|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
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.
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
Be Straw Free a campaign started in 2011 by 9 year-old Milo Cress. An organization that urges restaurants to use fewer plastic straws.
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
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 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
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
Recycling electronics – ElectronicsTakeback
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.