A friend reminded me yesterday that it typically takes eight weeks to form a habit, and as the second month of quarantining passes me by, I realize that in many ways I’ve resigned myself to this new normal. To be honest, it has been a challenge to stay sustainable. It’s not that I’m living a less sustainable life, but I’ve noticed that there’s more effort to live sustainably.
Pre-pandemic, much of my life was effortlessly eco-conscious. I’m fortunate to live in a community that prides itself on its sustainable ethos, and I live in a state that’s at the forefront of environmental progress, but now the pandemic has forced us inward, as we focus on protecting human lives. Understandably, we’re in survival mode, but what I’ve been struck by is the hesitation to place equal emphasis on human and planetary health, despite the fact that they’re solidly interconnected.
Climate change and environmental degradation haven’t paused while this health crisis consumes our lives. Now, more than ever, we need to stay sustainable, for our own health and the health of the planet. Here’s how.
One simple way to stay sustainable is to stay informed on issues related to sustainability, climate change, and the environment. Beyond learning something new, you’ll be armed with a more critical eye to separate fact from fiction.
I list a few of my favorite sources here to get you started, including the Green That Life list of environmental books.
- Scientific American offers a variety of free newsletters on climate and environmental news.
- Sierra Club’s magazine, Sierra, is filled with fascinating news about climate and energy, sustainability, green lifestyle, and the environment.
- Grist organization’s tone is optimistic environmental activism to help you stay sustainable. Their independent, nonprofit newsroom pursues in-depth stories on clean energy, sustainable food, livable cities, environmental justice, and a better economy.
- Yale’s Climate Connections is a multimedia service providing daily broadcast radio programming and original web-based reporting, commentary, and analysis on the issue of climate change. Sign up for their weekly updates.
- Yale’s Environment 360 is an excellent resource. Its online magazine offers opinion, reporting, and debate on global environmental issues. They feature original articles, multimedia content, and a daily digest of major environmental news.
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA’s climate page has a ton of helpful data, tools, and information.
- Environmental and Energy Study Institute’s fact sheets and issue briefs on climate change are substantive and clear.
- Skeptical Science is a website that gets skeptical about global warming skepticism. Its goal is to explain what peer-reviewed science has to say about global warming.
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the go-to organization for climate change data.
- NASA’s Causes of Climate Change page is an excellent summary. It lists numerous scientific societies and groups for further information.
- Green That Life, of course! I’ll do the research and the work to provide you with a clear summary of the most salient climate, environmental, and sustainability topics. In addition, check out my Green Terms and Recycling Resources pages for periodic updates.
Calculate Your Carbon Footprint, Then Act!
Ever wondered what carbon footprint really means? Take a few minutes to find out and then use one of the carbon footprint calculators to determine your own footprint. You’ll then be ready to act on simple ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your home.
Keep Reducing, Reusing and (Lastly) Recycling
One of the most effective ways to stay sustainable is to limit what you purchase and instead, reuse what you already have. In these uncertain economic times, this sustainable mindset is also an ideal way to keep costs down.
If there’s no need for an item, before you toss it in the garbage, donate or sell it. Check out Green That Life’s Spring Cleaning post to learn how to re-purpose old items, sell, and donate responsibly.
Dispose of the Disposables!
There’s been a lot of hype during this health crisis about the contamination of reusable bags. To date, there has been no evidence from objective and credible sources that prove reusable bags are germ-carriers. Claims that disposable plastic bags are the cleaner choice have been part of a successful plastics industry campaign and not based in science. In fact, a look at the food industry’s safety and hygiene standards for food establishments reveals no encouragement of single-use items. As long as you keep your reusable bags clean and bag your own items, reusable bags are a sanitary and sustainable choice.
The same applies to all reusable items: bottles, cups, utensils, and containers. Just because an item is disposable doesn’t mean it’s hygienic, so keep using your (clean) reusables! You’ll help reduce plastic pollution and send a message to manufacturers that you don’t want disposable products.
Sustainable Food Choices
Yes, you can stay sustainable simply by making climate-friendly food choices. The carbon footprint for certain food products is significant, and overall food production is responsible for approximately one-quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The rule of thumb to remember is that resource-intensive animal-based foods carry a higher carbon footprint than plant-based foods. Even when you compare animal- and vegetable-based proteins, the environmental impacts of even the lowest-impact animal products exceed the average impacts of the vegetable-based proteins.
For a full explanation of how to make climate-friendly food choices, see Green That Life’s post on the topic. By making a simple switch to more sustainable food choices, you’ll help keep your family and the planet healthy!
Try Something New: Composting!
According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, if food waste was a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases. That’s right, food waste is a major contributor to climate change, so an effective way to stay sustainable is to reduce the amount of food you dump in the garbage.
How can you reduce food waste? Simple ways include planning ahead, using up leftovers, and proper food storage. Another very effective solution is to recycle food waste into nutrient-rich compost that acts as a natural plant fertilizer. Green That Life’s post on Easy Home Composting will get you started!
Stay sustainable by reducing waste and maintaining a low carbon footprint.
Avoid unnecessary waste by minimizing your use of single-use items. If you’re able to leave home, remember to bring clean reusable shopping items with you, including bags, bottles, utensils, and straws. Protect yourself and others by handling your own items, and then clean everything thoroughly when you get home.
One important item to remember is your reusable mask! I just purchased a few I like from Birdwell. They also donate a mask for every mask purchased.
A Lower Carbon Footprint: Shop Local
Keep the carbon footprint of your purchases low by shopping close to home. You’ll also support your local economy by shopping in town. And if you’re able, walk or bike to the shops.
If you must order online, stay sustainable through online purchases from local businesses and those with a low waste mission. DoneGood offers an easy way to search for hundreds of socially and environmentally responsible brands.
You can also shop for yourself and donate to environmental causes with Amazon Smile’s Environment Charity partnership program.
Stay Sustainable by Staying Involved
While staying healthy must be our top priority during the pandemic, you can stay sustainable by continuing to support climate action efforts. In a sign of true ingenuity amidst the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, environmental activists have retooled their mobilization efforts to include a whole host of virtual events and activities.
You too can practice armchair activism by getting involved with an environmental group or supporting environmental causes. Most importantly, get out there and vote for candidates with strong environmental records.
Look to a Green Future
If this pandemic has taught us anything it’s that we must be vigilant about environmental protection and responding to planetary crises, recognizing that human and planetary health are tightly linked.
I don’t take comfort in the “drastic reductions” in air and water pollution caused by the pandemic. It is difficult to see any benefit caused by a health crisis that has taken so many lives and caused economic destruction. At any rate, this seemingly positive environmental news is fleeting; a tiny downtick in an ever-upward trajectory of global emissions. Business as usual has already returned to countries that have eased quarantine restrictions, with China seeing a surge in oil demand and a return to congested roads as people choose cars over public transportation.
What I have learned from this tragic episode is humanity’s collective resilience and ingenuity. Apply that same spirit of fortitude to our climate crisis and I’m confident we’ll see progress in the future.