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Five Ways You Can Help Mitigate Climate Change

A number of little actions can go a long way.
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(Photo: Fabian/Flickr)

(Photo: Fabian/Flickr)

All the disastrous news about climate change can get pretty disheartening:

Not to worry, however. There is something you can do about global warming. In a new white paper, staffers at the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute outlined science-backed ways ordinary Americans can cut their emissions of Earth-warming gases "without a major change in lifestyle." Any one of the actions doesn't make a big difference to a person's overall emissions, but, together, they add up. Here's a sampling of some of our favorite little changes:

  • If the average American drove 10 percent less—and replaced her driving with walking, biking, or another non-motorized mode of transport—that would reduce her emissions by 1.6 percent, the Transportation Research Institute estimated.
  • Accelerating quickly, making hard stops, and driving at very high speeds all waste gasoline. If the average American stopped doing those things, she could cut her emissions by another 1.6 percent.
  • If someone who has only incandescent lights in her home right now replaces all of them with LEDs, she'll save two percent in her emissions.
  • The average American who eats 35 percent less meat than she does now would reduce her emissions by one percent. Going totally vegetarian would cut them by 2.9 percent.
  • The biggest bang for a small change could come from choosing a more fuel-efficient car the next time you're in the market for one. The average fuel economy for light-duty vehicles such as cars, SUVs, and pick-up trucks—the kinds of vehicles most folks drive—is 21.4 miles per gallon. If instead the average car got 31 mpg, that would reduce the United States' total emissions by five percent.

Beyond these steps, there are lots of other things Americans can do to help mitigate climate change, including improving the insulation in their homes, to reduce how much heating and air conditioning they use; buying local (though it's difficult to trace and calculate the effects of that); and voting for policies that reduce driving, incentivize energy-efficient appliances, and mandate better fuel economy in cars.


"Catastrophic Consequences of Climate Change" is Pacific Standard's aggressive, year-long investigation into the devastating effects of climate change—and how scholars, legislators, and citizen-activists can help stave off its most dire consequences.