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5 Ways Families Can Help Tackle Climate Change

Climate
5 Ways Families Can Help Tackle Climate Change
Household actions lead to changes in collective behavior and are an essential part of social movements. Pixabay / Pexels

By Greg McDermid, Joule A Bergerson, Sheri Madigan

Hidden among all of the troubling environmental headlines from 2019 — and let's face it, there were plenty — was one encouraging sign: the world is waking up to the reality of climate change.

So now what?


While many climate solutions require leadership from governments, we also need changes within regular households, which are collectively responsible for 42 percent of Canada's greenhouse-gas emissions. In the U.S., where energy exports are proportionally smaller, the figure is closer to 80 percent.

We have drawn on our expertise as scientists in three diverse fields (environment, energy and psychology) to assemble a message of action and empowerment that we feel is necessary to address the challenge of climate change.

As the new decade begins, we offer five questions designed to guide discussions of climate action in your household.

1. What are you eating?

A plant-based diet is healthy, ethical and an effective carbon-cutting adjustment for a household. Anna Pelzer / Unsplash

Food production accounts for 23 percent of human greenhouse-gas emissions. Experts say that confronting climate change will ultimately require adjusting our diets. Eating lower on the food chain — or eliminating meat and dairy entirely — is one of the most effective carbon-cutting changes you can make in your household.

While there are many compelling reasons to eat locally, what you eat is more important than where it comes from. One influential U.S. study showed that transportation represents just 11 percent of the life-cycle emissions of household food consumption (a life-cycle analysis considers all aspects of production, transportation, use and disposal), compared to 83 percent for production. So if the thought of eliminating meat altogether is just not fathomable, consider buying products that use lower-emissions production processes such as regenerative grazing.

Discuss what dietary changes your household can make and how they contribute to the climate-change solution. Children learn best when adults link cause with effect: if we collectively choose to eat less meat, we can reduce the carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.

2. What transportation do you use?

Globally, transportation accounts for 23 percent of human emissions. The numbers are higher in Canada (28 percent) and the U.S. (29 percent), where fuel-hungry trucks and SUVs dominate the market.

Start by biking, carpooling and taking public transportation as often as possible. Live car-free if you can. If driving is a must, focus on fuel consumption. Choose smaller, best-in-class vehicles and pay attention to distance travelled.

Air transportation is a major contributor to carbon emissions. One round-trip transatlantic flight — Denver to Paris, for example — produces the equivalent of 2.54 tonnes of carbon dioxide per passenger. That's half the emissions of a car driven for a year.

When planning your next family vacation, carefully consider the need for flights. Vacation locally or opt for a shorter flight.

3. How does your home contribute?

Households use energy for heating, cooling, lighting and appliances. Energy consumption is not the same as carbon emissions — the relationship depends on how your home's electricity and heat are generated — but it's still a great target.

Heating, both space and water, makes up 80 percent of residential energy consumption in Canada. Actions that conserve household heat can lower emissions.

These can range from small things like washing clothes in cold water to big steps like moving to a smaller, more energy-efficient home. Retrofits aimed at increasing energy efficiency are also worth considering, especially those matched with local financial incentives. A home-energy audit will help you choose the most effective targets.

4. What do you throw out?

North Americans produce more waste per capita than anyone else on the planet. Most of it ends up in landfills. Justin Ritchie / Flickr CC BY

On a per-capita basis, North Americans produce the highest average amount of waste in the world. Much can be done to curb your family's disposable habits.

Everyone knows the mantra: reduce, re-use, recycle. However, the recycling industry is complex and much of what we put in recycling bins ends up in landfills.

Priortizing the reduce and re-use parts of the mantra will have a lasting impact on the environment. To reduce, plan carefully and buy only what you need. Buying less stuff not only saves money, it reduces emissions from packaging, transportation and production.

Families should also emphasize re-using goods. Take steps to re-purpose or exchange items, both inside the home and within your community. There are many creative ideas out there.

5. Who can you influence?

As parents, we recognize that making the time for change can be difficult. But changes can begin with small steps, like educating yourself on the evidence, causes and effects of climate change. Children are inherently curious and want to learn too. Make sure that they learn from credible sources.

Children are constant observers of adults' choices. Many kids will notice when an adult makes an effort to reduce waste and carbon emissions. To emphasize these changes further, explain what your actions and choices mean for the environment.

You can also show children how individuals can mobilize and inspire change. The world has just witnessed a 16-year-old launch a global climate movement that is inspiring millions.

Change is the product of individual actions.

Some claim individual actions won't make a difference or that domestic changes don't matter if others are not following suit. In addition to being incredibly disheartening, such views ignore the fact that our current crisis is the product of billions of individual decisions. Household actions lead to changes in collective behavior and are an essential part of social movements.

A more compelling argument is that the focus belongs on altering the systems (economic and political) that pose barriers to personal changes. We agree! But it's not a zero-sum game and transformations must happen on both fronts.

There is reason for hope. Family-based changes can shape the environmental landscape for future generations. We already have much of the technology and know-how required to transition towards a more sustainable society.

We just need to get started. And it can start with our families.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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