It’s Earth Month. What actions can you start taking now that will make a meaningful difference to the planet and your day-to-day life?
It’s not an easy question for most people to answer. We’ve spent generations living our lives in a way that depends on everything from the burning of fossil fuels for energy to the casual consumption of single-use plastics. We’ve also known for just as long that a fossil-fuel-dependent lifestyle is producing greenhouse gas emissions that are heating up our planet to the point of a potential catastrophe. Scientists are telling us that we must change course before it’s too late. What can you do about it?
Turns out a lot, and there’s something in it for you too. Whether or not you care about the environment, what’s better for your health is usually better for our planet (like eating more vegetables). And it’s better for your love life too: According to a sample size of 250,000 people using OKCupid, 90 percent said that it’s important for their match to care about the environment. And there are a lot of creative ways to go about creating better and greener habits. One study helped people eat less junk food (popcorn) just by inviting them to eat with their nondominant hand. That worked because it made the behavior mindful. It also helps to make new things easy and fun, with instant rewards for at least three months.
Refrigerant management, eating a plant-rich diet, and reducing food waste are the top ways to take action on climate, according to Project Drawdown. You can use that as a jumping-off point for some easy-ish personal, political, and fun ways to act on those three solutions and more.
Here is a weekly action plan for how to do it.
Week 1: Try something new in your life
Since it’s easier to try new things one bite at a time, try one new thing a day, and I’ll give you a day off (sort of)!
Day 1: Get cheap, fancy feasts to help reduce food waste
Get discounted, often fancy, surplus food from restaurants and grocers on the Too Good to Go app. Or try groceries with the Upcycled Certification, such as Reveal’s Avocado Seed Brew.
Day 2: Try delicious, chewy, crispy vegan food without cooking
Vegans often can’t wait to feed you vegan versions of your favorite foods! Try meeting a new vegan friend at vegan Meetups worldwide. Or make easy, filling, plant-based, zero-waste recipes from the Food Shift Cookbook, or look to The Plantiful Kitchen for how to reduce plastic and eat seasonally.
Day 3: Put a brick in your fridge
If you keep your fridge somewhat full with food (or a brick), you’ll save money by being more energy efficient. Thanks to Kaitlin Cordes for telling me about this in 31 Days of Climate Action.
Day 4: Put your money in banks that don’t fund polluting fossil fuels
Switch to banks listed at Bank.Green, such as credit unions. Credit unions can often help you earn more with higher interest rates than banks. And you’ll need to save money for your next mission (should you choose to accept it) below.
Day 5: Clean asthma-causing, polluting gas ovens (or get rebates to replace them and water heaters)
New and existing water heaters and ovens leak polluting methane whether they’re on or off. And that’s bad for your health and the planet. Also, stoves with pilot lights leak a lot more than those with electric ignition. If your building has poor ventilation, or if you don’t use the range hood when cooking, within minutes, the indoor level of asthma-causing nitrogen dioxide could exceed the EPA’s outdoor standard. Nitrogen dioxide has also been associated with premature death. If your burners burn orange flames, it’s likely leaking unhealthy methane, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide.
So keep your gas stove burners clean, centered, and well-seated, and fix them if they’re not lighting quickly. Search for financial incentives in your area to help you replace them with the most sustainable options such as electric induction ranges and solar water heaters, or possibly save even more money and run an electric water heater with electricity-generating solar panels on your roof.
Day 6: Try the latest less-polluting heating and cooling gadgets that don’t cause asthma
Using an air conditioner to cool your building contributes to global warming because they often use hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants. HFCs have 1,000 to 9,000 times the potential to warm the atmosphere than carbon dioxide does.
You can get away from polluting air conditioners and gas heating furnaces and make your home more efficient with an electric heat pump. Instead of burning fuel to make heat, heat pumps transfer heat from one place to another.
It can be more energy efficient to get an electric heat pump to cool and heat your whole building as opposed to installing one in each room. But it can cost thousands and usually needs to be installed by professionals and requires permits. The best time to do it is when you need new central air conditioners, because it costs only a little more to get one that provides both cooling and heating.
If you can’t afford one, try a more affordable, quiet, in-window unit that you can install yourself into a standard 120V outlet. For example, Gradient uses R32, a lower global warming potential (GWP) refrigerant. It’s available in summer 2022. Climate Friendly Cooling also lists more air conditioners and heat pumps for homes and commercial buildings. Search for financial incentives in your area. Or get no money down heating and cooling systems with source heat pump systems in small to medium buildings through companies like Sealed or Blocpower.
Day 7: Tell litter to take a hike!
Whew! That was a lot of action to take all at once. If you did it all (or even a little), it’s time to take a break and smell the roses. Find your favorite local, regional, state, or national park and enjoy the bounty that nature has to offer. While you’re at it, look for any information posted there or at Earth911 on where you can recycle or compost near there. Or just keep it simple: Bring a tote bag with you on the walk and pick up any litter you come across along the way. When people see you doing that, research shows they’ll litter less. Also, you might get thanked! People thank me when they see me picking up waste to save animals from accidentally eating strange and ungodly things.
Week 2: Change your community
Since 1900, nonviolent movements changed regimes twice as often as those that employed violence. In most countries where 3.5 percent of the population was actively mobilized, they succeeded within a year—though it’s unclear how many nonactively mobilized sympathizers were needed at that time.
The main reason people try something new is because they see people around them doing it. So instead of attempting to change someone, maybe change yourself. In a study published in Science, when 25 percent or more people in a group tried something new, everyone else in the group did too.
Transformational change about this or that is not necessarily about knowing more about this or that. “Studies show that education alone often has little or no effect on sustainable behavior,” says Doug McKenzie-Mohr, author of Fostering Sustainable Behavior. You can read more about that and more in his first chapter for free. Read the rest of his how-to book online, or meet and get help from the author and other experts. It starts with modeling for yourself, your friends and loved ones, and your community the actions you believe are best for healthy living and a healthy planet. Research shows that friends usually are the best persuaders.
Since refrigerant management is a top climate solution, chill out and invite your friends to take the pledge to buy less-polluting refrigerant products and safely dispose of them. You can also help organizations do that with the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council and Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development Recommendations for Climate Friendly Refrigerant Management and Procurement.
Week 3: Celebrate Earth Day on April 22
Find fun Earth Day events worldwide or post yours.
Week 4: Change the institutions, corporations, and governments that aren’t taking action like you are
Install the UFTF (UnF*** the Future) browser extension. If you’re reading a depressing web story with topics like “climate crisis,” “heat wave,” or “biodiversity loss,” you’ll see a UFTF pop-up inviting you to self-soothe with a click to change corporations and governments. Then they’ll give you a prize “in the form of an outdated ’90s pun or a promise of banana bread.” They’ll only invite you to take vetted actions from credible organizations. And you can submit your own actions for them to share.
Ask me about counterintuitive ways to create change or why you shouldn’t just plant any tree to save the earth, or ask me about off-the-eaten-path recipes created by people who come from the countries of the food they feature.