Review: 'Things You Can Do' Is a Personal Guide to Tackling the Climate Crisis

A new book will inform and inspire you to take action at home.

Things You Can Do book cover

Treehugger

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Most Treehugger readers probably feel overwhelmed by the climate crisis. There's so much information about what's gone wrong, and everything that has to change, and how quickly we need to do it that it can feel incapacitating. The challenge is so huge and daunting that what's a lone individual supposed to do?

Stop crying over spilled milk, apparently, and get on with it! There's plenty a person can do to change their own lifestyle, and this—if done by enough people—will amount to meaningful change. As is always the case with societal shifts, you can't wait around for everyone else to start doing things differently; sometimes you have to just start, and others will follow once they see your example.

A new book by journalist (and regular Treehugger contributor) Eduardo Garcia strives to inspire people to establish and maintain eco-friendlier lives. "Things You Can Do: How to Fight Climate Change and Reduce Waste," inspired by a series of articles that Garcia wrote for the New York Times, is jam-packed with practical, sensible tips that make the enormous task of minimizing one's impact actually seem attainable. The pages are beautifully illustrated by Sara Boccaccini Meadows, which makes it feel like less of a how-to manual and more of an aspirational guide. 

Garcia is a firm believer in the power of individual choices to effect change. The book opens with a beautiful parable about a tiny hummingbird that's trying to put out a forest fire by scooping water in its minuscule beak. The other animals say it's pointless, but the hummingbird replies, "I'm doing the best I can."

Garcia follows up on this, writing, "Research cited by the United Nations shows that households are responsible for two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions... If each one of us reduces the carbon emissions associated with our lifestyles, it will go a long way toward fighting climate change."

The book opens with a decent scientific overview of the solar system, the sun's radiation, and how the atmosphere acts as a natural thermostat. It talks about weather, climate, and greenhouse gases, and what happens when more gases get trapped in the lower atmosphere and how that leads to higher average temperatures. The chapter wraps up with carbon footprints and the fact that we have no time to lose.

Things You Can Do to save water and energy at home (book review)

Ten Speed Press

The second chapter looks at energy production, explaining and comparing the various sources of heating and electricity. "Coal is the enemy," Garcia writes, "[and] is used to generate approximately 40 percent of the world's electricity." A shift to renewables is crucial, and fortunately developments are leading in that direction—but it's not yet at the point of supporting current consumption levels. That's where his pointers for minimizing heating, cooling, and other energy-intensive activities at home could be useful.

Food is the next topic, with a brief overview of the industrial agriculture's excessive emissions, followed by things you can do to eat a more climate-friendly diet. Garcia offers an interesting section on pet food, pointing out that it's better to choose pet foods made from meat industry byproducts than human-grade ingredients.

Regenerative agriculture, organic cultivation, urban farms, and backyard composting are, of course, the ideal, and Garcia takes an optimistic view of how these can feed a growing global population and be accessible to city-dwellers. 

less is more spread, via Things You Can Do book

Ten Speed Press

Next, a discussion about transportation and how we need to get out of cars and into public transportation, bicycles, e-bikes, and our own two feet. This would improve air quality, reduce deaths, save money, and make us healthier overall. Garcia writes, "The best solution is often the simplest. Half of all car trips are less than 3 miles long. That means that we often take the car when walking or biking will do just fine."

The last chapter, "What a Waste," covers a broad range of consumer goods that ultimately get thrown away, from plastics to clothing to paper products to electronics and more. Everything we buy ends up somewhere, and we'd do well to consider that full life cycle before purchasing. Garcia has some good suggestions for going zero waste at home. He advises on how to dispose of things to ensure they take an optimal path, but also encourages reducing, repairing, and repurposing. The chapter includes a short essay written by Lauren Singer, owner of the Package-Free Shop

"Things You Can Do" is an empowering book that's highly readable with its brief yet thorough descriptions of problems and solutions. The illustrations make it visually stimulating, engaging, and fun. If you're new to the world of green living, you'll learn lots; if you're experienced, you'll come away with some fresh inspiration—and we all need that these days.

"Things You Can Do" hit bookshelves in April 2022. Available at bookshop.org or at local retailers.