As we approach another Earth Day, our planet home is in environmental crisis. Increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from human energy and food production and consumption are accelerating climate change and extreme weather at an alarming pace, resulting in ecological destruction, human suffering and economic loss. We in the US have a disproportionate impact on the environment through our higher resource and energy consumption, and therefore have a responsibility to do more to be part of the solution. Here are 5 key things we can do to be better stewards of the earth and reduce our environmental footprints:
Eat Sustainably. Raising beef and dairy cattle (and pigs) is among the most environmentally destructive forces driving climate change. Clearing land to graze cattle, especially in Brazil (the world’s largest beef producer) is the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon, exacerbating climate change. Industrial beef production in the US involves planting, irrigating, fertilizing, harvesting and transporting vast amounts of corn and hay to feed cattle, degrading land, water supplies and emitting much CO2. Huge amounts of methane—a much more potent GHG than CO2--is emitted by beef and dairy cattle and their manure, which also causes water pollution across the US. Eating plant-based proteins, more veggies, sustainably raised chicken and fish and smaller amounts of local, grass fed beef and dairy will significantly cut your carbon footprint, and reduce air and water pollution and make you healthier.
Conserve Energy at Home. Heating, cooling and use of appliances and electronics in our homes is a large consumer of energy and resulting GHG emissions, constituting 22% of US energy use and 35% of electricity consumption. Buildings are directly or indirectly responsible for about 40% of US GHG emissions. Making your home (and workplace) more energy efficient through sealing air leaks, better insulation, installing solar panels and heat pumps—and turning down your heat and AC, as well as turning off unused electronic devices--can make a big difference, and save you money.
Consume Sustainably. We Americans comprise less than 5% of the world’s population, but use 25-30% of global energy and resources (far more per capita than people in Japan, China, India or Europe). The manufactured goods we buy—cars, electronics, appliances, clothing, toys, recreational equipment—all use energy, water, petrochemicals and mineral resources to make, package, ship and deliver (think Amazon). We are exporting a lot of our energy use and pollution (and GHG emissions) to China, where much of our stuff is made. And discarded plastics are an increasing source of pollution. Consume mindfully, use only what you need, and “use it up, wear it out and make do” wherever possible.
Drive and Fly Less. Passenger vehicles produce about 30% of US GHG emissions (mainly CO2), and are the largest emission source in Massachusetts. Cars also emit other smog-causing air pollutants including nitrogen oxides, volatile organics and other toxic air pollutants. Driving less, using public transportation like trains and buses, and driving an electric or hybrid car significantly cuts your carbon footprint. And flying uses more fuel and emits more GHGs per mile than buses and trains. Find ways to drive less, buy an electric or hybrid car, and look for ways to limit or combine trips.
Advocate for the Environment. While climate change is the mother of all environmental problems, GHG emissions in the US are minimally regulated, if at all. Americans are worried about climate change, but there is limited public support for regulating climate pollution. If you care, make your voice heard. Write your Congressmen, support “green” politicians, vote and put your money where your mouth is in your political contributions (and your investments). Support nonprofits that advocate for conservation and the environment. Policy change (and money) is a powerful tool to save the planet if we use it in smart ways.