Jason Smerdon, a climate scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, said that there are many steps an individual can take to reduce their carbon footprint, the carbon dioxide emissions they have generated. These actions include eating less beef, switching to a renewable energy source such as installing solar panels, driving less, driving electric or hybrid cars and washing clothes in cold water. In reference to a carbon footprint study, the actions that caused the biggest reduction in carbon footprint, in order, were having one less child, living car free, taking one less transatlantic flight, buying green energy, switching to being car-free and eating a plant-based diet.
However, he also noted that reducing one’s carbon footprint has only a minute influence in a society built on fossil fuels. The only way to help bring about systemic change is to influence policy makers to create climate-friendly solutions. Participating in collective action is one of the most important things an individual can do, he said. This means voting, running for office, contributing to nonprofits or participating in an activist group.
“Even the most extreme individual choices don’t put a dent in our overall global emissions in a way that they should because we are all operating within a system that’s built on fossil fuels. So the only way that you change things systemically is by collective action,” he said.