By Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
- Subscribe to community solar, if you haven’t yet done so, and if you don’t already have solar panels. Search online for community solar providers serving your area or your state. Consider installing solar panels if your state does not allow for community solar programs, and if you live in or have a business in an appropriate building with a roof that can accommodate them.
Both community solar and solar panels will shift your use of electricity to renewable energy and away from the fossil fuels that generate greenhouse gases and contribute to climate change.
“What is Community Solar? The U.S. Department of Energy defines community solar as any solar project or purchasing program, within a geographic area, in which the benefits flow to multiple customers such as individuals, businesses, nonprofits, and other groups. In most cases, customers benefit from energy generated by solar panels at an off-site array. Community solar customers typically subscribe to—or in some cases own—a portion of the energy generated by a solar array, and receive an electric bill credit for electricity generated by their share of the community solar system. Community solar can be a great option for people who are unable to install solar panels on their roofs because they are renters, can’t afford solar, or because their roofs or electrical systems aren’t suited to solar” – www.energy.gov/eere/solar/community-solar-basics.
- Shift away from natural gas, in your home and/or business, once you are on solar- or wind-powered electricity and you have the financial ability. Install electric-powered water heater, furnace, clothes dryer, stove, and oven. If possible, also shift to heat pump systems.
“Heat pump systems are designed to extract a greater amount of heat energy from the surrounding environment than the energy they consume to create heat. They can produce two to three times more heat output than they consume in electricity input” – www.nationalgrid.com/stories/energy-explained/how-do-heat-pumps-work.
- Drive a hybrid or electric vehicle. Or if you can’t afford one, or can’t locate one to purchase at the moment, simply cut back on driving as much as possible.
“A typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year…. What are the tailpipe emissions from a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) or an electric vehicle (EV)?… Electric vehicles (EVs) have a battery instead of a gasoline tank, and an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine. EVs do not emit any tailpipe emissions…. Calculating tailpipe emissions for PHEVs is more complicated because they use both gasoline and electricity as fuel sources. When operating on electricity only, a PHEV does not generate any tailpipe emissions. When a PHEV is operating on gasoline only, it creates tailpipe emissions based on its gasoline fuel economy” – www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/greenhouse-gas-emissions-typical-passenger-vehicle.
- Stop using air travel. Whenever possible, don’t go by plane.
“The United States, with the world’s largest commercial air traffic system, accounted for 200 million tons (23 percent) of the 2017 global CO2 total. EPA reports that commercial airplanes and large business jets contribute 10 percent of U.S. transportation emissions, and account for three percent of the nation’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) production. Globally, aviation produced 2.4 percent of total CO2 emissions in 2018. While this may seem like a relatively small amount, consider that if global commercial aviation had been a country in the 2019 national GHG emissions standings, the industry would rank number six in the world between Japan and Germany” – www.eesi.org/papers/view/fact-sheet-the-growth-in-greenhouse-gas-emissions-from-commercial-aviation.
- Go vegetarian, or reduce your meat consumption.
“On average a plant-based diet has significantly fewer emissions. Eating large amounts of meat, especially beef, is a sure way to increase your emissions many times over. The tweaks to our diets that would result in the greatest fall in emissions were: Reducing animal products – eating fewer of them, or replacing with a plant-based alternative; focusing on what you eat rather than food miles; cooking efficiently, and saving ovens for special occasions rather than everyday use; batch cooking to prepare food using a fraction of the energy; avoiding food waste, through careful planning and creative cooking” – www.bbc.com/future/article/20220429-the-climate-benefits-of-veganism-and-vegetarianism.
- Start composting your vegetable food waste, if you aren’t already doing so.
“Among its many other benefits, compost is also a key tool in the global fight against climate change. Compost benefits the climate in a few different ways, including by reducing greenhouse gas emissions at landfills, by promoting uptake of carbon dioxide by vegetation, and by making our projects and gardens more resilient to the effects of climate change” – www.compostingcouncil.org/page/ClimateChangeBenefits.
- Plant a tree – or two, or three, or more! Protect and maintain trees on land you own or maintain and in your other areas of influence, in particular large and mature trees. If you are a homeowner or business owner with a tree bank (green space between a sidewalk and the street), find out if your city or county offers a free tree planting program. If you don’t have land on which to plant a tree yourself, seek out one of the many charities that will plant a tree for you.
“As trees grow, they help stop climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the air, storing carbon in the trees and soil, and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere. Trees provide many benefits to us, every day. They offer cooling shade, block cold winter winds, attract birds and wildlife, purify our air, prevent soil erosion, clean our water, and add grace and beauty to our homes and communities” www.arborday.org/trees/climatechange.
- Shift away from turf grass and start native plantings (and stop using the toxic pesticides and herbicides that kill native plants and insects). This might be possible for a yard at your home or business, or your church or other community property. Contact the Wild Ones to learn more about their Start in Your Yard (SIYY) program, and for their helpful, free expertise (https://wildones.org). Also, many communities have landscape companies that specialize in native plants and can be a good resource for those with funds available to hire them.
“Why garden with native wildflowers? Native plants are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions where they naturally occur. These important plant species provide nectar, pollen, and seeds that serve as food for native butterflies, insects, birds and other animals. Unlike natives, common horticultural plants do not provide energetic rewards for their visitors and often require insect pest control to survive. Native plants are also advantageous, because… native plants help reduce air pollution. Native plantscapes do not require mowing. Excessive carbon from the burning of fossil fuels contributes to global warming. Native plants sequester, or remove, carbon from the air” – www.fs.usda.gov/wildflowers/Native_Plant_Materials/Native_Gardening/index.shtml.
- If you have investments, shift them away from supporting fossil fuels (such investment portfolios are often called “Environmental, Social, and corporate Governance”). If you have a standard pension, advocate with the managers to allow fossil fuel-free choices and investment options that do not include the fossil fuel industry.
“In the first half of 2023, sustainable funds saw a median return of 6.9%, beating traditional funds’ 3.8% and reversing their underperformance in 2022, according to a new ‘Sustainable Reality’ report from the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing. Investor demand also remained strong as sustainable funds’ assets under management (AUM) reached record levels. ‘Our mid-year update shows the resilience of ESG funds with a return to outperformance after a challenging 2022,’ says Morgan Stanley’s Chief Sustainability Officer and CEO of the Institute for Sustainable Investing” – www.morganstanley.com/ideas/sustainable-funds-performance-2023.
- Avoid using plastic – of all kinds – and reduce, reuse, and recycle as much as possible of the plastic that ends up in your home or business. Find recycling options in your area. If you can afford it, use Terracycle to recycle plastics and other waste that can’t be recycled in your area (www.terracycle.com).
“Throughout their lifecycle, plastics have a significant carbon footprint and emit 3.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Beyond the hazards posed to the marine and terrestrial environment as well as to humans, plastics are also a substantial contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. In 2019, plastics generated 1.8 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – 3.4% of global emissions – with 90% of these emissions coming from their production and conversion from fossil fuels. By 2060, emissions from the plastics lifecycle are set to more than double, reaching 4.3 billion tonnes of GHG emissions” – www.oecd.org/environment/plastics/increased-plastic-leakage-and-greenhouse-gas-emissions.htm.
- Advocate with your representative and Senators in Congress for effective climate legislation on the federal level. Ask them to support the Earth Bill in particular (www.earthbill.org), and other environmental and climate legislation.
“Public concern over climate change has been growing in recent years…. A recent Center analysis finds 60% view climate change as a major threat to the well-being of the United States, as high a share taking this view as in any Pew Research Center survey going back to 2009…. A majority of U.S. adults want the government to play a larger role in addressing climate change. About two-thirds (65%) of Americans say the federal government is doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change…. And public dissatisfaction with government environmental action is not limited solely to climate: Majorities also continue to say the government is doing too little in other areas, such as protecting air and water quality and wildlife” – www.pewresearch.org/science/2020/06/23/two-thirds-of-americans-think-government-should-do-more-on-climate.
- Support and encourage climate action by your local authorities. If you have the time, attend meetings of local governmental groups, such as your city council, county board, school district board, and others, to call for effective climate action locally. Speak up for the climate during public meetings and forums.
“Between 80 and 90 percent of Americans underestimate the concern their fellow Americans have for climate change and their support for “transformative” mitigation policies…. Between 66 and 80 percent of Americans support such policies, but they think that only between 37 and 43 percent of their peers hold that sentiment. This kind of psychological disconnect is especially problematic in addressing climate change because it requires collective action” – www.cnbc.com/2022/08/24/americans-underestimate-how-much-their-peers-care-about-climate-change.html.
- Join or volunteer for a nonprofit organization that is doing good work for the climate. There are numerous organizations at all levels – national, state, regional, and local. Search out a community where you can be part of caring for the climate and doing something to make a difference!
— Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford is director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren.