• Shannon Harts

5-Minute Changes to Help Save the Planet

Photo: Unsplash/Markus Spiske @markusspiske

I recently returned from a trip to Los Angeles, California. While the majestic mountains surrounding Los Angeles are stunning, I’d never seen so much brown in my life.

Watered areas were lush and gorgeous, but heading away from the city, areas quickly turned arid.

While hiking near the Hollywood sign and Runyon Canyon, I did see some sparse green shrubs and pines with presumably deep roots among the steep, sandy slopes. However, much of the plantlife closer to the parched soil was a dead grey-color and snapped easily underfoot.

It certainly didn’t surprise me, but still left me concerned, that the Getty Fire near Los Angeles threatened around 7,000 homes and grew to more than 650 acres while we were in the area. Oddly I'm not sure if we ever saw direct smoke from the fire, but at times I believe we could definitely smell it.

On this trip, I came face to face with two scary realities of climate change: desertification, or basically the spreading of deserts due to hotter climates, and the increasing threat of longer and more intense fire seasons. 

It seems like our poor planet is being assaulted from every angle by the changes triggered by climate change and by policies the Trump administration is passing that almost seem to be purposely fanning those flames. 

Over the summer, the administration’s Environmental Protection Administration reauthorized the use of cyanide bombs that kill thousands of animals—including pets—and have even harmed people (read more from the Center of Biological Diversity’s press release here). 

OK, promise my tangent soap box is over, and let’s get down to what we can do--today--to make a difference. Luckily, these things are incredibly quick to implement and free (since we certainly don’t have a moment to spare). 

1. Swap your Google Search for Ecosia

Can a simple internet search really allow you to plant a tree? It sounds too good to be true--and it sort of is, but the search engine Ecosia does allow you to play a role in making this a reality. Since it started in 2009, Ecosia claims it has planted more than 70 million trees! 

So how is this possible? As you are probably aware, the revenue that can be made from ads that pop up when you search for something on the web is BIG money. Ecosia donates around 80 percent of this revenue to nonprofits that plant trees in areas of the world that need them most. For example, the organization has a partnership with the U.S.-based organization The Nature Conservancy and it aims to plant one million trees in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest. 

Ecosia is also helping to fight desertification which, in 2018, was estimated to displace around 60 million people in Africa by 2020. 

Ecosia has reported it has planted around 4 million trees in what’s called the Sahel region, an area south of the Sahara desert that is mainly grasslands and sparse forests that stretches around 3,360 miles (5,400 km) between the Red Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The region serves as a sort of divider between the growing desserts in the north from the lusher equatorial ecosystems in the south. 

This is part of a project known as the Great Green Wall, which is quite simply a belt of trees that will stretch across the continent of Africa to prevent the climate-change-fueled spread of deserts. This Great Green Wall will also hopefully provide food and a safer future to around 230 million people living in this region. 

Ecosia is part of the Microsoft Search Network, so yes, it’s powered by Bing. However, despite Bing's reputation, I’ve definitely seen its search results rival those of Google. Each time you search, Ecosia shows you about how many trees the search “planted” with the revenue it generated (which honestly is a pretty fulfilling feature). 

However, the argument has been made that since Google became 100 percent carbon neutral in 2018 and Microsoft is only committed to 70 percent by 2030, Google might still be the more sustainable choice. 

While I can see the viability of this argument, what also comes to mind for me is the fact that, while it’s committed to sustainability at its own headquarters, Google has maintained very profitable ties with fossil fuel companies including the world’s largest oil company, Saudi Arabia’s Aramco. 

Fossil fuel companies are particularly interested in the cloud computing capabilities of companies like Google and Microsoft.

Microsoft unfortunately is also still part of deals like this as it recently announced it’s working with ExxonMobil to increase ExxonMobil’s oil production to 50,000 barrels per day by 2025.

However, I think it’s important to remember that trees pull a lot of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Just one tree can sequester as much as 48 pounds of carbon per year and by the time it’s 40, as much as one ton!

So perhaps our need for using these dirty search engines is more incentive to support organizations that are planting trees by searching with Ecosia. 

2. If you aren’t using it, unplug it! 

Maybe you’ve heard of “energy vampires”, but did you know they can cost you around $200 a year? That’s right--simply keeping a phone charger plugged into a wall, not even into your phone, still draws power which adds up.

It’s also important to unplug electronics and appliances when they are in sleep mode or off and don’t really need power—it’s estimated around a quarter of all energy consumption is used on these items that aren’t even being used and it adds up to around $19 billion in electric bills. 

So to do the planet and your wallet a favor, maybe dig out a power strip you or someone you know has lying around and plug a group of appliances into it instead of outlets so you can turn them all off at the same time. This can also protect these appliances from power surges, which happen more frequently and in smaller doses over time than you might realize (not just due to lightning). These smaller surges can decrease the lifespans of many appliance batteries over time.  

In addition, I learned when taking my 2010 MacBook in to diagnose some issues that Mac recommends not plugging on your Macbook overnight. 

I found a few articles including this one from USA Today to back up not charging your MacBook all the time if you can help it, among other helpful tips to extend your computer's battery life.

3. Vote 

OK, so this one’s a little bit of a cheat because I know doing your research before you vote takes longer. 

But, if you do think that voting is a waste of time, it might help to keep in mind that actually checking a few boxes doesn’t take that long. 

And your vote DOES make a difference. Consider these recent examples from an NPR report: in 2018, the Democratic primary for Baltimore County Executive came down to just 17 votes; in 2016 a Vermont state House seat was determined by just one vote out of 2,000 in a revote; and in 2008 Democrat Al Franken beat Republican Norm Coleman by only 312 votes out or nearly 3 million total—and this resulted in Democrats securing a 60-vote Senate supermajority. 

And of course in the 2000 election, Republican George Bush won the state of Florida by only 537 votes out of 6 million cast. While it might sound less dramatic, Trump’s victory is still considered quite narrow since he lost the popular vote by around 3 million but secured around 70,000 votes out of 12 million cast in three states to take the Electoral College win. 

If you still need more convincing, think of this: if you don’t vote, it means your voice is likely not heard and instead the concerns of others will be.

For example, in 2014 about 50% of wealthy people who make at least $150,000 a year showed up to the poles while only 12% of 18 to 24-year-olds earning $30,000 or less cast their votes. 

Also, if you are someone who is truly concerned for the planet regardless of political party, voting can help make saving the Earth a less partisan issue.

Unfortunately the 2016 elections showed how people voted is nearly directly in line with how they view climate change.

In fact, if you compare a map by area that shows who did and did not vote for Trump in 2016 with a map that shows who does and doesn't believe that climate change is caused by humans, you will see they are eerily identical

I think change will truly come when we can all support plans for widespread, systematic change in our infrastructure and economic systems that currently rely on fossil fuels. 

Luckily, we have blueprints for making this happen, like the incredible New Green Deal proposal, which also has plans for helping the world adjust as smoothly as possible to the vastly different planet climate change is creating. 

Many politicians, such as U.S. representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, are fighting to make plans like this a reality.

I think if we can all simply get on the same page in supporting them with our votes and our voices, we can truly help preserve this beautiful planet for current and future generations. 

You DO Have the Power

If you still need some convincing to put these changes into practice, I’ll share with you one more remarkable experience from my trip that convinced me to take action.

We happened to be in Los Angeles while the incredible teen environmental activist Greta Thunberg was in town for a Fridays for Future school strike to raise awareness for addressing climate change. 

I saw her speak with many other high-school aged activists at the rally who addressed serious issues such as environmental justice and health concerns they’ve experienced firsthand from pollution—issues that it didn’t seem fair such young souls should have to fight for. 

Thunberg was the last speaker. She began by stressing we cannot turn away from crises like the Getty Fire and last year’s Camp Fire that leveled the beautiful town of Paradise and became the deadliest fire in California’s history, claiming 86 lives. 

“Why are the people in power still pretending that everything is fine and as if we can continue to live right now as if there is no tomorrow?” Thunberg asked at one dramatic moment in her speech. From where I stood in intense sunshine, Thunberg was just a small braided head just barely peeking over a podium at times blocked from view by a sea of colorful, homemade signs dancing in the crowd. Thunberg’s words, however, couldn’t be more captivating. 

“Well, there is a tomorrow, and it is the tomorrow where we, young people, will live. And we need to fight for that tomorrow, we need to protect it, as if our lives depended on it...because it does.” 

I was struck by the conviction in this 16-year-old’s voice, and the perfectly-timed pauses that I have no doubt helped her words penetrate her listerners' minds—words not even in her first language.

To me, Thunberg is the most powerful example of the impact just one person can make.

In literally just over a year, she went from being one teenager staging a protest outside a Swedish parliament building to organizing a climate strike that included around 4 million people worldwide. 

Her fame continues to grow, and so does her mission. 

And I believe if we can be empowered by Thunberg and other environmental activists to make even small changes, maybe they will add up and help us tackle climate change—an issue that will determine the fate of every living and future person on the planet.

Sources: (80%) (Ecosia) (cyanide bombs) (Ecosia, Sahil) (Great Green Wall) (Google & Microsoft deals with big oil) (50,000 barrels per day) (energy vampires, home savings) (unplugging appliances, supporting green politicians) (Vote 2016 election, climate change) (New Green Deal) (Trees sequestering 48 pounds and as much as 1 ton of CO2) (why your vote matters--50% earning $50,000 or more, 12% 18-24 year olds) (Thunberg rise, 4 million people)

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About Me

I'm a nature-loving copyeditor for a company that publishes educational children's books for the school and library markets. I've written a published book about how drones can help the environment and I'm fascinated with ways we can come together to create a better future for our precious planet. I am also a loving cat mom, a proud Syracuse University grad, and an

avid runner. 



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