green building/design

If you’re reading this, you’re probably someone who is concerned about the climate crisis. And you might have wondered, “But what can I do about it?” (or “What should I be urging government and business leaders to do about it?”) If so, you’re not alone. These are excellent and frequently asked questions. And answers are out there—but some are more informed, concrete, and constructive than others.

Often, these questions are asked by people who either: A) have been too busy dealing with other responsibilities or activities in their lives to spend much time learning about climate issues, and who genuinely don’t know what the primary causes and solutions to climate change are, or B) are highly informed about climate issues and are overwhelmed by the wide range of contributing factors and potential solutions, to the point of decision paralysis. Regardless of whether the questions stem from a lack of relevant knowledge or an abundance of knowledge and overwhelm, almost everyone wants to know which climate actions would be the best, most effective uses of their limited time and money.

A small percentage of people who ask “What can I do?” are only asking in a rhetorical way, and they don’t really want answers or plan to do anything. Some folks are so attached to the status quo that they would rather say that “nothing can be done” than consider changing any norms or habits. But we know the situation is not hopeless and we are not helpless. We all have agency to make a difference, and most of us realize that widespread inaction will consign us and future generations of all species to a wretched future.

Fortunately, most people really do care and want to do something (and want our leaders to do more). A study found that most of us wildly underestimate other people’s level of climate concern and their support for climate action. But the vast majority of people in the world—more than 76% of Americans, and more than 86% of people worldwide—are concerned about the climate, approve of pro-climate social norms, and want more political action on climate. (See: 2024 study published in Nature Climate Change, and an article about it in Carbon Brief).

That said, concern, good intentions, pledges, and commitments are not enough. These must be converted into actual action. And we can’t leave it to others (or rely solely on our leaders) to do this for us. There’s no more time for delay. We need all hands on deck now—which brings us back to the “What can I do?” question. I think that the moment after this important question gets posed is the critical juncture where climate progress too often gets stuck. Too many people are not seeing or hearing (or finding) answers that are specific or substantive enough, in the media or online or from peers. Many people don’t have the time, energy, or knowledge base to do this type of deep research or to figure out how to interpret or implement vague or wonky recommendations. That’s why my aim is to provide some clear guidance and direction—nuts-and-bolts information that can help people move forward and turn climate concerns into concrete actions. Thus, I’ve provided a Climate Action Starter Pack (below).

There are so many ways we can make a difference, on our own or as part of a collective effort. Each of us can take actions within our various roles: 1) as citizens, who have the power and responsibility to engage with and speak up to our representatives, governments, and other institutions, 2) as members of our assorted social circles, networks, and communities, including our workplace; and 3) as individuals, family members, and consumers. As I see it, those roles translate into these general categories:

  1. Systemic/Civic Actions
  2. Social/Community Actions
  3. Personal/Household Actions

Arguably, the changes we push for and achieve in those first two areas—influencing and working with others, and demanding policy changes and actions from government, businesses, institutions, and other entities—will have the biggest impacts and are therefore the most necessary. Clearly, one household’s lifestyle changes won’t be enough to change the world or stabilize the climate. However, there is an interplay among all three of these areas, and we should not discount the powerful ripple effects that our personal actions and choices can generate. They can set a needed example for and inspire our peers (people are much more likely to do something if they know someone who has already done it) and they send beneficial demand signals to “the market.” And admittedly, it can be easier or more immediately gratifying to make personal/household changes that are well within our control than to try to shift policies and systems, which requires a sustained, collective effort. Ideally, we can each find a good balance of actions within all of these realms, from macro to micro.

Climate actions and choices can include things To Do and things Not To Do. They can be high-tech or low-tech/no-tech (which is often preferable). And they can be no-cost, low-cost, money-saving, or higher-cost (and high payoff) investments. Many people assume that all climate-smart choices are going to be expensive or complicated or require huge sacrifices. But many of them are none of those things. Some climate actions might require a little thought, effort, or time, but many will save you (and society) money and improve quality of life.

There are literally thousands of things any of us could be doing to mitigate climate change, but it’s not possible for any of us to do all of those things, let alone all at once. All we can do is start somewhere, where we are, and do whatever each of us can do, and then do more when we can. We don’t all need to do the same things, but we do all need to do something, and it makes sense to try to do some of the things that will make the biggest difference.

Climate Action Starter Pack

This guide includes some of the most important climate actions you can take, some of which are also easy and money-saving. This is not an exhaustive list of actions. It’s a set of recommended actions—a menu of options that can help you build your own Climate Action Plan. Many are basic, beginner level actions and some are intermediate (i.e., they might require more time or money).

You may already be doing a number of things that help slow climate change. You might find it motivating to make a list of the things you have done or are doing and check off the suggestions below that you already engage in, and then identify some ways you want to build on those steps.

No one would expect anyone to take every action in this post. I recommend picking 2-3 actions to focus on at first, to make it manageable. Then once you make progress on those, add a couple more. You could set reminders and deadlines for yourself and regularly update your plan. Aim to add more actions each month, quarter, or year. It could be helpful to do this with others in your household or with a group of friends or neighbors, for support and accountability.

Every climate advisor’s list of top actions will look a little different. I have developed these suggestions using a combination of sources, including Project Drawdown’s scientific analysis of top climate solutions, plus the Emergency Brake measures they identified (which are ways to make the deep emissions cuts that are needed immediately), as well as a Swedish study on the most effective individual actions for climate mitigation. And I’ve added my own commentary throughout on other important actions and “low-hanging fruit” (i.e., easy/quick, or free/low-cost choices), and some practical tips (and links) on how to implement the solutions.

I am presenting these suggestions within the three main categories that I mentioned above, but in the reverse order, from micro to macro: Personal/Household, then Social/Community, and then Systemic/Civic actions. However, please feel free to switch up the order and start with the broader systemic or community-level actions first. Or better yet, pick at least one or two solutions within each of these categories when creating your own Climate Action Plan:

I. Personal/Household Actions (and Choices)

To take actions that make the biggest difference (in terms of climate impact), you could prioritize your actions based on Project Drawdown’s science-based solutions. Two of the most effective, high-impact solutions that they identified through their methodology are related to food: Reduced Food Waste and Plant-Rich DietsThese are some personal actions you can take in those two areas:

  1. Reduce food waste: Refer to the numbered list in our recent Food Waste post.
  2. Shift to a more plant-based diet, i.e., eating less (or no) meat and dairy (a shift which also happens to be good for our health—as well as for the welfare of animals, and for land and water conservation): It’s easy to find delicious recipes online for meatless/vegetarian and dairy-free, vegan dishes, as well as vegetarian and vegan restaurants (those are search categories on Yelp), and plenty of information on protein-rich, plant-based or “plant-forward” diets. I’ve shifted to a mostly vegetarian and increasingly vegan diet. It’s gotten easier to do over time and I don’t feel like I’m depriving myself; I almost never crave meat anymore.

Click here for other top solutions identified by Project Drawdown. One of the other top solutions is Family Planning and Education (which I will cover in a later post).

Drawdown has also identified some “Emergency Brake” measures: “the fastest, largest, lowest-cost climate solutions we can deploy—right now” to make the deep emissions cuts that are needed immediately. Below, I’ve suggested some specific personal actions you can take to effect change within each of the Emergency Brake areas. Some of these actions are easier and cheaper than others; you might put a couple of these in Phase II of your Action Plan, and many are best addressed through Systemic/Civic actions (which appear later in this post):

  1. Reduce deforestation: Only buy paper products (e.g., toilet paper, printing paper) that are FSC-certified or 100% recycled content, and reduce your use of disposable paper towels and napkins by using sponges/rags and washable cloth napkins. Only buy wood products (e.g., lumber, furniture, etc.) that are FSC-certified or reclaimed or used. Also, avoid products that contain palm oil (or non-organic soy, which is often grown in the Amazon region), when possible; palm oil and soy plantations—along with cattle grazing—are some of the primary drivers of global deforestation.
  2. Reduce potent, short-lived greenhouse pollutants such as nitrous oxide, “black carbon”/soot, and methane: Don’t use synthetic/chemical fertilizers and pesticides (which produce high levels of nitrous oxide), and do buy or grow organic food. Replace gas-powered lawn equipment (e.g., mowers and leaf blowers) with battery/electric equipment (or even better, reduce or eliminate your need to mow by replacing your grass lawn with native groundcovers or a garden, and “leave the leaves” or use them as mulch on your plants); and avoid using vehicles fueled by diesel and avoid burning wood (and charcoal) as much as possible (because these contribute to “black carbon” emissions). And if/when you can, switch from “natural gas” (methane) to electric equipment and appliances (e.g., stoves, furnaces).
  3. Increase energy and fuel efficiency: Switch to highly energy-efficient equipment and appliances (e.g., Energy Star certified), which sometimes qualify for utility rebates or tax credits/deductions; weatherize/insulate your home, and adopt energy-saving habits (note: conserving water also helps save energy). To avoid excessive energy consumption, also avoid buying cryptocurrency/bitcoin or using unnecessary AI tools. Choose fuel-efficient vehicles (non-oversized vehicles that ideally are electric or hybrid; or electric bicycles and scooters/motorcycles)—or better yet, drive less overall, e.g., telecommute or reduce your commute distance, ride a bike, walk, take mass transit, or carpool.
  4. Reduce all types of waste: Reduce your purchases of new materials/products, and reduce material and packaging waste (as well as food waste—see above). Always reduce first (i.e., don’t buy what you don’t need), then reuse/repair what you have, and buy used or salvaged items or borrow/rent items when you can. (Note: There are local Buy Nothing groups all over, where people give their used items away for free, and some places have “tool libraries” or other venues where sharable items can be loaned or rented out). Lastly, recycle what you can. But be aware that many things are not readily recyclable, most plastics never actually get recycled and are shipped overseas, and recycling requires energy, plus melting down some materials—like plastics—can produce toxic emissions. It’s particularly important to avoid buying new plastic items (especially single-use, disposable items and all PVC items) and products with plastic packaging, as much as you can; I know this one isn’t easy, since plastic is everywhere. Plastics are made from toxic petrochemicals (fossil fuels) and they are a massive threat to environmental and public health, as well as the climate.

I want to expand on #4. I think it’s accurate to say that Buying Less Stuff is one of the most important things that all of us can do. In America, in particular, we are constantly pushed to buy, buy, buy—by companies and their advertisers, and also by our peers (or just from feeling like our social status depends on “keeping up with the Joneses”). People in the U.S. consume much more, on average, than people in any other country. The ultra-wealthy consume the most by far, but most middle-class Americans also buy way more than we need. Our materialism and gross over-consumption greatly affect our climate and cause the degradation of all aspects of our environment. A study published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology found that, globally, the stuff we consume (buy) is responsible for up to 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions and between 50 and 80% of total land, material, and water use. Everything that’s made has its own carbon footprint (“embodied energy”) and environmental impacts—throughout each stage of its lifecycle, from raw materials extraction through manufacturing and use and finally disposal, via landfill or incineration (neither of which makes anything go “away”—it just ends up in our air or soil and water).

Using a different methodology than Project Drawdown, an earlier study from Sweden— which specifically focused on identifying the most effective individual actions for climate mitigationfound that the choices that will most affect your own contributions to climate change are:

  • how many kids you have (particularly if you live in a high-income, high-consumption, high-waste country like the U.S.)—This decision has a much bigger climate impact than any other we can make as individuals.
  • how much (how often and how far) you drive and fly;
  • how much energy you use in your home and how much of the energy you/your utility company use is from clean, renewable sources vs. dirty sources [Note: If your utility does not use much renewable energy yet, they might offer a program you can sign up and pay for that helps support the development of renewable energy projects in your region, an option that would be considerably less expensive than adding solar panels to your own home, though that’s also a great solution and investment if you have the means, as is getting a highly efficient heating/cooling system, e.g., a “heat pump”];
  • how fuel-efficient your vehicle (or the vehicle you are driven in) is; and
  • how much meat you eat.

Many of those synchronize nicely with Project Drawdown’s top 5-10 solutions, even though Drawdown’s are not focused only on personal, individual-level actions. For more details on the Swedish study’s findings, click here (and scroll down to Part II of that post).

The final suggestion I would add to this list of Personal Actions is to think about which particular sectors or types of climate solutions you are most interested in or passionate about. Project Drawdown breaks the sectors down into: Electricity; Food, Agriculture, and Land Use; Industry; Transportation; Buildings; Land (Carbon) Sinks; Coastal and Ocean (Carbon) Sinks; Engineered Carbon Sinks; and Health and Education. You also might want to think about the skills, strengths, and resources you have that you can apply to the climate effort. Check out Ayana Elizabeth Johnson’s Climate Action Venn Diagram (and her TED talk) to jump-start your brainstorming. And OneGreenThing offers a free, quick “Service Superpower Assessment” quiz to enable you identify the “service type that best suits your personality.” Tools like these could help you pinpoint specific actions or approaches that are a good match for you and your unique set of interests and attributes.

Also check out the Climate Action Resources section towards the end of this post for links to tools and resources that provide additional guidance on taking climate actions.

II. Social/Community Actions

These are some ways to engage socially and as a member of your various social circles, networks, and communities (online and off), to help contribute towards cultural shifts:

  1. One of the best ways to get started is to plug into one or more of the many climate groups or initiatives that already exist. (This suggestion also has relevance to the Personal and Systemic categories of actions.) Find some climate organizations that have a strategy or tone that resonates with you or that seem like a good match for your particular interests. Follow a few groups, and then join or support at least one group—it could be national, international, or local. Also start following and reading some fact-based climate information/news outlets: see the Climate Resources list at the end of our previous post, and go to the last section of this post for links to some Climate Action Groups, Apps, Newsletters, and Books.
  2. Next, start sharing climate information from the organizations and media you follow, with your friends and social networks online or off. Or you could start by sharing some of the information provided in this post. Also talk about and share your own climate concerns and feelings with your friends and family; in addition to alleviating some of the weight of those feelings, expressing them will help let others know they aren’t alone (since most of us underestimate other people’s level of concern). You could also share some of the actions you’re taking and offer encouragement and support for others to take their own actions.
  3. Look into whether a local climate (or environmental) group has been established at your workplace, school, place of worship, and/or in your neighborhood or town. If not, you could consider starting one. (One idea: Form a Book+Action Group.) To identify specific actions to implement with your group, you could refer to the actions suggested in the Personal/Household and Systemic/Civic sections of this post, and discuss ways to apply a few of those within your group or community.
  4. Check out Project Drawdown’s Job Function Action Guides (for various types of employee roles and positions), to find ways to “make your job a climate job.” (Also, IT specialists, therapists, and architects can find job guides in this Climate Action Resource Library.)
  5. Food-based solutions: When hosting a group (or having a party), serve plant-based (vegetarian and vegan) foods. Or host a potluck where everyone brings some plant-based (and/or homegrown, locally-grown or organic) foods to share. And if you have a lot of food left over at the end, send leftovers home with any of the guests that can use them. If you don’t have many food containers you can give away, you could ask people to bring some of their own.

And last but definitely not least

III. Systemic/Civic Actions

The following are some of the most vital and influential actions you can take—pushing for societal, institutional, and systems-level shifts:

  1. VOTE for climate champions (and pro-democracy champions) at all levels of government: local, state, and national. Vote out climate deniers and “fossil fools.” Even if you don’t do any of the other things listed in this post, please vote in every election. It’s the least any of us can do. To go a little further, inform your friends about campaigns, candidates, and ballot issues. And regularly encourage people (especially young people and fellow enviros) to register to vote, to check their registration status (and their state’s voter ID requirements), and to vote. Additionally, if you are able to, support or volunteer with a campaign, or a voting/election group that helps with voter registration or Get Out the Vote efforts, or volunteer as a poll worker.
  2. Move your accounts out of the big banks (which include Chase, Citi, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo—for those of us in the U.S.), where your money is used to fund oil and gas projects (among other unsavory projects). Move your money into more socially and environmentally responsible banks (e.g., local credit unions or “fossil-free” banks). And if your employer offers a 401k or pension program (or you have your own stock-based investment accounts), find out whether they include fossil fuel company stocks; switch to, or ask that your employer offers, a fossil-free, socially responsible investment fund.
  3. Participate in actions organized by the climate organizations you follow. Actions could be online (e.g. signing on to petitions and letters to your representatives or others in positions of power) or offline (e.g., calling your representatives, or boycotting certain companies) as well as in-person/direct actions (e.g., sit-ins, marches, protests; or meeting with your representatives). If you’re not seeing good, current petitions or letters to sign onto, directly contact your federal, state, and local representatives and officials to demand that they urgently support, create, and enforce policies that treat climate destabilization as the emergency that it is, through executive and legislative actions that: end fossil fuel subsidies, stop permitting new fossil fuel infrastructure (including “natural gas” and petrochemical/plastics infrastructure), commit to >95% renewable energy goals and the rapid phase-out of fossil fuel use, and develop (and incentivize the development) of public and private renewable energy projects. I like to remind my government reps that the primary purpose of government is to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public for the common good. You can also urge your county to create a Community Choice Energy program, and pressure your electric utility company to rapidly make the transition to clean, renewable energy (solar, wind, no-dam hydro).
  4. Send messages and comments to media/news outlets (national and local), asking them to report more on climate change and climate solutions, and asking reporters to regularly interview climate scientists and experts who can accurately connect the dots between worsening “natural” disasters or extreme weather events and our destabilized, rapidly changing climate. (See Covering Climate Now for more ideas and resources.) You can also submit Letters to the Editor to your newspapers, about the climate crisis and solutions.

To address the two top food-related solutions identified by Project Drawdown, in a systems context:

  1. Reduce food waste: See the first section of our post on How to Reduce Food Waste (paragraphs 4-6) for some actions that focus on the systemic aspects of this problem. Also, if your city/county doesn’t have a local compost collection program (for food scraps and yard waste), ask them to start one.
  2. Reduce meat consumption: Ask your state or city governments and school district to institute policies requiring the provision of non-meat options in government and school cafeterias and through their food vendors. You could also ask your local restaurants (and your workplace cafeteria program, if relevant) to provide more non-meat options. Cafeterias could do “meatless Mondays” (or even go meatless every other day or always). I would also suggest that they should try to procure organic (and local) foods.

As for Project Drawdown’s Emergency Brake measures: There are many ways to address these systemically, only a few of which I’ll mention here. You might pick one or two of these for your initial Action Plan, and add others to later phases:

  1. Reduce deforestation: Send letters/sign petitions to federal and state government agencies and officials, asking them to stop allowing the clear-cutting of large forest areas, and to ban further logging in the few remaining old-growth and mature forests; ask the state, local, and/or federal government to amend their purchasing policies to specify FSC-certified wood products and 100% recycled-content and/or FSC-certified paper products. Also ask your local lumber and home improvement stores to sell FSC-certified lumber (and other types of wood products), and ask other retailers (e.g., office supply and grocery stores) to offer and promote 100% recycled (or FSC) paper products.
  2. Reduce methane, nitrous oxide, and “black carbon” emissions: Tell your federal and state representatives to require and enforce the plugging of all abandoned wells and methane leaks; to support laws and programs that drastically reduce farmers’ use of nitrous-oxide-producing fertilizers and pesticides (and support/incentivize the transition to organic farming); and to incentivize the phase-out of heavy-duty/commercial diesel trucks in favor of electric or low-emissions trucks. You could also ask your city or state to phase out and eventually ban the sale or use of gas-powered lawn equipment, at least on public properties (something that more and more communities are doing).
  3. Increase energy and fuel efficiency: Ask your representatives (or at your least your workplace) to require that all non-essential lights and equipment be turned off in buildings after hours, and to push for high-efficiency requirements in your state building code, as well as to regulate or rein in cryptocurrency/bitcoin “mining” and unnecessary uses of AI, which are creating enormous energy demands for server/data centers. Also, ask your state and city representatives to replace vehicles in their fleets (including school buses) with electric or fuel-efficient/low-emissions vehicles, and ask your City Council or County officials to add more bike paths/lanes and bike racks throughout your area.
  4. Reduce waste: Tell your federal, state, and local representatives to support zero-waste programs and zero-waste procurement (including packaging and plastics reduction) specifications within their government agencies, with an emphasis on source reduction and a ban on (or phase-out of) single-use, disposable products, particularly plastic products.

There is no definitive, one-size-fits-all list of the climate actions that each of us should take. This Climate Action Starter Pack serves as a general primer and includes a bunch of actions that most people can take. I also recommend taking a look at some of the Climate Action Resources in the next section, for other ideas and ways to get or stay engaged.

One’s climate actions and choices become more obvious and automatic as one’s climate/environmental ethic or mindset deepens. Gradually, you find yourself looking at almost everything you do and choose through a climate (and planetary health) lens. This doesn’t need to be seen as a burden; it is simply living within the reality of ecological limits. We already apply all sorts of other filters to our decisions (e.g., cost, aesthetics, convenience). It’s important to include climate and environmental considerations and shift towards prioritizing those over less consequential considerations.

I’m preparing a PDF checklist that summarizes all of the actions that I’ve suggested above. If you would like professional assistance with creating a customized Climate Action Plan for your household, workplace, or company/organization or other group, or if you want more prescriptive, step by step instructions or guidance on exactly how you can implement the strategies in your plan, I am a climate and sustainability advisor and I offer those services.

Climate Action Resources

The following are links to existing climate action groups, articles and guides, newsletters, apps, and books that might help you put your climate action plans into practice.

Climate Action Groups

These essentially function as support/action groups:

To find other types of group-based activities within climate organizations, see our larger list of Climate Organizations and peruse some of those groups’ websites.

Climate Action Articles and Guides

Climate Action Newsletters

Climate Action Apps

Climate Action Books

For lists of other books (plus films and videos) related to climate and other environmental topics, click here.

 

Again, if you would like professional assistance with creating a customized Climate Action Plan for your household, workplace, company/organization or other group, or if you want more prescriptive, step by step instructions or guidance on exactly how you can implement the strategies in your plan, I am a climate and sustainability advisor and I offer those services.

Related posts:

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April 8, 2024
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I much prefer focusing on preventive health than on emergency triage. I’d rather be writing about how to prevent climate destabilization and global heating from getting worse (and I’ve been doing that for years and will continue to do that), but tragically, we have entered the age of climate consequences, and adaptation has become necessary. The climate outcomes that scientists have been warning us about for decades are here, now, everywhere, and getting worse every year. Climate instability is already causing widespread suffering, misery, displacement and migration, medical emergencies, and death. If people continue to accept and allow the burning of fossil fuels (and the degradation of our natural environment) going forward, we will get to where we are headed: we will turn our once quite habitable and hospitable Earth into an uninhabitable planet more like Mars. We are creating Hell on Earth.

Globally, this has been the hottest summer on record (which has included the hottest day, hottest week, and hottest month ever recorded)—and it’s not just because of El Niño. The last decade (which included years with a heat-tempering La Niña) has also been the hottest decade ever recorded. Unlike the “heat waves” of the past, we are now experiencing more frequent “heat domes” with unprecedented, sweltering, record-shattering daytime and night-time temperatures, across large swaths of the planet, lingering for longer periods of time. The air, land, oceans and most other water bodies are now hotter than ever, with devastating and cascading consequences for all living things.

When we’re extremely hot, it can be hard to move, hard to work, hard to think, hard to function, hard to cope, and sometimes even hard to stay alive. Heat typically kills more people than any other type of extreme weather event in the U.S.  The number of heat-related deaths is often greatly underestimated, as heat is not usually listed as the “cause of death,” even when heat is what precipitated the organ failure or heart attack or other final outcome. This study estimated that there are approximately 12,000 premature deaths from heat exposure in the U.S. each year, and it projected that that number will rise to 50,000-110,000 premature deaths per year due to increased warming. Another study found that heat killed approximately 61,000 people in Europe during the summer of 2022. Correspondingly, emergency room visits skyrocket during heat waves.

Our bodies (and the bodies of other living organisms) can only survive temperatures within a certain range. High humidity can make it even harder to withstand high temperatures (which is why weather reports typically include a “heat index” or might even talk about the “wet-bulb” temperature.) Air pollution also tends to worsen during periods of excessive heat, which makes heat waves even more deadly. Studies show that the risk of a fatal heart attack may double during heat wave days and fine particulate pollution days.

Prolonged exposure to excessive heat can cause heat cramps, heat rash, dehydration (note: severe dehydration requires immediate medical attention), heat exhaustion, and heat stroke (which also requires immediate medical attention and can be fatal). See the graphic above for tips on how to tell the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke, and what to do if someone is showing symptoms of these.

Those who are particularly vulnerable to the dangers of extreme heat include: homeless/unhoused people (and their pets), older people, people who work outdoors (e.g., farmworkers, landscapers, construction and road workers, etc.), people who work and/or live in non-air-conditioned spaces, people who live or work in urban areas or “heat island” zones (areas that have a lot of dark and unshaded surfaces, such as asphalt pavement and roofs, and relatively few trees or green spaces), people with pre-existing health conditions or disabilities, infants and young children, pregnant women, incarcerated people, first responders, and athletes, as well as livestock, pets, and wildlife.

Basic tips for survival, health, and greater comfort in high heat:

For preparations you can make before summer heat waves to keep your home/buildings cool, scroll down to the section near the end on “Design strategies, home/building improvements and investments.” The following are immediate or short-term steps you can take to protect yourself and other living things from extreme heat:

  • Always stay well-hydrated (i.e., drink plenty of water throughout the day). Keep a water bottle with you wherever you go (but don’t leave plastic bottles in hot cars or sitting in the sun, where the heat will soften the plastic, which will then leach into your water). Also eat foods that are hydrating (e.g. fresh fruits, such as watermelon and cucumber). Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeinated or super-sugary drinks.
  • Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, and light-colored clothing.
  • Avoid going out into the heat (or exercising, watering your garden, or driving) during the hottest parts of the day (afternoon through early evening). Cancel or reschedule activities as needed. Early morning is the coolest time of day.
  • If you’ve been sweating a lot, drink even more, eat something salty, and make sure you’re getting plenty of electrolytes (potassium, sodium, calcium) and other minerals and nutrients.
  • If you’re feeling too hot, wipe a cold, wet washcloth on your face and body and/or run cold water over your feet and hands or head; or put some water in a spray bottle and spritz yourself as needed; or when you can, take a cool shower or bath. Or you can sit in front of a fan with a cool, damp towel on you or between you and the fan. If someone is over-heating (e.g., showing signs of heat exhaustion), put cold water (or ice/ice water) on the neck, armpits, inner thighs, and other places where heat gets trapped and a lot of blood vessels are just beneath skin, to help cool down the person faster.
  • No one should be left sitting in a non-air-conditioned, stationary car when it’s hot out (especially infants, children, elderly people, and pets). Rolling the windows down does not keep cars cool enough when the sun is beating on them.
  • If you’re outdoors: Stay in the shade as much as possible, and drink extra water. Take regular breaks from any physical exertion, or avoid it if possible. If you have a hand free, use a parasol (or an umbrella) to shade yourself from the sun.
  • If you’re indoors and you don’t have air conditioning or your A/C isn’t working (or doesn’t work well enough in extreme heat)—or if you’re trying to minimize your use of the A/C to conserve energy or money or to keep the power grid from collapsing and causing a blackout: Use fans (or evaporative “swamp” coolers in really dry climates); window fans can be especially helpful. Cover your windows by closing the shades, blinds, curtains, or shutters. If you don’t have opaque or thermal window coverings, you could temporarily put up big sheets of cardboard (ideally white, and make the white side face the outside) or rigid foam—or hang thick blankets or light-colored tarps (or sheets) inside or outside your south- and west-facing windows (for those of us in the northern hemisphere) or your windows that get the most direct sunlight, to keep the heat/sun out. If you have white (or reflective) tarps or old sheets, you could put those on the part of your roof that gets the most direct sun in the afternoons, or cover up part of your blacktop driveway, or cover your grill (or any other large metal or dark-colored objects near your home) with them (or a light-colored canvas carport or other shade structure) to reduce the heat island effect on or around your home. Avoid running the oven, stove, dishwasher, washing machine, and dryer on the hottest days, and especially during the hottest hours of the day. Turn off any lights that aren’t needed (especially any lamps that are still using old incandescent bulbs or halogen bulbs, as they emit a surprising amount of heat). Unplug appliances or electronics that you aren’t using. Any time it’s cooler outdoors than in (which it often will be at night and early morning), open your windows to get a cross-breeze (and give your A/C a break); you could also use a window fan as an exhaust fan to help push the warmer indoor air outside. It can be too hot to share a bed with someone else; if there’s nowhere else to sleep, you might find that sleeping on a floor is the coolest place to be. If you have a basement, that is probably the coolest area in your house.
  • Make sure you have a lot of ice (and/or ice packs) in your freezer and/or coolers, especially in case there is a power outage and you need to use the ice to keep yourself cool until you can get to an air-conditioned space.
  • If your house is too hot and you’re able to go somewhere else near-by, spend some of the afternoon hours in air-conditioned spaces, such as a library, mall/store/cafe, movie theater, or community center.
  • Click here for additional ”Tips from readers on keeping cool without A/C” (NPR).
  • Check on your neighbors and friends, especially elderly or disabled people and people who don’t have air-conditioning (or who are experiencing a power outage). Make sure they are not showing signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke (see graphic above). If you have air conditioning and a little extra space, invite others who don’t have A/C to come over to your house. Or let others borrow or keep any extra fans you may have.
  • Share information about local cooling centers that are open in your community or county. Print and post/distribute that information at homeless shelters and service centers, senior centers, soup kitchens, food banks, and libraries (and through social media and community websites, e.g., NextDoor). Find out if there are local Mutual Aid groups or others who are helping distribute water or assisting people in need. If your town does not provide a cooling center (or a mobile cooling bus), contact your Mayor or city council or local emergency services department to request one, or help find a location that could serve as one (e.g., community center, church, etc.).
  • You could leave some bottles/gallons of water in front of your house, in a fully shaded area, with a sign letting people know they can take one if they need it. And you could donate non-disposable (and disposable) water bottles (or clean gallon jugs with caps) to a local homeless shelter or organization.
  • On days/nights with particularly extreme heat, if you are able, you could offer to pay for (or you could crowd-fund) an air-conditioned motel room for a homeless person or family or for people who don’t have air conditioning. Or make a donation to a homeless/low-income services group that is assisting people in your area or in a region that is even hotter.
  • Scroll down to the section below on “Design strategies, home/building improvements and investments,” for suggestions on preparations you can make before summer to keep your home cool.

Animals

  • Pets: Do not make pets stay outside (or in a dog house) if it’s cooler in your house. When they must be outside, make sure they can remain in full shade and have plenty of water (you could even fill a small kiddie pool for them to sit in or drink from). Do not walk dogs on artificial grass or on hot pavement (especially black asphalt, but on any pavement when it’s hot out); it will burn their paws. Do not leave pets unattended in your car without air conditioning running. Click here for information on hot weather safety (and signs of heat stroke) for pets. If you see someone else’s pet in distress or in danger, call 911 or your local Humane Society or ASPCA.
  • Livestock and horses: Give them plenty of water every day (making sure they never run out) and access to shaded and well-ventilated areas (with a good cross-breeze and if indoors, also fans, if possible). If they have no shade trees (or not enough to shade all of them throughout the afternoon without crowding) or a large-enough shade shelter outside, put up some type of shade canopies (e.g. canvas carports) for them. Hose them off with cool water when you can, or provide ice blocks for them to lick, or sprinklers, wading pools, or water misters when possible.
  • Wildlife: Put a bowl of clean water out daily for wildlife in your area (ideally in both your front and back yards); thoroughly wash the bowl out every day, if possible. I like to use a light-colored ceramic (or white plastic) bowl that won’t absorb much extra heat. (Note: Absurdly, many outdoor hoses have lead in them. Buy/use a lead-free hose, or get drinking water directly from a faucet.) Don’t set out deep buckets of water that tiny animals could fall into and not be able to climb out of. You can also leave fruit and vegetable scraps and other healthy food out for wildlife. And if there is no shade in your yard, you could put up a shade canopy/sail or make a temporary shade shelter (e.g., with old sheets or large cardboard boxes). Shade as much of your paved areas as you can to reduce the heat absorption on your property. If you see an animal in distress or in danger, contact your local wildlife rescue group.

Plants & Trees

  • Water plants at their base (near the roots) early in the morning. (On especially hot days, they might also need some water in the evening, but don’t soak plants too much before night-time.) Young or non-native trees (and new plants, planted within the last couple of years) especially will need regular watering during heat waves. Older, established trees may need some water every few days during heat waves.
  • Move potted (portable) plants to shadier areas or cooler areas, especially to protect them from the afternoon/western sun.
  • On especially hot/sunny days, you could put shade cloth (or a lightweight, white sheet) over the most vulnerable plants, or shade them with an umbrella, an easy-up canopy, or other portable shade structure.
  • Put a few inches of mulch (e.g., grass clippings, fallen leaves, wood mulch) around the base of plants (and place mulch several inches away from the base of trees). Do not buy peat.
  • Do not prune (or fertilize) plants on hot days.
  • Some plants will simply not be able to survive the increase in temperatures, and we’ll need to replace some plants with more drought- and heat-adapted plants over time.
  • Crops can benefit from having solar panels placed between rows for shading.
  • You can find lots of additional tips regarding how to protect plants and trees during heat by doing an online search.

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Design strategies, home/building improvements and investments:

These are some design strategies and investments, which require some planning or preparation time to implement:

  • Put thermal/insulated window coverings on your windows (e.g., light-colored thermal “honeycomb” or “cellular” shades, “edge-sealed” shades, thick/lined drapes; or interior shutters), particularly on large, unshaded windows and west- and south-facing windows.
  • Add awnings, shutters, overhangs, exterior window shading screens, and/or shade trees outside of your home (particularly outside of west- and south-facing windows). Also plant trees next to dark, paved surfaces such as driveways and roads.
  • Make sure your home has enough insulation (especially in the attic and walls). This will also help you stay comfortable during cold periods.
  • Conventional air conditioners (especially old window units) use a lot of energy (and are therefore expensive to operate). And every time we use air conditioners to cool interior spaces, we’re heating the planet up even more. Much better air conditioning technologies now exist, and even better ones may be available soon. One option to consider is having a “heat pump” installed (also known as a ductless mini-split system; they provide both heating and cooling). These are much more efficient than traditional air conditioners, and there are tax incentives and rebates that you might be eligible for. Or in very dry climates, many people use evaporative “swamp” coolers rather than air conditioners. Whole-house attic fans can also help reduce the need for air conditioning. (Note: If you are replacing/getting rid of an old air conditioner, make sure that your HVAC company properly recovers and disposes of its refrigerants. A/C refrigerant emissions are a major contributor to global warming!)
  • When it’s time to replace your roof, choose light-colored roofing (and/or solar roofing tiles, or solar panels to shade the roof).
  • When you’re able to get new windows, choose windows that meet or exceed the Energy Star criteria (for your climate zone). They could be eligible for tax credits or rebates.
  • When it’s time to repave your driveway (or pathways), choose a light-colored paving material or pavers (rather than black asphalt paving), or better yet, replace some paved areas with light-colored pervious materials or vegetation. (Also ask your city to use light-colored—and ideally pervious—paving materials on city streets and parking lots.)
  • When choosing a car, in addition to choosing an electric or hybrid vehicle, choose one that’s a light color (e.g., white or silver) so it will not absorb as much heat.
  • Do NOT use artificial turf (fake grass). It becomes incredibly hot, even hotter than black asphalt, in the sun, and it can cause burns. Replace astroturf with native or adapted drought-tolerant plants, trees, groundcovers, or a clover lawn. Replace astroturf sports fields with real (but drought-tolerant) grass.
  • Solar photovoltaic panels can provide shade over roofs, pavement, and between rows of field crops.
  • Consider getting an electric battery backup system for your home; ideally, this would be tied into a solar photovoltaic (or wind turbine) system to keep your power (and cooling) on during extended power outages. You can also get an electric and/or solar generator to use during power outages (or off grid).
  • When designing any new home (or building), designers should incorporate passive cooling techniques. One ancient, passive cooling technique is the “wind catcher” design. And some building materials, such as rammed earth, have thermal properties that help keep homes cool in summer and warm in winter. Find other natural cooling strategies here.
  • Get light-colored shade structures/shelters (or canopies) for any large animals or livestock you have (or pets that have to spend hours outside) that will provide plenty of shade for all of them, without crowding. Also add shade trees to their outdoor areas. Look into water misting systems, sprinklers, or wading pools that you could add to their outdoor areas, and use fans, roof exhaust vents/fans, and open windows to ventilate their indoor areas.
  • Buy organically grown crops and plants (and native/drought-tolerant plants), which have been shown to have greater resilience to heat than chemically-grown (and many non-native) crops and plants. You could get a shade structure/canopy to place on your patio or deck or yard, to shade any potted/portable plants (and it could also shade your grill or other dark-colored or metal outdoor objects, or possibly shade part of your home/windows) from the sun on hot days.
  • There are SO MANY things we can all do (and our society, government, and industry must do) to try to stop global heating from getting worse. Please check out and commit yourself to some of our climate solutions in our other posts.

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Sign this petition:

Urge OSHA to implement immediate heat standards
(Note: These standards also must be enforced everywhere.)

Articles:

Useful resources on heat health/safety:

Related posts:

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July 27, 2023
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The mission of Project Drawdown is “to help the world stop climate change—as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible. We do this by advancing effective, science-based climate solutions and strategies; fostering bold, new climate leadership; and promoting new climate narratives and new voices.”

Project Drawdown’s researchers have identified more than 90 climate solutions (specific strategies), and they have estimated how much each one of those strategies could reduce heat-trapping (greenhouse gas) emissions globally, to determine which ones can make the biggest impact in mitigating climate change. They note that their listing is “extensive but not exhaustive” and their research is ongoing and will continue to be updated.

On their Table of Solutions, you can sort the solutions’ climate impacts based on two different scenarios—or timelines—of emissions reduction efforts: Scenario 1 is in line with a 2˚C temperature rise by 2100, while Scenario 2 is in line with a 1.5˚C temperature rise at century’s end (a better scenario, to be sure, but one that is becoming less attainable every day that our societies fail to act with the needed urgency).

I looked at the solutions for both scenarios, and I found that both scenarios include the same group of solutions within their Top 15—just in a different order. (Beyond the first 15, the solutions start to differ somewhat across the two scenarios.) Here I’ve listed the 15 highest-impact solutions that Project Drawdown identified for Scenario 1, as of June 2023. Click on the links to learn about each one:

Top 15 Climate Solutions

  1. Reduced Food Waste
  2. Plant-Rich Diets
  3. Family Planning and Education
  4. Refrigerant Management
  5. Tropical Forest Restoration
  6. Onshore Wind Turbines
  7. Alternative Refrigerants
  8. Utility-Scale Solar Photovoltaics
  9. Clean Cooking
  10. Distributed Solar Photovoltaics
  11. Silvopasture
  12. Methane Leak Management
  13. Peatland Protection and Rewetting
  14. Tree Plantations on Degraded Land
  15. Temperate Forest Restoration

Start by selecting 2-4 of the solutions above, and think about (or research/Google) at least one way that you can participate in or contribute to each of those solutions. Then write down and commit to those actions and do your best to make them happen in the near term. (Then maybe you can add some more goals and solutions to your list, and/or help others achieve them.) While many/most of these climate solutions require action by government and industry in order to be fully and readily implemented, there are almost always some things that we can do as individuals and as communities to push them forward and to push government and industry in the right direction. (Note: I plan to publish future posts on specific actions that can help with Solutions 1, 2, and 3.  UPDATE: Here’s our post on Reducing Food Waste.) Government and corporate policies, funding and investments, and climate programs and efforts should aim to prioritize the most effective climate solutions and strategies, as well as all strategies that can be implemented immediately or quickly (and/or easily or most affordably), as time is of the essence.

To see the other 75+ solutions identified by Project Drawdown, visit and peruse their Solutions Library.

Project Drawdown organizes their solutions by sectors, as follows:

Sources: Food, Agriculture, and Land Use; Electricity; Other Energy; Buildings; Industry; Transportation

Sinks: Land Sinks; Coastal and Ocean Sinks; Engineered Sinks

Society: Health and Education

Interestingly, of the Top 15 solutions listed above, almost half of them (7) count as Land Sinks, while 3 of them fall within the area of Food, Agriculture, and Land Use; 3 are within the Buildings sector; 3 are within the Electricity sector; 2 are within Industry; 1 is related to Health and Education; and 1 is related to Other Energy (methane gas).

Also check out the new Drawdown Roadmap, which is a series of videos (and graphics) that demystify climate change’s specific causes and solutions, and show “how to strategically mobilize solutions across sectors, time, and place, engage the power of co-benefits, and recognize and remove obstacles.” These videos provide useful, one-of-a-kind summaries that can serve as a great resource for businesses, investors, philanthropists, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. I think they could also serve as a good learning tool for high school or college students. For other short, educational videos from Project Drawdown, see their Climate Solutions 101 series, which includes interviews with a variety of climate experts.

NOTE: We featured an earlier iteration of Project Drawdown’s research findings in our 2020 blog post “Sweat the Big Stuff: The Most Effective Climate Strategies,” which also featured other scientific findings on the highest-impact climate solutions, including high-impact individual choices.

Related posts:

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June 27, 2023
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More than two dozen of The Green Spotlight’s previous posts have covered or touched on green products (and green companies). Below is a list of many of those posts, which have covered everything from gifts to clothing to home/building-related products and equipment, as well as other types of goods. Many of the products mentioned in these posts would make good and useful gifts (for holidays, birthdays, etc.).

The following are just a few of my favorite companies that make or sell products: Patagonia, EarthKind, W.S. Badger Co., Host Defense/Fungi Perfecti, and Booda Organics. Some places where you can fairly readily find green(er) products include: local food coops and farmer’s/crafts markets, organic nurseries and farm stands, thrift/consignment and antique stores and used bookstores (reused products), Natural Grocers, Sprouts, ThriveMarket.com, and RealGoods.com. Also take a look at some of the “zero-waste” stores online.

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December 5, 2022
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Just left our house at 4:30 AM under a mandatory evacuation order, in the pitch dark, with howling winds, apocalyptic smoke, and ash swirling all around us. I’m quite shaken. We’ll figure out a plan when the sun comes up.”

That was the note that I posted on my Facebook page on the morning of October 27, 2019, once my husband and I were able to pull over in a town further from the fire, where other evacuees were parked. Overnight, gale-force winds from the northeast had started pushing the Kincade Fire rapidly and directly towards our area. (Officials feared it might jump over Highway 101, as the highly destructive and uncontrollable Tubbs Fire had done two years before, when it rampaged across the city of Santa Rosa to the horror and amazement of firefighters and everyone else.) Less than half an hour before I posted that note, we had been awakened by an evacuation notification alert blaring on our mobile phones. I could barely keep my panic at bay as we rushed to load our van up with our blind cat, along with other irreplaceable items and essential supplies that we had been gathering up in bags near our front door over the past few days of evacuation warnings. Our faces were pelted by brittle, wind-driven needles from our parched but magnificent redwood trees, and we had only our headlights and phone flashlights for lighting as we carried our things out to the van. I had to make a conscious effort to keep myself from hyperventilating or bursting into tears as we got into the vehicle and drove away from our home. I was reluctant to look back at it, knowing that when we returned, it might be burned to the ground.

This was one of the most intense days of my life. We were able to stay with friends in another part of the county for four days, until the order was lifted, and we were fortunate to be able to come back to an intact home and neighborhood (because the winds had died down before the fire got to the highway or beyond), though our power remained out for our first day and night back and the house felt like a walk-in freezer. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were part of the largest evacuation ever in Sonoma County history.

Many of us who are residents of the western United States have been personally affected by worsening (more frequent and much bigger and hotter) wildfires and the ever-longer fire seasons that we’ve been experiencing these past 5-10 years. The regular Red Flag “fire weather” warnings, the explosive fires every year, nerve-wracking evacuations and evacuation warnings, hazardous and acrid-smelling smoke in the air (tiny particulates that get deep into your lungs and make it feel like you’re sucking on a filthy truck exhaust pipe any time you’re outside) sometimes lingering for weeks at a time and making the air quality worse than anywhere else on Earth, being surrounded by other-worldly burnt-orange skies that block out the sun, sooty ash (including tiny fragments of people’s books/homes/lives) covering every outdoor surface (requiring the use of windshield wipers to clear car windshields), extended power outages as well as Internet and cell tower outages, and other substantial disruptions to work and to life in general—these things have taken a real toll on millions of us, and will take a toll on millions more.

Many of us also know people who have lost their homes and their sense of security—and who became climate refugees, facing displacement, years of insurance headaches, PTSD, and nightmares—because of these fires. I have some good friends who went through this trauma in 2017; they had to flee a giant wildfire in the middle of night and barely got out alive. I helped sift through the rubble and toxic ashes of their destroyed home and work studio. It looked like a large bomb had been dropped on their property, which had formerly been a hillside oak woodland paradise that felt like a sanctuary. That was an emotionally jarring experience, and it left an indelible mark on me, as did our own evacuation experience after that. And in the years before and after our evacuation, during other catastrophic fires in the region (including the one that destroyed our friends’ home), we were under evacuation warnings and had to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

In 2021, after many years of living in that beautiful but increasingly fire-imperiled and drought-stricken region, my husband and I moved to live near friends in a wetter region, which has less fire risk—less risk for now anyway, though I know conditions will continue to change and no place is safe from climate-related calamities. While not exactly wildfire refugees, we were essentially proactive climate migrants.

Ever-worsening climate destabilization is causing more extreme and prolonged heat and droughts, and thus creating vast areas of extremely dry vegetation: e.g., trees, shrubs, and grasses. And that is adversely changing the world’s fire ecology. In recent years, there have been widespread fires in most western and many southern states in the U.S. and across almost every region of the world, including the Arctic (e.g., Siberia and Alaska), Canada, Australia, the Amazon/South America/Brazil (where fires are sometimes intentionally started to illegally clear rainforest land for cattle grazing), and in Africa and Europe. Wildfires have always happened to some degree, but the size and intensity, the times of year, and the locations of many of today’s wildfires are unprecedented.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless in the face of the increasing number of wildfires fueled by dangerous climate conditions. But we are not helpless. When doing research on wildfire risk reduction (see the resource links below), I was heartened to discover that there are many experts (e.g., fire ecologists, pyrogeographers, and all types of fire science aficionados and fire safety officials) doing good work, and some smart and positive efforts are underway to lessen the wildfire risks going forward. For example, there is a growing understanding among land managers, fire agencies, policymakers, and state and county staff of the need for some prescribed fires (AKA controlled or managed burns, or “good fire”): a traditional, indigenous practice to reduce dry and dead vegetation and to safely mimic and manage what would occur naturally (if most wildfires hadn’t been suppressed over the last century).

I’ve been pleased to observe that, in some areas at least, prescribed fires have been happening more frequently, despite permitting hurdles. I’ve also read about prescribed burns (as well as greenbelt buffers) that did, in fact, help protect some neighborhoods from recent fires. (Of course, controlled burns must be done very carefully and in the correct season and weather conditions, to make sure they don’t burn out of control, beyond the intended boundaries.)

There are numerous actions we can take as a society, as communities, and as individuals and households to prevent or minimize further destruction:

  • Community-scale wildfire mitigation efforts include policies and practices for state, regional, local, and neighborhood-level land use and management of public and privately owned lands: e.g., prescribed fires/controlled burns, greenbelt buffers and Urban Growth Boundaries for the wildland-urban interface, forest management, zoning that restricts building or re-building in fire-prone (or flood-prone or other disaster-prone) areas, and the development of fire-resilient infrastructure.
  • Property/Building-scale policies and practices (for land owners, building/home owners, and residents) focus on sites and structures: e.g., defensible space around residential and commercial structures, landscaping choices, vegetation management; home/building hardening and protection (design, building, remodeling, retrofitting); and indoor air ventilation and filtering strategies, for smoke protection and remediation.

The following websites and organizations can help you identify and implement a number of concrete actions that could protect your community or your own family and residence from wildfires:

I. General / Community-Scale Resources

Articles:

II. Property & Building-Scale (Site & Structures) Resources

Click here to see brief descriptions of these resources, or to see some more California-specific resources (in an annotated listing that I developed for the U.S. Green Building Council’s Redwood Empire Chapter in 2021). Also visit our Wildfire and Fire Ecology list on Twitter, which includes many of the above resources and others.

______________________

Doing everything we can to prevent or manage the spread of wildfires and to protect people, animals, forests, and structures from wildfires and their smoke pollution (for the long term) also requires that we do everything we can NOW to help mitigate and slow climate change, as our fast-changing, destabilized climate is the primary driver—the accelerant—of today’s catastrophic wildfires.

Related posts (which include some specific recommendations):

 

Note: This article is now also published on Resilience.org.

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April 27, 2022
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Each day, we post one or two morsels of illuminating information or inspiration on The Green Spotlight’s Facebook Page. If you have a Facebook account, we hope you’ll click on the page’s Like button (if you haven’t already “Liked” or “Followed” the page) and also Share the page or some of its posts with some friends.

Please visit the Page to get a sense of the various topics that it covers. To make sure that Facebook will continue to show you our posts on your Facebook homepage/newsfeed, visit our page regularly and give a thumbs-up to (“Like”) your favorite posts.

We also have a Twitter page, and these topic-specific Twitter lists, which you can follow. Thanks for being a part of our online communities!

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January 27, 2022
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Climate change (AKA climate instability/breakdown) is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather, “natural” disasters, and emergency events. Unfortunately, many of these disasters are made even worse by human land use and development practices. In the last few years, many disasters (especially hurricanes/typhoons, floods, heat waves, wildfires, extreme cold/Arctic blasts, and landslides) around the world have been catastrophic, causing unprecedented amounts of damage and numbers of deaths (and injuries and illness), and creating thousands of climate migrants and refugees. No region is immune to climate-related disruptions and disasters; while some places are at higher risk than others (and some places are even becoming uninhabitable), there’s no truly “safe” place to live. Beyond climate disasters, anyone can also experience manmade disasters (e.g., industrial accidents or explosions), power outages, and severe storms. The more prepared you and your neighbors are, the more resilient you and your family and community can be.

Here’s something that most of us should be doing right now (everyone really, but especially those of us who are in areas that are at risk of flooding, hurricanes, fires, earthquakes and/or tsunamis, severe winter weather, or extended power outages): Assemble your emergency supplies, and make evacuation/safety plans (including meeting spots, out-of-area contacts, etc.). You should have emergency supply kits (AKA “go bags”/backpacks) stashed in your home (preferably near an outside door) or in a shed, garage, or another out-building, as well as in at least one of your family’s cars, and ideally also at your place of work. Workplaces and schools should also have emergency supplies and evacuation plans in place.

There are many good emergency checklists out there (see the Ready.gov and RedCross.org lists and the other resources that are listed at the end of this post). To get started, below is a basic list of some important things to grab (if you are able to) before exiting or evacuating your home/building in an emergency, followed by a list of some of the items to assemble now and keep in your emergency kits. Print out and start reviewing your checklists ASAP and keep a copy of them in a memorable place (e.g., in or next to your emergency kit/bag or on your refrigerator, and also keep a copy on your phone) so that you can easily refer to them in an emergency, when you may not be able to think very clearly. Start assembling your emergency kits even if you can’t pull everything together at once. Having something ready is better than nothing; you can keep adding to your kits over time or add kits in other locations.

 

GRAB BEFORE YOU GO checklist

The following are some things that probably can’t or won’t be saved in your emergency kits ahead of time, but that you should try to grab before leaving your house (or wherever you may be when an emergency strikes) if time allows:

  • Pets (and any other domesticated animals) — with their collars on (w/ ID tags or microchips that have current contact info, ideally more than 1 phone number); plus leashes, carriers/crates, meds; water, food, bowls, towels; cat litter/box (if applicable)
  • Wallet and Keys; purse / bag (w/ checkbook)
  • Cell phone (and charger cord)
  • Eyeglasses
  • Important meds
  • Sturdy shoes; warm jacket
  • Laptop and charger  (and/or computer back-up drive)
  • Portable safe / small valuables [plus the safe’s key, if applicable]
  • Some photos / photo album(s)

+  Your emergency kits/bags  [see below]

 

Evacuation Tips:

  • If evacuating due to a coming wildfire or flood or hurricane/storm, leave early (ASAP) and try to take all or most of your vehicles with you (if roadways aren’t congested yet and you have enough time and drivers) to get them out of the danger zone, so they won’t get burned or flooded and destroyed. Make sure your evacuation vehicle’s gas tank is full or close to full.
  • If there’s a fire, hurricane, or tornado in the vicinity and/or you need to evacuate your home for any reason, turn off the gas line if you have time. After an earthquake, turn off the gas and water lines to your house until all aftershocks are over and the utility companies have been able to check the lines for breaks or leaks. Note: Keep the right-sized/adjustable wrench near-by the gas shut-off. Try it out before you need to use it.
  • Also see CalFire’s Pre-Evacuation Preparation Steps, as well as these additional wildfire evacuation tips.

During or immediately after an emergency event or on days with extreme high or low temperatures or power outages, check on your neighbors, family, and friends, especially those who are elderly, disabled, ill, homeless, or living alone, and those who have infants or special needs.

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EMERGENCY KIT / “GO BAG” checklist

(This is a partial list of items to be assembled in advance, before an emergency happens.)

It’s best to put your emergency supplies in backpacks or other durable, water-resistant, and easy-to-carry bags. You can purchase pre-assembled emergency supply kits/bags, but make sure to supplement those with other important items that haven’t been included:

  • Grab Before You Go list (see above), printed out as a quick reference
  • Contacts List (including emergency services numbers, doctors’ names/numbers, and your out-of-area contact, etc.: print this out ahead of time and save copies in key locations and online)
  • Important papers/documents (e.g., copies of IDs, birth certificates, passports, insurance papers, deeds, legal docs, Will, bank and credit card account info., copies of prescriptions)
    [Tip: Take photos of your IDs, debit/credit cards, and other important documents and save those and key contacts on your phone and remotely in “the cloud” so you can retrieve them from your account even if you lose your phone or computer.  For more suggestions on protecting documents and valuables, see this AARP article.]
  • Cash (including some small bills); an extra credit card

[Tip: Consider getting a waterproof and fire-rated safe for your home, or rent a safe deposit box elsewhere, to hold some of your valuables, important papers, jewelry, heirlooms, extra cash, and some family photos, etc. If it’s the type of house safe that’s bolted down, you may have to leave it behind in an emergency but you may be able to recover its contents later. If it’s portable (i.e., light enough to carry and not bolted down), you may be able to take it with you during an emergency/evacuation, but that type is more susceptible to being stolen (if your home is burglarized). If the safe has a key, be sure to keep a key in your emergency kit or on your keychain or somewhere you’re likely to find it in an emergency. If it has a combination lock, make sure you can remember the combination or write it down somewhere secure/in “the cloud.”]

Note: This list is mainly related to evacuating, but some of these first items at the top of the list also apply if you need to “shelter in place.”

  • WATER to last several days; and water purifier bottle(s) or tablets
  • Toilet paper
  • Spare meds (including any prescription meds)
  • First Aid Kit  (you can buy one off-the-shelf or make your own)

  • Pet/animal kit (if applicable)
    [extra collars and leashes, meds; carriers/crates; water, food, bowls, towels; extra cat litter and portable litter box; spare ID tag with current contact info, ideally more than 1 phone number; if microchipped, make sure your contact info is current in the database]
  • Special items for any infants, elderly, or disabled members of the household (e.g., baby food, formula/bottle, diapers, wipes, critical meds, assistive devices, etc.)

AND:

  • Food / snacks  (non-perishable) [check expiration dates and refresh items every year]
  • Toothbrush & toothpaste (and other essential toiletries)
  • Spare/old set of eyeglasses
  • Spare set of clothes (esp. underwear, socks) and shoes
  • Hats, scarves, gloves
  • Flashlights; lantern; headlamp; candles
  • Lighter / matches
  • Soap and detergent
  • Bags (garbage/grocery, etc.)
  • Towels; rags, paper towels
  • Small radio
  • Batteries
  • Back-up/storage/solar charger
  • Work gloves
  • Utensils; can opener; camp kitchenware set
  • Tools: Wrench and pliers, knife, multi-function tool, etc.
  • Blanket / thermal emergency blankets
  • Tent, sleeping bags / camping supplies (grill or camp stove?)
  • Duct tape
  • N95-rated smoke/dust masks;  safety goggles
  • Fire extinguisher  [Also, watch an online tutorial on how to use one, or ask your fire dep’t. to show you]
  • Whistle
  • Tarp(s)
  • Bucket
  • Gas can
  • Flares
  • Reflective vest or other visibility gear
  • Safety helmet
  • Hydrogen peroxide (for disinfection)
  • Propane canister
  • Crowbar
  • Solar-powered or hand-cranked gadgets (e.g., radio, flashlight, charger)
  • [And ideally, a solar generator, or a solar PV system with battery storage]

Also, make sure you have hoses, buckets (filled with water, during fire seasons), a shovel, and at least one fire extinguisher on your property, for putting out spot fires. And once or twice a year, make sure all of your smoke detectors are working and have new batteries in them.  (Earthquakes, downed power lines, broken gas lines, fireplaces, oven/stove or grill use, batteries, and various other things can cause fires in or around your house, so these tips apply even if you are not in wildfire country.)

You can find other “Go Bag/Kit” lists at Ready.gov’s Build a Kit page and Red Cross’ Survival Kit Supplies page.

Note: I’ll be creating PDF versions of my checklists above, so they can be downloaded and easily saved and printed. Check back for the PDFs. I will also periodically add to and make improvements to this post and these lists.

————————————————————

For additional and more comprehensive information and other tips on household- and community-level emergency preparedness and disaster response/relief, please go to:

Ready.gov

Red Cross: How to Prepare for Emergencies

Also download the Red Cross’ various mobile apps to your phone (for Emergency, Earthquake, Flood, Hurricane, Tornado, First Aid, Pet First Aid, etc.), and follow your region’s Red Cross branch on social media.

Nixle local alerts (by text/phone)

To sign up for Nixle alerts, text your zip code to 888777.

Also check with your County or City (e.g., emergency management office) and your local electric/gas utility to see if they have local emergency alert/notification systems that you can sign up for. And consider signing up on NextDoor.com to receive neighborhood/community notices (including public safety notifications from your local Sheriff’s department).

Resilient Design strategies

Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies
      Disaster Hotline for the Disabled: 800-626-4959

Ready for Wildfire
Fire Safe Council
Fire Adapted Communities Network

CERT (Community Emergency Response Teams)

Mutual Aid Disaster Relief

Team Rubicon

Post Carbon Institute’s Community Resilience resources

ASPCA Disaster Preparedness information re. pets/animals
HALTER Project (Horse, Livestock, and other animal emergency response & prep.)
International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) disaster response teams
Humane Society’s disaster relief work
Also do an online search to see if your state, county, or community have established an Animal Response Team.

Other disaster response training programs (a listing)

FEMA  (Federal Emergency Management Agency)

Unfortunately, FEMA is not always a reliable source of assistance, due to underfunding and a considerable increase in catastrophic disasters. It is important for neighborhoods, towns, counties, and states to form their own emergency/disaster response initiatives and mutual aid groups, so that communities can be more prepared and self-reliant, both during the immediate aftermath of a disaster and the longer-term recovery. If your town or county doesn’t already have an emergency preparedness and/or disaster response team or group, consider organizing one for people and/or for animals, or join one of the disaster response groups listed above. (Here’s a good website that was created by one small town’s emergency response team.) Or you can get involved by: setting up or attending a local CERT training, becoming a Red Cross volunteer, becoming a Search & Rescue volunteer for your county/region, getting certified in CPR and First Aid, or training to become a volunteer firefighter (which is especially helpful if you live in a rural area).

You can find many of the organizations listed above (and others) in our Twitter list on Disaster/Emergency Response (and Humanitarian Aid).

 

Related posts:

Also see: our Twitter list on Disaster/Emergency Response (and Humanitarian Aid) as well as our Twitter list on Wildfires, Fire Risk Reduction, and Fire Ecology.

In the future, I hope to publish a post on Sustainable Emergency Shelters (e.g., temporary or permanent dwelling/housing units that can be built quickly and efficiently for refugees, homeless people, and people who have lost their homes in disasters).  For the time being, we have a post on Modular, Prefab, and Compact Options for Green Homes and Structures, which may provide some helpful links for people who are looking to rebuild a home or create a temporary dwelling while they make rebuilding or relocation plans.

I’ll also be creating PDF versions of the checklists in this post, so they can be downloaded and easily saved and printed. Check back later for the PDFs.

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January 22, 2019
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More than 2,500 businesses around the world (from more than 60 countries and 130 different industries) have now become certified as B Corporations, as of July 2018.  “B Corps are for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.” The B Impact Assessment gives companies a score based on how they perform on metrics for impact on their communities, the environment, workers, customers, and internal governance.

A few of the largest or most well-known B Corporations are: Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, Seventh Generation, Method, Ecover, Earthbound Farm, Eileen Fisher, Danone, Athleta, and Natura. And a few other B Corps that I like to highlight include: Alter Eco, Dr. Bronner’s, Beneficial State Bank, New Resource Bank, and RSF Capital Management.

The annual Best for the World ratings highlight businesses that have scored in the top 10 percent of all Certified B Corporations on the assessment. Companies that have scored in the top percentiles across a majority of the assessment’s categories, based on company size, are honored as Best for the World Overall; and companies that have scored in the top percentiles in a given category, again based on company size, are honored as: Best for the Environment, Best for Community, Best for Workers, Best for Customers, and/or Best for Governance.

Click here for more information on the 2018 Best for the World honorees (including a link to interactive data sets).

And click here to find other B Corps, including ones in your region. (You can search by location, name, industry, or keyword.)

Any company can take the B Impact Assessment, a free and confidential tool that allows you to “measure what matters” and compare your company’s practices with others.

 

Related posts:

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July 30, 2018
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We have published numerous posts that provide listings of various type of non-profit* groups (related to specific topics and issues), so we thought we’d provide an index of all of them to make them easy to find. Many of the groups that we’ve mentioned in our posts are based in the United States, but some are international organizations and a few are focused on other countries:

In the future, we will be adding more organization listings, including anti-nuclear groups, population-related groups, women’s rights and equality groups, green groups/projects in Mexico and Central America and South America, and others.

Also see these Twitter Lists for some other types of organizations.

* NOTE: Not all of the organizations mentioned in the above posts are 501(c)(3) non-profits. If you want to know whether you would be eligible to get a tax deduction for your donation to an organization, please check with each organization.

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November 21, 2017
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