We Can All Move the Needle When It Comes to Climate Change By Taking These Small Steps
This week, President Biden announced an initiative called the American Climate Corps, a program that will train more than 20,000 young people in skills proven to combat climate change—jobs like installing solar panels, planting trees, building trails, and retrofitting homes to be more energy-efficient.
Yet you don’t need to join the Climate Corps to make a difference. In fact, implementing a few simple changes into your everyday life can go a long way toward helping the cause, says Jocelyn Lyle, executive vice president of mission and partnerships at the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
“I know it can feel overwhelming and even a little discouraging because progress is slow,” she says. “But little changes do matter, and progress is being made. Why not play a small part? Even if you don’t see an immediate impact, try to have a little faith that the steps you are taking are helping.”
So, what are the steps each of us can take to move the needle in the right direction and do our part to combat climate change? The Sunday Paper sat down with Lyle to find out.
A CONVERSATION WITH JOCELYN LYLE
What are some of the first things you suggest we think about doing if we want to make a difference when it comes to our impact on the environment?
The EWG tries to create small steps people can take that are meaningful. Our mission is to empower people to live healthier lives in healthier environments, and we take a less-is-more approach: The less toxic ingredients we’re putting into the market and the environment, the more likely it is that we’ll live in a safer, healthier world.
Here are a few places each of us can start:
1. Know what’s in your drinking water. There’s a tap water database at EWG that lets you search for the chemicals of concern in your tap water, and then we match those results with a water filter designed to filter out those chemicals. Not all cities have the same chemicals in their water that need cleaning up, and not all filters are created equal. The EWG takes water safety reports from around the country and puts them in a database so you don’t have to read them.
2. Consider the ingredients in your personal care products. It’s important to remember that what you put on your body you’re washing down the sink, where it ends up in rivers and streams and our environment. Your personal care isn’t just about what’s in your body; it has an impact on waste and runoff. The EWG takes a holistic look at chemicals in combination with each other and we rank them in our Skin Deep database, where you’ll find more than 80,000 products rated with a score between 1 and 10, with 1 being the best and 10 being the worst.
Now, this isn’t to say you should throw away all your existing products! Instead, start one at a time. When you’re finished with a product and shopping for something new, you can download our mobile app and scan what you’re thinking about buying so you can make the best choice. Remember, you don’t have to do everything right now. Just one step at a time, one decision at a time.
3. Make some simple diet tweaks. We know that the less processed the food and the fewer chemicals used to grow that food, the better. Our Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen lists are a great way to learn which fruits and veggies are lowest and highest in unhealthy pesticide residue. If you can afford it, foods on our Dirty Dozen list would be the ones to buy organic. But the reverse of that list—our Clean Fifteen—is our way of acknowledging that if you’re on a budget, you can buy certain foods that are conventionally grown (non-organic) and feel OK about the number of pesticides you’re exposed to.
We also know that we must be mindful of meat’s impact on the climate and reduce our consumption. You might try eating all plant-based meals during the day and have a little meat with dinner. Or maybe you establish “Meatless Mondays” in your household. Even one meal matters.
Waste is a huge issue—and so many are confused about whether composting or even recycling matters. What do you say to this?
When it comes to composting, there are so many great tools out there for you to be an at-home composter. Composting turns our food waste into nutrient-dense soil.
Recycling is better than throwing something away, but your best option is to avoid plastics in the first place. Use sustainable containers. There are so many great companies out there making products free of plastics, and that’s really the way we’ll reduce our plastic use.
Also, buy reusable items rather than single use when possible. This is such a positive trend, and it’s one we’re seeing across the country with people everywhere toting around their reusable water bottles and shopping bags. We’re starting to see the market catch up with consumer demand, which is key to lasting success.
How do you stay hopeful when you read the news on climate change and consider the state of the planet right now?
I try to focus on all of the innovative brands coming out with sustainable products—and the millions of consumers asking for more. For every bad product out there, there’s a good one. For every change that’s needed, there’s someone trying to make that change. There are more classes on environmental health sciences, more intention among consumers.
We’re starting to connect the dots. And the more people who commit to making small changes—to being patient and taking a one foot in front of the other mentality—the more hopeful I am about the movement.
Jocelyn Lyle, is the executive vice president of mission and partnerships at the Environmental Working Group. Jocelyn started her non-profit work with an environmental law firm in Montgomery, Ala., where she focused on environmental justice organizing. Jocelyn manages all of EWG's fundraising efforts, including foundation management, organizing keystone events for the organization and directing the growing online and major gift programs.