Last week, my reading group discussed Overstory, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about connections between people and trees. Author Richard Powers, a gifted writer, weaves astounding facts about the resilience of trees as he chronicles their destruction.

It’s a challenging book, and our discussion naturally evolved to our frustrations with climate change and our desire to turn things around.

Though we may think it’s too late, we agreed that it’s up to us to take action. We CAN change things, little by little. Some steps are easy while others are more difficult, but we all need to do something.

If you want to know how your lifestyle affects our planet, go to Ecological Footprint Calculator to compute your personal global footprint. It’s shocking for those of us in the Western World.

I’m sad to say that if everyone on the planet lived a lifestyle like mine, it would take 4.2 earths to accommodate us. How embarrassing. Time to make some changes!

Our Food Choices Matter

We can eat lower on the food chain. The less energy it takes to produce the foods we consume, the less carbon goes into the atmosphere.

Livestock, which is higher on the food chain, is responsible for 14.5 percent of manmade global greenhouse gas (according to Columbia University’s Earth Institute). There’s no way I’ll convince my husband to give up meat completely, but we can certainly eat more vegetarian meals.

We should also choose local and organic foods (less energy for growth and delivery), avoid prepared foods, buy food in bulk, reuse leftovers, and compost food waste. If you live in a city, google “compost services” to see where you can bring your compost.

By now, we should all be supplying our own shopping bags and doing our best to avoid plastics in the items we buy. It’s a challenge, but we’re moving forward.

I’ve purchased glass storage containers to replace plastic ones, and I no longer purchase zip-lock bags. I purchased little shower-cap-like covers to use and reuse on bowls for leftovers. They work great, they were cheap, and I’m not using baggies.

Fashion? Consider the Options

It’s wasteful to buy trendy items that will go out of style. Instead, choose sensible, quality clothing that will last. (I still have some socks I purchased 40 years ago that must be made of iron).

Check out vintage and used clothing in consignment and thrift shops. It’s a great way to recycle, and you’ll save money, too.

Another thing you can do is wash your clothes in cold water. The enzymes in cold water detergents clean better in cold water, and you’ll save up to 500 pounds of carbon dioxide in a year if you do two loads of laundry a week. Not bad!

How About Your Appliances?

If you need a new computer, opt for a laptop or a tablet rather than a desktop, as they use less power.

Go for electric rather than gas appliances; electricity is fast becoming the cleanest form of power.

When you’re ready to purchase a new household appliance, look for Energy Star products, which will save the environment as they save you money on power.

A Home Makeover

We can certainly do with some home changes as well. For instance, change your old fashioned (incandescent) light bulbs to LEDs, which use a quarter of the energy and last up to 25 times longer. That’s a no-brainer.

Switch the lights off when not in use, and unplug electronic devices that aren’t in use. Did you know that turning down your water heater to 120º F (49º C) will save about 550 pounds of CO2 a year?

Installing a low-flow shower head will reduce your hot water use and can save 350 pounds of CO2 a year. And consider a shorter shower. When I was in Australia during a drought, they had a minute timer in their shower, and a minute was all I got.

And don’t forget to lower your AC thermostat in winter and raise it in summer.

What About Travel?

When you go places, drive less and use public transportation whenever possible. Consider walking or biking to nearby destinations, and if you need to drive, try to carpool.

Be a less aggressive driver – fast stops and starts use more gas. Properly inflated tires will improve your gas mileage, too.

When you’re ready to buy a new car, consider a hybrid or an electric vehicle. The prices of these vehicles are coming down, and your savings on energy will pay for the difference within a few years.

Avoid airplane flights when you can use ground transportation, and if you do need to fly, try to get nonstop flights. Taking off and landing consume more energy than the flight itself.

If you must fly, pay to offset your share of the carbon emissions. Many airlines include that option when you reserve a flight, or you can go online to do that. Your payment will go to climate protection projects. My Climate is an example, although you can google other options.

Speak with Your Vote

Finally, we should not ignore the political factor. No matter how much we do on an individual level, if a government takes on a protect-the-planet course, we will all be better off for it.

Whether it be phasing out fossil fuels, promoting clean energy, or participating in global efforts to diminish and counteract carbon emissions, there’s a lot to do.

I need to believe we can still save our planet, but time is wasting. Every change we make today will improve our world tomorrow.

What changes are you prepared to make in your lifestyle to help save our home? Which of your habits benefit our planet? Do you recycle, eat raw foods, or something else? Please share in the comments below.

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