What Is the Most Effective Thing an Individual Can Do to Help the Earth?

Got a burning or murky question that needs a bright-green answer? Sierra magazine’s new advice columnist, Ms. Green (a.k.a. Jessian Choy), will tackle any puzzle, no matter how big or small—whether it’s something global like clean transportation or the value of a plant-based diet, or something granular but no less weighty, like a plastic-free way to brush your teeth. You can submit yours here and peruse her previous responses here.

Illustration by Loris Lora.

This post originally appeared in Sierra magazine. It has been republished with permission.

According to Project Drawdown, the third- and fourth-best climate change solutions are reducing food waste and eating a plant-rich diet.

(The top two solutions aren’t things the average person can easily control: refrigerant management and onshore wind turbines.)

But wait, there’s more! Researchers in a 2018 Oxford University study said:

“A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use, and water use. . . . It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car, as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions.”

The negative environmental impacts of eating animal products are partly why I stopped eating most meat when I was 12—and eventually all meat.

Now I buy only vegan food with no palm oil and with mostly plastic-free packaging. I choose local produce, and I eat leftover, still-fresh vegan food from friends and strangers in Facebook Buy Nothing groups.

When planning events, I follow DefaultVeg by offering plant-based meals and happily providing animal products if guests request them. Ask me about the organic vegan eggs, dairy and meat that have carnivores eating out of my hand! 

Try this in honor of Earth Day! If you do, tag me (@realMsGreen) with #TheTopThingToSaveOurPlanet.

The coronavirus pandemic and the response by federal, state and local authorities is fast-movingDuring this time, Ms. is keeping a focus on aspects of the crisis—especially as it impacts women and their families—often not reported by mainstream media. If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.


By day, Jessian Choy, aka "Ms. Green," co-creates laws and contracts and co-manages SF Approved, a site of green products she helped create at San Francisco Department of Environment. By night, she serves on the board of Earth Island Institute and shares fun and draconian tricks for a happy, equitable, green world—occasionally via dance videos, mad libs, behavior change, negotiation and public speaking workshops. She also gets her hands dirty greening homes, events and organizations and gives talks on affordable housing and transportation. Deeper into the night, she petitions dictionaries to be less sexist.