Updated: Nov 4, 2020
The year is 2020. Our planet, Earth, is experiencing unprecedented warming, leading to
extreme weather patterns and the suffering of millions in a socially unequal way. American and global politics are a trash fire and seem unwilling and unable to address the problem. That said, there are things that we, as individual consumers, can do to help stem the tide of our environmental horror. From reducing our reliance on single-use plastics to choosing more sustainable diets and daily routines, the 7+ billion of us across the world can make a difference in setting the standard and following through on what a truly symbiotic relationship between human and Earth can look like.
Environmental efforts are led from every level of organization - schools, businesses, non-profits, and governments local, state, and federal. As the environmentalist Serena Carmona-Hester points out, many of these efforts can be (and often are) colored by the racial and class biases inherent in these organizations. However, individuals can make choices that benefit the environment in ways that don’t skew the overall health and well-being of less-privileged members of society. Below are just a handful of ways that any person can make small changes in their life that benefit the planet and our fellow humans.
None of these suggestions will likely be popular with the vast majority of the population, but let’s examine exactly why they are being made. The average American diet consists of a wide variety of cuisines, most of which are very heavily reliant on animal meat - particularly cows. The environmental cost of raising a cow from birth to hamburger is massive in comparison to the nutritional value of the water and crops consumed in the process, not to mention the amount of forest land that is cut down to create livestock-raising areas. Similarly, consumption of dairy products requires the maintenance of the livestock necessary to produce them, and comparable products such as soy, almond, and coconut based products (for example) have a much lesser negative effect on the environment. You don’t have to go vegan tomorrow, but if presented with the choice between beef and chicken, or chicken and fish, or fish and vegetable-based alternatives, make the choice that will have the smallest impact. The same holds true for milks, cheeses, and other products!
Most people know that the vast majority of carbon emissions come from cruise ships and commercial aircraft, per capita. However, there’s no denying that with the millions of cars that we drive every day, there are ways that the collective “we” could reduce our impact on the environment by choosing alternative methods of transportation. A bus with as few as seven passengers is more fuel-efficient than the average single-occupant automobile used for commuting, and choosing a bicycle, scooter, or walking would have an even bigger impact. The health impacts of both being active and interacting with other people in your community even provide a positive incentive!
Reduce Your Waste
We all know that we should be recycling as much as possible, the idea being that something we’ve used can be reformed and reused for someone else. Not many people know exactly how recycling works and how efficient it is. While recycling plastics and metals is not a perfect process, it still reduces the amount of raw materials used in order to provide the commodities of everyday life. Furthermore, reducing waste applies to more than just recycling your metals, plastics, and glass. Using reusable bags when grocery shopping, composting biodegradable materials, and yes - using paper straws are all ways for us to reduce the impact that we have on the environment.
While the effects of what each of us can do on an individual level are small, when considered as a part of a multi-billion person conglomerate, we can both signal to our governments and prove through our actions that we care about the future of our planet and our species. Of course, don’t take these actions as alternatives to political participation, environmental activism, or community organization. This is our one planet, we need to do whatever we can to keep it nice, pretty, and liveable. Every action is a statement. Make sure your statements represent who you are and who you want to be.