It has become clear that climate change is already affecting life in Canada. Warmer temperatures increase the chances of extreme weather; this summer saw more than 90 heat wave–related deaths in Quebec and one of British Columbia’s worst wildfire seasons. The scale of the problem, and its urgent nature — a dire report released on Monday from the United Nations’ climate change panel warned that countries need rapid and far-reaching changes to limit warming — means it’s easy to feel helpless. But don’t despair — yes, climate change is scary, but there are lots of tangible things individuals can do to help.
Pick an issue you really care about — and get involved
Three Surprising Ways Climate Change Is Already Affecting Your Life The (literally) planet-encompassing scale of climate change means there are also many ways to take action. Sara Hastings-Simon, managing director of the clean economy program for the Pembina Institute, a non-profit think tank, suggests looking at different levels of involvement, from the short term (lifestyle adjustments like switching to public transit) to the midterm (making energy-efficient appliance purchases) to pushing for long-term policy changes (voting). Whether you’re an urbanite encouraging friends to start biking or a farmer looking for greener agricultural practices, actions of all sizes add up in terms of cutting overall carbon emissions.
“One of the things that is actually really helpful is just talking to your friends and your neighbours — being open about the fact that you are concerned with climate change, and that you want to see governments taking action on it,” Hastings-Simon says.
If you have money to invest, do it responsibly
If you’re lucky enough to have money to invest, consider responsible investment. Traditional funds often include carbon-intensive investments, such as fossil fuel companies — research last year found that a traditional investment fund of $100K has a larger annual carbon footprint than a roundtrip flight or a year of driving a gasoline-powered car. Responsible investment encourages investing in low-carbon funds and avoiding environmentally risky funds.
If you’re not sure where to start, the Responsible Investment Association (RIA) has a directory of responsible investment advisors on their website, as well as a list of responsible investment funds. “Tell your adviser what societal issues are important to you, and then ask for investment options that are suitable for you. If your adviser gives you a blank stare, you may need to find a different adviser,” says Dustyn Lanz, CEO of the RIA. And, if you invest through your workplace, ask for a responsible option. You’d be joining an increasing number of funds (from New York City to Ireland) divesting from fossil fuels altogether or investing in low-carbon options.
Exercise your power as a consumer
While an individual purchase may not seem like much, customer demand does push innovation for more eco-friendly technologies. “What really motivates companies to develop those solutions for tomorrow is knowing that over the long term, there is going to be demand,” says Simon-Hastings. A 2015 study, for example, found that 72 percent of millennials were willing to spend more on sustainable products. This type of consumer demand puts pressure on companies to be more socially responsible.
And, if you can, try to make decisions that will benefit both you and the environment in the long term. Often, something might seem more expensive at first, but Hastings-Simon urges people to consider costs and energy usage over time. For example, look for the Energy Star certification when you buy new appliances.
Ask political candidates about their climate plans — then get out and vote
Of course, combatting climate change is going to take a group effort, and whether you’re supporting more green space in your neighbourhood, asking for more provincial accountability from large-scale industrial polluters, or demanding that Canada take more international climate action, voting with the climate in mind for all different levels of government can have a real impact. There are municipal elections coming up this October for the Northwest Territories, Yukon, British Columbia, Ontario, Manitoba, and rural Saskatchewan. There’s also provincial elections in New Brunswick and Quebec this fall, and a federal election next year. (Many Canadian voters have ranked climate change as a major concern for the federal race.)
It’s important for everyone to call their leaders to account. “Climate change shouldn’t be a left issue or a right issue, we all want a better future for our kids and our grandkids. Now is the time to build bridges. I think as individuals, and collectively, we have to say no to polarization,” says Sherry Yano, manager of renewable energy at the David Suzuki Foundation.
Hastings-Simon advises voters to look for candidates with credible climate plans. By credible, she means plans with tangible details that cover the economy as a whole, using more than one policy tool. This means, she says, it’s a red flag if candidates claim one policy can change everything — a good plan will encompass multiple solutions and won’t be vague.
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“You don’t have to be perfect in all these decisions you make, but think about it when you make a purchase — ‘Can I reuse this? Can I reduce my personal pressure on the earth?’” says Mary MacDonald, the senior vice-president and chief conservation officer of WWF-Canada. “I think sometimes people are turned off by this idea they have to be perfect, so [they say], ‘Forget it, I won’t do anything.’ I don’t think that’s the way. It’s a lot of small positive actions that add up.”
And of course, it’s always okay to start small. For example, Yano suggests that “not wasting things is simple and a no-brainer. I think it is part of Canadian values. No one would put their hand up and say, ‘Who wants to waste a bunch of stuff?’” Simply thinking about all the resources required to produce the goods and services we consume can lead to more environmentally friendly choices.
“It’s hard to change things overnight, but if we don’t start working on them now for the future, the future will be overnight when we get there and we’re sort of out of time. We need to do it all,” says Hastings-Simon. “When I get overwhelmed, that’s what I think about. What are the things I can do today, and then what are the things I can do today to start preparing so tomorrow I can do even more?”
Listen to author and journalist Arno Kopecky talk about stories that put us back in touch with the natural world on The Big Story podcast.
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