Happy New Year! While 2020 may not have been the worst year in history, few can call it good. In addition to introducing the coronavirus pandemic, which infected 89 million people and killed 1.92 million, last year delivered an unprecedented 30 hurricanes, which caused over $51 billion in damages, and wildfires that destroyed 4.2 million acres, the most in a single year and more than the last three years combined. Scientists attribute the natural disasters and disruption in weather patterns to environmental stresses threatening the sustainability of our planet. Environmental Protection Online (http://www.eponline.com) deemed the US’ top five environmental concerns in 2020 as:
With our country’s population growing over 1.7 million annually and each person requiring roughly an acre of land, urbanization is increasing and, therefore, so is deforestation. Since trees and vegetation absorb CO2, destroying them removes one of the simplest methods of offsetting air pollution. Land development also destroys farmland, biodiversity, and animal habitats.
- Air Pollution
While we don’t struggle with the same level of air pollution as India and China, we have much room for improvement. The top 12 cities in the US with the most polluted ozone were all in California.
- Global Warming
From melting glaciers to more intense hurricanes, Earth’s rising temperatures are negatively affecting local climates and weather patterns and displacing people and wildlife.
- Water Pollution
Each year, more than 860 billion gallons of sewage leak into US waterways due to faulty sewer structures and 100% of our rivers test positive for at least one pesticide.
- Natural Resource Depletion
As we continue to convert farmland into urban communities, energy and water demand are predicted to grow by 50% in the next 10 years. As such, agricultural commodities and non-renewable materials like oil, minerals, and metals will continue to vanish.
As people become increasingly aware of these issues, more are taking action to slow these effects. Alyssa Gilbert, Director of Policy and Translation at Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment – at the Imperial College in London, developed these NINE GREEN RESOLUTIONS FOR 2021 that, if adopted widely, could reduce carbon emissions by up to 20%. They are:
- Commit to waking up those in power
Write, call, and email local and government officials about your concerns, supporting your arguments with facts and experiences when possible. Also, join a climate campaign group to facilitate mass action. There’s strength in numbers!
- Get on your bike
Pollution from internal combustion engines devastates air quality and hospitalizes tens of thousands of people every year. Walking, cycling, and scooting reduce harmful emissions and improve physical and mental health. If you must drive, carpool if possible.
- Eat less meat and dairy
Neil Jennings, a researcher who works with Gilbert, says, “Shifting to a more plant-based diet and reducing meat intake is the single biggest action we can take to reduce our impact on the environment.” According to The Guardian, meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein but use 83% of farmland and produce 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.
- Reduce your energy use
Lowering your heat and air conditioning by a degree or two, switching off lights and appliances when not in use, and replacing light bulbs with LEDs or other low-energy lights reduces your bills as well as your carbon footprint.
- Cut down on your consumption
Eliminate unnecessary and single-use items, repair and reuse things rather than buy new ones, eliminate food waste by getting creative with leftovers, and choose refillable cosmetic, food, and cleaning products.
- Talk to others about the changes you’re making
“Talk enthusiastically to friends, family, clients, and customers about your initiatives and their benefits,” says Gilbert. According to Ecopsychology, sotion-focused stories are more effective than catastrophic warnings when motivating pro-environmental action.
- Meet friends and family outdoors
In addition to improving people’s moods, parks and gardens absorb carbon dioxide and cool overheated urban areas.
- Commit to flying less, even when the lockdown ends
The pandemic has demonstrated the effectiveness of video-conferencing which has reduced carbon emissions considerably. But, if you must meet others in person, travel by rail if possible. When you do fly again, keep in mind that business and first-class passengers have a carbon footprint three times higher than those in coach.
- Invest responsibly
Write or talk to your bank and/or financial planner to ask if you can opt-out of funds that invest in fossil fuels, highlighting the impacts that big finance can have on climate action. According to Forbes.com, investments in renewable energy and other low-carbon concerns consistently outperform the wider market.
In summary, Gilbert says: “Shifting social norms can be a powerful way for us to tackle environmental problems. If actions or behaviors become more widely acceptable, or even desirable and fashionable, society will behave in a more environmentally-friendly way.”