What You Can Do

Students want to know what they can do personally. In their new book, A People’s Curriculum of the Earth, authors Tom Bigelow and Tim Swinehart remind us that responding to the environmental crisis solely as individuals in inadequate; there are entire books that urge students to consider their individual carbon footprints, suggesting that our personal patterns of consumption are a root cause of global warming. Students are urged to think about the frequency of their baths, their electricity use, stuff they buy. Yes, of course, we want young people, and everyone, to be mindful of the Earth as we go through our daily lives. And we want students to recognize the power they have, collectively or individually, to make the world a better place. But it’s wrong to direct students primarily toward individual solutions to create change. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. The energy industry would much prefer that our students change their light bulbs, recycle their soda cans, or even install solar panels than organize a demonstration at the state capitol to shut a coal-fired power plant, testify at a public hearing against fracking, or otherwise gum up their fossil fuel machinery.



  • Reducing your carbon footprint
  • Plastics and bottled water
  • Air Conditioning
  • Recycling
  • Campaigns and what young people are doing
  • Lifestyle – meat consumption / ghost power
  •  . . . and a few other things
Reducing your carbon footprint

July 2017: Most effective ways for individuals to reduce their carbon footprints. The study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, found that the incremental changes advocated by governments may represent a missed opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions beneath the levels needed to prevent 2°C of climate warming. 
The four actions that most substantially decrease an individual’s carbon footprint are: eating a plant-based diet, avoiding air travel, living car-free, and having smaller families. The research analysed 39 peer reviewed papers, carbon calculators, and government reports to calculate the potential of a range of individual lifestyle choices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This comprehensive analysis identifies the actions individuals could take that will have the greatest impact on reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. link (See also Guardian article)  

 Plastics and bottled water

Plastic Planet: humans have created more than 8 billion metric tons of plastic since the large-scale production of synthetic materials began in the early 1950s. link
(See also page on plastics in the oceans)  

Be Straw Free  a campaign started in 2011 by 9 year-old Milo Cress.  An organization that urges restaurants to use fewer plastic straws.
What exactly is it about these household items that make them so bad for the ocean? link

September 2016: International coalition calls for end to the throwaway culture. After the success of a plastic bag charge, could a similar charge on coffee cups could work too. The billions of disposable coffee cups thrown away each year globally should be replaced with reusable ones because they are a waste of resources and harm forests, an international coalition of NGOs has urged. link

Plastic Pollution Coalition is a global alliance of individuals, organizations, businesses and policymakers working toward a world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impact on humans, animals, the ocean and the environment. link
Glitter is a microplastic causing harm to the environment – link
What you can do to reduce plastic use – source
India’s biggest clean-up effort to fight the war against plastic.
 India’s largest socially-led cleaning initiative is happening in Chennai. The city is waging a war against plastic. 6 years ago an environmental awareness movement was born. Now in its 6th year, their ambitious target for June was to collect 50+ tons of garbage from 20+ km of the Chennai sea shore with 8000+ volunteers –  folomojo


The average American consumed 26 gallons of bottled water (2006). 40% of that is bottled tap water. It takes 3 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water. Only 20% of that plastic is recycled. This is waste. link  According to the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) , FDA rules allow bottlers to call their product “spring water” even though it may be brought to the surface using a pumped well, and it may be treated with chemicals. Producing the bottles for American consumption (2006) required the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil, not including the energy for transportation. link  National Geographic estimates that 17 million gallons of crude oil is used on an annual basis to produce plastic bottles and that only 1 in 6 plastic bottles makes it to the recycling bin! (Video on bottled water)

December 2016: Do you know the hard facts about bottled water? Have you ever thought about that bottle of water you’re drinking? Most of us consume bottled water in massive quantities without giving it a second thought. We buy it by the case, burn through the bottles, and then toss them in the trash. And we do all this without considering the cost of making bottled water. Once you know the facts, you can make educated decisions about when it’s appropriate to purchase bottled water and when you should choose something else.  link

The number of marine mammals that die each year because of eating or being entangled in plastic is estimated at 100,000 in the North Pacific Ocean alone. We all need to use canvas tote bags, or simply refuse plastic for the occasional purchase in the drug store or bookshop. Ireland imposed a tax on plastic and use dropped 90% overnight – more on plastic

Air Conditioning

Air-conditioning leads to global warming. Today, almost 90% of American households have air conditioning. In China and India, air-conditioning sales have reportedly been growing by 20% per year; around the world, air-conditioning energy demand is projected to increase vastly over the next decades. (August 2016) As the mercury soars, fear grows over ‘air-con effect’. Energy experts warn more reliance on air conditioning, particularly in China, will accelerate climate change. link

July 2018: Global quadrupling of cooling appliances by 2050. A new report says soaring global need for cooling by 2050 could see world energy consumption for cooling increase five times as the number of cooling appliances quadruples to 14 billion. link

Europe to America: Your love of air-conditioning is stupid
How to live without air-conditioning.
Japan’s “Cool Biz” initiative

Tweaking thermostats just one degree could result in huge savings. A Boston study found that adjusting up thermostats one degree in summer and down one degree in winter would save the city $20 million, and cut CO2 emissions by over 81,000 metric tons – equivalent to taking 17,000 cars off the road. link


In the USA 56 billion aluminum cans were recycled in 2010 – more
Which European countries lead in recycling? source
A good site about recycling – http://earth911.com/

Recycling electronics – ElectronicsTakeback
The ultimate guide to reducing waste – suggested recycling link
A kid’s guide to reducing, reusing & recycling waste – HomeAdvisor
Guide for sustainable living and green news around the world – GoGreen.org
Ten things you didn’t know you could recycle, from Green America

CANCEL JUNK MAIL: An average of 41 pounds of junk mail is sent to every adult citizen each year, that’s 4 million tons nationally. Approximately 44% of this mail goes into a landfill unopened. Also, $320 million of local taxes are spent to dispose of junk mail each year. Did you know more than 100 million trees are destroyed each year to produce this junk mail? About 28 billion gallons of water are also wasted. There are organizations that will, for a fee, promise to stop junk mail being sent, but I’d go for the Federal Trade Commission’s web site to register – no more than a $1 fee for 6 years.
Cancel unwanted Yellow Pages:  

Recycle your clothes. In February 2013 H&M started to collect used clothes on all the H&M sales markets in cooperation with I:CO  For each kilogram of clothes that H&M collects donations to a local charity in that country (charity link). H&M’s worldwide garment collecting initiative means you can drop off your unwanted garments in all our H&M stores across the globe to halt old clothing ending up in landfills. link

How to properly dispose of anything (links are to USA sites) – Fix.com  
Mattresses – Mattress disposal guide  / Old mattresses can be recycled – ScientificAmerican

Campaigns and what young people are doing

Ten simple things you can do to save the planet: link

June 2015: How young people are tackling climate change. The Guardian spoke with young people from around the world about why it’s hard for their peers to care about the environment, how they reconcile their fears about the future, what made them start caring, and the little things that give them hope. link   (See also Youth-led Activism)

Britain’s 10:10 campaign – link
September 2009 – launch of 10:10.
 In Britain today begins a new initiative to really make a difference. While waiting on governments and world leaders to make policy, Franny Armstrong, director of the 2009 eco-documentary  “The Age of Stupid” beegan a grassroots movement (working with the Guardian newspaper in Britain) asking individuals and businesses to reduce their carbon footprint by 10% by the end of 2010. Hence 10:10. Considered bold but achievable, this would display the urgency felt by the overwhelming majority in the country to take action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Guardian 10:10 page
June 2010 update: Since launching in September last year, over 70,000 individuals have signed up to the 10:10 campaign, as well as major companies such as Royal Mail. Shortly after the election, the coalition government committed central government to a 10% emissions cut.  link

October 2010: Mayors of four capital cities, Amsterdam, Mexico City, Paris and Zagreb, pledge 10% cuts in next year. link
How to reduce your carbon emissions by 10%

Fossil Fuel Subsidies and Divestment Campaigns: actions that all can take now to help keep fossil fuels in the ground. Pressure on world leaders and institutions are now under way. Maintaining momentum is the surest way to halt the further increases in greenhouse gas emissions. (Divestment page)

Lifestyle – meat consumption / ghost power

December 2017: Animal agriculture is choking the Earth and making us sick. Reconsidering how we eat offers us hope, and empowers us with choice over what our future planet will look like. Raising livestock for meat, eggs and milk generates 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The use of land is one of the leading causes of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water pollution. link  (see also page on agriculture)

LIFESTYLE – Cut back on meat consumption: How much stress does our meat-eating put on our ecological systems? The UN calculates livestock emissions result in 18% of total global greenhouse gases, more than cars, planes and all other forms of transport put together. link  If you check out the page on Methane, you’ll realize why more people are cutting back on their consumption of meat. Did you know that the production of one burger emits as much greenhouse gas as a drive of nearly 200 miles? link

June 2014: Going vegetarian halves CO2 emissions from your food. If you stop eating meat, your food-related carbon footprint could plummet to less than half of what it was. That is a much bigger drop than many previous estimates, and it comes from a study of people’s real diets.  A University of Oxford study took data on the real diets of more than 50,000 people in the UK, and calculated their diet-related carbon footprints. They found that the benefits could be huge. If those eating more than 100 grams of meat a day, a fairly small rump steak, went vegan, their food-related carbon footprint would shrink by 60%, saving the equivalent of 1.5 tonnes of CO2 a year. Perhaps more realistically, if someone eating more than 100 grams of meat a day simply cut down to less than 50 grams a day, their food-related emissions would fall by a third. That would save almost a tonne of CO2 each year, about as much as an economy return flight between London and New York. link
(July 2014) A new study suggests that the production of beef is around 10 times more damaging to the environment than any other form of livestocklink

Eat locally grown foods helps the environment – link

Phantom loads – Ghost power: (See Conservation page) Eliminating ghost power could close 18 conventional power stations in the USA. With more than 1.5 billion people online around the world, scientists estimate that the energy footprint of the net is growing by more than 10% each year. Do you need to leave your computer on 24/7 – shut down occasionally overnight or when at school/work.

.   .   .   and a few other things

Air dry your laundry: A clothes dryer accounts for a whopping 12% of electricity use in a typical household. And clothes drying is one of the easiest places to save energy, because you can erase 100% of the cost by simply hanging your clothes up to dry. link
Typically 5 loads per week in a washing machine will use 7kWh, whereas drying those same 5 loads will use 100kWh

Use canvas tote bags: Across the world some 500 billion plastic bags are used, and only a tiny fraction of them are recycled. In the USA 12 million barrels of oil are used nationally to produce 30 billion plastic bags annually. Environment California reports plastic bags, and other plastic refuse that end up in the ocean, kill up to one million sea creatures every year, such as birds, whales, seals, sea turtles, and others.

Why are batteries a problem? By September 2016, EU countries must be collecting and recycling 45% of the batteries sold on their markets, with producers such as Duracell and Energizer footing the bill. Chemicals from batteries which are incinerated or go to landfill may pollute lakes and streams. link 


Looking to find a gas station that currently does the least environmental harm. In other words, a lesser of evils. Sunoco is the only oil company that has signed the CERES (Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies) principle. BP (initially British Petroleum, but recently renamed to Beyond Petroleum) is the third largest global energy and fourth largest company in the world. Right now you’re probably thinking – wait, where were you guys during the BP oil spill? We don’t wish to undermine that tragic disaster one bit, but the reality of the situation is that there is no environmentally sound gas company. As far as environmental efforts go, BP has and continues to outpace its competitors. Read more

For every hour spent idling your car, you’re not only wasting a quarter to half a gallon of gas, but also emitting 6 lbs of CO2, by EDF estimates. If every American driver reduced their idling time by ten minutes a day, we’d eliminate 15.48 million metric tons of CO2 emissions per year. The EDF recommends reducing idling to under ten seconds when possible, and warming up your car and engine by driving it rather than letting it run. link

Fluorescent bulbs: Home Depot announced that by late 2008 light fixture showrooms in its US stores would be switched from incandescent bulbs to CFLs. The measure will save the company $16 million annually in energy costs. 
Recycled fluorescents:
 Home Depot also accepts CFLs for recycling but not all stores take tube fluorescents. Note: If you break a CFL bulb, you can do the cleanup yourself, without renting a moon suit or contacting authorities. EPA Advice  
February 2016: US Department of Energy issues a proposed rule for light bulbs that would likely lead to the phaseout of compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) – link

Mercury. Not a global warming issue, but worth taking note. CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury – an average of 4 milligrams. A standard 4′ fluorescent tube contains about 11.6 milligrams (1999 average but it is dropping). However, the mercury is slowly absorbed into glass, phosphor and tube electrodes throughout the lamp’s life, where it can no longer function. Newer lamps have just enough mercury to last the expected life of the lamp. Be more careful with home thermostats which contain 3 to 5 grams of mercury – a thousand times more than the CFL; they can cause a significant health risk.