5 Easy Lifestyle Changes That Could Help Tackle Climate Change

Climate Week might be coming to an end but climate change is not, and there are easy lifestyle changes we can adopt to do our bit to help tackle climate change—from the big and more expensive (powering your home with solar panels) to the small and more accessible (switching to LED lightbulbs).

Speaking about the changes we can each make on an individual level, Dominique Browning, co-founder and senior director of Moms Clean Air Force, a community group set up to fight air pollution and climate change, says: "It would be great if we start thinking more about what we waste, in terms of money and resources, as a country and in our own homes."

"And that's what a lot of climate action comes down to—stopping leaks, waste, emissions."

So, here are some steps you can take if you are looking for ways to cut down your carbon footprint, which you can calculate using the EPA's footprint calculator.

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Solar panels sit on the roof of SunPower Corporation in Richmond, California. Reuters

1. Cut down on non-renewable energy sources

Installing solar panels and other forms of renewable energy systems in your home is a fantastic way of cutting your energy use, but it's not feasible for everyone. Other ways of reducing your carbon footprint is simply cutting down on the amount of energy you use on a day-to-day basis—including reducing the air-con and heating—by putting on a jumper or using a hot water bottle instead of turning up the heat on the thermostat, for example.

"Take advantage of those offers of energy audits from your utility and find out where you are leaking money," says Browning "And buy LED bulbs only."

And on the subject of energy: insulate your home. Insulating buildings with heat-trapping materials (such as thermal wallpaper) and introducing draft excluders will reduce the amount of energy needed to heat your home. Thus, cutting your heating bills and saving the planet.

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Cars are not just bad for the planet but bad for public health. Scientists believe air pollution could be causing millions more deaths than previously estimated. Getty Images

2. Change the way you travel

Ditching the car and switching to public methods of transport (bus, tram, subway) or choosing to cycle and walk places instead is another lifestyle change that benefits the environment. Alternatively, if public transport isn't an option, you might want to try carpools or vanpools—or working from home (i.e. telecommuting), which cuts down on transport emissions by cutting back on travel.

On the subject of travel: cutting down on long-haul flights and taking more time to explore your local area can drastically shrink your annual carbon footprint. A long-haul flight is one of the most costly activities (carbon-wise) you can take on, with one paper published in Environmental Research Letters in 2017 calculating you could save 1.6 tonnes CO2-equivalent for every return journey across the Atlantic.

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Cattle are the worst offenders, responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than any other farm animal combined, according to UN estimates. Dairy cattle are pictured in a cowshed in Hergolding near Munich on October 13, 2009. Michael Dalder/Reuters

3. Eat more plants, less meat

Livestock are a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions contributing 14.5 percent to the world's annual total, according to U.N. estimates. Sixty-five percent of that figure comes from cattle. By cutting out dairy and meat from your diet—or simply eating less—you can cut your carbon footprint drastically. A study by researchers at the University of Oxford in the UK found that excluding animal products from your diet can reduce the amount your yearly carbon emissions by 61 to 71 percent (the percentage is based on average per capita meat consumption in the U.S.). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends choosing food that is "local, healthy, environmentally responsible" to minimize energy usage involved in travels and chemicals that could harm local wildlife.

Also on the subject of food: cut down on food waste. Americans produce 14 ounces of food waste per person each day, an amount that uses 30 million acres of cropland and adds up to 30 percent of daily calories available for consumption. Getting crafty with leftovers and buying only what you need will not only be good for your wallet, but it will be good for the planet.

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Reusable bags in use at New World supermarket in New Lynn, New Zealand, on June 12 in Auckland, New Zealand. Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

4. Remember–reduce, reuse, recycle

Another tip: remember the three R's. Reducing the amount of stuff we buy—whether that be clothes or tech—reduces the energy involved in the production of those products, which in turn reduces our carbon footprint. As well as ditching fast fashion and thinking twice before we upgrade, we can reduce energy use by reusing products purchased secondhand (vintage clothes, refurbished tech).

An iPhone X, for example, produces an average 79 kg of CO2 in its lifetime, according to a 2017 Apple report*. Eighty percent of that is released during production alone. But it's not just the energy involved. A simple cotton T-shirt can suck up 2,700 liters of water—just in the production of raw materials. That roughly works out at 17 bathtubs.

On the subject of being more mindful about the products we use: think about the environmental impact of the products you do buy. A new vehicle, for example, could be electric. A new heater, solar. A new lightbulb, more energy-efficient. And so on and so forth.

*Apple has since announced that it has switched its business to 100 percent renewable.

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Sign at an Atlanta polling place in 2018 Jessica McGowan/Getty

5. And last but not least: vote

Voting in public officials running on a pro-environment platform with initiatives to tackle climate change on a national or, indeed, international level can be one of the most effective ways of instigating change.

If you want to take things a step further, there are groups out there campaigning for change—like Moms Clean Air Force and Friends of the Earth—you can join.


Covering Climate Now is a global journalism initiative committed to bringing more and better coverage to the defining story of our time.

From September 15 to 23, Newsweek is one of several outlets committed to emphasizing climate stories. The goal is to maximize coverage of the climate crisis and its impacts in the lead-up to the United Nations Climate Summit on September 23.

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This story is part of a Covering Climate Now project from the Columbia Journalism Review.
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