The world is getting warmer, and extreme weather events are becoming more common. Some believe that we may already be too late to avoid catastrophic consequences of human activity driven climate change.
Too often we are told that climate change depends on our personal actions. However this is far from the whole truth. The majority of anthropogenic CO2 and other warming emissions are generated by heavy industry and large companies, Consumer actions are not immaterial to climate change, but the problem is far too big for behavioral changes on the individual level to make a decisive difference.
So this will not be a list of childishly simple “just don’t use napkins” advice. There are a few behavioral ideas here, but they focus only on things that can make a measurable difference. The good news, if there is any, is that pushing for change does not need to be expensive or even very time consuming. So let’s begin:
Lobby Your Government to Invest in Fusion Research
Harnessing the power of nuclear fusion involves recreating many of the conditions found at the heart of our own sun. It’s a kind of nuclear energy, but unlike nuclear fission, which relies on the decay of heavy radioactive isotopes to generate heat energy, nuclear fusion extracts energy from simple, abundant and safe materials found in seawater. It produces no harmful waste, and we know now almost for certain that positive energy output (the point where a fusion reactor creates more energy than it requires to sustain itself) is possible, and will probably be achieved in our lifetimes.
The New Yorker recently wrote of fusion energy, that governments around the world have invested pretty much the bare minimum necessary to make sure that it never becomes commercially viable. That makes some sense, in a perverse way, because the world’s economy revolves around energy sources that fusion would be able to replace if we took it more seriously. Scientists are now convinced that fusion energy is possible, but its development remains very expensive.
You can help by writing to your government representatives, urging them to endorse funding for nuclear fusion research. The amount of money spent worldwide on such research is shockingly small. In total, the US government has only ever invested $50bn in research and development since 1953. For comparison sake: the US military spent $20bn a year in Iraq and Afghanistan only on air conditioning.
So the price tag for all nuclear fusion research in America is equal to twoand a half years of desert air conditioning. It’s a shocking state of affairs.
What that means though is that there is plenty of room for improvement. Government representatives frequently site letters and calls from their constituents as one of the most important ways of judging their own job performance, which means that your calls can really make a difference.
Don’t Buy a New Car
It’s tempting to go out and buy a new gas efficient or, even better, an electric car. But The best thing you can probably do when it comes to your personal habits is to delay a new car purchase for as long as you can. The majority of the carbon costs of a new car are in the building and delivering of the car, and not in the daily use of that car. Personal cars aren’t even the biggest contributor to climate change in the transportation sector, but the building and deployment of new vehicles makes up the majority of their footprint, so wait a while!
Meanwhile you can do all those things you should be doing anyway, like walking and using public transportation more.
It’s not that hard to avoid buying products that aren’t made in your own region or country. Once you develop a habit of checking where your products are made, you’ll find yourself doing it automatically. One of the biggest contributors to climate change in the transportation sector is shipping of food and other consumables from one territory to another.
Sure, it’s nice to have strawberries in winter, but you may find that your local seasonal fruits and veggies taste a lot better, and are a lot fresher, than something shipped from the other side of the world. If you need more convincing, consider that fruits such as apples that are grown to be sold abroad may be up to a year old by the time you eat them. Not exactly fresh fruit at that point.
Many countries have invested in making local fruits and vegetables easier to identify, and you can more easily today differentiate between local and foreign produce just by looking at the labels.
The other advantage of buying locally is actually the cost/quality ratio for consumer goods. International supply chains, while they make cheap products available anywhere in the world, also tend to favor cheaply made products as well. Shopping in fast fashion stores often means buying products that are made from materials that are relatively cheap and low quality, while paying prices many multiples higher than the cost of materials.
Buying locally, preferably from local clothing makers, often means getting more for the same money. The high price of fast fashion is felt in products that just don’t last as long.
Switch Your Energy Provider to Something Greener
In some territories, it’s possible to choose your energy provider. If you can, switching to a provider who produces most of their energy in green or renewable ways is simple and very cost effective. Green energy is rapidly becoming cheaper and more reliable than coal or gas powered energy generation, because unlike gas or coal, green energy is largely immune to political or economic shocks.
This inherent stability makes green energy prices more predictable and stable, and the costs of green energy continue to go down, while the costs of fossil fuels can rise sharply and suddenly.
Get Rid of Your Lawn
Seriously, lawns are so 20th century. Unless you’ve got native grass, caring for a lawn is expensive, time consuming, and very wasteful. It wastes water, energy, and chemical fertilizer that wouldn’t be needed if you had a native perennial garden.
A lawn also doesn’t really give you anything of value. Imagine what you could do with a native vegetable or herb garden. Or an orchard! I can assure you that picking apples to make a pie is a lot more rewarding than cutting your grass for the 50,000th time. Research local plant varieties in your area, and you’ll save time on maintenance, and money on watering and fertilizer. You’ll also become a friend to local insects and wildlife who need native plant varieties to survive.
Support “Right to Repair” Laws
We bookend this list with another call to get involved with your own local politics. Supporting “right to repair” laws means forcing large manufacturers to build their products in such a way that they can be repaired by 3rd parties without voiding their warranties for some set period of time – often 5 years.
The importance of right to repair goes beyond fairness to consumers. It also is better for the environment. Think of the millions and millions of printer cartridges that end up in landfills, when in reality a small bottle of ink would give them a second life. All the phones and computers that are thrown away every year because their batteries aren’t worth replacing.
That can change when 3rd party businesses are able to make money by producing replacement parts for these products. Many of the items we are used to throwing away every few years are in fact upgradeable, if only companies were forced to allow their customers to upgrade them. That can save you a lot of money, and it can help save our environment.
The problem also goes well beyond consumer products. Industrial manufacturing and farming equipment also needs to be transitioned to right to repair regulation in order to protect small businesses and the environment from needless waste, and the replacing of workable, upgradeable machines with unneeded new models.
We’re realists: we don’t believe that simple changes in consumer behavior are going to save the planet. But what will save the planet is collective action that demands that our political and economic systems change to take better care of our environment. That we can, and must do.