2019 was sadly a year full of environmental destruction. It was the second hottest year on record, massive fires have destroyed large swaths of the Amazon and Australia, and our current mass extinction (the 6th major mass extinction) is still threatening thousands of species.
Something that my geoscience professor emphasized that was really stuck with me was that Earth as a planet is going to be just fine regardless of what the climate is – it’s the inhabitants (us and other plants and animals) that will be affected. Humans have contributed immensely to the current global warming with our excess carbon emissions (CO2 traps heat in the atmosphere). The proportion of CO2 in the atmosphere is currently at about 410 ppm (parts-per million in the atmosphere), compared to pre-Industrial Revolution (mid-1700s) when the global average was about 280 ppm.
Although 2019 was a year of major environmental destruction, it was also a huge wakeup call to the world to reduce their environmental impact and push for social change. Millions of individuals, many of which were made up by our generation (students and young people), protested in an international movement called School Strike for the Climate. Led by Greta Thunberg, the movement mobilized individuals and has demanded attention from governments and corporations as it grows traction.
While this can all seem very scientific and intimidating, the biggest takeaway is that we have played a role in speeding up the global warming, but we can also play a role in slowing it down back to a natural rate. The major contributors of CO2 emissions are:
Energy production (burning of fossil fuels)
Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (Animal agriculture, deforestation)
Industry (Mining, construction, manufacturing: ie. paper, food, petroleum refineries, chemicals and metal/mineral products)
Transportation (Road transport, shipments, air travel)
Residential, Commercial and Institutional Sectors (Electric home/industrial appliances)
As we head into the new year (decade!) everyone has their own way of setting up a clean slate. For some people that means writing down a list of resolutions and goals, for others it’s picking a word to set the intention for your year. Whatever your method may be, let 2020 be the year that you actively make an effort to be more sustainable. Small actions are not meaningless or under-appreciated. Remember that if everyone is doing something, it will have a wide-spread and long-term impact.
Here’s a few examples of intentions you can set for this year:
Be open to new information and tips about how to live more sustainably
Try to cut back on your meat and dairy consumption
Reduce your use of single use plastics! Using a reusable straw is a great start, but take the next step by opting for reusable coffee mugs, utensils, produce bags, and take-out containers.
Thrift more! When you need to buy clothes, opt for thrifted or sustainably produced options instead of buying from fast fashion brands. (And when you buy new items, try to cycle out some of your clothes that you don’t wear as much so that someone else can enjoy them!)
Start conversations about climate change. Engage and learn about what other people have to say so you can expand your knowledge about the issues plaguing our world.
Eat more consciously! If that means meatless Mondays or cutting out dairy or meat altogether, remember that every step helps. A large number of people choosing to reduce their consumption of animal products has a greater impact than a handful of individuals choosing to be vegan – so, if being completely plant based is intimidating, just reduce whenever you can!
Pay attention to how you recycle. There are new guidelines about what can be recycled following China’s decision to stop buying our trash. (Learn more here!)
Also try to reuse things more. From takeout containers to gift bags, more things can be reused than you may think.
Contact your senators and representatives and urge them to draft and endorse legislation that establishes systems of renewable energy, sustainability, and climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Let’s make an effort to live more sustainably in the new year and decade. Small actions taken collectively by thousands of people have a large impact – so, do your part and encourage others to do the same!
The Bottom Line: Wherever you’re at in your personal journey, everyone can continue to make an effort to be more sustainable. It doesn’t need to be a big thing – but actively making better choices will remind you that you are making a difference.