As it’s Arkive’s 14th birthday, we thought we would celebrate by sharing 14 ways that you can help save the world! By just doing one of these things you can make a difference, more than one you can make a big difference, and by doing all 14 you are very much on track to save the world!
1) Eat smart
Why? Intensive farming methods produce a lot of air and water pollution, and agricultural areas that only contain one crop species, also known as monocultures, have an extreme lack of biodiversity and are hostile habitats for wildlife. Many countries now import a large amount of produce too, catering for our varied diet, however ‘food miles’ – which take into account the energy expenditure of transporting food from one location to another -can in many circumstances, increase the carbon footprint of your food shop significantly.
How? Question where your food comes from – did it need to travel halfway across the planet or is it grown in nearby farms? Why not support your local economy through locally-sourced, seasonal produce? It’ll probably be fresher and tastier too.
Eat more vegetables. They’re readily available, fill your plate and belly up for less money, and you’ll look and feel better too. Look for organic food, being chemical-free not only helps your health, but that of wildlife around the farm.
2) Broaden your taste buds
Why? Many global fisheries are on the verge of collapse and many species, such as bluefin tuna, are now classed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Many fish stocks are in a state of serious decline and overfishing is a great threat to marine wildlife and habitats – 90% of world fish stocks are fully or over exploited from fishing, alongside the pressures from climate change and pollution.
How? The Marine Conservation Society (MCS UK) has produced a pocket guide and an app that summarises both fish to eat and those to avoid, and the Marine Stewardship Council has a worldwide certification system. Take care with the most common fish bought such as cod, haddock, salmon, and canned tuna as, due to their popularity, there are problems with all these fish and you need to choose wisely.
Consumers can help reduce the strain on certain species by demanding that the fish they eat comes from sustainably managed stocks and is caught or farmed in a way that causes minimal damage to the marine environment and other wildlife.
Avoid shopping in supermarkets or buying brands which are evasive in revealing where or how they source their fish stocks, and celebrate those who source responsibly by giving them your business.
3) Know your labels
Why? Eco-labels are a form of sustainability measurement directed at consumers, intended to make it easy to take environmental concerns into account when shopping. There is a close relationship between eco-labelling and improving an organisation’s environmental management strategy, so paying attention is worth your time.
How? Look for sustainability labels: RSPO palm oil certification, animal welfare, dolphin-friendly and so forth, and know what they represent. You should come across a handful fairly regularly on your purchases, make sure you understand those first, and take it from there!
4) Be travel savvy
Why? We love exploring the big wide world, but this can often take us to places we’re unfamiliar with, and across practices that you may never support at home. Photos with animals on the street, riding on elephants, buying jewellery with animal products, all often have a very unsustainable, unethical and often illegal background to them.
How? Research the activities you plan to partake in ahead of time and make alternative plans if needs be. Question what may be on offer…is hugging a tiger a natural interaction?
Use reputable travel and tour operators, and check their accreditations with environmental NGOs or travel watchdogs.
Look at the menu and eat smart by never ordering endangered animals because it seems exotic or claims to be ethically sourced – no matter what the waiter says!
5) Avoid one-use plastic products
Why? Plastic debris in the ocean is an ever increasing threat, as it degrades marine habitats and contributes to the deaths of many marine animals. Because floating plastic often resembles food to many marine birds, sea turtles and marine mammals, they can choke on items after eating them or starve because of accumulation of plastic items within their digestive system, which can give them a false sense of being full.
How? Say no to plastic shopping bags and carry reusable bags or a backpack with you while shopping.
Reusable drinks bottles are better for the planet and your pocket.
Avoid packaging on food products like fruit and vegetables, look for paper bags if you want to package up. Your local grocer should offer this, if not, suggest it.
Try bringing a packed lunch to work – all those sandwich cartons add up.
Refuse plastic drinking straws. We use them for a few minutes, and yet they can take up to 200 years to degrade. Reusable stainless steel, bamboo or glass drinking straws are a much better option.
6) Conserve water at home
Why? By reducing the amount of water we use and waste, we can prevent droughts from occurring. Even though our need for fresh water sources is always increasing (because of population and industry growth), the supply we have stays constant. Only 3% of all the water on Earth is freshwater, and only 1% is available for drinking. Fresh water availability is predicted to be one of the human race’s biggest environmental issues over the coming decades, so conservation is crucial.
How? Don’t wash your dishes or brush your teeth with the water running continuously.
Wash and dry only full loads of laundry and dishes.
Consider a low-flow showerhead, and take showers instead of baths.
7) Clean clever
Why? Chemicals used to wash our bodies, homes, cars and everything else, get washed down the drain or absorbed in the grass, and eventually end up in our water supply. Since most people use heavy-duty chemicals for all sorts of things, chemicals are doing real damage to waterways and aquatic life.
How? Consider organic shower gels and shampoos, they usually smell great too!
Look for marine friendly brands of laundry detergent, washing up liquid and other cleaning products.
Determine the lowest amount of detergent that can be used for an effective and sanitary result.
Avoid cosmetics containing microbeads, which pollute water systems before working their way into the oceans. These tiny plastic particles work their way into the food chain, all the way up to humans.
8) Use less energy
Why? Most energy requires the burning of fossil fuels, a process which creates greenhouse gases – the primary cause of climate change. Increasing CO2 levels have also caused a change in the pH level of the world’s oceans, making them more acidic and causing numerous ecological issues.
How? Use energy efficient appliances in your home, including light bulbs, TVs and fridges.
Feeling cold? Double glazing and wall insulation greatly improve heat insulation so you can save on heating bills over winter, the cheaper fix is just wearing an extra jumper!
Turn off appliances when they aren’t in use.
Switch off the lights when you leave a room.
Renewable energy systems are becoming more readily available to the homeowner, such as solar panels and mini wind turbines, and can often cause the household to actually generate excess electricity, which can be sent back into the grid.
9) Leave your car at home
Why? Getting a vehicle from “A” to “B” involves combustion of fossil fuels, a process that causes air pollution and emits greenhouse gases, such as carbon monoxide and dioxide, which contribute to global warming.
How? Walk or ride your bike – simple! The exercise is great, it’s free, and in many cities it’s actually faster too.
Join a carpool to get to work if biking or walking isn’t an option, or if the weather looks awful!
Combine your errands – hit the post office and supermarket in one trip, rather than taking the car out twice.
Use public transport.
Why? If we do not recycle our rubbish it is taken to landfill – a big old hole in the ground which has usually been dug out of a natural habitat, at the expense of the wildlife and plants that previously occupied the area. Burying waste in landfill spoils our countryside and is very bad for the environment. Chemicals build up underneath the surface, which can escape and cause damage to plants and wildlife, as well as polluting water.
How? This one’s easy – most cities will recycle for you, and all you need to do is use the right bin!
Reuse -could you use that takeaway tub as a lunch box?
Choose products you buy based on how much packaging they are contained in, and whether it is recyclable.
Why? Composting is a great sustainable gardening practice which involves decomposing organic matter, primarily food and garden waste, simply by leaving it to break down over a period of weeks or months. Composting the food and garden waste you produce throughout the year means you’re taking up less space in landfills so your tax money can work somewhere else. Plus, compost makes a great natural fertiliser for your garden.
How? Composting can be as simple as raking leaves over your garden when you put it to winter bed or taking your kitchen scraps to a bin at the bottom of the garden.
Whether you’re growing vegetables, lawns, flowers and shrubs or fruit trees, composting will bring about vibrant, fortifying change to your gardens, while reducing the amount of waste you produce.
12) Make a wildlife garden
Why? All types of animals, from the birds to the bees, have lost habitat to human developments, and it’s an increasing scenario as human population rises. The UK alone has lost 97% of its wildflower meadows since the Second World War. A variety of habitats is crucial for biodiversity, and biodiversity is crucial for a stable ecosystem upon which we all depend – think of it like a game of Jenga, the more blocks there are, the more stable it is – and your garden can act as one of those blocks!
How? Plant shrubs, flowers and trees that attract wildlife. Many conservation organisations have guides on which plants are good for species living in your area, look for high pollinating bee-friendly plants specifically.
Put out a bird feeder and bird bath stocked with clean food and water.
Having beneficial snakes, spiders, bees, bats, and other creatures around your garden is a sign your ecosystem is in good health, so welcome them in by creating areas for them. Nest boxes, tall vegetation, rockeries and log piles provide nooks and crannies for creatures to hide or sleep in.
A lot of those creatures you want to welcome into your garden need access, as not all of them can fly! Try cutting a hole in or digging a hole under your fence, or even a mini ramp up a wall, to create an animal highway between gardens. This extends the range and feeding grounds of garden wildlife, take the hedgehog for example – a natural predator of those pesky slugs and snails that eat your flowers!
Avoid chemical pesticides which rarely target just the pest species they’re intended for and can kill other creatures too, such as spiders and aphid-eating bugs.
Consider a manual lawnmower, or just let your garden turn into a meadow!
13) Community gardening
Why? Community farms or gardens are a great way to contribute to your local community. They can strengthen social ties, increase biodiversity, provide free locally-sourced food, engage city-dwellers with outdoor spaces and improve the overall well-being of an area.
A community garden can be any piece of land gardened by a group of people, an individual or shared plots of private or public land.
How? Contact your local council of you’re having trouble finding a community garden nearby, they should be able to point you in the right direction.
Hosting events such as ‘seed swaps’ are good ways to initiate discussions if a community garden isn’t in your neighbourhood. They also can really help engage all ages of the community and are a great way to save money, why pay for a plant from a garden centre when a neighbour will happily give you one for free! Please note: you should never transport fauna, flora or organic matter between countries.
You can’t just set up a community garden anywhere you feel though, as you will need to seek permission from landowners first. A good point of call if on public property is your local council, and if you need extra help getting started, consider if there are any wildlife organisations which operate in your area.
14) Vote responsibly
Why? Electing the right public officials is essential to good environmental policies, for those ‘it’s out of my hands’ topics. Next time you can vote, read as many manifestos as possible, and hold those politicians to their promises!
How? Do your research and make an informed decision. Exercise your right to vote and stay involved after elections.
Don’t like something that’s happening in your area? Write to your local politician to bring it to their attention, and hopefully onto their agenda.