If you’ve spent the past few years reading about the climate emergency and are feeling the anguish of not knowing what to do, you’re not alone.
A lot of the power to slow the effects of climate change lie with massive, polluting corporations, and they’ve given no indication they plan to change. We know that individual action alone isn’t enough. We aren’t yet organized or interested enough to stage mass boycotts of these companies that are so well woven into the fabric of our lives that we can’t name all of their subsidiaries. In fact, some of us just can’t boycott these places. Several of the biggest perpetrators of climate change also offer the cheapest prices; making it so low-income people can’t both boycott and survive.
But good news: we care about this issue. All one has to do is look at the number of people who participated in the climate marches to know that people want to help.
While individual action will not tip the scales, it’s better than not participating at all. There are arguments to be made that asking individuals to sacrifice to make up for the actions of the few ultra-rich is an outrageous misdirection of blame, and it is. But there are a lot of us who, on the way to participating in bigger actions, can take small actions without sacrificing much. Here is an incomplete list in no particular order of small, imperfect actions we can take that are better than doing nothing.
1. Don’t Buy New Clothing Unless You Truly Need To
Mass clothing production and fast fashion has huge human and ecological impacts. It might sound hard not to buy new clothes, but it’s never been easier. There are tons of great thrift and consignment stores. There’s Facebook Marketplace, craigslist, and in some cities, Bunz, the online trading app that allows users to post objects they no longer need and trade with other members for their old stuff.
But if none of that suits you, why not organize a clothing swap? Invite some pals over to exchange pieces you don’t wear or that don’t fit right. It’s a great opportunity to socialize, refresh your wardrobe, and reduce your environmental impact. Plus, it’s fun!
Of course, there are a lot of marginalized bodies for whom this step is easier said than done. Not every personal action is right for everyone. So if this one doesn’t work for you, why not…
2. Transit, Bike, or Walk More
This is one of those eye rollers that seems obvious, and some regions aren’t set up with great public transit, but there’s a reason some things are clichés! Waking up earlier and allotting more time for your commute to work (a place most of us don’t want to be in the first place,) seems nightmarish. So don’t do it all the time. What if you decided to transit on one day/appointment a week you usually drive to? Making a small shift, while initially inconvenient, feels hugely empowering.
Of course, a lot of folks for geographical, physical, or economic reasons can’t accomplish this one either. So what about this suggestion…
3. Shower Less! Let it Mellow!
What? Yuck! Except not really. Most people (with exceptions based on job, health, and other factors,) don’t need to shower every single day. What if you showered 6 days a week instead of 7, and on that 7th day, gave yourself a quick soap and rinse in the sink? Spoiler alert: Unless you’ve got a condition, it’s not going to kill you, like global extinction would.
We’re in a global water crisis. There’s severe drought all over the world, and meanwhile lots of us have potable drinking water in our toilets. What if in your own home (not even out in public where you’re sharing washrooms with strangers,) you flushed every third pee instead of every time?
If you’re too squeamish for this one, what if you…
4. Start a Petition –or– Volunteer for the Organizations Circulating Petitions?
There’s debate about how much petitions actually do. But if you’ve ever signed a petition on one of the many platforms (care2, change.org, avaaz, etc,) you’ve likely received a follow up email at some point about successful petitions. Some of them don’t accomplish their aims, but others do. There’s often additional action that accompanies successful petitions, and usually there are links on the petitions themselves to contact the individuals or organizations doing that work. Why not reach out and volunteer?
Or, is there something you’ve researched and care about? Write a petition yourself!
If you’re a big make-up user and a lot of your products come in plastic when they could come in reused materials or glass, why not write to your favorite cosmetic company, let them know how much you like their products, and tell them that you’d love them even more if their packaging was eco-friendly?
Think all the restaurants in your city should compost? Write to your MPs. Host a petition signing party, if it helps. Having support and accountability buddies in these actions can take away some of the doubt and discomfort.
And here’s another crucial thing:
5. Listen to Indigenous People
Indigenous folks have been defending the land since the very beginning. So many acts of ecological resistance have been organized by Indigenous activists. If you live in the Americas and you aren’t Indigenous, specifically read the work of the people whose land you are on.
Note that when this says “listen to Indigenous people” it does not mean bombarding people demanding answers. Don’t make the Indigenous people in your life do emotional labor, but do seek out and read articles written by Indigenous people.
6. Boycott What You Personally Can’t Stomach
Maybe you want to boycott places with awful working conditions. Maybe you want to boycott mining companies, oil companies, or bottled water companies. Maybe you want to boycott companies whose family of products test on animals. Maybe you want to boycott companies owned by billionaires who paid $0 in taxes. Do it. Have a personal boycott. Don’t worry if you slip once in awhile, imperfect boycotts are better than no boycotts. If it comes up, talk about what you’re boycotting and why. People who don’t know might feel as passionately as you do and get on board.
7. Clean with Water and White Vinegar
A lot of household cleaning products are full of ingredients that are harmful when they enter our ground and waterways. Not water and white vinegar! For your weekly cleanings, try this simple, eco-friendly, and affordable solution.
8. Eat Less Meat
Let’s face it, before colonization many cultures had no problem eating meat sustainably. Factory farming and the majorly destructive impact of this industry is a direct result of imperialism and colonialism. Because of this, demanding everyone goes vegan, especially if they’re from a culture that did eat meat and use animal products sustainably for centuries, is not a good look.
But if you, like me, are a person who directly benefits from that colonialism and has a body that does not require meat to thrive, maybe this step is for you. Cutting down on meat doesn’t mean cutting it out completely. It might even mean enjoying new flavor profiles. There are so many flavorful recipes that are complete without meat or meat substitution, one only needs to do a quick google search to be bombarded with great suggestions. What if you committed to an extra meatless meal a week? As an added bonus, meat is expensive, so this could be great for your budget, too.
9. Question Marketing
Marketing is so ubiquitous it’s at times difficult to separate from fact. “Vegan leather” might seem environmentally friendly, but it’s often just plastic. Organic farming might have a time and a place but it doesn’t necessarily scale: you can’t produce enough food for urban populations through organic farming alone. Researching materials, ingredients, and practices can reveal a lot about how environmentally friendly things really are.
10. Get Really Good at Grocery Stores
Sure, you bring your own tote bags. You keep one in your car or your backpack. But! Have you ever brought a lightweight Tupperware with you for the bulk section? It saves you from using one of those annoying little plastic bags it’s basically impossible to find another use for.
Don’t shop in the bulk section?
11. Double Down on Your Coffee Routine
You’re pretty good about bringing your to-go mug, but what if you’re staying in to have your beverage? Cafes often assume you’re taking your drink to go and the barista will hand you your drink in a single use cup. Specify at the counter that you want your drink in a for-here cup.
If you don’t find yourself sitting in too often, a small thing you could do is…
12. Get Better About Turning Off Lights and Unplugging Appliances
This becomes a habit very quickly. Turn off lights when you leave a room. Open your curtains and use natural light. Unplug appliances when you’re not using them routinely. Think about whether or not you really need to use appliances. Christmas lights are pretty, but do you need them up as soon as Halloween ends? Do your fairy lights bring you joy all the time? If not, maybe you could plug them in only when you’re craving some extra coziness.
13. Don’t Use the Dryer If You’ve Got the Space/Aren’t In a Rush
Dryers use a huge amount of power and for smaller loads, laying your clothes on a rack or putting them up on a clothesline can really reduce that electricity usage.
14. Save Your Drinking Water
Left your water out overnight? Don’t toss it down the drain! Try using that water to fill up a watering can or a spray bottle and use it to water some houseplants?
15. Plant Things Pollinators Like
Got a green thumb? Plant things that bees and butterflies are drawn to, since they’re essential to our ecosystem.
Have no outdoor space? Maybe your city has a…
16. Zero-Waste Grocery Store
Bring all your saved jars and containers and eliminate those plastic bags!
If this doesn’t exist near you, or is so far away the gas emissions from the car would negate the impact, here’s an easy one:
17. Wash and Reuse your Ziplocs
They hold up well!
Too 101 for you?
18. Keep Talking, Keep Reading, Ask Your Social Circle What They’re Up To
Keep talking to folks about what’s going on in the world. Find out what other people are doing. There’ll be information for people at all levels of their ecological practice and it may cheer you up to hear about the awesome things people are doing to make changes. You can also, if you’re interested, find accountability buddies! Why not instigate weekly check-ins with a friend where you share a choice you made during the week that you’re proud of?
Our political systems are deeply flawed. Voting can feel discouraging. Do it anyway.
20. Hang In There
These are intense times. There are constant catastrophes. Somebody posts an article about something good for the planet, there’s a think piece the next minute about why it won’t help. Any action at all can feel futile. To this I say again: imperfect action is better than no action. It shouldn’t and can’t be the end of our process, but it’s better than we were doing before.
And remember, not every climate action is possible for every person for a variety of reasons, so let’s try to be gentle with each other. There’s certain activism that’s exclusionary to all kinds of bodies. Only you know which actions are safe and doable for you. I hope we’ll do our best with what we can do. I hope we continue to do things that bring us joy. I hope we remember that one of the reasons that all of the horrible news is so hard to tolerate is because of how fiercely we love what we are losing. I hope that motivates and soothes us. I hope we keep fighting, together.