The typical advice we hear about living a more eco-conscious lifestyle is to start small. To ease into it. Not to make any big changes right away. But what if you want to start big? Well, good news. This article is going to buck the trend and give you 4 big ways to live green so you can make a proportionally larger positive impact on the environment.
How to Get Psyched up for Change
First, though, let’s talk about how to motivate ourselves to make big changes. Because big shifts in how we live are work. And we need to sustain our initial enthusiasm about the changes we make if we’re going to keep doing that work for the time it’s going to take to produce meaningful change in the world.
People often talk about there being two kinds of motivation: extrinsic (pressure from without) and intrinsic (drive from within).
We have all the extrinsic pressure we need to change. In 2018, we knew we had 12 years to radically shift the way our economies and infrastructures work in order to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels and to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. Admittedly, we’ve had our minds on other things this past year, but that’s still a powerful external motivator.
The environmental movement has always faced the problem of keeping people responsive to that pressure, though. The situation is so dire and so big and so complex that we can feel powerless to affect it. The worst effects of climate change tend to hit places that seem far away and to hit people we’re culturally used to ignoring, so it seems too remote to be real. And environmental damage takes a long time. The issues are chronic, rather than acute, so our attention spans lose focus.
What we need is a personal connection to global issues. We need intrinsic motivation.
Every brain is different, of course. And just as there are different approaches to mental wellness, different types of psychiatrists and different kinds of therapies to keep our brains sharp and clear, there are different ways to keep our brains motivated.
The trick is to find yours. You can’t just love the idea of the change you want to make; you have to love the work you’re doing to get there. Maybe you’ll become passionate about nativizing your landscape. Maybe you’ll come to obsess a little bit about lowering your energy bills. Maybe you’ll become driven to keep chemicals away from your kids. The point is to get into the work itself.
So where can you most effectively put your efforts to live green in a big way? Here we go.
4 Big Ways to Live Green
Switch to Renewable Energy
If you own a home and have the income to install solar panels, a geothermal system or even a wind turbine, this is the time to do it. If those circumstances don’t describe you, however, you can still make the switch to renewable energy.
Few people take advantage of the renewable energy options already available to them (only 2% of energy consumers in the U.S., Jeff Swenerton tells Eleanor Cummins of Architectural Digest). A big issue is that people don’t know they’re there. Utility companies will often let you opt to get your energy from greener sources. In places where you can choose an energy provider, you could have several alternatives. You just need to look up your options and contact that provider to make the switch.
Even if you’re not in a position to install solar panels and you can’t pick your energy provider, you can still investigate the green energy programs your provider offers. And if they don’t offer any, demand them.
What if there was a single way to cut greenhouse gasses, prevent deforestation and critical loss of biodiversity and tackle world hunger in the meantime? Well…here it is.
Decades of research has tracked the devastation that animal agriculture wreaks on the planet. Oxford researcher Joseph Poore’s massive 2018 study, for example, examined the environmental impact of about 38,000 farms worldwide. “A vegan diet,” he concluded, “is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use.”
Reasons for not becoming vegan often seem to come down to the idea that it’s hard to be vegan. But what if we widened our perspective to include the nonhuman beings that are eaten every day? Eating meat is hard. For others. It’s much easier not to be eaten.
Live in an Urban Centre
“Residential energy use and non-diesel motor fuel are each responsible for about 1.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year, out of total U.S. emissions of 6 billion tons. So these sources together reflect about 40 percent of America’s carbon footprint,” states Harvard professor of economics Edward Glaeser. The key to lowering that footprint, then, is reducing energy use and driving time and urban centres create more opportunities to do that than the suburbs do.
Urban homes that are located within walkable distance to public transportation, or to work, school, kids’ activities, hobbies and shopping let you leave the car at home more often. That’s one of the big reasons living in a higher-density neighbourhood is considered to be more eco-friendly by the EPA.
A 2011 EPA study found that “households in areas of very high density (5,000 – 9,999 households per square mile) produce about half the emissions of households in areas with very low density (0 – 50 households per square mile).” Household emissions were lowest in multifamily building units because their typically smaller size and shared wall space required less energy to heat and cool.
We should note, though, that living in an urban centre doesn’t automatically make everything you do greener, as this 2017 research report from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) demonstrates. If you drive everywhere and live a resource-intensive lifestyle, an urban location won’t cancel out wasteful habits. But your location in an urban environment will allow you to lower your footprint to a degree that would be much harder to accomplish in a suburban or rural home.
Pair Every Action You Take with Political Action
The impact we can make in our individual homes is small. That’s not to sound discouraged or discouraging, but to put the scope of the problem in perspective. We’re always more effective when we work with others. So signal boost your actions whenever you can.
Did you put in a rain catchment system? Email your city councillors and ask them to install systems on public buildings. Did you choose reusable products instead of disposable ones today? Lobby all the levels of government you can think of to introduce policies to ban single use plastics in your area. You’ve made great changes—ask your politicians to enact them on a larger scale.
Environmentalist action doesn’t have to mean joining a march or a rally. Right now, in fact, it is unlikely to involve those things. Instead, donate to research on climate change. Follow an organization that does good work on social media and spread the word about them. Pester your politicians about the issues that matter to you. It doesn’t have to cost money and it doesn’t have to be hard. It just has to be action.
These are some of the most effective big ways to live green. Once you find your thing, connect with other folks who are passionate about it to help you keep your drive going until things change for the better. Which they will.