2020 was definitely a year for the books. From lockdowns due to the global pandemic, to protests of racial injustice, to a divisive election - it hasn’t been an easy year by any standards.
The good habits you’d built - carpooling to work, toting around your reusable coffee cup, and dining at small, locally-supplied eateries - are all on “pause.”
Last year, something had to give. And for many well-intentioned people, it was the sustainable lifestyle they’d been working toward.
Most of us are especially welcoming of the new year this January. We’re hopeful for better health, more time with family and friends, consistent employment, and progress toward a more just and sustainable world.
So let’s acknowledge where we are, then dive into the New Year with a fresh sense of purpose. Here are some simple ways to get back to prioritizing the planet in 2021.
#1 Read a Book
While it’s still chilly outside, get a head start on your resolutions by curling up with a good book. Our pick for an environmental read? The Future We Choose by Tom Rivett-Carnac and Christiana Figueres.
Unlike many environmental books that only seem to brace us for impending doom, The Future We Choose compares two possible scenarios. One, of course, is the gloomy nightmare that environmentalists have been hinting at for decades – but the other is a future of optimism.
In the book, the authors paint a truly plausible picture of a carbon-neutral world. They emphasize that it’s a scenario within reach - if we take steps to reverse climate change first.
After reading the book, choose to reuse - pass it on to a friend or family member with instructions for them to do the same. To learn more about this book and its authors, check out this TED Radio Hour on NPR.
So, in author Christiana Figueres’ words, how about starting off 2021 by “choosing optimism”?
#2 Educate Yourself About Intersectional Environmentalism
If you’re unfamiliar with the term “Intersectional Environmentalism,” make it a goal this year to dive into this topic.
Leah Thomas, founder of Intersectional Environmentalist, explains Intersectional Environmentalism as “an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for both the protection of people and the planet.” It doesn’t sacrifice social justice in the name of environmental progress. After a year of public outcry over racial injustice, we should dig into the impacts of environmental injustice, too.1
To start learning about this important topic, explore the Intersectional Environmentalist website. Find more resources on this blog about young climate activists of color.
Another great way to dive in? Podcasts - try:
Share these resources with people in your circle, and get a conversation rolling.
#3 Reduce Your Single-Use Plastic Consumption
You’ve heard this one before, but let’s not forget it! According to National Geographic, the United States is the number one producer of plastic waste. And we need to make serious changes if we’re going to fix this problem.2
Going plastic-free can sound overwhelming, if not entirely impossible. Start simple with these quick tips to reduce your single-use plastic consumption.
- Avoid extra utensils and napkins with takeout. Use your own silverware and napkins rather than bringing home more plastic.
- Stop buying paper napkins (wrapped in plastic!) by replacing them with cloth napkins.
- When buying bottles of soft drinks, opt for glass instead of plastic where possible - and recycle the glass when you’re finished with it.
- At the grocery store, choose products in cardboard over products packaged in plastic.
If you’re a plastic-free champ already, challenge yourself to make one or two changes that take a bit more forethought. You could start by making your own cleaning and beauty products. Find recipes online and have fun concocting your own unique products.
#4 Take a Hike and Learn From Nature
There’s no better way to hit reset than by heading out for quality time in nature. Studies show that time in nature can boost our mental health, relieve stress, and lower blood pressure. This year, make a point to reconnect with the natural world.3
For those living in or visiting the Roaring Fork Valley, sign up for a guided hike or tour with an ACES Naturalist. You can join a hike in both summer and winter to learn about the local ecology in different seasons.
In the winter, observe animal tracks, study natural history, and learn about the wildlife that call this area home. During the summer, learn about wildflowers and geology on an easy stroll or a challenging trek. You can also hire a guide for a private hike if there’s a destination that you’re itching to explore.
Spending time outdoors isn’t just good for you. Appreciation of nature leads to stewardship of our cherished outdoor spaces. The more people enjoy spending time in nature, the more desire there is to preserve it.
#5 Use New Tech to Track Your Emissions
If you are already a follower of climate news, you’re aware of dangerous greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists agree we need to collectively reduce our emissions if we want to slow global climate change. According to the Nature Conservancy, Americans, on average, have a carbon footprint that is 4 times that of the global average.4
This year, vow to contribute to emission reduction goals by reducing your own. Start by downloading an app to help you track your emissions. Then, take actionable steps that cut down on emissions. Eating meatless once per week, walking for exercise rather than driving to the gym, or air-drying your clean laundry are just a few ideas you’ll come across in these apps:
- LiveGreen - assigns actions steps which, upon completion, earn points that plant trees across the globe
- Carbon Down - gives you access to the “Carbon Offset Marketplace,” where you can support various carbon offset projects, like reforestation
- Earth Hero - tracks your progress as you reduce carbon-emitting activities and habits
Share these apps with friends and make this resolution a social one. The more people involved in these efforts, the better!
#6 Get Outside and Enjoy Your Public Lands
Explore, enjoy, and educate yourself about your public lands in 2021. Our 614 million acres of public lands serve a crucial role in our country’s environmental, economic, and cultural wellbeing.5
The National Park Service, National Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Fish and Wildlife Service, among other entities, manage these lands for different purposes. Public lands range from wilderness campgrounds to mineral extraction sites, and everything in between. Research the public lands near your home and how you can enjoy them. Some of these places are in dire need of protection, so learn what you can do to help.
Check out the Patagonia film Public Trust for a thought-provoking look into issues threatening public lands. You can also search your area on Patagonia’s Action Works page to find local groups working to protect public lands near you (this includes ACES!)
#7 Stay Informed About Environmental Issues and Sustainability
This year, make it a priority to stay informed about environmental issues - both at a global and local level. Those of us blessed with a vote and a voice have a responsibility: to act in the interest of vulnerable places and marginalized populations.
The challenge for many is knowing where to begin. Start by following an Instagram account that educates and inspires its followers. Filling your feed with environmental statistics and sustainability strategies can help you rethink your day-to-day habits (while indulging your insta-scrolling habit).
Here are some Instagram accounts to get started:
For those who enjoy a cup of coffee and a slow morning with the news, check out these platforms for up-to-date environmental issues:
Podcasts are a great way to effectively multi-task: take a walk, clean the house, cook a plant-based dinner, all while educating yourself on the latest environmental news. Here are a few to check out:
Staying informed is the first step in taking appropriate action, so do what you can to educate yourself during this new and hopeful year.
Cheers to a New Year!
2021 will surely be a year for celebrations - of health, reunions, and travel - but it will also bring challenges. We’re living in a crucial moment in human history. The time to act for our planet - and its inhabitants - is now.
You don’t have to go completely vegan. You don’t have to sell your car. You don’t have to chain yourself to a tree in the park. But this year, do something.
Read an informative book and let it introduce new ways of thinking into your life. Have a conversation with a friend who isn’t making a point to learn about the causes and consequences of environmental injustice. Spend a little more time outdoors to recharge and reinspire yourself.
These resolutions, though small, are steps in the right direction. For our planet’s sake - and our own - kick off 2021 on the right foot.