I’m not sure my editors will let me get away with this woeful lead (editors’ note: we did), but here goes: We’re headed down a dismal path, and if we don’t get our act together pronto, we’re in trouble.
“Humanity is waging war on nature. This is senseless and suicidal,” writes United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in the February 2021 U.N. report Making Peace with Nature: A scientific blueprint to tackle the climate, biodiversity and pollution emergencies. “The consequences of our recklessness are already apparent in human suffering, towering economic losses and the accelerating erosion of life on Earth.”
Intense—and that’s just the first three sentences of the 168-page advisory.
In the spirit of not being terrified toward inaction, let’s start small. Here are 7 ways you can be kind to Earth in a day:
1. Take stock
This is kind of a freebie, but it’s legit. If you’ve never considered how your behavior affects nature and the planet, now’s your chance. Starting somewhere is better than not starting at all.
2. Contemplate the ingredients in your food and other products
Knowing what we consume makes us more informed, and that means we can make better choices for Earth.
Here’s an ingredient to consider, given it is ubiquitous and there are arguments both for and against it: palm oil—or palm oil known by many other names, including, simply, “vegetable oil” and “vegetable fat.” Also: palmate, glyceryl, stearate, sodium laureth sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfate and octyl palmitate, to name a few, according to the World Wildlife Organization.
Palm oil is in everything from food to body products, and it’s efficient to grow. But its harvesting isn’t great for the planet. That said, some companies are trying to improve processes, and alternatives to palm oil could be worse for Earth.
3. Eat one entirely plant-based meal
Oprah Winfrey, who has a huge megaphone, recently got lots of attention for the one-plant-based-meal-a-day suggestion, though it came from environmental activist Suzy Amis Cameron, whom Winfrey interviewed.
Animal agriculture is a huge contributor of greenhouse gas emissions and, in turn, worsens climate change. It also uses lots of water.
Red meat—beef, goat and lamb—ranks worst, according to the World Resources Institute. It takes roughly 460 gallons of water to make a quarter-pound hamburger compared with roughly 27.5 for a quarter-pound of corn, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior, which has a fun tool that lets you guess how much water it takes to produce all sorts of things.
It also costs more to eat meat and dairy products than grains, legumes and nuts.
4. Strip down and bulk up
You can cool down and warm up in many more carbon-friendly ways than adjusting your thermostat.
Hot? Turn on a fan. Cold drinks help too. Consider factors that might lead to your flush: Are you in a room that bakes in direct sunlight? Is a computer on your lap? Is your hair resting on your forehead or neck? And the most apparent but perhaps the most ignored: Are you wearing too much clothing?
Cold? Warm up by wearing slippers and piling on layers. Your first layer should be close to your skin in order to trap heat. Physical activity builds heat, so if you’re sedentary, get up periodically and move around. Open the shades/blinds/curtains so that sunshine streams in. And consume warm drinks, the simplest of which is water; stick your full glass in the microwave.
5. Say no to one eco-unfriendly thing
What can you do without? Possibilities: straws, single-use plastic, plastic packaging on produce, plastic grocery bags—unless you’re going to reuse these things.
6. Rethink water
Everyone runs water a bit before they shower. So if you wash up today, use a bucket to catch what would otherwise go down the drain, and then use it to water plants, soak dishes, flush toilets, etc.
Turn off the faucet when you’re not using its water stream while brushing your teeth, cleaning veggies, washing your hands, etc.
7. Pick up litter
If you leave your house today, keep an eye out for litter, and then pick it up and dispose of it properly. This matters especially when it comes to plastic that would otherwise go down a storm drain.
Many of these suggestions are unremarkable and obvious, but they’re still worthwhile—and sometimes we just need a nudge to get going. Plus, these strategies are simple ways to move toward low-waste living, which makes them doable in a day.
Mitra Malek writes and edits wellness-related content. Some of her attempts at low-waste living have been cause to chuckle.