1 Support change at the top. Support those who prioritize the environment: legislators who put forth bills to reduce waste and enforce clean water regulations; elected officials who serve the public's interests; citizen leaders who demand accountability; businesses that voluntarily go greener. We, as individuals, have a responsibility to do right, but shouldering the burden of cleaning up after mass producers of pollution and suffering the impacts of unsustainable industries is an unfair burden. Consider the drought: Industrial agricultural, the beef industry, statewide inefficiency, outdoor residential usage (particularly in Southern California), bottled water and lousy regulation are all enormous factors that must be addressed and that far supersede one individual's impact. You taking shorter showers is a comparative drop in the bucket. A simpler example: Convincing one coffee shop to forgo to-go coffee cups diverts far more waste than you remembering to bring your reusable mug.
2. You should still bring your reusable mug.
3. Support organizations that fight on behalf of the environment. (Full disclosure: I work for those beach huggers at the Northcoast Environmental Center.) Attending public meetings, delving into public policy, keeping track of legislation and building relationships with agency staff, doing the hands-on work to restore damaged ecosystems and running educational programs is a full-time job and then some. Without watchdog nonprofits, we'd be living in a dirtier, sadder world. Donate money, time, sponsorships, whatever works for you, so these organizations can continue working on behalf of us all.
4. Be public in your support. The individuals undermining environmental education and research often disregard the truth, so those of us who adhere to science and facts need to speak more loudly and more often.
5. Source your stuff. From seafood to solar panels, pot to pottery, handcrafted chocolate to handblown glass, know where what you buy comes from. The more locally crafted, the better. If what you're purchasing was at least made in America, that's better than buying something assembled and shipped over from a country with lesser environmental regulations (and subpar labor standards). It's not easy! Buy secondhand. Trade. Borrow. Get creative. Do without.
Bonus: Go spend time in the forest, at the river, at the beach, in the ocean, in the dunes. Stay in love with nature and you'll care more about protecting it.