It’s that time of year again: Time to put 2019 — a tumultuous year of ups and downs for our planet — to bed and start fresh with renewed energy and vision for 2020. And there’s no better time, because 2020 is going to be a pivotal year for our planet.
Five years into the adoption of the Paris Agreement, 2020 will mark the year where we assess our collective progress on our greatest global challenges. The year is also ripe for political movement, as more than 65 countries will be hosting major elections this year.
The time could not be better for individuals and communities to make their priorities known, and to vote on those priorities at the ballot boxes and polls.
2020 will also mark 50 years of Earth Day (I know, it’s flown by for me, too). The 50th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22 will bring Earth Day back to its roots to mobilize millions to act for our planet.
We hope to see you in April, but what if you also want to do something today? To combat climate change, we need bold political action (that’s where your power as a voter comes in) and transformative change across industries and sectors. But change also starts with individual action.
Look, I know that composting your food scraps or cleaning up your community isn’t all that we need to transform our way of living — we need bold political action (that’s where your power as a voter comes in) and transformative change across industries and sectors as well.
But what these acts may do is set you on the path of continued action, and increased ambition, from day to day, week to week, and year to year.
Solving our climate crisis isn’t going to be easy. It’s going to be a challenge, and it’s going to be uncomfortable. But, hey, it’s the New Year. If I can’t get you to make some changes when I have you at your most guilt-ridden, when can I?
Ready to take the first step (or steps) to save the planet?
Go plant-based (1 – 2 meals a day)
You might be regretting your food choices over the holidays. Skip the crash diet (you look beautiful!) and try plant-based instead.
Animal agriculture has an enormous impact on climate change, contributing as much greenhouse gases as every car, plane, train, and ship on Earth. Going plant-based is one of the most powerful ways to reduce our personal carbon footprints (or foodprint, as we call it). Not ready to go all the way? Just start with one meal, or go plant-based for breakfast and lunch, like author Jonathan Safran Foer. Bon appetit!
Skip the gym. Skip the car.
Did I mention again that you look great just as you are? But if you’re insistent on toning up, skip the gym membership (it’s kind of a New Year’s cliché, isn’t it?) by skipping the car.
We know this doesn’t work for everyone, but where and when you can, skip the car and walk, bike or take public transportation instead. You’ll get some good (free!) exercise, while taking a huge bite out of your personal carbon footprint. For every mile you don’t drive, you reduce your carbon footprint by one pound. Bonus points if you’re lugging bags of groceries home on your walk.
Read more books
Activation requires information. If reading more books is on your resolution list for 2020, why not add some climate and environment books to the rotation? Here are some top picks from EDN staff (and more recommendations here).
Need books for activists in training? Here’s our reading list for budding environmentalists.
Compost, compost, compost
Food waste greatly contributes to climate change. Think about it — when you toss food in the trash, you’re wasting all the resources that it took to grow, harvest and ship that food.
Food also sits in a landfill, producing methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that is 34 times more potent over a 100-year period than carbon dioxide. If food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third-largest emitter after the U.S. and China. So serve yourself as much as you can eat, salvage your leftovers and compost what’s truly bad.
Not sure where to compost? Try your local farmer’s market — many coordinate with municipal services to provide free composting to communities — or pair up with others in your apartment or on your block to split a composting service.
Recycle (but do it better)
We know, recycling is not a silver-bullet solution to our problems (better to skip the single-use plastics altogether, but we’ll get to that). But if you’re going to recycle, at least do it right.
Otherwise, you may end up doing more harm than good.
Skip the single-use plastic bag
Did you know that those convenient plastic grocery bags are only used for an average of 15-20 minutes? Meanwhile they have a lifespan of 500–1,000 years in the landfill. Suddenly that convenience is looking very inconvenient for our planet…
Just stick a reusable bag in your purse or backpack, or stash one in your desk. It’s that simple.
To take this step to the next level, see if you can go a whole day without plastic. It’s much harder than you might think, but it gives you an illuminating view at just how bad our plastic problem is, while identifying key places to cut plastics from your life.
Pass it on: recycling edition
The last one was easy, so this resolution will push you.
The next time you see someone recycling wrong, let them know. Connect over how you also used to toss your containers in unwashed, or tried to recycle plastic grocery bags — which you should be skipping in the first place — then share the right way to do it,
Let us know that you and your friends are recycling right.
It can be hard to correct people, especially loved ones who have been doing things one way (the wrong way) for years, but when you pass on what you know, information can spread exponentially.
Also, don’t be afraid to remind them that recycling isn’t the be-all-end-all solution to our planet’s woes, and that in many ways recycling is an opportunity for industries to shunt the burden of responsibility onto consumers, when it should be squarely on producers who should be developing more sustainable alternatives…or you can save that for another day.
Register your Earth Day event (and turn up!)
The American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
The power of civil society mobilization cannot be overstated — just look at the first Earth Day, when 20 million individuals mobilized to come together to demand increased protections for our planet. History was made on April 22, 1970, and it’s a history that we have marked every year since then.
The first Earth Day sparked a fire of legislative action to follow, from the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, to the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts.
The 50th anniversary of Earth Day is going to be another historic moment for our planet. But to make history, we need you. How can you take your action to the next level on Earth Day?
Take your action to the next level on Earth Day by joining the global EARTHRISE mobilization for our planet on April 22, checking out the confirmed events for Earth Day 2020 and registering your own events.
Go plant-based (2.0 version)
So you’ve replaced two meals a day with plant-based options — awesome. Now make the jump to go plant-based three times a day. Each time you buy plant-based products, you’re sending a demand signal to the food industry by voting with your wallet.
Not sure you can do it? Read how an Earth Day staff writer went plant-based in 2019, and be inspired. Because if that meat-eating Midwesterner can embrace a tofu scramble, anyone can.
Travel, with care
Travelling to new places is always a top resolution, but air travel is, well, problematic.
Just how problematic, you ask? As author David Wallace Wells warns in his book “The Uninhabitable Earth,” every round-trip flight from New York to London costs the Arctic three square meters of ice.
Short of travelling by solar sailboat (à la Greta Thunberg), let’s resolve to travel smarter in 2020. For instance, you can travel by train (Greta’s other preferred mode of travel) and explore locations closer to home. Maybe 2020 is the year that you finally see those incredible local landmarks and national parks.
Also, consider swapping a vacation for a staycation — you’ll greatly reduce your carbon footprint, as well as saving massive amounts of money (another top New Year’s resolution).
Stop buying crap
Since we’re talking about saving more money, one of the best ways to do that is by simply buying less. What we really mean is buy less crap.
Take fast fashion — we buy far more clothing than we need (and wear), often tossing clothes in the trash: Research shows that a garbage truck’s worth of clothing and textiles is landfilled or incinerated every second.
So, don’t buy it, and don’t buy into it! You should never underestimate your power as a consumer. Try writing to the company or use the power of social media to call for an end to unjust and wasteful practices. Instead, try shopping secondhand. It’s a great way to give new life to old clothes while saving money and keeping perfectly good clothing out of landfills.
It’s also a good way to ensure you’re not wearing the same faux-hipster bohemian crop top as everyone else this season…
Like with food waste, not only are these clothes sitting in landfills to produce greenhouse gases as they break down, but the resources (including low-paying and dangerous labor for marginalized communities) used to create these textiles is also wasted as well. Our current clothing industry is incredibly polluting, resource-intensive and wasteful (not to mention unjust).
Register to vote (and turn up!)
Two of the greatest civic opportunities that citizens have are the ability to mobilize, and the ability to vote. These are two unassailable chances to help drive and shape the political agenda, so don’t waste them!
As we mentioned, 2020 will see more than 65 countries hosting major elections. Is your country one of them? If so, make sure you’re registered to vote. Then do your research and understand candidates’ stances before you show up at the polls.
Most importantly, TURN UP on election day — get to your polling place and vote. It’s arguably the most powerful individual action that a person can take, with an impact bigger than carrying a reusable bag every day or taking public transportation.
Climate change will never be solved by recycling, or bicycling, for that matter. It’s going to require immense political will and leadership to overhaul our cities, our industries and our economies to embrace the opportunities of a clean energy future. This sounds huge — and it is — but remember that these political leaders are elected by votes from individuals just like you and me.
If you really want to save the planet, make voting your top priority in 2020.
By Justine Sullivan