Monthly Archives: April 2018

101 ways to fight climate change


101 ways to fight climate change

The smallest contributions can counter a global challenge

Each year on April 22, more than one billion people in 192 countries celebrate the largest civic-focused day of action in the world: Earth Day. It’s a day chosen to commemorate the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970, and the annual event now includes themes, well-organized action plans, and events in cities big and small.

Beyond providing a platform to discuss particular challenges—like plastic pollution, this year’s theme—Earth Day is also an opportunity to recommit to environmentalism with the understanding that individual actions can make a difference.

Curbed searched communities across the country and around the world, consulted experts and advocates, and pulled from our voluminous coverage on sustainable cities to create a go-to guide for climate action. Our goal is to provide practical, implementable advice on an individual level, as well as to illustrate the power of collective commitments. We hope you will share more of your own ideas, inspirations, and suggestions in the comments.

In Your Home

1. Add solar panels to your house. With the plunging price of solar power, and an increasingly diverse group of companies such as Tesla and Forward Labs offering new products, the toughest decision may not be whether to install, but which style and color panels to place on your roof. And the boom in solar installations will only continue; on the heels of a record year of sales, analysts expect the market to nearly triple by 2020. The Energy Department has a good resource guide for homeowners, while Google’s Project Sunroof helps calculate the potential benefits of home installation.

Milton Ross added solar panels atop his home as part of the Brooklyn Microgrid project.

2. Get a home energy audit. A simple home energy audit can show how much energy your home consumes and give you tips on changes that can make things more efficient. Most assessments help homeowners save between 5 to 30 percent on their energy bills, and audits can significantly reduce a home’s carbon footprint.

3. Change lightbulbs to LEDs. Quality LED lightbulbs can last 25 times longer, are more durable, and use at least 75 percent less energy than other bulbs. In the United States, widespread use of LEDs over the next 10 years could save the equivalent annual electrical output of 44 large power plants (about 348 TWh).

4. Ask your utility company about buying clean electricity. You may not know exactly how much of your electricity is coming from renewable energy, so now is the time to find out. Contact your utility company, find out the sources of the electricity they supply, and see if you can opt in for “green pricing” in order to pay slightly more in exchange for electricity generated from clean, renewable power.

5. Clean or replace HVAC filters every three months. A dirty filter on your air conditioner or heater will make the system work harder and waste energy.

6. Use a programmable thermostat. Instead of keeping your house a constant 70 degrees, invest in an automatic thermostat, which can cost as little $25. Higher-end smart thermostats like the Nest or Ecobee can customize your temperatures so you’re not blasting the air conditioning when no one is home or using too much heat when everyone is tucked in bed.

 7. Wash clothes in cold water. Most Americans still wash their laundry in warm water, which costs more money and takes a toll on the environment. Approximately 75 percent of the total energy use and greenhouse-gas emissions produced by a single load of laundry come from warming the water itself. That’s unnecessary, especially because studies have shown that washing in cold water is just as effective as using warm.
Outdoor furniture made out of recycled wooden pallets. For more ideas, head over here.

8. Upcycle your furniture. From shopping cart couches to chairs from old skis, upcycled furniture can be innovative and environmentally smart. Consider using recycled materials—like pallets—or repurposing the furniture you already have instead of buying new.

9. Recycle your clothes. The average American throws away about 80 pounds of clothing a year. Not only is fast fashion wasteful, but the environmental cost of manufacturing and distributing new clothes is devastating. A handful of retailers offer recycling programs, while companies like Patagonia will actually purchase, refurbish, and resell your gently worn garments.

10. Buy new appliances with the Energy Star label. When you need to replace a refrigerator or dishwasher, choose an appliance that’s Energy Star certified. Energy Star products are more efficient, meaning they can help lower your energy costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

11. Design your workspace around natural light. On June 16, firms around the world will turn off their lights to raise awareness about using natural daylight instead of electric lighting in offices.

12. Unplug electronic devices when they aren’t in use. Just because a device or appliance appears to be off doesn’t mean it’s not drawing power. About a quarter of all residential energy consumption is used on devices in idle power mode, which means “sleep mode” is costing upward of $19 billion in electricity bills. Things like your cable box, laptop, and even your speakers may be using almost as much power when they are off but plugged in as when they are on. Group appliances on power strips so you can turn them off at the same time, especially if you’re going on vacation.

13. Obsess over every drop of water. Water management not only helps cities become more resilient in the faces of storms, droughts, and natural disasters, but also saves energy. Rain barrels and rain gardens help capture and purify water, putting less stress on municipal systems and replenishing underground aquifers.

14. Build a downspout planter box. If you live in an apartment building, you can still capture your rainwater to save water and cool streets. Philadelphia offers free training for homeowners on stormwater management. Afterward, attendees receive a free downspout planter box for their home. Check out more tips from Curbed Philly.

15. Insulate. Simply making our homes more efficient can substantially cut the energy needed to heat and cool. Adding insulation, weather stripping, and caulking around your home can cut energy bills by more than 25 percent.

16. Downsize. Does saving the planet “spark joy?” Then take a page out of Marie Kondo’s books and try to be mindful of what you do and don’t need. A more measured approach to consumption can also eliminate unneeded purchases that contribute to global emissions.

17. Hack your thermostat. Simply adjust your thermostat to run 2 degrees cooler in the winter and 2 degrees warmer in the summer. You likely won’t notice much of a difference in your house, but the energy savings can be dramatic.

18. Remove your lawn. That “little” patch of green in front of your home is the U.S.’s most widely grown crop—there are 42 million acres of grass nationwide, more than the total acreage of corn. Lawns require extra water, gas-powered equipment, and fertilizer that pollutes waterways (and homeowners pollute much worse than farmers, since they aren’t versed in professional landscaping). Less grass equals less gas.

19. Buy furniture made with sustainably harvested wood. Deforestation is a serious problem, but buying sustainably sourced wood—look for the Forest Stewardship Council logo—ensures that your wood is coming from 380 million acres of FSC-certified forest and not an old-growth forest.

20. Don’t buy a new home; renovate an old one. Preservationists often say that the greenest home is the one that’s already built. That’s definitely true, but often, older housing stock is less energy efficient, so those seeking to lovingly restore and rehabilitate an old gem end up paying higher heating and cooling costs. The true green home, however, is an old house brought up to speed with 21st-century sustainability solutions. A new project by Harvard’s Center for Green Buildings and Cities seeks to transform an old stick-built home into a model for energy efficiency with an affordable retrofit. Inefficient existing buildings are one of the world’s biggest energy problems; the best place to start making a difference is at home.

21. Xeriscape your yard. Huge lawns use a lot of water to maintain, so consider adding drought-tolerant plants in order to reduce your water consumption by 50 to 75 percent.

22. Hangdry your clothes instead of using the dryer. There are more than 90 million clothes dryers in the United States, and if all Americans line-dried for just half a year, it would save 3.3 percent of the country’s total residential output of carbon dioxide.

23. Recycle. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2013 Americans generated about 254 million tons of trash and recycled and composted about 87 million tons of this material, equivalent to a 34.3 percent recycling rate. We need to do better.

On Your Table

24. Plant a community garden. Rolling up your sleeves and digging in the soil offers a great way to meet neighbors and collaboratively add something to your neighborhood. To get you started, the American Community Gardening Association offers a set of resources and recommendations on how to manage and maintain a public patch.

25. Start or support an urban farm. Talk about locally sourced: Supporting urban agriculture that’s not just in your region, but also down the block, can help cut carbon emissions and provide local employment while offering more chances to enjoy that just-picked freshness. From warehouse rooftops to urban orchards to innovative vertical farms, new ways to raise crops are taking root.

 26. Eat less meat. Going local for food matters, but not as much as methane. Raising cattle and sheep creates vast amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Cutting out meat, or even reducing consumption and favoring fish and chicken, can seriously save carbon. Studies at Carnegie Mellon suggest merely swapping red meat and dairy for a more balanced diet with fish, eggs, and fowl makes a big difference.

27. Reduce food waste. Whether it’s left on your plate or rotting in your fridge, wasted food is a big problem in the U.S.—to the tune of 38 million tons a year, according to the EPA. Luckily, small changes to your routine can make a big difference. Here’s a great list of ideas for saving food, including ways to be thrifty and smarter about storage and preservation.

28. Don’t drink bottled water. Landfills already contain more than 2 million tons of plastic bottles. And 1.5 million barrels of oil are used to manufacture water bottle every year. And those bottles take more than 1,000 years to biodegrade. Yeah, that reusable water bottle does sound like a good idea.

29. Plant your own vegetable garden. It doesn’t get more local than fresh tomatoes from your backyard.

30. Join a CSA. Community-Supported Agriculture connects consumers with seasonal food sold directly from nearby farmers. You’ll help support farmers while also eating local—a proven way to reduce your carbon footprint.

31. Start composting. Transforming food scraps and lawn clippings into fresh, nutrient-rich soil gives home gardens a boost (and if done right, doesn’t create an olfactory offense). Roughly 20 to 30 percent of what we normally throw out can be composted. And the process offers huge benefits at the city level, too. New York City’s composting programcreates “black gold” in the form of rich soil, saves money on shipping organic waste to landfills, and even generates energy from methane.

Along your Route

32. Start walking. Is there any single action that’s better for your mind, your body, and your planet?

33. Work from home one day each week. Studies show that 45 percent of the U.S. workforce has a job that’s suitable for full-time or part-time telecommuting. Working a few days from home each month means one less commuter on the road contributing to greenhouse gases.

34. Make sure your tires are properly inflated. The U.S. Department of Energyreports that under-inflated tires have a negative effect on fuel economy. You can improve your gas mileage by 0.6 percent on average—up to 3 percent in some cases—by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure. Better gas mileage means fewer trips to the pump and a reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions.

 35. Calculate your carbon footprint. Use an online tool to calculate and track your carbon footprint, and prepare to be astounded by how much transportation contributes to your total.

36. Check your gas cap. A loose, cracked, or damaged gas cap wreaks havoc on the environment, allowing gas to escape from your tank as vapor. It also wastes fuel and your hard-earned gas money. Turn the gas cap until it clicks a few times and consider a replacement if it has logged more than 50,000 miles.

37. Map a two-mile circle around your house and walk everywhere within it. You’ll not only realize how many places are an easy half-hour walk away, but you’ll also be able to eliminate unnecessary vehicle trips that make emissions and congestion worse. Check out more tips from Curbed LA.

38. Only wash your car in a self-serve car wash. It may seem better to wash your car at home, but it’s worse for the environment. Washing your car in the driveway causes polluted water to run into sewers, and you’ll likely keep the hose running too long. The best way to wash a car is at a self-serve station where customers use a coin-operated spray device; these stations use around 12 to 18 gallons of water per vehicle, compared to up to 100 gallons at home.

39. Take public transit. Sure, public transportation helps reduce gridlock and carbon emissions. But many city dwellers incorrectly assume that buses and trains take longer. So give transit a try—it may just exceed your expectations.

40. Download a transit app. Transportation planning apps like Citymapper and Transitnot only offer detailed trip-planning services and real-time arrival information, but also help local transit agencies improve service. To create more efficient routes, give your city the data it needs.

41. Buy carbon offsets when you fly. Limiting your flights, or giving up flying altogether, would be best. The average American’s annual carbon footprint is 19 metric tons, yet one round-trip flight between New York and San Francisco contributes an outsized 2 million more. Buying offsets—which are offered by many carriers—does make a difference, and experts say it’s a valid way to even out. Even downsizing from business class to coach cuts down your carbon usage, if you can make do without the legroom.

42. Bring your own shopping bags. Plastic bags are incredibly destructive to the environment: They take hundreds of years to break down, contaminate soil and waterways, and cause widespread marine animal deaths. To combat the problem, cities and states around the country have enacted plastic-bag bans or fees on single-use bags. Switch to reusable bags and use them consistently.

The Olli 3D-printed bus
Olli, a 3D-printed autonomous bus that’s looking to revolutionize transit.
Local Motors

43. Ride the bus. Transit ridership is down in almost every major U.S. city, which could be detrimental to your city’s ability to combat climate change. Boost your city’s transportation future across the board by riding the bus, and be on the lookout for self-driving technology that just might save the bus.

44. Pick up trash. Bring two small bags when you’re out walking the dog or taking the kiddos to school. Pick up the trash you find on your way—dividing it into recyclables and trash destined for the landfill—and help keep debris from harming animals and ending up in our streams and waterways.

45. Turn off your engine. If you’re stopped for more than 10 seconds (unless you’re in traffic), don’t idle. Idling is bad for your car, uses fuel, and contributes to air pollution.

46. Become a member of your city’s bikesharing program. Shifting just a few trips per week from a car to a bike could help the U.S. reduce emissions enough to achieve the Paris goals. Support one of the dozens of successful bike-share systems popping up all over the country by buying an annual membership to help keep the system humming.

Cyclist in downtown Chicago, which has recently installed a new series of protected bike lanes
Russell Ingram, courtesy of Chicago Loop Alliance

47. Just ride a bike. Yes, riding a bike really can save the world. According to a 2015 study by the University of California at Davis, shifting more urban trips to bicycling, and cutting car use accordingly, could reduce urban transportation CO2 emissions by 50 percent worldwide by 2050. That seems especially feasible when you consider that half of all urban trips are a bikeable six miles or less.

48. Start a carpool. In 2014, over 76 percent of commuters in the United States drove to work alone, most often in their own personal vehicle. Carpools save money on gas, reduce your carbon footprint, let you work during the drive, and get you access to specially designated carpool lanes that are reserved for high-occupancy vehicles.

49. Try commuting with an electric bike. Research shows that e-bikes are 10 to 20 times more energy efficient than a car, and frankly, an e-bike is just plain fun to ride. Folding e-bikes like this one can give you a sweat-free, less stressful commute and get you out of your car, the fastest-growing contributor to greenhouse gases in our country.

50. Opt for a cargo bike. Want to ride your bike more but don’t know how to haul the kids, the groceries, and (figuratively) the kitchen sink? With many different styles and price points, a cargo bike can get the whole crew where you need to be without the soul-crushing battle of putting a 2-year-old in a car seat.

51. Use car sharing. New services like Car2go and Zipcar give you the convenience of having a car without the added costs—and negative environmental impacts—of car ownership. Users can pay to drive cars when they need them by the minute, hour, or day. Studies have shown that access to shared cars takes vehicles off of roads, eases parking congestion, and can have a ripple effect of reducing carbon-dioxide emissions and gas use.

Electric vehicle charging station
An electric vehicle charging station.

52. Replace your current car with an electric vehicle. Peak car—the point where car ownership starts to drop in the U.S.—could happen as soon as 2020. Get ahead of the trendby switching to an EV, which will not only reduce your emissions but will also save you money in the long run. Going electric also means you’re investing in the future of a clean grid.

53. Sign up for an autonomousvehicle pilot program. Okay, there’s really only one that we know of—Waymo’s program in Phoenix—but shared, driverless cars are the future of sustainable, low-emission transportation. Become an advocate for AVs to help move this technology forward.

In Your Neighborhood

54. Turn a parking space into a park. Bustling streets can do much more than handle automobile traffic. That’s the idea behind Park(ing) Day, a worldwide event that encourages artists and designers to turn metered parking spots into temporary community installations. The concept has even become city policy; the Pavement to Park program allows sponsors in San Francisco to test similar projects and turn some into permanent public spaces, as does the People Street initiative in LA.

55. Plant a tree. Shade, serenity, sustainability—trees add so much to the urban landscape and ask so little. Many cities, such as Philadelphia, give away free trees, have planting services, or require tree planting permits, so check your local rules before you start digging.

56. Shop local. It’s simple, straightforward, and an easy addition to your routine that supports local businesses, provides community jobs, and reduces transportation costs and carbon emissions.

57. Pedestrianize a street. Take inspiration from car-free cities worldwide and transform a corridor into a walker’s haven, using ideas ranging from Barcelona’s superblock concept to this pretty shared street in Chicago.

The Post plaza—a car-free area in the city center—in Ghent, Belgium.

58. Help track and measure green performance in your building. “Do you track your health? Do you know if you’re doing the right things to stay fit? You can do the same thing with buildings and know for sure how your building is fighting climate change. Buildings are a large contributor to climate change and small improvements are simple and can make a big difference. Set a goal, then track your building’s performance and improve it.” — Scot Horst, United States Green Building Council

59. Get inspired by a similar city. The best solutions for climate change are the ones that are already being tested on the ground. Download Climate Reality’s 100 ideas from 60 cities worldwide and borrow the ones that fit your community best.

60. Green your parkway. Okay, there’s gonna be a ton of regional slang to fight through here: You know that little sliver of property between the sidewalk and the curb? Whatever you call it, replace whatever’s there with a stormwater garden that allows water to naturally percolate into the ground. It will not only alleviate flooding on your street, but will also filter and clean the water on its way back underground.

61. Buy vintage. Sustainable can be stylish. Our sister site Racked has a guide to buying vintage denim and highlights the best vintage stores to follow on Instagram.

62. Put books about climate change in your nearest little free library. Walk down any neighborhood street in cities like Denver, Colorado, and you’re likely to see a small wooden box full of free books. These Little Free Libraries are the perfect place to donate books on climate change.

In Your City

63. Support your local river cleanup. From Los Angeles to Boston, cities across the U.S. are working to make their rivers cleaner and more enjoyable. There’s even a movement to create a designated swim park in Boston’s Charles River and to install a floating pool in New York City’s East River. Check out American Rivers for information on how to support a river clean-up near you.

64. Retrofit your local highway. From envisioning freeway cap parks to reimagining ugly underpasses to turning highways into planted parkways, the most destructive urban infrastructure on the planet can be reinvented for a new life—especially if you tear the highway down completely.

An example of a newly built home in Summit Sky Ranch, a planned dark-sky community in Colorado, which enforces quality outdoor lighting and cuts energy usage.
Courtesy of Summit Sky Ranch

65. Preserve the night sky. Approximately 99 percent of people living in the United States and Europe live under light-polluted skies, and unnecessary lighting wastes energy and money. Reduce light waste by illuminating only the places that need it, putting shields on lights so they point down, and turning off unnecessary lights. You could also join over a dozen towns and cities that are official Dark Sky Communities.

66. Learn how sealevel rise will affect your city. You’ve seen the scary real estate maps showing the worst-case scenarios of submerged condo towers if climate change goes unchecked. But the truth is that marginalized communities will be affected first. Check out how Boston is taking action against a rising waterfront.

A map showing potential sea level rise in Boston, Massachusetts by 2100.
Green Ribbon Commission

67. Advocate for better building codes, energy efficiency, and transparency. Buildings are responsible for nearly half the energy consumption in the United States, making the built world—and those who design and maintain it—key to solving the climate crisis. Architects and planners can advocate for building codes and zoning regulations that favor more energy efficiency. Everyone can push for better energy efficiency and rating in housing and offices and move to make this information easily accessible.

68. Attend a town hall. Ask your representatives about climate change in person by finding an upcoming town hall near you. The Sierra Club offers talking points for how to ask your congressperson about protecting the EPA and issues surrounding the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement.

69. Tell your city to go car-free. What sounds like an impossible dream could be achieved by cities like Oslo in a few years. Want an example that’s closer to home? Get inspired by the way Vancouver has reduced reliance on cars by half.

70. Support transit-oriented development. Cities such as Chicago have codified the concept of transit-oriented development, which allows for larger buildings with smaller parking minimums if they’re near transit lines. It’s a conservation two-for-one, adding denser housing downtown with less need for private automobile trips.

One of the initial trains for Sound Transit’s Link Light Rail service for Seattle
A Sound Transit train in Seattle, where a $900 million Move Seattle levy passed in 2015.
VeloBusDriver: Flickr/Creative Commons

71. Say yes to transportation initiatives. Improving transit costs money, so the next time there is a transit-focused ballot measure in your city, vote yes. You’ll be in good company: In the November 2016 elections, cities voted yes on billions of dollars worth of transportation improvements.

72. Fight parking minimums. Up to 14 percent of the land in some U.S. cities is dedicated to parking motionless vehicles. That’s not just incentivizing driving, it’s also taking up precious land that could be used to build places that allow people to live and work closer together. Attend hearings for new developments and encourage planners to reduce or nix the construction of required parking spaces.

73. Keep the fossil fuel industry accountable. Plenty of oil and gas companies are cleaning up their acts, but there’s still a ways to go. Here’s how to keep the pressure on these corporations to go green.

74. Push your city to support 100 percent clean energy. Switching to 100 percent renewable power may seem like a lofty goal, but it’s not as far off as you think. Many cities have started pledging to switch to renewables, joining the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 Campaign. By making the commitment, mayors and city leaders have started to change transportation, planning, and energy policies, embarking on the long road to cleaner air. And, as many who have signed on have discovered, renewables will save significant money in the long run.

With Your Community

75. Come together to combat climate change. Villagers in the rural English town of Ashton Hayes didn’t need government help, special technology, or extra funding to fight climate change. Over the last decade, neighbors there have achieved a 24 percent reduction in emissions by collaborating and changing everyday behaviors, sharing tips on weatherproofing, and reducing energy usage. The grassroots, no-drama effort even earned the town a place in the media spotlight.

76. Listen to the best climate podcast. Warm Regards features a big-picture, science-focused look at climate change, from glaciology to green energy, hosted by meteorologist Eric Holthaus with paleoecologist Jacquelyn Gill and New York Times journalist Andy Revkin.

Biker on the Cultural Train in Indianapolis
A biker on the 8-mile, $62.5 million Indianapolis Cultural Trail that has linked neighborhoods and inspired development.
sciondriver: Flickr/Creative Commons

77. Read a book. Some great books for learning more about climate change and how to get involve include Merchants of Doubt, which looks at scientists who dispute evidence of climate change; Climate Change, What Everyone Needs to Know, a great Q&A-style overview; The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert, the award-winning New Yorker writer; and Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning by George Monbiot.

78. Get your kids on board. You’re never too young to take climate action. 10 Things I Can Do to Help My World and George Saves the World by Lunchtime offer everyday ways for children to be mindful about the planet, while NASA’s Climate Kids provides a solid introduction to the science of global climate change. (Don’t worry, they’ve got a grownup version, too.)

79. Support a carbon tax. A carbon tax is a fee imposed on the burning of carbon-based fuels, like coal, oil, and gas. It’s a way for users of carbon fuels to pay for the climate damage caused by releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and an incentive that motivates companies to switch to noncarbon fuels and energy efficiency.

80. Find out where your reps stand. It wasn’t just Trump who decided to back out of the Paris accord: These 22 senators have been pushing the U.S. to withdraw since May. There are plenty of tools that can show how your representatives have voted on recent climate and science issues. If you don’t agree with their decisions, get in touch.

The new span of New York’s Kosciuszko Bridge lights up green in response to the Trump administration’s announcement to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.
Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

81. Rewatch An Inconvenient Truth. You may have seen Al Gore’s climate change documentary back when it debuted 11 years ago, but in many ways, its message has never been more urgent. Host a viewing party, then plan to see the sequel, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, in theaters on July 28, 2017.

82. Support publications reporting on climate change. Great journalism makes us all better citizens and helps us learn more about the issues (for example, how climate change is changing the taste of tea and hurting food production).

83. Map local air pollution. The Environmental Defense Fund teamed up with Google to build a remote sensing tool that can help map air pollution in cities. Neighborhoods can use the data to reduce emissions and target communities most at risk for health issues.

84. Support corporate sustainability initiatives, or start one at your office. If your company has one, find ways to get involved. If not, talk to your colleagues about starting one. A recent eight-year study by MIT Sloan Management Review and the Boston Consulting Group, which offers plenty of advice and actionable goals, is a good place to start.

85. Understand how density fights climate change. Although the connection isn’t immediately obvious, building taller, denser cities is the best way to reduce emissions because they allow people and the goods they consume to expend less energy during transit. Smart development is the best way for a city to shrink its carbon footprint.

86. Back a scientist running for office. Only five people in Congress identify as scientists, which many science-minded advocates say is part of the problem when it comes to climate legislation. Find a scientist running near you or, better yet, if you’ve got a science background, here’s how to run yourself.


87. Watch a cartoon. Wall-E is the tale of a robot left alone to clean up Earth after humans trashed the place and escaped to outer space. Vox calls it one of the finest environmental films of the past decade, a riveting picture of society’s insatiable need to consume and what happens when private industry’s drive for profit overtakes the public good. This is the movie we need right now.

88. Offset your carbon emissions. If you want to approach the gold standard of environmental responsibility, take steps to completely neutralize your carbon footprint and invest in carbon offsets, which fund programs that help absorb the carbon generated by your everyday activities, such as reforestation. Groups such as Carbon Neutral and My Climate can help businesses and individuals get started.

89. Grasp the basics. Here are nine questions about climate change you were too afraid to ask, including “How do we stop it?”

90. Join a Day for Climate Action. On Saturday June 10, cities across the country will organize around city halls and statehouses to demand climate action. Find an event near you, or organize your own.

91. Become a “planetary futurist.” Alex Steffen is arguably one of the smartest voices for climate action. His latest project, The Nearly Now, is a newsletter that promises to not only change the way you see the future, but also to give you the tools and necessary optimism to affect its outcome.

92. Follow female environmental journalists. Need daily news and inspiration from trusted sources? David Roberts of our sister site Vox has compiled this list of over 125women writing about climate change and clean energy.

93. Visit our national parks. Many of our treasured national parks are on the frontlines of climate change; for example, Glacier National Park may be glacier-free within a few decades. Here are some environmentally sound places to stay while you visit.

wildflowers at grand teton national park
Grand Teton National Park at sunset.

94. Understand how the debate became political. The conversation about climate change has been plagued by partisanship—in fact, how Americans voted in the 2016 election almost exactly mirrors their climate beliefs. Here’s why humans are so bad at wrapping their heads around it and how to prevent people from becoming victims of denial.

95. Discuss, and advocate, for the environment in more concrete terms. “The environment is an abstract concept, and until you put a human face to the problem you will not inspire people to act. The Slow Space Movement puts people first—their experience, their health, and their rights. It goes beyond sustainability and checklists and connects with people on an emotional level by telling the stories of how their lives are affected by the built environment.” — Mette Aamodt, cofounder and CEO of Aamodt/Plumb Architects

96. Disinvest from carbon-heavy industries and investments. Making sure your financial portfolio matches your beliefs is a sound investment in our collective future. Many mutual funds and retirement accounts offer clean energy and carbon-free options, and groups such as Carbon Tracker have helped demonstrate the risk of carbon-heavy investments in light of a worldwide shift toward cleaner energy.

97. Endorse the Paris agreement. You can show your support for the global climate accord by personally agreeing to uphold its values.

98. Build towers (and eventually skyscrapers) with wood. “Building with Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) and other emerging wood technologies allows us to ‘grow’ future cities with a renewable resource that sequesters carbon and connects urban growth to rural economic development.” — Thomas Robinson, founding principal of Lever Architecture

99. Work on a community solar project. Solar panels can be a stretch for many homeowners, and an impossibility for renters. But that doesn’t mean you can’t invest in a sun-powered future. More than 25 states allow for community solar projects, which let a group of residents team up to fund a centralized, shared solar installation. Others are attempting to take it one step further: In New York City, the Brooklyn Microgrid projectwants to create a viable market to sell local energy between neighbors.

100. Read some climate fiction. And if that doesn’t scare you into taking action, we don’t know what will.

101. Vote. Especially if you’re a millennial.

How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

By Livia Albeck-Ripka

Climate change can be overwhelming. The science is complex, and when it comes to future impacts, there are still a lot of unknowns. While real solutions will require action on a global scale, there are choices you can make in your day-to-day life to lessen your personal impact on the environment. This guide will walk you through some of them.

What Is a Carbon Footprint?

A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions that come from the production, use and end-of-life of a product or service. It includes carbon dioxide — the gas most commonly emitted by humans — and others, including methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases, which trap gas in the atmosphere, causing global warming. Usually, the bulk of an individual’s carbon footprint will come from transportation, housing and food.

You can start the process by calculating your carbon footprint here. You will need to know the following:

  • Approximately how many miles you travel by car, bus, train and plane.
  • The energy usage in your home.
  • How much you spend shopping.
  • The composition of your diet.

No matter how you scored, here are some things that could help you lessen your personal environmental impact.


How Much Do You Know About Solving Global Warming?

A new book presents 100 potential solutions. Can you figure out which ones are top ranked?

Take the Quiz

Climate Change Is Complex. We’ve Got Answers to Your Questions.

We know. Global warming is daunting. So here’s a place to start: 17 often-asked questions with some straightforward answers.

Explore the Questions and Answers

On the Road, in the Sky

One of the most effective ways to begin thinking about how to reduce your carbon footprint is to reconsider how much, and how often, you travel.


In November 2017 carbon dioxide emissions from transportation surpassed emissions from electricity generation as the top source of greenhouse gases.  Why? Electricity generation is shifting away from the use of coal to more renewable sources and natural gas.

Going carless for a year could save about 2.6 tons of carbon dioxide, according to 2017 study from researchers at Lund University and the University of British Columbia — that’s a little more than a roundtrip transatlantic flight. How can you stop using a car? Try taking a train, bus or better yet, ride a bike.

But let’s be realistic. You will likely need to use a car this year. So, when you do, here are some tips to make your trip more climate-friendly:

  • Go easy on the gas and brakes — driving efficiently can help to reduce emissions. Drive “like you have an egg under your foot,” recommends Brian West, an expert in fuel and engine research from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which researches energy use and solutions in the United States.
  • Regularly service your car to keep it more efficient.
  • Check your tires. Keeping tires pumped correctly can reduce emissions. “Low tire pressure will hurt your fuel economy,” Mr. West said.
  • Air conditioning and intensive city driving can make emissions creep up. Cut down on these as often as possible.
  • Use cruise control on long drives — in most cases, this can help to save gas.
  • Don’t weigh your car down with extra things that you don’t need on your trip.
  • Carpool — this way, you’re splitting emissions between the number of people in the car.


Shopping for a new car is a great opportunity to consider how you can reduce your personal carbon footprint. When choosing between gasoline, hybrid and electric, there are a number of factors to take into account, which will determine how “clean” your purchase is. The following can help:

  • Search for cars here, where they are rated by efficiency.
  • Think about where you will be charging up. How efficient hybrid and electric cars are also depends on what state you live in — different states rely on fossil fuels to different degrees.
  • Weigh up both production and use emissions using this app. (Making electric cars has a carbon footprint, too.)
  • Look for the Smart Way certification.
  • Remember: Cars with lower emissions can often end up costing less to operate.


Fly often? Taking one fewer long round-trip flight could shrink your personal carbon footprint significantly. Think about it this way: If you use public transportation often, and fly home to visit family just occasionally, your carbon footprint might still be relatively sustainable, but if you drive and fly a lot, your emissions will be higher.

If you can’t avoid flying, one way of making up for the emissions caused is to offset them by donating money to sustainable projects, such as supplying efficient stoves to rural homes, or projects which help farmers in India sell crop waste as biomass. Sometimes airlines will give you this option themselves, or you can use a third-party like Atmosfair or Terrapass. (You can calculate the emissions per flight here.)

On Your Plate

Globally, emissions are linked to what we put on our plates.


While food systems are complicated, and research is still evolving on what the most environmentally-friendly diet is, experts mostly agree that cutting down on meat, and red meat in particular, is a better choice for the environment. This is because the production of red meat uses a lot of feed, water and land. Cows themselves also give off methane emissions (a harmful greenhouse gas).

For that reason, eating a vegan diet is likely to be best for the environment, say experts. According to a study published in 2017 in the journal Environmental Research Letters, red meat can have up to 100 times the environmental impact of plant based food. (According to some estimates, beef gives off more than six pounds of carbon dioxide per serving; the amount created per serving by rice, legumes carrots, apples or potatoes is less than half a pound.)

Eating a vegetarian or pescetarian diet are also likely to be better for the environment than a diet which includes a lot of meat. Each of these, however, depend on exactly what you are eating, and how much of it. If you replace that meat with dairy, for example, your emissions could rise again. “Deep net fishing can emit as much as beef,” said Marco Springmann, a senior researcher on environmental sustainability and public health at the University of Oxford. Following national health guidelines, with further reductions in meat, fish and dairy (this is similar to a Mediterranean diet) is a good option too, Dr. Springmann said. These diets can also have health benefits.

Overall, eating low down the food chain as often as you can is a probably a good way to reduce your carbon footprint and stay healthy, say experts. That means filling your plate with vegetables, fruits, grains and beans. For meat-lovers, even swapping carbon-intensive meats like beef and lamb with chicken can make a difference. Better still, swap a few meals per-week to vegan or vegetarian. This protein card can help you make climate (and wallet) friendly choices at the grocery store.


When it comes to food, most greenhouse gas emissions happen during production, rather than transportation: What you eat is more important than where it comes from. But eating local can still make a difference.

Fewer food-miles can mean fewer emissions. The complicating factor in eating locally happens when you start to consider how the food got to you, not just from how far away it came. “This ‘eat local’ argument, I would take it with a pinch of salt,” Dr. Springmann said. Tomatoes brought a short distance to a farmers market by truck, or shipped further to the grocery store by a train, could release similar emissions. (The transportation you take to get your tomatoes, and bring them home, also matters.)

What about local meat versus imported vegetables? Eating only locally grown food for one year would save the greenhouse gas equivalent of driving 1,000 miles, but eating just one vegetarian meal a week for a year saves 160 miles more than that, according to one study from researchers at Carnegie Mellon.

How about organic? You might choose organic if you prefer to eat produce grown with fewer chemical pesticides, but when it comes to reducing your carbon footprint, you’re better off shifting to low-impact, plant-based foods, according to a recent study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. The study found that organic systems use less energy than conventional ones, but they often require more land and, therefore, emit similar greenhouse gas emissions.


This is a big one: on average, Americans waste around 40 percent of the food they buy. 

Luckily, there are simple solutions to lower your food waste (and these tips will save you money, too.):

  • Take stock. Organize your fridge regularly to check on what you already have, and make grocery shopping lists before you go to the store to prevent buying things you don’t need.
  • Be wary of bulk. Low-priced food might seem like a good deal, but it’s not if you don’t end up eating it before it goes bad.
  • Plan. Don’t cook more food than you can eat. Account for the right amount of food for the number of people eating, and adapt recipes to your needs.
  • Get creative. Reuse leftovers instead of tossing them.
  • Freeze. Extend the life of your food, including additional portions, as well as produce like fresh herbs, by freezing them properly.
  • Doggie bag. Take home half of oversized restaurant servings.

What to Eat On. Skip the disposable dishes and wash your dinnerware instead. Washing dishes, whether it is by hand or in a dishwasher, is likely to be more environmentally friendly than using disposable ones (assuming your dishwasher is energy efficient). If you do need to use disposable plates, bowls and cutlery, there are climate-friendly options (look for compostable or biodegradable options). If you order takeout, wash and reuse the plastic containers that food often comes in.

In Your Home

There are simple changes you can make at home that will save you energy, and money.


In the average American home, 25 percent of energy is used to heat spaces, 13 percent is used to heat water, 11 percent is used for cooling and the remainder is spent on appliances, according to estimates from the Natural Resources Defense Council. Making even small changes to these can make a big difference, said Noah Horowitz, a senior scientist and director of the N.R.D.C.’s Center for Energy Efficiency. “There’s a lot you can do without having to pick up a hammer or write a check,” he said. (This calculator can help you work out your energy usage before and after you make these changes.)

  • Turn down the heat. Use a programmable or smart thermostat, if you have one. Keep blinds closed to help keep temperature stable inside.
  • Turn down your water heater — 120 degrees Fahrenheit is sufficient.
  • Turn off lights and appliances when you’re not using them. Turn off appliances at the power outlet to reduce even more energy. Putting them to sleep is second best.
  • Stream movies through your smart TV, not your game console. Smart TVs and their plugins use just a few watts to stream movies, Mr. Horowitz said, but if you use your game console, energy use is about 10 times higher, because they aren’t optimized to play films.
  • Buy a laptop, not a desktop computer. Laptops take less energy to charge and run.
  • Replace lights. LED lights use up to 85 percent less energy, last up to 25 times longer and are cheaper to run than incandescent lights. About two billion sockets in the United States still have an energy-wasting bulb in them, said Mr. Horowitz. “This is a massive opportunity that we could change almost overnight,” he said.
  • Don’t set your fridge and freezer temperatures lower than necessary. The United States Department of Energy recommends around 35 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit for the fresh food compartment and 0 degrees for freezers. (And unplug that old fridge in the garage when you don’t need it to chill anything.)
  • Choose renewables. If you live in a state where you can choose your energy supplier, pick one that runs on renewables.
  • Replace old fridges.They are “energy hogs” according to Mr. Horowitz, and can cost you up to $100 extra per year to run. “If it’s 15 to 20 years old,” he said, “it’s a no brainer to recycle it.”
  • Look for an Energy Star symbol when buying new products. This certification means a product has met energy efficiency standards for the United States.


Americans generate about roughly 258 million tons of trash a year, 169 million tons of which ends up in landfills and incinerators, according to a 2014 report from the E.P.A. That year, American’s recycled and composted 89 million tons of municipal solid waste — this saved the same amount of energy as generated by 25 million homes. But much of the waste that can be recycled still ends up in landfills.

Here are some tips to make sure your waste ends up in the right place:

  • Look for a number inside a triangle on the bottom of plastic containers. These indicate what kind of resin was used, and whether the container is recyclable in your state (check your city or state’s website for accepted numbers).
  • Empty and rinse food containers before putting them in the recycling bin. A dirty container can spoil a whole batch of recyclables.
  • Recycle paper. 
  • Recycle paper and steel and tin cans.
  • Before throwing away, ask: Can I re-use or repair this?
  • Donate working electronics. 
  • Recycle broken electronics. Many local electronics stores offer free recycling programs for old goods.
  • Collect dry cell batteries. You should be able to recycle them through your local municipality.
  • Contact your local car dealer or municipality to recycle car batteries. 
  • Don’t put non-recyclables in the recycling bin. Garden hoses, sewing needles, propane tanks or cylinders, aerosol cans that aren’t empty, hazardous waste and syringes, broken glass and broken light bulbs should all be avoided.


Small changes to the insulation and design of your home — from do-it-yourself hacks to building changes — can help you reduce your carbon footprint at home. Before starting, you can also do an energy audit, or have a professional come in to rate and score your home’s energy efficiency.

  • Seal your home well. Trouble spots can include the attic, windows and doors, where heat and cool can escape.
  • Insulate your home. This helps keep the temperature stable. There are a range of materials you can use. This guide can help you to choose the right one. A professional energy auditor can help you work out if it’s time to re-insulate. Some insulation does degrade – for example, prior to the 1940s, sawdust and newspaper were used for insulation. You should remove insulation too if it has damage from pests, if it smells, or if it’s wet or moldy.
  • Install a cool roof. This is made of a reflective material which redirects light away from your house, keeping it cool.
  • Plant shrubs and trees around your home. This is an easy, and pretty, insulation fix, especially for older homes.
  • Check the energy-efficiency rating for your windows, doors and skylights. Consider replacing those that don’t meet modern standards.
  • Look into incentives. These may include tax credits and rebates.

What You Buy

Buying less is the first step. Beyond that, there are simple ways to reduce the impact from your purchases.


According to the World Resources Institute, 20 items of clothing are manufactured per person, per year. This is because of “fast fashion”: clothes that are produced quickly, cheaply and unsustainably. As the price of our clothes drops, the environmental (and human) costs increase.

Here are some tips to minimize your impact when you purchase clothing:

  • Look for a fairtrade, or similar logo. This indicates your clothes were made sustainably. Take a look at this transparency index from the organization Fashion Revolution.
  • Shop vintage. You’ll be saving money, and the environment.
  • Ask yourself: How many times will I wear this? Don’t buy clothing that will either wear out quickly, or, that you’ll barely wear.
  • Consider the fabric. Different materials have different environmental impacts, so that’s something to take into consideration too. Think wool over synthetics.
  • Donate old clothes. Better yet, use those too old to be donated for other purposes, like sewing projects or cleaning rags. Some animal shelters will take old sheets and towels for bedding material as well.


You shop for more than just clothes, so whatever you’re shopping for — groceries, home goods, toys and whatever else — there are ways to take the climate into account.

Here are some tips:

  • Take a reusable bag to the store.
  • Skip the packaging.
  • Invest in quality products that last.
  • Buy carbon offsets. Sometimes, you can’t avoid doing things that contribute to your carbon footprint, but you can support projects and initiatives that offset these emissions. (Remember to be cautious in choosing your offsets, to make sure they are authentic.)

What You Do

In addition to changing your day-to-day habits, exercising your rights as a citizen is one of the most significant things you can do to help the planet.

Taking climate change into consideration when you vote is a good start. Here are some other tips:

  • Know your facts. Understanding the science of climate change will help you talk to your family, friends and local representatives with about the issue with confidence.
  • Find local climate action groups or meetups in your area. Attending these meetings will help to keep you abreast of way you can help in your community.
  • Speak to your local representative. Suggest things your city or town can do to reduce its carbon footprint, like developing a town action plan, improving recycling, and adopting green energy policies.
  • Vote on policies that protect the environment. Use your vote to  curb climate change.

About the Author

Livia Albeck-Ripka is a reporting fellow with The New York Times’s climate and environment desk. Originally from Australia, she has a master’s degree from Columbia Journalism School and has also reported for publications including The Atlantic, Quartz and Vice Magazine.