When young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg shamed global leaders at the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit, the world could no longer look away: Climate change requires our attention and action. In recent months, the coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated the short-term impact that our regular day-to-day activities have on the surrounding environment – carbon emissions have declined, water has grown clearer, and wildlife is appearing in places where high traffic has disappeared.
We can help sustain positive changes. There are easy ways we can incorporate conservation into our lifestyle with simple actions that can help slow the impacts of climate change.
Take care of your energy-consuming equipment
In the summer months and warm climates, we may need to cool the air in our homes to stay safe. While air conditioning does require energy, performing seasonal maintenance on your AC unit, such as replacing the filters and clearing out the ducts, can help save energy by ensuring the unit runs more efficiently. This can even prolong the lifespan of the air conditioner, preventing the need to replace it, thus saving the resources, energy, and transportation involved in producing the new air conditioner (while also keeping the old one out of the landfill).
Switching to smart thermostats to regulate the temperature inside your home automatically helps your HVAC unit operate the most efficiently. These smart thermostats can even be programmed to turn on and off depending on whether someone is using the room, ensuring your home is not wasting energy. Make sure windows and doors are properly sealed to prevent heat or cool air from escaping and use the simple power of window coverings to help make sure you’re capturing and using natural light to the best of your ability.
Installing smart plugs can help prevent phantom energy consumption from appliances that aren’t in use, helping to ensure computers, televisions, and other appliances aren’t draining power when they don’t need to be. Unplug and stow devices that don’t get regular use.
Think about your transportation
With so many people working from home during the first part of 2020, we’ve seen a decline in greenhouse gas emissions as fewer people use their vehicles to get to work. We can keep up the trend: Can you keep working from home, at least on some days? Can you combine your necessary errands, such as saving a trip to the grocery store for the day you also need to visit the post office or the doctor? Try to organize with those you “quaranteam” with so you’re sharing errand-running. Can you use mass transportation? It uses much less fossil fuel than if everyone using mass transit traveled in cars. Can you use a bicycle or walk? All of these are better conservation choices than making a single trip in a vehicle.
Think about what you buy and where it comes from
During the pandemic, people have tapped into the availability of delivery services to help keep themselves and others safe. Deliveries are generally better for the environment than running to the store yourself because delivery trucks and vans are making multiple stops versus making one trip for one purpose. Think about whether you can have your items delivered, and whenever possible, ensure your needed items are packaged together by choosing shipping options that delay delivery until all items are available. This prevents additional resource use from multiple deliveries (and the consumption of separate packaging).
Consider what you definitely need versus what you simply want – can you live without an item? If not, where is it coming from? How is it produced? Is it made in a country that considers environmental impact and follows sustainability principles? Are the workers being compensated fairly, and are they working in safe conditions? Are there better alternatives to the item you’ve selected? Whatever you might need, doing just a little extra research on similar products, the company’s production standards, and company philosophy might make a difference in the impact your purchase makes.
Consider your food sources
There are few greater opportunities to make a difference than in the way we choose and consume our food products. Choosing to buy organically grown produce and animal products raised on organic farms reduces the impact of chemical fertilizers on the land, for example, as well as reduces the energy needed to produce the fertilizers. The company Imperfect Foods rescues “ugly” produce that would normally be rejected by grocery outlets, and instead ships it directly to subscribers, thus saving the food from the landfill, where the organic waste would decay and create methane. Buying locally grown foods whenever possible is even better, because you eliminate the need for shipping, thus cutting out the greenhouse gases used in transporting the produce to market.
Even during the pandemic, many local farmers’ markets are still operating, with safety precautions in place. Check with your local community to find out when and where the markets are held, and what the safety requirements are. When you buy directly from local farmers, you’re supporting the income of small, local producers, and you’re eliminating the need to transport the food to a grocery store before purchase. Many local farmers also grow organically and sell directly to consumers for a much better price than you’d find from buying organic produce at a retailer. Growing your own garden at home whenever possible is always the most sustainable way to get your food, and it’s a great activity to do with your kids, especially when they may need extra activities to help keep them occupied.
Additionally, choosing a plant-based diet, or incorporating more vegetarian meals into your diet can have an incredibly strong impact on conservation. Studies show the western world’s high consumption of dairy and meat products contributes to climate change. The diet also requires large amounts of land and water to raise cattle, as well as consumes large amounts of energy to produce the meat and dairy products we eat. Plus, plant-based diets are healthier for our bodies, helping to prevent chronic illnesses, which can also contribute to climate change by requiring multiple trips to health care facilities, and the use of all equipment and energy required by diagnostic tools, pharmaceuticals, and personal protection equipment.
Making positive choices to protect the environment and reduce our impact on climate change is possible – it just takes a little extra awareness and attention.