When we learn in schools and on TV about the climate crisis, we are always taught about the animals and plants that will suffer as a result, and the terrible effect that it will have on the planet. But we are very seldom – if ever – taught about the cost of the climate crisis on the people who live here. This is also the case in climate activism – the big stories and campaigns are often focussed on the wildlife and biodiversity of the planet which is suffering and dying as a result of the climate crisis and this needs to change. Millions of people all over the world are feeling the devastating effects of climate change and the climate crisis right now, and I think when we realise that the species that will suffer most from climate change is us; homo sapiens, we will start to make the right choices and changes.
Change often is most rife when we see the effects in our own homes, countries or areas, and many amazing activists from the global South (such as Mitzi Jonelle Tan and Vanessa Nakate) were motivated by the devastation caused by the climate crisis to their homes and families. Here in Europe, we are lucky, as we are largely sheltered from the effects of the climate crisis. But even so, we are starting to see the increased rainfall, flooding, heatwaves and freezes which are the hallmarks of a degrading climate system. Fortunately, however, there are lots of things that we as individuals can do to make a difference to the state of the climate – starting with the big one: Education.
One of the reasons that so little is being done for the climate, is the lack of knowledge on the subject in the general public. This is through no fault of our own; we are constantly being told that the climate crisis is not as much as a threat as say, Brexit is, or that making small changes far off in the future will be enough. This is sadly not the case, and so it is crucial that we educate ourselves about the realities of the climate crisis. Find reputable sources (such as Greenpeace, the IPCC, Fridays For Future and other NGOs) of information about the climate and read up on the facts. Watch documentaries, TED Talks and listen to speeches by climate activists in order to gain a thorough understanding of the emergency we are currently in.
The next step is to act on what you have learnt. There are many ways to do this, and more and more accessible and cheaper options for making your lifestyle more sustainable. However, you must be on the lookout for greenwashing – because as public awareness grows, ever more brands and companies are using greenwashing advertising campaigns to boost their sales and public image while doing very little for the environment or making very few ethical changes.
It is therefore important to do your research before buying, to make sure that your money is having the best impact possible.
Here are some sure-fire tips that will help you make a positive difference to the climate crisis whilst also being free of greenwashing:
1. Drive less. Wherever possible, cycle, scoot, walk, run – but don’t use a fossil fuel powered mode of transport. This will make a massive difference to your carbon footprint as an individual, but it will also result in cleaner air in your surrounding area (a huge positive, as WHO estimates that “7 million people die every year from exposure to polluted air.”) and fewer carbon emissions, which will lead to a reduction in the rate of global warming.
2. Invest in reusables. It goes without saying that products that are designed to last a long time and be reused over and over again are much better for the planet than disposables. But they are also better for our health, as using reusables leads to a reduction in the amount of waste produced, the amount of micro-plastics and nano-plastics that enter our food chains and number diseases spread through the mess caused by unsanitary conditions (as a result of too much disposable waste).
3. Consume less. As a society, we are hooked on spending – a habit which isn’t great for our wallets or our planet. We need to re-think the way that we spend our money; only buying what we need and being mindful of what we buy and where it comes from, as everything we buy is using up the Earth’s precious finite natural resources, in addition to being highly pollutant. We don’t actually need every new thing that is sold to us through advertising and realising that is hugely beneficial to you and the planet!
The really brilliant thing about all of these tips is that the more people who do them, the greater the impact is. It’s the same as the plastic drinking straw analogy: one straw that one person uses doesn’t make a huge amount of waste, but when thousands and millions of people use them, you are suddenly faced with an enormous volume of used, waste plastic straws. So, one small action on its own may not make a huge difference – but lots of people doing it together sure will. Which is why individuals are the most powerful tools we have to make a difference – we may not have control over the governmental and big business decisions or actions, but we do have total control over our own actions, as well as being able to influence the actions and decisions of the people around us. Humans are social beings, so when someone sees someone they love doing something that is good for them and the planet, they are much more likely to do that same action also.
You may also have noticed that all of these tips have two main commonalities: that they are both good for our health and the health of the planet. This link is easy to explain, although as a society we seem to have forgotten it; we humans are a part of and RELIANT on nature and on the Earth, so whatever isn’t healthy for our planet, isn’t healthy for us. If we fix the behaviours that are harming our planet, we will also fix the issues that we are facing with human health and mental health – because we are the real casualties of the climate crisis – we just haven’t realised it yet.
Written by the amazing Emily Knock