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The Role of Individuals in Protecting the Environment

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  • 0:00 Do Individuals Matter?
  • 1:17 Everyday Actions
  • 4:16 Impact of Individuals…
  • 5:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

This lesson discusses what individuals can do to help protect the environment. Learn how you can take action in little ways and make a difference by engaging in political activism. Take a quiz to see if you're ready to do your part.

Do Individuals Matter?

When we discuss the earth's environment, we are talking about the health of the atmosphere, forests, plants, animals, water, and each ecosystem. Everything from the roots of trees underground to the air we breathe is part of the environment, and the health of each part affects the health of the whole. There are a lot of threats to the environment. These include climate change caused by greenhouse gasses, air and water pollution, deforestation, and more. As a result of so many serious environmental threats, the earth is changing. Melting glaciers are destroying habitat in the Arctic; plants and animals are becoming extinct at a staggering rate. It's easy to look at that list and feel small and insignificant. After all, the earth has over 7 billion people.

But, the idea that individuals can't affect change is a myth. Every person has to make his or her own choices about protecting the environment. If everyone in a democracy decided their vote didn't matter, nobody would vote. If democracy can work, then so can environmental action. Think of it this way: all of us have created this problem by neglecting the environment. That must mean that all of us can fix the problem by protecting it!

Everyday Actions

There are actions everyday people can take to protect the environment:

First, we can recycle, reuse, and compost. Recycling involves cutting down on waste and energy consumption by turning used items such as plastic bottles into new items. Reusing involves cutting down on waste by reusing items such as grocery bags. Composting involving using food waste to help create nutrient-rich soil rather than landfill waste. The average American creates 4.3 pounds of waste every day. Much of that waste ends up in landfills, where it produces greenhouse gases that make climate change worse. Some of it ends up in the ocean, where it kills marine life. And, creating new products uses up a lot of energy. Yet, almost all of our waste can be recycled, reused, or composted.

Transport conservation is another thing we can do since one of the biggest sources of greenhouses gases is transportation. Make better transport choices by choosing the least damaging option. Generally speaking, driving is more efficient than flying. Riding a bike is always better than driving. Take a train, tram, or bus whenever one is available. Choose housing near to where you go to school or work, and choose an efficient car. All of these things can reduce your impact on the environment.

Another way you can help the environment is to conserve energy. Switch things off when you're not using them, use less air conditioning (or use fans), dry clothes on a clothesline, switch to energy saving light bulbs (LED bulbs are the best!), turn your refrigerator down, close air conditioning vents when you're not in the room, wear more layers instead of setting the heating too high, and turn everything off when not at home. You can make the biggest difference by turning off your a/c and turning down your heat. All these things help protect the environment though, and they save you money!

You can also choose to buy local. Local food is better for the environment because of transportation pollution. The fewer miles the food has to travel, the smaller the pollution toll. You can buy local food at specialty stores, go to a local farmer's market, or even grow your own food in a garden! Also, it helps to make as much as possible from scratch, instead of buying packaged goods. You can also cut down on meat: vegetables take far less energy to produce than meat.

You can also donate to rainforest conservation charities. There are many charities working hard to both buy rainforest for local groups to protect, and to pressure governments to take action. These charities can only operate thanks to the donations.

Lastly, you can avoid toxic chemicals. The issue of toxic chemicals can be complex. The simplest thing an individual can to avoid supporting any organization that uses toxic chemicals is to buy organic produce. If produce is certified as organic, no harmful pesticides or herbicides were used to grow the produce.

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