8 Ways You Can Help to Save the Planet
The health of people, animals, and their shared environment are interdependent. If one is damaged, the other two are bound to be affected in the short or long term. Since human health is thus dependent on the health of the environment and animals, the climate emergency is a colossal health concern — one that I believe threatens our species’ very survival.
While most every scientist believes that climate change is real and that carbon dioxide released from burning coal and other fossil fuels is a major culprit, there is less public awareness of the roles of other human activities, such as deforestation and industrial agriculture, in climate change. As I work in the animals/environment sector of philanthropy, I feel morally compelled to share what I have learned about climate change with others. The good news is that each of us can make a difference!
Trees not only absorb carbon dioxide from the air, but they also store carbon in their roots, leaves, and trunks. When trees are cut down, more carbon dioxide is released and less is absorbed. Trees also convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and are vital in ensuring that our atmosphere is oxygen-rich. Yet humans are chopping down trees at an alarming rate.
In Brazil, the production of beef is the biggest cause of deforestation. Although the Amazon produces oxygen for the world and modulates climate, cattle ranching is the largest driver of deforestation in every Amazon country, accounting for 80% of current deforestation rates. Climate change also damages forests; thus, forest loss is both a cause and an effect of climate change. In addition to climate change, deforestation destroys wildlife habitats, killing animals or forcing them to migrate to neighboring areas where they have to compete for food, water, and other vital resources.
In other parts of the world, such as Borneo and Sumatra, trees are being felled for palm oil. An ingredient in shampoo, toothpaste, detergent, frozen dinners, cookies, peanut butter, lotion, makeup, and more, palm oil is in 50% of all household and food products sold in the West. In addition to climate change, palm oil is the leading cause of orangutan extinction (Orangutan Foundation International). Plantations have also been connected to the destruction of tiger, elephant, and rhinos habitats (World Wildlife Fund).
In polling, 94% of Americans agree that animals raised for food deserve to live free from abuse and cruelty. Yet the majority of the nearly 10 billion (yes, with a “b”!) land-based animals, plus countless more aquatic animals, farmed for food each year in the U.S. live in unacceptable conditions that do not align with consumers’ stated values (ASPCA). In addition to immense animal cruelty and suffering, factory farms contribute to climate change by releasing enormous amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere — more than the entire global transportation industry (EcoWatch).
They also pose many other serious risks to human health, including antibiotic resistance, air and water pollution, and foodborne illnesses, to name just a few (EcoWatch). In fact, there are ominous links between COVID-19 and industrial animal farming. Furthermore, factory farms, where the conditions that led to the emergence of COVID-19 also exist, have been identified as hot spots for the cross-infection of diseases and the mutation of viruses, some with pandemic potential (Sentient Media). Note: Deforestation also makes us more vulnerable to pandemics like the deadly coronavirus; displacing wild animals puts them in closer proximity with each other and to humans, increasing human exposure to new infectious diseases (Rainforest Alliance)
What can we do? Following are a few tips based on my own efforts:
- 1. Reduce your meat consumption. The Reducetarian Foundation can help you get started.
- 2. Avoid factory farmed meat. EcoWatch can teach you how.
- 3. Find out the most commonly misunderstood food labels. The ASPCA has compiled a list.
- 4. Learn which products include palm oil and only purchase those made with sustainable palm oil (RSPO).
- 5. Learn more from the World Wildlife Fund.
- 6. Donate to organizations working to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Climate Store has compiled a list of its top 50.
- 7. Volunteer for a nonprofit dedicated to climate change. Opportunities can be found on VolunteerMatch.org, Idealist.org, and Allforgood.org
- 8. Fundraise for a charity. Some tips:
– Find a climate change nonprofit that resonates with you (perhaps on Climate Store) and launch a Facebook fundraiser.
– Reach out to a nonprofit about fundraising. Last year, I contacted the Surfrider Foundation and raised over $2,000 for the nonprofit by running a marathon. I set up a fundraising page on Classy.org.
– Run or walk a 5K for a nonprofit. I have run two virtual 5Ks in the past few months to raise funds for World Wildlife Fund (Virtual 5K for Nature) and Conservationists Raising Awareness for Species and Habitats (Virtual 5K for the 5).
– Commit to learning more and sharing your learnings with others.
Building a better and more sustainable future for all requires us to treat the planet better. That begins with gaining a better understanding of our own impact on the environment. If you want to do more, you can be a teacher, an advocate, a donor, a fundraiser, a volunteer, or even an athlete for change.