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Fighting Climate Change: What Can I do?

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Climate change is occurring on such a large scale that it’s easy for individuals to feel helpless to stop it. In fact, according to two Fielding School experts, although the government and private sector bear significant responsibility for taking the bold actions needed to combat climate  change and adapt to its effects, there are steps individuals can take to ensure they are participating in the solution rather than contributing to the problem.


TRANSPORTATION IS A KEY CONTRIBUTOR TO CLIMATE CHANGE
. Individuals can reduce their carbon footprint by limiting air travel, shifting to energy-efficient vehicles, and minimizing the amount of time they spend in their cars, including through such strategies as carpooling. “If it’s feasible and safe to do so, actively  commuting — on bicycle or on foot — or taking public transit is a great way to have a positive impact,” says Michael Jerrett, professor and chair of FSPH’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences, who makes his daily commute to the Fielding School by bicycle. Active commutes have an individual benefit as well, of course. “It’s much healthier to burn fat than it is to burn fossil fuels,” says Dr. Richard Jackson, FSPH professor emeritus of environmental health sciences.

 


THERE IS EVIDENCE THAT EATING MEAT
— particularly beef, pork and lamb — adds to carbon emissions. “It’s been said that our modern agricultural system is really about taking fossil fuels and converting them into food energy, because of the role of petrochemicals in our agricultural system,” Jerrett says. Another dietary strategy: Buy local. “The average piece of food on an American’s plate has come from 1,100 miles away,” Jerrett notes. “It’s not always possible in much of the country, especially in winter, but whenever you can buy locally sourced foods, it makes a positive impact.” Jackson adds that for those who can, growing food in a home garden is ideal both as a carbon-limiting strategy and for its physical and mental health benefits.

 


AN INTEGRAL PART OF ANY STRATEGY
to fight climate change involves reducing consumption of fossil fuel-based energy. Where feasible, change standard lightbulbs to energy-efficient versions and unplug appliances that aren’t in use. A side benefit is that these changes can also save money. Beyond conservation measures that many can employ, homeowners can install energy-efficiency improvements in the form of energy-saving appliances, and even switch to solar-powered water and heating, Jerrett notes. If a homeowner also has outdoor space, keeping it green is preferable to paved for two reasons — green spaces serve as a “carbon sink,” absorbing carbon dioxide rather than releasing it into the atmosphere, where it contributes to climate harm; and for the cooling effect. “Concrete and other structures absorb heat at a higher rate than the natural environment, creating an urban heat island effect, so it’s important not to unnecessarily pave over areas that would otherwise be green,” Jerrett says.