Global warming explained

You’ve probably heard our planet is in trouble: glaciers are melting, sea levels are rising, and wildfires, hurricanes, and heat waves are becoming more severe. And you’ve probably had friends, influencers, and media outlets tell you how to help: “Don’t use plastic straws” “Go vegan” “Only use reusable bags.”

But while these tips may be helpful, are they actually impactful?

As it turns out, a lot of the trendy global warming solutions do not make the biggest impact. While it’s beneficial to cut your plastic straw usage, they only account for .0025% of the plastic in our oceans, according to The Atlantic. Not to mention, our plastic problem barely makes a dent in rising temperatures.

So what does?

Global warming, explained

Let’s start from the beginning. Global warming is caused by too many ‘greenhouse gases’ in our atmosphere – aka, gases that trap heat and warm our planet.

The #1 sector responsible for greenhouse gas emissions in the US is transportation, and cars account for 82% of this, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Electricity production comes at a close second.

Why do transportation and electricity harm our planet so much? To generate power for these sectors, you need to burn fossil fuels like oil, gas, or coal. Burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide, which makes up 82% of the gases in our atmosphere that trap heat, according to the EPA.

In other words, too much transportation and electricity means too many gases in our atmosphere that warm our planet.

But there are other causes of global warming, too. While carbon dioxide takes up most of the headlines, there’s another greenhouse gas that’s seriously warming our planet: methane. It’s responsible for about 20% of global warming, according to National Geographic, and a big portion of methane comes from cows (more on that later).

So who is emitting the most greenhouse gasses? Consider this:

  • The US is responsible for the highest number of emissions, and Americans have the highest carbon footprint per capita
  • 100 companies (most of them oil and coal producers) are responsible for 71% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The best global warming solutions

To figure out the most impactful global warming solutions, we looked into the behaviors that have the highest impact on the biggest causes. For example, we asked: What is the most impactful way for individuals to cut down electricity usage? And while things like composting, smart thermostats, and recycling help our planet, they do not address the biggest sources of global warming as much as other solutions do.

We also asked: Which of these high-impact solutions are realistic for individuals to implement, right now? While there are some super impactful solutions that aren’t on this list, such as wind turbines, solar farms, and regenerative agriculture, we purposely omitted them because they’re impossible to implement at an individual level.

While you’d ideally implement all of the following solutions, the truth is, it’s difficult to live a life optimized for sustainability. Maybe driving a car is the only way you can get to work, or it’s too difficult for you to lower your heating bill in the winter.

That’s okay. Not everyone can do everything- the most important thing is that we all do the most we can to help save our earth. So here’s a toolbox of the most impactful solutions for global warming (in no particular order) that you can do, today – and can pick and choose as you see fit:

 1. Plant trees

What to do:

  • Plant trees in tropical rainforests in Brazil, Indonesia, India, Colombia, and Madagascar. (If you plant trees through Treedom, you can choose the type of tree you plant based on how much carbon it removes from the atmosphere.)
  • Protect what remains of our existing tropical forests through nonprofits such as Cool Earth

Why it’s impactful:

Reforestation is the most cost-effective way to prevent global warming, according to research presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference. Why?

Trees absorb carbon dioxide (reminder: which makes up 82% of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere), so planting more trees can help reduce the amount of carbon in our atmosphere. In fact, we could remove roughly two-thirds of human-made carbon just by letting all forests regrow, according to a study published in the journal of Science. Yep, two-thirds.

Plus, as Jaron Pazi from Treedom told us,

“Trees do more than absorb carbon. When planted in sustainable agroforestry systems, they result in enhanced biodiversity, water retention, soil health, food security and economic development for local communities.”

But not all forests are created equal – some remove carbon from our atmosphere more effectively than others. According to a paper published in Science Advances, tropical forests in countries like Brazil, Indonesia, and India will most efficiently pull carbon out of the atmosphere, since they’re home to a huge amount of biodiversity and play a major role in the planet’s air and water cycle.

2. Create more sustainable transportation habits

You knew this one was coming…

What to do:

Do at least one of these things:

  • Instead of ordering a private ride, do a rideshare
  • Avoid rapid acceleration and braking, and turn on cruise control on longer trips
  • Walk and bike to your destination whenever possible
  • When buying a new car, choose a climate-friendly option

Why it’s impactful:

As aforementioned, cars are one of the biggest contributors to climate change: 82% of emissions from transportation come from cars. And while cutting automotive transportation out of your life would make the most impact, this isn’t possible for most people. So instead, tweak a few habits that will have a bigger collective impact.

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