One of the greatest issues facing everyone today is the threat of global climate change, pollution, and the impact it has on the environment around us. Climate change is attributed mostly to the recent dramatic increase in the levels of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere, which is caused largely by the use of fossil fuels. This increase in carbon dioxide is heating the planet and destroying ecosystems all across the globe. While actions do need to be taken by world leaders and organizations, and plans need to be put into place to reverse the effects that humans have had on the planet, individuals still hold some responsibility and can take actions to better their environment. While one person’s actions will not fix the issue overnight, “individuals [need to make] little changes, and all those little changes will add up to create bigger changes,” says Megan Whisnand, a Franklin environmental science teacher.
While there is no clear cut way to completely eliminate your carbon footprint in today’s fast-paced world, there are many simple and easy changes individuals can make in their daily lives to do their part in bettering the environment. One big problem facing our environment is the millions of tons of plastic pollution that humans create each year. Our society is obsessed with plastic because it’s durable, cheap, and has an abundance of uses. However, according to
National Geographic, 40% of plastic created is used in packaging that is intended to be discarded almost immediately after it is opened. While a small portion of this waste is recycled or destroyed, 79% of it is left with nowhere to go and becomes pollution that litters our planet and its oceans. 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean every year and if we don’t put a stop to this soon, the amount of plastic in the ocean is expected to outweigh all of the sea life by the year 2050. Plastic in the ocean kills plants and animals and can end up in our food in the form of microplastics (pieces of plastic smaller than 5mm in size), where it can harm our bodies.
In order to limit your use of plastic, opt for food and items with limited or no packaging, and ultimately, buy less and buy reusable items. “We need to buy less. We need to have a society that is not filled with one-use items,” says Whisnand. While individuals do have a choice in what they buy, it is not completely up to us as to what options we have available. “It’s a situation where we do need changes coming from [companies that stock our shelves] to provide us with better options,” she says. Companies have increasingly produced processed foods that are abundant, easy, and cheap that many people are drawn to. However, buying real food that is good for you, like raw fruit, vegetables, nuts, and meat, instead of processed and packaged food helps eliminate plastic that ends up in our ecosystems. It is also important for individuals to reach for reusable items instead of one-use only disposable ones. Although they may be more expensive in the immediate than the disposable alternatives, making a choice to use a reusable water bottle, metal, silicone, or bamboo straws, and making use of reusable cotton grocery bags can help keep quite a bit of plastic waste out of the environment while actually saving you money over time.
Another everyday way to have a positive impact on the environment is to limit your consumption of meat. The meat industry uses enormous amounts of water and crops to sustain the animals that become our food. Only a very small portion of the nutrients in the food used to feed livestock actually ends up in the meat we eat, while most of it goes to waste. The meat industry also has an extremely high carbon footprint. “Meat consumption accounts for [about] 20% of all carbon emissions,” says Whisnand. By choosing to go vegetarian or vegan, you are removing support from a wasteful industry that cares very little about the animals themselves, and only about the profit they produce. If completely eliminating meat from your diet is too intimidating, even opting for one to two meatless days per week can make a difference. You should also be aware of where your food is coming from, whether it be meat, produce, or anything else. “Focus on where your food comes from, and [be sure to] eat locally and in season” in order to really make a difference and be a bit more environmentally conscious, according to Whisnand.
The earth is not invincible and we can’t treat it like it is. “People need to be able to empathize with people who are [facing the immediate] impacts of climate change, or animals, or environments that are suffering,” says Whisnand. Climate change is a pressing matter that cannot be ignored any longer, but it is still possible to reverse its effects if we act quickly. Being a mindful consumer and being aware of how you and your actions impact the environment are the easiest ways to make this planet a little more livable for the next generation.