Climate change is a serious Global issue. It’s a natural phenomenon that has been massively exacerbated by human activity, and one that poses a threat to the very survival of humanity.
Earth’s climate has alternated naturally over the past 650,000 years, moving in and out of ice ages and warm periods. This process results from various environmental factors that influence the climate, such as changes in solar output, ocean circulation, and makeup of the atmosphere. Although it is a natural process, 97 percent of climate scientists agree that the warming of Earth’s climate over the last 100 years is mainly due to human activity, which has increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. 1
That’s what it boils down to – greenhouse gas emissions. The global carbon footprint is increasing every year, and as the human population rises and world leaders continue to ignore the problem, it will only get worse. Hurricanes will become stronger, sea levels will rise, the Arctic will become ice free, intense droughts and heat waves will ensue, the global temperature will rise, and countless species will become endangered or extinct. Whether or not we like it, climate change is here to stay. Hope is not lost though – we still have time to mitigate the damage climate change brings, and lessen its severity.
We as humans have difficulty seeing our actions as impactful and instead believe that our own behaviors are too small to have a real effect on our surroundings. This is far from true. Every action you make, in some way shape or form, has a direct impact on the world.
Current climate change isn’t caused by one person or action, it’s caused by billions of them. Individual actions might seem insignificant, but once you add them up, they become a massive force of change. And this can work in our favor, just as it works against us.
My goal in writing this article is to show you how to lessen your carbon footprint and arm you with the information you need to stop contributing to climate change. Here are the top 25 things you can do to fight climate change, from least to most impactful.
25. Spread Awareness
While it has no measurable effect, spreading awareness has the potential to be at the top of this list. Depending on how much reach and authority you have, you could change the behaviors of countless people. Think of how powerful that is. It’s no longer about what YOU can do to fight climate change, but what you can convince other people to do. Even if you only change the habits of one person, that’s still more than enough to be number 25 on this list.
24. Calculate Your Home’s Carbon Footprint
Before we get into the actions you can take to lessen your carbon footprint, you need to know what your carbon footprint is. Everything begins somewhere, and before you change your behaviors, you should know how they affect your surroundings. Take the time to calculate your home’s carbon footprint here. I promise, changing your lifestyle won’t seem nearly as overwhelming after.
23. Buy Eco Label Products
Products with eco labels show overall environmental preferability within a particular product category. While they are better for the environment than normal products, you should view them as the lesser of two evils. We should be focusing less on what products to use, and more on consuming less.
That being said, if you’re going to use a product, look for one with an eco label. They’re made using low-energy manufacturing, which by design, emits fewer greenhouse gases.
22. Use Eco Hotels
Hotels and accommodations account for roughly 1% of global emissions. This may seem insignificant, but with the rate at which the tourism industry is growing, that number is bound to go up. Luckily for us, because of consumer demand, environmentally sustainable hotels have taken off in recent years. 2
An eco hotel is an accommodation that has made environmental improvements to its structure to minimize its impact on the natural environment. These improvements include non-toxic housekeeping practices, the use of renewable energy, organic soaps, energy-efficient light fixtures, recycling programs, and more. Whether you’re a frequent traveler, or are just planning a family vacation, try your best to stay at eco hotels. They’re better for the environment than normal accommodations.
21. Reduce Lawn Mowing
Lawns are bad for the environment. They’re a huge waste of resources – just think about how much water, fertilizer, and mowing they require. According to the EPA, it’s estimated that lawn mower emissions account for as much as 5 percent of the United States’ total air pollution. That’s a lot, especially if you consider that we’re one of the world leaders in greenhouse gas emissions. 3
Instead of wasting money and resources on a traditional suburban lawn, invest in groundcovers, evergreen moss, or artificial turf. They require no mowing, and very little watering.
20. Purchase Carbon Offsets
Carbon offsets are a tricky subject that have been getting a lot of hate in the past few years. Essentially, carbon offsets are a way to offset your carbon footprint. A lot of travelers use them to offset the greenhouse gases that are produced during long flights.
While they’re fundamentally a good thing, many people have adopted the false mentality that they’re a fix all, which isn’t true. We should view them the same way a bandaid is viewed. It’s a good thing to take care of the injuries you’ve got, but it would’ve been better to have not been injured in the first place. Focus less on offsetting carbon, and more on not producing it.
Nonetheless, we do not live in a perfect world. It is very difficult to go zero waste, and most of us, just by continuing to live, will produce greenhouse gases. That’s why I support the use of carbon offsets.
The reason carbon offsets have been getting hate are because of scams. There have been quite a few of them, and they’re not always easy to spot. My advice to you is to look for the following things when shopping for carbon offsets:
- A certified program. You can use this website to find offsetting programs that are certified, real, and reliable.
- Transparency. If a company has got nothing to hide, they’ll hide nothing. You should be able to easily get information about the program, and they should be willing to answer any of your questions.
- Permanent solutions. Don’t buy offsets for planting trees in a forest that will be cut down in a few years.
Landfills are the single largest human source of methane emissions in the world, which are 26 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Decomposing organic material in anaerobic conditions (without oxygen) like those at landfills, releases methane into the atmosphere. Once it’s there, it’s there until it’s removed by oxidation within the troposphere, which takes almost a decade. 4
In contrast, composting is an aerobic process that prevents the release of methane during organic matter breakdown. This is because methane-producing microbes are not active in the presence of oxygen. There’s other benefits too, including the creation of nutrient-dense soil that’s perfect for gardening.
Composting is an effective way to reduce your carbon footprint, and if you’ve got the time and resources, I highly recommend it.
18. Plant a Tree
Simple, but effective. Plant a tree today and you’ll reap the maximum benefits in a decade, when most trees typically reach their most productive stage of carbon absorption.
17. Eliminate Unnecessary Travel
Traveling is important, and I think it’s good for people. It keeps you on your toes, keeps you learning, changes perspectives, and challenges beliefs. All the same, I think we need to accept the uncomfortable truth that travel may be good for the individual, but it’s not for the whole.
Travel is, by nature, indulgent. You’re constantly consuming, whether it’s by transportation, accommodation, entertainment, goods, or services. If you really want to fight global warming, only travel when necessary. If you don’t wanna give up traveling, practice sustainable travel methods, go somewhere closer to home, and stay for a longer period of time. Transportation by plane and ship emits the most greenhouse gases, so try to travel by train, bus, or car.
16. Conserve Water
I know what some of you are thinking. What does conserving water have to do with greenhouse gases?
A lot, actually. The fresh, filtered water many of us are familiar with needs to be treated and pumped before it reaches our faucets, which requires energy – and unless you live in a city that harness clean energy, it’s obtained through the burning of fossil fuels. By using less water, we don’t need to treat and pump so much water, which reduces our greenhouse gas emissions.
Here are a few easy ways to conserve water:
- Take shorter showers
- Take baths (instead of showers)
- Install water-saving shower heads
- Turn off the water while brushing your teeth and shaving
- Check faucets, pipes, and toilets for leaks
- Use your dishwasher for full loads only (or hand wash)
- Use your washing machine for full loads only
- Water plants during the cool parts of the day
15. Upgrade to LED Light Bulbs
We’ve all heard this a million times, and for good reason. The biggest advantage LED lights have over traditional incandescent or fluorescent lights is how little energy they use. They’re just more efficient – they use roughly 75% less energy, and last 25 times longer than incandescent lighting.
Don’t let the high initial price put you off. They’ll save you tons of money in the long run, and will help in reducing your carbon footprint.
14. Eat Local
There are many reasons why you should consider eating locally. It supports local farms and economies, the food is more fresh and tasty (If you shop at farmers markets you know what I mean), and it’s better for the environment than alternatives.
This is because local food travels much less distance to market than typical grocery store foods. That means less fuel being used, and fewer greenhouse gases being generated.
13. Don’t Waste Food
This goes hand in hand with eating locally. Food, whether it’s wasted or not, has to travel before it reaches your plate. When you waste food, you cause unnecessary burning of fossil fuels, which contributes to global warming. Be conscious of how much food you’re buying and try to save all leftovers for later.
12. Hang Dry Clothes
Growing up, I never even viewed this as an option. I thought hang drying clothes was quaint, inferior to machine drying, and it reminded me of Little House on the Prairie. That just shows how privileged, yet misguided my upbringing was.
America, the nation of suburbs, has adopted the practice of machine washing clothes. Is it faster and less labor intensive? Yes. Is it a real shame? Also, yes.
The cost of running your dryer is high, both figuratively and literally. Based on the US national average rate of 12 cents per kilowatt-hour, each hour of electric drying will cost somewhere between 24 and 72 cents, depending on the model. One load might seem like pocket change, but if you consider that the average American family washes about 300 loads of laundry per year, you can see how it adds up. By comparison, when you hang dry clothes, all you’ve got to buy is the line and clips. 5
Not only is machine drying clothes more expensive – it’s worse for the environment. Dryers need energy to function, and that energy usually comes from the burning of fossil fuels. Do your pocket and the environment a favor and consider nixing your dryer.
If you’re going to consume recyclable material – which let’s be honest, is almost unavoidable – recycle it. It’ll conserve natural resources, reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills, and save energy.
Recycling saves energy by reducing the need to make materials from scratch. Paper, plastic, and aluminum are comprised of natural resources. These natural resources have to be collected, moved, and refined before they’re in their final form, which produces greenhouses gases.
Going even farther, reusing saves the energy that comes with having to dismantle and re-manufacture products, which are byproducts of recycling. So reuse whatever you can and recycle what you can’t.
9. Use Cold Water
If you wanna cut down on your greenhouse gas emissions, an easy and efficient way to do so is to wash dishes and clothes in cold water. Heating water requires energy, and a lot of it. If you were to wash 4 out of 5 loads of your laundry in cold water, you would prevent 864 pounds of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere in a year. That’s the equivalent to planting .37 acres of forest. 6
Imagine if everyone washed in cold water.
8. Install Solar Panels
Solar panels have been the new green energy craze over the past few years, mainly because they’re so accessible – it’s easy to install them, they can be used in most areas, and they’re becoming cheaper every day. They’re low maintenance, promote the growth of technology, and most importantly, are a renewable energy source that reduces the use of fossil fuels.
Are there downsides? Yes. We don’t know yet how we’re gonna dispose of expired solar panels, they’re entirely weather dependent, and they use up a lot of space. But currently, with climate change being the pressing issue it is, I think the pros outweigh the cons.
7. Efficient Wall Insulation
Insulation is the key to reducing carbon emissions from buildings with air conditioners and heaters. Efficient wall insulation saves energy by reducing the exchange of heat through surfaces such as walls, ducts, or roofs. Because there’s less heat exchange, less warm air escapes from the house during the winter, and less cool air escapes during the summer. This reduces the amount of energy needed for heating and cooling and reduces the emission of greenhouse gases.
6. Eat a Plant Based Diet
We love meat and dairy, and that is a problem.
More than a quarter of all Global emissions come from food, and nearly 70% of food emissions come from animal products. Meat, cheese, butter, milk – you name it. They’re delicious, but that tastiness comes at a steep price.
Animal agriculture stresses the environment. It requires an unsustainable amount of natural resources and produces immense amounts of greenhouse gases, particularly methane. If you really want to help mitigate climate change, consider giving up animal products.
A plant-based diet is accessible, affordable, and most importantly, environmentally friendly. It produces far fewer emissions than its alternatives, and if done correctly, is better for your health.
If giving up animal products seems impossible to you, that’s okay. It wasn’t easy when I did it, and I understand. Instead of cutting all animal products out of your diet, focus on consuming less of them. You’ll find that, as time goes on, it becomes easier and easier to opt for the plant-based option.
5. Buy an Eco-Friendly Car
I don’t think this being on the list is a surprise to anyone. The largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in the United States is transportation. These emissions come from the burning of fossil fuel for our ships, trains, planes, trucks, and cars – and they’re rising every year.
So instead of buying a gas guzzling giant, get yourself an eco-friendly alternative. The two most common types are energy efficient vehicles and electric vehicles.
Energy efficient vehicles reduce CO2 emissions by being – you guessed it – fuel efficient. There are tons of options, they aren’t that much more expensive than traditional cars, and they’ll save you money in the long run.
Electric cars lower CO2 emissions by running on electricity rather than fossil fuels. They have a steeper price tag, but they are typically great cars that’ll last you a long time.
4. Buy Green Energy
It’s also not a surprise that buying green energy makes the list. Most countries still use fossil fuels as their main energy source, so chances are, if you live in the United States, you’re contributing to climate change every day by simply turning your lights on or charging you phone.
A way to prevent this is to purchase green energy. At least 50% of US consumers have the option to purchase renewable electricity directly from their power supplier, and everyone has the option of purchasing renewable energy certificates, which allow you to contribute to the generation of clean power elsewhere. (kinda similar to carbon offsets)
3. Avoid Long Flights
To fly or not to fly? That is the question.
An anti-flight movement has begun, and I’m thankful. It originated in Sweden last year and encourages people to stop taking flights to lower carbon emissions. Taking a transatlantic flight is the single biggest action a person can take to worsen climate change, so I am glad people are paying attention.
Long flights are terrible for the environment. One long-haul flight emits as much CO2 as some people produce in a year. And I’ve heard a rebuttal that states long-haul flights are much more efficient than short-haul flights, which is true. But we’ve got to keep in mind that distance traveled strongly determines emissions, and what we’re trying to do is lower emissions.
The farther you travel, the more emissions you produce. Suggesting that long flight may be better for the environment than short flights is counterintuitive – efficiency is great, and something we should strive for, but is only a tool we use to lower emissions. At the end of the day, longer flights produce more emissions, so they should be avoided.
Try traveling somewhere closer to home. Avoid planes and cruises and instead opt for trains and buses. If you can’t avoid a long flight, stay where you’re going for a longer period of time, use public transportation while you’re there, and buy carbon offsets to counteract some of the CO2 you’re producing – it’s better than doing nothing.
2. Live Car Free
It’s like buying an eco-friendly car, but better. I’ll tell you right now that this isn’t a viable option for everyone. If you live in a spread out, suburban city with no public transportation, it’d be very, very difficult to get around without a car. If that’s you, stick with buying an electric or fuel-efficient vehicle.
On the other hand, if you live in a city that has a rockin’ public transportation system, like Seattle, Boston, San Francisco, or Washington, there’s not much of a reason you need to be driving your own car anyways. If this is you, consider living car free, or at least just using public transportation more than you currently do.
1. Have One Less Child
It may be a hard pill to swallow, especially for those of you who already have children, but having one less kid easily tops this list. It is by far the most effective way an individual can fight climate change.
Having one less child means there’s one less human producing greenhouse gases. Think of all that you’ve consumed until now, and all that you’ll consume in the future. Think of the energy you’ve used, the cars you’ve driven, and the flights you’ve taken. One less child = one less lifetime of greenhouse gas emissions.
If we all choose to fight climate change, and alter our behaviors to do so, we can change the world.
Your actions matter. Every single action you take has a direct impact on the world. Whether it’s a positive or negative impact, that’s up to you. I hope this article has been helpful and has shown you some of the ways you can lessen your carbon footprint.
Good luck, and long live earth!
Hi, I'm Ash!
I’m a travel blogger who loves experiencing new things and deeply connecting with people. My missions are to help others around the world realize their travel dreams, and to spread the word about sustainable travel. Feel free to send me a message here.