As the ramifications of climate change increase, from hurricanes to wildfires to extreme drought, we as privileged first-world consumers have a responsibility going into 2020. It is on us to make changes in our day to day lives. It is on us to live a more mindful, eco-friendly, and sustainable lifestyle. You have much more power than you give yourself credit for when it comes to creating lasting and beneficial change for our planet and this blog post will point you in the right direction.
According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) the last five years (2015 - 2019) were the hottest years on record. Greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise with carbon dioxide emissions clocking in at 20% higher from 2015 - 2019 versus 2010 to 2014. Unfortunately, these increasing emissions lock in the rising temperatures for years to come. This cascade effect foretells a bleak future, one that permanently affects not only our ecosystems and precious wildlife, but also costs us human lives.
In this post, I am going to share the top five ways you can mindfully live a more eco friendly and sustainable life in 2020. Our world is depending on it.
1. Know and support your local farmer.
We all eat, and regardless of the diet you choose - from plant based to keto - you must put in the legwork to purchase as much of your food as possible from a local farmer in 2020. In doing so, you will be cutting down on your plate’s carbon footprint immensely, strengthening your local economy, and giving your nutrient intake a super boost.
Food on average travels 1500 miles before it reaches your plate, the term “Food Miles” was coined to represent this number. As food travels, it also looses its nutritive "punch" as vitamins and minerals diminish up to 30% within days of transport. Take a moment and look at where your lettuce came from, typically it’s shipped from California all the way around the United States to feed us hungry salad eaters.
The same issue is true of meat, and with the recent rejection of County of Origin Labeling on part of the USDA, multinational corporations are cashing in. These companies are legally able to label beef as grass-fed and a product of the US, when in fact they have no certifiable proof of the diet of the beef and as long as the beef is packaged in the US - they can say “Product of the US” - nearly 85% of beef labeled as grass-fed is actually coming from other countries. I noticed this at Trader Joes when I used to shop there, most of the grass-fed beef was coming from Ecuador. Now I work as hard as possible to source my meat locally from a farmer I know.
How to make this change as easy as possible?
My first recommendation is to get signed up for a local CSA box (Community Sourced Agriculture). CSA boxes are filled with local and seasonal veggies, sourced and compiled by your local farmers. CSA boxes are usually a weekly or bi-weekly delivery that can be dropped off at your doorstep or a central location within your community. Local farmers offer everything from seasonal boxes (Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter) as well as themed boxes (baking flours, meat and eggs, salad greens, or even medicinal herbs) that you can reserve in advance, ensuring a steady supply of local food with a much smaller carbon footprint.
So how to find a CSA box or farmers market? Do a Google search for your area! It can be as simple as “[City Name] CSA box” or “[City Name] farmers market” and see what comes up. Also turn to social media - get on your local Facebook Groups or your Instagram account and ask if anyone knows of a CSA box or local farmers market you can visit. You can also visit LocalHarvest.org to search their database.
Many farmers who offer CSA boxes require you to fill out a form and mail a check to get started, but some are starting to offer more online shopping experiences. As for farmers markets, while many are starting to accept credit cards, bring cash because as a farmer myself, I can tell you I appreciate a cash transaction. That way the credit card transaction fees don’t cut into my profit.
The second recommendation I have is to attend your community’s farmers market. If you can supplement your weekly grocery shopping with a trip to the farmers market, you are immediately cutting down on the food miles winding up on your plate. Instead of produce like potatoes, lettuce, and root veggies being shipped across the country, chances are they’ve only traveled across the county. Bye bye massive carbon footprint!
A word of warning: while you may be tempted to think that subscription services like Butcher Box and Blue Apron are just like a CSA box - they most certainly are not. I like to think of these subscription boxes as “modern middlemen.” They still have a large carbon footprint since they are a national service, and what’s worse, the farmer always gets the short end of the stick. Just like with a grocery store setup, each middle man takes his cut from the farmer’s profit so that the food can reach the customer. These “modern middlemen” subscription services take a massive percentage of the farmer’s profit, in some cases it’s as high as 20%. Convenience has a huge cost here, don’t fall for the marketing!
On top of stiffing farmers, these modern middlemen subscription boxes come with mounds of non recyclable plastic waste. Which brings us to our next 2020 tip...
2. Be plastic-conscious and recycle correctly.
Note here that I am not demanding that you go “plastic-free.” We have to admit that there is a middle ground when it comes to our modern day living and the use of plastics. Without plastic, we wouldn’t have safe and sterile medical devices or pipes delivering running water in our homes. It’s naive and emotionally unsustainable to think we can cut plastic out of our day to day lives entirely.
What I’m asking is that you become more conscious of the plastics your local municipality can and can’t recycle. Many don’t realize that just because there is a recycling symbol on your plastic container, it doesn’t mean your local recycling center will accept it. Recycling does not have a national standard, it fluctuates from one local recycling facility to another depending on their technology. With China now refusing to take the USA's recycling waste (an oxymoron I know), it's increasingly important to be mindful of packaging.
So how do you know what your local recycling center accepts and rejects?
Simply ask them!
Where we live, our recycling center sends out an annual flier that tells us what we can and can’t recycle. I always stick it on my fridge so I can see it and remind myself what’s okay and what’s not. I’ve memorized it now so when I’m grocery shopping, I know what food packaging can come home with me and what I have to pass on.
Check your recycling center’s website or give them a call and ask (be sure to take notes if you do call so you remember!). From there, stick to their requirements when you’re shopping so you can cut down on the plastic that winds up in the landfill.
If you want to learn more about the seven(ish) types of plastic that exist, their recyclability, and health concerns, tune in to Episode 5 of The Positively Green Podcast!
3. Don’t fall for greenwashing.
As more and more of our population becomes aware of the climate crisis and tries to live sustainably, more and more companies are rising at the opportunity to make money. Greenwashing is where a company will use marketing to convince you that their product is good for you and the environment, when it reality it’s no better than the conventional product currently available.
The perfect example of greenwashing is Grove Collaborative. They sell the equivalent of paper-products and household items, like toilet paper and paper towels, made instead with things like bamboo. They claim by not using trees they are better for the environment. The issue is you have to think consciously as a consumer not just “upstream” (sourcing) but also “downstream” meaning: where does this product go when it’s lifecycle is over?
Grove Collaborative fails to recognize at the end of the day their products are single-use. They wind up in the trash and go to a landfill. They basically are no different than paper towels. While they say their sourcing is better, they try to mask the truth with marketing(AKA greenwashing!) that their product has to be shipped to hundreds of miles (carbon footprint) and it still winds up in the trash can.
What would be a better way to mindfully clean up spills and messes? Cut up an old cotton T-shirt as rags, clean up your spills, and then wash the rags so you can use them continually, then compost them when they’re too threadbare. No carbon footprint from delivering this single use product to your door and no contribution to a landfill when their lifecycle is over. It’s win-win in the face of our climate crisis.
Grove Collaborative has dozens of examples on their website of single-use products disguised as good for the earth - from disposable diapers to baby wipes. I’m challenging you to think upstream and downstream when you see companies and products like Grove Collaborative. I call this mindset the Conscious Consumer Method, and you can learn more about how to use it at this link.
The pitfalls of conscious consumerism are many, and falling for greenwashing by buying yet another product that has a carbon footprint and winds up in a landfill is not the answer.
Do more with what you already have.
Think upstream and downstream.
Practice theConscious Consumer Method.
4. Mindfully notice and experience nature more.
Get outside. Look at the sky. Notice at the trees. Enjoy and relish in this beautiful world that can grow and bloom and buzz without our help and despite our impact.
Taking a walk everyday, even if it is ten minutes in the snow, is a simple and effective way to remind yourself you are of this world. You, as an animal, share this world with other animals. Yes, we are the dominant species, thus under that logic it's even more of our responsibility to take care of the earth and restore balance in nature.
Do you see the litter piling up in the ditch on the path you walk everyday? Maybe next time you can clean it up.
Do you see the empty lot next to your apartment building devoid of life? Maybe you can start a small community garden or pollinator paradise.
Calming your mind and getting outside is not only a reminder of your place on this planet, but it’s also good for your health! Forest bathing significantly lowered cortisol (stress) levels in this 2019 study.
While this tip is simple, it’s deeply impactful. The more you can take a moment, a few deep breaths, and look at the world outside your home or office - the more you are going to appreciate it and the more you are going to work to protect it.
5. Greenhouse gas emissions are not just an agricultural issue.
The mainstream media is having a hay day with plant-based food and fashion replacements, completely blinding the public to the reality of our carbon emission statistics. While article after article touts going meat-free as the way to combat climate change on a consumer level, the reality is you’d make much more of a positive impact if you used your car less and opted to switch to renewable energy to power your home.
Your commute is typically the biggest use of your car. Ways to cut down on these emissions are to start a rideshare to commute to your job with your coworkers or neighbors, use public transit, or bike to work during the warmer months of the year. Another option is to ask to work remotely on certain days of the week. Many workplaces are becoming more open to working remotely and with the ability to do things like video conference calls, having to physically be at work for a meeting isn’t completely necessary.
As for energy use in your home - according to the Dept. of Energy, at least 50% of US customers have the option to purchase renewable electricity directly from their power supplier, and everyone has the option of purchasing renewable energy certificates. This type of power is sometimes referred to as "green power" or "clean power." We switched over with We Energies last year. You can supplement 25%, 50%, or 100% of your energy, costing anywhere from $3 to $13 a month extra.
In 2017, agriculture accounted for only 9% of the whole when it came to emissions, while transportation and electricity made up nearly 60%.
In 2019, emissions actually fell overall thanks to the decline of coal generation.
Unfortunately, fracking has given natural gas a super boost, increasing CO2 emissions by 40 million metric tons.
As for methane, which is more potent than CO2, the oil and gas industries are burping out much more than the cows. 2019 clocked in with a noticeable rise in methane emissions from oil and gas compared to years past. The Trump Administration is making it much easier for oil and gas wells to emit methane too, rolling back the regulations imposed by the Obama Administration.
There’s a give and take here that we have to be wary of as we analyze how the US is doing in terms of greenhouse gas emissions - and the bottom line is the agricultural sector is peanuts compared to transportation and oil/gas industry emissions.
More and more people are pointing fingers at farmers for the problems our planet faces, and while conventional agriculture does have a ways to go to work in tandem with nature’s strengths - farmers are barely a sliver on the pie chart that is our CO2 and methane emissions.
Suffice to say, being more mindful of traveling in your car and by plane as well as where your home's power comes from less is a better way to combat climate change, not scapegoating what’s on your neighbor’s plate.
If you want to do a deep dive into why you don’t have to go vegan to live sustainably and how ruminants can actually help bring down CO2 emissions, I encourage you to tune into Episode 10 of The Positively Green Podcast and read my blog post addressed directly to vegans Dear Vegans, Start Here.
6. Get involved beyond the boundaries of your home. Vote. Sign. Donate.
As our planet’s future becomes increasingly bleak and the fight to keep our temperatures from rising another 1.5 degrees seems nearly impossible, we have to be honest with ourselves. Our small day-to-day purchasing actions are helpful, but they are quickly becoming far from enough to fix the problem.
On the flipside, it can also feel like the people in charge have got their heads in the sand. In the US, the Republican Party as a whole still scoffs at the notion that human activity is causing climate change, and unfortunately they hold the majority of our Senate and the Supreme Court.
Tough love moment. We can only be frustrated with ourselves for this predicament.
Not showing up for the smaller elections, the midterms from 2008 to 2012, allowed for the climate denial rhetoric to rise through the ranks. You must start voting in every election and start calling/emailing your reps over climate issues.
Believe me I know how exhausting this sounds, but in the face of mass species extinction and the lives of millions at stake due to climate change - it’s worth the small inconvenience to pick up the phone, make the drive to vote, and send an email.
I live in Wisconsin and no matter how many convoluted emails I get from Senator Ron Jonson, I will keep challenging him to do better in the face of climate change. I have been at every election, no matter how small since Trump was voted into office. You must do the same.
Next, start signing petitions. One of the most famous environmental petitions from 2019 called on Trader Joes to reduce its plastic packaging. At the time of Trader Joe’s response, they had 91,000 signatures. Trader Joe’s Responded by agreeing to revamp packaging for more than 20 of its products. They certainly have a ways to go, but the petition was instrumental in sparking this change.
Another petition that is starting to tip the scales with 455,000 signatures is calling on Amazon to stop using plastic packaging. Another petition has 255,000 signatures and is also calling on Amazon to offer plastic-free packaging options. We will drop the links to these in the show notes.
As for nonprofit organizations you can donate to that are working to sequester carbon I recommend:
Carbon180 is a new breed of climate-focused NGO partnering with policymakers, scientists and businesses around the globe to build a world that removes more carbon than it emits.They believe that reducing emissions is not enough, we also need to draw down the carbon that exists in the atmosphere as we speak. They work with policymakers, business owners, farmers, ranchers, and researchers to sequester carbon.
Carbonfund.org allows you to donate in the amount of your personal carbon footprint every year. You can do it by car, by family size, by home - the options are actually fun to browse through and choose. From there 95% of every dollar donated to Carbonfund.org supports carbon offset and tree-planting projects, development of new carbon offset projects such as initiatives in Brazil, Kenya, and beyond. Your donation also goes to renewable energy credit purchases, water restoration project support, and their Carbonfree® Products Certification Program.
If you have some that you love donating to, be sure to let me know in the comments below!
Please don’t take this final call to action as a reason to stop working on your own habits or to throw in the towel and say it’s hopeless. We’ve got to have hope that we can fix this. Call upon your policy makers, sign petitions, donate to the organizations who are creating positive change.
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