4 Ways You Can Make a Difference on Climate
By Jaime Nack
"Where do I start?"
Whatever the forum, whatever the audience, it's always the first question I hear when I talk to people about sustainability and personal impact.
We all want to make a difference on climate change, but many of us don't know how we can or where to begin. It can seem overwhelming.
The good news is that even on a challenge as huge as global climate change, everyday people can make a real difference in their everyday lives. We'll be talking a lot about this at the upcoming Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in Los Angeles from Aug. 28—30 and you should be there.
Join Climate Reality for the training in LA and learn more about all the ways you can have a real impact on your local and global community with the decisions you make daily. As a preview, here are four ways to start.
Individual Impact: Start the Conversation
Do you ever think about how many decisions you make on a daily basis? Research shows that the average person makes around 35,000 decisions every single day.
For all of us, these decisions are opportunities to have a powerful impact on our climate. Some may be inconsequential (like which shoe to put on first or what to listen to on your way to work). However, the majority can have a tremendous positive impact if we're intentional about them. Decisions like:
- What should I eat for lunch?
- How should I commute to work today?
- Should I work for an organization aligned with my values?
- Should I work for a large company where I can help drive change from the inside out?
Your individual decisions as a consumer not only signal demand for certain products to companies, they show your friends, family members and colleagues what kind of world you support. And your example goes a long way.
Community Impact: Your Neighborhood
What communities do to fight climate change comes down to the people who live there. So whether you're living in a town already committed to renewable electricity or a city yet to start recycling, you can help push your hometown forward.
If your community is already moving in the right direction, show your support. Use social media and write a letter to the editor of the local paper to show that people in the neighborhood are behind climate action.
Plus, many communities have advisory groups where residents can give feedback and advice on initiatives from electric vehicle charging stations to restaurant composting programs to green home educational programs for residents. It's your chance to help shape local policies that directly affect you and the planet.
If your community is still just getting started, you can push for sustainability programs that encourage broad participation and buy-in across sectors. One example would be the creation of an environmental task force or advisory committee to help develop local environmental policies and programs.
The business community can be a powerful ally. In some cases, including the chamber of commerce or leaders in the local business community may be an easier lift than working directly with city departments. Chambers across the globe have seen the benefits of creating "Green Business Programs," which educate businesses about how to go green and promote those that have sustainable practices.
Industry Impact: Your Workplace
No matter where you work, from corporations to nonprofits to government agencies to universities, there are lots of ways to help create change within your workplace.
As a first step, research whether there are environmental standards, certifications or industry organizations for your field. If you found some, great! Start talking to decision-makers at your organization to find out how you can engage them. If not, find others in your field who are passionate about sustainability and develop your own.
For instance, the events industry has developed green event standards (ISO 20121 and APEX/ASTM), green event certifications, and industry organizations (Green Meeting Industry Council, Sustainable Event Alliance, Green Sports Alliance).
These standards have pushed all industry stakeholders, like venues, event producers, caterers and suppliers of event products, to up their sustainability game—with huge results.
Why are industry standards such a big deal? Consider that the Olympics is essentially one large $5 billion event. The importance of the International Olympic Committee embracing the ISO 20121 standard as a requirement for all Olympic Games from 2012 onward is massive in terms of the carbon emissions, pollutants and waste it prevents.
Global Impact: Your World
Yes, the climate crisis is a global challenge. Yes, it's big. Too big for any one person to solve on their own. But together with thousands and thousands of other committed activists spread across every time zone? Now that's a different story.
That story is the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, nearly 14,500 (and growing) everyday people of all ages who all decided that our climate and our planet are too important to leave in the hands of others.
They all believed they had to do something themselves. So they came to train with former Vice President Al Gore and others. They learned how to organize their communities and create pressure for action that policymakers couldn't ignore.
Together, they've become a powerful force for change, helping push cities and universities to go 100 percent renewable and making business more sustainable all around the world.
You can train as a Climate Reality Leader and join them. You can be part of this global movement that is reshaping the world we live in. After all, these Leaders are working for solutions in ways that ripple across the planet, but they all started off as someone just like you. Someone asking, "What can I do?"
Ready for Action?
If you're ready to learn how you can make a difference in your community and for the planet, join a host of incredible speakers like former Vice President Al Gore at the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in LA Aug. 28—30.
It's three days of inspiring sessions on climate science and solutions. Three days of conversations with other world-changers just like you. Three days that point the way forward to a sustainable future. Three days that will change your life.
Applications are open and the training is free to attend, so apply today.
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By Bob Jacobs
Hanako, a female Asian elephant, lived in a tiny concrete enclosure at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo for more than 60 years, often in chains, with no stimulation. In the wild, elephants live in herds, with close family ties. Hanako was solitary for the last decade of her life.
Hanako, an Asian elephant kept at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo; and Kiska, an orca that lives at Marineland Canada. One image depicts Kiska's damaged teeth. Elephants in Japan (left image), Ontario Captive Animal Watch (right image), CC BY-ND
Affecting Health and Altering Behavior<p>It is easy to observe the overall health and psychological consequences of life in captivity for these animals. Many captive elephants suffer from arthritis, obesity or skin problems. Both <a href="https://doi.org/10.11609/JoTT.o2620.1826-36" target="_blank">elephants</a> and orcas often have severe dental problems. Captive orcas are plagued by <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank">pneumonia, kidney disease, gastrointestinal illnesses and infections</a>.</p><p>Many animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.09.010" target="_blank">try to cope</a> with captivity by adopting abnormal behaviors. Some develop "<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2017.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stereotypies</a>," which are repetitive, purposeless habits such as constantly bobbing their heads, swaying incessantly or chewing on the bars of their cages. Others, especially big cats, pace their enclosures. Elephants rub or break their tusks.</p>
Changing Brain Structure<p>Neuroscientific research indicates that living in an impoverished, stressful captive environment <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">physically damages the brain</a>. These changes have been documented in many <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.903270108" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">species</a>, including rodents, rabbits, cats and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">humans</a>.</p><p>Although researchers have directly studied some animal brains, most of what we know comes from observing animal behavior, analyzing stress hormone levels in the blood and applying knowledge gained from a half-century of neuroscience research. Laboratory research also suggests that mammals in a zoo or aquarium have compromised brain function.</p>
This illustration shows differences in the brain's cerebral cortex in animals held in impoverished (captive) and enriched (natural) environments. Impoverishment results in thinning of the cortex, a decreased blood supply, less support for neurons and decreased connectivity among neurons. Arnold B. Scheibel, CC BY-ND<p>Subsisting in confined, barren quarters that lack intellectual stimulation or appropriate social contact seems to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1590/S0001-37652001000200006" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">thin the cerebral cortex</a> – the part of the brain involved in voluntary movement and higher cognitive function, including memory, planning and decision-making.</p><p>There are other consequences. Capillaries shrink, depriving the brain of the oxygen-rich blood it needs to survive. Neurons become smaller, and their dendrites – the branches that form connections with other neurons – become less complex, impairing communication within the brain. As a result, the cortical neurons in captive animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.901230110" target="_blank">process information less efficiently</a> than those living in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/dev.420020208" target="_blank">enriched, more natural environments</a>.</p>
An actual cortical neuron in a wild African elephant living in its natural habitat compared with a hypothesized cortical neuron from a captive elephant. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Brain health is also affected by living in small quarters that <a href="https://doi.org/10.3233/BPL-160040" target="_blank">don't allow for needed exercise</a>. Physical activity increases the flow of blood to the brain, which requires large amounts of oxygen. Exercise increases the production of new connections and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw2622" target="_blank">enhances cognitive abilities</a>.</p><p>In their native habits these animals must move to survive, covering great distances to forage or find a mate. Elephants typically travel anywhere from <a href="https://www.elephantsforafrica.org/elephant-facts/#:%7E:text=How%20far%20do%20elephants%20walk,km%20on%20a%20daily%20basis." target="_blank">15 to 120 miles per day</a>. In a zoo, they average <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0150331" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">three miles daily</a>, often walking back and forth in small enclosures. One free orca studied in Canada swam <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-010-0958-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">up to 156 miles a day</a>; meanwhile, an average orca tank is about 10,000 times smaller than its <a href="https://www.cascadiaresearch.org/projects/killer-whales/using-dtags-study-acoustics-and-behavior-southern" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">natural home range</a>.</p>
Disrupting Brain Chemistry and Killing Cells<p>Living in enclosures that restrict or prevent normal behavior creates chronic frustration and boredom. In the wild, an animal's stress-response system helps it escape from danger. But captivity traps animals with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1215502109" target="_blank">almost no control</a> over their environment.</p><p>These situations foster <a href="https://doi.org/10.1037/rev0000033" target="_blank">learned helplessness</a>, negatively impacting the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/6391686" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hippocampus</a>, which handles memory functions, and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.02.024" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amygdala</a>, which processes emotions. Prolonged stress <a href="https://doi.org/10.3109/10253899609001092" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevates stress hormones</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.10-09-02897.1990" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">damages or even kills neurons</a> in both brain regions. It also disrupts the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2005.03.021" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">delicate balance of serotonin</a>, a neurotransmitter that stabilizes mood, among other functions.</p><p>In humans, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">deprivation</a> can trigger <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">psychiatric issues</a>, including depression, anxiety, <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mood disorders</a> or <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858409333072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">post-traumatic stress disorder</a>. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-010-0288-3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Elephants</a>, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0050139" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">orcas</a> and other animals with large brains are likely to react in similar ways to life in a severely stressful environment.</p>
Damaged Wiring<p>Captivity can damage the brain's complex circuitry, including the basal ganglia. This group of neurons communicates with the cerebral cortex along two networks: a direct pathway that enhances movement and behavior, and an indirect pathway that inhibits them.</p><p>The repetitive, <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2014.05.057" target="_blank">stereotypic behaviors</a> that many animals adopt in captivity are caused by an imbalance of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2010.02.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">serotonin</a>. This impairs the indirect pathway's ability to modulate movement, a condition documented in species from chickens, cows, sheep and horses to primates and big cats.</p>
The cerebral cortex, hippocampus and amygdala are physically altered by captivity, along with brain circuitry that involves the basal ganglia. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Evolution has constructed animal brains to be exquisitely responsive to their environment. Those reactions can affect neural function by <a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/311787/behave-by-robert-m-sapolsky/" target="_blank">turning different genes on or off</a>. Living in inappropriate or abusive circumstance alters biochemical processes: It disrupts the synthesis of proteins that build connections between brain cells and the neurotransmitters that facilitate communication among them.</p><p>There is strong evidence that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0577-11.2011" target="_blank">enrichment</a>, social contact and appropriate space in more natural habitats are <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1090.2003.tb02071.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">necessary</a> for long-lived animals with large brains such as <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0152490" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elephants</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/13880292.2017.1309858" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cetaceans</a>. Better conditions <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5543669/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reduce disturbing sterotypical behaviors</a>, improve connections in the brain, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/cdd.2009.193" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">trigger neurochemical changes</a> that enhance learning and memory.</p>