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Why Your Small Changes for the Environment Matter

Posted by Pawan Saunya on

Sometimes I get scoffed at for altering my lifestyle to be more climate friendly. Why should I change my lifestyle to only make a minuscule impact on a global issue that can really only be solved by a total restructuring of our businesses and governments? 

Yes, my impact, in the grand scheme of things, is tiny. Yes, I’m not solving the issue on my own. Yes, I know that governments and businesses have a much bigger role to play in this issue than I do. But does that mean I should throw in the towel and stop trying? I don’t think so. 

It’s an ethical responsibility. 

Climate change is leading to the destruction of ecosystems and the deaths of people worldwide, and it all started because of our current way of living. Our profit-hungry businesses, environmentally reckless governments and meat-rich diets have lead the planet into an ecological disaster. If I exist within this system and am privileged enough to make changes and make my voice heard, but I choose not to, am I not remaining complacent in the disaster? Just because my impact, whether good or bad, is small, it doesn’t make it ethically right to remain complacent. If I am privileged enough to make a positive impact, no matter how tiny, I should view that as an ethical responsibility. Nothing gives me the right to eat burgers and buy fast fashion, two unethical and environmentally irresponsible practices, just because my impact in avoiding those practices is small, if I have the means to avoid said practices.  

Think about other practices that are widely accepted to be unethical- lying, cheating, stealing. If you engage in these behaviors it still makes them unethical, even if it was done on a small scale. 

Changes gain power over time. 

Avoiding a $5 fast fashion t-shirt today could lead to avoiding hundreds in my lifetime. Choosing to go vegan just once a week adds up to 52 days in a year, leading to the aversion of nearly 1,000 pounds of CO2. Keep the habit up for several years, and you’re making a big impact. While our impact of our lifestyles on a day to day basis is small, when these changes are sustained over months and years, their impact can become huge. You shouldn’t get discouraged about the minuscule impacts your sustainable lifestyle has on the daily- you should be inspired by how your impact will compound over time. 

Power comes in groups, and those groups start with individuals. 

If I boycott a business or a product because of its impact on the environment, I am not doing much in the way of altering that business’s demand. They will still have thousands of other customers supporting them, so losing my business isn’t that detrimental. However, if I boycott a business, tell my friends and family why, and they get inspired to do the same, I am creating a ripple effect. My friends and family will start boycotting the business and telling their friends and family to do the same, and before you know it, the business has lost thousands of customers- an impact on their demand they will notice. 

This same principle applies to going vegan, using a metal straw, bringing a reusable coffee cup, or protesting. These movements of adopting environmentally-friendly behaviors all start with one person adopting the mindset of making change, and they then inspire others to do the same. 

In fact, mindset is everything. When we make these small changes in our daily life, we’re sending a greater message to governments and businesses that we are ready and willing to change for the sake of the environment. On a collective scale, our voices and dollars have power. Businesses want to make money, and will slowly but surely start becoming more environmentally and ethically sustainable if they start to lose demand and business on a large, collective scale- a collective scale that starts with the actions of one individual like yourself. 

It’s analogous to voting. A lot of people choose not to vote because they don’t think their vote matters. But, it’s the collection of individual votes that makes them powerful and that can bring environmentally-minded people into government, and this collection cannot happen without the initial action taken by individuals. 

Think of activists like Greta Thunberg. Her impact around the world in terms of climate action and protesting has been huge, and it all started with her small, individual action of sitting outside Swedish parliament. Even though her initial impact was minuscule, through inspiring people and being committed to change, her impact on the movement has grown over time to become a massive force. 

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”
— Jane Goodall

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Kayla Guilliams

is the blog manager for Zero Waste Club, combining her love for writing with her passion for all things environmental sustainability. She is currently a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she is studying journalism, environmental studies, and food studies in hopes of building a career in environmental activism. You can find her on Instagram as @kaylaguilliams.


 

How You Can Help Stop Climate Change

Posted by Pawan Saunya on

The climate crisis is well underway. Some scientists argue that the warming of the planet has reached a point beyond return, and the full impact that we will see from this crisis has been underestimated. Reversing the damage that has been caused by human activity, if even possible, will require unprecedented effort and coordination from governments, businesses, citizens and scientists. Many people are unaware of the impact that individual actions can have on the environment, and would prefer someone else to do something about it- namely their government. As is currently visible around the globe, the government won’t solve the problem of climate change, at least not without pressure from the public. It is normal to feel powerless, inundated daily with bad news of worsening carbon levels, biodiversity loss, melting ice, floods, forest fires, plastic oceans… the list goes on. Preventing these disasters from exacerbating requires radical transformations in the transportation, energy, industrial, commercial and agricultural sectors. As a citizen and a consumer there are two ways in which you can take action:

1.       Every time you spend money you are casting a vote for the kind of world you want

2.       If you are fortunate to live in a democracy, you can vote to have a say as to what your country is doing for climate change

In addition to pushing for systematic change, there is a lot that you can do at your own will. It might not be possible to do everything at once, but over time you can integrate many of the following practices as part of your daily life:

Energy

Reducing your energy consumption can reduce your carbon footprint. You can save energy by:

·         Using energy-efficient lighting

·         Switching to energy-efficient appliances

·         Better insulating your home

·         Using renewable energy such as solar, or geothermal technologies

·         Switching to green electricity when choosing your electricity supplier.

Transportation

Transportation-related emissions make up a huge chunk of worldwide emissions. Depending on what is available to you and feasible, you can decrease your transportation-related footprint by:

·         Walking or riding a bike

·         Car sharing

·         Using public transport

·         Buying an electric vehicle if you need your own car

·         Avoiding air travel, which is by far the most polluting mode of transport.

Food

Animal agriculture is a huge source of greenhouse gases. Raising animals for food is highly un-efficient, unsustainable and damaging. Thus, drastically lowering the amount of animal products you eat or eliminating them from your diet completely is one of the single biggest ways that you can help mitigate climate change. Switching to plant based sources of protein instead of meat and incorporating more local and seasonal produce into your diet is not only is better for your health, but better for the earth. Food waste also contributes a lot to emissions, so plan your shopping in advance so that you don’t buy more than you need to. To ensure nothing goes to waste, freeze leftovers, unused vegetables and bread at the end of the week for later use.

Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot (“The Five R’s of Zero Waste Living”)

Make simple zero waste swaps such as keeping a reusable water bottle and coffee cup on hand for daily use, have an extra bag with you to carry shopping, use cloth towels instead of paper, and wash and reuse containers, boxes, and jars for storage. Together, these drastically reduce the amount of waste that you end up sending to landfill, which can help lower carbon emissions.

Talk about it!

Many fail to recognize the urgency and gravity of the crisis in which we are living, and others simply ignore the crisis altogether. By bringing up the subject to the people around you, it raises greater awareness and concern. This, in turn, leads to motivation and encouragement towards individual actions for progressive change. Taking part in marches, peaceful protests and activism around the cause has the possibility of developing government policy that matches the scale of the challenges we face.

It can be overwhelming to tackle an issue of this magnitude. It’s hard to know which sources to trust, where to start, and it gets you to wonder if we really need to do something if no one else (like the government) seems to give a crap. The ideology of consumerism blinds us to the real drivers of destruction- government and big corporations- and traps us within a narrow circle of decision making. We need to utilize the power that we do have as individuals. As more people affirm their customer power by supporting sustainable businesses, significant changes can occur. Of course, the real drivers of destruction must be addressed, but this will require systemic and structural changes. Nevertheless, fundamental changes in personal behavior are urgently needed. Begin with the small, simple steps outlined above and eventually, it will lead us to more far-reaching and environmentally significant changes. You can’t do everything, but you can do something.  


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Salomé Savary

Is working as an intern for Zero Waste Club, writing blog posts on all things zero waste, from cooking tips to travelling hacks. She is passionate about encouraging others to adopt low waste habits in any and every aspect of their lives.



 

What is Renewable Energy?

Posted by Pawan Saunya on

Our energy system is a big contributor to the climate crisis. According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, energy accounted for 72% of global manmade emissions in 2013, and a large proportion of these emissions comes from the electricity and heat we use to power our homes. 

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Energy is such a huge source of emissions because our current system relies on the extraction and burning of coal, oil, and gas. Using these resources as the basis of our energy system isn’t just bad because of the large amount of carbon that is released when we burn them, it’s also bad because we will inevitably run out of these resources, and because the process of extracting these resources causes water pollution, air pollution, and habitat destruction. 

Relying on this system will only become more problematic as our population grows, increasing our demand for energy. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts that worldwide energy demand will increase by 50% by 2050. Luckily, there’s an eco-friendly, cost-effective alternative: renewable energy. 

Renewable energy is expected to grow alongside our population and energy demand. The EIA predicts that by 2050, renewable energy will be our predominant source of energy.

Renewable energy is a pretty straightforward concept- instead of relying on non-renewable resources like coal, oil, and gas for our energy, we rely on renewable resources like wind, water, and sunlight. Because they’re renewable, there is no fear of us running out. In addition, unlike coal, oil, and gas, these resources have very low rates of greenhouse gas emissions

Renewable energy accounts for 15% of current energy production worldwide. Hydropower is the most popular source of renewable energy, followed by nuclear, wind, and solar energy. 

HYDROPOWER:

Hydropower harnesses the energy that is within moving water. Electricity is created by collecting water in a reservoir, controlling the output of the water from this reservoir with a dam (or a series of canals), and then using this water to turn a turbine that generates electricity. The water within this reservoir can be reused.

Hydropower results in very little pollution or emissions, aside from when the infrastructure is built. The construction of this infrastructure can cause pollution, and the infrastructure itself can disrupt habitats and fish migration patterns if not done with the environment in mind. 

Hydropower accounts for around 17% of worldwide electricity production, and there is potential for growth into areas in Latin America, Africa, India and China. The main barriers in using hydropower are the money, time and construction required to build the reservoirs and upstart the system.

NUCLEAR:

The creation of nuclear energy requires splitting a uranium atom through a process called nuclear fission. This process releases a lot of energy that is then harnessed in nuclear power plants, resulting in a steady stream of energy. These power plants have low levels of emissions, create a lot of power, and are relatively inexpensive once they’re up and running

The downsides of nuclear energy include the high cost of plant construction and the fact the plants create radioactive waste that has to be carefully disposed of. In addition, there is always the potential for nuclear disasters as a result of an accident or terrorist attack, although the chances of this are slim. 

Nuclear energy is often considered to be renewable because of the low levels of emissions, but many argue that it shouldn’t be considered renewable because the amount of uranium that we have on earth is finite. Others argue that the amount of uranium we have available is so large that it shouldn’t matter. 

WIND:

Electricity is created from wind through the use of wind turbines. These turbines spin as the wind blows, creating mechanical energy that then spins a generator to produce electricity. These turbines can be large or small and can be located on land or offshore. This process of electricity generation results in very few emissions, is cost-effective and can be built on existing farms and ranches.

There are very few downsides and challenges to using wind power as long as the turbines are installed in the proper locations to avoid harming wildlife and disturbing local communities. The main challenge in using wind power is garnering the public desire to install the turbines, instead of using the land for alternative purposes.

There is also concern that because the presence and strength of wind is variable, that wind turbines won’t provide a consistent source of energy. There are ways to store excess wind power generated for later use, which solves this issue of intermittency. However, the technology for this energy storage is still being developed to be applied on a large scale.

SOLAR: 

Solar energy is created by using solar panels to capture the sun's energy and then turn it into electricity. These solar panels are made out of silicon solar cells. 

Solar panels are sustainable because of their low rates of emissions and their use of the sun, a renewable source of energy, rather than fossil fuels or oil. Solar panels can also allow homes to be independent and self-sufficient energy producers, as the panels can be installed on rooftops. The price of solar is also rapidly declining as it becomes more popular. 

The drawback of solar is its issue with energy storage. Currently, most panels are poor at storing the energy is harnesses for the sun, meaning they only produce energy when the sun is actually shining. This becomes an issue on cloudy and stormy days. However, a lot of development and research is being done to develop the technology of solar batteries that will allow the panels to store energy, so this will no longer be an issue in the near future. There is also some concern about the environmental impacts of creating and disposing of a solar panel. 

All of these renewable energy sources have their pros and cons, but the important thing to remember is that they’re all better in the long run than our current energy system. Transforming our energy system to run on renewables like these rather than oil, gas, and coal will drastically reduce rates of greenhouse gas emissions, and could even result in job creation and economic development.


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Kayla Guilliams

Is the blog manager for Zero Waste Club, combining her love for writing with her passion for all things environmental sustainability. She is currently a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she is studying journalism, environmental studies, and food studies in hopes of building a career in environmental activism. You can find her on Instagram as @kaylaguilliams.


 

Today, We Strike- Then What?

Posted by Pawan Saunya on

Climate activists worldwide are planning to take to the streets today for the Global Climate Strike. This movement is inspired by Greta Thunberg, a young Swedish activist who has made headlines around the world for her Fridays for Future strikes, and by other young activists who are demanding climate action from corporations and governments alike.

While these strikes are vital for garnering public attention, inspiring grassroots activism, and making politicians take note of the wants of the people, they aren’t the end all be all of climate change activism- we need to continue to do more to advocate for the issue.

In order to make change, we need to put strong, consistent pressure on decision-makers to implement climate change policy. I’m not saying that you have to quit your job and sit on the doorsteps of government officials every day in order to make a difference, but what I am saying is that there are things you can do on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis to further push for climate action.

Daily:

Lift Up Diverse Voices

The climate change movement is one that needs to encompass people from all walks of life, as it is an issue that will change the lives of everyone on earth. The face of the sustainability movement (particularly on social media) is too often white, cis, and able-bodied, and lacks the representation of diverse voices that the movement needs. Every day, lift up the diverse voices around you and support organizations like Indigenous Climate Action, the Extinction Rebellion, and the Climate Action LAb who are working to bring vital inclusivity and diversity to the environmental movement. 

Talk About It

Frequently talking to your friends, family, and coworkers about climate change and other environmental issues is one of the most effective ways that you can raise awareness and inspire activism. Having meaningful discussions about these topics and the science behind them is a crucial part of getting everyone involved in the fight for climate justice. Since most of us aren’t overwhelmingly feeling the impacts of climate change on a continuous basis, it’s important to keep these topics in conversation so they don’t fly under anyone’s radar.

Stay Informed

In order to be an effective activist of change, you have to keep updated on the latest climate science, policy, and regulations. You can do this by following publications like Grist and Climate Home News who dedicate themselves to reporting on environmental issues. By staying up-to-date, you can more effectively communicate about these issues with policymakers and other activists and can gain a better understanding of what you’re fighting for. 

Weekly:

Post Online

Posting online about climate change is one of the best ways to spread awareness. Because our world is so digitized and most people spend the majority of their time looking at a phone screen, reaching people through social media platforms and newsletters is easier and more accessible than ever before. Clear messages that are repeated often are the number one proven way to communicate an issue, and through social media, we all have the means to repeatedly post clear messages about the climate crisis and be effective communicators of the issue. 

Volunteer

Local environmental organizations are often the ones up on the front lines fighting for climate justice, and they often rely on unpaid volunteers to help their mission. These organizations are a large driving force behind grassroots activism, and we all need to do our part to support their work. Try to volunteer weekly with a local organization like your local Citizens Climate Lobby or Sunrise Movement chapters, as it’s one of the most impactful things you can do to grow grassroots organization efforts.

Monthly:

Donate and vote with your dollars 

While this isn’t a feasible option for all, those of us who are able to financially support those fighting for climate justice should. Whether you donate to a political candidate who is committing themselves to taking climate action, an organization that is on the front lines of political climate activism, or a social media influencer who works to inspire sustainable lifestyle changes, you are providing vital financial resources to people and organizations who can directly use that money to improve the reach and impact of their activism. Remember to vote with your dollars on a daily basis as well, and work to only support stores and companies who commit themselves to environmental responsibility. You can do this by buying secondhand, supporting your local farmers and artisans, and doing your research on a company before you buy from them.

Call or write your representatives

The job of our government representatives is to represent us, the people. While our impact is often diluted by lobbyists and corporate donations, it doesn’t mean we completely lack the power to impact policymaking. Writing and calling your local representatives is a really important, impactful, and underrated way to fight for climate policy. By communicating directly with your representatives about climate change, you are reminding them that:

  • This is an issue people care about

  • This is an issue people demand action for

  • Inaction on this issue will cause them to lose the votes of climate activists

Attend Local Government Meetings

While overarching, worldwide climate policy is needed to conquer this issue, the local level is where policy making truly starts. However, if your local city council doesn’t know that climate change is an issue their community cares about, they’ll often breeze by it. So, attend your local government meetings and make your voice heard. Encourage them to work to divest from fossil fuels, improve recycling infrastructure, and fund public transit initiatives. If you don’t show up and make your voice heard, they’ll never know that these issues are so deeply cared about by their local community.

Yearly:

Vote

As you can probably tell by now, being politically active is potentially the most important thing you can do in the fight against climate change. Our governments have the power to either save us from the climate crisis or remain complacent while the world burns around them, and we have the power to decide who will make these decisions. Make your voice heard by voting for climate-friendly candidates in every local and national election, and considering campaigning for candidates who push for climate change policy.

I hope you took to the streets to strike for the climate today, but I also hope that this strike isn’t where your time as a climate activist ends. Continue to strike, but also continue to stay informed, vote with your dollars, and push for grassroots activism. While corporations were the ones to cause this crisis, it appears to be up to us, the people, to demand that they stop being complacent and fix what they started.


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Kayla Guilliams

Is the blog manager for Zero Waste Club, combining her love for writing with her passion for all things environmental sustainability. She is currently a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she is studying journalism, environmental studies, and food studies in hopes of building a career in environmental activism. You can find her on Instagram as @kaylaguilliams.


 

What You Need to Know About the Fires in the Amazon

Posted by Pawan Saunya on

            The Amazon Rainforest in Brazil has been ablaze for the past three weeks due to record-breaking wildfires, and while low-level fires are commonly seen in the forest during the dry season, fires of this magnitude aren’t common in any way and can only be linked to one cause- humans.

            In the past week alone, more than 9,000 fires have been burning in the forest. According to the Brazil National Institute for Space Research (INPE), this is only a sliver of the 72,843 fires that the forest has seen this year alone- an 83% increase from 2018.

            Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsonaro, has said that he is skeptical of the INPE’s data, and has since replaced the head of the INPE with an Air Force Officer. 

            Bolsonaro is placing the blame for the wildfires on non-governmental organizations, saying that they’re using these fires as a way to make him look bad. There is currently no evidence to back his claim.

            Farmers commonly start fires in order to clear land for cattle ranching and logging, and this is reportedly how the fires have started. Brazilian farmers recently said that they feel emboldened by President Bolsonaro’s anti-environment stances, leading them to coordinate a “Fire Day” on August 10th as a way to show Bolsonaro that they agree that deforestation is the way to create more work for Brazil.  

Photograph: Reuters

Photograph: Reuters

            Christian Poirier, the program director of Amazon Watch, a non-profit that works to protect the Amazon, said in response to the fires: “This devastation is directly related to President Bolsonaro’s anti-environment rhetoric, which erroneously frames forest protections and human rights as impediments to Brazil’s economic growth. Farmers and ranchers understand the president’s message as a license to commit arson with wanton impunity, in order to aggressively expand their operations into the rainforest.”

            Many scientists say that the uptick in deforestation that Brazil has been experiencing in culmination with dry weather conditions has aggravated the fires. Deforestation, a practice that aggravates wildfires and destroys biodiversity, has been on the rise in Brazil as they clear land for agricultural commodities, and the issue has been progressively getting worse as Bolsonaro rolls back environmental protections in an attempt to open the forest for commodity production. Brazil’s dry season has also played a role in sustaining the wildfires, but the roots of them were completely human caused.

            Most of the agricultural commodities that are causing this deforestation can be linked to red meat products. The soy that Brazil grows is largely grown to supply China’s red meat market with animal feed, and a lot of land is also cleared to simply make room for cattle ranching.

            Environmentalists around the world are raising concern over these wildfires because of the threat they pose to our global ecosystem. The Amazon is not the largest center for biodiversity in the world, but it supplies us with 20% of our oxygen and serves as a sink for carbon. The forest can absorb 2.2 million tons of CO2 in just one year, making it a pivotal factor in averting the climate crisis.

            However, the Amazon being on fire will likely aggravate the climate crisis. The fires are causing spikes in CO2 emissions by burning trees, and are destroying ecosystems that serve as pivotal carbon sinks, meaning the forest will no longer be able to absorb as much CO2 as it once did.

            Fires like this are part of a large positive feedback loop- these fires aggravate the climate crisis, and then the climate crisis causes more fires like this to happen which will further aggravate the climate crisis and so on.

            Environmentalists are calling on concerned onlookers to donate to organizations that are on the frontlines of protecting the amazon, as well as to indigenous peoples and those working to shift political power away from Bolsonaro. They are also encouraging people to stop eating meat and palm oil, and to call on the media and rich businessmen to respond to this crisis in the way they responded to Notre Dame. 

If you want to help, consider donating to the Amazon Conservation Team.


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Kayla Guilliams

Is the blog manager for Zero Waste Club, combining her love for writing with her passion for all things environmental sustainability. She is currently a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she is studying journalism, environmental studies, and food studies in hopes of building a career in environmental activism. You can find her on Instagram as @kaylaguilliams.