Green resolutions

01/02/2020 | Harvard C-CHANGE / Coverage

Republished under a Creative Commons license
By Dr. Aaron Bernstein in Coverage

If you’ve made a New Year’s resolution, chances are you want to be more fit or save more money. Everyone knows making good on these resolutions ain’t easy. So when you hit the wall in your workout routine, or are tempted to splurge on earpods or an Instapot, consider this: You can lose weight and save money by taking actions that also combat carbon pollution. Here are some tips to transform your New Year’s resolutions into a personal climate action plan that could save you money and may make you healthier in 2020.

Shrink food waste 

First, let’s take food. As you may know, food waste in the U.S. is a staggering problem. Our food system uses vast quantities of fossil fuels for fertilizers, pesticides, farm equipment, transportation, refrigeration, and more. So when food gets wasted, so too does its embedded carbon, making it one of the largest sources of pollution on the planet. In the U.S., food is often wasted after it is sold at a market, when it rots in our refrigerators or gets thrown away by restaurants. Here’s a menu of options to eat healthier and reduce wasted food in your life:

  • At home, create a weekly food plan. Make a list of the ingredients you’ll need, then shop your fridge and cupboards before you go to the store. For more ideas, check out EPA’s tips to reduce food waste at home.
  • At work, ask about plans to address food wasted in your cafeteria or from catered lunches. Many resources can help organizations reduce food waste, such as on ReFED or WRI’s websites.
  • If you find yourself at an all-you-can-eat buffet, swap the tray for a smaller plate. This will help nudge you towards manageable portion sizes that don’t get left uneaten at the end of the meal. Good for the planet and your health, too!

Rethink transportation

For most Americans, our leading sources of energy consumption are gas for our cars and heating fuels in our homes. To reduce your reliance on cars, there are small changes you can make that have a big impact on the world, your wallet, and your waistline:

  • Switch up your commute once a week: Can you work from home, carpool, take public transit, or bike to work one day per week? Research suggests that building activity into your day by trading car commutes for public transit, walking, or biking can lead to weight loss.
  • Consider using flex time: If your workday can be flexible, you could avoid the stress of traffic while also reducing your carbon emissions if you can leave home or work before or after rush hour.
  • If you are buying a new car: Go for the most fuel-efficient model that makes sense for your family and don’t rule out electric vehicles, which are increasingly affordable, have longer battery ranges, and are really fun to drive. Remember that you may be eligible for major tax breaks from the federal government and in many states for the purchase of an electric vehicle.

Keep heat in and energy waste out

Food and transportation account for about 40% of the average American’s carbon footprint. The other large chunk of energy consumption (about 30%) comes from our homes, and heating in particular. Many homes lose 25% of their heat, which is literally money out the door, window, or roof. Fortunately, there are some easy ways to reduce energy waste in your home, saving you money and reducing your carbon footprint.

  • Get an energy audit: Many states have excellent programs to help homeowners find where energy is wasted and give incentives to make repairs. These programs can also help offset the cost of new boilers, water heaters, air conditioning units, and much more.
  • Use a programmable thermostat: You can easily lower your temperature setting in colder weather (and raise it in warmer weather) when you’re asleep or away. If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, many of the state energy programs will subsidize those too. In cold months, reducing the temperature by 7-10 degrees for 8 hours a day can save you 10% on your energy bill.
  • Unplug unused appliances: You might be surprised by how much energy our electronics draw even when we are not using them. You can save money and watts by unplugging counter-top appliances, computers, and entertainment systems when not in use. Programmable powerstrips can help you schedule on/off times, and electricity usage monitors can help you measure how much each appliance uses.

Money isn’t the only thing we save when we use less energy at home. Burning less gas and coal means there’s less air pollution and better health for everyone downwind of a power plant—which is, surprisingly, most everyone in the country.

Small changes that require a little creativity or curiosity, such as taking a new route to work, designing a new recipe, or participating in a home energy program, can make big impacts. While some scoff at individual actions, labeling them as inconsequential, many small actions can—and do—inspire bigger ones. When we take actions in our own lives to reduce fossil fuel consumption, we send a signal that we can do so and still live well. We also show that we care about climate, our health, and our children’s future.

Taking action to live without fossil fuels is a step towards staying healthy and saving money. This New Year, consider how your own resolutions can become a personal climate action plan. Together, we can spark more widespread aspiration to live without fossil fuels and support bigger and bolder climate actions. If we really want carbon policies to stick in our states and country, our own actions—and New Year’s resolutions—are a must.

Coverage is a news service of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts

Preterm and early-term birth, heat waves, and our changing climate

Heat waves pose an escalating threat to human health in general and the health of pregnant people and infants in particular.

Read Now

Harvard Medical School’s New Climate Change Curriculum Shows Early Success

New report details how Harvard Medical School developed, implemented, and evaluated its curriculum to prepare healthcare professionals for climate change.

Read Now

Toward a Climate-Ready Health Care System: Institutional Motivators and Workforce Engagement

Dr. Caleb Dresser argues that health care systems must reframe incentives and engage their workforce to become climate-resilient.

Read Now

Study: Teaching community organizing principles to health professionals significantly increases their capacity to take climate action

Read Now

Federal investments in climate change and health research are inadequate says Harvard analysis

Critical knowledge gaps hinder an evidence-based response and are perpetuated by scarce federal research funds.

Read Now

Hundreds of Hospitals on Atlantic and Gulf Coasts at Risk of Flooding from Hurricanes

Our study is the first to systematically investigate flooding risk to nearly 700 U.S. hospitals on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts from Category 1-4 storms.

Read Now

Communicating Statistics on the Health Effects of Climate Change

Health professionals need to communicate the health and equity implications of climate change effectively to protect health and motivate action.

Read Now

A Pediatrician’s Guide to Climate Change-Informed Primary Care

A practical approach for connecting climate change with health during pediatric well visits.

Read Now

The medical response to climate change

Our Director Dr. Aaron Bernstein lays out five pillars for the medical response to climate change.

Read Now

Adding A Climate Lens To Health Policy In The United States

Our Yerby Fellow Dr. Renee Salas and Interim Director Dr. Aaron Bernstein outline specific recommendations for achieving climate action through health policy and decision making.

Read Now

Bringing climate change into medical school

Health professionals are on the frontlines of climate change. Dr. Gaurab Basu, z global leader in medical education, describes how to ensure they are prepared.

Read Now

Understanding the mental health consequences of chronic climate change

Research is needed to understand the mechanisms through which slower-moving aspects of climate change such as temperature variability, ecosystem shifts, and changes in precipitation affect mental health.

Read Now

Young doctors are at COP28, and they've got a message for world leaders

Our climate and health fellow Tess Wiskel says the climate crisis is a health crisis, but COP28 ushered in hope: "The sheer number of talks on health is extraordinary," she said.

Read Now

From rapid cooling body bags to ‘prescriptions’ for AC, doctors prepare for a future of extreme heat

Drs. Basu and Dresser share our extreme heat toolkit and heat alert system to protect patients' health during extreme heat.

Read Now

Heat toolkit helps doctors and patients deal with temperature-related health risks

Our heat toolkit is helping doctors and patients deal with temperature-related health risks.

Read Now

How smoke blanketing Northeast from Canadian wildfires can impact our mental health

Doctors see an increase in anxiety and depression as people experience the trauma of wildfire smoke.

Read Now

How Extreme Heat Causes Cascading Crises

Our Climate Resilience for Frontline Clinics Toolkit and heat alert system can help health clinics around the country prepare for extreme heat.

Read Now

Climate Resilience for Frontline Clinics Video

In collaboration with Americares, we're working with clinics around the country to protect people most vulnerable to the impacts of extreme heat waves, flooding, hurricanes, and wildfires.

Read Now

Preparing hospitals and health systems for climate change

Speaking to The Boston Globe, several experts from Harvard Chan School offered their perspectives on how hospitals and health systems will cope with continuing climate change and extreme weather events.

Read Now

Sunny highs to shivering cold: Wild weather swings take a health toll

Check out what Drs. Aaron Bernstein and Gaurab Basu have to say about the health impacts of wild weather.

Read Now