Recently, everyone has felt the pressure of environmental pollution around them. This is not a new problem, but it is tough to find a solution to.
Most pollution comes from power plants and large industrial production companies, making it primarily up to them to reverse the rapid effects pollution is having on the world. So the question becomes; what can I do as a regular person in my daily life to help protect the environment?
Take advantage of public transport options in your area.
Beginning with a basic explanation, greenhouse gasses (GHGs), when released into the air, trap heat in our atmosphere. Motor vehicles are responsible for removing nearly 1.4 billion tons of GHGs annually, according to a recent report; around 20 pounds of GHG are released with each gallon of burned gasoline.
Considering this, switching to public transport even a few days a week means fewer gallons of gas being burned and fewer tons of GHGs getting released into the atmosphere. A University of California Los Angles (UCLA) transportation study found that using public transportation resulted in a 45% reduction in carbon emissions for an individual when compared to driving alone in a standard vehicle.
Outside of this, public transportation can also help people save money, time, and energy. That being said, public transportation isn’t a realistic option for many people depending on the area you live in and what job you have. Don’t worry; plenty of alternatives help you be greener.
Begin cultivating a garden.
Although less impactful than our previous option, growing some of your food can help reduce your carbon footprint in surprising ways. Of course, there’s the apparent impact of planting more things that pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, one of the primary gasses in GHGs. But depending on what you grow, you can optimize your garden to impact your carbon emissions significantly.
If you’re buying less of your fruits, vegetables, and herbs from the store, you contribute to reducing emissions from food packaging, storing, shipping, and refrigerating. However, you do have to be careful that you don’t use too much water, pesticides, or plastic materials that would offset your positive impact; one of the best ways to do this is by composting existing food waste from your house into the garden, according to a UC Santa Barbara study.
This not only reduces the emissions that would be released in the process of disposing of your trash that is instead composted, but it also gets rid of the need for unnaturally produced pesticides or other packaged fertilizers, cutting out GHG contributions in multiple ways and making it an excellent option for reducing your carbon footprint.
Reduce your meat consumption.
Thirdly, switching to plant-based eating is a great way for an individual to impact the environment. Global industrial meat production rivals only transportation and motor vehicles as a contributor to climate change. This is because they not only release lots of GHGs during the processing and packaging of the meat but also in the process of feeding and housing the animals, which leads to lots of deforestation to create space for crops and livestock.
To elaborate, according to a Greenpeace study, over a quarter of the land in the entire world is used to grow food to feed farm animals. This is incredibly inefficient because that land could be used to grow crops to feed people or grow plants that would reduce rather than contribute to global warming.
In that same study, it was determined that if everyone in the world could switch to a plant-based diet, people would be using 75% less farmland than we use today, significantly contributing to slowing climate change. Although it may not be realistic to have everyone make the change, the benefits to the environment from a plant-based diet are clear.
Reduce your dairy consumption.
Similarly to meat production, the dairy industry significantly impacts the environment and can be an easier change for people to make to their diet. If cutting out meat seems like too big of a difference for you, you can still do your part to reduce your carbon footprint in your diet by being more thoughtful about how much dairy you eat.
Methane is a GHG 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and cattle are one of the most significant contributors to methane production, making the dairy industry broadly environmentally impactful. Milk production contributes 2.9% of all human-caused GHG emissions according to Food and Agriculture Organization statistics.
Outside of GHGs, dairy products can also impact local water supplies if fertilizer or manure is mishandled, as well as contribute to deforestation. Although one person’s choice to stop eating dairy will not end these environmental impacts, it will make your contribution to the destruction of Earth’s atmosphere much less.
Shop secondhand or sustainably.
Last but certainly not least, positively impacting the environment is to shop sustainably. That may sound intimidating, but switching from regular to sustainable shopping can be accomplished through small steps, like bringing reusable bags or containers to the grocery store so you don’t use single-use plastic bags. It may also look like buying used clothes to avoid a fast fashion cycle that creates more unnecessary waste.
Making and disposing of plastics is hugely environmentally costly; it’s part of why all the things we have discussed so far contribute to climate change. According to a 2019 report from the Center for International Environmental Law, by 2030, the plastic industry will be annually releasing 1.34 billion tons of GHGs if no changes are made to slow its projected trajectory.
Whether it's clothes, food, or other products you buy, slowing your use of single-use plastic is another way you can impact pollution as an individual.
We all have a responsibility to each other and ourselves to be looking out for ways we can make positive changes for the environment. Every year we continue to contribute to environmental pollution our air quality gets worse, leading to chronic health issues, and the average global temperature rises, as do sea levels as ice in the north and south poles continues to melt.
We know that the rate at which pollution is occurring is not sustainable; unless we want to find ourselves hurtling towards a point where the Earth is inhabitable, people have to start doing things differently now. Changing your daily habits might seem small, but we all have to do something if we want to protect the future of our planet, which is something in the best interest of everyone.
For more information on how to reduce your carbon footprint, you can visit your local parks and recreation office, get in touch with a local environmental activist group, or check out these articles from Columbia and Georgetown. Remember, if you do better, the world will be better.
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