10 Simple Actions You Can Take to Help the Environment

Today is Earth Day and I want to write a different kind of post. Throughout my life, I've encountered many people who think environmental issues are not an important topic, or at least not as important as the immediacy of other problems like unemployment, economic crisis or even whether a specific area should belong to a country or be its own independent country. These are all important issues, for sure, but what happens when we keep postponing tackling environmental problems is that... time runs out. And on top of these socio-economic problems, we have an even bigger one: Life on Earth becomes threatened.

I also see many people who feel completely helpless and believe there's nothing we can do to avoid the impending disaster. They think it's futile to even try. It's terrifying to observe this line of thinking in younger generations. I feel for them, because they have been thrown in the middle of one of the most uncertain times. They feel betrayed by our actions and the actions of those who came before us and I'm not surprised.

When 1% of the population is causing the most damage, when governments make decisions that don't take into account our future wellbeing, it's easy to feel despair. We try to erase the problem from our mind and focus on other things. We try to just live day by day, making the best of our time here thinking tomorrow's problems are still far. Except they're not.

Unfortunately, those who are most affected by the consequences of this climate crisis are people in poorer countries and indigenous people (who didn't even create the problem in the first place). It's easy to forget. Out of sight, out of mind, but we're starting to see some effects in richer countries. We are already seeing what's coming. I'm not saying this to scare you. I'm saying it because we need to take it seriously.

If you're reading this, chances are you care about our survival on this planet and want to do something about it but don't know what to do to help. Don't despair. Don't think your actions are futile. What's futile is living an existence where we think nothing we do matters. Your individual actions won't save the planet but I strongly believe each small action has ripple effects. Think of this as having two alternatives: Taking some action or taking no action. Some action will always be better than inaction. Even if it's not perfect. Even if no one else around you is doing it. I guarantee you there are many others doing it, even if you don't see them.

So, after this little pep talk, let me proceed with my list of 10 simple actions you can take to help the environment. These are just some examples. There are many other ideas out there. Take with you what you can with the resources you have. Remember, some action will always be better than inaction. 

1. Clean the mess.

Join an environmental group that organises activities. I recently planted trees with sixty other people and it was such a rewarding experience. You can also go on solo expeditions and clean a natural area on your own (beach, forest, any place where humans go is guaranteed to be full of trash. Sorry, it's just the way it is).

2. Plants make everyone happy.

If you live in an apartment, you can get some local plants and place them on your balcony or window. If you live in a house and have a little garden, even better! You can plant them on the ground. On our old balcony, our plants attracted all kinds of birds and insects (including bees, who are so important, but all insects play an important role, really).

3. Waste not thy food.

In terms of food waste, there are some things we can do as well. I learned this trick recently: With fresh produce, give it a wash before you put it in the fridge. It will last longer. Carleigh Bodrug from PlantYou shares lots of scrappy cooking ideas on her website. Often we can take broccoli stems and other veggie parts we typically discard and add them to a soup but you can get creative like Carleigh. And if you have a bunch of fruits that are starting to get way too soft, make a smoothie. I like to cut bananas in chunks (without the skin) and pop them in the freezer so I can blend them into an ice-cream. You'll be surprised how creamy it is.

4. Eat for the planet.

With all this talk about fruit and vegetables, you can guess what comes next. I will always advocate for a plant-based diet, firstly because of ethical reasons, and secondly because of the impact that animal products have on the environment. And it's only getting worse. Let me quote the last IPCC report: "food system emissions are growing globally due to increasing population, income, and demand for animal-sourced products". No, organic animal agriculture is not the solution.

I know we all like to think of our food choices as personal but choices are not personal if they affect others (or the planet we live in). That includes what we choose to consume. You can find information on how to adopt a plant-based diet here and here.

5. Avoid swimming in plastic.

Whenever you have the option to buy plastic-free, do so. Buy a tap water filter instead of bottled water and get a reusable water bottle. Find a shop where you can buy things in bulk. Take some cloth bags with you to put the produce in. If you like getting takeaway coffee or another beverage, buy a reusable mug and ask the barista to pour the drink in it. Some places might have a policy that forbids them to do so but you can always ask. 

6. Milk your oats.

Make your own plant milk. I know, it's faster and easier to just get a carton, but making it at home reduces plastic waste and saves money. I got a vegan milker that makes the process really easy (and it comes with a recipe ebook) but there are other options. Did you know that, contrary to popular belief, plant milk has been around for at least 1000 years? (And no, the word "milk" was never exclusive to mother's milk from any species). In general, try to make more homemade foods and rely less on packaged foods.

7. Collect every drop of water.

If you're not one of those superhumans who are capable of taking a cold shower and, like me, you wait for the water to go warm before jumping in, why not get a bucket and collect that water? You'd be surprised how much the bucket fills up. You can use it to clean the floor or flush the toilet. This is a very small action but every small action counts. 

8. Give it a second life.

Buy your clothes in secondhand shops. Seriously, I've found great clothes in these places. You just have to dig in a little. You wouldn't think the fashion industry would be a big pollutant but it is. It creates immense amounts of waste. Fast fashion in particular is really damaging. By the way, leather production is also incredibly polluting and damaging to the workers' health (not to mention the animals who were killed in the process).

Buying secondhand is not limited to fashion, though. You can buy pretty much anything: Furniture, appliances, toys, books... And if there's something you no longer use, you can sell or donate it as well. There will always be someone who needs it. Overall, when it comes to buying, it's always good to ask ourselves this question: "Do I really need this?" Sometimes we buy way more things than we need. 

9. Vote with your money.

Be mindful of who you buy from. Do some research on the brands that are available in your country. This goes beyond clothing. It includes everything: food items, cleaning products, personal hygiene products... It's not easy to avoid the big companies that tend to be the most damaging but at least try to minimise the products you buy from them. 

10. Vote with your ballots.

Be careful who you vote for. Ultimately, it is our governments and big corporations who have the most impact on the planet. Our choices have an effect but their choices have an even bigger one. We can't control what they do but at least in many countries we have a say in who gets to rule us. And when we're not happy, we can organise protests, ask to change policies, voice our concerns. We can despair when it's all lost. Until then, we have a fight to fight. Together.

I recently came across Scientist Rebellion, a group of scientists that organise protests and other events all over the world demanding those in power to do something about this crisis. You know things are getting serious when scientists start to rebel.

I hope some of these ideas inspired you. It's not about being perfect because we can't be fully sustainable in our current world. It's about taking imperfect action.

I leave you with some quotes from the last IPCC report that I found meaningful:

"Delayed action increases challenges to both economic and societal feasibility after 2030".

"If 10-30% of the population were to demonstrate commitment to low-carbon technologies, behaviours and lifestyles, new social norms would be established".

"Collective action through formal social movements and informal lifestyle movements expands the potential for climate policy and supports system change".

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