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Climate Crisis

This guide provides information, resources, and data on the climate crisis

Food Production & Consumption

Globally, food accounts for 48% and 90% of household environmental impacts on land and water resources respectively, with consumption of meat, dairy and processed food rising quickly with income.

Industrial Farming

Industrial agricultural and meat production is highly resource and energy intensive. Industrial farming systems typically require:

  • Heavy irrigation
  • Extensive pesticide and fertilizer application
  • Intensive tillage
  • Concentrated monoculture production
  • Significant use of of natural resources (water and food for livestock)

As a result of these industrial farming and commercial livestock conditions, today's mounting environmental stresses are further exacerbated. These stresses include:

  • Declining water tables
  • Chemical leaching
  • Chemical runoff
  • Soil erosion
  • Land degradation
  • Loss in biodiversity
  • Increase in atmospheric methane

Industrial agriculture and meat production also requires significant additional resource and energy usage for food distribution and long-distance transport. "The average American meal currently costs about 1500 miles, and takes about 10 calories of oil and other fossil fuels to produce a single calorie of food."

Eating Sustainably

Local & Seasonal: A more sustainable means of acquiring food is to purchase locally and seasonally. Buying food from local farmers reduces carbon output, caused by long-distance food transport, and stimulates the local economy.

Organic Agriculture: Purchasing and supporting organic products is another fundamental contribution to sustainable living. According to the USDA National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), organic agriculture is defined as "an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain, or enhance ecological harmony. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people."

Less Meat: Reducing meat consumption, perhaps to a few meals a week, or adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet, alleviates the demand for environmentally damaging industrial meat production.

Sustainable Meat: Buying and consuming organically raised, free range or grass fed meat is another alternative towards more sustainable meat consumption.

Preserving Food: Preserving and storing foods reduces reliance on long-distance transported food and the market industry and significantly decreases waste. Home-grown foods can be preserved and stored outside of their growing season and continually consumed throughout the year. Foods purchased through grocery stores and local farmers markets can be preserved to extend their shelf-life and decrease food waste. Food can be preserved and saved by dehydration, freezing, vacuum packing, canning, bottling, pickling and jellying.

Composting: Food waste can be biodegraded by composting, and reused to fertilize soil. Composting is the aerobic process completed by microorganisms in which the bacteria break down the food waste into simpler organic materials that can then be used in soil. By redistributing nutrients and high microbial populations, compost reduces water runoff and soil erosion by enhancing rainfall penetration, which has been shown to reduce the loss of sediment, nutrients, and pesticide losses to streams by 75–95%. Composting food waste leads to a decrease in the quantity of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.

Water Usage

A major factor of sustainable living involves that which no human can live without, water. Unsustainable water use has far reaching implications for humankind. Currently, humans use one-fourth of the Earth's total fresh water in natural circulation, and over half the accessible runoff. Additionally, as population growth continues to increase, water demand is ever increasing. Thus, it is necessary to use available water more efficiently.

In sustainable living, one can use water more sustainably through a series of simple, everyday measures. These measures involve considering indoor home appliance efficiency, outdoor water use, and daily water use awareness. While conserving water is a major element of sustainability, so is sequestering water.

Indoor Water Use

Housing and commercial buildings account for 12 percent of America's freshwater withdrawals. A typical American single family home uses about 70 US gallons (260 L) per person per day indoors, including:

  • Toilets
  • Showers
  • Sinks
  • Dishwashers
  • Washing machines

This use can be reduced by simple alterations in behavior and upgrades to appliance quality., including:

  • Low-flush toilets
  • Low-flow/high-performance shower heads
  • Installing aerators or laminar flow devices on dishwashers
  • Handwashing dishes
  • Only running dishwashers when full
  • Using front-loader washing machines

Outdoor Water Use

There are a number of ways one can incorporate a personal yard, roof, and garden in more sustainable living. In planning a yard and garden space, it is most sustainable to consider the plants, soil, and available water, including:

  • Drought resistant shrubs, plants, and grasses require a smaller amount of water in comparison to more traditional species
  • Native plants (as opposed to herbaceous perennials) will use a smaller supply of water and have a heightened resistance to plant diseases of the area
  • Xeriscaping is a technique that selects drought-tolerant plants and accounts for endemic features such as slope, soil type, and native plant range. It can reduce landscape water use by 50-70%, while providing habitat space for wildlife
  • Watering should be carried out during early mornings on non-windy days to reduce water loss to evaporation
  • Drip-irrigation systems and soaker hoses are a more sustainable alternative to the traditional sprinkler system
  • A layer of organic material (compost or mulch) added to the soil helps to increase its absorption and water retention
  • Only water the lawn when necessary, and to deep soak when watering
  • A lawn may be left to go dormant, renewing after a dry spell to its original vitality.

Sequestering Water

A common method to sequester water is rainwater harvesting, which incorporates the collection and storage of rain. Primarily, the rain is obtained from a roof, and stored on the ground in catchment tanks. Water sequestration varies based on extent, cost, and complexity. A simple method involves a single barrel at the bottom of a downspout, while a more complex method involves multiple tanks. It is highly sustainable to use stored water in place of purified water for activities such as irrigation and flushing toilets. Additionally, using stored rainwater reduces the amount of runoff pollution, picked up from roofs and pavements that would normally enter streams through storm drains.

Greywater systems function in sequestering used indoor water, such as laundry, bath and sink water, and filtering it for reuse. Greywater can be reused in irrigation and toilet flushing. There are two types of greywater systems: gravity fed manual systems and package systems. The manual systems do not require electricity but may require a larger yard space. The package systems require electricity but are self-contained and can be installed indoors