7 meaningful ways for individuals to help fight climate change (Guest post by Radhika C)
This article is a guest post written by Radhika Chandorkar, in a series done in Collaboration with in-yūgen, a sustainable lifestyle platform that helps you find ways to improve your environmental impact. Visit her website & Instagram page linked at the bottom of the article to stay updated on the current happenings in the world environment news, & how you can do your bit.
Lately, the world has been immersed in memories of a feat that will always mark a turning point in our planet's history. The 20th of July was the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, and it's still probably one of the grandest moments of our species. Not just for its technological accomplishments or even for the shift in perspective, it gave us of Earth and our place in the universe – but also because it told us that we're capable of performing outrageously remarkable things. It instilled some much-needed faith in ourselves as a species.
Here's the thing, though.
Climate change is here, and it's escalating.
What we do now and over the next few years determines the degree to which it will spiral, and the amount of hope we should have for our planet's future.
If that sounds dire, that's because it is. We (and specifically us, here, in India) need to be taking far more action than we are already, to combat climate change.
Why India, Specifically, Should Care About Climate Change:
- Our role in it: India is the world's 3rd largest emitter of GHG (greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, which trap heat on Earth and warm the planet); although our emission levels per capita (for each individual) are really low, we're a developing country with a growing population, so our energy use is only going to increase. India is heavily dependent on fossil fuels (the biggest contributor to carbon emissions) for energy
- Our vulnerability to it: India is among the countries that will be most severely affected by climate change for many reasons including our tropical hot climate, our dependence on predictable monsoons (which have already been destabilised) for agriculture, our large coastlines and our poverty levels
Tackling climate change needs drastic action from our government, industries and businesses – that's irrefutable; but what we do as individuals can make a difference as well. Apart from directly reducing our ecological footprint, our actions carry meaning: they represent our values, have the potential to inspire others to also care about and protect the environment, and they can also help quell the existential dread that climate change does tend to evoke from time to time.
Doing our bit doesn't have to mean a complete overhaul of every aspect of our lifestyle or beating ourselves up about certain things that simply cannot be helped. It just means asking ourselves if there's a better way to do what we do, and doing it if we can.
Opportunities for us to meaningfully improve our environmental impact
#1: The way we eat: choosing more plants, less meat and reducing our waste
The meat and dairy industries take a heavy toll on the planet.
- The livestock sector is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases and one of the leading causal factors in the loss of biodiversity; in developing and emerging countries, it is perhaps the leading source of water pollution (1)
- Adopting more plant-based diets could reduce greenhouse gases of the food system by more than half (2)
- Producing 1 pound of animal protein requires about 100 times more water than producing 1 pound of grain protein; also incredibly relevant, given India's water crisis (3)
Even food loss and waste contribute significantly to GHG emissions: a whole 8% of the total human activity that emits greenhouse gases. Reducing food waste is one of the most important things we can do to reverse global warming.
#2: The way we move: walking more than driving, carpooling and taking trains instead of planes
Transportation accounts for 29% of all greenhouse gas emissions – it's the largest generator of emissions. This mainly comes from burning fossil fuels for our cars, trucks, ships, trains and planes.
So, opportunities to improve our impact come in the form of:
- Fuel: Using vehicles fuelled by compressed natural gas (CNG) rather than gasoline or diesel, using hybrid or electric vehicles (if the energy is generated from lower-carbon or non-fossil fuels)
- Mode: Walking or cycling are the greenest forms of moving, but choosing public transport and carpooling also generates fewer GHG emissions than driving
- Travel: Air travel is a massive guzzler of fossil fuels; taking a bus or train or even driving in a fuel-efficient car (especially with other people) would generate fewer GHG emissions
#3: The clothes we wear: make them last
Fast fashion has developed into an environmental as well as social justice crisis; the bottomless pit of consumer demand for the latest trends and new clothes has affected the world in many ways.
- The farmers: Keeping up with the unrelenting pace of demand drove cotton farmers into buying GMO seeds that promised quicker growth rates but were more expensive; this has left farmers in crippling debt (4)
- The workers: Apart from the unsafe processes and hazardous substances involved in the fast fashion industry, its working environment is also made dangerous by the time pressure and demand for cheap labour (the Rana Plaza disaster demonstrated this); there have also been recorded instances of modern slavery and child labour in the industry (5)
- The emissions: The oil to produce synthetic fibres, fertilisers for cotton and chemicals used for various processes all mainly depend on non-renewable sources of energy; in 2015, the GHG emissions from textiles outnumbered those from all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
- The pollution: the dying and treatment of textiles significantly contributes to water pollution while the plastics used in clothes like polyester, nylon and acrylic end up shedding microplastics into our oceans (about half a million tonnes every year) (6)
- The waste: Used clothes are rarely ever put back into circulation; every second, 1 truckload of clothing is landfilled or incinerated (7)
Changing the way we buy clothes could mean buying less and, when we do, buying clothes with natural, organically grown fibres that will last.
#4: The resources we use:
- Energy: Electricity accounts for 28% of GHG emissions; being careful with our use of electricity is in the best interest of our bills as well. If you're replacing appliances, find energy-efficient options. Switch off what isn't being used and find ways to use cleaner sources of energy (like solar)
- Water: As mentioned earlier, India is in the middle of a water crisis and climate change is only going to make it a scarcer resource; find ways to cut down on your use of water and to re-use what you do use
#5: Our waste
India generates 62 million tonnes of waste every year.
- Landfills release 12% of the world's total methane Methane is a potent greenhouse gas: over the course of a century, it has 34 times the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide.(8)
- India's waste is mostly made up of organic waste (all kinds of biodegradable waste), dry waste (or recyclable waste) and biomedical waste (sanitary or hazardous waste).(9)
Looking at these categories, it's clear that we (the citizens) have some amount of control over the waste we're generating.
One impactful way is cutting down on food waste, as covered earlier, but the crux of the solution to our waste problems lies in segregating our wet and dry waste. The dry can be sent for recycling and the wet can be composted.
Segregation is incredibly important, because once the organic matter is mixed with the dry waste, the latter is no longer fit for recycling and the entire content gets sent to the landfill.
#6: Planting trees
Trees can play a significant role in tackling the climate crisis; they absorb carbon dioxide, reducing its levels in the atmosphere.
If physically planting trees isn't possible, you can also help others plant them by using search engines like Ecosia (which plants trees by donating 80% or more of its surplus income to non-profit organisations that focus on reforestation and conservationism) or directly donating to organisations like grow-trees.
#7: Our collective voices
A number of climate scientists have said that the most important thing we can do to tackle the climate crisis is to talk about it.
Research shows that just discussing the issue with friends and family helps them learn more about it, which in turn leads to greater acceptance and concern.
With concern comes the possibility of action. And that's what we need: on a personal, collective and government level.
It's not going to be easy; fighting climate change is most likely going to be humanity's greatest challenge yet, but it's one we can rise to; just look up at that moon. We've found our way to the skies; we're more than capable of finding our balance here on Earth. All we need is faith in ourselves.
Guest written by:
Founder of in-yūgen, a sustainable lifestyle platform that helps you find ways to improve your environmental impact.