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How to be a Steward for the Environment

Image Courtesy of The Guardian

About 1 year ago, news spread that we had 11 years to prevent irreversible damage due to climate change. Many people liked, shared and reposted this information on social media platforms and environmental activists Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot created a short film discussing “the need to protect, restore and use nature to tackle the climate crisis.” (Carrington, 2019)

This film also connected with the global strike led by youth in September of 2019. The strike on September 20th was one of the largest climate strikes in history, where they protested to demand action be taken to address climate change. Yet, a year has past, and amidst the pandemic, this problem has not been given the attention and awareness it should have despite the urgent need for solutions. The climate crisis has not been put on pause like our day-to-day lives have. There are a lot of ways we can all become a better steward to the environment while safely socially distancing.

The general idea regarding the pandemic's effect on the environment was that it allowed humans to reduce carbon emissions by staying at home. Yes, there was a decrease of carbon emission from less transportation, but emissions only decreased by 17% in the beginning of the pandemic. As lockdown protocols loosen, carbon emissions have begun to rise again and the temporary health of the environment has begun to dissipate. Now, the carbon emissions are only 5% less than last year and this is before all pre-pandemic activities resume (Le Quere, et al, 2020). Many experts fear that the aftermath of the pandemic will result in more pollution, traffic and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that will therefore throw the health of the environment into a downward spiral. If we want to do our part in climate change justice, we have to come up with sustainable solutions, not temporary ones.

One of the main contributors to carbon emissions are industries including fossil fuels, plastics, airlines, and automobiles who are desperate for an economic advantage that was lost at the start of the pandemic (Gardiner, 2020). “There’s a serious risk that polluters could emerge from this crisis bolder and potentially more profitable than ever,” says Lukas Ross, a senior policy analyst at Friends of the Earth. Another huge contributor to carbon emissions are the illegal loggers in the Amazon. Throughout the past year, many illegal loggers and farmers have cleared large amounts of land for personal use. This mass deforestation has resulted in the Amazon forest fires with over 1 million hectares of forest being burnt (Irfan, 2019) . One of the problems is that the Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest, which serves as a habitat for populations of ecosystems and species. The fires could potentially cause an increase in endangered species and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In addition, the Amazon is one of the largest CO2 reservoirs and burning them all in a small period of time will speed up the effects of global warming (Goodman & Giles, 2020). 

Although the majority of us are not responsible for the actions of bigger contributors to the climate crisis, our carbon footprints still affect the health of the environment around us. Humans as a species can impact the physical environment in many ways: overpopulation, pollution, burning fossil fuels, and deforestation. Changes like these have triggered climate change, soil erosion, poor air quality, and undrinkable water.” (National Geographic Society) As individuals, our carbon footprint (the total amount of greenhouse gases that are generated by our actions) from daily activities can build up, ultimately irreversibly damaging the natural world.

Image Courtesy of BBC

But why is it important to preserve the environment?

Human impacts to the environment are like a double edged sword; the negative impacts of humans on the environment will harm us currently in the future and for future generations (Marley & Cassimally, 2019). We have to preserve it to maintain balance throughout the globe. Though it is easier said than done, there are a lot of things we as individuals can do to decrease our carbon footprint. If you want to calculate your carbon footprint I recommend the Global Footprint Network’s quiz.

Here are some tips and personal actions you can do to be a steward for the environment.

  1. Recycle. There is a reason why environmentalists always tell us to recycle; recycling properly is an important part of protecting the environment, as it reduces the need for extracting additional resources to make new things which require a lot of energy and raw materials. Recycling saves that energy that contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and decreases water and air pollution.

  2. Switch to eco friendly products. Try to find eco-friendly products that can replace your current plastic/single-use ones. On these products there should be a label/certification from a third party source. Some common products that can be easily replaced without chemicals are cleaning and hygiene products (Kelly).

  3. Minimize the purchase of single use plastics. With the tons of plastic in the earth, “the purchase of plastics should be avoided as much as possible, especially the single-use plastics such as water bottles and plastic bags that form the bulk of the landfill” (Conserve Energy Earth). Instead try to use reusable products like cotton bags and reusable water bottles. This is not only good for the environment but can help save you money in the long term.

  4. Switch to using cold water for laundry. Washing your clothes in cold water can reduce your energy consumption and energy bill. Heating the water takes about 90% of the energy your machine uses to wash clothes while only 10% goes to the electricity needed by the laundry motor (EPA).

  5. Switch off lights when they are not in use. This is a simple action that is often disregarded. However, turning off lights can decrease the amount of energy used and carbon emissions needed to produce electricity.

  6. Educate yourself. One of the most important parts of being a responsible environmental steward is being aware of the current situation. It is important to learn about environmental policies in your community and understand what you believe in. If you are really interested in environmental activism, try to join environmental organizations like Fridays for Future or look into your local volunteer opportunities. There are also a bunch of resources below if you want to learn more about the environment overall.

Some resources to start learning more about the state of mother earth:


Carrington, D. (2019, September 19). Greta Thunberg: 'We are ignoring natural climate solutions'. Retrieved October 19, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/19/greta-thunberg-we-are-ignoring-natural-climate-solutions

Le Quéré, C., Jackson, R., Jones, M., Smith, A., Abernethy, S., Andrew, R., . . . Peters, G. (2020, May 19). Temporary reduction in daily global CO 2 emissions during the COVID-19 forced confinement. Retrieved October 19, 2020, from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-020-0797-x

Gardiner, B. (2020, June 18). Why COVID-19 will end up harming the environment. Retrieved October 18, 2020, from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/06/why-covid-19-will-end-up-harming-the-environment/

Goodman, J., & Giles, C. (2020, August 28). Amazon fires: Are they worse this year than before? Retrieved October 18, 2020, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-53893161

Irfan, U. (2019, November 18). Brazil’s Amazon rainforest destruction is at its highest rate in more than a decade. Retrieved October 18, 2020, from https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2019/11/18/20970604/amazon-rainforest-2019-brazil-burning-deforestation-bolsonaro#:~:text=Between%2015%20and%2017%20percent,and%20degrade%20into%20a%20savanna

National Geographic Society. (n.d.). Human Impacts on the Environment. Retrieved October 18, 2020, from https://www.nationalgeographic.org/topics/resource-library-human-impacts-environment/?q=

Marley, J., & Cassimally, K. A. (2019, March 28). National service for the environment and a Green New Deal to fight climate change – Imagine newsletter #1. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/national-service-for-the-environment-and-a-green-new-deal-to-fight-climate-change-imagine-newsletter-1-114168

Why is recycling important? (n.d.). Retrieved October 18, 2020, from https://www.veolia.co.uk/nottinghamshire/recycling/recycle-nottinghamshire/why-recycling-important

Kelly, J. (n.d.). How to Find Eco-Friendly Products. Retrieved October 18, 2020, from https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/eco-friendly-products.htm#:~:text=The%20best%20way%20to%20determine,environmental%20impact%20of%20each%20item

Conserve Energy Future. (2020, October 09). 15+ Splendid Ways To Be a Better Environmental Steward in 2020. Retrieved October 18, 2020, from https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/ways-to-be-better-environmental-steward.php

EPA. (n.d.). Earth Month Tip: Wash your clothes in cold water. Retrieved October 18, 2020, from https://blog.epa.gov/2014/04/30/earth-month-tip-wash-your-clothes-in-cold-water/

Article Author : Kelley Liang

Article Editors : Edie Whittington, Maria Giroux