Resolve to make these simple changes month by month and see how far you'll be by the end of the year.
Some may argue that given the enormous scope of what needs to be done to combat climate change, individual actions – aside from voting – may not matter all that much.
But I disagree.You have probably heard the starfish parable; if not, it goes something like this.
A man was walking along a beach that was covered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked he came upon a young boy who throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one. Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy replied, “I’m saving these starfish, Sir." The old man chuckled aloud, “Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?” The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, “I made a difference to that one!”
Every action has a consequence, no matter how small. Stop using straws and maybe that one action saves a sea turtle. Can individual choices make a large impact? It's hard to quantify, but it's safe to say that we all have to be on board with change if we expect to right this ship.
With that in mind, here are areas to focus on in the new year, a simple resolution for every month – why should January 1 get all the fun? Even if you just make a little bit of progress each month, the effect will be cumulative and you will have made a difference, I promise.
January: DeclutterDecluttering is a hot topic in January, a great restart after a season of excess. If you're wondering why decluttering is sustainable, it's because of the promise of maintaining a more minimalist lifestyle. As in, stepping off of the consumer bandwagon and deciding not to participate in the harmful cycle of buying stuff that eventually ends up in the landfill.
February: Keep your eye on the thermostatIt's February, in much of the world, it's cold! But don't be the person who cranks up the thermostat to mimic the balmy climes of exotic locales. An informal poll of TreeHugger writers reveals a thermostat range of 63 to 68 degrees F in the winter – with all kinds of ways to stay cozy that don't involve burning fossil fuels.
Lloyd offered some great advice to keep the home warmer in this post, 5 energy-saving ways to avoid needing an electric space heater.
March: Reduce meat and dairy in your dietIf you eat meat and dairy and are reluctant to go to a fully plant-based diet, it's ok. Even just reducing the amount of animal products you consume can have a huge impact. If Americans even just swapped beef for beans, the US would immediately realize 50 to 75 percent of its emissions reduction targets.
For tips on how to eat less meat, see: How to be a reducetarian.
April: Walk or bike more, drive lessWe live in a world where people drive two miles to the gym so that they can walk for two miles on the treadmill. Meanwhile, emissions from cars are killing the planet. Think about ways in which you can drive less (or not at all!) and transport yourself by feet or bike.
For inspiration, read: Why bikes and e-bikes will eat cars
May: Eat local foodIt's like the fight song of environmentalists everywhere: Eat local! While every once in a while there is a study saying that buying locally doesn't make a difference – they usually aren't taking into consideration all the factors. Opting to buy food grown locally has enormous benefits, from supporting local farmers and boosting the local economy to saving transportation fuel and preserving open space. Not to mention sidestepping the food-borne illnesses that come from a broken food system.
Read more here: 10 reasons to eat as much local food as you can
June: Consider your air travelJune is the month to take a good long look at the elephant in the room: Air travel. To many of us, the idea of not traveling by air is a hard thing to consider. We may have the best green intentions, but giving up airplanes is a hard sell. As George Monbiot so succinctly puts it:
"If we want to stop the planet from cooking, we will simply have to stop traveling at the kind of speeds that planes permit.This is now broadly understood by almost everyone I meet. But it has had no impact whatever on their behavior. When I challenge my friends about their planned weekend in Rome or their holiday in Florida, they respond with a strange, distant smile and avert their eyes. They just want to enjoy themselves. Who am I to spoil their fun? The moral dissonance is deafening."
This summer, why not think about vacations closer to home? Or at the very least, look into carbon offsetting for your air travel. We have a lot on the topic, see:
July: Stop using single-use strawsOK, giving up straws is easier than giving up airplanes – this one seems relatively painless! Of course, some people need to use straws, but for the rest of us, just say no. There is a lot of debate about whether or not giving up straws is really going to address our prodigious plastic problem – but like the starfish parable above, one less plastic straw stuck in a turtle's nose is one turtle's life that is much improved. And we have to start with the plastic problem somewhere; straws are a great gateway item for reducing single-use plastics in your life.
And if that's not enough, there's always this: 5 ways plastic straws may be bad for your body
August: Use reef-friendly sunscreenIt has been pretty great that science has designed magical potions that we can smear on our skin to prevent being burned by that giant star upstairs. Unfortunately, some of the ingredients in those magical potions work like an evil hex on the world's corals. Ugh. But all is not lost, there are sunscreens that are reef-friendly, and a great resolution for August is to start using them.
September: Freeze thingsAs the thermometer starts its annual decline downwards, the farmers markets swing into peak abundance. If you love canning and have the know-how, it's a fabulous way to take advantage of all this local produce and store it away for the cooler months. But for those of us not well-practiced in the art of sterilizing jars and water baths, the freezer is a badass ally. Get started with the 6 tips to freeze food like a pro and How to freeze vegetables. Then learn How to freeze food without plastic.
October: Stop raking your lawnThis may be the best resolution ever: "I resolve to stop raking my lawn." What? Yes. See:
November: Adopt some food-waste strategiesAs feasting season goes into high gear, so does wasting season. So. Much. Food. Waste. And if you don't think it's such a big deal, consider this: If food waste were a country, it would place third – following the US and China – for impact on global warming. Chad Frischmann, vice president and research director at Project Drawdown, says that "Reducing food waste is one of the most important things we can do to reverse global warming."
So here's what to focus on in November:
December: Resist wasteful consumerismAh, December. A month devoted to family, holidays, gatherings, and feasts. And shopping, shopping, shopping. What have we become?! The average American spends $700 on holiday gifts each year, totaling more than $465 billion. Think of all the STUFF that equates to. What happens when that s465 billion dollar worth of stuff has reached the end of its often short life? It goes to the landfill to live for generations, at best. Just say no to the waste of making meaningless holiday junk and the waste that it becomes. Shop carefully, make things, buy previously-owned, exchange experiences instead of gifts – there are many ways around the consumerism trap, including the ideas below.
Imagine if you make even a little progress with these 12 resolutions – the planet would be that much better off. Saving the world, one starfish at a time. Happy new year!