tips

Did you know that one-third of food is wasted, somewhere between the farm and the plate?  This is not only inefficient—it’s immoral, as 1 in 10 people in the world are malnourished (suffering from hunger and food insecurity), and food waste is also one of the major contributors to climate change. Most of the methane emissions from landfills are caused by food waste (AKA “organic waste”). Methane is one of the worst, most potent greenhouse gas pollutants.

Project Drawdown’s research has identified Reduced Food Waste as one of the highest impact climate solutions. (It’s ranked #1 or #4 in their list of solutions, depending on which global-heating timeline scenario you select.)

Reducing food waste is not only one of the best ways to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions; it’s also one of the easiest ways. And it shouldn’t cost you anything; in fact, reducing food waste should save you money. It’s the “low hanging fruit,” so to speak, of climate solutions.

Of course, like most climate solutions, the biggest changes need to happen at a systemic level. Tons of food waste (or “food loss”) happens before it ever makes it to consumers, in the agricultural and food retail industries and along the whole supply chain. Often, a sizable percentage of produce is never even harvested in the fields where it’s grown, or it gets thrown out during processing or in restaurants, grocery stores, and cafeterias, sometimes due to its imperfect appearance or over-ripeness (or due to expiration dates, for packaged foods).

Farmers can learn about ways to recover more of their produce that is lost/wasted, through the resources and services of experts like Lisa K. Johnson. Some areas have gleaning groups that will come pick any excess crops and donate them directly to soup kitchens, food banks, or to people in need. Surplus can also be distributed for use as animal feed, compost, or industrial inputs, or even converted to energy using anaerobic digesters.

The rest of us can ask the owners or managers of our grocery stores (and local restaurants and school cafeterias) what they do with their excess food, and nicely ask them to donate their extra produce (before it goes bad)—and any packaged foods that are nearing their expiration dates—to local food pantries and/or overstock stores. In 2016, France passed a law requiring supermarkets to donate (rather than throw out) all unused food products. We should push for similar laws in our own country.

There are also numerous ways that each of us can help reduce (as well as reuse/repurpose or recycle/compost) our own food waste. Some are these strategies are very basic and may seem obvious, while others you might not have considered, or they might take a little more knowledge or effort:

  1. Don’t buy more perishable foods (i.e., produce, meat, dairy, fish, bread, or anything you need to refrigerate) than your household is likely to be able to eat before the items go bad. (For example, don’t buy produce in bulk quantities unless you know you can use or share all of it in time.) Avoiding buying too much—and using up what you have—may seem like no-brainers, but they do require some thought and planning. And it’s easier not to over-shop if you have a fresh-foods market a short distance from your home so you can go there more often. Many fruits and vegetables will stay fresh longer if you keep them in the refrigerator, and breads and many other foods can be stored in the freezer for later use. One way to help make sure you use up what you have is to place the items you need to eat first (including leftovers) in the most visible parts of your fridge where you can’t forget about them, rather than pushed back and hidden behind other items that will last longer. If you can tell that you have gotten more than you’re going to be able to use of something, give the surplus to friends/family who can definitely use it, or donate it to a local food bank/pantry (or soup kitchen or shelter) while it is still fresh enough to eat.
  2. It’s widely known now that the “Best By” dates on packaged foods are not expiration dates, and those dates can often be “taken with a grain of salt.” Here are some guidelines on how long various foods will last before they actually go bad. If you have packaged foods that you may not be able to use before they approach their expiration dates, donate those to a food pantry or the like before they expire.
  3. Don’t shy away from buying fruits and vegetables that are small or strangely shaped or slightly imperfect, or packaged foods in boxes/containers that are slightly dented or misshapen. Check out these companies that sell such foods at a discount: Imperfect Foods, Ugly Foods, and Misfits Market.
  4. Buy some of your food from overstock stores, like Grocery Outlet (or Big Lots), which help keep overstocked (or close-out) products from being thrown out. This is another great way to save money. You can often find some organic and healthy foods at Grocery Outlet.
  5. You can find many great ideas for ways to reuse/repurpose your food scraps and leftovers. Just do a web search for phrases like “cooking with food scraps,” “recipes reusing food scraps,” or “creative ways to use food scraps or leftovers” and you’ll see so many ingenious suggestions. (People who have lived in poverty or on a low income have learned some of these tricks by necessity.) Any remaining non-meat food scraps that you can’t use you can give to people who have chickens or other animals that would be happy to eat them (or else compost the unusable scraps: see the last item, below).
  6. When you eat at restaurants, if the restaurant offers huge portions of food that are more than you can/should eat, consider sharing those dishes. If you have leftovers, only have those put in a take-out container if you’re fairly certain that someone in your household will finish that food later, or if you know that you can give it to a homeless person right away. (Otherwise, you’re just adding unnecessary packaging waste to more food waste.)
  7. If you have a large garden or fruit or nut trees that produce more than your family can eat, offer the extra bounty to neighbors and friends, or post something on NextDoor.com or elsewhere to offer it to other people, inviting them to come pick/harvest and take it; or if you have a lot of surplus, you could set up a little farm stand/free food pantry box (or add it to a free library box), or contact a local gleaning group (if there’s no local group shown on the map at that link, do a web search to try to find ones in your area, or ask around on local social media groups). If you have a bunch of fallen, over-ripe, or wormy fruit from your fruit trees, you could offer that fruit to people who raise pigs or chickens or who have lots of deer or other wildlife on a rural property.
  8. Consider volunteering with a local gleaning group. Members of your group could contact local farms and orchards to see if they have excess crops they’d like your group to harvest and give to those in need.
  9. Composting options: 1) If your town has a curbside composting program that collects food waste, you should be able to put your remaining food waste into your curbside compost bin. (Just bear in mind that, in some areas, the compost gets transported to another county, which is not efficient in terms of transportation emissions.) Some cities or regions also have composting services that companies or households can hire to pick up their food scraps/waste. 2) You could collect and give your food waste to a neighbor or local farmer who composts on their land and uses the compost to improve their soil. 3) Or you can compost your food waste on your own property, if you have the space and an appropriate spot for that (where it won’t be likely to attract raccoons or rats or create a nuisance for neighbors). You can find zillions of resources and tips online about how to do home composting. One of the easiest ways to do it (without having to buy or build a compost bin) is referred to as “composting in place“: just digging a small hole right in your garden and putting your food waste in the hole, as it’s generated, and covering it up for it to decompose and improve your soil.

One of the other top climate solutions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions is also food-related: Shifting to a more plant-based diet, i.e., eating less (or no) meat and dairy, which also happens to be good for our health—as well as the welfare of animals—and it can also save you money. Online, it’s easy to find many delicious recipes for meatless/vegetarian or dairy-free/vegan dishes, as well as vegetarian and vegan restaurants near you, and lots of information and resources on protein-rich, plant-based diets. And if you do sometimes eat meat or dairy foods, be sure to make an extra effort to use those up and not waste them, for the sake of the animals they came from, and also because meat and dairy production account for such an enormous amount of land use (and deforestation), as well as water use.

Resources for more information on food waste reduction:

Also do a web search for organizations and companies in your city/county/state that focus on “food waste” or “food recovery” or “zero waste” to find out about efforts and opportunities in your region.

Related posts:

Share

November 21, 2023
[Click here to comment]

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), infants and young children, people with pre-existing health conditions or disabilities, 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:

  • 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 you’re trying to minimize your use of the A/C to conserve energy or money, or to keep the grid from collapsing): Use fans (or evaporative “swamp” coolers in really dry climates). 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 or rigid foam or hang thick blankets or tarps inside or outside your south- and west-facing windows (and/or your windows that get the most direct sunlight) to keep the heat/sun out. 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. If it gets cool at night—or any time it’s cooler outdoors than in—open your windows to get a cross-breeze; you can also use one 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 drive somewhere close, 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).
  • 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). 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!)
  • Scroll down to the section below on “Design strategies and investments,” for additional suggestions for keeping your home cool.
  • 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.

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) or a large-en0ugh 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 trees (and new plants, planted within the last couple of years) especially will need more 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 (e.g. a shaded potting shed).
  • On especially hot/sunny days, you could put shade cloth over the most vulnerable plants, or shade them with an umbrella.
  • 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.
  • Crops can benefit from having solar panels placed between rows for shading.
  • Organically grown crops and plants (and native plants) have been shown to have greater resilience to heat than chemically-grown (and non-native) crops and plants.
  • 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.
  • You can find lots of additional tips regarding how to protect plants and trees during heat by doing an online search.

———————————————–

Design strategies and investments:

The tips above mostly cover immediate or short-term steps you can take to protect yourself and other living things from heat. Here are some design strategies and investments to consider, which require a little more planning or preparation time:

  • Put thermal window coverings on your windows (e.g., thermal honeycomb blinds or shades), particularly on large windows and west- and south-facing windows.
  • Add shade trees, awnings, or overhangs to your property (particularly outside of west- and south-facing windows and over dark, paved surfaces).
  • Make sure your home has enough insulation (especially in the attic and walls). This will also help you during cold periods.
  • 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 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 paving materials.)
  • When choosing a car, in addition to choosing an electric or hybrid vehicle, choose one that’s a light color (e.g., white, 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, 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 crops.
  • Consider getting an electric battery backup system for your home; ideally, this would be tied into a solar photovoltaic system to keep your power (and cooling) on during extended power outages. You can also get an electric/solar generator to use during power outages (or off grid).
  • When designing any new home (or building), designers should consider incorporating 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.
  • 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.

————————-

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:

Share

July 27, 2023
[Click here to comment]

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:

Climate and Energy-Related Solutions, Tips, and Resources

How to Reduce Food Waste (+ Reduce Emissions and Save Money)

Share

June 27, 2023
2 comments

I know that no one really wants to think about or hear about COVID anymore. People are tired of it, “over it,” and “done with it.” But unfortunately, it’s not done with us; it’s not over, and it may not be for quite some time, as it keeps mutating into new variants. As of the end of February 2023, there are still more than 22,000 people hospitalized with COVID across the U.S.  For the years 2020-2022 (the last three years in a row), COVID-19 has remained the 3rd most common cause of death in the United States (behind only cancer and heart disease), and among adults and children, it’s the top cause of death among all infectious and respiratory diseases (beating out flu and pneumonia). “In January and February of 2022, COVID-19 was the number 1 cause of death for people ages 45-84.” (Source) In total, according to data from the World Health Organization, as of February 19, 2023, “more than 757 million confirmed cases of COVID and over 6.8 million COVID deaths have been reported globally.” And in the United States, COVID has killed more than 1.1 million people (with confirmed cases of COVID) so far (as of February 2023), but that’s most likely a significant undercount, given the much higher number of “excess deaths.”  Meanwhile, recent research has found that at least 10% of serious COVID infections result in Long COVID, which is an often debilitating illness. More than 65 million people worldwide are already suffering from Long COVID. Many people with Long COVID are not able to work or function well in daily life.

Many of us who work on climate issues have noticed (with sadness and dismay) the similarities in the way that many people have been dealing (or not dealing) with the COVID pandemic and with the climate crisis. Too many people are living in denial: choosing to deny, ignore, dismiss or downplay real problems. Denial is a very powerful coping mechanism, often used when we feel overwhelmed or powerless or fearful about something, but denial often goes too far, way beyond where it serves us well, and then it can become dangerous and even deadly. Many people want so badly to not be seen as over-reacting to something that they over-correct and under-react. It seems to be the human condition to often be scared of all the wrong (low-risk) things, while dismissing and ignoring the real risks that we should be concerned about and doing something about.

And then some people are behaving as if they have a death wish or have lost any type of basic survival instinct, or even any desire to protect others (whether they be family, friends, co-workers, the many immunocompromised folks they may come across, let alone their community or humanity at large) from sickness or potential death or disability. It’s been sobering to see how non-chalant, callous, and even sociopathic some people have been about this. This is another way in which some people’s response to COVID has been similar to people’s response to the climate crisis. A disheartening number of people have shown that they are unwilling to accept or tolerate the most minor inconveniences or sacrifices (e.g., wearing a mask in certain situations; or, say, flying less frequently or choosing a more fuel-efficient, less polluting vehicle) for the collective good (even when doing so is also for their own good/safety/health or that of their own family members). This extreme level of individualism is particularly acute in the United States, where too many people seem to be stuck in an adolescent “I can and will do whatever I want” (regardless of the consequences or the harm to others) frame of mind, and some have thrown toddler-grade tantrums in response to things like mask mandates or even to polite requests or suggestions.

The Scientist article and diagramThere are many important and substantiated facts about COVID that many people seem to be unaware of, in part because many public health leaders and public officials have not been sharing the facts or data or basing policies on them, having seemingly given up on trying to stop or slow the pandemic, possibly because of all the public backlash and hostility they’ve received during past attempts to institute protections (and necessary mitigations/restrictions) to save lives. There are, however, some medical experts and scientists (e.g., epidemiologists, virologists, immunologists, doctors, nurses) who continue to try to get people to understand the reality of the situation and what people (and government and other institutions) should be doing to get it under control. As with the climate crisis, individual and voluntary actions and state-specific protections (though they are helpful and important) are simply not enough to solve or put an end to this collective, global problem.

The following are 10 important facts people should (but often don’t) know about COVID. This isn’t alarmism or fear-mongering. Please see the list of articles further down for more details and research data. If more people were aware of what the current reality is, they might be more likely to take all viable and appropriate precautions:

  1. It appears that many people’s immune systems have been impaired/damaged/dysregulated by having had COVID in the past, and experts are finding that that COVID-caused immunodeficiency (or immunosuppression) is most likely why so many people (including and especially kids and infants) have gotten so ill from the flu, RSV, and any other bug that comes along. (It’s not actually due to so-called “immunity debt,” which is a questionable concept.). It’s also why so many people have been getting bacterial infections that can send them to the hospital (e.g., pneumonia, Strep / scarlet fever, Staph, UTIs, etc.): because their bodies’ immune systems can’t fight them off on their own. Untreated (or untreatable) bacterial infections can lead to sepsis and death.
  2. People can readily get reinfected with COVID (i.e., having had COVID does not mean you are immune from getting it again, especially as the virus keeps mutating), and sometimes people fare worse on later infections than the first.
  3. COVID can cause significant mental, neurological, and blood clotting/circulatory problems (e.g. strokes, embolisms, heart attacks) and long-term/permanent organ damage (e.g., heart, lungs, liver, brain, kidneys, intestines, etc.) and even diabetes—months or years after the initial infection, and even in people who had a relatively mild or even asymptomatic case of COVID in its acute phase. These risks go up with each additional COVID infection.
  4. COVID infections seem to be able to reactivate dormant viruses or infections that someone has had in the past (e.g., mono: EBV; lyme, etc.).
  5. Many hospitals and other workplaces are understaffed because their staff has had so much COVID-related illness, and a lot of people with Long COVID haven’t been able to go back to work due to their ongoing, debilitating symptoms.
  6. Getting the latest COVID booster (vaccine) drastically reduces one’s chances of being hospitalized or dying of COVID. It also seems to reduce the chances of getting Long COVID.
  7. Airplane air filtration is rarely as good as the airlines claim. When people bring air quality monitors on-board, they typically find very poor levels of ventilation, not just when the plane is on the ground but also when it’s in flight. Bear in mind that on almost any flight you’re on, at least one person is likely to have COVID (or some other infectious disease). It is very important to wear a good mask throughout any flight you’re on (and to not remove the mask). I’ve known numerous people who have gotten COVID (and other viruses) after being on flights.
  8. If you’re traveling/flying (or going to be with a group of people indoors), the experts advise that you: isolate for at least a few days before and after the flights/visits/events; take a COVID test (ideally a PCR test) before and a few days after the trip/visit (for several days in a row, as tests—especially at-home rapid tests—sometimes won’t show a Positive result until someone has had the virus for 5 or more days); always wear an N95 (or KN95 or KF94) mask when indoors with a group (or when you’re with a medically vulnerable or immunocompromised person) or on public transportation or when you experience any potential symptoms; and ventilate indoor air as much as possible (opening windows or using HEPA filtration or Corsi-Rosenthal Box filters are the best strategies).
  9. If you have had (or currently have or think you might have) COVID, you may want to ask your doctor about whether it’s safe for you to take some type of anti-coagulant (blood thinner) for a while, to prevent blood clots. One natural blood-thinning supplement (which may be safer and more effective than baby aspirin) is called Nattokinase; it can be found at some natural foods and supplement stores or websites. In addition, to help lower your chances of getting COVID or of preventing a COVID infection from becoming serious, do what you can to keep your immune system functioning properly, e.g., get plenty of sleep; eat nutritious organic (and unprocessed) foods; and make sure you’re getting enough Vitamin D3, other necessary vitamins (like C, the B vitamins, etc.). You could also look into taking supplements like Quercetin (which also has blood-thinning properties) and/or medicinal mushrooms (see Dr. Weil’s info; and Host Defense products). (Note: I am not a medical professional, and you should consult with a medical professional before taking anything.)
  10. If you don’t know whether you’ve had the COVID virus in the past, you can get the “nucleocapsid antibody” test for COVID (offered by various labs, including LabCorp). This is the only type of COVID antibody test that can identify past exposure to the virus itself and not also pick up on antibodies developed from vaccination. This might be helpful information to have in case you end up getting any Long COVID symptoms (or sudden changes in your cardiovascular health or other brain or organ issues) down the road. Research is ongoing to identify the best treatments for various Long COVID symptoms and conditions.

Please take a look at some of these useful, recent articles and research findings about COVID and Long COVID:

I also recommend reading the articles on COVID and Long COVID that were written by Ed Yong between 2020-2022.

Some of the top doctors, scientists, and other experts I recommend following re. COVID and public health are: Eric Topol, Wes Ely, Claire Taylor, Elizabeth Jacobs, Ziyad Al-Aly, Peter Hotez, Erin C. Sanders, Taison Bell, Celine Gounder, Theresa Chapple, Julia Raifman, Angela Rasmussen, Lucky Tran, Megan Ranney, Shikha Jain, Lisa Iannatone, Dr. Natalia, Nurse Kelsey; Hannah Davis, Morgan Stephens, and others included here.

Some groups and resources you might want to know about and follow online are: Voices of COVID, Faces of COVID, Survivor Corps, COVID Survivors for Change, Patient-Led Research Collaborative for Long COVID, Putrino Lab, Long Covid Research Initiative, The Long COVID Survival Guide, Long COVID Advocacy, Long COVID Justice, Long Covid Kids, Project N95, Mask Together America, Marked By COVID, and others included here.

Other useful resources:

Related post:

COVID Response and Relief: Ways to help or to get help or information

 

See our COVID/Long COVID/Public Health Twitter list for updates and new findings.

Share

February 28, 2023
[Click here to comment]

The past 10 years or so, it’s felt like new, large-scale crises emerge almost every day. It’s hard to focus on or prioritize any one issue, as so many issues are of dire importance.

I wish we could live in a world without any traumatic crises or catastrophes. But given that that isn’t a realistic option: I wish we could focus almost all of our attention and efforts on climate action and environmental protection right now, since climate breakdown (and biodiversity loss) is an urgent and worsening crisis (with new climate-related disasters occurring around the world every week) and it requires a bold and immediate response. But this crisis keeps getting overshadowed and crowded out by other real crises and interconnected, existential threats: from the ongoing and ever-morphing COVID-19 pandemic, to the ongoing struggle between democracy/human rights vs. authoritarianism, extremism, and political violence (abroad and at home), to increasing attacks on women’s rights, civil rights, and voting rights in the United States, to war and violence—and all of its attendant issues, including senseless death, destruction, brutality, trauma, and suffering; war crimes, humanitarian crises, mass migration of refugees, nuclear security/safety risks (from threats of nuclear strikes to potentially catastrophic damage to active and inactive nuclear reactors/radioactive waste), environmental contamination (crimes against humanity and nature) and animal suffering, oil and gas supply/dependence, food supply risks, and the resulting economic effects. And this, of course, is only a partial list of significant current issues, the vast majority of which are human-caused.

None of us gets to choose which era we’re born into or what types of historical events and cataclysms we have to live through. But we should all try to rise to the moment we’re in and push for shifts in a more positive direction.

We all have so many personal responsibilities and daily struggles and stressors of our own that it can be very hard to take in what’s going on in other people’s lives and in other parts of the world. Many people turn away because they are already overwhelmed and are in survival mode, and simply can’t cope with or absorb any more sad or scary news or more problems that seem intractable; we all go through certain periods of our lives, or parts of our days, when our own problems (or our families’) are all (or more than) we can handle. Taking on the weight of the world can be crushing. Almost none of us are unscathed or truly OK these days, as most of us are facing numerous challenges at societal and individual levels. It’s important to “put your own oxygen mask on first, before helping others with theirs” because you can’t help others unless you are alive, relatively sane and healthy, and able to function. But whenever we do have the capacity, we should strive to be compassionate, stay aware of what is going on outside of our immediate lives and circumstances, and try to make a difference whenever and wherever we can, however small our efforts may seem, on whatever specific issue(s) we feel we can make an impact on. Helping others (and humanity at large) also gives our own lives a greater sense of meaning and purpose.

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” – Edward Everett Hale

To get updates, information, and expert insights on some of the important issues of our time, you may want to visit (and follow) a couple of my curated lists of Twitter accounts. Note: I created a few of these lists recently, and I regularly add new accounts to each list:

And these are some of The Green Spotlight’s blog posts that are related to current issues:

Posts Related to Democracy and Social Change 

Climate and Energy-Related Solutions, Tips, and Resources

COVID and Long COVID: Important Facts and New Findings [NEW]

COVID Response and Relief

Tips for Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Response

Wildfire Prevention and Risk Reduction

Resilience: Disaster-Resistant and Adaptive Design and Planning

Animal Protection, Rescue, and Advocacy

Wisdom from Hope in the Dark

Great Quotations on Action, Activism, and Change

There are countless organizations doing important and noble work to address many of the issues mentioned above. It’s not easy for me to narrow down a list of only a few to highlight. But I will try. The following are just a few groups that address big, cross-cutting issues; I will be adding more to this list soon. Because so many of humanity’s issues and crises intersect and spring from the same or similar causes or contributors, it’s helpful to use systems thinking to see the big picture, connect the dots, and synthesize messages and actions; doing so can enable us to address multiple problems at once. (While the following are national and international organizations that have a broad scope, more local/regional, decentralized, grassroots groups and efforts are also extremely important and necessary, and big groups should partner up with small and local groups. There are just way too many grassroots groups in every area of the world to attempt to list them here.)

As for Russia’s war on Ukraine (and the many terrible consequences of it), here are a few things you can do to help or to show solidarity with Ukraine (as well as greater Europe, other countries facing conflicts, and our entire, interconnected world):

  1. Support Global Giving’s Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund, other humanitarian aid and disaster response groups, refugee assistance groups, the Clean Futures Fund, or other organizations in the region.
  2. Reduce your use of oil and gas, e.g. by flying less (or not at all), driving less, getting an electric or non-gas-guzzling car (or electric bicycle), supporting renewable energy (via your utility, city, and state), using solar power, switching from gas to electric furnaces and electric/induction stoves (and electric leaf blowers and mowers), getting a heat pump, not heating or cooling your home as much, etc.
  3. Lobby/educate against the use (and development) of nuclear power and nuclear weapons, locally, nationally, and globally. Support: the immediate decommissioning of existing nuclear plants and neutralization of nuclear materials, no-first-use nuke policies, nuclear disarmament and arms reduction policies, uranium mining bans, etc.
  4. Reduce your consumption of wheat/grain-based products, and never waste food. (Ukraine is an agricultural “bread basket” of the world, and its ability to grow grains and other foods will be severely impacted by the war, affecting the food supply and food prices everywhere.) If you have a little space and a little time, grow some food plants on your land/yard/windowsills—ideally enough that you can share some with others. Support local organic farmers and small farms, as well food banks/pantries, gleaning groups, and food security and hunger organizations, locally and globally.
  5. Support and amplify pro-democracy, anti-authoritarian groups and efforts, as well as pro-peace, anti-war groups and efforts.
  6. Plant some sunflowers this spring or summer.
Share

March 31, 2022
[Click here to comment]

We’re all going to need to muster up as much resilience, generosity, patience, kindness, empathy, courage, adaptability, resourcefulness, and creativity as we can, to get through the tough times our families, communities, country, and world are facing during this unprecedented crisis. Things may continue to get worse in many places for a while, and it’s going to be a long haul with multiple waves and no known end date. We’re not only facing a pandemic (a global infectious disease and public health crisis), but also an economic crisis of poverty, disability, food insecurity (hunger), eviction, and homelessness (issues made much worse by the United States’ existing health care/insurance crisis, and by economic inequality, exploitative corporate practices, environmental and institutional racism and injustice, corruption), all of which have left many people in desperate need of assistance, in every community. (And tragically, the climate crisis will exacerbate all of these problems, and create disasters on top of disasters.) Our society is entering an extended period of great loss, disruption, hardship, and suffering.

Soon, all of us will know people who have been sick with the COVID-19 coronavirus (and many of us will know people who have died from it or who suffer from chronic Long Covid symptoms or post-COVID organ/brain damage) as well as numerous people who are suffering financially and emotionally from it. Millions of people are struggling to pay their rent (or mortgage) and utilities, exorbitant medical bills, and/or burial costs. Healthcare workers and other essential workers are having to work overly long and extremely stressful hours and risking their lives to do so, and they are short-staffed due to co-workers who are ill. Most people don’t want to ask friends or family for help, even when they desperately need it (and not everyone has family members or close friends who are in a position to help). So reach out to find out what people you know are going through and what they might need. And if you need help, do reach out to others and to groups that can offer assistance (see below). You are not alone, and there will be people who are able and willing to help you, even if your family and friends are not able to.

If you’re not in dire straits (e.g., if you and your family have your health, an adequate income, health insurance, and/or you still have some savings to get you and your family through an emergency or an extended rough patch), please consider using at least some of your “stimulus” payment money (or your tax refund or savings, if any) to help others who are in need, whether they are friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, friends of friends, strangers, or small local businesses that are struggling. Ask whether people need help with paying rent or buying food, etc.

Alternatively, if you have extra time or skills, services, assistance, or resources to offer, offer those—e.g., food, meals, good masks (ideally NIOSH-approved N95), test kits, plants or seeds, housing (e.g., guest units), babysitting, online schooling, tutoring, or homework help, etc.

If you can help people directly, do that. Otherwise or in addition, try to support (donate to or volunteer for) some of the established groups that are actively helping people in need, such as these:

What other national groups would you recommend that people support? Please add them in the Comments. Also see the links to additional resources at the end of this post.

Also support (donate to or volunteer for):

  • local Mutual Aid and disaster/emergency response groups and any local relief funds set up by community orgs/foundations or community banks and credit unions
  • local food banks/pantries
  • your area’s Meals on Wheels
  • Legal Aid groups (and lawyers providing free, pro bono assistance)
  • your region’s United Way
  • your region’s Red Cross
  • domestic violence shelters and groups
  • child abuse and fostering groups
  • homeless and affordable housing groups; shelters
  • refugee, detainee, and undocumented immigrant protection groups
  • small farmers; farmer’s markets and CSAs
  • reproductive rights/care groups and funds
  • mental health advocacy groups
  • senior centers and support orgs, e.g. AARP Advocates
  • prisoners’ rights groups
  • animal shelters (consider fostering an animal if you have the time, health, and resources)
  • small businesses, and people out of work (including independent/freelance/gig workers and undocumented workers, who pay taxes but can’t collect unemployment)
  • independent bookstores (see IndieBound.org to find stores near you; order books from them online when their stores have to be closed); please do not buy from Amazon, which has put many bookstores and small businesses out of business

And here are additional actions you can take to make a difference:

  1. Buy NIOSH-approved N95 masks (or at least KN95 masks) and at-home tests, and give them away (or sell them at cost if need be) to friends, neighbors, healthcare workers, other essential workers (e.g., grocery/delivery workers, domestic workers, etc.), and homeless outreach centers. Find out if your area has a local group that is collecting/donating masks or equipment. (See ProjectN95.org for info on vetted masks and tests.)
  2. Offer to pick up groceries (or prescriptions or other essential supplies) for a near-by senior, someone with health conditions or immune system issues (including people undergoing cancer treatment or who have an auto-immune disorder), or someone who’s sick.
  3. Reach out to at least one friend, neighbor, or relative each day or each week (by phone, email, FaceTime/Duo, or mail) to see how they’re doing.
  4. Join an existing Mutual Aid group in your area (or consider creating one if there isn’t one already).
  5. Think of any skills, services, items, assets, or resources you can offer (or barter/trade/exchange or lend) to others, e.g., surplus food items, meals, or plants/seeds; babysitting, homeschooling/education, petsitting or fostering, professional services; guest units or quarantine spaces (including vacation rentals, trailers, studios, etc.).
  6. If you’re healthy, donate blood. You can do so through Red Cross blood drives. And if you’ve recovered from COVID, you can donate your plasma to help COVID patients.
  7. If you see or hear questionable or potentially dangerous information (misinformation or disinformation) being spread, check fact-checking sites (e.g., Factcheck.org, Politifact.com, Snopes.com; or reputable medical/health/infectious disease sources and experts) and send/post their links or findings, to share facts and to counter disinformation.
  8. Thank essential workers (e.g., healthcare, grocery, restaurant, and delivery workers/drivers, your mail carrier and post office workers, cashiers, etc.), with verbal thanks, thank-you cards, tips or gift cards, or gifts (e.g., masks, tests, soap, hand sanitizer, food, seeds, tea, flowers, etc.). For example, I left a thank-you note, a bottle of hand sanitizer, and a box of tea in our mail box for our mail carrier.
  9. Think about and prepare your official Advance Health Care Directive (AKA Living Will), DNR (if applicable), Power of Attorney and Medical/Health Care Proxy/Surrogate documents, and your last will & testament, as well as burial/funeral preferences or arrangements. Make sure all of your official documents are made legal and official through witness signatures, and notarized when required, and give copies to your loved ones and your doctor (also post a copy on your fridge, and have someone bring a copy to the hospital if you go to the ER or are hospitalized). Organize other important papers and instructions for your next of kin, and let them know where to find them.
  10. Make sure you’re registered to vote at your current address. Fill out your state’s application to get an absentee/mail-in ballot ASAP (if you live in a state where you don’t currently need an “excuse” or if you have one of their valid excuses to vote by mail; more states will soon make absentee voting easier or even the default), or see if your state allows Early Voting (to avoid crowds and lines). Click here for links to your state’s Secretary of State site and other voting resources. Help young or first-time voters get registered (and make sure they know how to fill out the forms and ballots.)
  11. Plant some food (even if you don’t have any garden/yard space and it’s just a couple of pots on a window sill; start where you are; do what you can). If your area doesn’t have a nursery that sells organic plants and seeds, you can order organic seeds online. Or plant a fruit or nut tree, if you can. If you have extra seeds or a surplus harvest, share them with neighbors and friends.
  12. Build a Little Free Pantry/Library (or just put a “Free Stuff” Box) in front of your house or somewhere in your neighborhood, where people can leave or take non-perishable foods, toiletries, books, or other items. Or if there’s already a Little Free Pantry/Library in your neighborhood, you could leave items in it. You can also donate food to local food banks/drives, and donate needed items to homeless shelters.
  13. Buy stamps or other supplies from (or send packages through) the U.S. Postal Service via USPS.com, to help keep them afloat until adequate federal funding comes through. The economic/pandemic shutdown (and employees out sick) aren’t the only reason the USPS is in trouble; this article explains another reason: an absurd law that was passed in 2006 that “requires the Postal Service, which receives no taxpayer subsidies, to pre-fund its retirees’ health benefits up to the year 2056. This is a $5 billion per year cost; it is a requirement that no other entity, private or public, has to make. Without this obligation, the Post Office actually turns a profit.”

Doing these types of useful and helpful things can also help you feel better during this time of stress, worry, uncertainty, and upheaval, which is putting a strain on everyone’s physicalmental, and emotional health. You need to take good care of yourself to be able to take care of and support others. So also try to establish some self-care practices and healthy coping mechanisms to maintain some resilience and sanity. Here are a few suggestions of things you could try to do for a least a few minutes each day:

  • Go outside. Walk, or at least sit in the sun. When possible, go be in nature, and when that isn’t possible, at least go on a walk down your street or to a local park.
  • Stretch and breathe deeply. Or meditate.
  • Garden (e.g., plant things or pull weeds).
  • Make/eat a good meal. Try something new. (Eat nourishing and nutritious things that will give you strength and help keep your immune system strong.)
  • Spend time with animals, when possible.
  • Look for, recognize, create, and share beauty.
  • Watch something comedic, or read something funny.
  • Listen to some music. (You can dance if you want to!)
  • Read helpful advice from wise and calming people (e.g., Pema Chodron).
  • Seek out a therapist for online sessions.
  • Do productive stuff, like cleaning the house or organizing and purging stuff in your house (going through mail piles; organizing your desk, files, closets, drawers/cabinets, garage, shed, etc.). Recycle old papers. Give away items you don’t need or want.
  • Have a cup of tea.
  • And get lots of good, deep sleep. If you aren’t able to get enough sleep at night, take a nap if you’re able to.

Thank you to all of the helpers, of all stripes, everywhere. Let’s all help each other get through this. Be well.

 

Other useful tips, information, and resources:

 

Related posts:

 

Share

April 27, 2020
[Click here to comment]

Here are a few TED Talks that I’d recommend watching, in addition to the talks that I posted in the past (see Part I and Part II).

A Healthy Economy Should Be Designed to Thrive, Not Grow / Kate Raworth

 

How to Turn Climate Anxiety into Action / Renee Lertzman

 

The Shocking Danger of Mountaintop Removal (Coal Mining)—and Why It Must End / Michael Hendryx

 

A Climate Change Solution that’s Right Under Our Feet (Soil) / Asmeret Asefa Berhe

 

How Empowering Women and Girls Can Help Stop Global Warming / Katherine Wilkinson

 

This Could Be Why You’re Depressed or Anxious / Johann Hari (author of Lost Connections)

 

More:

Share

March 30, 2020
[Click here to comment]

High-Impact Climate Actions and Choices that Make the Biggest Difference

If you’re not already aware of how dire the climate crisis is becoming (and how much worse it will get if our civilization continues on with “business as usual”), consider this past year’s news of extreme heatwaves, droughts, and massive fires across the Arctic, the Amazon, Australia, California, Africa, and elsewhere; and the increasingly catastrophic storms, hurricanes, and floods that have been happening throughout the world. Also take a look at the graph below of global carbon dioxide levels over time, and seek out more information on climate change from reputable sources (see the links list at the very bottom for several media outlets and non-profits), including articles like these:

What humanity chooses to do (or not do) in the next year or two—and over this decade—to lower greenhouse gas (carbon) emissions will determine how catastrophic things will get in the future and how quickly. The only way we will be able to slow and lessen the climate crisis enough to keep our world habitable and hospitable to life is to make big, bold, powerful, and effective changes rapidly and at scale. While smaller problems also matter and small, incremental changes and solutions are worthwhile and can really add up when many people take them on, it is crucial that we understand and focus on the biggest problems (i.e., planetary-wide crises) we all face, like climate change, and understand which choices, behaviors, actions, and policies have the greatest impact on accelerating vs. slowing climate change. Being aware and informed about which types of human activities are contributing the most to worsening climate destabilization empowers us to make the changes that will generate the most significant results. We’re not actually helpless, even though we may sometimes feel that way. Knowledge is power, and what we don’t know or understand could very well kill us (along with most of the rest of life on earth).

Several studies have been done recently that help identify the practices (at the societal level and at the individual/household level) that contribute to (or mitigate) climate change the most. Something that’s notable about the findings of these studies is that many climate solutions don’t cost much if any money, and many can even save quite a bit of money (whereas climate inaction is already costing all of us a LOT, and the cost of inaction is much higher than the cost of taking significant actions would be. See “Climate change’s giant impact on the economy,” New York Times.) In fact, many climate solutions simply involve making the decision NOT to do something (e.g., not cutting down trees, not wasting food, not eating much meat, not having many kids, not flying often, etc.) rather than actively doing something or having to pay for something.

I.

Project Drawdown is a world-class research organization that reviews, analyses, and identifies the most viable global climate solutions, and shares these findings with the world.”  They organize their solutions into the following categories: a) Electricity Generation, b) Food, c) Women and Girls, d) Buildings and Cities, e) Land Use, f) Transport, and g) Materials.

Most of these solutions require some systemic, societal, institutional (e.g., government policy and industry-driven) changes, but it’s important to recognize that all of us as individuals and as communities can support and promote these types of broad-based changes, through our votes, policy advocacy, education and awareness building, and our own behaviors, habits, and lifestyle choices (which can not only reduce emissions, but also serve as role modeling and as examples and inspiration for others, helping to change the culture and shift consumer demand).

The Top 15 Highest-Impact Solutions identified by Project Drawdown are as follows (click each of the links below for descriptions, details, and cost/savings analyses). Many people are not yet aware that some of these strategies are so important:

  1. Refrigerant Management (leak prevention and proper, careful disposal of HFCs in refrigerators and air conditioners; phase-out of HFC chemicals and and replacement with safer, climate-friendly alternatives)
  2. Wind Turbines [onshore]
  3. Reduced Food Waste
  4. Plant-Rich Diet
  5. Tropical Forests (preventing deforestation, and doing restoration and reforestation)
  6. Educating Girls
  7. Family Planning
  8. Solar Farms (utility-scale solar power plants)
  9. Silvopasture (integrating trees and pastures into a single system for raising livestock)
  10. Rooftop Solar (distributed, small-scale solar PV systems <1MW)
  11. Regenerative Agriculture (practices that enhance and sustain the health of the soil by restoring its carbon content, thereby sequestering carbon; e.g., organic production, cover crops, compost, crop rotation, no-till or reduced tillage, etc.)
  12. Temperate Forests (protection/preservation and restoration)
  13. Peatlands (protection/preservation, fire prevention, and restoration of bogs, which store a lot of carbon)
  14. Tropical Staple Trees (planting perennial crop trees)
  15. Afforestation (growing new forests on land that is not currently forested, especially degraded agricultural, pasture, or mining land; preferably a diversity of native and adapted tree species rather than mono-cropped plantations)

Policy-makers, industry/business and institution leaders, foundations and philanthropists, nonprofit organizations, and all of us as citizens should take these findings into account when deciding which climate strategies we should prioritize and amplify, and the types of projects and programs on which we should focus most of our time, energy, and money.

I recommend taking this short, interactive, online quiz on CNN’s website: “The most effective ways to curb climate change might surprise you.” The quiz is based on Project Drawdown’s findings, and it indicates which changes can be made by individuals/households, by industries, and/or by policymakers. (Note: Many of the changes can be made or influenced by more than one of those.)

Project Drawdown published its research conclusions in a book: Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming, edited by Paul Hawken.

NOTE: See an updated version of Drawdown’s research findings in our newer post (from June 2023): Project Drawdown’s Top 15 Most Effective Climate Solutions.

II.

In addition to Project Drawdown’s useful findings and recommendations, another recent scientific study (from 2017, by Seth Wynes and Kimberly Nicholas) has identified some of the highest-impact personal choices and actions each of us can make/take to reduce our own contribution to climate change:

Climate Mitigation: Most Effective Individual Actions

Their data showed that the following are the highest-impact decisions and actions; sadly, they also found that education and government recommendations (in the US, EU, Canada and Australia) have been failing to focus on most of these (and instead they often mention and prioritize lower-impact actions). We should all aim to achieve at least two or three of these, and ideally all of them:

  1. Having a small family rather than a large one (i.e., having few or no kids). This decision makes a bigger impact than any other we can make as individuals, by orders of magnitude beyond the others. Researchers have found that each additional person (in a developed country) ends up contributing an average of 58.6 tons of CO2-equivalent (tCO2e) emissions to our atmosphere per year. [Note: The carbon footprint of U.S. households is about 5 times greater than the global average, as we Americans consume so much more than people in most other countries. (Source)]
  2. Going car-free (or at least driving as little as possible, and ideally switching to an electric vehicle or a very-low-emissions, high-MPG hybrid vehicle)
  3. Avoiding airplane travel (or flying as little as possible).  [From a New York Times article: “In 2016, two climatologists published a paper in the prestigious journal Science showing a direct relationship between carbon emissions and the melting of Arctic sea ice.” They found that one passenger’s share of emissions on a 2,500-mile flight melts the equivalent of 32 square feet of Arctic summer sea ice. And cruise ships are even worse; “even the most efficient cruise ships emit 3 to 4 times more carbon dioxide per passenger-mile than a jet,” along with other serious air and water pollutants. And container/cargo ships use even filthier fuels.]
  4. Buying/using green, clean energy (e.g., via your utility if they offer this, or by installing solar or wind). [A note from me: FIRST always use conservation and efficiency to minimize any over-use/waste of energy! One of the best ways to do this is to avoid living in a home that is too big for the size and needs of your family. It’s wasteful to have to heat or cool—and furnish—rooms or spaces that you don’t really use.]
  5. Eating a plant-based diet (or reducing your meat consumption)

For more information on this study, see this article/analysis, as well as this concise Grist post and its infographic (shown above), which provides a good visual sense of the relative difference in impacts from each of the choices or actions/inactions. To learn about additional personal actions and decisions that can make a difference, beyond the five identified by the study above, check out the book Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living, Expert Advice from the Union of Concerned Scientists (Island Press, 2012).

For some of us, the five choices above don’t seem like big sacrifices to make, and in fact many can drastically improve our own lives (as well as everyone else’s). But in our highly individualistic and materialistic culture, many of us are taught that we can (and should) do whatever we want (any costs and harms to our community or society or public health be damned). We are too often conditioned to believe that we are inherently entitled to do anything we want (and buy anything that we can afford), and we are not often encouraged to think about whether or not we should do (or buy) those things. Americans, in particular, often tend to feel entitled to get as large and gas-guzzling a vehicle as we want, and many of us tend to drive and fly as often and as much as we want, and buy as much as we can, acting almost as if this is somehow our inherent, God-given right. Please question the assumptions, expectations, pressures, and social conditioning that you/we have been brought up with. These beliefs are not universal “human nature;” they are culturally taught. Consider the benefits of self-restraint and self-regulation. Think about the concept of “enough.” Think about: “Live simply so that others may simply live.” Consider your neighbors; consider vulnerable populations; consider other species; consider future generations. Consider and be considerate of the common good.

Lastly, always remember (and remind others) that almost any choice or change that you make or that society makes to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions will not only help stabilize the climate; it will also reduce air pollution (as well as water pollution and ocean warming) and thus improve and protect public health and well-being in other very direct and often immediate ways.

 

Related posts:

Related resources:

See our Twitter list of Climate groups, scientists, and leaders

 

These are some organizations focused on the climate crisis and climate solutions:

And these are a few media / news and information sources that provide fact-based information on climate change:

Share

January 30, 2020
[Click here to comment]

The only thing that is truly certain in this life is that all of us will die. We don’t know when or how, but we do know that ultimately we cannot avoid death. Impermanence and death are inevitable, universal, and unavoidable parts of life.

Rather than live in denial or in fear of that fact (as so many people do), we should strive to face it and prepare for it to the extent that we can. That way, we can have a role in trying to ensure that our end of life experience and our post-death legacy are in keeping with our values and that our loved ones know what we want and won’t have to muddle through all of our death care decisions and post-death details and arrangements without any of our guidance when they are in the process of grieving.

Each of us has an impact on our environment not just during our life, but after our death. Conventional modern burials and cremation both have significant negative impacts on the environment. Death is natural, but the ways our modern society usually processes dead bodies is far from natural (or benign). Embalming fluid is a toxic mix of formaldehyde, benzene (both of which are carcinogens), and methanol. (Some shocking stats: Embalmers have a 13% higher death rate, 8 times higher risk of leukemia, and 3 times higher risk of ALS than the general population. Sources: See link at the end of this paragraph.) Caskets and vaults use vast quantities of natural resources, such as wood (including tropical hardwoods), steel, copper, bronze, and/or concrete, and can leach iron, lead, zinc, and cobalt into the soil. Meanwhile, cremation uses a lot of energy (burning fossil fuels) to reach a temperature of 1900 degrees F for more than 2 hours, which produces considerable CO2 emissions. Cremation also releases mercury—a dangerous neurotoxin—into the air (due to the incineration of people’s silver dental fillings), as well as other by-product air pollutants (e.g., dioxins, nitrogen oxide, and particulates). For additional impacts and statistics, click here.

Fortunately, alternatives to conventional burial and cremation are now available in many areas, as the interest in natural burial is growing. Increasingly, people are opting to be buried without being embalmed (or else being embalmed using non-toxic, biodegradable fluids, or temporarily preserved using dry ice); wrapped in a shroud or placed in a biodegradable casket or container; and buried in a natural setting (rather than in the typical mowed and manicured lawn cemetery that uses toxic herbicides, fertilizers, and pesticides), where their body and its nutrients can decompose into the earth (dust to dust), allowing them to contribute to new life. An added bonus is that natural burial options are often considerably less expensive than conventional casket (or vault) burials.

The Green Burial Council certifies funeral products, services (funeral homes), and cemeteries and burial grounds that meet their criteria. While definitions of “green” can vary, these are their general criteria: “The Green Burial Council believes cemeteries, preserves, and burial grounds can broadly be considered green if they meet the following criteria: caring for the dead with minimal environmental impact that aids in the conservation of natural resources, reduction of carbon emissions, protection of worker health, and the restoration and/or preservation of habitat. Green burial necessitates the use of non-toxic and biodegradable materials, such as caskets, shrouds, and urns. Hybrid, natural, and conservation cemeteries choosing to follow these basic guidelines fall under the general category of green cemeteries, as opposed to conventional lawn cemeteries that require concrete, plastic or other vaults or liners, and allow embalmed bodies and exotic wood or metal caskets.”

For specific details on their certification criteria for burial products, services, and venues, check out the Green Burial Council’s Standards.

You can find a list of certified providers and products on the Green Burial Council’s website. You can also find providers listed at AGreenerFuneral.org.

Other innovative green burial options are emerging, including human composting (accelerated decomposition/recomposition: to convert human remains into soil, e.g., Recompose; see the Smithsonian article link below), using mushroom mycelium to help digest and neutralize toxins in our bodies during decomposition, to prevent them from leaching toxins into the ground (e.g., the Infinity Burial Suit), and an egg-shaped biodegradable burial pod (Capsula Mundi). UPDATE: Another newish option is aquamation (AKA water cremation, or alkaline hydrolysis), which is currently approved in more than 20 states, as of early 2022 (and other states will eventually approve it, as well). Aquamation is the option that Bishop Desmond Tutu chose for himself.

Green burial resources:

And these are other useful resources on related issues of death, death care, and end-of-life planning:

When writing up your will or talking with your loved ones about your wishes, be sure to also identify some of your close friends or family members who might be able and willing to take your pets or other animals in the event of your death.

Share

August 20, 2019
[Click here to comment]