Greta Thunberg is in the news a lot lately and everyone seems to have an opinion on her. I won't get into my personal feelings, because that's not terribly helpful. What I am choosing to do is offer some ways that everyone can make a difference. Whether you think Greta on target, misguided or a pawn in a game, it's reasonable to be a good steward of the resources you have available to you.
Because if you want to support the environment, save the environment or just not be an asshole that leaves the world in a shittier place than you found it- it daily personal choices that are key. Putting your faith in government to fix the problem for you is both misguided and delusional. Governments throughout history are the biggest destroyers of the environment. The more money, power and control you give them the more destruction will result. Heck, the US military alone is one of the worlds largest polluters. Even if you don't consider the actual destruction they inflict on the world, the death, the destroyed cities and infractructure, they are one of the world's largest polluters.
When you do take into consideration the resources expended and the infrastructure destroyed, the carbon footprint of the US military is staggering. Every time they blow up a bridge or a hosptial or a school or a highway, the effort, resources and pollution that was exerted to create that object was wasted. That infrastructure has to be built again which incurs a cost of resources and pollution. The bombs destroy eco systems and pollute waterways. If the government really cared about saving the planet, greatly reducing the deployment of the military would have to be step number 1. It would have a greater effect than anything any company or individual could do.
And just look to other efforts undertaken by governments as well. We put governments in charge of building roads. Increasingly we are seeing roads being surfaced with blacktop or asphalt instead of concrete. In the 50's we poured great concrete highways. Today we cover those same highways in asphalt. Asphalt not only maintains a 12 degree (F) warmer temperature than concrete, but it requires replacement much sooner. The highway I commute on was just resurfaced with blacktop last year and it's already crumbling. The street I live on has 2 year old asphalt and it's buckling today. Resurfacing those blacktop roads uses trucks and heavy equipment that is gross polluters. Governments are making poor financial and environmental decisions when it comes to roads because they can't look past a one year budget. It's shameful. Every foot of blacktop that goes down increases the average air temperature by 12 degrees over concrete. Ponder that as you observe miles of highway and huge parking lots of government institutions covered in blacktop.
I could name a dozen other examples about how governments make choices with our tax money that make the environmental issues we face worse, but that isn't my focus of this. I simply want to assert that expecting the government to fix this problem, whether we give them more resources or not, is a fool's hope. Fixing this falls to the people, to individual decisions. So what can we do to make a difference? Lots of things!
Small, sustainable every day actions is how we change this. It's how we leave the planet a better place than we found it. It doesn't take a huge change, it takes lots of people making small every day changes. We have a lot of habits in western culture that have created environmental problems, and curbing some of those is a great place to start. Lots of these actions require no money, very little money or may even save you money, so there isn't a huge excuse to not act.
Let's start with your car. There are some pretty simple things you can do to minimize the effect of your car on the environment. The primary goal is to have your vehicle operate for as long as possible and efficiently as possible. The day to day carbon footprint of operating your automobile pale in comparison to the carbon footprint of it's creation and eventual destruction. A lot of energy, resources and pollution went into creating that car and a lot will be spent on it's recycling / destruction. Make the most of it while you have it.
How can you make the most of it? Keeping up on all the maintenance can be expensive, but there are 2 things that are cheap and easy- keep a clean air filter and keep the right pressure in the tires. These can easily increase your gas mileage by a few mpg which will save you money and reduce the pollution of daily operation. As well- a tire that is even a few psi low runs hotter. It is literally creating extra heat that bleeds into the road and the air around it. The extra heat also causes the tire to wear faster, meaning you will need to replace it sooner. Check your air pressure when you get gas and replace your air filter when your manual tells you to. If you are planning to keep the car for a long time, consider something like a K&N air filter. It costs more up front, but can be cleaned instead of replaced. People regulary get 200k miles out of the same air filter, just cleaning them out every 10k or 20k miles. And these type of filters also flow air better, which often leads to better gas mileage. My last truck went from 16 mpg to 17 mpg with a simple K&N filter install. 1 mpg doesn't sound like much, but that is a 6% difference. That's a signifcant change over the life of a vehicle. My friend's Honda Civic increased gas mileage by 3 mpg when a K&N was installed. That's an investment that will pay for itself for sure over time, both in money, efficiency, pollution and less dirty air filters in the land fill.
My next idea is being more thoughtful about the products you consume and where they come from. Do you love buying the latest fashionable clothes? Often they are poorly constructed and don't last very long. They are also often made in Asia and have to be shipped across the ocean to get to you. What used to be the fare of royalty- products from far away places, has become commonplace to every day consumers. Our shoes, clothes, TV's, computers, smart phones and food all come from other lands. They have to be put on a ship or a plane and flown across an ocean. Imagine what that does to the carbon footprint of that good! Every time you buy Nike's or drink coffee or eat quinoa or buy a new phone you are purchasing a good that was created in a far away land and shipped to your area. When we consume those goods we become complicit in that pollution.
And speaking of food- consider a garden. It doesn't have to be a great garden, or provide for lots of your food, anything is a benefit. People can grow a surprising amount of food in a small space. For the past 2 years I great kale and beets in my front yard, where most people would have bushes or flowers. It looks nice and I can pick a bit of a salad walking up to my front door. It took me a few hours to prepare the ground and it makes food for me for months. It's way easier than many people think.
There are lots and lots of ways that we can all be better stewards of our resources. Consider your actions and question whether normal in western culture makes sense. Is it normal that we consume goods constantly from far away lands? Yes. Does it make sense? Probably not.
Good luck! Working together we can make a difference!