What you can do about climate change

By Noah | Add a comment | 

Climate change is the largest crisis humanity has ever faced. It will necessarily reshape the entire infrastructure of civilization one way or another, and magnifies many other issues that people care about (environmental, racial, and economic justice, animal rights, etc.).

It’s terrifying. I find just thinking about it to be overwhelming, and often paralyzing, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. Telling people to be worried without giving them constructive options isn’t super useful, so I wanted to share real, achievable, evidence-based actions for people who want to help, but don’t know where to begin.[1] I’m not an expert on any of these topics, but I recently re-broadcast some priorities I’d heard elsewhere.



  • Vote & make calls: policy is one of the largest levers we have. Make your voice heard. Tell your representatives and candidates that this is a top priority.
  • Advocate for radical city redesign to increase density and provide alternate transit options. Density is the #1 way to achieve lower environmental impact via benefits via heating & cooling, transit, slowing population growth, etc.


  • drive less
  • eat less beef
  • insulate your house

To get further clarity and more ideas, I asked my dear friend and green design expert Jer Faludi[2] for input. He was kind enough to write up a ranked list of suggestions for individual scale and large-scale impact, based on a series of thoroughly researched short videos he’s made, discussing the most impactful ways to make a difference.

Here’s what Jer said, lightly edited for clarity.

Your 3-item list is good for individuals making lifestyle changes, except I’d say:

#1 eat more veggies & less beef

#2 insulate your house or move into an apartment complex

#3 walk/bus/bike more

#4 get rooftop solar

To shoot higher, I’d say this: if you could invent or design anything to improve the state of the Earth, fixing not just greenhouse gases but also species extinction, water & resource depletion, pollution, here are your top priorities to help the planet.

  • Better cities:
    • make them more dense
    • create better transit options
  • Better buildings:
    • improve energy use, health, and material resource use
  • Better food:
    • improve land efficiency is #1
    • then pesticides & fertilizers
    • avoid beef, make veggie menus awesome,
    • invent cheap organic aquaponics, etc.
  • Cheaper clean energy
    • lower cost of grid energy storage is #1,
    • then solar & wind
  • Efficient transport of people (not things – shipping is a pretty low priority)
    • encourage walking, biking, transit, & telecommuting
  • Slow population growth
    • fixed by urbanizing & by empowering women via education, economics, and politics, especially in developing countries. Birth control alone is not enough.
  • For social sustainability,
    • fix income inequality, both globally and within the US
  • For political sustainability, fix voting mechanics
    • maximize the percent of the governed whose votes count, via proportional representation, ranked choice voting, no gerrymandering, campaign finance reform

Example solution areas:

– The #1 leverage point is actually to make cities denser and more livable: dense cities improve building energy & resource use (shared walls are better than the best insulation), fix transportation (walking, biking, and transit require density), and slow population growth (in many developing countries, birthrates fall by 1/2 or more from rural to urban), all at once. Make density affordable, politically easy, beautiful, and healthy.

– Many sustainability improvements already save people & companies money (like better buildings, clean energy, and efficient transport), they just require initial investments. Business models exist to enable this; scale them.

– You do not need to work in one of these industries to improve it, you can make an app for that. For example, the Google Maps transit feature has done more to increase transit use than any design project by any city transit agency.

Finally, I’m a huge fan of Alex Steffen’s writing about climate change. A take away from Alex: we can’t build a world we can’t imagine. We desperately need imaginative people to dream up and communicate how good the world will be. If you’re creative, start telling optimistic stories and inspiring the builders.

There is no single answer. We need all of the solutions. Find something you can do and contribute in your way as best you can. We need a lot of heroes.

Update: since writing this, I’ve been pointed to the excellent http://www.drawdown.org

[1] One of my first exposures to this sort of global to-do list was Bret Victor’s essay What Can a Technologist Do About Climate Change?

[2] In the fall of 2017, Jeremy Faludi will be joining Dartmouth University as a Assistant Professor of Green Design. He has a PhD from Berkeley in mechanical engineering, a Master’s from Stanford in product design, and a Bachelor’s in physics from Reed College. He dances often, and literally plays with fire.

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