Krista Kurth, Ph.D.
It's Not Too Late to Turn the Tide on Climate
Updated: May 17
That is, if everyone, everywhere, acts all at once on Climate. Here's what you can do.
Have you been wondering–or maybe worrying–if it’s possible to reduce GHG emissions by half by 2030 and get to net-zero by 2050?
While the climate crisis is already here, evidenced by the natural disasters all around us, there is still hope. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) clearly stated, in their March 2023 Synthesis Report, that we can still turn the tide on global warming. We have the tools we need to slash emissions across all sectors.
UN Secretary-General Guterres, when he introduced the report, said that we can still meet the 1.5-degree goal if everyone, everywhere fast tracks their climate action. He said, “We have never been better equipped to solve the climate challenge–but we must move into warp speed climate action now. We don’t have a moment to lose.”
So, what will it take and how do we keep 1.5 by 2050 alive? And what can we do as individuals to fast-track our own and our country’s climate action?
I asked this same question in a blog post two years ago. In that article, I outlined 5 different roadmaps proposed by various groups (the Exponential Roadmap Initiative, Breakthrough Energy, Simon Sharpe and Timothy Lenton, Project Drawdown, and the United Nations Environment Program). Since then other groups, like Regeneration, World Resources Institute’s Systems Change Lab, Ceres Ambition 2030, and the IPCC, have added to the mix of roadmaps. Instead of revisiting or reviewing these roadmaps, I will synthesize and summarize what they say about how we keep 1.5 alive.
How Do We Keep 1.5 Alive?
First, we need to understand, as the authors of the IPCC report state, “The choices and actions implemented in this decade will have impacts now and for thousands of years.” If we are to choose the path that keeps 1.5 alive, we will need to scale up rapidly the solutions we currently have in the next 7 years. The Exponential Roadmap says we “need to scale (existing solutions) 5x faster than today to halve emissions by 2030.”
“The choices and actions implemented in this decade will have impacts now and for thousands of years.”
To meet the global emissions goal, as well as halt biodiversity loss, and build a just economy, we will need to transform all sectors of the economy. WRI’s Systems Change Lab outlines these systems and sectors, including “energy, transport, the built environment, industry, land use, agriculture and management of the world’s freshwater and ocean.” They also declare that “broader, cross-cutting transitions must also occur, such as how we measure economic well-being, deliver basic services, equitably distribute the costs and benefits of change, finance these transformations and govern the global commons.” Or in simpler terms, as Breakthrough Energy says, we need to change “how we plug in, make things, grow things, get around, keep cool and stay warm.”
Obviously, this will not be easy, since nearly everything we do in our daily lives contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. But it is possible, Guterres says, if “everyone, everywhere, all at once (governments, companies, investors, NGOs, and individuals) takes a quantum leap in climate action” now.
The truth is, there is a lot we need to do. More specifically, experts from groups like the UN, Speed and Scale, and WRI Systems Change Lab say we need to change 12 different sectors and systems. I combine and summarize information from these groups below and provide actions in each category that we as individuals can take to move the needle. (Note: I list categories in alphabetical order, not in order of importance).
Warning: It’s a lot of information to take in. I wanted to be as comprehensive as possible, to give everyone both an overview of the task before us and provide an easy-access guide to actions in each area that are doable for individuals. Yet, I know that considering so many actions at once can be overwhelming. I suggest you scan the key climate action categories below to see which one(s) appeal most to you and then dive deeper into those climate actions.
Key Climate Actions
1. Create Green Cities and Buildings. We need to reduce the amount of GHG emissions where we live and work. We can do that collectively by limiting urban expansion; optimizing energy use in buildings; electrifying heating/cooling/appliances; working on eliminating waste; planting trees; and providing zero-emission transport.
Actions you can take to help create green cities and buildings:
Install a heat pump at home if you can afford it.
Replace your current stove (when it breaks) with an efficient electric stove.
Get an energy audit in your home and implement the auditor’s suggestions.
Write letters to your mayor or county executive asking them to purchase renewable energy for city-owned buildings and require that all new buildings be electric.
Send information from organizations like WRI’s Ross Center on Sustainable Cities to your city council on ways your city can become greener.
2. Clean up Industry.
What we make and how we make it, creates around 20% of total global emissions. We can decrease emissions by reducing demand for cement, steel, and plastics via the use of fewer materials, recycling, and reusing materials; improving industrial energy efficiency; electrifying industry and using clean fuels as heat sources for manufacturing; reducing methane emissions from oil and gas operations as they are phased down and replacing HFCs with greener alternatives.
Actions you can take to help clean up industry:
Join a campaign to ban single-use plastics in your community or demand companies use non-plastic sustainable packaging.
Take part in and/or organize waterway, beach, and ocean cleanups in your community
Reuse and recycle items at home.
Ask your workplace to recycle and buy sustainable supplies.
Demand that companies cut down on packaging. Read this post to learn more about solving the plastic pollution crisis and find petitions to sign.
Sign petitions, like the Action Network’s, Move On’s, and this one, demanding fossil fuel companies fix methane gas leaks, capture methane gas, stop venting unwanted gas, and shut down pipelines.
3. Electrify Power.
How we power our lives makes a huge difference since “the power sector is the single largest source of carbon emissions.” It’s helpful to remember that there are multiple ways to source electricity. It doesn’t have to be made from fossil fuels. We can transition to renewable energy by stopping any expansion of oil and gas reserves, licensing, or funding; phasing out all coal and fossil gas electricity generation between 2030–2040; rapidly scaling up zero-carbon electricity for all developed countries by 2035, and 2040 for the rest of the world; shifting subsidies from fossil fuels to renewable fuels; modernizing power grids, scaling energy storage, and managing power demand; and ensuring energy access and a just and fair transition for all.
Actions you can take to help electrify power:
Buy wind or solar power from your utility or join a community solar project.
Read this blog on how to get renewable energy wherever you live in the U.S.
Ask your city to make renewable energy affordable for low- and middle-income residents.
Ask your employer to purchase renewable energy for their building/office space.
4. Deliver Just and Equitable Action.
Since the impact of the climate crisis is uneven and often experienced more dramatically by those who did little to contribute to emissions, we need to make sure that as we address the climate crisis, we safeguard the most vulnerable communities by providing reliable, universal access to basic services and opportunities; reducing social and political inequities; re-distributing income and wealth to ensure that they are not concentrated in the hands of the very few; and providing loss and damage funding.
Actions you can take to play a role in delivering just climate action
Read this post to learn more about the guiding principles of climate justice.
Work with Climate Justice organizations, like the Climate Justice Alliance and Dream.org, to empower poor and vulnerable communities to speak directly about the negative impact of climate change on their ways of life, about its potential for conflict, and about what ought to be done by way of a response in terms of fairness and justice.
Ask your legislators to include an understanding of the climate justice needs of low-income communities and countries in their policy development and implementation.
Connect with organizations prioritizing women’s climate justice issues to learn how you can take action. WEDO, Global Green Grants Women’s Environmental Action, and WeCan International are just a few of the many organizations supporting women.
5. Fix Food and Agriculture.
How we select, grow, transport, and discard our food also has a large impact on emissions. Over 15 percent of global emissions can be assigned to the food sector (industrial farming, livestock, rice production, fertilizers, and food waste). We can tackle all five sources of GHG by reducing food loss and waste; shifting to more sustainable diets, increasing soil health, crop, and livestock sustainability without expanding into natural areas; scaling sustainable aquaculture; and minimizing other harmful impacts of agricultural production on soil, water, and ecosystem health.
Actions you can take to help fix food and agriculture:
Buy locally grown food from farmers’ markets and/or grocery stores.
Consider eating a more plant-rich diet. Add 1–2 plant-based meals a week and gradually increase as you learn more.
If you eat meat, buy organic, locally sourced meat and dairy. Organic farmers keep livestock longer, which lowers the total number of cows emitting methane into the atmosphere.
Reduce your food waste by planning your meals, buying only what you need, and eating or freezing leftovers before they go bad. Do a Fridge Reality Check at Stop Food Waste.
Check to see if your local grocery stores and restaurants give the food that they remove from their shelves to food banks instead of discarding them. Sign a petition asking grocery stores to donate their food.
Compost food waste at home. Get an inexpensive compost bin for your backyard (some cities offer them for free) or take part in a community compost program in your local area. The EPA and many other sites offer tips on composting at home. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance has many resources on community composting in the U.S. Find out if your town has a municipal composting program you can join.
6. Implement Effective and Enabling Policies.
We need smart policies at all levels of government to speed up the transition to net zero, like committing to 2030 emissions reduction targets and the 2050 net zero goal in six areas: electric power, transportation, industry, buildings, methane leaks, and carbon labeling on consumer products; ending subsidies for fossil fuels and harmful agricultural practices and providing subsidies for renewable energy; enforcing bans on fluorinated gases used as refrigerants or for manufacturing semiconductors and circuit breakers; and implementing supply side restrictive policies, such as banning new leases for oil and gas on federal land and waters or taxing the fossil fuel industry’s windfall profits, that would constrain carbon-intensive activities.
Actions you can take to encourage effective policies:
Elect leaders who see far-reaching action on climate as their priority. Read this post to learn more about how to identify these leaders.
Make calls, write letters, attend town halls.
Pressure your government representatives to take urgent climate action. See this post for more information on how to do that.
Lobby your representatives in Congress by writing letters to them or joining campaigns that ask them to remove fossil-fuel subsidies (see campaigns at IISD and Oil Change International).
7. Invest in a Low Carbon Future.
Money makes the world go around. “Reaching net zero will require about $1.7 trillion of global investment each year for twenty years or more.” We can accelerate the transition to a low-carbon future by ending subsidies and financing of fossil fuels; investing in innovations; providing funding for adaptation and loss; incentivizing clean energy; investing in natural solutions; disclosing and managing climate-related financial risks; and including underserved and marginalized groups.
Actions you can take to invest in a low-carbon future:
Move your accounts from large banks to community and regional banks. Green America has a guide to help you bank responsibly, including how to break up with Mega Banks. They also have campaigns you can join to ask the large banks to stop funding climate destruction.
Use your money to buy environmentally friendly products from businesses that support local communities, fair wages, and a healthy planet. Green America also has a Vote with Your Dollar Toolkit to help you double down on climate action in this way.
Invest your savings in socially and environmentally responsible investments (SRI). Find out if your employer has a retirement savings plan with SRI options. Then allocate your savings to those funds if available. If not, ask your workplace to add these funds to the plan. Use this site to help you support your workplace in meeting your request.
Join the Global Call to Banks movement to stop funding fossil fuels.
Take part in a divestment campaign effort, either nationally or in your local area. 350.org has many campaigns and chapters around the world.
Join a campaign demanding insurance companies stop insuring fossil fuel projects. The US branch of Insure Our Future currently has campaigns going on, as does Stop the Money Pipeline.
For more investment actions, check out this blog post.
8. Manage and Protect Freshwater.
The water system we rely on to grow food, make products, clean our living spaces, and replenish our bodies is impacted by the climate crisis. We only have to look at the news to learn about how weather patterns are creating new droughts or causing major flooding. The global community needs to protect freshwater ecosystems; restore degraded freshwater environments; sustainably manage freshwater; improve water quality; stop chemical pollution; and ensure reliable access to clean water for all.
Actions you can take to help manage freshwater:
Conserve water. National Geographic suggests planting native plants, installing low-flow showerheads and low-volume toilets, fixing leaky faucets right away, running your dishwasher only when it’s full, turning off the water when brushing teeth and doing dishes, and eating less beef, which takes large amounts of water to grow.
Know where your drinking water comes from (the river, lake, or aquifer that supplies your home). Go to the EPA’s Surf Your Watershed interactive site to learn more.
Responsibly use and dispose of harmful and hazardous products. Use them in moderation, only when necessary, and don’t dump them on the ground, as they can pollute the groundwater.
Participate in a local cleanup of a nearby beach, stream, or wetland. Find a water-focused non-profit in your community and volunteer.
9. Protect and Restore Nature.
Not only does nature remove carbon from the atmosphere, but it also provides the biodiversity necessary for life. Don’t forget, we humans are nature, too. We can protect and restore nature, and reduce emissions, by committing to protect 30 percent of the world’s forests, oceans, and lands by 2030; ending deforestation; restoring and sustainably managing deforested and degraded lands, and marine and coastal ecosystems; reducing all pollution; and protecting biodiversity.
Actions you can take to protect and restore nature:
Take part in local efforts to restore and conserve nature, including community-led clean-ups of waste in public spaces.
Tend the trees in your community and worldwide. Plant trees in your local community and/or donate to organizations protecting and restoring forests and peatlands, like the Rainforest Alliance, the Rainforest Action Network, the Global Peatlands Initiative, and the World Wildlife Fund. Find out more actions in this post.
Write to your Congressional representatives asking them to enforce existing anti-logging laws, particularly in old-growth forests.
Buy sustainably caught fish. Check out this guide on Oceana’s site or this WWF site.
Donate to or join a campaign coordinated by organizations working to protect the world’s oceans, like Oceana, Environmental Defense Fund, and other non-profits listed here.
Learn more about the importance of wetlands and/or join a group, like Wetlands International, working to restore and save them.
Read more about how to take care of nature in this post.
10. Transform Transportation.
How we move people and things around contributes greatly to GHG emissions. To reduce the impact of the transportation sector, we need to shift from fossil fuel vehicles to zero-emissions cars, trucks, buses, and bikes; transition to clean, zero-carbon fuels for airplanes and ships; reduce avoidable travel; move to more public, shared, and non-motorized vehicles; and provide reliable access to safe and modern mobility for everyone.
Actions you can take to transform transportation:
Decrease single-car trips. Use public transportation as much as possible. Carpool, walk, ride a bike, and work from home more often. Ask your local officials to make public transportation and bike lanes more available. Vote against the expansion of highways.
Support the transition to electric vehicles. Buy an electric car if you can afford one. More are becoming available at affordable prices. Or buy a hybrid car (new or used). Write to your local representatives asking them to transition the school and municipal bus fleets to electric vehicles. WRI has information on how to help cities adopt electric buses. Sign petitions asking companies, like Amazon, to speed up their purchase of electric delivery vehicles.
Decrease air travel. Keep your air travel to only necessary trips. When possible, take the train instead of flying.
11. Turn Movements into Action.
When large groups of people come together on important issues, we pressure government and business leaders to act. As Speed and Scale states; “When an issue really matters to enough people, things begin to happen.” Luckily, the Climate Movement already exists and is growing stronger. We need to keep up the rallies, protests, petitions, media attention, and boycotts, and vote for leaders who will act rapidly to change policies and regulations.
Actions you can take to join with others in the climate movement:
Join a local climate group. See this post for some lists of organizations to check out. Attend one of their non-violent rallies near you.
Donate to one of the NGOs working to keep fossil fuels in the ground, like 350.org, Climate Action Network, Green America, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, and the World Wildlife Fund, to name a few.
Write to your local representatives and ask them to say no to fossil fuels in your area and yes to the transition to a green economy.
Use resources created by these organizations to organize a group in your community. Check out the Sierra Club’s Get Ready for 100% (clean energy) toolkit or sign up for one of Greenpeace’s toolkits.
Take training, like the one offered by Climate Reality, to help you learn how you can take more action.
12. Transform Our Economic System.
The economy underpins what we do and how we do it. To sustain a transition to a sustainable planet, we also need to change how we think about what we make and consume, and how we fund it–from an economy that focuses on growth and profit, to one that factors in climate and nature. We need to adopt economic and political goals that center on well-being, equity, and sustainability; develop and use new frameworks, like Doughnut Economics and the Circular Economy model; widely share new economic narratives; reform, transform, and adopt economic tools based on new economic thinking; and minimize environmental and social harms from resource extraction.
Actions you can take to help transform the economy:
Decrease overconsumption. Unsubscribe from catalogs and email newsletters from retailers. Companies design them to entice you to want more things. You don’t need daily or weekly appeals to your consumer mindset.
Pause before you buy anything and ask yourself if it is a necessity or solely a desire. Then refrain from purchasing some of your desired items. Explore how you can meet your wants in non-material ways.
Buy recycled, repurposed, previously used items instead of new items. This is getting easier to do. More sites are popping up that offer these kinds of items. Some retail clothing stores, like Nordstrom, are now offering second-hand clothes.
Before you recycle or throw something away, ask yourself if you can reuse it or if someone else might repurpose it. Join a group like The Freecycle Network where people pass on items for free that they no longer need. Or post the item for sale on a site like OfferUp.
Use products longer. Buy high-quality items that you can use for many years. Don’t purchase cheap items that you will end up throwing away in six months (the average time we use an item before dispatching it).
Change your mindset about consumption. Read this post to learn more about how to do that.
In which of these sectors and systems will you choose to act next to help the world cut GHG emissions in half by 2030?
Thank you for taking climate action. We are in a race against time and as I mentioned at the beginning, it’s going to take us all going all in at once to keep 1.5 alive.
I wish us all the best in ramping up our climate action and in demanding our leaders do the same. Krista/Eco-Omi