The impossible is becoming possible – especially if you’re Burger King. The fast food giant partnered with plant-based food company Impossible Foods to create a vegan-friendly burger and is trialing it in restaurants in St. Louis, Missouri.
I’ve tried something called an Impossible Burger in another restaurant and, if it’s the same thing, it’s delicious! This hungry carnivore is a happy convert. Livestock accounts for roughly 15% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions – and cows are the biggest contributors, so in a tiny way I am doing my part. And this Earth Day, that’s important to remember. Our planet – our only home – needs us all to do our part.
Probably half my meals are vegetarian now (a shift aided by the increase in tasty alternatives). I turn off the tap when I’m brushing my teeth and the lights when I leave a room. I’ve given up plastic straws and recently I stopped using plastic lids for my store-bought morning cappuccino (just drink a little of the foam and it won’t spill!). Yes, these are the minuscule actions of one person, and there is so much more I personally could do. But I believe these small steps will lead me to more. I’m a consumer on a journey, and right now, this is what I’m doing. And it matters.
Many are doing a lot more to tackle the climate emergency; now we need governments to step up too.
As momentum builds toward the United Nations Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit this September, it’s time for us to say to governments: This is what we’re doing. What are YOU going to do? To put us on the right path, governments must come to the summit with transformational plans for people and the planet. This is a race we can win. But there’s not a moment to lose.
The goals of peace and prosperity for all and a thriving planet, enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), are not mutually exclusive. To improve people’s health and reduce global poverty, we need to protect our planet. And progress on the SDGs needs to happen in a climate-smart way.
So, in the lead up to the summit, let’s show leaders that we are making change already. And this September is their chance to get on the right side of history.
Here are a few examples of how people everywhere are raising the alarm and doing their part to tackle the climate emergency.
Young people are forgoing their education to save their futures.
“We are striking because we have done our homework and they have not,” said 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, ahead of the worldwide #SchoolStrike4Climate in March. Greta put her frustration with inaction into action when she first started protesting by herself outside of the Swedish Parliament last August. It wasn’t too long before young people around the world rallied by her side – sacrificing their Fridays for the future – to tell their leaders that current policies won’t cut it.
In March, they made history: More than 1.4 million young people in 128 countries took part in the school strikes for ambitious action on climate change. For those leaders who ignore their calls and say they should stay in school, Greta has a better question, “Why should I be studying for a future that soon may be no more, when no one is doing anything to save that future?” Greta has now been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Over the weekend, she addressed a crowd of supporters of the Extinction Rebellion movement that has brought parts of central London to a standstill and led to hundreds of arrests. Activists’ demands include that the UK government create a Citizens’ Assembly to help make decisions about how to address the climate emergency.
Companies are re-defining ways of doing business.
As mentioned earlier, Burger King added a vegan Whopper to its menu; meanwhile drinks giant Diageo, which makes Guinness, just announced it’ll get rid of plastic beer packaging, and retail behemoth Walmart has been praised for its bold initiative to avoid a gigaton of greenhouse gases.
Yes, there is much more they could do, and many other companies are doing much less, but companies are starting to understand their consumers increasingly demand both value from their products and values from the manufacturers. More and more CEOs recognize that sustainability is the only way to protect profits in the long run – whether it’s in their supply chains or the products they put on shelves and menus.
At this point, over 170 companies have made commitments to go 100% renewable. And those who don’t make firm commitments are being called out. That’s what led more than 4,200 Amazon employees to recently call out their own company for its carbon footprint, making it the largest employee-driven movement on climate change to take place in the tech industry. And today, UN Foundation Vice Chair Senator Timothy Wirth joins 350.org’s Bill McKibben and students leaders to renew their call for Harvard University to eliminate investments in fossil fuels. Pressure from consumers, employees, and investors is mounting and some organizations are stepping up. Now we need leaders to make policies to encourage many more.
Individuals are changing how they live, and it’s adding up.
Faced with such an overwhelmingly big and complex challenge, individual behavior change on climate change may seem insignificant, but with over 7 billion people on the planet, those actions add up. They also send an important signal to our friends, families, and the brands we buy from about our values.
Launched at last year’s UN Climate Conference, the UN’s ActNow.bot encourages us all to reduce our own carbon footprint – whether it’s buying local produce or eating meat-free meals, driving less, buying energy efficient appliances, or simply re-using bags and bottles. So far, more than 100,000 individual actions have been logged through the Climate Action ActNow.bot. By the summit this September, we hope there will be many more, so the Secretary-General can turn to world leaders and say, “This is what citizens of the world are doing. What are YOU doing?” Add your actions here (opens in Facebook Messenger).
Those individual actions have a reinforcing effect: They not only reduce greenhouse gases, but they also influence others to do the same. A recent study found that café customers who were told that 30% of Americans decided to eat less meat were twice as likely to order a meatless lunch compared with the control group exposed to no message.
The bottom line: Individual choices do matter, and as more and more people demand action and change their own lives to protect the planet, governments need to reflect the new norms we are creating.
Take a lesson from 21-year-old Ruth Miller of the Dena’ina Athabascan tribe in Anchorage, Alaska, whom I heard speak to the UN Secretary-General at the Global Engagement Summit, run by our sister organization the United States Association for the USA. Ruth has seen firsthand how indigenous communities in Alaska are threatened by rising sea levels, but are often left out of important conversations on climate change. That’s why she’s been standing up for climate justice at the global level – from speaking out at the Global Engagement Summit to representing UNA-USA at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
Cities and states are moving fearlessly ahead.
Last year’s Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco brought forth hundreds of new commitments from local leaders – cities, states, regions, and communities – to use their powers and jurisdictions for the protection of the planet. Here in the U.S., states have been coming together and committing to do their part to uphold the targets of the Paris Agreement. Since the start of 2019, six new states have joined the bipartisan U.S. Climate Alliance coalition, which now includes 23 governors. The Alliance, which represents 51% of the U.S. population and $11 trillion in GDP, is proving to other leaders that, as Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers said, “We can take climate action while growing our economy at the same time.”
Leaders at the local level aren’t looking back either. Recently, the cities of Chicago and Sydney committed to going 100% renewable energy-powered, and across the globe, more than 100 cities are already powered primarily by renewable energy.
“There’s no Democratic or Republican way to fill potholes or plow snow, and climate should be nonpartisan because our planet demands it,” said James Brainard, Republican mayor of Carmel, Indiana at the Global Climate Action Summit. He was among several Republicans in attendance who came to dispel the myth that climate action is only for some.
Presidents and Prime Ministers, it’s over to you.
Of course, there are hundreds of other promising examples to cite, and – let’s not be naïve here – many, many more actions that need to be taken by many, many more people and organizations.
But the message this Earth Day to world leaders is clear: This is what we’re doing. What are YOU doing?
Come September, leaders have the opportunity to respond, by triggering transformational change at the Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit.
In the meantime, the world will keep showing them how to do it.
[Photo: Parker LaCourse for UN Foundation]