You’ve probably heard our planet is in trouble: glaciers are melting, sea levels are rising, and wildfires, hurricanes, and heat waves are becoming more severe. And you’ve probably had friends, influencers, and media outlets tell you how to help: “Don’t use plastic straws” “Go vegan” “Only use reusable bags.”

But while these tips may be helpful, are they actually impactful?

As it turns out, a lot of the trendy global warming solutions do not make the biggest impact. While it’s beneficial to cut your plastic straw usage, they only account for .0025% of the plastic in our oceans, according to The Atlantic. Not to mention, our plastic problem barely makes a dent in rising temperatures.

So what does?

Global warming, explained

Let’s start from the beginning. Global warming is caused by too many ‘greenhouse gases’ in our atmosphere – aka, gases that trap heat and warm our planet.

The #1 sector responsible for greenhouse gas emissions in the US is transportation, and cars account for 82% of this, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Electricity production comes at a close second.

Causes of Global Warming - Lemonade Blog

Why do transportation and electricity harm our planet so much? To generate power for these sectors, you need to burn fossil fuels like oil, gas, or coal. Burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide, which makes up 82% of the gases in our atmosphere that trap heat, according to the EPA.

In other words, too much transportation and electricity means too many gases in our atmosphere that warm our planet.

But there are other causes of global warming, too. While carbon dioxide takes up most of the headlines, there’s another greenhouse gas that’s seriously warming our planet: methane. It’s responsible for about 20% of global warming, according to National Geographic, and a big portion of methane comes from cows (more on that later).

So who is emitting the most greenhouse gasses? Consider this:

  • The US is responsible for the highest number of emissions, and Americans have the highest carbon footprint per capita
  • 100 companies (most of them oil and coal producers) are responsible for 71% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The best global warming solutions

To figure out the most impactful global warming solutions, we looked into the behaviors that have the highest impact on the biggest causes. For example, we asked: What is the most impactful way for individuals to cut down electricity usage? And while things like composting, smart thermostats, and recycling help our planet, they do not address the biggest sources of global warming as much as other solutions do.

We also asked: Which of these high-impact solutions are realistic for individuals to implement, right now? While there are some super impactful solutions that aren’t on this list, such as wind turbines, solar farms, and regenerative agriculture, we purposely omitted them because they’re impossible to implement at an individual level.

While you’d ideally implement all of the following solutions, the truth is, it’s difficult to live a life optimized for sustainability. Maybe driving a car is the only way you can get to work, or it’s too difficult for you to lower your heating bill in the winter.

That’s okay. Not everyone can do everything- the most important thing is that we all do the most we can to help save our earth. So here’s a toolbox of the most impactful solutions for global warming (in no particular order) that you can do, today – and can pick and choose as you see fit:

 1. Plant trees

What to do:

  • Plant trees in tropical rainforests in Brazil, Indonesia, India, Colombia, and Madagascar. (If you plant trees through Treedom, you can choose the type of tree you plant based on how much carbon it removes from the atmosphere.)
  • Protect what remains of our existing tropical forests through nonprofits such as Cool Earth

Why it’s impactful:

Reforestation is the most cost-effective way to prevent global warming, according to research presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference. Why?

Trees absorb carbon dioxide (reminder: which makes up 82% of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere), so planting more trees can help reduce the amount of carbon in our atmosphere. In fact, we could remove roughly two-thirds of human-made carbon just by letting all forests regrow, according to a study published in the journal of Science. Yep, two-thirds.

Plus, as Jaron Pazi from Treedom told us,

“Trees do more than absorb carbon. When planted in sustainable agroforestry systems, they result in enhanced biodiversity, water retention, soil health, food security and economic development for local communities.”

But not all forests are created equal – some remove carbon from our atmosphere more effectively than others. According to a paper published in Science Advances, tropical forests in countries like Brazil, Indonesia, and India will most efficiently pull carbon out of the atmosphere, since they’re home to a huge amount of biodiversity and play a major role in the planet’s air and water cycle.

2. Create more sustainable transportation habits

You knew this one was coming…

What to do:

Do at least one of these things:

  • Instead of ordering a private ride, do a rideshare
  • Avoid rapid acceleration and braking, and turn on cruise control on longer trips
  • Walk and bike to your destination whenever possible
  • When buying a new car, choose a climate-friendly option (here’s a good tool to find a climate-friendly car)

Why it’s impactful:

As aforementioned, cars are one of the biggest contributors to climate change: 82% of emissions from transportation come from cars. And while cutting automotive transportation out of your life would make the most impact, this isn’t possible for most people. So instead, tweak a few habits that will have a bigger collective impact.

Global Warming Causes - Lemonade Blog

For example, if you refrain from harsh braking and rapid acceleration, you can cut your fuel consumption by as much as 40%, according to the US Department of Energy. If you also keep your tires inflated and car maintained, you’ll cut your fuel consumption by nearly half when driving.

3. Lower your heating bill

What to do:

In the winter, take steps to lower your heating bill:

  • Set your thermostat at 68 degrees F, and lower your home’s temperature 7-10 degrees for 8 hours a day. (But don’t turn down the heat more than 10 degrees if it’s only for a few hours- it’ll take too much energy to heat back up.)
  • Shore up your windows, seal up the doors, and plug up dafty holes (here’s a comprehensive guide that shows you how).

Why it’s impactful:

Electricity is one of the biggest causes of greenhouse gas emissions, and heating systems are the single biggest energy expense in the home. So lowering your heating bills is the most impactful way reduce your electricity consumption (and isn’t so bad for your wallet, either).

In addition to monitoring your thermostat, improving insulation and airtightness through your walls, roof, and windows is a great way to avoid heat from escaping your home, since the biggest sources of heat loss are your walls (35%), roof (20%), and windows (15%).

 4. Divest from coal, and encourage others to do the same

What to do:

  • Divest your 401k from fossil fuels (you can analyze your stocks on fossilfreefunds.org, which shows what % of your funds are invested in fossil fuel companies)
  • Make sure your bank, insurance company, and university (some of the world’s biggest investors in coal) have agreed to divest. If they haven’t, call on them to do so.

Why it’s impactful:

Coal-burning power plants are by far the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Aka, coal is a big deal.

20% of industrial coal emissions are funded by public investors. So when people or companies stop investing, it’s more difficult for coal producers to finance more coal production.

For example, “the more insurance companies that join the divestment effort, the more difficult it will become for companies to derive significant revenue from burning coal,” Bloomberg Journalist Bryony Collins wrote. That’s why Lemonade became the first US insurance company to not invest in coal.

Case in point: When the world’s biggest coal company (Peabody) announced bankruptcy, it said the divestment movement had made it difficult to raise capital.

5. Eat less beef

What to do:

Create a rule for yourself that limits your beef consumption, such as:

  • Don’t cook beef at home – only eat it out
  • Only eat beef on the weekends
  • If there’s an option to choose between beef or another protein when ordering a dish, go with the alternative protein

Why it’s impactful:

Emissions from animal agriculture account for around 15% of all human emissions, and beef is responsible for 41% of that, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

If cattle were their own nation, they would be the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Let that sink in.

Global Warming - Lemonade Blog

Why?

Beef production requires 28x more land, 6x more fertilizer, and 11x more water than these other proteins than the calorie-equivalent of pork or chicken, according to a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

And if you factor in deforestation to make way for livestock, along with methane emissions from cows and fertilizer use, beef production creates as much greenhouse gas emissions as all the world’s cars, trucks, and airplanes combined, according to The Guardian.

6. Educate girls

What to do:

Give to a charity that makes school more affordable and accessible for girls in low- and lower-middle-income countries, such as the Malala Fund.

Why it’s impactful:

In the most comprehensive report on effective climate solutions, Project Drawdown named educating girls as the #6 most impactful solution (for reference, composting is #60, and rooftop solar is #10).

That’s because women with more years of education have fewer children, and therefore a lower carbon footprint. Not only that, but “women have a disproportionate share of decision making around water, cooking, food waste, fuel choices, and how homes are heated, built, and used,” said scientist Jonathan Foley. “It’s one of the most powerful climate solutions of all.”

“Educating girls is one of the most cost-effective, high-impact ways for every nation to fight rising temperatures,” Shabana Basij-Rasikh shared on TED. “It’s not a topic most Westerners think about, since girls’ education is a given. ”

7. Advocate for a healthy planet

What to do:

Support climate legislation by doing one or more of these things:

  • Send a letter to party leaders and candidates telling them your vote depends on their stance on global warming
  • Volunteer for a candidate that supports efforts to stop global warming
  • Talk to friends and family about the importance of voting for climate action
  • Write a letter to your elected leaders to support and implement a set of climate solutions

Why it’s impactful:

Reminder: 100 companies produce 71% of emissions worldwide. What will compel big companies to act sustainably consistently, on a large scale? Lawmakers.

They can:

  • Place limits on the amount of carbon companies are allowed to emit
  • Provide resources to prevent emissions leaks from equipment
  • Subsidize efficient industrial technology to make it more affordable

They can also help individuals act more sustainably. Copenhagen’s government is working to make it the world’s first carbon-neutral city by 2025, by installing bike lanes across the city, restricting polluting cars, and building new wind turbines.

And how can we enact political change? It all starts with you.

8. Convince your friends to behave sustainably

What to do:

Choose an impactful, sustainable behavior from this list, and try to convince your friends to do it too. Using the example of ridesharing, you can say things like:

1. “I talked to Jordan, Leah, Hannah, and Danny, and they’re all ridesharing. Are you?”

2. “When’s the next time you’re going to rideshare, and what app are you going to use?”

3. “You’re a ride sharer, aren’t you?”

4. “I’ll text you next week to see how the ride sharing has been going!”

Why it’s impactful:

While you’re on your way to becoming a climate warrior, your friends and family members might not. Because of a little thing called the drop-in-the-bucket effect (read: “my actions won’t actually make a difference”), 80% of Americans don’t consistently make an effort to live a sustainable life, according to Pew.

And since Americans have the largest footprint worldwide, convincing your friends and family to reduce their emissions can transcend our own impact, and inspire others to help save our planet as well.

Giving your friends these nudges is scientifically proven to help sway them to act sustainably. For example, one of the biggest findings in behavioral science is that humans are motivated to do what other people around them are doing. If you tell your friend that your other friends are using sustainable light bulbs, they’ll be more compelled to do so, too.

Become a climate warrior

Adopting a sustainable life isn’t easy, especially since it’s difficult to feel that your actions are truly making a difference. And each time you take a step to prevent global warming, you’re usually giving up something, whether it’s time, money, or convenience. That’s why you should make sure the sacrifice you’re making actually has a significant impact.

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