"Climate change" can be overwhelming.
Both the magnitude of the problem and the burden of solving it can seem so colossal as to evoke a sense of powerlessness and induce more shoulder shrugging than productive action and resolve. But there are a number of things all of us can do to make a positive difference for the climate and the planet. They range from large and transformative lifestyle decisions to simple tinkering around the apartment, condo, or house.
Bikes in our office. Many NEMO folks bike to work.
1. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
You can make a huge transformative step, like selling your car and moving to a more pedestrian-oriented town or city. Or you can make a conscious effort to reduce car usage. Bicycling to work, or to the grocery store or really anywhere and everywhere makes a difference. Walking too, helps. If you like convenience of driving, fuel efficient or even electric vehicles are a good way to go. Also, fly less. Way less. Airplanes emit carbon like nobody's business. Wherever possible, take a train instead.
2. Mitigate Meat
About 10 percent of U.S. energy consumption is related to the food chain. Whether it is growing, processing, packaging or delivering food from the farm to stores or restaurants, feeding people is energy intensive. But meat production and consumption is especially so. To solve this you can become a vegetarian. Or even better, a vegan.
But if transformative lifestyle decisions aren’t your thing, any reduction in meat consumption helps. Go as big as you want here, folks. Also, 40 percent of all food produced in America ends up in a landfill. So cutting down on waste is another simple solution.
Brasen Hill, a local farm near our headquarters in New Hampshire.
3. Wanted: Organic Locavores
Speaking of diet, eating less meat is important, but eating organic can also lend an assist to the atmosphere. It’s good for your body to avoid pesticides, but many synthetic fertilizers begin as byproducts of the oil-refining process. They also contribute to the presence of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere. It isn’t as well known as carbon dioxide, but can be just as detrimental.
While buying locally may seem like another eye-roll-inducing dietary trend, anything you can do to reduce the transportation of goods helps reduce emissions. Maybe time to green that thumb. Home garden vegetables taste better and save the planet.
4. Tolerate Your Climate
About half of the electricity consumed by U.S. households is used to heat or cool the house. Clearly, there are situations, particularly winter situations, where heating is non-optional. However, the more we can learn to tolerate the natural climate, the more we can reduce our electricity consumption and benefit the planet. A couple of warm days without the AC, or a couple of cool fall nights with extra blankets can make a difference.
5. Light Bulbs and Appliances
The appliance industry has done well in making its products more energy efficient. Since 1987, technological advances have kept about 2.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the air. Advances continue to get made. When shopping for a refrigerator, washing machine or other appliance look for the Energy Star sticker. It will tell you which is most efficient. LED light bulbs use up to 80 percent less electricity than the old-fashioned incandescents.
Drying clothes on a line!
6. The Right Lines
Speaking of appliances, sometimes they can be overrated. To the extent your living situation permits it, line-drying clothes can save enormous reserves of energy. Not only that, but your clothes will last longer, the colors be more vibrant, and you won’t lose that single sock every month. Just kidding, you will still lose the sock. That will always happen.
7. Reduce and Reuse — Not Recycle
Recycling became the environmentally conscious thing du jour in the 1990s. I’m not going to say recycling is bad, but the process of trucking things to and from recycling plants and processing the materials requires the output of some serious carbon. Recycling was more of a response to the landfill problem, but in our present era reducing trash is better.
Reusable bags, avoiding plastic straws at restaurants and at home, buying rice, cereal and oats in bulk and generally reducing the amount of disposable goods are all good strategies. Also, please recycle. I am definitely not telling you to not recycle.
8. Public Comment
This is an obvious one. If you live in an area where solar is a feasible option, and it works for your budget, then get after it. Even more valuable is agitating at your local town council or with your particular utility company to invest more in renewable energy sources. Also if you have choice in utility companies, select one that derives at least half of its power from wind or solar. But stay after those electeds. The main reason poiticians do anything either good or bad is because their constituents force them. Don’t underestimate or forsake your voice.
9. Green Thumbs Galore
This one is my favorite. Plant trees or shrubs, particularly near your house or your air conditioning unit. Trees are carbon sinks, so they use carbon dioxide to photosynthesize. While scientists have expressed skepticism that any tree planting is unlikely to scale large enough to make a difference, we are of the mindset that every little bit helps.
Also, creating a canopy keeps houses cooler, reducing the need for the AC in the summer. Just three trees, properly placed around a house, can save up to 30% of energy use. A shaded air conditioning unit will operate with 10 percent less electricity than one operating in the sun. Trees also help reduce the heat island effect.
10. Buying Your Carbon Footprint
You can offset your own carbon usage. If you are a world traveller like me, this idea is particularly welcome to help ease a guilty conscience. If you want to roam the planet guilt free, you can pay a nominal fee to any number of carbon offset companies. They take your money and put it toward various renewable energy projects.
My favorite program is run by the United Nations: Climate Neutral Now. They make it easy to calculate your entire annual carbon footprint, pay an affordable price and see how it is used for various climate oriented projects around the world.
11. Magnifying Your Impact
If you work in an organization and have a chance to influence decisions made by your company, institution, or non-profit, you can make your impact go even further. While it's amazing to make changes as a individual; it's even more impacting to influence your organization to adopt solar, divest its retirement accounts from funds that invest in fossil fuels, select vendors and partners who are like-minded, or adjust the thermostat. Use your personal influence to make the impact go even further.
Here at NEMO, we are committed as individuals who make up our company to implement some or all of these projects to various degrees. As a company, we have redoubled our commitments to sustainability, and actively seek to use our company for positive change. Read about our sustainability commitment here and please join us in lessening our impact as much as possible.
Matt Renda is a friend of NEMO, who has been known to take epic, slightly questionable adventures with his pals from our team.