How much can one person do to limit climate change? A graphic.

Pedro Rocha/AP
Climate activist Greta Thunberg waves as she arrives in Lisbon on Dec. 3, 2019, after a three-week voyage from the United States. The Swedish teen forgoes air travel and sailed to the Portuguese capital before heading to the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Madrid.

After a year filled with floods, wildfires, and protests, world leaders are gathered in Madrid for the United Nations Climate Change Conference to draft a mitigation plan in accordance with the 2015 Paris Agreement. So far, the acceleration of carbon emissions has slowed, but the trend has yet to be reversed. Emissions are on track to rise by 0.6% percent in 2019, reaching an all-time high

Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, president of the U.N. General Assembly, underscored the weight of the situation on Tuesday. “Science is unequivocal on the urgency to act, both at global and national levels,” he told summit attendees. 

Governments and private companies are responsible for the brunt of global emissions (by one estimate, just 100 corporations are responsible for 71% of global emissions). But many individuals aren’t waiting for governments to set the pace of change. Changing habits like diet and commutes can profoundly affect both our own lives and the larger environment.

Why We Wrote This

Helping to limit global warming can seem like a daunting task for one person. But, as with all massive undertakings, breaking it down into smaller steps can make it seem more manageable.

When Cynthia Kuest sold her car in August, it was a tough decision. But a Monitor cover story about Alaskan homes sinking into the melting permafrost inspired her to try to reduce her carbon footprint, and now she couldn’t be happier. Riding the bus or her bike makes her feel more connected to her community, too. 

Ms. Kuest was one of the readers who responded when we asked our audience how they think about climate change in their daily lives. 

“I can’t force anybody to sell their car or, you know, do anything else about climate change,” she says. “I think the best way for me to communicate how invaluable this is is just to change myself – and who knows, maybe it affects somebody else?”

Karen Norris, Sarah Matusek, Timmy Broderick/Staff
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