APU Environmental Original

Local, Daily Actions Can Influence Climate Change (Part 2)

By Dr. Kristin Drexler
Faculty Member, School of STEM

Note: This article is part 2 of a two-part series on climate change.

In Part 1 of this series, I introduced a new mnemonic device called “COWRIITE” to help each of us remember what we can do locally to positively influence global climate change. “COWRIITE” stands for:

C: Choice and Conscientious Consumption

O: (Carbon) Offset

W: Water and Food

R: The “7 Rs”

I: Invest

I: Innovate and Automate

T: Transportation and telecommuting

E: (Green) Energy

The first article discussed the first three sections of this mnemonic: C, O and W. This article will examine the other five sections.

R: The ‘7 Rs’

There are various steps you can take to reduce your carbon footprint. The University of Colorado’s Environmental Center has a program called “7 steps to live Zero Waste”:

  1. Rethink
  2. Refuse
  3. Reduce
  4. Reuse
  5. Repair (or refurbish)
  6. Re-gift (or repurpose)
  7. Recycle

The 7 Rs can be easily applied to your everyday life. For instance, you can:

  • Rethink and refuse the use of single-use plastics (no straws or plastic bags)
  • Reduce consumption
  • Reuse shopping bags
  • Repair and refurbish items instead of throwing them away and buying new ones
  • Re-gift items you don’t need or want and donate items to thrift stores
  • Recycle as much as you can

Challenge yourself and members of your household to lead a zero (or near zero) waste lifestyle. 

I: Invest          

When you’re talking about climate action, it’s best to put your money where your mouth is. One way to do this is by investing in environmental, social and governance responsible funds, otherwise known as ESG funds. 

ESG funds influence positive climate change. They allow for more conscientious investing because ESG focuses on a company’s behavior and policies on environmental performance, social impact, and governance issues.

According to Forbes, three criteria you can use to evaluate companies for ESG investing include:

1) Environment: What is this company’s carbon footprint? Do they use toxic chemicals in its manufacturing processes? What are their sustainability efforts in their supply chain?

2) Social: How does the company improve its social impact in the community? Is there a focus on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ), racial, and gender equality? Does the company advocate for social justice?

3) Governance: How does the company’s leadership drive positive change? Is their workforce (including top leadership) diverse? Does leadership respond well with shareholders?

Also, we can have an impact on climate change through a focus on investing in quality products. In addition, we can invest time and personal energy on supporting local initiatives and policies for local development in green energy and green innovation.

I: Innovate and Automate

There are many ways to innovate to positively impact our climate future. During my educational series on “Science Talks with Dr. Drexler and Friends,” one of the 5th grade students I met had a particularly compelling innovation on water re-use in his home. As part of his science fair presentation, he showed us how to engineer a system in our home bathrooms where collected shower water could be routed for use in the toilet.

The Alliance for Water Efficiency reports the average person in the U.S. flushes a toilet five times per day. According to their website, “toilet flushing is the single highest use of water in the average home (24%), so it also presents a prime opportunity for water conservation.” By using more modern toilets that use only 1.6 gallons per flush in your home, you can conserve more water.

T: Transportation and Telecommuting

There have been many innovations to “green” public transportation, including electric buses, biofuels and community e-bikes, there has also been improvement in private vehicle fuel efficiency. Hybrid and high mileage vehicles are the best choice; electric cars aren’t neutral unless you use solar or other renewable power to charge the car.

There are other ways to reduce your carbon footprint and increase your fuel efficiency:

  • Maintain your car well – have proper air in your tires and ensure your engine is functioning well
  • If you have a rack on your car, consider using a hitch rack versus a roof rack to reduce aerodynamic drag and increase fuel efficiency.
  • Follow good driving habits – avoid speeding on the highway, don’t accelerate fast, avoid heavy traffic when possible and use your cruise control

Wherever possible, use “self-power.” Walking and riding a bike are eco-friendly and healthy choices. Also, have more “staycations” where you fly and drive less – and explore your local areas more.  

As for telecommuting, it’s no secret that we are a mobile society. Before the COVID-19 pandemic started, we were driving and flying more than any other time in history.

With the necessity for working from home during the pandemic, however, our society began to reassess the need for commuting, using large office spaces and traveling internationally for meetings. Today, we’ve become reliant on telecommunication and telecommuting.

There are many environmental benefits of telecommuting. Telecommuting reduces traffic, greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuel consumption, air pollution and office energy use.

However, telecommuting isn’t perfect. Telecommuting involves infrastructure use (such as networks and data centers) and basically transfers equipment energy use to workers’ homes as opposed to offices.

It’s important to remember that videoconferencing, web searches and emails still generate a carbon footprint. Telecommuting, however, is more eco-friendly overall.

E: (Green) Energy

Our dependence on fossil fuels is higher than ever before. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), U.S. fossil fuel production is expected to continue to rise this year, reaching a new record in 2023.

Reducing your dependence on oil and other fossil fuels and transitioning to more renewable forms of energy can have positive environmental, social, economic, and geo-political impacts. Green (or “clean”) energy includes the use of solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable energy sources.

At home, you can be conscientious of your energy consumption. There are literally hundreds, maybe thousands, of ways to reduce your carbon footprint, especially with green energy, if you get smart. For example, you can:

  • Turn off lights when you leave a room
  • Install insulation
  • Unplug unused appliances
  • Go solar
  • Install low-pressure faucets and showerheads
  • Wash clothes in cold water
  • Compost
  • Automate thermostats
  • Xeriscape
  • Use “smart” thermostats, bulbs and meters

Installing smart meters can help you know more about your consumption habits and make modifications. Also, you can use more energy-efficient appliances, such as EnergyStar.   

Climate change needs to be prioritized for the sustainability of our planet. By taking local action daily, we can make big strides to “COWRIITE” our climate future.

Climate and STEM Organizations at the University

To learn more about issues related to climate change and climate action, please consider joining one of these student organizations:

About the Author

Dr. Kristin Drexler is a full-time faculty member in the Space and Earth Studies Programs. She teaches geography, environmental science, earth system history, and conservation of natural resources for the School of STEM. She earned her Ph.D. in educational leadership at New Mexico State University by researching socioecological systems, sustainable agroecology and community education. She earned her Master of Arts in international affairs with an emphasis in natural resources management from Ohio University. Dr. Drexler earned the Undergraduate Excellence in Teaching Award for the APUS School of STEM (2020) and the Dr. Wallace E. Boston Leadership Award for American Public University System (2021).  

Kristin has conducted numerous community surveys in Belize regarding agroforestry, conservation and sustainable agriculture. Until she became a full-time instructor with APU in 2009, she was an environmental scientist in New Mexico, conducting field biology surveys and environmental impact analyses. Drexler founded the Belize Field School Program at NMSU, coordinating short courses in Belize in wildlife, agroforestry, marine ecology, and documentary film (2006-2014) and produced an award-winning short film, “Yochi” in 2017 about youth conservation and action against poaching and illegal wildlife trade. In the late 1990s, she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Belize. She co-founded and serves on the board of directors of Full Basket Belize, a U.S. nonprofit that provides high school scholarships and community grants in Belize. Kristin serves as a faculty advisor for the university’s wSTEM and AWIS chapters. She also founded the “Science Talks with Dr. Drexler and Friends” lesson series for primary school (2020-21).

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