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What Can I do About Climate Change? Your Questions Answered.

By Lindsay Mosher

Concern about climate change is at an all time high. 67% of people across 26 countries see climate change as a major threat, up from just 56% a few years ago (2013). In many countries, concern about climate change has grown tremendously in recent years. In France, 83% of people report climate change as a major threat compared to 54% in 2013, and Mexico has seen a similar increase from 52% to 80%. In the United States, 59% of people see climate change as a major threat compared to just 40% in 2013.

While a growing number of people are concerned about climate change and looking for ways to take action, at the same time, some governments and businesses are failing to step up and are even backing out of their previous commitments. This leaves many people wondering: What can I do about climate change? Can I even make a difference on my own?

The fact is, rapid, substantial changes are needed in order to keep global warming under 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius), a threshold that many scientists agree is the point of no return. While we need governments and businesses to take large-scale actions, we also cannot afford to wait for them to act. Everyone has a role to play and a responsibility to do their part—there is no better time to take action than now.

Read on for our answers to pressing questions about climate change and personal action and some recommendations for getting started today.

Do my actions really make a difference? Don’t we need bigger changes?

Combating climate change undoubtedly requires large-scale systemic change on a global scale, and governments and corporations have a critical role to play. However, people vastly underestimate the importance of individual actions in fighting climate change, especially when taken to scale. Our lifestyle choices (e.g. how much we travel, how we get around town, and what we eat), our home energy use (both how much we use and where our energy comes from), and our efforts to reduce waste, among other behaviors, both directly and immediately reduce greenhouse gas emissions and also help drive long-term systemic changes.

A recent report by Rare analyzed all 100 climate change solutions identified by Project Drawdown in order to understand the potential impact of individual behavior change in addressing climate change. Rare identified seven individual behaviors that have the greatest potential for impact and are both feasible and practical for people to implement without dramatic lifestyle changes. The report found that if just 10% of Americans adopt these seven behaviors, the U.S. could still meet its emissions reduction target set by the Paris agreement by 2025, even while our government has backed out of the agreement (see the report for more details).

Without making dramatic lifestyle changes and in the absence of sweeping new policies, a small portion of Americans can have a measurable, substantive impact on reducing national emissions
– Rare (2019)

Larger, global initiatives are still necessary to create the sweeping changes we need to tackle to climate change. However, as these findings show, we as individuals are not powerless in the meantime. Our collective action will help fill in the gaps while we continue to fight for broader policy changes.

The seven behaviors identified by Rare. Source: Rare 2019.

What can I do to have the biggest impact?

The short answer is: do whatever it is that you are most willing to see through and commit to. Adopting any of the key behaviors highlighted above, or other behaviors that help reduce carbon emissions, will have an impact. The most important, and likely successful, contribution however, will come from those actions that you are able to commit to consistently.

The good news is more and more people are taking actions to reduce their carbon footprint: the sale of plant-based food has grown by 8.1% since 2017; the number of people who commute to work by bike has increased by 60% in the last decade; renewable energy is the fastest growing energy source in the U.S., increasing 100% between 2000 to 2018; electric vehicle sales grew by 81%between 2018 and 2019 in the U.S, and grew 64% globally.

Not only do your actions have direct positive impacts, you can also motivate others to follow suit. Behavioral science shows us that people are most likely and willing to change or adopt a new behavior when they frequently see other people doing that behavior or otherwise see evidence that a new social norm is forming around that behavior, even if that means behaving in a way that is out of step with current social norms. As a growing number of people continue to make everyday carbon-reducing behaviors the norm, the more society will follow suit.

What else can I do to fight climate change?

Beyond everyday behaviors, there is plenty we as individuals can do to influence the larger systems that impact the climate.

  • Be a conscious consumer and support climate-friendly businesses. Consumer activism can have big ripple effects. As of 2018, 64% of global consumers’ purchasing decisions were based on a brand’s environmental, social, or political position. Take, for example, the consumer activism around plastic straws and plastic bags that influenced industry giants such as Starbucks and McDonalds to change their business practices. Refusing plastic straws won’t save our oceans, but could lead to broader efforts to curb single-use plastics entirely. Familiarize yourself with different companies practices and support those that are taking real action against climate.
  • Vote for politicians who prioritize addressing climate change. With recent U.S. reversals and rollbacks of climate and green-energy related policies and regulations, our votes matter more than ever. With election season upon us, vote for politicians who are committed to government action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support clean energy.
  • Join a community and help encourage others around you to do the same. An overwhelming majority of people worldwide are concerned about climate change. Millions of those people are already taking individual action everyday. Join a climate-focused group or community to share your thoughts, ideas, and take further action, too!

To learn more about what behaviors you can change to combat climate change and improve ocean health, join our community at www.BlueHabits.org.


Lindsay Mosher is Oceanic Society's Blue Habits project manager. Lindsay has a diverse background with an M.A. in Conservation Biology from Miami University and B.A. in Journalism from Ithaca College. She is deeply passionate about ocean issues and has been working to advance global marine conservation for the past 5 years.


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