*long exhale* OK, we all knew this was coming. In one of many misguided policies based on spurious logic and flawed ideology, the US pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord. While many countries like France, India, and China have announced they plan to uphold the agreement without the US, we are still responsible for approximately 20% of global emissions. As a nation, we need to take responsibility, and unfortunately this falls almost entirely on NGOs, nonprofits, and private citizens under the current administration’s denial of climate change. I know it seems only wealthy people have the resources necessary to make a difference, but being sustainable on a budget is really simple. Believe me, I’m a grad student.
1. Buy Fewer, Higher Quality Items
I currently own four pairs of pants, two pants and one pair of shorts from American Giant, and one pair of pant-like-objects my boyfriend’s father got for me in Nairobi. I have 9 dresses, two of which are appropriate for upscale dinner parties. I could continue, but my point is that buying a few things you love and are made sustainably is superior to going through clothes like free wine at a new student mixer. I’d rather have one thing that looks great on me than five that are kind of cute but not perfect; plus, supporting artisans and small-batch production keeps them in business and encourages more to do the same. Minimalism helps me get ready faster and love what I have more. Vote with your wallets, and all that.
2. For the Love of All that is Good, Don’t Buy Bottled Water
Bottled water is less regulated than tap water. The EPA regulates the tap water coming out of your faucet while FDA regulates bottled water; the EPA requires more testing and holds water to a higher standard of purification according to both the NRDC and Scientific American. Furthermore, up to 50% of bottled water comes from municipal sources aka tap water; some of which isn’t even purified. So, unless you’re living in Flint Michigan (which continues to be a tragedy with people not being able to drink caustic water from their lead pipes) there is no reason to drink bottled water. It’s wasteful and a scam.
3. Don’t Drive
If you live in a place that isn’t walkable and doesn’t provide public transportation, like rural areas, this can be very hard. For those of us living in urban communities, there are few cases in which cars are necessary. Living in DC and Harrisburg, I was able to walk or bus to most of the places I wanted to go. If you can’t do that, ride share, and if you can’t do that, try to take as few trips as possible. Not only that, but driving in traffic is stressful, which raises one’s cortisol levels; meanwhile, studies are finding that an hour of activity and being in nature are essential to one’s physical and mental health. I can attest, most of my best ideas come from exercise or extended periods sans phone.
4. Avoid Single-Use Items
Like tampons, plastic packaging, and bubble wrap. I shop online more than I’d like to admit because many of the things want aren’t available near me, like handmade shoes or carbon neutral dresses, most of which I’m finding are made in California. No surprise here. A lot of the stores I shop from ship in recyclable packaging, but some don’t, and I’ve had to either throw out bubble wrap or find other uses for it (it’s perfect for storing christmas decorations). While some reusable goods like Thinx are pricey, other green alternatives are literally free. Try buying bulk foods at the grocery store in a mason jar, refusing plastic bags, and getting loose rather than packaged produce.
5. Change Your Bulbs to Compact Fluorescent or LEDs
This isn’t sexy, but it’s still important. LEDs last longer and cast a bluer light that’s much more appealing than fluorescent. Most of the electricity in the US is made by burning coal which accounts for to up to 80% of the greenhouse emissions of the country. Clean coal is a fairy tale that needs to die. Yes, coal miners need jobs, but wouldn’t it be great if they were trained for safer, higher paying jobs in solar or wind power? I can think of no one who would choose to work in a coal mine if they had another option.
6. Grow a garden
It doesn’t have to be a big one; it could be one tree. Growing one’s own food is the most sustainable and cost effective option. Some summers, my family was overwhelmed by an abundance of produce, and I eat tomatoes like they’re candy. If you can’t, try a small herb garden, or even decorative trees on your front porch or balcony. All plants, trees specifically, sequester carbon and produce oxygen. The rainforest is aptly called the lungs of the earth because nearly all heterotrophic life needs oxygen to survive.
7. Eat less meat
Look, you don’t have to avoid meat and dairy altogether. The biggest environmental impacts of meat include the shipping and the methane produced by raising livestock, both of which can be countered by shopping at a local farmer’s market and getting poultry instead. Let me stress the importance of choosing local farms; most of the animal abuse in factory farms happens to chickens because of their sheer number. Try saving meat for one meal; it’s better for you and the environment without totally changing your habits (though feel free to go vegan or vegetarian).
8. Avoid Imports and Shop Locally When Possible
This is not coming from the same ideological place as nativism; rather, I believe it’s best to support independently owned small businesses whenever possible. It leads to higher wages and more opportunities where you live and vastly reduces the shipping footprint. This coincides with many of the above points, but I think it’s important enough to count twice. Support local artisans over multinational corporations every. time.
9. Don’t Rely on Temperature Control
Keeping a slightly warmer house in the summer and colder in the winter is one of the easiest changes to make. Just slight temperature shifts can make a big impact in your carbon footprint; even a few scant degrees over a long period of time accumulate into huge gains in environmental impact. The bonus is that your skin won’t be quite so dry.
10. Avoid the single action bias
This isn’t really a step but it’s very important. Most people get anxious about the environment around times like this, do one thing, feel better, and move on. Sustainability isn’t measured in single actions but habits. So, change your bulbs, but don’t just stop there. There are small choices you must take every day; like a diet, these are all lifestyle changes rather than temporary patches. But that’s the exciting part, exploring alternatives to the status quo and being more present in our daily lives and choices.