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9 Actions You Can Take To Combat Climate Change

If the UN report freaked you out, here's what you can do.

by JR Thorpe
A firefighter operates at the site of a wildfire. To fight combat change, individuals can help by ma...

Changing to reusable grocery bags, recycling, biking rather than taking a car — you’re probably well-versed in the little ways you can help the environment. But the release of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s report on Aug. 9 showed that the impact climate change is getting worse — and it’s on governments and corporations to make sweeping changes. Now.

“Climate change isn't something we can solve by changing how we shop, how we eat, and how we travel, although all of those things do matter,” Steve Easterbrook, Ph.D., director of the School of the Environment at the University of Toronto, tells Bustle. “The changes we need to make involve a fundamental transformation of society.”

The IPCC report says that climate change has “unequivocally” been caused by humans. It also notes that “immediate, rapid, and large-scale reductions” in emissions worldwide are needed to stop the planet from heating by more than 1.5° Celsius, which would cause catastrophic damage — think, continued massive heat waves, worsening droughts, more destructive wildfires, and more intense storms. Though the climate change we’ll see over the next 30 or so years is inevitable, the report also found that limiting the degree of warming to 1.5° Celsius is still possible, meaning the planet can avoid an even worse outcome.

Governments and corporations need to make big changes to lower emissions and tackle the climate crisis, Easterbrook says. “But they will only do this if we, the people, demand it.” That means you have an opportunity to help — here’s how.

Call Your Representatives About Climate Action

Easterbrook says now is the time to make the politicians in your area feel that climate change is a critical issue for their voters. “Does your local representative know how you feel about climate change? Have you written to them?” He recommends joining political organizations campaigning for urgent climate action, turning up to protest marches, and signing petitions. Make sure your voter registration is up to date, and pay attention to local elections as well as national ones. (Or run for office yourself!)

Want to know which policies to support? Sabrina Fu, Ph.D., professor of environmental science at the University of Maryland, suggests looking at non-partisan solutions such as carbon fee and dividend, otherwise known as a carbon tax. “There is even a bill presently in the House, called the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, that you can call your members of Congress about,” she says.

On the local level, Teresa Kramarz, Ph.D., associate professor and research associate at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto, tells Bustle that you can pressure your local government into going beyond lip service. “Call on elected officials to take meaningful climate action, like creating carbon budgets in city planning,” she says.

Learn Who Plays What Role In Climate Change

Experts recommend reading up on who’s responsible for the bulk of emissions. (Hint: it’s not your neighbor who doesn’t sort her recycling.) “A handful of companies have been the vast contributors to climate change since 1988,” Kramarz says. These organizations — think, fossil fuel firms — are responsible for the lion’s share of global emissions usage. They also lobby hard worldwide for policies that protect their profits. Knowing who plays what role can inform your personal impact on climate change in terms of how you direct your energy.

Talk About Climate Change

“The one most impactful thing you can do is to talk about your concern about climate change — to everyone you know,” Fu says.

“If we avoid talking about climate change, we'll never know how much other people around us share our concerns, and our political leaders won't know how much support there is for change,” Easterbrook says. Plus, he says, sharing your fears rather than bottling them up can be therapeutic — instead of sitting in a pool of despair, you can band together with your friends and family and do something about it.

Starting off the conversation with your own concerns and asking for help and guidance — “I’m trying to get my building to compost, but I want to know how you convinced your landlord” — may be a way to kick things off.

Bring Climate Change Action To Your Job

All the organizations in your life make choices that affect the planet, and that includes your workplace. Kramarz says that it’s time for employees to demand accountability from employers. Are they investing pensions and investments into companies that contribute to the climate problem? Can you push them to divest from fossil fuel companies, or use more sustainable materials? Can you and co-workers create a climate change plan that sets targets to make your work more eco-friendly?

Conversely, if you’re thinking about a job change, Easterbrook suggests looking at your skills and knowledge, and seeing how they might apply to the climate change fight. “Your skills will be needed somewhere,” he says.

Challenge Your Family & Friends To Reduce Their Consumption

Your choices about personal consumption do affect the world, but doing them in groups makes them more powerful, experts say. If you choose to change how you consume — like walking or biking to work instead of using a carpool — get other people involved.

“Whatever changes you want to make in your own life, get together with friends and family and do them together,” Easterbrook says. For one, it's much easier when you have an accountability buddy, and for another, it makes a much bigger impact. Challenging all your friends to walk, bike, or catch public transport to work for a month can cut down on emissions from road vehicles, which make up 75% of all emissions from transport.

Change The Way You Eat

Not sure where to start when it comes to changing your day-to-day life? Susan Clark Ph.D., assistant professor at the Department of Environment & Sustainability at the University of Buffalo, tells Bustle that food is a good place to start, for you, friends, family, and workmates.

Eat less meat, purchase food and items produced locally whenever possible, and reduce the amount of food waste your household produces,” she says. Doing this collectively, and encouraging those around you to get other people involved, will increase the power of your choices. An entire borough advocating for better food waste infrastructure, or for your neighborhood supermarket to carry more local produce, is more likely to be heard — and more likely to make impactful changes.

Reconsider How You Consume

“People in developed countries need to change their relationship with consumption,” Kramarz says. That means looking at your energy usage and thinking of low-fossil fuel alternatives for everything you do, from your travel plans to entertainment and fashion choices. One easy swap? If you’re shopping online, make one bulk order instead of buying what you need in increments, suggests The New York Times’ Wirecutter; you’ll reduce the number of delivery trucks on the road. Buying and consuming less overall, Clark says, is “probably the hardest but one of the most impactful ways to reduce your carbon footprint.”

Support Places Doing The Right Thing

Put your voice, and your money, into companies who are making eco-friendly choices and using green energy, Clark says. “Supporting corporations and businesses that are meaningfully changing their business models to reduce their impact on the environment can help to change the larger system,” she says. You can also help make it clear that not going green has a price. “Tweet and call out advertising firms and news outlets that run PR ads to help fossil fuel companies green their image,” Kramarz suggests.

Invest In Climate Initiatives

Got some spare cash? Consider investing it in eco-friendly community projects. “Invest in socially responsible initiatives that help communities become more resilient to climate related hazards and threats like sea level rise or wildfire,” Dr. Clark suggests. For instance, you can invest in wind turbines, organic farms, or forest resilience programs. Whether it’s close to you or far away, it’s an investment in the future.

Individual action won’t be enough to stop the course of climate change, Clark says, but pulling together to fight can make a big difference. “To change the larger system, individuals need to rally and vote for government officials and decision-makers who make addressing the issue of climate change a priority.” So do a J.Lo, and let’s get loud.


Susan Clark Ph.D., assistant professor at the Department of Environment & Sustainability at the University of Buffalo

Steve Easterbrook, Ph.D., director of the School of the Environment at the University of Toronto

Sabrina Fu, Ph.D., professor of environmental science at the University of Maryland

Teresa Kramarz Ph.D., associate professor and research associate at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto