This article has been updated from the original.
By now most of us have heard the statistics. If we don’t limit our planet’s warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, we will set in motion cataclysmic change that will result in lost ecosystems and irreversible damage to our planet.
Some of these changes are already occurring.
The last 40 years have seen the warmest surface temperatures in recorded history. The past several years have been among the warmest on record. Spring of 2019 set a record for the highest amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in 800,000 years.
Scientists have concluded that human activity, primarily the burning of fossil fuels, is the major driving factor in climate change. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “Fossil fuels like coal and oil contain carbon that plants pulled out of the atmosphere by photosynthesis over the span of many millions of years; we are returning that carbon to the atmosphere in just a few hundred years.”
What You Can Do
The goal has always been to bring climate change under control by stopping the release of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping “greenhouse” gases. But sometimes it seems as though we’re fighting a losing battle. What can an individual really do?
No matter where you live, you can contribute to the solution with actions that reach far beyond your own home. Your efforts are especially significant in countries like the US and Canada, where we release over 10,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per person every year.
To start with, let’s look at where the bulk of carbon emissions are coming from every year. The US Environmental Protection Agency offered this image to show the breakdown.
As you can see, industry is only part of the picture. Residential use, along with electricity, also plays a large role. And behind each of these categories are fossil fuels.
The latest advice from scientists, economists, and climate change activists tells us the following actions will make a big difference in curtailing climate change.
Remove your money from banking institutions that fund fossil fuel expansion.
“It’s all but impossible for most of us to stop using fossil fuels immediately, especially since, in many places, the fossil fuel and utility industries have made it difficult and expensive to install solar panels on your roof. But it’s both simple and powerful to switch your bank account.”–Bill McKibben
Since the Paris agreement was adopted in 2016, banks from the USA, Canada, China, Europe, and Japan have financed the fossil fuel sector by $1.9 trillion. These investments don’t just go to subsidizing current operations, they also fund industry expansion.
The top ten investors in fossil fuels fund some of the most harmful projects on the planet, targeting reserves scientists say must stay in the ground if we are to come close to meeting our targets.
If your bank accounts are with these banks, you can send a message by switching. If one of these banks holds the mortgage on your house or property, make a change when you renew. And don’t forget to tell your bank why you’re leaving.
The top ten investors in fossil fuel expansion are listed below. For a full list of all banks supporting fossil fuel expansion, see RAN’s at a glance report card on world banks.
- JP Morgan Chase (USA)
- Wells Fargo (USA)
- Citi (USA)
- Bank of America (USA)
- RBC (Canada)
- Barclays (UK)
- MUFG (Japan)
- TD (Canada)
- Scotiabank (Canada)
- Mizhuo (Japan)
Find out if your pension funds are invested in fossil fuels.
Many of us don’t think about the portions of our pensions being used to fund oil drilling and extraction in some of the planet’s most important reserves. On average, a diversified portfolio will have about 10% of its investments in fossil fuels.
As of September 2019, more than 110 institutions managing over $11 trillion in assets have committed to divesting in fossil fuels. This isn’t just because fund managers are concerned about climate change, although many are. It’s also because investing in fossil fuels is now seen as an increasingly risky investment.
The top asset managers investing in fossil fuel stocks include:
- Vanguard ($321 billion)
- American Funds ($140 billion)
- iShares ($113 billion)
- Fidelity Investments ($101 billion)
- State Street Global Advisors ($64 billion)
If you’re pension funds aren’t managed by one of these firms, visit fossilfreefunds.org to find out more about your specific investments. You can search by individual mutual fund or ETF. If you find your funds on the list, talk to your fund manager or financial advisor about fossil free investing.
Next, take the divestment pledge to do all you can to stop funding an industry that threatens your future.
Travel long distances selectively, using less intensive modes of transportation.
As noted on the EPA pie chart above, transportation accounts for a large portion of carbon emissions. New technologies are making transportation less emission intensive, but we’re not there yet. As our economies transition to renewable forms of energy, consider your travel habits and where they might be adjusted.
One cross-country flight (2500 miles) melts about 32 square feet of sea ice.
According to a study analyzed in the New York Times, each additional metric ton of carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere shrinks the sea ice by 32 square feet (3 square meters). That’s one cross-country flight—about 2,500 miles.
Check out the impact of your upcoming or potential flight using this flight calculator. In order to halt climate change, the average person should emit no more than 0.006 t of C02 per year. If your flight emits more than that, compensate for your emissions by choosing a carbon offset project. Or choose a less intensive method of transportation or trip.
Reduce electricity usage around the home
One of the largest sources of greenhouse gases is electric power generation by fossil fuels. The average home actually contributes more to global warming than the average car. This is because much of the energy we use in our homes comes from power plants which burn fossil fuel to power our electric products.
To reduce the amount of electricity used in our homes:
- Switch to energy-efficient lighting
Replace the familiar incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs. For each CFL bulb replacement, you’ll lower your energy bill and keep nearly 700 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the air over the bulb’s lifetime. CFL bulbs last much longer and use only a quarter of the energy consumed by conventional bulbs. LED bulbs are also energy-saving, but have a narrower range of application. Advances in LED bulb technology, however, are leading to more applications for these bulbs in the home. LEDs are more efficient than CFLs and do not have issues surrounding disposal, as do the CFLs. More info.
- Improve the efficiency of home appliances
Home appliances vary greatly in terms of energy-efficiency and operating costs. The more energy-efficient an appliance is, the less it costs to run. You can lower your utility bill and help protect the environment. Here’s how.
- Buy energy-efficient appliances when shopping for a new appliance
Do this especially when shopping for a major appliance such as a refrigerator, dishwasher, or air-conditioner – select the one with the highest energy efficiency rating. By opting for a refrigerator with the Energy Star label — indicating it uses at least 15 percent less energy than the federal requirement — you can reduce carbon dioxide pollution by nearly a ton in total. More info.
- Reduce energy needed for heating
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, heating and cooling systems in the U.S. emit over a half billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. Much of the energy used for heating our homes is wasted, and yet the prevention is, in many cases, simple and inexpensive. Here’s how.
- Reduce energy needed for cooling
Air conditioners alone use up to 1/6th of the electricity in the U.S. and, on hot summer days, consume 43% of the U.S. peak power load. You can reduce much of the need for air conditioning, and enjoy a cost savings benefit, by using ‘passive’ techniques to help cool your home. Here’s how.
Improve vehicle fuel-efficiency
Another large source of greenhouse gases is transportation. Motor vehicles are responsible for about a third of all carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. and Canada.
- Practice fuel-efficient driving
Every gallon of gasoline burned puts 26 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. You can boost the overall fuel-efficiency of your car as much as 30% by simple vehicle maintenance and attention to your style of driving. Read these tips for fuel-efficient driving.
- Buy an electric or hybrid car
Announcements from some of the world’s largest car manufacturers have signalled the eventual phasing out of the gas combustion engine. Using efficient gas-electric, or better yet, fully electric engines can cut emissions by 30 to 85%, depending on the source of your electricity. As more renewables power our electrical grids, this number will rise even higher.
- Recycle air conditioner coolant
If your car has an air conditioner, make sure you recycle its coolant whenever you have it serviced. You can save thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide each year by doing this.
- Drive less
You’ll save energy by taking the bus, riding a bike, or walking. Try consolidating trips to the mall or longer routine drives. Encourage carpooling or car sharing.
Conserve energy in the home and yard
Yard maintenance contributes significantly to greenhouse emissions. Per hour of operation, a power lawn mower emits 10-12 times as much hydrocarbon as a typical auto. A weedeater emits 21 times more and a leaf blower 34 times more.
- Reduce lawn size
Lawn size can be reduced by adding shrubs, beds, ground covers and mulched areas. Try creating a lawn area small enough to be mowed using an efficient reel (push) mower Lawn edging can be set low enough to mow over, reducing or eliminating the need for a weed-eater. Planting lawn alternatives like micro clover or Eco-Lawn will also help reduce the energy spent on your lawn.”
- Recycle whenever possible
Aluminum cans, newspapers, magazines, cardboard, glass – anything recycled reduces the energy needed to create new products. To find the recycling center nearest you, call: 1 800-CLEANUP. For ideas on home recycling, read Recycling Basics for the Home.
- Eat locally produced food
Today, the food choices available in supermarkets come from all over the world. All of this ‘traffic’ in food requires staggering amounts of fuel – generally by refrigerated airplanes or transport trucks. Food transportation is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Read 7 Principles of a Climate Friendly Diet.
- Eat vegetarian meals
Vegetarian food requires much less energy to produce. Enjoying vegetarian meals once or twice a week results in significant CO2 savings. Vegetarian Meals for Meat Lovers.
- Paint your home a light color if you live in a warm climate, or a dark color in a cold climate.
This can contribute saving up to 5000 pounds of carbon dioxide per year.
- Choose clean energy options
If you can choose your electricity supplier, pick a company that generates at least half its power from wind, solar energy and other renewable sources.
- Buy clean energy certificates and carbon offsets
Help spur the renewable energy market and cut global warming pollution with “wind certificates” or “green tags,” which represent clean power you can add to the nation’s energy grid in place of electricity from fossil fuels. More info. A “carbon offset” is an emission reduction credit which can be purchased by individuals, businesses and governments to reduce their net greenhouse gas emissions. More info.
Making energy conservation a part of our daily awareness is essential to the goal of reducing global warming.
While it may be difficult to adopt some of these suggestions, any amount of energy saved is significant. Even small changes are worthwhile, as they spark our awareness. As we become more aware of the importance of saving energy, we find ways of saving where possible.
Plant and care for trees.
In her new book, To Speak for the Trees, botanist and medical biochemist, Diana Beresford-Kroeger calculates that we can halt climate change by planting 48 billion trees. That’s one tree per person per year for six years—for everyone on the planet.
Scientists from Swiss university ETH Zurich estimated that about a trillion trees are needed in their recent study, noting how a tree’s ability to capture and store carbon is overwhelmingly the top solution for our changing climate.
When interviewed for the Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jul/04/planting-billions-trees-best-tackle-climate-crisis-scientists-canopy-emissions lead researcher Professor Tom Crowther said that tree planting is a solution that’s “available now, it is the cheapest one possible and every one of us can get involved.” They advocate planting these trees alongside other climate change solutions.
Pressure lawmakers for change.
As of September 2019, current policies around the world will not help us meet our target for a 1.5 C temperature rise. Even some of the most optimistic policies in the absence of other change will see our planet’s temperature rise almost double.
It’s going to take efforts from everyone to alter this course, especially those directly responsible for subsidizing fossil fuels. Direct action, letter writing campaigns, and meetings with your local representatives are just some of the ways you can make your opinions known to your elected representatives. Voting for people and parties with real solutions is another.
Ask your local candidates for science-based plans to tackle emissions and the scenarios above. How will they live up to or go beyond targets set international agreements?
Don’t give up.
Complacency is the reason our planet faces an unprecedented challenge. We have known about climate change and the implications of global warming since the 1970s. But acting on our knowledge has proved difficult. Pressing politicians for change and transforming the way we consume resources will have an impact. We just need to act. And then act again.