Climate action must become more accessible and affordable

“Buy an electric car, install solar panels on top of your house, and don’t forget to pay for your carbon offsets!” In the grand scheme of combating climate change, the narrative often centers around expensive lifestyle overhauls like these. While big changes can be very effective at combating climate change, they come with even bigger price tags that make them inaccessible to most people.  

Even with rebates and incentives, the average price of an electric vehicle is still $45,000, and the average cost of installing solar panels in California is around $13,000. On top of that, the required lithium-ion batteries lead to the mining of lithium, nickel, cobalt, and copper while releasing toxic fumes and degrading the environment.

  The reality is that these costs illustrate a sort of paradox within the world of climate action. Wealthy people are disproportionately responsible for climate change—those in the top 10 percent are responsible for over 50 percent of global carbon emissions—and these expensive ‘solutions’ are their way of making up for it. Meanwhile, those who contributed least to our climate crisis are bearing the worst of the impacts. According to the World Bank, the world’s 74 lowest-income nations have experienced nearly eight times as many natural disasters as wealthier countries in the last 10 years.  

Helping the environment shouldn’t be another privilege reserved for the wealthy. Even though the rich are the most responsible for climate change, everyone should have the opportunity to act against this crisis. Arguably the most important way of doing this is to diversify the lifestyle changes that count as meaningful for the environment. By doing so, those of all socioeconomic backgrounds will be recognized for their contributions to climate action.

There are a plethora of ways in which people can make meaningful impacts on the environment. What we eat, for example, can have a tremendous impact on greenhouse gas emissions. In a study done by the BBC, the emissions associated with a vegetarian, vegan, and omnivorous diet were tracked. While meat-based diets generated around 50 kg of CO2 emissions every week, vegetarian diets generated around 15 kg, and vegan diets around 10 kg. The animals required for dairy and meat products are the cause of large-scale deforestation and the release of huge amounts of methane gas. In fact, an Oxford University study found that becoming vegan was the single most impactful way an individual could help the environment.

Walking, biking, and the use of public transport are also extremely effective ways of helping the environment.  If your destination is walkable or bikeable, consider increasing the number of times you walk or bike each week. If your destination is too far, public transit is a far more ecologically conscious method of transportation than a car. In fact, according to the UN, you can reduce your carbon footprint by 3.6 tons by living car-free. That’s almost two tons less carbon than switching to an electric vehicle.

Cultivating a more nuanced approach to climate action is especially beneficial for young people. Changes like these are realistic and relevant to students because most of them haven’t become economically independent but are still motivated to act. On top of that, having accessible climate actions will prevent people from thinking they aren’t doing enough or feeling discouraged by more expensive solutions. 

Overall, helping the environment should never be a question of money or social status. For far too long, the climate action narrative has been stuck around expensive solutions that act as symbols of inequality. Changing the way we think about climate action to incorporate less expensive solutions is key to making meaningful progress.