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Five things you can do to fight climate change right now

Switching to a heat pump can be better for the environment, and has been part of a statewide incentive program.The Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

Climate change is reshaping the world, and New England is not exempt. The region is already seeing some effects of rising temperatures and sea levels, which will continue to affect local economies and communities.

On Monday, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a 3,675-page report detailing how climate change has affected the planet, the first report of its kind since 2014.

And some of the impacts are local: Warmer temperatures in the oceans mean lobster populations in southern New England were down by 78 percent between 1984 and 2014, since warmer waters are less hospitable for their growth and reproduction. Lobstermen are already feeling the effects.


Individual action to combat climate change only go so far — governments and corporations will have to step up on a larger scale to make a real difference. But there are still steps people can take to try to lower carbon emissions, mitigate their own impacts, and encourage their governments to do more. Here are a few suggestions.

1. Contact your elected officials.

Changing your daily habits is great, but large-scale change won’t come without large-scale action.

“Political commitment and follow-through across all levels of government accelerate the implementation of adaptation actions,” the UN report’s authors wrote.

Local governments can be a proving ground for larger-scale efforts, Jeff Mauk, executive director of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, told The Globe in November.

“They can innovate and test out things that, if it works out well, the federal government might adopt it,” he said.

If you are not familiar with your elected officials, the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s Office has a guide to finding who they are.

2. Reconsider travel by plane.

During the height of pandemic restrictions, air travel fell dramatically as people canceled business trips and rescheduled vacations. While travel by plane is sometimes unavoidable, there are times where it can be replaced. Can your big business conference or meeting be held virtually, so participants don’t have to fly out? Can you take a train to your next vacation destination, or use trains to get around from stop to stop on your next big trip?


3. Lower the heat, rethink the air conditioning.

The classic New England sense of thriftiness urging you to put on a sweater — and a pair of warm socks and maybe a good undershirt — before you turn on the heat is good not only for your heating bill, but for the planet. And with energy costs rising, cutting down can be a necessity.

Though retrofitting older homes can be expensive, Massachusetts now offers incentives for homeowners who want to make their houses more energy-efficient. The incentives, offered through the Mass Save program, include helping homeowners who want to switch from oil heat to other resources, installing electric heat pumps, and more.

Sometimes it’s complicated, of course. Brutally hot summers can be dangerous, especially in homes designed to hold in heat in the winter. If you have a person sensitive to extreme heat in your household, including babies and seniors, keep the air conditioning set to a safe level on hot days.

4. Eat local when you can.

Eating less meat, or cutting out animal products entirely, is an effective way to lower your personal carbon emissions. Cutting out meat can also be cheaper if you stick with things like beans and legumes, not pricey and heavily processed meat alternatives.


But even if you go meat-free, buying produce grown thousands of miles away, often packed in plastic, has its own carbon footprint. Supporting local farmers can also have economic benefits, since your money stays local as well. The Massachusetts Coalition for Local Food and Farms has lists of local farmers markets, farms, and other places to buy local food. You can also find other options here.

5. Learn more about your local recycling programs.

There’s a term for putting something into the recycling bin when you’re pretty sure it will end up in a landfill anyway: wishcycling. For years, public policymakers focused on making recycling as easy as possible for the consumer. That’s how we ended up with things like single-stream recycling, where cardboard, glass, aluminum, and plastic items all end up in the same bin, though they eventually have to be sorted and processed separately.

But not everything can be recycled, and guidelines vary by municipality.

Boston, for instance, allows pizza boxes, as long as you remove any food scraps, liners, and those little plastic tables that keep the lid from sticking to the cheese. But plastic wrap, from the cling wrap you put over your leftovers to the bubble wrap your online order came in, is a no-go. Things that can get tangled up in recycling plant machines, like extension cords, hoses, and coat hangers, are also not allowed.

It also helps to rinse your recyclables, especially if they contain a bit of leftover food. And remember that small items, typically those 2 inches or less in diameter, can get lost in the sorting process and may not be recycled at all.


Gal Tziperman Lotan is a former Globe staff member.