At times, the threat of climate change can feel overwhelming. Up to one million species are on track to become extinct in the near future, water levels are rising at a rapid pace, and parts of northern Michigan are warming at a faster pace than other parts of the state and the country.
The effects of climate change are already being seen, says Kate Madigan, director of the Michigan Climate Action Network.
“We’re seeing impacts on agriculture and we’re seeing flooding,” Madigan said in response to the hot spots.
Harmful chemicals, pollution, and microplastics have been found in some of the Great Lakes and rivers in Michigan, forming another kind of water crisis alongside Flint.
She says people must take initiative to clean the environment and incorporate actions into their everyday lives to make a difference.
“We have a duty to protect the Great Lakes and to maintain this fresh water resource into the future,” Madigan said.
Cities are taking on some of these challenges now that President Donald Trump has pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, but there are a lot of actions that individuals can take as well.
Talk about climate change
One of the ways to solve a problem is to recognize that there is one. Initiate conversations surrounding climate in your communities and close circles to raise awareness and push for change.
“One of the most powerful things that people can do is talk to their family and friends about climate change and the concerns that we have,” Madigan said.
In Mount Pleasant, an activist group made up mostly of retirees, Citizens Climate Lobby, is starting those conversations.
Practice being energy-efficient
Turn off the lights and switch out appliances and lightbulbs for more energy efficient ones for a quick way to conserve energy in your home.
“The biggest sources of climate pollution come from electricity use, transportation and our buildings,” Madigan said.
She says heating and cooling systems in many buildings contribute to increased emission of greenhouse gasses. A way to combat that, would be to turn off air conditioning when not at home, or to dial it up to room temperature.
Installing solar panels at home is another way to save energy.
“There are ways to finance that, where overtime it can be cheaper than paying your electricity bill,” she said.
Driving less and biking and walking more lessens the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. Switching to a fuel-efficient or electric car can also be another way to help reduce emissions in the air and prevents wasteful fuel consumption.
Become more of a minimalist.
As consumers, buying less products and materials significantly reduces waste and your impact on the environment. This could be as easy as buying better quality and long-lasting goods, instead of low quality and easily damaged products that would be tossed out sooner.
Consuming less, also means making smart decisions in what food is put into your body. Madigan says limiting your intake of red meat should be a priority.
“Red meat has a greater greenhouse gas carbon footprint than a plant-based diet,” Madigan said.
Support climate action policies
With some city elections in November and the 2020 presidential elections coming up, there isn’t a better time to get involved politically.
“That means getting involved in local elections and supporting candidates who understand climate change, who are listening to the science, and who are going to work and fight for policies that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Madigan said.
Calling, sending letters, or meeting with representatives and candidates are quick ways to stay in contact and show officials what climate issues matter to you.
Madigan said it’s important to stay updated when policies that impact the environment are proposed.
Support organizations that are doing the work
Become involved at universities, organizations, and communities through volunteering and sharing information to continue to push the climate conversation.
Madigan said there are a lot of leadership in cities, and small groups of persistent people who are pushing for change.
“A lot of communities are working toward setting their own ambitious clean energy goals,” Madigan said.
The University of Michigan established campus sustainability goals in September 2011. Among the goals are ways to prevent waste, to invest in sustainable food options, and to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
If there aren’t any goals in your community, reach out and start that conversation. Or financially supporting existing causes and organizations is another way to be involved.
Kate Madigan emphasizes that supporting larger groups is crucial, because fighting climate change will require institutional change.
“It’s important to convey that while individual actions are important and we need to be doing everything we can, we are now in a climate crisis and individual actions are not enough.”
For more ways to help save the environment, visit miclimateaction.org.
This post was updated Thursday, August 15 at 12:15 p.m.