How to Live More Sustainably

Work from home (WFH) series no. 12

2020 has been a year filled with politically charged messages and necessary calls for action, and we are currently living another day where it is hard to ignore the events that are happening around us.

Recently, wild fires in the United States have devastated a large portion of the West Coast [1]. The effects of these fires is being felt as far north as Vancouver, BC which reported the worst air quality in the world a couple times this month [2]. On September 2nd Vancouver's AQI (Air Quality Index) was a 19, when the fires began spreading further, on September 13th, Vancouver's AQI was reported 229 in the 'very unhealthy' range of air quality [3]. A study showed that an increase in autumn temperatures, and the decreased precipitation has increased the likelihood of fires by 20% in California [4].

Unfortunately, the current fires are only the most recent event to bring our attention back to the climate crisis that started gaining traction in the 1990s [5]. Whilst not all information indicating the detrimental effects of climate change are as noticeable as the raging fires, there is still plenty of evidence that as humans, we are destroying the place we call home.

The impact of our lifestyles is also affecting food production, fresh water, the oceans, and wildlife. In terms of food production, we already consume 1.6 times the amount of natural food supply [6]. Regarding fresh water, less that 1% of the world's water is fresh, and in worse condition than the world's forests, grassland and coastal environments, yet we still depend on it to grow food and produce energy [7]. Our oceans have tragically become the dumping ground for our waste, coral reefs are dying at an alarming rate, impacting our climate cycles. The ocean sustains the life of billions of humans, and produces over half of the oxygen we breathe [8]. In their 2020 report, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reported a 68% decline in wildlife populations since 1970 [9].

So how can you make a difference?

1.  Use less plastic: every piece of plastic ever made still exists on the planet today. [10]

Yes, every single piece. Plastic is one of the materials that takes the longest amount of time to decompose (about 500 years), and even when it does, it releases chemicals that are harmful to both animals and humans. Think about your daily habits and how much plastic you use. Shopping bags, toothbrushes, straws, storage baskets, soap dispensers, shampoo bottles, wrapped food... there are a lot more, right down to your phone case and tv / computer monitor. 

Some items are much harder to forgo plastic but some easy ones can include: using bar soap (and shampoo!) rather than dispensers, using your own grocery bags, not buying bottled water, using a metal reusable water bottle (for hot and cold drinks!), bamboo toothbrushes, beeswax or silicon covers for storing food, buying items in bulk in reusable containers.... the list goes on! If you are on a mission to use less plastic, there are plenty of books which can help you eventually live with zero waste. Try to add one of these to your book list!

2.  Plant more: to decorate or eat!

Tree planting projects have been gaining great traction, but don't just leave all the planting to the forests! Plants of all kinds clean the air around us, and can have a variety of positive impacts, depending on what you choose to grow. If you have the space, planting some vegetables in your garden can make a difference by easing demand on food supply, lowering plastic consumption and emissions by not having to transport food from point A to B. Additionally, strategically planting trees in your garden can reduce cooling costs by providing shade during the warm months of the year.  

3. Change your eating habits: Shop Local and try to cut down on your meat intake.

The production of food itself contributes to about 83% of global emissions [11]. Buying local limits the amount of resources (such as fuel) needed to get food from other countries by truck, plane or boat. It has actually been shown that buying local can decrease someone's greenhouse gas emission by 4-5% [11]. Eating foods that are also in season is a great way to lower emissions (You can find what is in season in Ontario here!). However, by reducing ones' red meat intake can reduce our emissions even more. Did you know the livestock industry creates more greenhouse emissions than all cars, ships and planes combined [12]? Whilst doing this isn't a suggestion for everyone to eat a plant based diet, studies have shown that even by reducing the amount of red meat we consume this can have a positive impact on the environment [12].

These are only a few ways to help reduce the waste, and help protect the environment and combat the very many natural disasters we are facing such as the wildfires, hurricanes, monsoons and rising temperatures. As the seasons change, and we start to rethink our routines and lifestyles, what changes (big or small!) can you make to lessen your impact on the environment?



[1] Deadly Wildfires Rage Across the US West Coast

[2] Northwestern Cities Rank for Dirtiest Air

[3] Air Quality in Vancouver BC

[4] Climate Change is Increasing the Likelihood of Extreme Autumn Wildfire Conditions Across California

[5] Climate Change First Became News 30 Years Ago. Why Haven’t We Fixed it?

[6] Food

[7] Freshwater

[8] Oceans

[9] Wildlife Conservation

[10] Every Single Piece of Plastic Ever Made Still Exists. Here’s the Story.

[11] How Green is Local Food?

[12] Eating Less Meat Essential to Curb Climate Change, Says Report

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