When it comes to taking climate action, we often talk about our individual actions. What we eat, how we travel, if we recycle, if we vote, if we compost, how much plastic we use, and what we wear, along with every other aspect of our personal lives. But it begs the question, does one person’s actions ACTUALLY make a difference?
No…but also yes.
No? Our actions DON’T matter? After all, 70% of all greenhouse gases can be traced back to just 100 major companies. If I was to disappear off the face of the planet tomorrow, the climate crisis wouldn’t care. It wouldn’t even notice. By simply existing on this planet we produce greenhouse gases, thus we are having an impact.
But the answer to whether or not our actions matter is NOT that straight forward. Yes, on paper major corporations are responsible for a majority of the global emissions. But every single human action matters.
Companies don’t just exist on their own. They are created, sustained, and dependent on consumers. Furthermore, they are dependent on consumer choices. Your choice to order a hamburger at dinner rather than a black bean burger matters. Your choice to fly to a nearby town, rather than drive or take a train matters. Your choice to purchase fast fashion instead of ethically made clothing matters.
These choices matter because they are what fuel the most environmentally destructive companies and industries. With every action, every decision, every dollar spent, we are casting a vote for the type of world we want to live in. Our decisions become products, trends, norms, and ways of life.
Yes, the fossil fuel industry is one of the leading contributors of greenhouse gases but that shouldn’t come as a shock. Many of us have grown accustomed to a certain way of life. We expect to get new cars (even if we don’t need one), we are flying all over the planet more than ever before, we drive places out of convenience rather than take public transit or use our bike, and a million other reasons.
The choices we make every single day matter, much more than we may know.
I’m not saying that the companies and industries aren’t partially to blame. For decades the fossil fuel industry has manipulated and denied just how devastating their industry is to the planet and all who inhabit it. Yet, if we personally continue to use more and more fossil fuels with each passing year, aren’t we simply fueling the fire that is the climate crisis?
I think that deep down many, if not all, of us know that our personal actions matter. We know that our actions influence those around us, and vice versa. We know that we should try to fly and drive less but we just can’t resist those cheap tickets when we find them. We know that we should reduce or eliminate our consumption of meat, but we order the burger anyway. But if we know our actions matter, that they have the capacity to shape the world, that they can either speed up or slow down the climate crisis, then why don’t we change our actions?
Simple. Blame is much easier than acceptance.
It’s easy to put the blame of the climate crisis on someone else. Just as it’s easy to blame your alarm clock or traffic for being late to work. Accepting that we, as an individual, are responsible for the climate crisis is scary. We don’t want to believe it because we don’t want to change our acitons.
For our entire lives we have gone about our merry way, often without thinking twice of how our actions affect the planet. We’ll bring reusable grocery bags and use a metal straw because those are actions that don’t alter our current way of life.
One person isn’t going to stop the climate crisis, just as one person didn’t cause it. It is collective individual actions that have brought us to this place and only collective individual actions will help save us. So, what actions should we take?
The biggest impact doesn’t come from those reusable bags or straws, it doesn’t even come from recycling or switching to solar energy. The three actions that YOU can take that will have the BIGGEST impact at reducing your carbon footprint are the following:
EAT A PRIMARILY PLANT BASED DIET: reducing or eliminating your consumption of animal-based products is the single biggest way that an individual can reduce their carbon footprint. This is because the production of red meat requires a lot of land, feed, and water. A study done by the journal Environmental Research Letters, stated that red meat can have up to 100 times the environmental impact of plant-based alternatives. It is easier than ever to reduce or eliminate our consumption of animal products, and it is the most effective action a single individual can take.
AVOID FLYING AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE: Just taking one fewer long round-trip flight can significantly reduce your carbon footprint. If you bike to work but still fly frequently, your carbon footprint may still be quite large. In the US alone, flying for work purposes accounts for approximately 12 percent of all flights. If this is the case for you talk to your work, see how much of the travel is necessary and try to reduce it as much as possible.
LIVE CAR FREE: Eliminating your car for a single year could reduce your footprint by 2.6 tons of carbon dioxide. And while this may be necessary for some individuals, for those that live outside major cities it may seem impossible. Instead focus on using your car as little as possible. Rather than taking five trips to the grocery store each week, aim to go only once, or stop on your way home from work. Take public transit when possible, bike, walk, and carpool as much as possible.
Individual actions matter, they shape the world we live in. With each decision we are given a choice: to align our actions in a way that helps save the planet or avoid accepting the fact that our old ways of life have contributed to the climate crisis. So, what do you choose?