With growing awareness of climate change and the regressive rhetoric and actions of our current administration, it is more urgent than ever that we pay attention, take action, and do what we can to reduce our impact on the earth. Climate change is real and serious. Our environment is like a giant web--everything is connected, and the consequences are happening as we speak.
It may not seem significant that the earth's average temperature has increased by 1.4 degrees F, but that rise sent out a ripple effect of environmental changes. According to the UN's Global Biodiversity Outlook, a report on pressing climate issues, the ocean's acidity level has increased by 30% since pre-industrial times. In short, this alters the chemistry of the water, resulting in the loss of many imperative species and the destruction of the entire marine food web. Rising temperatures also mean sea ice is melting, causing the sea level to rise 6.7 inches in the last century, with the rate doubling in just the last decade. This leads to habitat loss, species endangerment, food chain disruption, and weather disasters like floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, heat waves, and droughts. These dangerous and alarming chain reactions are just from the ocean warming. There are countless other factors affecting our environment. For example, the ubiquity of styrofoam and single-use plastic is another devastating catalyst to many environmental changes. These materials end up in landfills, never decompose, kill animals, ruin habitats, and create an immense amount of waste to produce in the first place.
The picture is grim. But we are not helpless. Sometimes it can feel like there is no right answer; seemingly everything we touch is harmful to the environment. While we may not be able to completely eliminate our carbon footprints, there are plenty of very easy changes we can all make to do our part. Let's start in the kitchen.
1. Use less water.
When boiling pasta or vegetables and doing dishes, you can use a lot less than you think. When loading the dishwasher, try not to pre-rinse unless really necessary and only run the dishwasher when it is fully loaded.
To cut down on the number of glasses you have to wash, keep refilling one glass or keep a reusable glass or stainless steel water bottle. There is just no need to buy bottled water; if you are worried about the water quality, invest in a water bottle with a filter, a tap filter for your sink, or an eco-friendly filter pitcher.
2. Use heat efficiently.
Turn the oven off as soon as you are done using it. If it is chilly, leave your oven open to cool off; it will warm up the room! While you are cooking, try to keep the oven shut. Each time you open it, the temperature drops, forcing the oven to work harder to maintain the heat. Each time you use your oven, make the most of it! Roast your vegetables and bake cookies at the same time. Use as many racks as you can, rotating pans to ensure even cooking.
Use a stovetop burner that corresponds with the size of the pot or pan you are using. Using a bigger burner than you need will waste energy. When heating water for tea, fill the kettle with only the water you need.
3. Say no to single-use.
Invest in reusable grocery bags, and always keep a stack in your car. If you're in a pinch and don't have any with you, opt for paper bags at the store. They are more durable and can be reused and recycled many times.
Most fruits and vegetables come with their own packaging! Avoid produce packed in plastic, and don't use plastic produce bags. I realized that as long as you bag your groceries carefully (read: don't put canned goods on top of delicate produce) you can ditch plastic produce bags for just about everything. If you really need something to put fruits and vegetables in (lettuce is particularly delicate, for example) invest in reusable veggie bags.
Let your dishes air dry, and use cloth towels instead of paper towels whenever possible. Shop for items in bulk, storing them in glass containers. Say no to straws when you're eating out! (If you must have a straw, snag a stainless steel one.) For those of us with a daily coffee habit, these are the best travel mugs ever. Drop the plastic cutlery and pack your lunch in reusable containers!
There are about a billion ways to cut down on single-use plastics, so just be mindful. Pay attention and think about where extra plastic is hiding in our lives. Notice when the restaurant tosses a bunch of plastic cutlery in your takeout bag, and kindly return them. When you're buying meat and fish, ask the store to wrap your protein in paper instead of on a styrofoam tray. Making little changes like that will quickly train your brain to look for these opportunities. Before you know it, it will become second nature.
4. Get the most out of your food.
Stems, leaves, skins, peels: try to only remove what you need. For example, there is no reason to cut off the top half of a strawberry. Just cutting out that tiny little stem is plenty. Save things like onion skins, carrot peels, mushroom stems, and more. Whenever you're chopping vegetables, you can toss pretty much any little odds and ends into a jar or freezer bag, and make stock when you've accumulated enough scraps. If you're a cheese lover like me, add parmesan rinds into the mix! They give stocks a rich, deep flavor, just make sure it's not wax!
Meat and fish: Shop local, organic, grass-fed, and wild caught whenever possible. Be careful when reading labels. Marketers are exceedingly good at making things sound healthier and more sustainable than they are. So dig a little deeper and buy more consciously. Spending a little more on higher quality, better sourced proteins is also incentive to eat a little less meat. Going vegetarian for even one day a week seriously reduces your carbon footprint and has dozens of health benefits. Hop on the meatless Monday train!
When you do cook meat, save the scraps! Throw them into that freezer bag and make them into stock.
Shopping: Try to shop organically, locally, and in season when possible. Check your local farmer's markets. It is often more affordable than the grocery store, especially if you sign up for CSA. You'll pay upfront for a whole season's worth of incredible, organically grown produce for around $10-$20 per week.