I have to admit, I am beginning to feel a little like a broken record. Last year at this time, we were concerned about the Amazon rainforest fires. In January, we were hit again with the tragedy unfolding in Australia and the wildfires devastating the country. And now, with wildfires devastating the state of California and poor air quality crossing international lines, we find ourselves asking, one more time, “What can I do about the wildfires?”.
Here’s the bad news, folks. There honestly isn’t much we can do right here, right now to stop the fires that are already blazing. I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer, but that is the honest truth. But it’s not all grim. Because there is a lot, and I mean super-easy, do-within-the-comfort-of-your-home action items which will have a powerful impact on the biggest causes of wildfires.
Awareness is Key
The first step to any major problem is admitting there is a problem. So, if you are asking yourself “What can I do about the wildfires?” then, you are actually on the right path already. By asking this question, you are A) aware that it is a problem, and B) are willing to do something about it.
Awareness is absolutely key. The other key is understanding the underlying issue. This is where many people bury their heads. They believe the fires are California’s problem (or Australia, or the Amazon, or British Columbia, or the Columbia River Gorge…). But this isn’t a specific region’s issue. This is a global problem.
I feel most of you know what I’m going to say is the underlying issue. But just in case, here it is. Out-of-control wildfires, like the ones California is experiencing, are a direct result to human-induced climate change. Climate change promotes wildfires spreading rapidly and increases their likelihood.
It’s important to know– and I mean know– this indisputable fact if we are going to make a difference. We are experiencing devastating natural disasters, which are caused or amplified by climate change.
What Can I Do About Climate Change?
Knowing climate change creates such a profound impact on the environment is distressing, but also empowering. Because fires, hurricanes, flooding, droughts (all caused by climate change) make us feel powerless. We can prepare for them. For instance, we get plenty of warning about intense hurricanes heading our way, and we can shutter up our homes. We can respond to these natural disasters. Like, when wildfires are present, we evacuate. But we don’t have much power to stop them.
So what can we do if we can’t stop the wildfires? Well, we can do our part to reduce our impact on climate change. Here is where we are about to drop some empowering eco-warrior knowledge up in here. And show how you can benefit from it in the process.
Dreaming of a Healthy You and a Healthy Earth
Let’s start with one of the easiest things we can do for our personal well-being and the health of the planet– sleep. Eating and moving are without a doubt pillars of our health, but sleep is the foundation upon which they stand. Luckily for us, you can improve your sleep while improving your energy use.
Shut down your computer, smart phone, and television at least an hour before going to bed. These digital electronic devices produce a blue light which simulates the light from the sun and stimulates the brain. They trick the brain into thinking it’s still daytime, which makes it work hard to stay alert and awake.
Shutting off all these blue-light emitting electronics will help train your brain to power down and start preparing for sleep. And while it’s not as powerful of an action as producing your own energy from solar-powered panels, turning off electronics does save energy. It may be the difference of a few cents worth every month, but it is a difference.
Helping you get better sleep while doing a small, easy action item to help with the climate crisis? What could be better than that?
A Better Sleep Environment
Once we train the brain to prepare us for sleep, we can also help our #1 fundamental by preparing our environment. Matthew Walker, author of Why We Sleep shares the best conditions for us to sleep are places that are dark, cool, and quiet. This is likely a remnant pattern from our ancestors who slept in dark, cool, and quiet caves.
If you are able to, install some blackout curtains to keep light from pouring in and waking your brain up. If you are the type of person who just can’t sleep without some noise, consider a white noise maker, either a fan or soft natural sounds. And–here’s the part where we can sleep better while helping the planet– turn down your thermostat a few degrees at night. Yeah, it makes it cold. But science says this is ideal for a better night’s sleep.
Turning your thermostat down a few degrees may help save energy in the long-run as well. If you are saving a few pennies a month by turning off electronics, you may save a couple dollars a month by turning your thermostat down 2-3 degrees each night. That is again a lot of bang for your buck. You can save money by getting better sleep, and that money saved could also be having a positive effect on the environment.
Exercising for the Planet
One of the most fun ways to protect the planet and help put a kabash on climate change, and thus wildfires, is to move a little more. And I mean, however you enjoy it. Hiking, biking, dancing, walking. Whatever way you enjoy movement, do it. And save the planet.
Biking for Polar Bears
I’ll admit, for all the benefits of cycling, I really only got into it during Bike-to-Work Month as part of a challenge. The promise of an amazing prize to the team who biked the most miles called to me. What can I say, I’m super-competitive. But the challenge hooked me. And I fell in love with biking.
Here’s the thing about cycling. It is an amazing cardiovascular exercise. Torch calories (the average person burns 596 calories an hour), build endurance, strength, and coordination, and has been linked to prevent cardiac issues such as stroke, heart attack, and high blood pressure.
But wait, there’s more.Because if you are wondering what you can do about the wildfires and reducing your impact on climate change, riding your bike more is a great option. According to the EPA, the transportation accounts for 28% of greenhouse gas emissions (from 2018 report). So, yes, getting out of your car and either biking or walking to your destination will make a difference.
So, to be clear- you can significantly improve your health and improve your impact on our climate crisis, and thus do something good about the wildfires. Simply by going for a ride on your bike.
Take a Hike- Literally
Want another more-bang-for-your-buck action item? Go outside and experience nature. Just go to a park and take a walk, or hike in a favorite forest. Find a place outdoors that speaks to you, and just go there.
Visiting nature regularly will increase your appreciation for natural and wild places. It’s what I like to call passive conservation. The more we appreciate something, the more we learn about ways to protect it, and the more we are inspired to do something. Maybe you will plant a tree. Or donate money to your favorite park’s conservation fund (or just support them by getting a year pass). But going outdoors makes us appreciate the outdoors. And it becomes a positive feedback loop. Which inspires us to change our habits to preserve what we love.
What’s more, exploring the outdoors, no matter what activity you are partaking in, you actually double the positive side-effects of exercise. John Ratey, M.D, author of Spark and Go Wild, says that exercise is “like taking a little bit of Ritalin, and a little bit of Prozac.” He also says that exercising outdoors amplifies those effects by a factor of two. So, boost your mood, your focus, and your mental health (just double those boosts because you are rocking it outside).
What Your Food Can Do About the Wildfires
It’s not just how you move. What you eat can help curb the acceleration of climate change, too. Small micro-changes to your eating habits can make significant impact on the planet, and possibly even help prevent these devastating disasters. Oh, and these changes can help you feel better yourself, as well.
Reduce Your Meat, Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
I am a big advocate for Meatless Mondays. If for no other reason than the alliteration of the words. But seriously, cutting our meat consumption can have a dramatic impact on our health and on the planet.
The EPA estimates the agriculture sector is responsible for 10% of the United State’s greenhouse gases. Other reports claim it is upwards to 14-15%. Either way, eliminating just one serving of beef a week in a year saves the equivalent of driving 350 miles. That’s per person. Small actions can really add up.
But just like with exercise, we’re not just advocating you help the planet with this small change to your diet. Eating a little less meat is proven to be better for your health as well. Especially cutting out more of our red meat consumption. Red meat and foods raised in factory farm settings (including our dairy and eggs) are especially problematic. Red meat is linked with a variety of health issues, including heart disease, cancer, and high blood pressure. And please don’t get me started on factory farm foods. The hormones and unnatural foods fed to these animals make them about the least healthy item on our plate.
So, lower you consumption, and choose meat products that were pasture-raised and grass-fed. It’s a once a week action item you can do to help the wildfires.
How Far (or Close) Will You Go to Save the Planet?
Meat is far from the only culprit in regards to our carbon footprint. The healthiest of food, our fruits and veggies, can have an impact as well.
Yes, we should eat more vegetables (and only eat more fruit as a replacement for our desserts and candy). But where our food comes from can have as much of an impact as what we are eating. Going meatless (even if you do it every day) doesn’t completely help the situation if you are getting produce shipped from across the globe.
Remember, the transportation sector is estimated to contribute to 28% of our emissions. So, if your food is traveling further to get to your plate than you do in an entire year, this definitely adds up.
Make Your Impact Delicious
Luckily, there are fun and, might I add, delicious ways to change this. Simply look for locally produced foods in your area. Many farmers markets are open through October, and depending on your region, some may run into the winter months. Even without a farmers market or CSA (community supported agriculture), you can purchase locally sourced foods at your supermarket.
Locally sourced foods are going to be seasonally sourced. Unless the farm has an extensive greenhouse system, you aren’t going to find strawberries in November. But you might get some pomegranate or apples, or a variety of the most delicious squash you have ever tasted. There is something about eating farm-fresh food that makes it taste like the best food I’ve ever eaten. I have bought tomatoes from my local farm-share and they didn’t make it home because I couldn’t stop eating them. And Chris prefers the farm produce for his salads over any other. There is a difference, and I feel that difference is from picking when the food is ready. Not weeks before it is ripe, then packaged and shipped from across the globe.
And don’t discount your own ability to grow food yourself. Even if you don’t have a lot of space, growing your own herbs can help cut down on our impact, and make your food taste amazing (or heck, make some amazing tea). Grow your own health, and do something about the wildfires.
Be a Hummingbird
Here is the story of the great forest that caught on fire. The fire raged and burned, and all the animals fled from their homes in fear. They huddled at the edge of the forest and watched. All the creatures gathered, except one.
Only Dukdukdiya, the little hummingbird, would not abandon the forest. She flew to the stream and picked up a single drop of water in her beak. The tiny bird flew back and dropped the water on the fire. Again she flew to the stream and brought back another drop, and so she continued– back and forth, back and forth.
The other animals watched Dukdukdiya’s tiny body fly against the enormous fire, but they were frightened.
“What can I do?” sobbed the rabbit. “This fire is much too hot.”
“There is too much smoke!” howled the wolf.
“My wings will burn! My beak is too small!” cried the owl.
But the hummingbird persisted. She flew to and fro, picking up more water and dropping it, bead by bead, onto the burning forest.
Finally, the big bear said, “Little Dukdukdiya, what are you doing?”
Without stopping, Dukdukdiya looked down at all of the animals. She said, “I am doing what I can.”
- Climate Change Increases Risk of Wildfires Confirms New Review https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/01/200114074046.htm
- Walker, Matthew. Why We Sleep. Penguin Books, 2018
- Ratey, John, M.D. Go Wild. Little, Brown, and Company, 2015
- Yahgulanaas, Michael. The Flight of the Hummingbird, Vancouver, Greystone Books, 2008