5 Ways Individuals Can Help the Environment

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

Dr. Jane Goodall once said, “People say think globally, act locally. Well, if you think globally, it is overwhelming, and you do not have enough energy left to act locally. Just act locally and see what a difference you can make!”

When we first think of climate change and the global implications surrounding the environment, it gets overwhelming fast. It is hard to imagine that one person could make a difference at all. That sort of thinking is precisely what stops people from doing anything about it. It is what makes it so easy for us to turn a blind eye to our environmental impact every day.

After all, if it isn’t directly impacting me, it doesn’t feel that real. Plus, I am only one person so if I don't do anything, it won't matter much anyway. So, why bother?

I’ve seen a lot of posts with titles similar to mine online, especially recently, because of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Well, I’m hoping mine will take your actions beyond using a reusable grocery bag or taking a shorter shower.

The five things that I chose are still all tangible, no matter your socioeconomic status or how much free time you have. They go beyond the obvious and are more about challenging your perception and understanding your actions and impact.

I know that many of us are still at home practicing social distancing, but the good news is that we can start these things today. These can be habits that we build during “stay at home” orders and take with us to create a new, better normal after this pandemic.

#1: Change Your Diet

Eating fewer animal products, like meat, dairy, and eggs, does an incredible amount for the environment.

If you know me personally, you should have seen this one coming just by the title of my article. Well, the fact of the matter is that eating a plant-based diet is the single easiest thing each one of us can change to have the farthest-reach.

*Check out the awesome infographic tot he right provided by the Documentary Cowspiracy to get the stats and sources for these claims.

Animal agriculture contributes to environmental degradation in several ways:

  • Deforestation

  • Species Extinction and Biodiversity Loss

  • Water Scarcity and Pollution

  • Land and Air Pollution

  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions

All of these impacts directly affect the environment, wildlife, and human existence. The thing is, we cannot wait for the government to enact social change for us. The market and demand for animal products is the only thing that can make a difference.

Two of the biggest industries in the United States, Agricultural and Pharmaceutical, have the most to lose here. They drive many government policies surrounding legislation and even environmental law. The thing is, they’re in it for the money, and so are the meat and dairy producers.

The only difference between them is that if major meat corporations like Tyson or Smithfield start to feel a shift towards plant-based food, they’ll jump aboard. Once they can start making more money selling vegan and vegetarian products, they will begin to carry fewer animal products. Consumers have the power to create a cultural shift simply by changing the food we eat.

There are other moral and humanitarian reasons that cutting back or ending meat consumption is beneficial. If you’d like to know more about animal agriculture and the role it plays in world hunger, check out this publication by Well-Fed World.

Want to know more about how animal agriculture played a part in the COVID-19 Pandemic? Check out my last blog post.

#2: Implement the First “R” Most Often

While we may be familiar with these, we only seem to spend time focusing on recycling. We don’t even do a very good job with that, especially in the United States (I’ll provide more info on this in a future article).

What I want to focus on is REDUCING. This can seem threatening to some people at first, but it doesn’t mean you will be missing out. Luckily, movements like minimalism and zero-waste have helped the idea of primarily reducing gain some traction.

What I mean by “reduce” is to cut back on the number of things you buy. I’m not just talking about food and packaging, either. I mean everything. We live in a consumerist society that pushes us to buy things constantly, making it even harder for us to break away from the habit.

It is pretty hard to not buy anything at all, so when you do have to buy things, make sure you’re investing in having that item for a long time. Try to borrow items you don’t use often. When possible, cut single-use items from your daily routine.

For me, the easiest way to do this is to always myself a few questions before I buy something:

  1. Is it useful?

  2. Is it necessary?

  3. Is it reusable?

  4. Does it add value to my life?

  5. If you think you need to replace something that’s broken, also ask yourself if it can be fixed, repaired, or repurposed.

These questions may seem strange at first. I mean, does everything I buy add value to my life? No one is perfect. Still, once we start questioning our buying habits and decisions, we see that we can go without quite a lot of junk. Consuming less can add value to your life by providing you with more time, space, and money.

An excellent way to get into the right mindset for this is to start to declutter your home. Get rid of things you don’t use and donate them to someone in need or sell them online. Once you’ve reduced the number of things you already have, it can help to change your mindset from always wanting to rarely needing.

Reducing your consumption is a perfect gateway to a zero-waste life. I’ve been working on this for some time, and it is hard! It provides me with a challenge every time I grocery shop, but it used to frustrate me too. Now I see it as a way to discover new things. If I can’t find what I want in bulk or a recyclable container, then I can venture to try to find something different.

Remember, these things won’t happen overnight, and give yourself room to grow! You don’t have to implement everything all at once and don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t perfect.

#3: Add More Closed Loop Systems to Your Life

This may be one of the lifestyle changes that allows you the most creativity. In referring to closed-loop systems, I am talking directly about permaculture practices. I’ve been

learning more and more about permaculture in the last few years, and it is incredible. If you know some about it, then you’ll know that it can be overwhelming to implement it all at once.

This is a gradual process. However, the philosophy behind it can start right now. For those that are unfamiliar with the term permaculture, here is a brief definition that was given by one of the founders, Bill Mollison:

The conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of the landscape with people providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.”

So you may be thinking, how can I apply this to my daily life if it is about agricultural systems?

Well, I want to focus on the conscious design and stability aspect of it all first. Finding closed-looped systems is a primary driving factor in permaculture and it creates stability in a system. You are seeking to give just as much as you take, much like in a circular economy.

One well-known example of this is composting. When we take our food waste, compost it, and return it to the earth, we are not wasting anything. Instead, we are giving back to the earth, which provided us with food in the first place.

Get to know more food waste facts here!

The goal of any closed-loop system is to turn waste into resources and to turn problems into solutions. These ideas are meant to be implemented on an individual level as well as on a community level.

Beyond composting, starting a garden is an excellent way to build up to adding permaculture design into your life. Even if you live in a small apartment, you can still implement these ideas in small ways. For instance, you can compost your food waste or rent a plot at your community garden. You can even find out if it is possible to start a container garden on the roof of your building or start a vertical garden on your balcony.

#4: Get Personal with Local and Global Environmental Organizations

This one may be easier said than done, especially right now what we are social distancing. The best part about it is that it puts your efforts beyond yourself. As Jane Goodall said, it is much easier to act locally first. It is excellent if you can afford to donate money to environmental initiatives, but if you can’t, your time or talents may be just as valuable.

For instance, here where I live in Arizona, there is a group called PowWow, which stands for Produce on Wheels Without Waste. It is an organization that serves as a food shelf, but you can also go to their markets each Saturday. They collect unwanted fruits and vegetables that are about to go to waste and redirect it directly to consumers instead of the landfill.

You can volunteer to help them, donate extra each time you go to the market, and even take the spoiled produce off their hands for composting. This broader effort helps to give back to the community while also helping the environment.

Small examples like these can make a big difference. The thing is, you don’t always have to donate your time either. Sometimes you can get rid of something you don’t need instead.

A friend of mine in Minnesota told me about a program a coworker of hers pioneered. They accept bikes via donations and then redistribute them to low-income individuals for free. They are taking an unwanted item, giving it to someone in need, and now that individual has a green method of transit to get to work. It helps redirect waste away from landfills and helps someone in need.

If you aren’t sure what is in your area, find out! Talk to neighbors, check out your city website, see if local parks need volunteers, and if nothing is being done, maybe you can start a new local movement with your company or group of friends.

The more involved we get, the more we will care. The more we care, the better lifestyle choices we will make. The better lifestyle choices we make, the more of a positive impact we can have.

Looking for a way to start a movement in your community? Start a Clean-Up with National Clean-Up Day!

#5: Take Time to Educate Yourself

The final one on my list is to take the time to educate yourself regarding ecology, biodiversity, climate change, etc. It doesn’t have to be boring, and you don’t have to wade through scientific studies or thousands of books.

You can take the time to read articles like this! You can watch documentaries that inspire you or teach you something new about the natural world. You can go on hikes to feel more connected to the natural world. You can start a garden and learn how to grow something. You can plant trees or start an edible forest in a community park. You can find podcasts or audio books to listen to while you drive or workout.

Book recommendation!

The more we know about the world around us, the better we can try to understand issues that threaten our existence. And better yet, the more we understand and connect to the natural world, the easier it is for us to want to be the solution.

What have you been doing to make your individual impact a positive one? Let me know in the comments below!

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