We're running out of time when it comes to reversing course on climate change. Here's how you can help make a difference on this pressing issue—by changing your daily spending habits.
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Climate change is becoming a more serious and threatening issue with each passing day. As a recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report made clear, we are reaching alarming new realities with regard to climate change, and in response, the IPCC issued a "code red" for humanity.

We're running out of time when it comes to reversing course on climate change. Yet, in spite of this reality, there are plenty of countries around the world that continue to conduct business as usual—or are boldly making plans that will worsen the climate crisis. On the heels of the IPCC report, for instance, China astoundingly announced plans to construct 43 new coal-fired power plants and 18 new blast furnaces. The move will add about 1.5 percent to the country's current annual emissions, and China is already leading the world in new coal power plants, "building more than three times as much new coal power capacity as all other countries combined," Time recently reported. This announcement comes despite the world's largest polluters pledging to reduce emissions before 2030.

If you find these sorts of announcements and the lack of progress discouraging, maddening, or both, you're not alone. In addition to calling upon elected officials and demanding they take more aggressive action to curb climate change, individuals can take steps themselves to help address the crisis. Here are five ways to use your money and household financial decisions and actions to help fight climate change.

Sustainable banking

Sustainable banking has been described by experts as one of the easiest and most impactful actions you can take to help address climate change. Here's why: In the five years since the Paris Agreement, the world's 60 biggest banks have provided $3.8 trillion in funding for fossil fuel projects that contribute to climate change. 

This information comes courtesy of a report from the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) titled "Banking on Climate Chaos," which detailed the ways in which global banks such as JP Morgan Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America are leading contributors to climate change and are financing fossil fuel projects and companies that impact communities every single day. It's critical for consumers to understand that banks have a very real impact on this issue, and that the money banks have available to provide funding and loans for environmentally harmful projects comes from you—and from your checking and savings accounts.

The good news is that in recent years, a cottage industry of smaller financial services providers has launched with the express purpose of using the money you and I deposit into our checking and savings accounts exclusively to fund projects designed to address climate change, including renewable energy projects and responsible agriculture. Some of the most notable names in this space include Ando, Aspiration, and Climate First Bank.

As Ando points out on its website, by switching to a financial services provider focused on using your money to address climate change, you can potentially have 27 times the impact of other environmental actions—more than putting solar panels on your roof, taking shorter showers, or going vegan.

The added bonus of making the switch to such financial service providers is that you may even save money. Ando, for instance, charges no monthly fees on its accounts and offers an industry-leading interest rate of up to five percent.

Switch to solar power

Transitioning to solar energy is another immediate and very significant action you can take to help address climate change—by shifting away from fossil fuel-generated electricity.

As the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) points out, the electric power sector is among the largest contributors of greenhouse gases in the country. It represents 28 percent of all emissions. Solar energy, on the other hand, is a renewable, carbon-free resource that has enormous potential to reduce our nation's greenhouse gas emissions.

And here, too, there's good news. There are an increasing number of ways to adopt solar power—even if you're a renter or someone who lives in a multi-unit dwelling—thanks to the rise of community solar. The same is true for businesses, as they, too, are eligible to sign up for community solar programs.

Community solar allows customers to subscribe to a share of a solar project or solar farm, usually in their geographic area. The local solar farm, in turn, generates renewable electricity for the grid, and the utility company distributes this electricity to its customers.

The power generated by community solar farms will ideally offset most or all of the fossil fuel used by your home or residence. And in exchange for subscribing to the solar farm, customers receive a credit on their monthly electricity bills for the power generated by their share of the community solar program. The credits reduce what you owe the utility company each month.

So not only are you doing something good for the planet, but you're also reducing monthly utility expenses. What's more, adopting community solar requires zero upfront investment on your part. The downside here is that community solar is not yet available everywhere in the nation. If you'd like more information about where such programs are available, and what they cost, visit EnergySage's Community Solar Marketplace.

Stop buying plastic products

Driven by fossil fuels, the plastic industry is a major contributor to climate change. This is because plastics are derived from natural gas and crude oil. A report from the Columbia Climate School points out that "if plastic production stays on its current trajectory, by 2030, greenhouse gas emissions from plastic could reach 1.34 billion tons per year, equivalent to the emissions produced by 300 new 500MW coal-fired power plants."

"Plastic not only poses an immense pollution problem—it also exacerbates climate change," states the report.

As for the pollution caused by plastic, the reality is that if our current level of plastic production and consumption continues, by 2050 the oceans will be filled with more plastic than fish.

Take a look around your house. There are probably plastic items all around. But with a little effort, you can change that. You probably won't be able to eliminate plastic entirely from your life, but there are many, many start-ups working tirelessly to help consumers change their plastic consumption habits on every level. For instance, there are now cleaning companies such as ThreeMain, which packages all of its cleaning products in aluminum bottles that are intended to be used for life.

There are also companies working to dramatically reduce the plastic waste from our laundry routines. Some of the names in this space include Tru Earth, Earth Breeze, Dropps, and Brighton Wool & Honey. As an added bonus, many of these upstarts present a direct challenge to the widely held misconception that such products are less effective or far more costly. Many are very cost-competitive and receive solid reviews from users.

Cleaning and laundry products are merely two examples of the important new eco-friendly alternatives becoming available. The point is if you take a critical eye to your current routines and do some investigating, it is possible to find other options to reduce our reliance on plastics—and do so without spending a small fortune.

One last note on this front: If you comfort yourself with the knowledge that you are a diligent recycler, think again. In many places, the vast majority of plastics you're putting dutifully into recycling bins never get recycled. Another report, from Columbia Climate School, describes the recycling industry in the United States as broken and explains that, despite what many of us believe, much of the plastic we send off to be recycled does not actually end up being recycled. Instead, it often ends up being incinerated, deposited in landfills, or washed into the ocean—either here or in one of the many countries that we ship our waste off to.

Reduce meat consumption

In case you hadn't heard about this fact yet, the livestock sector is a major contributor to climate change. This has been reported far and wide, including in a May 2021 article in The Washington Post, which reported that "a scientific assessment from 2017 attributed 23 percent of total global warming to the livestock sector, citing operations that use energy and fertilizer, cause deforestation, and release methane."

Air pollution from animal agriculture now causes more deaths annually than emissions from coal-fired power plants, according to a study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).

The thing is, you don't have to stop eating meat altogether to make a difference on this issue. You do not need to radically upend your life overnight. But you could start by implementing "Meatless Mondays," for instance, or going meatless any other day of the week, and then try slowly increasing the number of days you refrain from consuming meat. There are a multitude of meat substitutes now being made available in supermarkets, and often, these products will cost you less than meat, thus reducing your household grocery budget.

RELATED: Eating Like a Climatarian Means Eating Less Beef

Support nonprofit organizations and NGOs focused on climate change

Finally, there are many very active charitable organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) focused on fighting climate change and funding projects to protect the planet. Rainforest Trust is one such example. It was founded with the mission to save the world's most vulnerable tropical rainforests, an approach the organization says is the simplest and most cost-effective way to fight climate change.

This organization's mission is particularly pressing because in 2020, the world lost more than 30.1 million acres of tropical forest. That's an area larger than the state of Pennsylvania. This destruction helped cause the release of 2.64 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which is more than double all annual vehicle emissions in this country.

Rainforest Trust has received Charity Navigator's highest rating of four stars, so you can be assured that when you support this nonprofit, your money will truly have an impact.

To find additional organizations focused on this issue, visit Charity Navigator and search the term climate change.

Why your actions matter

If you somehow missed the IPCC report that labeled climate change a code red for humanity,  here are some of the most startling and concerning facts to keep in mind:

  • Many of the climate changes currently taking place are unprecedented, and some of the shifts, such as continued sea level rise—are already irreversible for centuries to millennia.
  • The report, prepared by 234 scientists from 66 countries, states that human influence has warmed the climate at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2,000 years.
  • In 2019, atmospheric CO2 concentrations were higher than at any time in at least 2 million years, and concentrations of methane and nitrous oxide were higher than at any time in the last 800,000 years.
  • Global surface temperature has increased faster since 1970 than in any other 50-year period over a least the past 2,000 years.

There is still a chance to limit climate change, IPCC experts say. It is important for all of us to understand that fact. As the report notes, strong and sustained reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases could quickly make air quality better—and in 20 to 30 years global temperatures could stabilize.

Meaning: The time to rethink and revise your daily habits, your lifestyle, and even your spending patterns, is right now.