In this post, John Bamford follows up on his earlier article 'What is your footprint' with an in-depth look at how you can proactively manage your impact on climate change.
There is plenty of buzz about climate change at present. This was arguably kick started by David Attenborough's eye-opening Blue Planet and the focus on the environmental damage to the seas and oceans and resulting impact on biodiversity. The baton was then taken up by Greta Thunburg as she journeyed from classroom to the United Nations climate change summit in New York by boat, eschewing the carbon intensive activity of flying. Even Donald Trump has contributed to the discussion and resulting activities around climate change. His rejection of the science around a changing climate has seen others unify in protest – from the We Mean Business Coalition that draws together corporates committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to federal law-makers seeking to embed climate change in their states in defiance of national policy. Grassroots movements such as Extinction Rebellion and the Student Climate Strikes, have started to make traction against inaction, pressuring governments to make climate change a central issue to policy making as we face a climate emergency.
The proof is in the science
These are the faces of the movement, however, the science behind it is not new. Climate scientists first began to use computers to predict future global temperatures in the 1970s. A recent review of the models used showed that 14 out of the 17 used accurately predicted warming that has now occurred. This is an important finding as it demonstrates the robustness of the science behind climate change and the rather depressing fact that as a global society we have largely ignored the warnings from the scientific community. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a body comprised of thousands of climate scientists. The most recent paper issued by the IPCC is a scary awakening to the reality of what inaction has left us with and there is now only one alternative - action. We have ten years to make some drastic changes. And it will take all of us working together and doing our bit to make it happen.
The majority of the world is united in the understanding that we are facing a climate catastrophe, and that it’s our actions which are worsening the situation. In particular the release of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions into the atmosphere.
The release of GHG emissions (aka CO2 or carbon emissions) is increasing global warming, and this in turn is affecting numerous natural balances; through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes.
The most visible impacts of a warming climate are the resulting extreme weather events and the impacts that these have on people across the globe. Cyclones, floods, hurricanes and heatwaves are killing hundreds of thousands of people across the world in countries from Sri Lanka to France. The resulting impacts to infrastructure, homes and buildings means the displacement of many more people and communities. And the economic impact is significant – estimated to be around $3.47 trillion between 1998 and 2017.
So how do we as individuals make a difference? How can our everyday actions help to prevent the climate emergency? Changes in all parts of our society are needed, with significant changes required to the way we live.
Your footprint – tread with care
Your footprint is a way of describing your carbon emissions and impact. It’s your impression on the planet. Non-governmental organisation WWF describes your carbon footprint as including:
The average footprint for a UK resident is 13.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide (tCO2e) annually, which includes imported goods manufactured abroad. Yours may be higher or lower depending on the way you live. For instance, a trip from Paris to New York is approx. 1 tCO2e.
So, what can you do to reduce your impact? Let’s use the WWF breakdown of a carbon footprint as a guide to dig a bit deeper.
Food – time to give up (or at least reduce) the steaks
Multiple studies have found that one of the simplest things people can do to reduce their environmental impact is to stop eating meat, particularly beef, but also pork, lamb, poultry. Removing dairy from diets also has a positive climate impact.
Unabated meat and dairy consumption are unsustainable given the increasing global population and rising, meat hungry middle classes. The climate impact of intensive animal farming is significant from the emissions produced by the animals themselves to the trees cleared to make way for farmland. And the wider environmental impact is also important: food systems are significant contributors to deforestation, biodiversity loss and water scarcity. Indeed, the global food system accounts for anywhere between 21%-37% of GHG emissions.
Another consideration with food is where it comes from. It may seem obvious but it’s easy to forget that local and seasonal often has a much lower carbon and environmental impact than imported food.
Consider purchasing a green or renewable energy tariff from your energy supplier. This will help to reduce the carbon footprint, as well as drive the demand for more renewable energy.
Don’t underestimate the power of energy efficiency measures in the home. It might seem obvious but turning off unnecessary lights, switching off pilot/standby lights, reducing the temperature on your washing machine and having shorter showers (and/or slightly cooler if you can bear it!) can make a difference and save you some money too.
A little more of an investment could go even further. For example, switching to LED lights in your home saves a typical household £30-50 a year according to the UK Climate Change Committee (CCC), and switching your old boiler with a newer, more efficient one could see an even more substantial saving in cost and climate impact.
Recycling and waste reduction are also really important. The emissions associated with recycling and reusing materials such as plastic are less than manufacturing from virgin materials. Plastics also don’t biodegrade so present an enormous pollution challenge. However, many items that do degrade, once in landfill, release methane when they rot. Methane is an even more powerful GHG than CO s so it’s really important we try and reduce our waste and recycle as much as we possibly can.
Travel is very carbon intensive and today we all travel a lot. So, the choices you make around travel could have a hugely positive impact on your carbon footprint. The latest Sports SUV unfortunately isn’t going to be the best choice. Selecting a more efficient car and transporting more people in it by car sharing absolutely is.
Tourism accounts for 8% of all global emissions, and a flight, particularly long haul, could dwarf the emissions you emit elsewhere. Planes burn huge amounts of jet fuel but because they are released high in the atmosphere, they also have a greater warming impact which increases the footprint even further. Therefore, reducing the number of flights you take or taking a staycation will make a huge difference compared to a long-haul holiday, more so if you take the train rather than drive.
(If your chosen airline doesn't offer you the option to offset the emissions from your flight you can do so via Terra Neutra)
This Christmas season is a perfect time to consider how much stuff we buy and consume. For example, how much do you really need the little plastic toys inside those crackers which inevitably go directly to the back of your sofa or to landfill? Considering whether your purchases are really needed at any time of year is another area of potential for hugely reducing your impact on our planet.
Clothing in particular is where we can all make a change. The fashion industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions The development of fast throw-away fashion is having an enormous and growing impact. Buying clothing to last, bargain shopping in the charity shops, repairing and recycling older clothes, as well as voting with your feet and purchasing from the brands that are tackling the issues are all ways in which we can contribute to reducing this impact.
A less obvious way is to think about where your money goes. Many of our pensions and investments are tied to carbon intensive industries. There is a steadily growing movement to divest away from fossil fuels and the climate risk associated with them. By encouraging your banks and pension companies to do the same will help to spur on this movement and shift financial investments towards more sustainable industries.
Reducing our emissions in the above-mentioned areas will get us so far, though there are emissions in practically everything we do, so how can we support this once we have lowered our footprint and left with our unavoidable emissions? One answer is to become carbon neutral or net zero by purchasing carbon credits from an offsetting project. You can start by offsetting your Christmas carbon emissions through Terra Neutra.
Carbon credits or offsetting are a form of trade. When you buy an offset, you fund projects that either reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions released into the atmosphere, or projects which remove them from it.
As a global society, we need to implement multiple ways of tackling the climate crisis. This includes urgently counteracting deforestation, supporting reforestation and financing renewable technologies and the infrastructure needed to expand their reach. Carbon credits are financing these activities.
What is often missed in the definitions or lost in the debate are the actions behind this financial transaction. The money paid for carbon credits is funding vital social impact projects which help to support sustainable development and improve the lives of communities in some of the poorest countries in the world.
Many communities who will be/are most impacted by climate change need support to develop sustainably and empower people to have ownership of a more sustainable future. We cannot successfully tackle climate change if we neglect social justice and fail to deliver equitable sustainable development. Good quality carbon offsetting projects focus on the additional benefits to people’s lives: their health, their well-being, their economic prosperity, etc.
Despite the climate crisis we face, I am positive that the connected world is starting to wake up to these issues and that action is imminent but as mentioned earlier, drastic change is still required. The awareness and realisation are growing, though whether this is enough is still to be seen - it takes a lot to shift the direction of the world and even as I have been writing this article, we have crossed the threshold of 1 degree of warming already.