While the basic facts of climate change are pretty simple—human activities are creating excessive greenhouse gases, which are warming the planet and triggering widespread problems—it’s the details that can get complex.
There’s a lot to know, and the depth and breadth of information is far more than any of us can scan through while sipping our morning coffee.
To help, we’ve curated this list of seven quick facts about important climate change topics, with plenty of links if you want to dive deeper.
You’ve got time for a second cup of coffee, right?
1. Air conditioning (ironically) heats the planet
We call this the air conditioning climate spiral. It’s a vicious cycle. As the earth heats up from global warming, we use more AC to cool down. And all the power and refrigerants producing that cold air create greenhouse gases that are heating up the world.
There’s now nearly one AC unit for every four people on the planet, and along with electric fans, they’re responsible for 20 percent of global electricity use.
2050 predictions say they’ll be in two-thirds of the world’s households, making them as ubiquitous as cellphones are now.
One solution to help lower that projection? Building better, more efficient air conditioning.
The technology hasn’t really changed since it was invented in 1902. Until we get there (and even once we do), Let's do our best to use less of it to slow down the cycle.
2. Plant-based foods reduce your carbon footprint
The carbon footprint of legumes like peas and lentils is less than 3 percent that of beef, making them the official winner among protein-rich foods from the climate’s POV.
If you're still craving meat, try Faux meat. While it's processed, it’s still sustainable: imitation beef products like Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger create about 5 percent of the emissions of real meat.
In the end, while the relative healthfulness of processed meat substitutes is up for debate, when it comes to global warming, that plant-based burger patty or “neatball” is the better option, whether it was made in a factory or your own kitchen.
Learn more about how to adopt a sustainable, plant-based diet.
3. Your cold fridge leads to global warming
Fridges and freezers are a triumph of innovation, giving us luxuries like blueberries in the winter and ice cream all year round. But in the process of keeping things chill, they’re heating up the planet in an alarming way.
Refrigerants emit greenhouse gases during their entire life cycle, and especially when they’re disposed of improperly. They also damage the ozone layer, which helps protect the planet from solar radiation.
Thankfully, updated regulations mean new models are less harmful.
If you’re getting rid of an old fridge or freezer, be sure to do it responsibly. And if you’re in the market for an upgrade, consider buying as small a fridge as possible and picking an Energy Star certified model.
Learn more about how to reduce your carbon footprint at home.
4. Decaying trash is a huge contributor to climate change
Landfills aren’t just malodorous eyesores that supply garbage to the ocean.
All that trash is contributing to climate change, too: globally, it released a massive 800 million tCO2e in 2010 alone.
Specifically, organic waste in landfills (read: orange peels, yard waste and well-intentioned bunches of kale) produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
Projects to capture and use this gas are in progress. But the biggest opportunity is simply to reduce our waste and to compost what we do discard rather than sending it to the dump. With both strategies in place, this is one climate change problem where a solution is in sight.
Learn more about the biggest contributors to our food's carbon footprint.
5. Nature naturally fights climate change
Nature-based solutions could provide a third of the GHG reductions we need to succeed in limiting global warming, and it’s all thanks to the power of plants.
During photosynthesis, they take in CO2 from the air and use the carbon to make food and build up their bodies and root systems.
As long as those plants are alive, most of the carbon stays there—which is why long-living trees are such a powerful carbon-storage tool. When they die, some of the carbon is released during decomposition, but much of it remains in the soil.
That’s why shifts in agriculture like the no-till movement, and conservation methods that leave natural spaces intact, are so important in the fight against climate change. Undisturbed soil is carbon-rich soil—which means less carbon in the atmosphere.
6. Leo DiCaprio is a serious climate activist
He’s famous for his big-screen roles and standing at the bow of the Titanic, but Leo has a leading part as an environmental activist, too.
Since the ’90s, he’s been using his heartthrob status for good, shedding light on climate-related issues and becoming one of the most famous climate action champions in the world.
Among other endeavors, the actor is a big-time investor in plant-based food companies. Since 1998, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation has funded more than 200 organizations with climate action and ecosystem protection on their agendas. That’s a romance we can get behind.
7. Greta sailed for 15 days just to prove a point
To practice what she preaches en route to the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit, activist Greta Thunberg journeyed by solar panel–equipped yacht.
Her 15-day trek across the Atlantic, which would create about 1.56 tCO2e by plane, was a completely zero-carbon mission.
The 60-foot boat was cozy, to say the least. Accommodations could be likened to camping on the sea, with only thin mattresses, sleeping bags and freeze-dried vegan eats.
And in true roughing-it style, there was no toilet—a blue bucket that was emptied overboard after each use did the trick.
Learn more about ways to cut your carbon footprint at home.
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