Five Ways You Can Fight Climate Change Without Washington’s Help

Legislation, policy and diplomacy are the best ways to fight climate change.  President Obama had a great impact through policy and diplomacy. But now Trump comes along and puts in place one of the most anti-environmental cabinets ever.  The next four years will see a roll back of environmental protections of epic proportions — at a time when we can least afford it.  So what avenues do we have to pursue positive change?

Here are five ways that YOU can fight climate change without Washington’s help…

1. Lead by Example

When you lead by example your life is a model for others.  That means you reduce-reuse-repurpose and recycle to decrease your impact on the environment.  This is especially important for Americans, Europeans and others living in developed countries.  As the saying goes… “Live lightly, so that others may simply live”.

For example, the average American produces about 20 metric tons of CO2 a year, compared to the world average of 4 metric tons.  A big part of that is the 656 gallons of gas a year that the average American uses in a year. So driving less and being more efficient when you do drive can have big payoffs.

Carbon footprint, US compared to the world
The blue foot is the average US resident’s carbon footprint. Red is for an average US homeless person, and green is the world average.  From “Carbon Footprint Of Best Conserving Americans Is Still Double Global Average”,

The average trip length by car in the US is about 6 miles, which could easily be done by riding a bike in most areas.  That would give you huge health benefits too!  A win-win, or “co-benefits” in the language of climate adaptation — reducing carbon dioxide emissions -and- making you healthy.

Often these short trips are better done by car.  Maybe you need to transport something heavy, or maybe you have multiple trips to do, or live in a place with no bike lanes, or maybe you live in Houston like the Climate Advisor and it’s just too damn hot outside.  In that case getting a more efficient vehicle would be a huge help.

A study done not long ago showed that if most trips are 6 miles or so in length, then an electric car is more than adequate.  In fact, 95% of all trips could be done by an electric vehicle (or hybrid!).  That would be a huge reduction in carbon dioxide -and- save you money on gas.  Another win-win!

Another big part of our personal CO2 production is the energy we use to power our homes.  Switching to alternative energy is the single biggest change we can make to reduce our carbon footprint.  And in fact, it’s really not a big change at all, just a change in where your energy comes from!  You can keep on hogging energy, but have a much smaller carbon footprint just by switching to alternative energy.

CO2 made for different sized homes using different energy sources
From an earlier post showing the impacts of switching to alternative energy on your personal CO2 production. The dashed line shows that a small apartment powered by coal-generated electricity makes way more CO2 than a large 6 bedroom house powered by alternative energy.  Click on graphic to go to that article.

Other things we can do that will have a positive impact on the climate and your life, include: buying less stuff, saving more, living in a smaller house, driving less, walking or biking more, eating less meat, recycling, etc.  All of these things lead to less money spent, better mental and physical health, connection with your community, and reduction of your carbon footprint on the earth.  If everyone did these things your neighborhood and the world would be a better place.

2. Legal Action

Donating to major environmental organizations that pursue litigation and legislative action can help slow the dismantling of environmental protections.  Many organizations are willing and able to take up this lever of change on your behalf.  Some great things have been done by this method, for instance upholding the EPA’s right to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant.

As a recent article by Inverse points out, government organizations like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are required by law to take action against polluters and enforce clean air laws.  If they don’t enforce the laws they can be sued in court.  This is called a “citizen suit“, whereby a law firm representing citizens involved in a cause, sue the Federal government for failing to enforce existing laws.  The only way around this would be for Congress to pass new laws that change how those government agencies enforce environmental laws; something that is a lot harder to do.

Some of the environmental organizations that are willing to sue the government on your behalf include:

  • Earth Justice – an environmental law firm that seeks to protect wild areas, promote healthy communities, and advocate for clean energy and a healthy climate.  They are a four star charity according to Charity Navigator.
  • Environmental Defense Fund – The EDF “work(s) to solve the most critical environmental problems facing the planet, focusing on mitigating climate change, restoring the ocean’s bounty, protecting wildlife and their habitats, and safeguarding our health.”  Another four star charity according to Charity Navigator.
  • Sierra Club Foundation – “The Sierra Club Foundation promotes efforts to educate and empower people to protect and improve the natural and human environment.”  Yet, another four star charity according to Charity Navigator.

Donations to these organizations are tax deductible.  Also, be sure to opt-out of their mailing lists if you don’t want to get tons of junk mail, although they do generate more money for their operations by selling your contact info.  If you want to get off the lists just go to the “Privacy Policy” section of each organizations website and follow the instructions to “opt-out”.

3. Monetary Action

Another important tool that the average person can use is the power of your purse or wallet.  What this means is spending your money with companies that are concerned about sustainability and environmental protection, and not with companies whose products, projects, and other activities contribute to climate change.

Of course, everything everyone does makes some amount of CO2, but some companies willfully ignore or do excess harm.  The main example of such companies are those involved with the extraction and production of fossil fuels.  This would also include the banks that finance those companies.

Two ways to use your money to fight climate change include divestment and wise spending or choosing where to spend your money to reward those companies that work in accord with your values and morals.

The best example of divestment has been the movement to force pension funds, universities and local governments to divest from fossil fuel based assets. This blog has previously written on divestment of your personal assets from fossil fuels.  Divestment is an activity that has not yet realized it’s full potential, and one of the few tools that has a significant impact in this age where many corporations are keenly sensitive to how they are perceived by the public.

A great opportunity to have your money do good is the ongoing fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).  As discussed before, the DAPL is purely about profit for the pipeline builders, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) and Sunoco Logistics, and will not increase American energy security one bit.  ETP could probably care less about your opinion, however the banks that fund ETP to build the DAPL are keenly sensitive to public opinion.

An investigation into the funding of the DAPL by revealed the complex web of banks funding that project, with Citibank leading the financing drive for DAPL by recruiting other banks.

Armed with this information, The Climate Advisor recently cancelled two credit cards from Citibank, and got a letter back from them (see below).

The water protectors bought us more time to divest our personal assets from these banks.  The longer it takes to complete one of these projects the more it costs and the less likely it will be completed.  So when you do use the power of your dollars be sure to tell them why so they get the message.

4. Local Political Action

Local political action by cities, counties and states has recently become even more important with the election of Trump.  Cities, where about 60% of the US population lives, and many states, are adopting aggressive policies to reduce carbon emissions to combat climate change.

For example, the state of California has mandated a cut in carbon emissions of 40% by 2030, and an increase in its use of alternative energy to 50% by 2032 (it already gets 25%!).  This is not only a big win for the climate, but also a big economic win for California by investing heavily in the technologies that will power the 21st century.

A great example of local political action is found in Florida.  The Florida state government, under direction of Governor Rick Scott, denies the impact of climate change, going so far to ban any state employee from using those words.  However, local governments are not buying into that and are spending tens of millions of dollars to adapt to climate change.  Miami-Dade County has formed their Climate Change Advisory Task Force to deal with the impacts of climate change on one of the most vulnerable cities in the country.

Miami-Dade also joined in with Broward, Palm Beach, and Monroe Counties to form the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact to coordinate climate adaptation efforts across counties.  What’s interesting (or maybe ironic) is that these counties probably represent the majority of Florida’s population, yet their governor is still in denial.  America Adapts did an excellent podcast about the “ban” on climate change in Florida and the state versus local positions.  Well worth the listen.

So please show some love to your local and state elected officials who are on the front lines in protecting you from the impacts of climate change.  I’m sure they would really like to hear a kind word of support from you.

5. Protest

The last area of action is the most potent in the long run.  No great change in history ever came without people marching in the streets.  The People’s Climate March showed that folks around the world — lots of them — are ready for a drastic change.  The next People’s Climate March happens on April 29th, which coincides with Trump’s 100th day in office.  So click on this link to join the march in Washington, D.C., or on this link to join elsewhere.

Another great protest march happens on Earth Day, the 22nd of April; that’s the March For Science! Come join scientists of all types and citizens concerned about the mischaracterization of science as a matter of partisan choice and not the best approximation of God’s truth that we humans can hope to achieve. Polluting corporations and  dictators want to silence scientists because truth is what they fear.  So come out and show your support.

Other ways to be proactive include joining organizations such as, or maybe supporting those who are willing to put themselves in harms way to stop development of fossil fuels — like the people at Standing Rock fighting against the Dakota Access Pipeline, or those willing to take more confrontational actions.  By whatever means, let your voice be counted among those facing down the most profitable and destructive industry in human history.  Your health and well-being and that of your children literally depends on it.

An estimated crowd of 35-50,000 gathers near the Washington Monument on Feb 17, 2013 to protest the Keystone XL pipeline and support action on climate change. From Jmcdaid,


So in sum, here’s what we ALL must do…

  1. Lead by example by driving less, driving as economical a vehicle as we can afford, biking and walking more (it’s healthy!), powering our homes with alternative energy, and showing other folks how it’s done.
  2. Take legal action or support those organizations that are willing to file civil suits against the government on our behalf.  Federal agencies can not just ignore their legally mandated responsibilities.  Make them toe the line.
  3. Take monetary action against carbon polluters by using the power of your purse or wallet!  Some companies are not sensitive to their destructive actions or the will of the people, but the banks that fund them are.  So stick it to them!
  4. Support local political action.  Your local and state government officials and civil servants understand the threats of climate change because the rubber hits the road at the local level.  So encourage them with a kind email, letter or phone call.  And if they’re not doing enough, well then give them an ear full!
  5. Participate in non-violent protest and civil disobedience.  Follow the lead of the brave people of history, let your morals be your guide.  Attend a protest, a sit in, a blockade, or whatever it takes to stop the development of fossil fuel infrastructure.

These are the five tools that we are given in this time when the government has been co-opted by robber barons and those who would fill their own pockets at the expense of the public good.  The madness has to stop, and that “stop” starts with you.  Good luck!