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Living Sustainably: How Changing Everyday Habits Can Save our Planet

Our planet is struggling. Climate change is affecting all corners of our globe, changing weather patterns, causing species to go extinct, and limiting Earth’s natural resources. According to NASA, the change occurring in Earth’s atmosphere is unprecedented over millennia. It’s terrifying. There is so much uncertainty, and it feels as though we, as teens, have no say in the future of our planet. However, we have much more power than we think. Our ability to change the course of our future comes down to one thing: sustainability.
Sustainability seems intimidating. We’ve all heard stories of zero-waste families who fit a year’s worth of trash in a mason jar, or Greta Thurnberg sailing across oceans in zero-emission sailboats. Sustainability seems like it requires a complete lifestyle shift and constant commitment. However, sustainability is much simpler than that. Sure, people like Greta are incredible examples of dedicating one’s entire life to the climate, but not everyone has that ability or desire. There are a million small ways to change your daily habits and live more sustainably. There’s no need for perfection or complete dedication as simple changes can add up to help preserve our beautiful planet.
Many of us love to shop. And even if you don’t, you need to own clothes. Shopping can be a de-stressor, a fun activity with friends, and can lead to purchases that allow you to express yourself. However, the practice can also be incredibly harmful to the environment. According to the World Bank, the fashion industry accounts for 10% of annual carbon emissions. Even shopping online damages the environment as the transportation and packaging of products creates significant carbon emissions and waste–more than 82 million tons of packaging are disposed of annually, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Additionally, the production of clothes consumes a massive amount of natural resources. The UN Environment Programme states that it takes 998 gallons of water to make one pair of jeans. But there are ways to avoid harming the planet while still being able to express yourself freely through your clothing. The primary way to reduce your shopping carbon footprint is by buying clothes secondhand and donating your old clothes. There are tons of thrift stores across the Bay Area, and rummaging through thrift stores can be tons of fun, especially if you bring some friends along. Additionally, through companies such as Poshmark and Depop, you can buy and sell second-hand clothes with quality guarantees and affordable prices. Furthermore, if you want to help others while also helping the environment, you can donate your old clothes to clothing drives and other companies dedicated to giving clothes to those in need. SHP students hold tons of clothing drives and swaps, so pay attention to any announcements or flyers you see on campus advertising them.
Additionally, the way we travel has a massive effect on the environment. From driving to flying, almost all of the ways we get from one place to another have negative environmental implications. According to the EPA, the transportation sector accounted for 28% of all US greenhouse gas emissions in 2018. Sadly, teleportation is not an option, but there are other ways to travel while limiting your carbon output. Though riding a bike or driving an electric car is more optimal than using an internal combustion engine vehicle, these forms of transportation aren’t always a possibility. However, the EPA states that by driving more calmly, with less stopping, starting, and rapid acceleration, one can decrease their car’s carbon output by up to 40%. So the next time you’re getting road rage, think about Mother Nature before driving aggressively. Additionally, an enjoyable method of lowering your carbon footprint is by carpooling with your friends. No matter how good your playlists might be, driving alone can get boring, but having a friend with you on your commute always brings some extra entertainment.
Finally, the kinds of food we eat and where we get them from can have negative effects on the environment. Food accounts for around 25-30% of global carbon emissions, and according to the EPA, U.S. food loss and waste creates 170 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent GHG emissions. Thankfully, there exist many simple ways to reduce your diet’s carbon footprint. The first is by consuming locally-bought food. Locally-bought food is often more fresh, and buying it supports local businesses, reduces transportation emissions, and often uses less wasteful packaging. Additionally, reducing your meat intake, especially red meat, can make a large difference in your carbon output. According to the Columbia Climate School, livestock is responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and one burger uses 2,400 liters of water. The animals and production that go into red meat products have huge environmental implications, so cutting out or limiting red meat in your diet can reduce your carbon footprint drastically.
So yes, the planet is struggling. However, we’re not powerless. We have the ability to limit, and ultimately reverse, the harm that humanity has done to our environment. Changes to your lifestyle might seem inconsequential, but if everyone makes these adjustments, it can add up to real change. The health of our planet is essential to our survival, so making slight changes to our habits to protect it is the least we can do.

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