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Caring for the planet is one of those things that can seem out of our reach.
The problems are too big and complex to wrap our heads around. There aren’t any practical steps we can take in our everyday lives. And there’s nothing we can really do to help anyway. Right?
Every week, The New York Times’s Climate and Environment team publishes a newsletter called Climate Fwd:, which gives you stories and insights about climate change, along with tips on what you can do.
In that spirit, we’re partnering with them this week to pull advice from a recurring featuring in their newsletter: One thing you can do. Below are eight things that you — yes, you, the person reading this — can do to care for the planet.
(And, of course, click here to subscribe to the Climate Fwd: newsletter.)
Hang on to your smartphone
The little computer you carry with you requires a lot of energy to assemble. The production of an iPhone 6, for example, released the equivalent of 178 pounds of carbon dioxide, or about as much as burning nine gallons of gas, according to a 2015 study. Instead of buying a new phone, try to keep yours in working condition for as long as possible (here’s some advice on how to extend its life). But if you must get rid of yours, recycle it or consider buying a used one.
Leaves provide shelter for worms, moths and some butterflies, which then become prey for neighborhood birds. They also help nourish and fertilize soil, and you won’t burn fossil fuels by using a lawn mower or leaf blower.
Use a dishwasher, not the sink
Dishwashers have improved over the years: Average models certified by the government’s Energy Star program use 3.5 gallons or less per cycle. Compare that with an efficient kitchen faucet, which pours 1.5 gallons of water per minute, meaning that handwashing for four minutes nearly doubles the water use of a dishwasher. If you don’t have the luxury of owning a dishwasher, try to do the two-bucket method: “When washing dishes by hand, don’t let the water run. Fill one basin with wash water and the other with rinse water.”
Buy fewer clothes
Manufacturers use water and chemicals to dye and finish cotton clothes. Polyesters and nylons aren’t biodegradable. In this age of fast fashion, it’s best to wear your clothes for a long, long time. (Buying secondhand helps, too.)
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Consider your online order, from click to carrier
When you’re shopping online, try to buy in bulk to reduce multiple deliveries, which can help cut carbon emissions from delivery trucks. Research your items to avoid having to return them, and always recycle the boxes.
Divest from fossil fuel
Do your retirement funds or other investments include fossil-fuel companies? Divesting has become common in union, city and state pension funds. In a 2018 report published by Arabella Advisors, a philanthropy services firm, 61 pension funds have committed to divestment since 2016, bringing the total to 144. Consider adjusting your retirement fund, and ask if your 401(k) can be fossil-fuel free.
Be mindful of your food waste
A massive amount of energy goes into producing the food we eat, especially meat and dairy. For example, the production of a single hamburger uses the same amount of water as a 90-minute shower. And about 40 percent of food in the United States is thrown away. To limit food waste when you’re hosting a get-together, use this “Guest-imator” to calculate the amount of groceries you’ll need. Also check out the “Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook” for more help on reducing food waste.
Tune your heating system
Most American homes are heated by furnaces or boilers, according to the Energy Department, and poorly maintained systems can burn more oil or natural gas than is necessary. Hire a technician to inspect yours to make sure it’s running efficiently and to cut down on indoor particulate matter. And if you have a boiler system that uses radiators, consider installing an outdoor reset control, which modulates the radiator’s water temperature based on the temperature outside. All of this can even result in direct savings for you: These small actions can knock down a heating bill by up to 10 percent.
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Tip of the Week
This week I’ve invited friend of S.L. Kara Cutruzzula, who writes my favorite daily newsletter, Brass Ring Daily, to tell us when throwing money at a problem is the right move.
Call the neurologists, I’ve figured out the impossible: I’m buying back brain space.
This year, my goal is to streamline my life and habits. The first step is eliminating minor tasks and actions that suck up time, energy and gray matter. My solution? Throwing money — small amounts, mind you — at problems.
And no, this isn’t just a cop-out to doing work: A 2017 study found that “spending money to save time may reduce stress about the limited time in the day, thereby improving happiness.”
Here’s my strategy.
Buy common items in bulk
I’m done pretending that certain items I use every day will never run out (as all logic and experience would suggest). After realizing “go to Target” was playing on a loop in my mind, I resolved to spend less time and mental energy running errands for basic essentials. So I ordered embarrassingly large quantities online and got them delivered instead. Now I have enough toilet paper, paper towels, tampons, oatmeal and coffee to carry me through to 2020.
What do you use — or carry around — every day? I was transporting a wireless mouse to work for months before realizing they cost $10 and that buying two would allow me to stop thinking about it altogether. Purchasing multiple phone chargers also comes with minimal cost but maximum benefit. You can stop borrowing your colleague’s and never worry about hovering at 12 percent again.
Whether you hire someone to clean your home or install your new 4K TV, the point is this: Paying someone to perform tasks that are always on your mind will get them done more quickly (and regularly) than if you try to do them yourself. Then you can focus on literally anything else. Your brain will thank you.