The IPCC just released their highly anticipated Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C, which concludes that limiting global warming to 1.5C, the goal of the Paris Agreement, will require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented transitions in society as we know it. And the scariest part – we only have 12 years to do it.
The warming of our climate is already causing severe impacts across the world and there’s no doubt humans are the primary problem. However, in order to avoid catastrophic climate change, humans must also be part of the solution.
I personally have decided to be part of the solution by making small changes to live more sustainably. From reducing my plastic consumption, to taking public transportation, to eating a flexitarian diet, these changes not only help our environment, but have also improved my life in many ways.
I never realized how much plastic we use in our everyday lives until I tried to reduce how much I personally use. From my kitchen utensils, to my favorite pen I use at work, to the debit card I use to pay for things, it seems like plastic is in everything.
And unfortunately, this obsession with plastic has caused a lot of environmental problems. National Geographic estimates that we’ve created some 8.3 billion tons of plastic, of which only 9% is recycled. A lot of this plastic has ended up in our parks, neighborhoods and oceans, polluting our environment and harming wildlife. Shockingly, it’s predicted that by mid-century, oceans will contain more plastic than fish, ton for ton.
It’s clear that plastic is a huge problem; however, it’s also clear that, at this point, we can’t live without it and it’s not realistic to eliminate plastic entirely from our lives. But you can reduce the amount you use and, of course, always recycle what you do. Here’s a few ways I’m trying to be more conscious of the plastic I personally use:
- Avoid plastic packaging, when possible. Have you ever realized how much stuff comes wrapped in plastic? I try to select items without unnecessary plastic, if I can.
- Use a reusable shopping bag. This has actually made my shopping experience so much better! Reusable bags are much more durable and make it way easier to carry groceries home.
- Avoid single use plastic. Like I said, plastic can’t be avoided entirely. But when I do use plastic, I try to make sure it can be used more than once. For example, I use a reusable water bottle and store my food in tupperware instead of using saran wrap or plastic baggies.
Bike or Take Public Transportation
Now, I know this isn’t realistic for everyone. Growing up in rural Tennessee, I know what it’s like to rely on a car to go anywhere. However, now that I’m living in South Korea, I no longer have a car and rely on my bike, public transportation and my own two feet to get around.
The IPCC estimates that the transportation sector, alone, produced the equivalent of 7Gt of CO2 in 2010 and was responsible for 23% of total energy related to CO2 emissions. Much of this resulted from individuals, with a typical passenger vehicle emitting about 4.6 metric tons of CO2 per year. However, just making the switch to public transportation can help reduce GHG emissions by an estimated 37 million metric tons per year. And living car free can lead to an individual reduction up to 117.7 metric tons per year of equivalent CO2. If more people opted for public transportation and a car free lifestyle, the emission reductions could be huge!
While it definitely took some time to get used to not having a car, I honestly love it! Not only is this a great way to live more sustainably, but I’m also saving money and feel like I live a much healthier lifestyle overall. I try to bike to work as often as possible, I easily walk to many shops, restaurants and cafes from my apartment and, if I ever need to go anywhere farther away, I just hop on the bus or metro for a very reasonable price.
As an American, I grew up on a meat-heavy diet and that was the only thing I ever knew. However, studying climate change made me realize the impacts a meat-heavy diet can have on our environment. Producing just 1 kg of beef, for example, emits 26 kg of CO2 and emits 20 times more GHG emissions per unit of edible protein than common plant-based protein sources, such as beans. Chicken and pork, on the other hand, are more resource efficient than beef, emitting only three times more GHG emissions than beans. Reducing our meat consumption, particularly red meat, is absolutely critical to living more sustainably and avoiding further global warming. Just switching from beef to chicken or participating in Meatless Monday are excellent ways to live more sustainably.
Earlier this year, I made the decision to be a flexitarian. Basically, this means that I eat mostly vegetarian, with the occasional inclusion of meat, primarily for cultural reasons. One reason I decided on being flexitarian instead of strictly vegetarian is because I think being a vegetarian is an incredibly privileged thing to do. Think about it, there are people in the world who will starve to death if they don’t eat their family cow, yet as a vegetarian you have the luxury of saying no to food because of moral opposition. I always want to remain open minded and flexible about meat consumption and be sensitive to other cultures and lifestyles.
When I moved to Korea, I very quickly realized that meat would have to become part of my diet, to an extent, due to the culture here. And that’s okay. My rule is that I cook vegetarian and home and am open to eating meat when I go out. And while this choice of diet may not be for everyone, it works for me. Not only is it allowing me to live more sustainably, but I also feel significantly healthier and have really enjoyed experimenting with vegetarian recipes!
Incorporating these changes into my life has been much easier than I expected and I have really enjoyed the positive impact they have had on my lifestyle. Walking and biking most places allow me to save money and help me live a healthier, more active life. Eating flexitarian has significantly improved my diet while allowing me to be culturally sensitive, and becoming more conscious of my plastic consumption has opened my eyes to how dependent we as society are on plastic. While I’m not perfect, I know these small steps make a difference and I’m happy to do my part to help the environment.