What Is the Most Effective Thing an Individual Can Do to Help the Earth?

Reduce your carbon footprint. Here's how.

By Jessian Choy

January 9, 2020

Hey Ms. Green,

I have heard that the single most effective thing an individual can do to help the earth is cut out or reduce animal products in their diet. Also, the choices we make around recycling food packaging and composting food waste have a huge impact. Do you agree?

—Micki in Los Angeles, California 

According to Project Drawdown, the third- and fourth-best climate change solutions are reducing food waste and eating a plant-rich diet. (The top two solutions aren't things the average person can easily control: refrigerant management and onshore wind turbines.)

But wait, there's more! Researchers in a 2018 Oxford University study said, "A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use, and water use. . . . It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car, as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions."

The negative environmental impacts of eating animal products are partly why I stopped eating most meat when I was 12 (and eventually all meat). Now I buy only vegan food with no palm oil and with mostly plastic-free packaging. I choose local produce, and I eat leftover, still-fresh vegan food from friends and strangers in Facebook Buy Nothing groups. When planning events, I follow DefaultVeg by offering plant-based meals and happily providing animal products if guests request them. Ask me about the organic vegan eggs, dairy, and meat that have carnivores eating out of my hand! 

Try one of those ideas as your New Year's resolution? If you do, tag me (@realMsGreen) with #TheTopThingToSaveOurPlanet.