 pounds per year. This is more efficient than some household options such as energy-efficient lightbulbs or thermostat adjustments.
6. Refurbishment & renovation
This point deals with the carbon footprints of buildings which the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction revealed were responsible for 38% of global carbon emissions in 2020.
Researchers in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering discovered that the best way to structure homes is to build as small a space as possible to cut back on energy-usage within the home and in construction materials. They also recommended building a home without a basement as the manufacturing of concrete has a large carbon emission load.
7. Go vegan
We know veganism seems “trendy,” but studies show that steering away from a diet of meat and dairy may be one of the most dramatic ways to mitigate the climate crisis.
According to scientists at Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley, more than 80% of land globally is utilized in raising livestock. Biomass recovery in natural ecosystems on this land as well as spontaneous decay of greenhouse gases of methane and nitrous oxide would, the study says, provide 52% of emission reductions needed to reverse climate change.
8. Install a heat pump
More than 1/3 of the world’s energy is used by buildings, primarily through their reliance on fossil fuels to supply heat and water.
Electric heat pumps could slash greenhouse gas emissions in half and, if electricity is supplied from renewable energy, could produce 0 emissions.
9. Energy-efficient cooking equipment
Finding the most eco-friendly stoves, ovens, and cooking equipment can have a big impact on emissions. Think of how many times a day you use a piece of equipment in the kitchen! Ethical Consumer has an amazing review of different energy-efficient stove and oven brands to give you an idea of what to look into!
10. Renewable home heating system
The heat issue keeps cropping up! By heating your home through a renewable energy source such as a water source heat pump or a solar thermal, your energy bill will be smaller and you will drastically reduce your carbon footprint.
Even implementing one of these steps will go a long way in taking back your power and influencing our climate crisis.
The clock is ticking – share these top choices with your family and friends! Spread the word that, together as individuals, we can collectively protect our planet.
Julie Kucks is a freelance content writer for New Jersey Institute of Nature and Cedar Hill Prep. Her work has also been featured in Fine Living Lancaster. Julie's writing interests include sustainable living practices, permaculture, mental health, and the power of breathwork. She also enjoys piano tuning, singing and songwriting, playing mountain dulcimer, hiking, and carousing with her kittens, Nike & Lionne.