What Can I Actually Do About Climate Change? Your Choices Really Do Add Up

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The latest report from the United Nations' scientific panel on climate change said the world will reach an environmental crisis by 2040 if immediate action isn't taken to slow global warming. While the report calls for sweeping changes to the world economy, individuals still matter when it comes to climate change. It's like voting — everyone's actions add up to determine what happens in the end. In this case, whether the Earth turns into a fiery hellscape or keeps us alive.

The UN report found that the atmosphere will warm up by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels within a few decades if current greenhouse gas emissions continue. This would intensify droughts, coastal flooding, wildfires, food shortages, and poverty, as The New York Times reports. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was asked to produce the study as part of the Paris Agreement, an international treaty aimed at slowing global warming. President Donald Trump said he intends to remove the U.S. from the agreement, despite the fact that the U.S. is the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, behind China.

The Trump administration disbanded an advisory panel on climate change, rolled back regulations on power plant pollution, moved to scrap regulations on vehicles' fuel economy, and wants to revive the coal industry. Because the White House has a track record of opposing efforts to thwart climate change, it's all the more important that people who want the Earth to still be around when they're 50 take action.

Eat Less Meat

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Before you roll your eyes, know that Americans eat more meat than almost any other nation and are on track to eat more meat in 2018 than ever before. At the same time, studies show that reducing global meat consumption is critical to combating global warming, as the livestock industry produces 15 percent of all global emissions.

This isn't to say that everyone has to go vegan immediately, because — let's be honest — that's unrealistic. But cutting back to only eating meat a few times a week is a good start.

Reuse What You Can

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“We all like to put the blame on someone else, the government, or businesses. … But between 60-80 percent of the impacts on the planet come from household consumption," Diana Ivanova, a PhD candidate at Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Industrial Ecology Programme, said in a 2016 press release. "If we change our consumption habits, this would have a drastic effect on our environmental footprint as well.”

Cutting back on consumption means buying less and reusing what you can. Recycling uses less energy than making new products from scratch, but it still uses energy nonetheless. Have an empty glass bottle? Use it to store leftovers, or turn it into a new vase for flowers. About to toss out a ribbon? Save it for the next birthday present you need to wrap. Bought a new toaster? Find a friend who could use your old one, or donate it.

Follow Tippi Thole, a zero waste aficionado, on Instagram for inspiration on minimizing your trash.

Buy Less Plastic In The First Place

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Of course, using less plastic is better for the environment than trying to reuse it once it's in your possession, and it's nearly impossible to reuse the plastic wrappers most food comes in. Shopping at a farmer's market, or any store that allows you to skip the plastic bags whenever possible kills two birds with one stone: You can avoid useless packaging and buy more veggies to replace a meat-heavy meal. Don't forget to take a reusable tote bag so your efforts aren't immediately foiled.

Follow Anne-Marie Bonneau, the "zero waste chef," on Instagram for beautiful shots of what plastic-free shopping can look like.

Compost Your Food Scraps

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Municipal landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the U.S., according to the EPA. When food decays in a landfill — without access to air — it produces methane that then escapes to the atmosphere to trap heat radiating from Earth (i.e. causes global warming).

Since humans aren't going to stop eating food anytime soon, the simple solution is to compost. Find out if your city collects food waste or your local farmer's market takes food scraps to compost. If so, try keeping a bag of food waste in your freezer until it's time to take it out so it doesn't smell. If you have a backyard, start your own compost pile.

Use Public Transportation

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Just 100 companies are responsible for 71 percent of global emissions, according to the 2017 Carbon Majors Report, and that list includes ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, and Chevron. These companies are unlikely to change their entire company structure in order to stop mining fossil fuels, but people choosing to drive less would push the demand for gas down.

With that in mind, carpool more often and take public transportation whenever possible. If you live in a big city with a vast public transportation system, utilize it (even when you're feeling lazy).

Hang Dry Your Laundry

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Saving energy in general helps cut back on emissions, and tumble dryers use a lot of it — especially if you don't have a newer, more energy-efficient one at your disposal. Hanging up your clothes to dry gets around this problem. And you don't need a clothes line running through your backyard as movies would suggest (though, by all means, go the classic route if you want). A small drying rack that's easy to store in a closet will do the trick.

You might even save money on your next electricity bill.

Vote With Climate Change In Mind

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The IPCC's report explains that transforming the world economy in the next few years is the only way to avoid the worst potential effects of climate change. It recommends placing heavy taxes on carbon dioxide emissions, which would only be possible if the government were on board.

Before heading to the polls on Nov. 6, make sure you plan to vote for candidates at every level of government who will fight climate change. The Natural Resources Defense Council has a list of current U.S. representatives that received its endorsement. And women candidates such as Hiral Tipirneni, a Democrat running for Congress in Arizona, and Christine Hallquist, a Democrat running for governor of Vermont, vow to protect the environment if elected.

Don't wait around for other people to stop climate change. What you do matters.