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5 things you can do about climate change

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN
updated 5:09 PM EDT, Tue May 6, 2014
A farmer and his children plant a field with bean seeds and fertilizer in southern Ethiopia in 2008, a year after severe floods destroyed most of the food crop. Ethiopia is the country 10th most vulnerable to climate change effects, <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/29/world/climate-change-vulnerability-index/index.html'>according to a 2013 report by Maplecroft</a>. A farmer and his children plant a field with bean seeds and fertilizer in southern Ethiopia in 2008, a year after severe floods destroyed most of the food crop. Ethiopia is the country 10th most vulnerable to climate change effects, according to a 2013 report by Maplecroft.
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10th most at risk: Ethiopia
9th most at risk: Philippines
8th most at risk: Cambodia
7th most at risk: DR Congo
6th most at risk: Nigeria
5th most at risk: South Sudan
4th most at risk: Haiti
3rd most at risk: Sierra Leone
2nd most at risk: Guinea-Bissau
Most at risk: Bangladesh
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Climate expert: Most important thing is to inform yourself
  • Recycling and reusing can reduce costs and up efficiencies
  • Buy an energy efficient vehicle

(CNN) -- Climate change isn't something in the far-off future: It's a potentially disastrous reality that's already starting to have effects that are expected to worsen, experts say.

Longer summers and heavier rainfalls are some of the impacts Americans are already seeing, according to the National Climate Assessment. We should expect more flooding, wildfires and drought.

The report, a new White House update released Tuesday, calls for urgent action on climate change.

Climate change is here and action needed now, new White House report says

So what can you do at home to take action?

1. Become informed

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The most powerful way that the average person can combat climate change is to become informed about it, says J. Marshall Shepherd, former president of the American Meteorological Society and professor at the University of Georgia.

"Obviously, it makes sense for people to be as efficient and green as possible in their thinking on a day-to-day basis," he said. "But where I think the biggest impact that individuals can have is: Becoming climate literate."

If you educate yourself about what's going on with climate change and what can be done about it, you can make more informed choices when it comes time to vote for the people with the power to make big decisions.

"Where the biggest impacts on our planet will be, will come from large-scale policy changes and solutions that are influenced by who's in office," he said.

Only read trusted and verified sources of information about climate change, Shepherd said. He recommends the websites climate.gov and Climate Central (of which he is a board member) for essential facts and resources.

Learn about various responses to climate change that policy makers are discussing:

-- Mitigation means lowering carbon dioxide levels -- for instance, by instituting carbon taxes or taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

-- Adaptation means responding to the consequences of climate change -- for instance, building seawalls to prepare for rising sea levels around vulnerable cities.

-- Geoengineering means changing the Earth itself to counteract climate change -- which would include hypothetical technological interventions such as putting large mirrors in space or changing our oceans to absorb more carbon dioxide, Shepherd said.

Beyond reading up on the issues, you can still do a small part to influence the big environmental picture.

2. Make changes at home

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists steps to limiting your greenhouse gas emissions, which would also save you money. These include:

-- Changing your five most-used light fixtures or bulbs to products that have the EPA's Energy Star label;

-- Heat and cool more efficiently, such as by using a programmable thermostat, changing air filters and replacing old equipment with Energy Star products;

-- Seal and insulate your home;

-- Make use of recycling programs, and compost food and yard waste;

--Reduce water waste;

--Use green power, such as solar panels;

--Estimate how much greenhouse gas you emit with the EPA's calculator.

The U.S. Department of Energy has an online guide to buying green power.

Check out clean energy resources and financial incentives in your area through the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency.

3. Be greener at the office

If you have a desk job, there are plenty of things you can do to reduce your emissions while at work. The EPA advises:

-- Set computers and other office equipment to power down during periods when you're not using them;

-- Use Energy Star equipment;

-- Recycle and reuse whenever possible;

The David Suzuki Foundation, an environmental nonprofit organization, additionally recommends using video conferencing to reduce air travel for business.

4. Reduce emissions in transit

Whether it's taking a vacation or doing your daily commute, you can reduce your carbon footprint in simple ways that also save money. The EPA's recommendations include:

-- Rely on public transportation, biking, walking, carpooling or telecommuting instead of driving;

-- Use the EPA's Green Vehicle Guide to help you make an informed choice about buying a car;

-- While driving, try not to do hard accelerations, don't spend more than 30 seconds idling, and go easy on the gas pedal and brakes;

-- Make sure to regularly check your tire pressure.

When you have to take an airplane, the David Suzuki Foundation recommends:

-- When flying, consider packing lighter because less fuel is consumed with less weight on the plane;

-- Fly during the day because night flights have a bigger impact on climate;

-- Buy carbon offsets -- or credits -- to compensate for the emissions on your flight .

5. Get involved and educate others about the big picture

Your green strategies in your daily life can have a small impact, but the whole planet has to be on board for dealing with climate change in order to instigate global effects. Even if everyone in the United States reduced their emissions, other countries that continue to dump carbon dioxide into the air would still contribute to warming temperatures and rising sea levels.

Spread the word about climate change and educating people. The EPA recommends that students give presentations on climate change and encourage their institutions to increase energy efficiency.

Find out if your community has a climate action plan. There may be ways you can contribute to local efforts to be greener and adapt to potential changes that a warming world would bring.

Bottom line: Most of the public will never read the full National Climate Assessment, Shepherd said. But if you arm yourself with correct information, you can make informed choices that could affect your community and the planet at large.

CNN's Kevin Liptak, Jethro Mullen and Tom Cohen contributed to this report.

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