We all need to take action on climate change, and there’s a lot we can each individually be doing today that will make a big difference. But you want to take action over your lunch break today to start down the path of reducing and offsetting your missions on an ongoing basis, so what to do? This is an abbreviated version of the full Personal Climate Action post to get help you check off the easy items quickly! There’s a lot more to do for more impact, so you’ll want to read the full post for more to do after lunch. All of the actions (🔨) on this list are free or cost-saving unless otherwise noted, and the full list should be completable in about 30 minutes. There are also commitments (🤝) to make throughout, some of these are larger investments that can be made down the road.
We need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 45% this decade on our way to net-zero-emissions by 2050, so grab your sandwich, and coworkers or friends, and let’s get started!
For most of the following suggested actions, the estimated percentage of an average American’s emissions, and the amount of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) that could be cut with this item is shown in a green label (like this: 3%, 600 kg) to help demonstrate the magnitude of these changes.
Stopping all global greenhouse gas emissions is a huge systems challenge. We need governments on our side as allies in this fight to help mobilize and finance this effort. Your most important action is to help make government at every level work towards addressing the climate crisis, not exacerbating it. (More on why)
- 🔨 Check your registration, and register to vote and then vote in all upcoming elections — local, state, and federal.
- 🤝 Commit to vote through the Environmental Voter Project.
- 🤝 Two-thirds of Americans are interested in climate change, but only a fifth of Americans have people they know talk to them about it. Commit to talking about it. Use those conversations to help nudge others into action.
- 🔨 Educate yourself on how your voting choices will likely affect climate policy. Sign up for the League of Conservation Voters and Citizen Climate Lobby. There are various climate-focused comparisons of 2020 Democratic Presidential candidates.
- 🔨 Have your lawmakers hear from you often that climate is a priority. Sign up for environmental action lists to find out when to call or mail your elected officials:
- 🤝 Commit to writing to your lawmakers at least weekly using the alerts from the lists above as a guide.
- 🔨 Use your passions and skills to get involved with local policy and advocacy, protests and rallies, and climate public education. Join the mailing list of a climate action group that reflects your values and is active in your area to be kept abreast of more opportunities:
Let’s briefly take a look at where the average American’s direct and upstream emissions come from to understand what needs to change. “Personal infrastructure” accounts for the emissions from the cars and appliances that many individuals directly own. “Upstream emissions” are those that are generated by processes outside of our direct control, but are emitted to produce the goods, services, and foods that we buy. Electricity can be generated directly or purchased, so it’s in the “mixed emissions” category. Each of these will need to get to zero-emissions by 2050, and collectively decrease by 45% in the next 10 years.
Many of us own and use appliances and vehicles that directly emit carbon dioxide by burning natural gas, gasoline, and propane. These must all be replaced, and as soon as possible. Natural gas used to be considered “clean” when electricity was mostly generated from coal, but we now have a clear pathway to 100% clean electricity. To prevent dangerous levels of climate change we need to get to zero carbon dioxide emissions, which means everyone needs to replace all fuel-burning appliances with electric versions at the next opportunity. If you’re in the position to proactively retrofit now, you’ll help curb emissions sooner, and help the necessary technologies scale. (More on why)
- 🤝 18%-28%, 3,400-5,100 kg (EV) 5%, 900 kg (higher-efficiency gas) Commit to having your next car be electric, or the highest-efficiency vehicle available. Commit to switching to an electric car as soon as feasible. We cannot get to a zero-emissions economy if we’re still driving gas cars. More detail
- 🤝 4.5%, 800 kg Commit to making your next space heater electric, ideally an efficient electric heat pump space heater. More detail
- 🤝 2%, 375 kg Commit to making your next water heater electric, ideally an efficient heat pump water heater. More detail
- 🤝 0.3%, 55 kg Commit to making your next cooktop induction, and your next oven electric (or combined in an induction range). Induction ranges are being lauded as the best way to cook, are safer, faster, hotter than gas, more controllable, easier to clean, widely available, and all-electric!
- 🤝 0.2%, 40 kg Commit to making your next laundry dryer electric.
Electrifying our vehicles and homes will increase overall electricity consumption, but fortunately we have a path towards 100% clean electricity through renewables and nuclear power. Electricity is the clean power of the future. Help accelerate the transition however you can. (More on why)
- 🔨 10-45%, 2,000-8,000 kg If you pay a power bill, switch your electricity consumption to renewable-only using Arcadia Power. Cost: cost-saving, or up to ~$20/month. More detail
- If you rent and the landlord pays the bill, let them know about opportunities to green their building; here are some email templates to get you started.
- 🔨 If you live in California, sign up for OhmConnect to find out when energy is cleanest, and get rewarded for saving energy when it’s dirtiest. More detail
If everyone did all of the above things, they would have the personal infrastructure in place to enable their lives to become zero-emissions. But the above changes only cover 45% of average American emissions—so what gives? The remaining 55% of emissions come indirectly from the goods, services, and food we buy. The only way we’ll get to a zero-carbon world is for each of those industries to adopt new technology and change their processes to be emissions-free, or be replaced with a zero-emissions alternative. That’s why your first action is voting and civic engagement to make sure that policies and incentives are put in place to accelerate the overall transition.
All the above actions are required to get to a zero-carbon world. But getting to zero-carbon is not the only goal; because carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere, we care about the total amount emitted, too. We have a fixed carbon budget, and want to contribute as little to it as possible to buy as much time as possible to get to net zero.
So while industry transforms to be carbon-free, temporarily decreasing consumption of high-emissions goods mitigates the harm currently being done. But remember that decreasing consumption and increasing efficiency is never a substitute for making the infrastructural changes needed to actually hit zero. The below actions are helpful in aggregate, but are never a substitute for any of the above actions. Hopefully you’re able to do them all. (More on why)
Currently most transportation options burn gasoline or fuel, contributing to global warming. You want to switch to electric transportation options whenever possible, and reduce demand for transportation modes that continue to burn fossil fuels.
- 🤝 1-100+%, 200-20,000 kg per flight1 Commit to reducing long-haul travel whenever possible — a single flight can easily emit as much carbon as many people in the world use in an entire year, or purchasing sustainable fuel for each flight.
- 🤝 Reducing emissions in the first place by reducing travel or only buying sustainable fuels is always preferable. If the cost of buying renewable fuels is out of reach for required travel, commit to increasing your offsets for every flight you do have to take.
- 🤝 5.5%, 1,000kg2 Commit to opting for public transportation, walking, biking (leg-powered or electric), and electric scootering whenever feasible.
- 🤝 1.4%, 250 kg3 Commit to trying to get an electric vehicle (ideally) or hybrid (second-best) whenever you need to rent a car. More detail
Food production contributes to climate change from the equipment and fertilizers used, to transportation, to land-use change to make room for agriculture. Meat (and particularly beef and lamb) have an outsized negative impact due to high land area requirements, and the methane that cows burp. Small adjustments to your diet can improve your health, save-money, and reduce emissions.
- 🤝 5.6%, 1,000kg Commit to reducing food waste, and composting what you can. A mind-boggling third of all food produced is wasted or spoiled globally, and Americans throw away up to 40% of the food they buy. You can find tips to get started here.
- 🤝 3.3%, 600kg Commit to eating less beef and lamb — just by eating chicken instead of beef you can cut a quarter of your overall food emissions. When you are craving a burger, sausage or meatloaf, try Impossible Foods or Beyond Meat — both are nearly indistinguishable from the real thing!
- 🤝 0.6%, 100 kg per day of the week Commit to reducing your animal product consumption, even if only a few days per week.
Nearly all industrial processes emit greenhouse gases today. Decreasing unnecessary consumption helps to decrease emissions from manufacturing, as well as energy used to transport the goods.
- 🤝 1.1%, 200 kg4 Commit to buying less stuff, and less new stuff. Reduce Amazon shipping emissions by using Amazon Day and have all of your stuff delivered once every week (or better yet, walk or bike to your neighborhood stores and help support your local economy). More suggestions
Even with all of the steps above, until all industry goes carbon-neutral, we’ll continue indirectly emitting carbon through the goods we buy, the infrastructure we use (cement directly emits carbon dioxide when poured, in addition to the carbon emitted through other parts of the process like transportation), and the food we eat. While it’s always preferable to avoid emitting greenhouse gases in the first place, our next best option is to offset our remaining footprint.
- 🔨 Calculate and buy your carbon offsets through Project Wren for transportation, food, and product consumption that doesn’t yet have clean alternatives. Or even better, overshoot by 20% as a bit of insurance. Cost: ~$20/month, but will depend on your personal footprint, how much you decide to offset, and which projects you choose. More detail
While we each individually need to take action, the real power comes from many people doing the same: using the power of their vote to ensure that climate is a priority for our elected officials, showing demand for new zero-emissions products and helping them scale, and reducing our emissions today and in the future. By publicly talking about what you’re doing and why, you’ll be able to inspire others to do the same or similar, which is that this is really all about. None of us are going to solve the climate crisis on our own.
- 🔨 Email this list to at least 5 people you know, with a note on why it matters to you.
- 🔨 Tweet out what you’re doing to encourage more people to do the same. We are all very much in this together.
- 🤝 Commit to talking about the lifestyle changes you’re making because of the climate with friends and family.
Businesses, schools, organizations, and communities have a huge role to play in the climate transition. Help spark even broader impact by applying the suggestions here to larger groups of people.
- 🔨 Brainstorm with your coworkers or friends what steps might be appropriate to help your workplace, school, organization or community reduce its carbon emissions. Commit next steps to each other.
How’d it go?
Run into any roadblocks with anything on this list? Please let me know! These are each things that the world depends on gaining much more widespread adoption and support, so any friction you face along the way is well-worth improving upon.
I’d also love to continue improving this list, so if I missed anything, got anything wrong, aren’t sharing a useful resource, or anything else, I’m all ears!
An economy SFO-LAX round trip emits about 200 kg CO2e. An economy SFO-JFK round trip emits about 2,000 kg CO2e. A business SFO-Singapore round trip emits about 20,000 kg CO2e. Calculate for specific flights here. ↩
Assuming that you can switch to using public transit or walking/biking or for 20% of local trips. ↩
Assuming you drive 1,000 miles per year in rented EVs that otherwise would have been gasoline car trips, and EVs emit 129 g CO2e per mile and gas cars emit 381 g CO2e / mile. ↩
Goods are 11% of emissions, let’s assume you cut 10%. ↩