Climate change is not a problem of the future – it’s happening now, and has emerged as the most demanding environmental and economic challenge facing our planet. Its effects are felt every day, in the form of health problems, environmental damage and a system that doesn’t meet today’s needs. And what we’re seeing now is just the beginning – the future holds the likelihood of more damage thanks to our increasing population, rampant consumption habits and unsustainable water management.
Although Canada is one of the worst offenders with regards to greenhouse gas emissions (at 20.3 metric tonnes, our annual per capita emissions are the second highest in the world), it’s not too late to change course. The choices we make in our day-to-day lives, however small they may seem, play a key role in slowing climate change. We’ve compiled a list of nine simple ways you can join the fight for a healthier planet:
1. Eat wisely
Vote with your fork! By simply changing a few of our food habits, we can have a tremendous impact on climate change. Here’s how:
- Go veg (Or eat less meat). It takes approximately 16 pounds of grain to produce just one pound of meat. Each of those pounds of grain takes considerable energy to produce, process and transport. Couple that with the fact that an estimated 18 per cent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to livestock production, and you can begin to see why meat production has a huge climate impact. Find inspiration and recipes at Vegetarian Times and Choose Veg, or pledge to have Meatless Mondays.
- Buy organic. Research has shown conventional farming uses about 45 per cent more energy per unit of production than organic farms, which rely on natural inputs. Better yet, organic farms store much more carbon in the soil than their counterparts, keeping it out of the atmosphere. Find local farmers who grow organic, and be sure to read labels when you shop.
- Buy local. The average Canadian meal contains ingredients from more than six different countries, and travels thousands of kilometres before reaching a plate. Food grown closer to home will therefore have fewer transportation emissions associated with it, and supports your local economy! Join the local food movement, find a farmers' market nearby, learn what foods are in season, or pledge to shift just $10 a week towards local food. If you live in Ontario, look for the Ontario Table, a cookbook which offers regional recipes using local food products.
- Waste not! According to a study by the UNFAO, more than one third of all food produced worldwide is wasted (that’s a shocking 1.3 billion tonnes per year). Unused food in a landfill is one of the top sources of greenhouse gases. Check out David Suzuki’s tips to end food waste, read about how to compost, or donate your excess scraps to organizations like Second Harvest.
2. Be energy smart
Canadians have a huge appetite for energy. In fact, we are the second largest consumers of energy per capita in the world. To make a difference:
- Reduce your energy consumption. From switching to compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs, to buying low-flow showerheads, to fixing leaky windows, there are literally thousands of ways you can save energy at home. Download this Energy Savers Guide for great ideas, or read efficiency tips and tools from Ontario Power Authority. Consider getting a home energy audit to see where you can cut back.
- Buy energy efficient appliances. Check how your appliances measure up with the EnerGuide rating label, and commit to buying Energy Star qualified products. Check to see if you qualify for a government energy efficiency or alternative energy program.
- Support renewable energy. Ontario’s Green Energy Act is a step in the right direction. We need to make renewable energy a priority in Canada. Support non-governmental organizations committed to curbing our carbon addiction such as Pembina Institute, Environmental Defence, and the David Suzuki Foundation.
3. Get water wise
We can’t live without clean and abundant water supplies, yet climate change is already having profound effects on the quality, quantity and availability of our resources. Canada’s track rate isn’t great – we have the second-highest per capita water consumption in the world. Here’s how you can help:
- Reduce, repair, and retrofit. A typical household can reduce household water consumption by 40 per cent or more, and they won’t feel a hit to their lifestyle. From installing a low-flow toilet, to using an outdoor rain barrel, to taking shorter showers there are thousands of ways you can save water at home. Check out Environment Canada’s Wise Water Use guide or read 100 ways to conserve water.
- Support sustainable water policies. Read how the UN recommends we implement sustainable use of our water. And support government policies that encourage water conservation through metering or disincentives for high water use. According to a 2004 study by Environment Canada, residential water users who pay a flat rate used an average of 74 per cent more than those who are charged by the litre.
4. Travel light
Transportation is the fastest growing source of climate change, and accounts for more than one-third of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. Here’s how you can (literally) drive down climate change:
- Leave the car at home. Not surprisingly, cars are one of the worst offenders when it comes to transportation-related climate change. If possible, walk, bike or take public transportation. Find out more by visiting the Canadian Urban Transit Association, or calculate your commuting costs here to see just how much you could save. If you must drive, carpool (connect with other commuters here). Find out more about Pollution Probe’s Clean Air Commute, a week of friendly competition amongst workplaces, held this June.
- Buy a fuel efficient vehicle. Make informed choices when it comes to purchasing a new vehicle. Compare the fuel efficiency of different makes and models, look for the EnerGuide label, and see which vehicles rank best.
- Stop idling. If every driver of a light-duty vehicle in Canada stopped idling for just three minutes a day, collectively over the year we would prevent more than 1.4 million tonnes of carbon from entering the atmosphere. For inspiration, check out Dads Against Dirty Air, the Clean Air Partnership, or Pollution Probe.
- Fly less. Air travel has a massive carbon footprint – in fact, it’s the mode of freight transport that has the most emissions. Consider greener transportation options like buses or trains, or better yet, travel less altogether and utilize technology like video-conferencing and e-mail.
5. Check your trash
The average Canadian produces about 2.2 kg of garbage each day – that’s over 30 million tonnes of waste in total per year! And while it may disappear from your curb, the majority ends up buried in landfills, producing methane gas as the materials decompose. In fact, landfills produce approximately 25 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. Here’s what you can do:
- Recycle. Did you know 95 per cent of Canadians can recycle plastic bottles thanks to a greater availability of recycling options? While items accepted in your blue box or blue bag program vary greatly from city to city, recycling is on the rise. Check your municipality website or recycling hotline for more details. Be sure to find out where you can recycle your electronics with this handy search tool—Alberta leads the way with over 220 e-waste collection sites!
- Compost. Your garbage is about 40 per cent organic waste. Composting keeps that garbage out of a landfill, and provides nutrient-rich food for your plants. Check out these composting do’s and don’ts, support the Compost Council of Canada, and give life back to your soil, lawn and garden.
- Vote with your dollar. Together, let’s demand less waste. Tell your local stores you want products with minimal or recycled packaging. Kudos to companies like Walmart, who score their suppliers on how recyclable and energy efficient their products are, or General Motors, who require suppliers to take back all packaging in which parts were delivered, and recycle almost all of their waste worldwide.
- Consume less. We have a problem with stuff. Since the industrial revolution began in the 1800s, the world has been on an unprecedented consumption binge, with global warming as the consequence. If everyone in the world consumed like Canada, we would need 3.62 planets. Watch the Story of Stuff to get inspired, participate in Buy Nothing Day, and make a conscious effort to put less stuff in the landfill.
6. Join the movement
Together, we can combat climate change: Make your voice heard and join other concerned citizens working together to create a better future for our planet. Here’s how you can help:
- Get educated. Read information provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Roundtable on Environment and Economy, the Pembina Institute and the Climate Reality Project. Invite an Al Gore-trained presenter to your community to speak, or join the online dialogue at Our Future Planet to share your ideas. Read 10 popular myths about global warming and find out what the Canadian government is (and isn’t) doing to fight climate change.
- Challenge injustices. Despite the fact that climate change is largely caused by the world’s richest countries, it’s the world’s poorest that are hit most heavily by the impacts – devastating floods, droughts and other extreme weather events. Get inspired by Practical Action, who use simple, innovative ideas to help change lives for the better. Read about the ways they’re tackling both the causes and effects of climate change.
- Use your voice. Demand that more action be taken on climate change. Write to your MP and ask that they support a climate change action plan. Join campaigns to get Ontario off oil, expose the tar sands, and tell Prime Minister Harper to stop giving out tax breaks to Big Oil, or create your own petition about the change you wish to see.
7. Support and donate
Many organizations are working hard to find solutions to climate change, and need your help. Consider donating to the Pembina Institute, Environmental Defence, the Climate Reality Project, Practical Action, the Climate Action Network, the Toronto Environmental Alliance and more!
8. Buy smart
Every time you make a purchase, you’re voting with your dollar for the type of system you support. To encourage change:
- Support. It’s never been easier to buy green products and services, thanks to the growing eco-market concerned with more than just cost and quality. We consume every day, and there are so many great choices and companies doing good. Check out the Green Living Marketplace, or visit a green consumer tradeshow in your area. We hope to see you at next year’s Green Living Show!
- Be an informed consumer. With so many labels and certifications, it can be hard to know what’s best. Greenguard, Green Seal, SmartWood and Energy Star are just some of many ways to stay informed. Ask questions, and consider the lifecycle of every product you purchase. (Careful – don’t be fooled by greenwashing!)
- Demand better options. We wish green choices were always easy to find and affordable, but the reality is that misguided laws and policies often favour unsustainable products. Speak up on behalf of innovative green solutions and push for change.
9. Stop debating, start doing!
Climate change is a big, complicated issue that won’t go away on its own. Fortunately, there are so many ways that we, as individuals, can make a difference. Explore the above suggestions, get creative, and to paraphrase Gandhi: be the change you wish to see in the world.
How are you a part of the solution?
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