Because every day is Earth Day, take any of these actions any day.
1. Join a climate-focused organization
The most important thing an individual can do is be a little less of an individual and join together with others in movements large enough to make change.Bill McKibben, 350.org founder
We have the solutions at hand to prevent the worst effects of climate change—and many of them are being implemented now. What we lack is the political will to ramp up these solutions at the necessary speed. By getting involved with a climate-focused organization, you’ll work with other concerned citizens to collectively pressure governments to adopt the kinds of policies we need.
The following are just some of the many grassroots organizations pushing for climate action. A few of the groups on the US-centric list are international. Please join one (or join one not listed here) and get involved.
- Citizens’ Climate Lobby
- Climate Reality Project
- Extinction Rebellion
- Indigenous Environmental Network
- Indigenous Climate Action
- NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program
- Natural Resources Defense Council
- Protect Our Winters (POW Europe)
- Sierra Club & Beyond Coal Campaign
- Sunrise Movement
The most difficult part of this task will be narrowing down your choice!
2. Plant a native (or two or three) to regenerate biodiversity
Our yard, like most yards in North America, is filled with non-native plants. That means insects that evolved to eat native plants have nothing to eat. No food for insects means less food for birds. A bird landing in my yard in search of food is like me grocery shopping in a clothing store. But I am slowly changing this! So far, I’ve ripped out some non-natives and have planted two native oaks and a handful of other native plants. (The poppies below just happen.)
If you’re wondering what you can do about the extinction crisis or the climate crisis, planting natives addresses both. Natives provide habitat for wildlife and require less water and fewer pesticides. Go here to search for native plants in the US by zip code. If you don’t have a yard of your own, look for a community initiative that gets more native plants into the ground.
If you have dedicated your yard (or even part of it) to natives, get it on the Homegrown National Park map (more on this in another blog post soon). And read Doug Tallamay’s fabulous, New York Times bestselling book, Nature’s Best Hope.
3. Make a meal with the food you have on hand
You’ve already paid for it; let the food in your refrigerator and pantry dictate what you’ll cook next, rather than cravings. You’ll save time and money.
Worldwide, about a third of the food we produce goes uneaten, which generates up to 10 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions. To put that into perspective, the aviation industry generates about 2.5 percent of emissions. In fact, if food waste were its own country, it would rank third in greenhouse gas emissions, behind only China and the US.
The following highly adaptable recipes will help you cook more of the food you buy:
- Pizza. All kinds of food can top pizza. Choose traditional red sauce or pesto or hummus and then layer on vegetables. Or top your pizza with leftover spaghetti.
- Pastry. Fill a galette, hand pies or tarts with still-edible fruit that has seen better days. Or fill your pastry with savory vegetables and leftover protein.
- Grain bowls. If I have cooked beans and cooked grains on hand, I can make a satisfying dish in minutes. I chop up a few vegetables—cooked beets and sprouts I start on the counter are a couple of favorites—toss everything with some wine vinegar and good olive oil, sprinkle with salt and I’m done.
- Potpie. Because you need more pastry in your life. Make a béchamel sauce, thin it out with scrap vegetable broth, sauté some vegetables, combine everything, pour into a baking dish, top with pastry, bake, enjoy. (The recipe is in my book.)
- Roasted vegetables. Have a glut of vegetables you can’t possibly eat before they become compost fodder? Cut them into bite-size pieces, toss in olive oil, spread in cast-iron pans (because they clean up so easily) or baking sheets, sprinkle with garlic and salt and roast at 400°F or so until tender (times vary depending on the type of vegetables you roast). In addition to a delicious side dish, you now have components for a frittata or a pot of roasted vegetable soup or pita filling.
- Savory besan pancakes. Besan (gram flour) is made of finely ground split roasted chickpeas and differs from chickpea flour, which is made of ground whole chickpeas. (If you use chickpea flour for these, you may have to adjust the water to make a suitably runny batter.) These savory Indian pancakes taste like omelets but contain no eggs. Last night, rifling through the refrigerator, I found three small green onions and fermented jalapeños and stirred those into the batter. The vegetable add-ins depend on your inventory. So, so good. Go here for the recipe.
When food waste does happen, that food belongs in a compost bin. Go here for more on composting.
4. Eat more vegetables
I have given several talks during Earth Month about running a more sustainable kitchen. The short version of my talks goes as follows: Eat lots of vegetables. (While that advice sounds simple enough, not everyone can adhere to it in our current unjust, industrial food system.)
The meat-centric Western—increasingly global—diet accounts for about 20 percent of global emissions according to the Drawdown website. Other sources put that number as high as 60 percent. Whatever the figure, I doubt it comes as a surprise that growing and harvesting a pound of lentils impacts the environment less than producing the equivalent amount of beef.
If you load up on fresh produce when shopping, you’ll likely bring home much less plastic—fruit and vegetables have their own packaging. Because our stomachs have a limited capacity, you’ll eat less ultra-processed food lacking in nutrition. If you worry you won’t be able to eat all of your vegetables before they head south, preserve them, roast them or simply toss them into a pot of soup. When you eat more vegetables, your kitchen routine becomes simpler and, literally, greener.
If you don’t know where to start, cover half of your plate with vegetables at dinner tonight. Bon appétit!
5. Eat food that’s in season
My mom in Ontario, Canada, once asked me why the California strawberries she buys up there have no flavor. I told her they taste delicious here (in the summer) because they travel less than 100 miles to the market, unlike her 2,500-mile berries.
Food that travels long distances is picked unripe and later, upon arrival, gassed with ethylene (a plant hormone) to induce ripening. The food travels by truck or plane, sometimes in energy-intensive refrigerated holds, depending on the crop. Even though I can buy local strawberries in winter, those grow in hothouses, which require lots of energy to operate.
Eating seasonally engenders more respect for food. We also appreciate seasonal foods more when they finally appear after a long wait. And the taste can’t be beat.
Go here for a list of what’s in season, when, in the US. Or, if your farmers’ market has re-opened (or it runs year-round like ours here in California), go and see what’s in season.
6. Plant a bit of food
If nothing else, consider growing an herb or two. Herbs have to be one of the most wasted foods. Often, you need only a few sprigs but must buy an entire bunch. And sometimes you must buy them in a plastic clamshell. A balcony or sunny window will do if you don’t have a yard. You’ll save money, reduce packaging waste and food miles, eat tastier food and enjoy witnessing and harvesting something you grow and nurture yourself.
The wine crate below that I found on the side of the road makes a good planter for a balcony or other small space.
7. Find out if your electricity provider offers green energy
If you live in the US, choosing renewable energy sources for your household electricity may be a money-saving click or two away. According to Energy.gov, at least half of all utility customers in the US can now buy renewable energy for their homes through their power supplier.
To make the switch, log into your account with your utility company and switch to green electricity if your provider offers it. If you have trouble finding information on your utility’s website, call and ask for help. Or do an online search with the terms “switch electricity to clean energy [YOUR CITY].”
We buy 100 percent renewable electricity from the public, not-for-profit agency Silicon Valley Clean Energy (SVCE), and PG&E, our utility, delivers it to our home via the grid. SVCE provides 270,000 residential and business customers with clean electricity in 13 communities in the Valley, and has invested $1.6 billion in renewable energy projects. If you live in the area that SVCE serves, you buy your energy from it by default. (Customers can opt out but they’ll pay more.)
You do not necessarily have to own your home to make the switch. If you rent an apartment in a complex, with each unit metered individually, you can switch easily. If your entire complex shares one meter, ask your landlord about making the switch.
8. Use less plastic
Plastic is made primarily of fossil fuels. As we electrify our grids and cars, Big Oil needs a new market for its product. So it has been pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into building more plants to produce the stuff. Like burning fossil fuels for energy (and some plastics are burned for energy), plastic contributes to climate change.
Start by quitting the Top Four
Plastic Free July came up with the idea of the Top Four to help people wanting to cut plastic waste to feel less overwhelmed. These widespread types of plastics have quite simple and painless alternatives.
Plastic shopping bags and produce bags
You can buy cloth produce bags at health food co-ops, eco-friendly shops and online. Or sew very simple produce bags if you prefer. Stash your produce bags in your shopping bags so you’ll have them when you need them.
Needless to say, you can’t drink unsafe water. But clever marketing—not actual need—motivates millions and millions of Americans to buy bottled water. And according to Food & Water Watch, 64 percent of bottled water is merely filtered municipal tap water. Not only that, bottled water may contain up to twice as many microplastics as tap water. The stuff is in our blood for goodness sake!
Avoid the plastic waste by packing a reusable water bottle or mason jar. If you prefer to drink and cook with filtered water, install a water filtration system in your home.
Takeaway coffee cups
Thin plastic lines the inside of paper to-go cups to prevent coffee and tea from leaking all over you. To avoid these cups, bring a ceramic mug or thermos to your café. Or brew your caffeine fix at home, pour it in a thermos, take it to go and save a small fortune every month.
It’s not just a straw
Anti anti-plastic people like to claim that eliminating straws won’t make a difference. However, anyone refusing plastic straws won’t likely stop there. No doubt they will become more aware of plastic pollution and more active in addressing the problem. Straws, like each of these Top Four plastic items, serve as a gateway to reducing more plastic.
Of course, no one advocates taking away straws from anyone with disabilities who needs them.
9. Buy nothing new
Each year, Earth Overshoot Day marks the date by which humanity has consumed all the resources that the planet can regenerate in one year. In 2021, Earth Overshoot Day fell on July 29. That left us nothing to live on from August to December, which means we borrowed against the future. This year, we’ll borrow again. We’re in the red. Our account is overdue. The bill collectors won’t stop calling. You get the idea.
When you want to buy something, wait
In a 2017 New York Times article that Ann Patchett wrote about her year of no shopping, she offered this advice:
In March I wished I had a Fitbit, the new one that looked like a bracelet and didn’t need to be connected to a smartphone. For four days I really wanted a Fitbit. And then — poof! — I didn’t want one. I remember my parents trying to teach me this lesson when I was a child: If you want something, wait awhile. Chances are the feeling will pass.
And if the feeling doesn’t pass, sometimes, if you wait long enough, what you need simply turns up. It’s that whole ask the Universe thing. This happens to me on a regular basis. Once, while sitting outside the library, researching cookbook photos before I wrote mine, I texted my daughter pictures of some beautiful photos in a Food 52 ice cream cookbook. “I want to buy an ice cream maker after I graduate,” she texted back. (She would soon finish her undergrad.)
On my ride home, within an hour, I found a like-new Cuisinart ice cream maker sitting on the curb, set out with a bunch of other nice stuff. I put it on the back of my bike and rushed home to plug it in and find out if it worked. It did.
Join a Buy Nothing group this Earth Day
If you don’t already belong to a Buy Nothing group, consider joining one. Not only can you request things you want and need, you’ll also find takers for the stuff you want to unload. Ask for or give away stuff on Nextdoor as well.
10. Push for change at work
Imagine the impact your company could make by implementing climate solutions into its business operations, its products or services, its 401k program and so on. With one in three Americans now “alarmed” by the climate crisis, chances are high that at least some of your coworkers would be interested in working together to urge your employer to take climate action.
Does your company already have a sustainability or green team? Join it! What is the team doing on climate? Find out. If your company doesn’t have a team, talk to coworkers who might be interested in forming one and figure out who in your company has the influence to make your proposed changes happen. Your team needs to talk to them.
Any of the following excellent guides will help you and your coworkers start your group:
- ClimateVoice’s how-to guide
- Climate Solutions at Work from Drawdown
- 50+ Ways to Drive Sustainability, created by planetgroups.net
- How to develop a Green Team in your company, from Leaders for Climate Action
11. Tell your elected representatives to act on climate
First, you’ll need to look up your representatives’ contact information. In the US, you have two senators and one congress member.
- Find your senators here.
- Find your member of congress here. After entering your zip code, if more than one member comes up—because your area overlaps two districts—you’ll see a field for entering your address. Do that and find your rep.
If you live in Canada, find your MP’s contact information here.
What to say
Just as you don’t need to be a scientist to talk about climate change, you don’t need to be a policy expert in order to write your reps. The important thing is they hear from you.
You might write an email or an actual written physical letter with an envelope and stamp. Whichever medium you choose, be polite and diplomatic. The more individual your letter, the better.
If you don’t know where to start, flesh out the following four Ws:
- Who and where. Introduce yourself, where you live and any important identities (student, union member, teacher, parent, senior, nurse, farmer, small business owner and so on). “I live in [YOUR CITY] and am a constituent and [IDENTITY IF APPLICABLE].”
- Why. Explain the concern that prompted you to write. Make it personal if possible. “I am alarmed by the quickly closing window of opportunity to address the climate crisis. [INSERT PERSONAL STORY].”
- Perhaps you and your family were affected last year by wildfires, the Pacific-Northwest heat dome, hurricanes or tornadoes. Or you may simply worry about your children’s future if we fail to take bold climate action. Stories from the heart have more of an impact than impersonal form letters. Keep your story concise, however. A paragraph should do.
- What. This is your demand. Ask the representative to support climate legislation. Mention specific bills if possible. “I urge you to support the End Polluter Welfare Act of 2021 to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuel companies, the Clean Energy for America Act, which provides tax incentives for increased investment in clean energy, and the Clean Energy Standard Bill to decarbonize the entire grid by 2035. These bills will accelerate a just transition to clean energy while protecting our most vulnerable communities and providing millions of good jobs.”
- Find other climate bills here. You’ll have to do a bit of research to determine which ones to support.
- Conclusion. Sign your email or letter. “Thank you for your time. Sincerely, [NAME].”
In addition to your congressperson and senator, you could also write to city council members and governors about something affecting your city or state. For more letter writing tips and motivation, listen to this Mothers of Invention podcast, “Dear Ruler: Letter Writing Tips for Exasperated Voters.”
And register to vote!
12. Be kind this Earth Day (and every day!)
We won’t stop trashing the planet unless we stop trashing each other. But our economic system rewards both behaviors. Disposable everything boosts profits for petrochemical companies that make plastic; after you toss it, you have to buy a replacement. The petrochemical plants that make the plastic regard as disposable the people living nearby, who die of cancer at much higher rates—predominantly people living in poverty or people of color. Vitriol about climate change or environmental racism—or any topic—boosts engagement on social media, and thus eyeballs and ad revenues.
The ethos of an economic system built upon exploitation, extraction and competition, and in which we all must operate, can’t help but have at least some impact on how we treat each other—and especially on how we treat those who orbit outside of our inner circles. I don’t know how to solve this problem but I do know that we need to be kind to one another (and to ourselves).
So for this last Earth Day action, we’ll go a bit out of our way to do something kind. That act of kindness might be listening to a friend who has struggled during what is proving to be another stressful year; or washing a neighbor’s sink full of dishes; or calling mom to say hello.
Kindness doesn’t cost anything. It’s infectious. And showing kindness can benefit us with “greater well-being, health and longevity.”
Of course, you can choose from many other actions this Earth Day—and every day. For more steps, go to my newsletter here. Happy Earth Day!
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