With all the bleak environmental news out there — climate change, rising sea levels, endangered species, starving abalone — it can be easy to feel lost and disheartened, unsure of what you can do to make a difference. With that in mind, we reached out to a handful of local environmental nonprofits and asked them each to weigh in on the most impactful things we as individuals can do to make a difference. Here's what they had to say.
Redwood Coast Energy Authority
Walk or bike. Fossil-fuel-burning vehicles are the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions in Humboldt County. (Bonus: Moving your limbs will help you be happier and healthier, and more motivated to lessen your footprint in other ways.)
Use transit or carpool. (Bonus: You'll have time to chat with friends or decide you need new friends and then make new friends — it's a great way to quickly improve your social life.)
Buy an electric vehicle. There are several new and used models out there with all-electric or hybrid motors to suit multiple traveling needs. (Bonus: People will wonder what's under your hood, in a good way.)
Buy energy-efficient products, such as LED lights and energy-saving appliances. (Bonus: Many energy-saving products also come with features their previous counterparts don't have, such as choice of light color and brightness, custom temperature settings for different food compartments in your fridge and timers so that you aren't heating your spaces when you aren't using them.)
Make a fuel switch to heat-pump technology when replacing your furnace or hot-water heater. Electric heat pumps are up to 400 percent more efficient than gas heating. (Bonus: Some don't require ducting, which is great news for old houses.)
Opt up to 100-percent renewable energy through RCEA's RePower+ electricity program. (Bonus: Support new renewable energy projects in Humboldt County.)
Install solar at your home or business if you can. Power from the sun is literally delivered to the earth every day at no cost. It just takes some investment to capture it and use it to deliver Netflix to your living room. (Bonus: Reducing electricity demand from the grid helps everyone.)
Non-energy related bonus tip: Support and volunteer at one of the many great environmental nonprofits in Humboldt County.
The Environmental Protection Information Center
Vote: I won't belabor this because this first one should be obvious. The aphorism that "elections have consequences" is true. And we are living with the consequences of the 2016 elections today. I could present a parade of horribles about what is happening today but I am sure you read the news, too.Adopt an area: There's somewhere on this planet that you think is really special, right? Whether it's your local park or a national park, find a place that you love. Adopt it and become an advocate for that patch of earth. You can do little things to show your love — pick up trash, pull invasive plants, join a weekend work party. If you have a little more time on your hands, you can do more. Find and comment on projects, get to know staff and advocate for your place.
The more you do, the happier you'll be. By intimately connecting with an area, we develop a sense of place that brings meaning and substance to our lives.
"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Michael Pollan's oft-repeated quote is good advice on how to eat responsibly. Buy real food, preferably local if possible. Try to eat lower on the trophic level — that is, more plants and fewer animal products. By focusing on what you eat, you might start changing other parts of your life until one morning you wake up and realize you are an organic no-till biodynamic gardener.
Support reproductive rights and your fellow humans. Overpopulation is a real concern — there are 7.3 billion humans on earth — and the more room humans take up, the less room there is for other life. You can care about overpopulation without being a racist or a misanthrope. Let's strive to create a society where people have reproductive choices and only have children when they choose to. When these children are born, let's give them a world that is loving, supportive and filled with a diversity of non-human life.
Support your local environmental organizations. You can say I am biased — I am — but give what you can to your local environmental organizations. In our civil society, these groups exist to do the work that you are probably too busy to do — they learn the science, comment on projects and go to court when necessary. In a perfect world, groups like EPIC wouldn't need to exist; until then, support the watchdog groups that keep our water clean, our forests intact and our air sweet.
Friends of the Eel River
Don't kid yourself that you can shop your way to a healthy planet. Yes, it's essential to understand that we are not just passive consumers but active players in a world where our choices have consequences for other living beings and the systems we all depend on. Yes, it's important to make lower-impact choices where we reasonably can, BUT:
Broad social change matters. Lowering the individual footprints of the most ecologically conscious members of our vast society will do little to reshape the systems that determine so much of our collective impact. Our individual choices for transportation, energy and food are important, but to make the differences we need to make, we have to act together to make broader social change.
Keep fighting for what's right. Support effective local organizations fighting the fights that matter. Make the phone calls, write the letters, wave the signs.
Use your political power. Help build the blue wave we need this November to save the country and the planet from the lunatics in power. Have that uncomfortable conversation with your Trump-loving relatives.
Consider your cannabis consumption. Grow your weed in (or buy it from) places and ways that don't impact native salmon and steelhead or wildlife values.
The Schatz Energy Research Center
Use green transportation strategies. Transportation needs differ from household to household and day to day. Green transportation strategies include shared transit (carpooling and public), person-powered movement (walking, biking and wheeling), consolidated household trips and zero-emission vehicle use (including electric and fuel cell cars).
Shift household energy use to solar. Running heavy electrical loads, such as laundry, during the day supports the integration of solar onto the power grid, while reducing the need for storage investment.
Make energy "visible." Using a Kill A Watt meter to measure appliances allows you to see your energy use patterns and track down inefficient appliances. You can borrow a Kill A Watt from the Redwood Coast Energy Authority. Also, bring the Schatz Center's "Watts Up?" education program to your classroom or youth group to learn about power and energy, and how to conserve them.
Integrate clean and renewable energy technologies into your home and workplace. Nearly every home and workplace can become greener. This could involve: installing an electric vehicle charging station in your business parking lot; putting solar panels on your roof; using solar products to illuminate your walkway, garden or porch; replacing incandescent light bulbs with LEDs; solar drying your laundry outside; opting up to 100-percent renewable energy with RCEA.
Pursue a career in environmental protection. Start an environmentally oriented business, join an environmental justice organization or become an environmental resources engineer or environmental scientist.
Vote. Educate yourself on candidates and ballot measures — local, state and national — that will protect the environment and promote social justice.
Pay attention between elections. Many people think elected representatives won't listen but they certainly won't if you don't contact them. Follow issues that are most important to you and contact your representatives regularly.
Only rain down the storm drain. In coastal areas, storm water runoff and trash pollute our waterways. Storm drains lead to creeks, Humboldt Bay and the ocean.
Use less gas, water, plastic, clothing, chemicals ... and if you have kids, teach them to use less, too. Use online calculators for your carbon and ecological footprints to explore your options.
Go outside. Enjoy nature as often as possible. We live in a beautiful part of the world with lots of places to enjoy the woods, parks, beaches and, of course, Humboldt Bay.
Avoid putting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Bike more, drive less —alternatively, use public transit, carpool, plan your errands efficiently, use cruise control, drive the speed limit, speed up and slow down gradually for maximum fuel efficiency.
Curb your enthusiasm for air travel. Vacation within driving distance instead. Humboldt is so beautiful — why would you leave? If you do fly, buy carbon offsets and choose coach — first-class results in triple the emissions, according to a 2013 World Bank report.
Cut back on meat and rice. Since the cattle industry in the United States and the rice industry in Asia are the most emission-heavy parts of the agricultural sector, reducing meat and rice consumption will result in fewer emissions. If you do eat meat, opt for locally-raised animals. Instead of rice, get yourself some Wild Rose quinoa.
Drilling is killing. Fight back against new offshore oil drilling and embrace renewable energy whenever possible. Check out www.surfrider.org for ways to help defend our coasts and www.redwoodenergy.org for more on local efforts toward sustainable energy.
Reduce plastic pollution. Refuse single-use plastics. Bring your own mug, water bottle, utensils, etc., with you. Remember to say, "No straw," when you order a drink or opt to go to one of Humboldt's bars that's already stopped using them — props to you, Shanty. Eat at Gyppo's Ale House, Humboldt County's only certified Ocean-Friendly restaurant.
Call your representatives. Tell your state legislators to vote yes on the full slate of plastic pollution-related bills this session: State Assembly Bill 2379 (Bloom) — Microfiber Pollution; Assembly Bill 2779 (Stone/Calderon) — Connect the Cap; Senate Bill 1335 (Allen) — Sustainable Take-out Food Packaging at Parks, Beaches and State Facilities; Assembly Bill 1884 (Calderon) — Straws Upon Request; Assembly Bill 2308 (Stone) — Cigarettes: single-use filters; Senate Bill 835/836 (Glazer) and Assembly Bill 1097 (Levine) – Smoking Ban at State Beaches and Parks.