Another year punctuated by climate catastrophe draws to a close. Floods ravaged Pakistan, Nigeria, Spain, Australia. Drought decimated crops in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere. Climate refugees swelled the numbers of migrants undertaking perilous journeys across treacherous waters. Countries in all corners of the globe grappled with unseasonably hot and cold weather. There is no denying the fact that global warming is on the march.
Often, the climate crisis can feel remote and insurmountable. But there are tangible things that we, as individuals, can do each day to play our part in the battle to halt global warming. These changes are often small – may seem insignificant – but together, collectively, they have the power to make a positive impact. Packing Machine
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change explicitly linked human behaviour to climate change. In the words of its authors: “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.” By all counts, the world’s chances of limiting warming to 1.5°C are fast vanishing.
While it is undoubtedly true that the most critical changes must be implemented by industry and government – no more financing of fossil fuel projects, industry-wide regulations on pollution and plastic, green subsidies – we are able to use our power as citizens, consumers and voters to influence these decisions.
More, we can ensure that we’re making efforts to reduce our own carbon emissions and environmental impact. Discovering, as we do, that it can be not only rewarding but also fun, money-saving and community-building. Better for the planet, and better for our wallets and health, too.
The good news is that lots of the sustainable changes we can make are beneficial for our health. An easy place to start is incorporating more fruit and veg into your diet. Numerous studies have underlined the fact that foods linked to improved health (whole grain cereals, fruits, vegetables, nuts) have the smallest environmental impact. On the flip side, an excess of those with the heftiest carbon footprint – such as red and processed meat – is associated with health risks.
Every time we tap our card, we’re making a choice. Try to make that a green one wherever you can. This can mean boycotting unethical companies in favour of sustainable, independently owned ones. Or picking out organic, nature-friendly labelled products in the supermarket. More demand for these means more supply: companies react to what we choose to buy.
Some 10 per cent of global CO2 emissions are the result of food waste. In the UK, our collective food waste contributes 5 per cent of our annual emissions: the equivalent of a whopping 10 million cars. Reduce waste and save time and energy with batch cooking (freezing extra portions), being inventive with leftovers (turning stale bread into croutons, for example), and creating weekly meal plans to ensure you only buy what you need.
How many energy vampires are lurking in your home? Even when appliances are switched off, they bleed energy. Save bills and the planet by switching off toasters/chargers/stereos/kettles at the plug when they’re not in use. Kitchen appliances – such as microwaves or coffee machines – can gobble a significant amount of power as they rest in standby. Likewise TVs and computers.
The worst offenders are chargers: they constantly draw power whether or not they are charging a device. The US Department of Energy found 75 per cent of the electricity used to power electronics and appliances is consumed while the products are turned off.
There are now apps to cater for our every green need, whether swapping books or snagging discounts on food nearing expiry. Find cheap cafe/restaurant meals on Too Good To Go; share surplus food or tools with neighbours on Olio; discover where to recycle tricky items on iRecycle; rid yourself of junk mail with PaperKarma.
Make a commitment to create your own green space this year, whether that’s potted herbs on a windowsill, an abundance of houseplants or a thriving garden. Many herbs – like thyme, tarragon, rosemary, sage, mint – are perennial. If you’ve got the space, why not try growing some of your own veggies? And remember, in nature, untidy is often best: let the grass grow long to encourage insects.
A brilliant way to buy presents in a sustainable way is to gift loved ones experiences. That might be a trip to the theatre, an interactive experience (think Secret Cinema or Harry Potter World) or a boat trip down the river. Or, if it’s got to be a “thing”, house plants are always a great option.
No one is suggesting you go around stinking, but many of us are guilty of throwing clean clothes in the washing machine after one wear. By some estimates, 82 per cent of the energy a garment uses is in its washing and drying. Items like trousers and jumpers can often be worn multiple times before washing. Plus, washing clothes less helps them last longer.
An individual goes through an average 11,000 disposable tampons or pads in their lifetime. Together that adds up to a lot of waste – not to mention the energy and materials that go into making the products in the first place. There are now countless eco-friendly alternatives: menstrual cups, period pants, reusable pads. Over time, these work out cheaper and are kinder to our bodies, too.
An environmentally friendly home is also a more liveable one. Draught excluders can be bought relatively cheaply and found in most DIY stores. Draught-proofing doors and windows will keep your home warmer and reduce energy bills.
Switch to an energy supplier with green credentials and power your home with renewable energy. There are a number out there: Ecotricity, Good Energy and Octopus Energy among the best. It’s often more economical, too.
It all adds up. Turn off the tap while you’re brushing your teeth or scrubbing dishes. Take shorter showers. Don’t boil a full kettle each time; fill it with just what you need.
Giving up meat in its entirety isn’t possible or appealing to many. The numbers of vegetarians and vegans in the UK are still relatively low, at around 10 per cent. But to have the most impact, we don’t need a handful of folks munching solely on nuts. We need billions of people cutting down on meat and making more conscious food choices.
Reducing beef consumption is the greatest individual contribution you can make to shrinking your footprint. A study by Oxford University in 2020 found that even if fossil fuel emissions stopped immediately, emissions from the food system alone could raise temperatures by more than 1.5°C. Try out meat-free Mondays. Or save meat for the weekend. Cook a sweet potato lasagna instead of a mincemeat one.
The bulk of returns simply end up in landfill. Fast fashion is a scourge on the planet – and one of the areas where we can take back control. Play your part by buying clothes in shops (it’s also more fun) or second-hand. It takes some effort but quality items can be found online at Depop, Vinted, Etsy or the like.
Spam emails are irritating and energy hungry. Sending one email has the carbon footprint equivalent of 4g of CO2. Those thousands of junk emails stack up. To reduce pointless energy waste, unsubscribe from spam mail and clear your inbox.
The average home chucks out 66 bits of plastic packaging every week – 83 per cent of that food and drink packaging. That’s a whopping 100 billion pieces of plastic waste a year in the UK alone. Food packaging waste is one of the trickiest to get rid of entirely. A number of zero-waste stores have popped up in the past few years. You bring a container and fill up on cereals, pastas, rice, nuts. Why not try one out?
If you need to buy something new, it’s worthwhile to invest in an item that’s more expensive but better quality. It will last longer and save you money in the long run.
Energy-saving bulbs last 12 times as long as traditional bulbs and use far less energy. According to the Energy Saving Trust, switching to energy-efficient bulbs can reduce your carbon emissions by up to 40kg a year.
Recycling is often held out as an environmental panacea. Sadly, it’s not. Global recycling rates remain low and much of our household waste is impossible to reuse. But we can play our part by being conscious recyclers. Sometimes this means recycling less – a tissue cannot be recycled, neither can a ball of tin foil. Often it means recycling better – rinsing containers so there’s no food left in them, pulling plastic tape off a cardboard box. Unknown to most, a contaminated bag (with food waste/wrong items/dirty packaging) can cost too much to process and the whole lot is sent straight to landfill or incinerator.
A massive 150bn has been invested in fossil fuels by UK banks since the Paris agreement in 2016. Banks like Triodos and Charity Bank only invest in green projects. Done collectively, withdrawing accounts from banks that fund fossil fuels sends a powerful message.
Single-use plastic is pernicious. Much of our waste is single-use, chucked after a one-off indulgence. Reduce your disposables in small ways: opt for cloth, reusable towels for washing your face/removing makeup. Use beeswax wraps rather than cling film for covering food in the fridge. Take a reusable water bottle whenever you leave the house (plastic water bottles can contain multitudes of microplastics so this is better for both you and the planet).
If you can walk, walk. If there’s a public transport option, take it. Use your bike. Try carpooling with friends or colleagues. One of the biggest ways we can lead sustainable lives is driving our cars less.
For individual actions, however minute, to be effective it is essential that they gather momentum. Think about the ripple effect of Greta Thunberg’s solo school strike. Or how a few avid cyclists demanding – and securing – safer streets led to more cyclists. If you can share your progress and changes, with your circle, you’ll be creating your own little ripples. And making a bold choice – whether that’s giving up meat or changing banks – can have a wider knock-on effect by influencing what your peers view as “normal” or “doable”.
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