In the search for what is causing human-influenced climate change, we can easily dismiss ourselves—individual households—as the main factor. We can analyze harmful industries like fossil fuels and factory farms, and these industries deserve to shoulder the blame for most of it.

After all, one household doesn’t account for the amount of damage a multi-national conglomerate does. However, we—the collective of individual households—play a major role in their continued expansion of industry, steering through what we buy and how we live.

We, then, become the ones who must force the changes we wish to see. If we don’t make the right choices at home, those entities of commerce have proven time and again that they won’t make them for us. In this way, climate change starts at home as government regulation and corporate responsibility have proven ineffective.

Buying from companies that aren’t using, can’t adapt to, or refuse to adopt truly sustainable practices allows them to mask with green-washed labeling. Real change is not rooted in what new products or packaging companies can concoct for us to buy.

Starting at Home

The bonus for how to “fight climate change” has been continually put on our shoulders. Recycle. Switch off the water when you brush your teeth. Maybe consider installing solar panels. Electric cars. Plant-based Mondays. We are led towards tiny chisel marks in the sculpture that must be constructed to “save” the planet.

But, the truth is that these tiny efforts, positive contributions and indubitably worthwhile, are not the most effective approach to combatting climate change at home. Realistically, what is most significant is a larger lifestyle change, one that minimizes consumption and avoids new/more resources.

For some, that is a stab at growing some food at home, repurposing old things, or carpooling. For others, it’s striving towards no-waste living, retrofitting habits and homes for passive energy, or wearing only secondhand clothing.

Redefining the Narrative

Thwarting climate change can’t center around new products we need to become “green” or more “sustainable”. We can’t buy into “plant-based” plastics when they are more difficult to recycle and shift plastic production to destructive, fossil-fuel reliant, GMO-based mass agriculture over petroleum alone.

In the fight, we can’t forget that every new thing we buy requires fossil fuel energy for manufacturing, fossil fuel energy for transportation, and fossil fuel energy for harvesting, be it mined minerals or cultivated corn, or sustainably harvested trees. That includes products that are “greener” versions of their older incarnations.

The best thing we can do for the climate is to consume less: make the most of what we already have, get the most from reusing what others don’t want, and cut consumption in bulk. The solution can’t be buying more and new stuff because producing new stuff—from cars to Energy Star dishwashers to compostable single-use plates—is what causes the biggest problem.

Cutting Consumption

In reality, that is a home that looks much the same as the ones we have today because, of course, we don’t want to use more materials to build new ones, even if they are more energy-efficient. That efficiency will never make up for the embodied energy needed or the pollution produced to create a new home.

Instead, we find ways to use what we’ve got (and how we live) to make a difference.

  • Maybe we learn to set thermostats to low 60s in the winter and raise them to upper 70s in the summer, and shut off the HVAC when the weather is right.
  • Maybe we convert most of our lawns to food-producing gardens (or native gardens) instead of running a petroleum-driven, air-polluting mower once a week.
  • Maybe we drive as little as possible, walking to the neighbors, carpooling with co-workers, and running our errands sensibly to minimize mileage. Electric cars charged on fossil fuels—the grid—backed up with gasoline are just repackaging the problem.
  • Maybe our laptop/smartphone/TV can work for another couple of years. The same can be said for appliances. Repair services need a big comeback.
  • Maybe we don’t buy drinks of any sort in plastic bottles and make flavored waters or iced teas at home to put in one of those reusable water bottles congregated in the back of the cupboard.

We mustn’t ditch what we have to buy what’s better. It’s not that a more energy-friendly washing machine isn’t wonderful, but if we don’t finish using the one we have first, the energy-friendly part of it isn’t nullified, and we collectively create far more garbage. The same can be said for light bulbs or cars. The ideal is that we buy these more efficient models only when it is time—our old one is beyond repair—to replace something.

The “Economy”

What this sort of lifestyle means, however, is that the economy will not grow because our current economy works best with unbridled consumption. If we stop buying in and buying new, the larger gears—corporations and manufacturers—in the system will be forced to turn in a new direction, and that is the real reason climate change starts at home: Consumers, as we get so lovingly labeled, have the power but only if we have the gumption to take it.

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