With the incidence of extreme weather on the increase, concern about global warming is also growing. This concern needs to be turned into action—whether local, regional or national. There are many things you can do to help curb climate change, from making your immediate surroundings more energy efficient, to promoting policies on a national level. Here are a dozen ways to take action. Local examples for New York likely have counterparts in other states.
Calculate your carbon footprint. Figure out how many tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses you generate each year through the lifestyle choices you make. The Nature Conservancy’s carbon footprint calculator calculates your impact and suggests ways to offset it.
Switch to renewable energy. Replace the fossil fuel-generated electricity you use with electricity produced from clean energy to support energy independence and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In New York, you can opt for 100 percent wind energy.
Plant trees. Trees help clean the air, cool streets, beautify neighborhoods, and sequester carbon dioxide. MillionTreesNYC is a citywide, public-private initiative whose mission is to plant one million new trees across New York City’s five boroughs over the next decade. 500,000 trees have already been planted.
You can help by planting trees in your community, joining a tree stewardship group or helping to spread the word about MillionTreesNYC.
Conduct a home energy audit. Find out how energy efficient your home or apartment is and what you can do to save energy and money with a do-it-yourself energy assessment. Once you learn what needs to be done, however, you must implement the changes to become more energy efficient. New Yorkers can get low-interest loans through NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) for energy-related home improvements. If you’d rather bring someone in to conduct an energy audit for you, contact your utility company to see if it offers free or discounted energy audits for customers; Energy Star also provides a list of certified Home Energy Raters that can perform energy audits.
Eat less meat. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization calculates that 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from clearing land, growing feed, and the processing and transport necessary to satisfy the mounting global appetite for meat. (The Worldwatch Institute found that livestock and their byproducts account for 51 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.) Going meatless, even just one day a week, will improve your health, save water (1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water go into a pound of beef) and reduce your carbon footprint.
Drive smarter. Altering your driving style can save gas, and help reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Avoid sudden starts and stops, and excess idling; drive the speed limit or 55 mph (Each 5 mph over 60 mph adds 30 cents per gallon to the cost of your gas.) Make sure tires are properly inflated and eliminate hauling excess weight in your trunk. Keep your car well maintained and tuned up. Better yet, ride your bike whenever possible!
Join or start a community garden. Community gardens in the midst of cities like New York are oases of green that serve as gathering spaces and provide a host of environmental benefits. Gardens help improve air quality, absorb stormwater runoff, reduce carbon dioxide and support biodiversity. Some also produce fresh vegetables and provide opportunities for rainwater harvesting and composting. GreenThumb offers support to over 500 gardens in New York City, including tools, seed and technical advice. Contact GreenThumb to join or start a garden.
Recycle more. Recycling enables us to reuse materials, conserving natural resources and energy, and keep waste out of landfills where it might otherwise generate potent greenhouse gasses. New York City residents recycle about 17 percent of their waste, only half of what we could be recycling, so we can do better. New York City’s Office of Recycling Outreach and Education provides recycling assistance and information about how to recycle textiles, food waste, compact fluorescent bulbs, rechargeable batteries and cell phones, and about community swaps. Many green markets in New York City now accept fruit and vegetable scraps, non-greasy carbohydrates, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, egg and nut shells, cut and dried flowers, houseplants and potting soil for composting.
Initiate a green project of your own. Change By Us NYC is a new website run by the Mayor’s Office where New Yorkers can share ideas for making the city greener. Join ongoing projects or start one of your own. Change by Us NYC connects ideas with public and non-profit programs that can help facilitate projects, and offers mini-grants to support selected community projects. ioby.org (In Our Backyards) provides support to anyone in the United States who has an environmental project they need to fund. You can visit ioby.org/idea and work with the ioby team to launch, fund and share your initiative. (ioby was founded by Erin Barnes, an environmental writer, and Brandon Whitney, who developed research projects on climate change and water issues at the Earth Institute.)
Check out GreeNYC. GreeNYC, the outreach arm of PlaNYC, New York City’s sustainability plan, aims to educate and motivate New Yorkers to live sustainably. Visit the site for additional ideas on living a more environmentally conscious and responsible life at home, at work and on the go.
Support the Beyond Coal campaign. Coal-fired power plants, which produce about half of our nation’s electricity, generate more carbon dioxide per unit of electricity than any other fossil fuel and account for almost 40 percent of the nation’s carbon dioxide pollution from all sources including transportation. Moreover, coal burning produces toxic mercury pollution, causes respiratory ailments, and devastates ecosystems with its mountaintop removal mining techniques. The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign aims to shut down dirty coal plants and promote clean renewable energy—it has already stopped 150 coal plants. You can get involved locally or nationally.
Promote policies that protect the environment and help curb greenhouse gas emissions. The Natural Resources Defense Council Action Center tracks the status of important environmental legislation and provides an easy way to communicate your opinions to elected representatives. In addition, it is a great resource for background information on each issue. The Sierra Club’s Take Action page also provides opportunities to send your message to Congress.