Lisa Kath

Q: On Earth Day, the U.S. committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. What are the most impactful actions we can take as individuals to help fight climate change?

Rebecca Lewison, conservation ecologist and professor of biology, answers.

July 21, 2021

We need real change in fossil fuel energy consumption, uses and emissions. I’m thrilled that the U.S. is committed to making that happen because that level of substantive change is only going to happen through policy changes.

As individuals we play a critical role in demanding systemic change from our government leaders. There are also meaningful everyday actions each of us can take. A part of this is just being aware and informed about climate change. It’s similar to how more people are aware of the importance of a healthy diet than they were five or 10 years ago. We need that same awareness about a healthy climate and a greater understanding of the impact our actions have on the environment: emissions from our cars, how much plastic we use, the trips we go on, all this equals our carbon footprints.

Reducing meat consumption is one great example of how micro-decisions at the individual level can change the status quo. I’m a vegetarian but my family eats meat so this is something we talk about at home and something I talk about with my students in my classes. A high level of meat consumption in the U.S., particularly beef, is tied to deforestation and an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. By reducing, not even eliminating, how much beef each person consumes, the actions of millions of individuals can make a real difference in lowering carbon emissions and decoupling consumption from environmental degradation.

Climate change is already part of our everyday lives. We need to adapt and mitigate that now. In Southern California, we’re witnessing sea levels rising, cliff erosion in places like Del Mar or inundation in Imperial Beach, and a now almost year-round wildfire season.

Climate solutions are about using less and being smarter with how we use resources: conserve water and energy, improve efficiency of cars and appliances, switch to desert landscaping instead of thirsty lawns, avoid the use-and-throw away culture of plastic forks, spoons, straws and cups, recognizing that by protecting the environment we are protecting our communities. Personally, I’m big on reduce, reuse, recycle. For me that means bringing my own mug to a coffee shop (when it’s safe to do so) and avoiding ‘use and dispose’ products and those with excess plastic packaging. —As told to Padma Nagappan