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Climate change is impacting so much around us: heat, flooding, health, wildlife, housing, and more. WUSF, in collaboration with the Florida Climate Reporting Network, is bringing you stories on how climate change is affecting you.

Daily changes you can make to slow climate change

It may be overwhelming to try and live a more earth-conscious life, but there are small steps you can take to make a big difference.
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It may be overwhelming to try and live a more earth-conscious life, but there are small steps you can take to make a big difference.

This past week, NPR published a series of articles dedicated to how people were problem-solving the effects of climate change. It may be overwhelming to try and live a more earth-conscious life, but there are small steps you can take to make a big difference. To close out the week, we asked three local environmental experts to share some tips on daily habit changes we can all make to help reduce our carbon footprint.

1.    Eat more plants and less meat. 

“Shifting to a more plant-based diet is the quickest and easiest to implement of the more impactful things we can do,” said Christian Wagley, of Healthy Gulf. Meat consumption accounts for nearly 60% of all greenhouse gases from food production. If going from carnivore to vegetarian is too big of a switch, start by eating less beef, said Dr. Enid Sisskin, research associate at UWF and host of the Eco Minute. “Go meatless Monday and Thursday. And as you get used to it, have more and more days,” she said. And when it comes to food — plants or otherwise — don’t waste it. “A third of the food that is produced in the fields and in the factories and, on the lots and on the farms gets thrown away,” she added. “And you end up producing methane gas when it's in the landfill.”

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2.    Stop using single-use plastics

“Recycling is nice, but it’s way overhyped,” said Sisskin. Residents in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties who have experienced a pause in services know this. While recycling still has its merits — it’s less money and carbon budget to produce items with recycled materials, explained Sisskin — plastic is still a problem. “Plastic is just bad,” she added. “Plastic is bad on so many levels. It produces greenhouse gases in its manufacture. It produces greenhouse gases in its destruction. It produces greenhouse gases when it's released when it's just put into the landfill. We're eating about a credit card's worth of plastic a week because microplastics are in our food and in our water. So don't use plastics if you can avoid it.”

 From left to right: Mary Gutierrez, Dr. Enid Sisskin, and Christian Wagley
From left to right: Mary Gutierrez, Dr. Enid Sisskin, and Christian Wagley

3.    Energy proof your home

Make an impact on the environment — and maybe your utility bill — with some simple changes. “You can do an energy audit or you can get an energy audit done by a professional,” said Mary Gutierrez, executive director of Earth Ethics. “Either way, an audit can tell you what modifications you might need to make to your home such as caulking around the windows or replacing windows, using CFL or LED lights, or upgrading your water heater. These home improvements can have a significant impact on reducing your carbon footprint.” You can also take advantage of the cooler weather and open your windows rather than running air conditioning, said Wagley. “Use shades or blinds to block sunlight from heating up your home,” he added. “Cook hot food when the weather is cool, and eat more cool or raw foods during warmer weather. Dress warmly for cold weather rather than raise your thermostat higher.”

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4. Reduce your driving

“Transportation is the largest source of U.S. carbon emissions and a huge source of air and water pollution,” said Wagley, who hosts the monthly neighborhood bike rides in Pensacola. “Reducing your driving by even a tiny amount does far more than cloth-bagging, recycling, reusable water bottles, and all those other little things that are closer and more personal to us and that many fret about.” “Walk, ride your bike, use mass transit, or carpool,” adds Gutierrez. “The more vehicles we get off the road the better. Tailpipe emissions are a major contributor to greenhouse gases.” If you’re running errands in the car, plan your trips wisely so you’re not back-tracking, said Sisskin. “If you're going out, pick one day to do all your errands. And chain your trips.” Trip chaining means grouping errands into one trip instead of returning home in between. You can also find friends to rideshare with to work, church,or meetings.

Copyright 2023 WUWF. To see more, visit WUWF.

Jennie joined WUWF in 2018 as the digital content producer and reporter. After graduating from University of West Florida in 2009 with a B.A. in Communication Arts/Journalism, she worked for print publications across Northwest Florida including InWeekly, The Destin Log and Northwest Florida Daily News. In 2016, she was named Features Writer of the Year by Gatehouse Media. Born in Pennsylvania, she admits to being a "Yankee who drinks sweet tea." She dislikes cold weather and is happy to trade a white Christmas for 75-degree weather anytime. She's a proud volunteer of Gulf Coast Kid's House and Save Our Cats and Kittens (SOCKS) in Fort Walton Beach. When she's not reading or listening to podcasts, she enjoys photography, 80s movies, re-watching "The Office" and looking at pictures of your cats.