You Can Help Save The Planet. Here's How.

05/07/2015 07:46 am ET | Updated May 07, 2015

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Let's face it: Humanity is screwing up the planet. Deforestation has leveled swaths of the Amazon rainforest. Bees and monarch butterflies are dying in record numbers. Carbon dioxide levels are soaring.


And yet there are plenty of real, tangible ways to push back against this gloomy narrative. You want to help the bees? Planting some wildflowers is a good first step. What about tackling the ongoing drought in California? Replace that water-guzzling lawn with some succulents.

Here are five ways you, yes you, can combat the depressing headlines that have dominated environmental news for far too long. Because, in the words of legendary biologist E.O. Wilson: "You are capable of more than you know."

Plant a vegetable garden and eat vegetarian at least once a week.
veggie garden

It sure takes a lot of water to produce some of your favorite foods. A single almond can guzzle as much as a gallon before it reaches your trail mix; a single hamburger can account for up to 660 gallons.

A simple compromise? Plant a vegetable garden and go meatless at least once a week. Fruits and vegetables are much kinder to the environment than meats that are water and carbon intensive, even when you adjust the portions you're comparing for calories.

Add a patch of wildflowers or milkweed to your backyard.
monarch butterfly
Nearly a third of all food produced worldwide is dependent on pollinators like bees, flies and moths; grocery stores would be sad places without them. Sadly, many of their populations are in decline -- witness colony collapse disorder and the plummeting population of monarch butterflies. But there's a simple solution: Plant wildflowers, which are natural food for bees and other pollinators, and opt for buying organic produce to cut back on insect-killing pesticides.

"It seems like an overly simplistic solution, but it really is the most significant step that all of us can take, whether you're a farmer with a field or you live in New York City and your only garden is a flowerpot," Eric Mader, the pollinator program co-director for The Xerces Society, told The Huffington Post.

Swap out your lawn for stones and drought-resistant plants.
drought hose

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) announced sweeping water cutbacks in March to combat the state's ongoing drought. Green lawns were at the top of the casualty list. New rules have been enacted that ban excessive watering after rainfall and cut back on the number of days per week homeowners are allowed to water their lawns.

But some locals are taking a more active approach to the water shortage by getting rid of their grass altogether and replacing it with succulents and stones. Landscaping companies have even offered to rip out lawns for free, charging only for the new drought-tolerant landscaping. "There's a heightened sense of what's going on, and people are genuinely concerned -- they're not just trying to save a few dollars on water," said Paul Helen, general manager of Modesto Landscapes in Modesto, California.

Recycle and compost kitchen scraps.
compost bin
Americans are horrible recyclers. We create almost 4.4 pounds of waste per person every day and recycle a little more than a third of that. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates up to 75 percent of all our trash could be diverted to recycling centers or compost bins.

In addition to being able to start a recycling program in your own neighborhood, it's surprisingly easy to compost kitchen scraps in your backyard, with or without worms.

Install renewables in your home, or buy green energy credits.
home solar panels
Solar costs have plummeted in recent years, from around $150 per watt in 1970 to less than 60 cents per watt today. Despite some efforts to block at-home installation, the technology is finally catching on and the solar industry is booming.

If you can't afford to install your own solar panels or if you live in an apartment complex, you may still be able to purchase renewable energy certificates -- fossil fuel offsets that help fund investment in green energy.

All photos via Getty and The Associated Press.

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