March 20th’s IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report is a summary of the previous sections of the IPCC’s mammoth sixth assessment. It shows we haven’t done enough to address the climate crisis but also that we have never been better equipped to tackle it.
Humanity is on thin ice — and that ice is melting fast. Our world needs climate action on all fronts — everything, everywhere, all at once.António Guterres, UN Secretary General
You may be feeling anxious about the report and asking yourself what one person can do. In January 2022, I wrote a daily newsletter that outlined a climate action each day for 30 days. I had meant to post a summary of that here on my blog and never did. The week of the latest IPCC report seemed like a good time to do so. (I added the additional action, Get More Native Plants in the Ground, to this roundup.)
I hope you find this list of actions helpful. Choose a one or choose several. Complete one a week, or one a month. There are no rules—except the rules of physics.
Day 1: Have a Conversation
Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, author of the book, Saving Us, A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World, says one of the best things we can do about the changing climate is to talk about it.
A record number of Americans report feeling either very or somewhat worried about global warming. And yet, a majority of them never talk about the climate crisis. Hayhoe writes, “seven out of ten say they wish they could do something to fix it; but half of them don’t know where to start and only 35 percent say they ever talk about it, even occasionally.”
How can we hope to solve a problem that most of us don’t even acknowledge?
Day 2: 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
Although 80 percent of Americans agree that the fossil fuel industry is either mostly/completely responsible or somewhat responsible for the climate crisis, the rich, powerful industry—and its bought-and-paid-for politicians—continue to fight meaningful action on the climate crisis, even in the face of record storms, wildfires, floods, heatwaves and droughts. Taking them on requires organizing.
Go here for a list of some of the climate-focused groups to choose from.
Day 3: Reduce Wasted Food, the Low-Hanging Fruit of Climate Solutions
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.
In addition to the food itself, this waste squanders the many resources that went into the food’s production—labor, water, energy, seeds, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and land cleared of trees that can no longer sequester carbon, all for food that no one will eat. To make matters worse, in the oxygen-deprived environment of a tightly packed landfill, the anaerobic that bacteria break down wasted food generate methane, a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, according to the IPCC.
Meanwhile, hundreds of millions don’t have enough to eat.
Day 4: Mine for Black Gold in a Compost Heap
Ideally, we would eat all the food we buy. (See Day 3 for ideas to help with that.) But food waste happens.
If we can’t eat it, or give it away, or feed it to our chickens or goats, then wasted food belongs in a compost heap of some sort. Although composting does not prevent food waste, it does stop that food from emitting methane gas in a landfill. It also sequesters carbon. And mixing finished compost into your soil will enhance it for free. It’s magical stuff!
Go here to get started with composting.
Day 5: Cut Up Your Big Bank Credit Card
To keep both the oil and the profits gushing, fossil fuel companies need cash to operate—those pipelines aren’t cheap! Since the Paris Agreement of 2015, banks around the world have poured an astounding $4.6 trillion into fossil fuel companies according to the 2022 edition of Banking on Climate Chaos, an annual report from Rainforest Action Network (RAN).
Go here for steps to close your credit card account.
Day 6: Register to Vote
The short version of today’s task: Take two minutes to register to vote. In the US, go to vote.gov. In Canada, go here. (I’m sorry but today’s newsletter is especially US- and, to a lesser degree, Canada-centric. If you live outside the US and Canada, I think you will still find it helpful.)
Day 7: Read a newspaper
An independent local newspaper (physical or online) puts federal government policies into context for a local audience. It covers city council meetings and local elections. It keeps money in the community by connecting customers with local small businesses. It brings together neighbors and strengthens communities. And it informs both larger media outlets and local citizenry.
Our local news outlets need our support.
Day 8: Eat a Plant-Rich Diet
When I speak at events about running a more sustainable kitchen, I begin with the short version of my talk. It 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.) But if you can… When you eat more vegetables, your kitchen routine becomes simpler and, literally, greener.
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.
Project Drawdown ranks eating a plant-rich diet as one of the top solutions to climate change.
Day 9: Turn Down the Plastic Spigot
Two garbage trucks’ worth of plastic pollution enters the oceans every minute. Big Oil thinks that’s not enough.
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.
In fact, according to a recent report from Beyond Plastics, in the US, emissions generated from plastic all along 10 stages of its polluting lifecycle—extraction of fossil fuels, transportation, refining, production, chemical recycling, waste incineration and so on—will exceed the emissions from coal-fired power plants by 2030.
In other words, as geographer Deidre MacKay has explained, “plastic is climate change, just in its solid state.”
But as more states and provinces enact extended producer responsibility laws, putting the responsibility for cleanup on manufacturers, we have begun to see progress.
Day 10: Write, Call or Tweet Your Elected Representatives
Today’s action urges others to act on climate—our leaders. I’ve included links to help you find US representatives (and Canadian MPs), and templates you can edit for writing, calling and tweeting them.
Politicians rarely hear from their constituents. So when they do, they pay attention and they track the number of messages they receive on various topics. Just a small number of voters urging them to support a bold climate bill might be the motivation that pushes them from teetering on the edge of the undecided column over into the yes column.
Day 11: Power Up On Clean Electricity
To go solar, you don’t necessarily need your own panels.
In the US, heating, cooling and powering our homes generate about 20 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Switching to clean energy sources to run our homes can drastically reduce those emissions. And making the switch may be simpler than you think.
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].”
You do not 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. If your entire complex shares one meter, ask your landlord about making the switch.
Day 12: Get the Most Out of Your Energy
Whether or not your home runs on clean electricity, the strategies in today’s task will help you get the most out of the energy that powers your home.
If you’ve switched to green electricity and have a gas-powered furnace, stove, hot water heater and so on, consider upgrading these major appliances to electric and power them with that clean energy. Electrification is not an inexpensive endeavor but prices have continued to fall. And you may be eligible for rebates.
You’ll not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase demand for renewables, you’ll also improve the air quality inside your home. Although renters have fewer options for electrifying their homes than homeowners—renters can’t be tearing gas heaters off apartment walls—they do have some.
Day 13: Read, Listen, Watch
Looking for a good book to read? In today’s action, I share a few recent books on climate that I have found informative and helpful. I’ve also included other media as well. In the comments, please leave any other recommendations you have.
Day 14: Consider a Climate Career
Moving our economy away from fossil fuels is a big job.
Okay, not everyone participating in this challenge will up and change their career today. But if you attend college and need to choose a major, or have just graduated and need a job or you’ve been working for several years and want to change careers, the climate needs you.
Day 15: Move Your Money Out of Banks That Fund Climate Chaos
As I talked about on Day 5: Cut Up Your Big Bank Credit Card, the fossil fuel industry needs money to operate and the big banks have continued to supply it to them, despite all their talk of “net zero” this and “carbon neutral” that.
But here is some good news. Since it first began a little over a decade ago on US campuses before quickly spreading worldwide, the divestment movement has pushed institutions—universities and pension funds and churches—to commit to divesting from fossil fuel investments to the tune of $40.51 trillion, according to the Global Fossil Fuel Divestment Commitments Database, maintained by Stand.earth in partnership with 350.org. That’s more than the combined annual GDPs of the US and China and marks the largest divestment campaign in history.
By cutting off the flow of money—money we individuals deposit in the bank for safekeeping, not planetary destruction—we may be able to cut the flow of fossil fuels.
Go here for steps to get started.
Day 16: Embrace Your Inner Treehugger—and Trees
I think I can safely assume that if you signed up for this newsletter, you like trees. Today’s task is to plant one. You might decide to do the digging yourself or to ask your city to plant a free tree on your parkway (depending on availability in your city) or to help increase the tree canopy in your area or in another country.
Just some of the benefits of trees
- Pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere
- Provide oxygen
- Filter water and absorb stormwater runoff
- Provide habitat for wildlife
- Cool cities by up to 10°F
- Conserve energy by warming buildings in winter and cooling them in summer
- Increase property values
- Improve mental health and cognitive function
Day 17: Conserve Water During a Drought
About a quarter of the US food supply grows in California’s Central Valley, a large swath of land in the center of the state, the dry southerly parts of which are arid. To water these crops, farmers have been drilling groundwater wells in order to withdraw water from the aquifer. But because they have been withdrawing water faster than the aquifer can replenish, within less than 100 years, the land has sunk around 28 feet in some areas. This sinking—known as subsidence—also pushes contaminants like arsenic into the water and poisons it.
An industrial agricultural system that encourages and rewards this kind of growth-at-all-costs mentality will change—either voluntarily due to foresight or forcibly due to reality.
Day 18: Push for Change at Work
Multiply your individual climate action impact.
Charities make requests for matching pledges all the time, so why not a climate action newsletter?
Thank you from 30 Days of Climate Action for your generous climate pledge. Does your employer match climate actions? To seek an employer match—and multiply your impact—provide your company with the following information about your pledge:
- You reduced food waste (see day 3)
- You started eating more plants (see day 8)
- You switched to clean electricity (see day 11)
Imagine the impact your company could have 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.
Go here for ways to get your workplace involved.
Day 19: Get Around With Less Carbon
In the US, transportation accounts for about 27 percent of emissions. And worldwide, passenger vehicles and SUVs account for the largest portion of transportation emissions, at nearly 40 percent. These big numbers offer lots of opportunities for getting around more efficiently. Greening our commute can also make us healthier and save money.
Day 20: Support Small Local Business
Just some of the benefits of shopping small:
More money injected into the local economy. When you shop at a small, local business, for every $100 you spend, $67 stays in the community. Spend that $100 online remotely and no money stays in your community. No sales taxes are collected to pay for building roads and funding schools and keeping hospitals open and paying firefighters. Local businesses also create local jobs—and often higher-paying ones. Those employees then go on to spend their paychecks in the community.
Less sprawl. Small local businesses often operate in downtowns, not in city outskirts where big box stores pop up due to available land and which contribute to urban sprawl. Many small business customers can take public transit, walk or ride a bike downtown and ideally, also run a few errands at once.
Less garbage. When you shop in person, you can bring your own bag or container to the store (depending on the store) and eliminate the packaging altogether. If you buy online from a small business, such as an Etsy shop, it will more likely heed your no-plastic-and-less-packaging-please requests.
Day 21: Find and Build Your Community
Small communities filled with people sharing their time and skills will help build local resiliency as the climate changes. Plus you’ll meet the nicest people!
Community gardens. During the pandemic, empty grocery store shelves, shuttered food processing plants and reduced-capacity farmers’ markets highlighted the importance of food security. A community garden provides space for people to not only grow food but to also share seeds and knowledge. Many cities rent out plots to residents in community gardens for a small fee. Some also operate demonstration gardens for teaching classes and holding events in addition to providing a place in urban areas for residents to grow some of their own food. Contact your city to find out if it has a community garden.
Cooking club. Everyone who attends brings jars or other containers to take home a bunch of food—some to enjoy now and some to freeze for later.
Although you’d cook slow food (i.e., fresh seasonal produce and whole ingredients that require time to prepare, unlike highly processed food), a cooking club can save so much time. This kind of high-efficiency cooking can also help reduce food waste and if you have extra ingredients at the end of your cooking session, someone in the group will be happy to take them home.
Read more about community here.
Day 22: Become a Climate Leader
If you want to take action on climate in your community but don’t know where to start, consider taking some training. You’ll find everything you need online. Click to find just some of what is available.
Day 23: Learn How Improved Clean Cookstoves Save Lives and Cool the Planet
Cooking over wood exacerbates climate change in two ways—through deforestation driven by harvesting wood for fuel and by burning the harvested wood and generating emissions. Drawdown estimates these emissions account for from 2 to 5 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.
On its list of 100 solutions to global warming under two different scenarios—Scenario 1, with an increase of 2˚C in global temperatures by 2100 and Scenario 2, with an increase of 1.5˚C—Drawdown ranks improved clean cookstoves at number 7 and number 9 respectively.
Universal access to clean cookstoves would not only help mitigate climate change and prevent unnecessary deaths from pollution, it would also address gender and economic inequalities.
Day 24: Buy Less Stuff
In a 2017 New York Times article 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.
Day 25: Take Care of Yourself
If you read the news at all, scroll through Instagram and Twitter or live in an area affected by climate change (i.e., the planet), you may feel anxious about the state of our home and the future of all of its inhabitants. You need coping strategies.
For many people, including myself, taking some sort of action to address climate change helps reduce their eco-anxiety—protesting, eating more vegetables, electrifying your appliances, contacting politicians. (For others, taking action may not alleviate anxiety.)
At the same time, remember to take care of yourself. Don’t let your activism—which does not garner results overnight—lead to burnout. Try to eat well, sleep enough and exercise regularly.
Click to read about more coping strategies.
Day 26: Regenerate the Soil
Regenerative agriculture heals the soil, working with nature rather than fighting with or attempting to control it (as Nature laughs). Regeneration goes beyond the aim of sustainability, to “do not harm,” and instead, contributes more to the soil than it extracts from it.
Based on the traditional knowledge of Indigenous peoples around the world, regenerative farming practices include:
- Eliminating or reducing plowing and tillage
- Eliminating synthetic pesticides and fertilizers
- Planting diverse crops, including cover crops—and rotating them
- Managing and incorporating grazing animals
- Applying compost
These practices draw down carbon from the atmosphere and recarbonate the soil. They improve soil health, increase the resiliency and productivity of farms and their communities and increase the nutrition in food.
Day 27: Fight Disinformation Online
While Rupert Murdoch sows doubt about climate change via his media empire, News Corp and Fox Corporation, Mark Zuckerberg profits from climate misinformation and disinformation spreading like, well, wildfire on Facebook—and Instagram and WhatsApp.
Divisive social media posts increase engagement—and climate is divisive, thanks to the politicization of physics, chemistry and biology by fossil fuel interests. The more time users spend on Facebook, the more ads they see and the more money Facebook earns. In 2020, Facebook took in $9.6 million from 25 fossil fuel companies for ads that users viewed 431 million times, according to InfluenceMap, an independent think tank that analyzes how corporate lobbying affects climate change policy.
But we can do our part to stop the spread of disinformation! Find out how here.
Day 28: Know You Make a Difference
At the center of the acrimonious debate over individual action versus systemic changes is a false dilemma. Both are important and necessary. But this debate is increasingly being used to drive a wedge within the community of climate advocates. This is what’s known as a wedge campaign, and it’s nothing new. It has its origins in decades-old disinformation campaigns. — climate scientist Michael E Mann, The New Climate War
The problem with individual change arises when we rely on it alone, as fossil fuel interests have encouraged us to do. BP, for example, launched its carbon footprint calculator as a means to deflect responsibility. With a subdued public preoccupied with measuring our individual footprints, BP carries on with business as usual, unchecked.
However, individual change can also lead to collective change. Read more here.
Day 29: Help Spread the News
The media watchdog Media Matters found that during the first 48-hours of 2021’s deadly summer heat dome that descended over the typically moderate Pacific Northwest, smashing temperature records by up to 9°F (5°C ) in some areas,
morning and evening news shows on broadcast TV networks as well as all original programming on the major cable news networks aired 35 combined segments on the Pacific Northwest heat wave. Only eight of them, or 23%, mentioned climate.Media Matters
And that actually marks a big improvement. During a 2018 summer heat wave, Media Matters found that only one 1 out of 127 segments on the extreme heat made the connection to climate change.
Day 30: Get More Native Plants in the Ground
I didn’t include this in my original 30 days but it’s so important!
Do you hear the daily bad environmental news and think to yourself, “I’ve got to do something, but what?!” Entomologist Doug Tallamy, author of Nature’s Best Hope, wants you to plant natives (as does wildlife). Planting natives addresses the climate crisis (native plants require less water and fewer pesticides and fertilizers) while simultaneously addressing the extinction crisis (planting natives supports ecosystems and restores biodiversity).
Insects support everything yet a recent study in the journal Nature states that insects have declined “almost 50% in the abundance and 27% in the number of species.” The study links these losses to climate change and land use. Because insects are “The little things that run the world,” as Edward O. Wilson put it, if they go, we go. But we can take action!
The good news is that we can fix our ecological problems by indulging rather than sacrificing.Douglas W. Tallamy, Nature’s Best Hope
Day 31: Be Kind
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, really, 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 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 today’s action—the last one in this series—is for us to go a bit out of our way to do something kind today. Because I imagine anyone who signed up for this newsletter about climate action is a caring, kind person—otherwise you wouldn’t have bothered—I added that extra “go a bit out of our way” challenge to the action to make it worth your while. Your act of kindness might be listening to a friend who has struggled during Covid; or you might wash a neighbor’s sink full of dishes; or you might call your mom.
Kindness doesn’t cost anything. It’s infectious. And showing kindness can benefit us with “greater well-being, health and longevity.” So we’ll wrap up our 31 actions with those short and sweet marching orders.
Check out my award-winning cookbook!
- Taste Canada silver for single-subject cookbooks
- Second-place Gourmand cookbook award in the category of food waste
- Shortlisted for an award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals
Learn more about my book here.