Actions individuals, businesses and government can take to tackle climate change
The Power of One
Being a vegetarian society, this advice probably won’t surprise you, but we’ll hammer it home just for good measure. The single biggest thing an individual can do to curb their emissions and ensure a healthy planet for future generations is to stop eating meat.
The animal agriculture industry is directly responsible for up to 18% of global emissions. Beef is 60 times more carbon intensive than legume production. Livestock grazing land accounts for almost 80% of all agricultural land use globally. We use wasteful irrigation systems that suck up between 70 to 90% of freshwater on agriculture. Almost half of all food grown is fed to animals, which even disregarding any ethical framework is an absolutely inefficient way to get calories to hungry people. When the world’s population is projected to swell to 10 billion in the next 30 years, it is not time to waste any resources on cruel, unsustainable production of animal products.
Beyond a vegetarian or vegan diet, there are several steps an individual can take to lower their carbon footprint. More eco-friendly transportation options like public transport, biking or walking can supplement or replace personal vehicles. Those in sunny climates can install solar panels to reduce their demand of fossil fuel-generated energy. In temperate climates like coastal British Columbia, households can think critically about their heating and cooling needs and apply energy-smart practices to save money while saving on emissions.
True eco-warriors may rise to the challenge of completely uphauling their consumption habits. Some environmentalists feel business and government are not doing nearly enough to curb climate change, and decide to radically change their behaviour for the sake of the planet. This could mean anything from cutting out single-use plastics, to avoiding fast-fashion retailers, limiting imported goods, supporting local products, advocating for environmental policy reform, and so much more. We should take any action that is feasible to reduce our carbon footprints, because the Earth is crying out for change.
The Impact Multiplier
Whatever an individual can do to reduce their environmental impact, a business can scale up the positivity for meaningful and systematic change. The ingredients, water, packaging or by-products used by any production business, for example, exponentially outweigh those used by a single person.
True to the nature of social justice movements, corporate action is inspired by individual action and consumer demand. Now more than ever, consumers want sustainable options. Any business that ignores this market change is going to suffer the consequences of lost customers.
To understand the effect of sustainable business decisions, one only has to look at the success of organizations like 4Ocean, Ecosia, Patagonia or Lush. Particularly in Vancouver, consumers are attracted to businesses that share and amplify their values.
While business owners may have justifiable concerns about the increased costs associated with sustainable practices, these will surely be offset in the long-run with future generations actually alive to thank us. Some practices, like switching out car deliveries for bike deliveries, or implementing water conservation policies, may even save money in the short run.
Food retailers and distributors can focus on local or domestic suppliers that don’t require the same transportation emissions as international sourcing. Plastic packaging can be replaced with paper or fabric alternatives that look nicer and could even be cheaper if strategically sourced. HR could organize team building events centered around planting native plants in the area, clearing plastic from nearby beaches, or other green activities that serve the company while serving the community.
There are far more suggestions to green the workplace, or even create new businesses centred around sustainable values! The only limitations are self-imposed. Saving the environment does not have to mean compromising profits, it just means a healthy adjustment for the sake of the Earth that sustains us all.
Of Regulations and Ripple-Effects
Love it or hate it, government is the framework by which all large-scale environmental policy decisions are implemented. Government may be slow to act, but when leaders and policy makers can translate public opinion into action, the effects are monumental.
The disastrous effects of climate change are difficult to ignore, even at the national level. Whether it’s citizens petitioning their representatives, protestors crying out for change, or celebrities launching global environmental awareness campaigns, politicians from every party must contend with the climate reality.
If leaders fail to act, they will have more than the next election to worry about. But the good news is that sustainable policies could enhance the popularity for certain politicians, while ensuring we all have a planet to live on. Rather than subsidizing the most polluting industries, governments should encourage green innovation and subsidize more sustainable business practices. Even disregarding fiscal policy, simple bans on the most toxic and polluting substances could have a tremendous impact. The problem is bigger than a plastic straw ban. If our society genuinely wants to curb plastic pollution, governments should ban single-use plastics. There are better options out there, even at a competitive price point.
As controversial as carbon taxes are, they could be an incredibly effective tool for lowering our societal carbon footprint. Something as destructive as polluting the atmosphere should not be free or without consequence. If leaders are concerned with the costs falling on the least fortunate, profits from the largest polluters can be used to offset higher prices for consumers and empower them to make more sustainable decisions at home.
There are innumerable small policy steps that governments can take, and there is no shortage of policy recommendations that they can start with. However, beyond just looking at the current problems that plague us, we should also mindfully strategize for the future. Governments could look at DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) as a model for incubating sustainable technologies and supporting world-changing research projects.
The Crux of it All
Tackling climate change must be a multi-level, systematic approach. Individual actions, like using a reusable water bottle, have to be balanced and reinforced by systematic changes. It was not individual consumers who created climate change, but a wide-scale miscalculation on humanity’s part. We have had decades of artificial abundance, now it is time to face the reality and repercussions of our decisions to build a better world.