Helping the environment and combatting climate change is a colossal task. We’re literally talking about saving all of the life that depends on the environment for survival, including the human race.
With such a huge task at hand and dire predictions from climate scientists, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. You might wonder what one person could possibly do to help the environment. Smaller changes, like switching the kind of light bulbs you buy, can feel especially futile.
While it’s true that you probably won’t single-handedly save the world from global warming, it is possible for you to make a difference. Here’s how.
Do Small Changes Help?
In short, yes. They are, at the very least, better than doing nothing. Little changes, naturally, help a little bit. But are they enough to stop a catastrophe from befalling the human race?
It depends on which changes you choose. Some of the changes that government agencies and educators most frequently recommend are some of the least impactful.
Hanging your clothes up to dry instead of using a machine, for instance, is a commonly cited way to reduce your carbon emissions. According to a study published in Environmental Research Letters, making this switch will save 0.21 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. Upgrading your light bulbs saves you less than 0.2 tons.
When you consider that Americans need to lower their per person emissions by 14 tons to avoid the most disastrous climate change impacts, those savings start to look pretty meager.
Of course, these small actions do add up. Take five low impact actions, like air drying your clothes or unplugging your electronics when not in use, and you’ve reduced your emissions by one ton. Eat a plant-based diet, and you could eliminate almost one full ton of carbon emissions per year.
Which Changes Make the Most Difference?
Perhaps predictably, the most significant changes are things that many people wouldn’t consider a small change. Living car-free can save you more than two tons of emissions per year, but that would be considered a big lifestyle change for some people. Some might also not be able to cut their car usage because they need it to get to work.
Besides not driving, other significant changes included taking one less transatlantic flight, buying green energy and driving a more efficient car. The most substantial action you can take, according to recent studies, may be a bit controversial. If you want to reduce your emissions significantly, having fewer children is an option.
In the United States, having one less child can reduce your emissions by almost 120 tons. That’s because it takes into account, the emission created by that child during their entire lifetime and the impacts of their children and future generations. Certainly, reducing the number of people on the planet would slow climate change, but many people aren’t willing to make that hefty sacrifice.
It Takes a Planet
Of course, you can reduce your emissions all you want, but if no one else reduces theirs with you, it won’t make much of a difference. Many people around the world need to take action to combat climate change and environmental damage. They are truly global problems.
That’s why in addition to making small changes, spreading the word about environmental issues, voting for environmentally conscious lawmakers and advocating for environmentally sound policies are some of the most meaningful things you can do.
So, do small lifestyle changes help the environment? The most honest answer is probably ‘a little bit’ or ‘it depends.’ No one’s environmental impact or lifestyle is exactly the same, so living a more eco-friendly life will look different for everyone. That may include many small changes, or it might involve one or two big changes. Most likely it will require a combination of the two, plus some environmental advocacy.
To figure out the best strategy for reducing your emissions, take a look at your lifestyle, decide what you can change that will make the most impact and then get started.
Bobbi Peterson is a green-living and sustainability writer and blogger at Living Life Green.