Carbon dioxide in our air recently hit 400 parts per million. Since you asked, yes, that’s a lot. Perhaps this a good time to reflect on what we as individuals can do to stem the flow of harmful gasses into our atmosphere. Climate change and carbon dioxide impacts are difficult to comprehend and make personal. After all, we can’t actually see the parts so how can it have that much impact?
We are small, individual drops in a rising sea. How does one person address a problem this big? Individuals can influence climate change measures across the spectrum, from federal, state and local government laws and regulations to influencing companies to operate more responsibly to our own individual actions.
Policymaking and Governance
Government can help to make big, sweeping policy changes that directly correlate to reducing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. Developing countries’ failure to adopt positive climate practices does not create an excuse for industrialized nations not to show a leadership position. Short of being the President or Congressional representative, this task may feel too big for us as individuals. Here is what you can do to influence policy.
1.Know the issues. You don’t need to know them all. Find the ones that are most relevant and of personal or professional interest to you. Maybe it’s building or protecting parks and trees, or perhaps supporting renewable energy, or even more balanced energy portfolios. Learn both sides of the issue to understand it fully. It’s a bit of a lost art in our Congress, but modeling it for ourselves allows us to more easily demand it from our government representatives.
2.Talk to your legislator. They work for you/us. Understand their constituency and the issues they face and bring your position, opinions and ideas forward. Climate change is a controversial topic and the environmentalist image is tree-hugging activists. The reality is environmental advocates come in many packages: businessmen and –women, political leaders, academics, even gun-toting conservatives, though they may not freely admit it.
3.Vote. There’s no better way to capitalize on your personal voice than through your vote. Not just Presidential and Congressional elections, but State and local elections as well.
Business and Purchasing Power
Business, like government, can have a larger gross impact on GHG emissions than individuals alone. Use your dollars to support responsible companies. Even better, work with your own organization to reduce its footprint.
1.Support Responsible Companies. U.S. companies, in particular, are lagging behind on environmental reporting, but you can still use resources like the Dow Jones Sustainability Index or the FTSE for Good Index to find companies and their subsidiaries that are doing their genuine part to reduce the impacts and costs of carbon emissions. Private companies may discuss their efforts on their website or in local news outlets.
2.Be part of the clean energy movement in your company. You don’t have to be an engineer or energy manager to impact your company’s energy use. Energy abstinence is the easiest way to reduce carbon emissions, but supporting clean, renewable energy sources helps, too. Join or start a green team to help find grants, incentives, tax breaks or vendors for renewable energy options for your company.
Actions at Home
1.Model actions in your Home. Being more energy efficient in your home spills over to your workplace as well as to your family and friends. Did you just install solar panels on your home and are now seeing the savings? Bet you’ll tell a friend or two about that. Did you switch to LED lights where possible? Visitors will see them, maybe ask how much they cost and how long they’ve lasted. Turn lights off as you leave a room and see how that carries over to leaving the office at night. Better yet – use natural daylight and leave the lights completely off.
2.Model actions in your community. Is your community looking at installing a solar or wind garden? Support efforts to reduce traffic and exhaust emissions by riding your bike not just around the park or to work, but to buy groceries and run local errands. What people see and see enough of they tend to mimic. If you can help make bike riding in your community not just easy, but the norm you’ll be rewarded with cleaner air and a healthier community.
Keep it Simple, Be Opportunistic
Even these steps could seem overwhelming. Keep it simple initially and build upon your actions as you develop new energy conscious habits. Not everyone is or wants to be an activist starting community or policy changes, but by being aware of efforts that are being organized you can pool your personal influence and interest for even greater impact. Enough drops in the sea may not change the flow, but can certainly create larger waves.