18 Simple Things You Can Do About Climate Change

A heart takes shape on the trunk of an oak tree in the UC Davis Arboretum.
A heart takes shape on the trunk of an oak tree in the UC Davis Arboretum. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis).

For those of you resolving to do your part to reduce your emissions and engage more sustainably with the planet and those living here, we offer 18 simple, low-budget things that add up. Consider them “re-solutions:”

1) Bring your own bottle or mug.

It’s a teensy thing, but bringing your own reusable cup or coffee mug is easy and feels good. Sometimes you even get drink discounts for using these things.

A person holding a travel mug


2) Replace inefficient bulbs.

Inspired by research conducted by the California Lighting Technology Center at UC Davis, the University of California’s Million LED Challenge enables UC students, staff and faculty to order high-quality LED bulbs at reduced cost. For everyone else, there are several options on the market. Learn how to choose the right light.

3) Turn off some lights.

Turn off lights in empty rooms (of course) but also ask yourself, “Do I really even need this light on?” I recently had a meeting in a climate science professor’s office that was only lit by daylighting from the window and it was, well, enlightening.

4) Have a “2 degrees” goal at home.

Set your thermostat a couple of degrees up (A/C) or down (heater) depending on the season to make a difference in your energy use and energy bill. For each degree raised, you can save 3-5 percent on air conditioning costs, for example, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficiency Economy.

5) Walk or bike somewhere you’d normally drive today.

Even parking your car and riding a bike the rest of the way to your destination can save fossil fuel emissions and introduce some exercise to your day. A 2015 study by the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis found that a dramatic global increase in bicycling could reduce urban transportation emissions up to 10 percent by 2050.

A person rides a bike through the UC Davis campus


6) Vote!

This is super simple and super important. And write or call your government representatives about environmental and other issues important to you. The power of collective action can be a force to behold.

7) Plant something.

Physically connecting with the literal earth and caring for what’s grown helps you understand and appreciate it. All the better if what you plant is native and attracts pollinators like bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

8) Take a hike.

Finding your happy place in the natural environment helps you become personally invested in what’s at stake.

Two people hike though a redwood forest


9) Cut food waste.

Eat leftovers, embrace “ugly” or imperfect produce, and learn other ways to reduce food waste.

10) Slower shipping for shopping.

Online shopping? If you’re not really in a rush, don’t select 1-day shipping. Delivery trucks have to make more trips when consumers select expedited shipping, explained Miguel Jaller, an assistant professor in the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis, in the New York Times.

11) Read!

Learn how to discern between legitimate news sources and propaganda developed by special interests. This will help you ensure that your understanding of climate change and other hot-button scientific issues is grounded in peer-reviewed science. UC Davis professor Eric Post and colleagues note tips for how to do that in a 2017 BioScience study.

12) Get creative.

Climate action isn’t just about energy efficiency and carbon sequestration. Exploring ideas and feelings about the changing world through song, visual arts, writing and more can be a powerful way to share your unique perspective and help people understand climate change through a different lens.

13) Reduce your use of plastic.

Find alternatives to plastic whenever possible, and properly dispose of the plastic you do use to keep it out of our oceans and other waterways.

14) Don’t be a vampire.

Unplug your computer, toaster, and other appliances when not using them to avoid sucking up needless energy. “Smart” power strips can shut off phantom power to electronics when they’re not in use. If you’re a UC Davis student, staff or faculty member, calculate your computer’s plug load using a tool developed by the UC Davis Energy Conservation Office.

15) Take personal care.

Take a second look at your personal care products. Research led by NOAA and including UC Davis scientists found that the volatile chemical products in things like shampoo, cleaning products and paint contribute as much to urban air pollution as tailpipe emissions from cars.

16) Cool clothes.

Save energy by washing your clothes in cool water. Most of the energy used in doing a load of laundry comes from warming the water itself.

17) Save water.

It takes energy to produce water, so the more water you save, the more energy you save. The UC Davis Center for Water and Energy Efficiency found that between June 2015-April 2016 of California’s drought, water conservation saved 1,830 gigawatt hours of electricity—enough to power 274,000 homes per year, with greenhouse gas savings equivalent to removing 110,000 cars from the road for a year. Their results were covered in the LA Times.

18) Help a neighbor.

It’s not only nice, it also helps build community resilience.

There are plenty of other ways to tackle climate change: Buy and grow local food, use renewable energy and energy-efficient appliances, insulate your home, nurture soils and grasslands, run for office, explore high- and low-tech ways to capture greenhouse gases, support research and organizations that can mobilize more people and resources to find solutions … But that’s enough for starters.


Media Resources

Kat Kerlin is an environmental science writer and media relations specialist at UC Davis. She’s the editor of the “What Can I Do About Climate Change?” blog. @UCDavis_Kerlin

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