Collective push against climate change more powerful than you'd think

NASA scientist Peter Kalmus says small changes can make a big difference when it comes to protecting the environment. He's even written a book to inspire others.

Peter Kalmus sits outside California's Pasadena City Hall in his electric car. His sons, aged 10 and 12, are on steps of the grand building, waving signs with the slogans: "School strike for climate" and "Adults, act like it!"

Nature and Environment | 24.01.2019

Kalmus' Tesla is just the kind of luxury you'd expect a climate scientist at NASA's jet propulsion laboratory to have. But he doesn't exactly live a lavish lifestyle. Actually, he says, he usually cycles. He hasn't been on a plane since 2012, and he eats a vegetarian diet.

As someone who works in climate science, Kalmus feels there's no excuse not to reduce his carbon footprint. "This is an urgent crisis," he says. "Those of us who understand that should act like it's an urgent crisis."

Read more: 'Lowering our personal carbon footprint is a question of credibility'

Nature and Environment | 23.11.2018

Which is why he wrote Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution, a book with the message that we all have our bit to do, and lifestyle changes protect the climate don't have to be radical.

Small changes add up

Kalmus grows his own fruit and veg, keeps bees and used to run a car on waste vegetable oil. Other than that, his life is pretty much like that of any US American. But he has had to persuade those around him to get on board.

Peter Kalmus says small changes can add to something much bigger

"I've had to shift expectations both with my extended family and also with my work," he explains. "We hike more, we take more vacations locally. In California, there are lots of options for being out in nature as opposed to flying to a far-flung destination."

Read more: Six things you can do to avert climate catastrophe

By normalizing a lower-carbon lifestyle, Kalmus hopes to inspire others, even if the individual changes they make are small.

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Schoolchildren demand action on climate change

"I realized that if you try to make other people change, it doesn't usually work that well. You can't force anyone else to change. If they see you changing and smiling about it, they'll think 'that's not so bad' and they'll start to change, too."

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And small changes can add up to something much bigger, Kalmus believes.

"As more and more people start to change in their own lives it's going to have an effect on all the people around them and that's going to pave the way for collective action by shifting the culture," he says.

Read more: You won't stop climate change on your own — demand action!

More urgent than you think

One of the challenges to getting people to shift their behavior is that climate change can seem a remote concern, so long as our lives tick by unaffected.

"Sometimes, when it's a beautiful day, it can feel like it's far away and that it's a problem just for the future," Kalmus says. "But it's here now. If you don't think it's urgent, it's more urgent than you think."

On the flip side, the urgency — and scale of the crisis — means many of us feel our individual actions won't make much difference. That's another notion Kalmus wants to challenge.

Read more: More dire data, less climate change concern?

"There are a million things we can do," he says. "When I see other people acting, that's what gives me hope. I think we're in the middle of a huge social shift, possibly a tipping point on social action on climate change."

Hope in a new generation

Last year, 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg started skipping school on Fridays to strike for climate justice outside the Swedish parliament. Now, young people around the world are following her lead and making Friday a day of regular student protest. It's the kind of movement that gives Kalmus hope.

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has inspired young people around the world to stand up for their future

"I don't think the social environment was ready for the school strikes," he says. "There's a major shift. Things could change very rapidly from here, I think. The thing that's driving this increasing awareness is that climate change is getting worse, and that disasters are getting worse."

Read more: Germany's new green youth 

Anyone deeply involved in the science of climate change will admit the future can look pretty bleak. "It still affects me sometimes," Kalmus says. "But for me, the key thing to do is to act, and to basically do all we can and that transforms something that could lead you into despair or depression into something incredibly meaningful."

Right now, that meaningful action is coming from his own children, as they join together with other young people across the globe to stand up for the future of their planet.

How to stop climate change? Start now!

Number 10: Upgrade lightbulbs

You just bought a fancy lamp? Make it cooler with efficient lightbulbs. This is one of the small actions that make a difference in the long-term - and let's be honest, it's not a big effort. Some LED bulbs consume up to 90 percent less than traditional ones.

How to stop climate change? Start now!

Number 9: Hang laundry to dry

In cold or rainy countries, the task might be challenging - but these challenges are nothing compared to the worst consequences of climate change.

How to stop climate change? Start now!

Number 8: Recycling

Recycling has become normal behavior for thousands of people around the world. It definitely contributes to making a better world - but unfortunately, it is not enough.

How to stop climate change? Start now!

Number 7: Wash clothes on cold

Worried about your clothes shrinking in hot water? Here another reason to keep washing with cold water: Since it avoids turning on the water heater, cold-water washing also produces less greenhouse gas emissions.

How to stop climate change? Start now!

Number 6: Drive a hybrid

Until you are ready to get rid of your car completely, you could move to a hybrid electric car. But beware: The electricity that powers it is probably still coming from dirty fossil fuels.

How to stop climate change? Start now!

Number 5: Switch to a vegetarian diet

Beef production is the largest driver of tropical deforestation worldwide, with soy production closely following - mainly to feed animals. The carbon footprint of a meat-based diet is almost double that of a vegetarian one. Even reducing the amount of meat you eat makes a difference.

How to stop climate change? Start now!

Number 4: Buy green energy

Renewable energies are the new trend - but we are still largely dependent on fossil fuels such as coal. In countries like Germany, you can choose your energy provider - among some that draw from renewable sources.

How to stop climate change? Start now!

Number 3: Cancel one trans-Atlantic flight

Air travel is a major challenge when it comes to tackling climate change. Policy-makers are exploring ways to reduce the climate impact of flights - but in the meantime, you can start thinking twice before taking a plane. Particularly to cross the pond.

How to stop climate change? Start now!

Number 2: Don't use a car

Getting rid of your car is the second-most effective action you can take to tackle climate change. And riding your bike also helps keep you fit!

How to stop climate change? Start now!

Number 1: Have one less child

Giving birth to a new person consuming and polluting at the current rate of people in industrialized countries is the worst thing you can do for the planet, according to the study. But if you start now with the other nine actions, your kids might be able to live in a better world.

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