Climate activists have been sounding the alarm on climate change for over two decades, but the issue has only gained remarkable traction worldwide in the past few years, thanks in part to the dire report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a UN-funded coalition of scientists who produce ground-breaking reports on climate progress. In 2018, the IPCC estimated that we had 12 years to prevent global warming from surpassing 1.5°C pre-industrial levels. With two years down, we’re no closer to reaching our carbon emissions reduction goals, and as international negotiations stagnate, it’s time for individuals to collectively take up the fight to address climate catastrophe.
For those working in the environmental and energy sectors, the challenge can be quite frustrating. Scientists, economists, researchers, policy analysts, activists, and others have dedicated years of work and study to develop comprehensive solutions to our most pressing climate and energy challenges. Unfortunately, these solutions have been blocked by powerful corporate interests, international disputes on burden sharing, and an intense climate-denial information campaign.
But we're still in this fight to save our planet and our civilization. There are several ways you can get involved locally, nationally, or internationally to help mitigate the effects of climate change and help protect the future of human civilization.
- Take public transit or buy an electric car.
These might seem pretty self-evident, but carbon emissions from the transportation sector accounted for 29% of total greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. in 2019. Yes, it’s really time to make different choices in transportation.
Moreover, reorienting our energy matrix to depend primarily on renewable energy doesn’t guarantee we reach net-zero carbon emissions. In a country like Costa Rica, for instance, who has run on nearly 100% renewable energy for several years, 98% of the transportation sector still relies on traditional gasoline and diesel vehicles. Because less than 2% of Costa Rica’s transportation fleet is electric or hybrid, the country’s demand for oil and gas is actually increasing. Fighting climate change is also about electrifying every single other sector of the economy to ensure that our carbon footprint is heavily minimized or completely reduced.
Think more critically about your commute to work, school, or social events. Plan in advance to take public transit or walk instead of relying on Uber and Lyft. If you’re buying a car, prioritize electric or hybrid vehicles. Support local measures that invest in mass public transit, and avoid flying on trips if your destination can also be plausibly reached by bus or train.
- Start making choices that reflect your commitment to sustainability.
From food, to clothes, to stock investments, you have the power to make conscious consumer choices. Moreover, it’s critical that consumers make choices that send market signals to companies that their clients prioritize sustainability. Stop buying into fast fashion and switch to produce and food products imported under fair trade regulations. Divest from fossil fuel stocks and instead consider investing in renewable energy. Donate to local, national, or international nonprofits and NGOs that are fighting climate change through innovative methods.
Energy efficiency is a growing industry that has become critical to reducing emissions, cutting energy costs, and creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs for American workers transitioning out of fossil fuels. Students and young adults might not have as much control over energy efficiency upgrades in their leases, but there are several steps you can take within your residence to help reduce energy usage.
Turn off your lights before you leave or when you’re going to bed, and unplug appliances from the wall socket (including your plug extension or power strip). Even when they’re turned off or not in use, devices or cables plugged into the wall socket consume energy. Use energy-efficient light bulbs and invest in energy-efficient appliances. Adjust your thermostat, insulate your windows, and wash your clothes in cold water. Talk to your landlord about energy efficiency upgrades.
This doesn’t mean becoming a political junkie. You don’t need to understand the complexities of political theory and philosophy, nor must you keep up with every piece of legislation in development in state and federal government. But you must exercise your right to vote, and to exercise your right, you must be informed. We have dozens of policy solutions to the imminent threat posed by climate change, but ultimately we must start electing government leaders who will enact these policy reforms. However flawed our democracy might be, it is incumbent upon us as individuals to voice our opinions and elect the candidates that best represent our goals and interests.
If you’re passionate about climate change - which we all should be, because it poses such an existential threat to our society - you can join the fight. Whether that means campaigning for a local election, volunteering on a presidential campaign, calling your representatives to urge them to vote on a bill or measure, or merely staying informed and researching the policy platforms that candidates have proposed, it’s important to be at least somewhat involved in our political process to help move this country in the right direction.
At the end of the day, we can lament our government for stagnating on climate policy, and we can scorn large corporations for failing to use their sheer volume of capital to invest in climate solutions. But it will take action by both the public and private sectors to start implementing solutions, and it’s up to us as individuals to help push both entities in the right direction.