Our planet is facing a bleak future.
We all know human activity is damaging our world but the biggest and most urgent issue to tackle is that of greenhouse gases.
Currently, the world outputs 52 tonnes of CO2e a year. If we are to survive on this planet, we need to reach zero as soon as possible.
So how can any individual hope to make a difference against this huge figure?
Amongst all my research, I’ve found the best answers to this big question in the hugely inspiring Mike Berners-Lee book “How bad are bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything”.
If you don’t own it or don’t have time to digest it all, here are the most significant action points to know.
Firstly, he challenges the idea that any effort is insignificant – countering defeatist views such as:
- • UK emissions are tiny compared to China and the USA – don’t listen to this political spin. The UK is responsible for 1% of the global CO2e figure so cutting this will make a real difference
- • My own action is of no consequence – no, individuals can be a meaningful force for change, both by cutting personal carbon use and by exerting pressure on institutions and governments
- • Others will continue to live carbon-thirsty lifestyles – yet if we consciously live a low carbon life, we help create a “new normal”, showing others what’s possible, creating permission and a time pressure for others to do the same.
What can I do to cut my carbon footprint?
The answer to this is different for everyone. The average UK carbon footprint is 13 tonnes of CO2e every year. The biggest contributors are flying, driving, heating homes, buying new stuff and food.
With that in mind, begin by deciding on your carbon cutting style – some people are ready to go all out and others want to start with the easy, simple wins. Don’t do something that makes you miserable. And don’t feel bad about not doing something – the aim should be simply to constantly be thinking, reviewing and working to understand your footprint.
A quarter of the average UK person’s carbon footprint comes from food.
- • Eat less meat and dairy, especially beef and lamb
- • Try vegan alternatives or lab meat
- • Do not waste food – use leftovers, cook around what’s in your fridge
- • Avoid air-freighted food
- • Reduce packaging – find shops which let you fill your own containers
- • Only buy food in season
Another quarter of the average UK person’s footprint is found here.
- • Ditch the car – rent one if you need it, or join a car club
- • Drive less – cycle, use public transport or invest in a ebike which uses one twentieth the energy of a car
- • Share your journey with others
- • Drive carefully – reducing your speed from 80 to 55mph and avoiding over rev-ing in built up areas both reduce fuel usage by a third
- • Think before buying a car – choose a small one, ideally electric
Half of the UK don’t fly at all, but if you do, on average it’s yet another quarter of your footprint.
- • Take the train – London to Barcelona is just one long day
- • Choose video conferences over visits
- • Holiday closer to home
- • Fly economy – Business class is twice the footprint.
- • Think about genuine offsetting which must equate to at least £100 per tonne.
4. Home energy
There is so much potential for savings in energy use in the home. This list begins with the simplest, cheapest solutions, through to the more ambitious.
Instant money and carbon savers
- • Turn off lights and appliances when not in use, including Wi-Fi routers overnight
- • Only heat rooms you use
- • Run washing machines and dishwashers at the lowest temperature
- • Don’t use a tumble dryer – hang out washing instead
- • Wear layers – rely on clothes more than heating
- • Use a hot water bottle
- • Boil only what you need in each kettle and gently boil food
- • Keep showers short and baths as a rare treat
Small cost – long term savings
- • Fit LED bulbs everywhere
- • Insulate the loft to a high standard
- • Switch to a renewable energy supplier
- • Use smart thermostats and set no higher than needed
- • Maintain or replace inefficient boilers
- • If you burn wood, burn low and ensure wood is very dry – avoid this in cities
Big changes, larger cost, long term big savings
- • Double or triple glaze windows
- • Install solar panels
- • Invest in air or ground source heat pumps
- • Insulate external walls
- • Fit a smart heating system
- • Make sure your home is fully used – take on lodgers or downsize
- • If you rent, try to influence landlord to improve the carbon credentials
- • When buying, ask about energy consumption
- • If you have an Aga or similar, get rid of it as soon as you can – it’s one of the few things better off recycling than reselling.
5. Stuff and Services
Again, this encompasses so many facets of life. When grouped together like this it really demonstrates the breadth of impact that can be made in an individual’s life.
- • Buy less often, and buy higher quality – so that clothes last can be passed on
- • Wash only when needed
- • Repair clothes or pass them on/sell them
- • Choose recycled materials
- • Buy second hand
- • Trim your wardrobe so others can use the rarely worn items
- • Buy (and sell) second hand – use eBay, Gumtree, freecycle, charity shops etc
- • Look for sustainable materials – wood is better than metal which is better than plastic
- • Make or cobble together your own
- • If buying new, buy something that will last generations
- • Repair
- • Recycle
- • If you move house, keep the kitchen units – don’t just rip everything out
- • Repair
- • Buy and sell second hand
- • If you must buy new, be prepared to invest in a brand which will last
TVs and IT
- • Be mindful that the energy in making these items is likely to outweigh the manufacturing footprint
- • Buy quality devices and look after them – a phone should last 5 years, a laptop 10 and a TV more
- • Buy and sell second hand
- • Don’t have more devices than you need/use
- • Don’t go for an unnecessarily large screen
- • Buy ethical and reusable devices – such as fairphones
- • Just buy fewer
- • Join a toy library
- • Pass on toys to others
- • Take up exercise and do it locally
- • Try making things
- • Consider volunteering
- • Change your bank account – look at Triodos, Ecology Building Society, Co-op Bank
- • Change your pension scheme to one which avoids investing in fossil fuels – check out London Royal Exchange and Aviva
- • Join the ‘Make my money matter’ campaign
The next step: influencing others and pushing for change
Movements don’t tend to gather pace without some form of evangelism. Don’t be a bore about it but be proud of your conscious choices and share them with others. There are many ways you can make your voice heard and share your successes.
- • Social circle – this can be the most challenging area. We have to find clever ways to move in the right direction whilst bringing us closer to the people we care about
- • Work/School/College – make suggestions: if one person does it, it’s easier for others to follow suit. It can be hard to ask awkward questions of those who pay our salaries, but we must. Link with link minded people and start a cultural revolution.
- • Shopping – ask yourself what the carbon footprint of what you buy is likely to be. Try sites like ethicalconsumer.org for details on how to judge this.
- • Politics – talk or write to your MP, question the media and vote for politicians who genuinely appreciate the climate emergency.
- • Consider protest – XR and other movements like Fridays for Future strikes have had a big influence and done well but there have been a few mistakes:
- ο Be beyond non-violence and insist on respect of everyone, including dishonest politicians and oil executives
- ο Push for ‘truth’ as a cultural norm
- ο Aim to give everyone a taste for a better world
- ο Strive to get better at engaging every part of society
So you have a plan. It will cut carbon, but the movement is more powerful than that. It’s about rewriting the way we live and consume on our planet and it has the potential to change everything.