People worldwide have made their New Year resolutions along the lines of giving up cigarettes, cutting down on carbohydrates, drinking less and exercising more. It’s that time of year again: Time to put 2019 behind us and start fresh with renewed energy and vision for 2020. And there’s no better time, because 2020 going to be a pivotal year for our planet.
Climate change is a global problem, which by necessity requires global solutions. The environmental challenges we face are fundamentally connected to one another. The New Year offers a perfect opportunity to start mending our ways and to buckle down to saving the planet, and ourselves, from any further self-inflicted wounds.
The time could not be better for individuals and communities to make their priorities known. 2020 will also mark 50 years of Earth Day. The 50th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22 will bring Earth Day back to its roots to mobilize millions to act for our planet.
So are you ready to take the first step (or all of them) to save the planet?
STOP BUYING CRAP
Since we’re talking about saving more money, one of the best ways to do that is by simply buying less. What we really mean is buy less crap.
Take fast fashion — we buy far more clothing than we need (and wear), often tossing clothes in the trash: Research shows that a garbage truck’s worth of clothing and textiles is landfilled or incinerated every second.
Like with food waste, not only are these clothes sitting in landfills to produce greenhouse gases as they break down, but the resources (including low-paying and dangerous labor for marginalized communities) used to create these textiles is also wasted as well. Our current clothing industry is incredibly polluting, resource-intensive and wasteful (not to mention unjust).
So, don’t buy it, and don’t buy into it! You should never underestimate your power as a consumer. Try shopping secondhand. It’s a great way to give new life to old clothes while saving money and keeping perfectly good clothing out of landfills.
It’s also a good way to ensure you’re not wearing the same faux-hipster bohemian crop top as everyone else this season…
GO PLANT-BASED (1-2 MEALS A DAY)
You might be regretting your food choices over the holidays. Skip the crash diet (you look beautiful!) and try plant-based instead.
Animal agriculture has an enormous impact on climate change, contributing as much greenhouse gases as every car, plane, train, and ship on Earth. Going plant-based is one of the most powerful ways to reduce our personal carbon footprints (or foodprint, as we call it). Not ready to go all the way? Just start with one meal, or go plant-based for breakfast and lunch, like author Jonathan Safran Foer. Bon appetit!
COMPOST, COMPOST, COMPOST
Food waste greatly contributes to climate change. Think about it — when you toss food in the trash, you’re wasting all the resources that it took to grow, harvest and ship that food.
Food also sits in a landfill, producing methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that is 34 times more potent over a 100-year period than carbon dioxide. If food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third-largest emitter after the U.S. and China. So serve yourself as much as you can eat, salvage your leftovers and compost what’s truly bad.
RECYCLE (BUT DO IT BETTER)
We know, recycling is not a silver-bullet solution to our problems (better to skip the single-use plastics altogether). But if you’re going to recycle, at least do it right. Otherwise, you may end up doing more harm than good.
To start, learn 7 tips to recycle better.
SKIP THE SINGLE-USE PLASTIC BAG
Did you know that those convenient plastic grocery bags are only used for an average of 15-20 minutes? Meanwhile they have a lifespan of 500–1,000 years in the landfill. Suddenly that convenience is looking very inconvenient for our planet…
Just stick a reusable bag in your purse or backpack, or stash one in your desk. It’s that simple.
To take this step to the next level, see if you can go a whole day without plastic. It’s much harder than you might think, but it gives you an illuminating view at just how bad our plastic problem is, while identifying key places to cut plastics from your life.
PASS IT ON: RECYCLING EDITION
The last one was easy, so this resolution will push you.
The next time you see someone recycling wrong, let them know. Connect over how you also used to toss your containers in unwashed, or tried to recycle plastic grocery bags — which you should be skipping in the first place — then share the right way to do it,
It can be hard to correct people, especially loved ones who have been doing things one way (the wrong way) for years, but when you pass on what you know, information can spread exponentially.
Also, don’t be afraid to remind them that recycling isn’t the be-all-end-all solution to our planet’s woes, and that in many ways recycling is an opportunity for industries to shunt the burden of responsibility onto consumers, when it should be squarely on producers who should be developing more sustainable alternatives…or you can save that for another day.
TRAVEL, WITH CARE
Travelling to new places is always a top resolution, but air travel is, well, problematic.
Just how problematic, you ask? As author David Wallace Wells warns in his book “The Uninhabitable Earth,” every round-trip flight from New York to London costs the Arctic three square meters of ice.
Short of travelling by solar sailboat (à la Greta Thunberg), let’s resolve to travel smarter in 2020. For instance, you can travel by train (Greta’s other preferred modeof travel) and explore locations closer to home. Maybe 2020 is the year that you finally see those incredible local landmarks and national parks.
Also, consider swapping a vacation for a staycation — you’ll greatly reduce your carbon footprint, as well as saving massive amounts of money (another top New Year’s resolution).
Climate change will never be solved by recycling, or bicycling, for that matter. It’s going to require immense political will and leadership to overhaul our cities, our industries and our economies to embrace the opportunities of a clean energy future. This sounds huge — and it is — but remember that these political leaders are elected by votes from individuals just like you and me.
If you really want to save the planet, make voting your top priority in 2020.