Five years ago, Hurricane Sandy devastated Karen Blondel’s apartment in NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA) public housing in Red Hook, a majority Black and Latinx waterfront neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY.
When Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge pushed over seven feet of water in the streets, flooding Red Hook and beyond, Blondel and many of her neighbors went without water, power, and heat for over two weeks.
Through that destruction, Blondel experienced the strength of her community first had when they banded together to help one another after the storm. After that, Blondel had to educate herself on climate change. Through this, she was inspired to learn more about how a superstorm came to impact her community in such a devastating way.
“This planet is not just for Karen,” said Blondel, now a leader with Turning the Tide (T3), a Brooklyn climate change initiative that educates low-income communities in Brooklyn about climate change and sustainability. “Educating yourself about climate change is very important.”
Blondel knows that climate change is inevitable, but by simply educating ourselves and making small changes, it can lessen and slow down its impacts.
Our planet is warming, due primarily to our actions, and we’re seeing the results all around us. More extreme weather is causing our waters to warm and rise. Our storms, hurricanes, wildfires, and droughts are becoming more intense.
If we don’t change our habits soon the consequences will only worsen and more deadly heat waves, flooded coastal cities, animal and plant extinction, and waves of refugees from climate change-related displacement.
It’s important to remember these issues don’t happen in a vacuum—they intersect with many other societal factors. How much you are impacted by climate change is directly related to who you are, what you look like and where you live.
That, in turn, should inform how we respond to climate change. As it intensifies, those who are most impacted––low-income and communities of color–– should be centered in the conversation.
Our federal government is leaving us completely exposed to the consequences of climate change through inaction. The Trump administration has all but denied climate change exists and is doing what it can to destroy many of the regulations in place to help lessen it.
There have been many moments that have made us take steps backward, but two stand out:
- We pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord, which allowed countries to set goals for reducing climate-changing emissions;
- We repealed the Clean Power Act, which pushed states toward clean energy, curbed emissions produced by power plants, and allowed environmental agency scientists to speak out freely on the dangers of climate change.
So, what can we do? Much more than you think, actually.
There are several actions to take that cost nearly nothing and can help to lessen climate change and maximize benefits for your community.
Here are 10 simple things you can do right now to get started:
1. Change Your Mindset.
The first step to lessening your impacts on the environment is as free as it gets: it starts between your ears. We can all start to make a difference by thinking more about how our individual actions impact our communities and the earth.
“When you become a student of your environment you start to listen, you bring back those relationships that have been here before all of us, that already have a wisdom,” said Green Action Climate and Environmental Justice Organizer and Planner, Sheridan Enomoto.
“We are dealing with Climate change because of a disconnection with those relationships to the earth,” she added. “We have to rethink and walk differently in our relationships to our earth and that’s something that’s free of charge.”
As an Indigenous Hawaiian and Black woman, Enomoto has known the importance of our connection to the land since childhood.
“If we look at our mindset around how we interact with this giver [the earth], how are we showing up as a receiver of all of these gifts—what are we giving back, or are we not,” Enomoto said.
2. Educate yourself and others.
“Information and knowledge is power,” said Blondel. “As you become more aware you will become more responsible.”
Learn about the climate issues that impact you most. Social factors like race, geographic location, and socioeconomic status impact how each of us is affected by climate change. So, whether it’s sea level rise, wildfires, or local waste facilities and environmental racism, find out what’s threatening your community.
Once you’ve learned about the impacts of climate change, talk to others about it and share what you’ve learned. “It’s each one teach one,” said Blondel. “That’s the way we have to move this out. We have to educate the residents about energy.”
3. Conserve water.
Remember that Barney song for kids about never letting the water run? A bit childish, to be sure, but it seems Barney was ahead of his time on sustainability.
“Water is a ‘we’ and not an ‘I,’” said Enomoto. “Not only is it just thinking differently, but a lot of people don’t know the source.” Being more aware of where your water comes from and where it goes when it leaves you, will make you more aware of the energy that goes into that.
Our states use a hefty amount of energy to pump and clean our water. Cutting down on how much water you use can lessen that.
Take shorter showers (bonus points: it’s also better for your skin). Only use your clothes washer or laundry mat for full loads. Cut off the faucet when washing your face or brushing your teeth. These seem like simple or obvious tasks, but if enough people do them they can go a long way.
4. Cut your electricity use.
Electricity usage makes up for the vast majority of climate-changing pollution. How much electricity and gas we use is directly tied to how much pollution electricity companies produce.
“I think one thing I would say that people should know more about is energy consumption,” said Annel Hernandez, a Resiliency Planner at the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance (NYCEJA). “Just being more aware of how they consume energy in their home and what they can do to demand that the city increase our use of renewable energy.”
Instead of putting more money in the deep pockets of energy companies, stop using so much electricity. NYCEJA and other environmental organization across New York are working to tax big energy companies for poisoning our environment.
Until then, take steps to save the environment and cut your energy bills. Unplug when you aren’t using an outlet. We often plug something in and leave it plugged in, even if we only use the device once or twice a day––think of a toaster oven, blender or phone chargers. Those electronics pull small amounts of energy when they aren’t in use, so remember to unplug.
5. Eat local and cut down your meat and dairy consumption.
Our food typically travels pretty far to get to our plates, and that ride is producing pollution the entire way. So if your community has a local garden, support it. Many will let you have free produce if you help out, maybe even plant something of your own. Trust me, it will taste that much sweeter.
If you can’t do that, maybe just stay informed about what is in-season where you live. Shop from that list of fruits and vegetables; the food will taste better because it’s in peak and you’ll be supporting a local farmer.
It’s crucial to note that an enormous portion of the greenhouse gasses our country produces come from the meat industry. What’s more, the average American consumes twice as much meat protein as they need per day. Red meat and dairy make up the majority of that. It’s also worth noting that much of the waste and pollution from meat factory farms are seriously threatening communities of color.
Now, I’m not saying you have to put down bacon forever—though that’d certainly help!—but do cut back. You simply don’t need to eat meat at every meal or even every day. Get creative and pick up something green and fill up on plant protein instead.
6. Recycle and reuse.
The importance of recycling should not be underestimated; it reduces the amount of pollution and waste in our landfills. If your community doesn’t have a recycling program, consider starting one.
If that’s not accessible, cut down the amount of trash you create. Reuse all of those plastic/paper bags from the grocery store. Take your lunch or a water bottle to work or school instead of buying new.
7. Take public transit or carpool.
Transportation makes up a hefty portion of the greenhouse gas pollution that worsens climate change. To cut down on that––and no, you don’t have to get an electric car––just stop driving as much. Take the bus or train. Bike, if you have one, or ask a friend to carpool.
One less car on the roads is one less machine pumping out pollution.
8. Report it! Use your voice and your vote.
If you see something in your neighborhood that you think might be negatively impacting your environment (and subsequently, your health!) say something.
“As an everyday citizen, don’t be scared to ask questions,” said Enomoto. “In your neighborhood, there are ways to report pollution, to be a community watchdog.”
For example, California’s IVAN Network that helps track and report environmental violations like air pollution—which disproportionately affects Latinx communities and communities of color in California.
“There are things that we can’t achieve through individual action,” said Mimi Bluestone of climate change organization 350 Brooklyn. “There are things that can only be achieved when the society as a whole takes action.”
The federal government is doing nothing to stop or lessen climate change and its impacts, so it’s up to our local legislators to fill in the gaps our government refuses to.
This is where you come in. Use your vote and voice to hold your local government accountable. Let them know what climate issues are affecting your community and that you expect them to do everything they can help.
When I first began to learn about climate change it felt like a far off concern. Talk of excess greenhouse gases and atmospheric pressure sounded like problems for a scientist.
All I knew was that I had rent due next week and a paper due tomorrow—climate change was nowhere near the top of my to do list.
That was until our current president. With every passing day, the Trump administration has dramatically worsened our environmental policy; here’s a running list of all the changes, if you have the stomach.
Today, the consequences of climate change are no longer ignorable. They are showing up all over the country from wildfires in California to the disastrous Hurricane Maria that hit Puerto Rico. This is no longer an abstract or far off concern.
I don’t know about you, but I refuse to let Donald Trump or his administration have the last word on my environment and climate future. Especially when our country’s most vulnerable and marginalized people—my people—are hit the hardest.
We might not all have the time or money to make monumental life changes like buying an electric car or putting solar panels on our homes. But I know I can educate myself, unplug my devices, and cut down on my meat consumption—and I believe you can too.
Maya Lewis is an Everyday Feminism Reporting Fellow. Maya is a 20-something Brooklynite, by way of Maryland. She spends her time writing about things she believes are interesting and finding ways to trick people into reading them.