We’re a month into the new decade, and if you’re like me, that means your New Year’s resolution “honeymoon period” is coming to an end. But while your ambitions to become a stress-free, vegan triathlete who meditates every day may be fading from your mind, there is one thing decidedly not going away any time soon—and it affects all of us. (Hint: it’s climate change).
One of the reasons many of us fail to achieve our New Year’s resolutions is because our goals are often too lofty, if not unrealistic. Vowing to live life to the fullest is great and all, but it’s not very specific and can be hard to translate into day-to-day action items.
Perhaps there is a similar sentiment when it comes to thinking about our fight against climate change. We want to take action, but don’t know how to engage in a way that feels like it’s making a difference. Do our individual efforts to go vegan or recycle really affect climate change at all?
Well, as a matter of fact, they do. And while climate change won’t be solved by individual habits alone, the decisions we make every day still have an impact on the environment and are important for creating a culture centered around protecting our planet. Maybe tackling climate change is similar to following through on that living-life-to-the-fullest resolution. At face value, it’s a big and vague goal, but break it down into small day-to-day tasks like walking to work, reading for 30 minutes a day, or getting a gym membership and all of a sudden, you’re starting to build momentum toward making a real change.
So lets get started. Here are 5 things you can do this decade, starting today, that actually make a difference—for you AND the planet.
1. Meatless Mondays
Let’s start simple. I’m not saying go full vegetarian or vegan. I’m not even saying go half vegetarian. But there is a lot of research showing the negative environmental effects of the meat industry—particularly the industrialized production of meat from cattle. Some studies have shown that farming accounts for 92% of freshwater used in the world, nearly one-third of which is used for animal products. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has deemed eating less red meat as one of the most impactful things you can do to combat climate change. So why not try it out for one day a week? At the very least, you’ll expand your recipe book. And who knows, maybe more veggies in your diet will help you build momentum toward that eating healthier resolution too.
2. Walk more
This is another two-birds-with-one-stone one. There are countless reasons why walking more is a great resolution. Not only is it an easy and low impact way to exercise, but it also helps you get outside and explore more. The health benefits are manifold. And the environmental benefits of walking instead of driving are clear too. Every year in the U.S. there about 10 billion car trips that are under one mile. If we replaced just half of these short trips with walking, we would save about 2 million metric tons of carbon annually. That equates to taking over 400,000 cars off the road every year according to the EPA's Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.
Start with walking to work one day a week if that’s feasible. If not, you can walk out to dinner one night instead of taking an Uber. And if walking is just not an option for you, there are still ways to get involved by supporting efforts in your community to improve bike lanes or pedestrian walkways.
If you want double points, you can do what the Mayor of Malden, Massachusetts does and pick up a piece of trash every time you walk to work.
3. Buy food that’s in season
"Shop local." "Reduce your food miles." Common advice from the food-conscious among us. And while taking into account the energy cost of transporting your food halfway across the world is definitely important, there are a number of other factors to consider when thinking about the impact of where your food comes from. For example, storing apples for out of season consumption can actually be highly energy-intensive. And growing vegetables in local greenhouses during the winter might actually result in more emissions than shipping those same vegetables all the way from Mexico to Boston.
As it turns out, shopping for food that’s in season can be one of the best things you can do to reduce your footprint. And in addition to the environmental benefits, food that’s in season is often tastier, cheaper, and even more nutritious. Check out this seasonal food guide which can tell you exactly what’s in-season depending on the month and your state.
4. Get an efficiency audit on your home:
It’s time to do something about that draft. Chances are your home isn’t as energy efficient as it could be. Whether it’s the lights you’re using, a poorly insulated attic, or leaky windows, there are most likely ways you can improve your home so that you stay warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. And, here’s the icing on the cake: it will also help you save money on your energy bills.
If you own a home, there are a handful of DIY ways and easy habits you can try out to make your home more efficient. However, if you’re not sure where to start, I recommend getting a professional efficiency audit. The process is fairly simple: an energy auditor will visit your home, and after 2-3 hours, you will have a list of recommendations for making your home as energy-efficient as possible. (If you’re a renter, you can always encourage your landlord to make the recommended changes). While this service often requires an upfront cost, many states, such as Massachusetts, offer free efficiency audits for households within certain income brackets, and many other communities offer incentive programs. Pretty much everyone who gets one of these audits says it’s worth it in the long run: save money on your utility bills, live more comfortably, and of course, live more sustainably.
5. Support clean energy:
You don’t need to install solar panels on your home to support clean energy in your community. Heck, you don’t even need to own a home. If there’s a community solar program in your area and you pay an electric bill, you likely qualify to subscribe to a local solar project. Your subscription will enable that project, and others like it, to be built and continue operations. In exchange for your support, you’ll receive solar credits on your electric bill, reducing what you owe your utility. So not only are you supporting clean energy and contributing to lowering our reliance on fossil fuels, but you’ll also be saving money in the process. Learn more about Community Solar here or if you’re interested in signing up, check here to see if any BlueWave Community Solar subscriptions are available in your area.
If there are no Community Solar projects in your area, you can also choose clean energy by supporting companies that have made 100% renewable energy commitments or other B Corp companies that are dedicated to making a positive impact on our planet.
Tackling New Year's resolutions and combating climate change are daunting tasks. We recommend taking it one step at a time. And no matter which method you choose, know that each action you take has a cumulative effect—for you AND the environment.