What can I do?

There is so much we can do individually to change our personal lifestyles and if millions of us do it around the world, it will make a huge difference.

We can also influence our friends and neighbours, and amplify our effect still further by influencing politicians and corporations locally, nationally and internationally as much as we can.

As consumers we can affect markets by simply thinking about what we buy and whether we are happy to be connected to the supply chain that brought us the product and the waste chain that will dispose of it. ‘Only connect!’

Calculate your Carbon Footprint

We can start by making an audit of the carbon footprint of our current lifestyles. There is an easy to use on on https://footprint.wwf.org.uk  which will give you a clear result telling you where you lie in terms of our national targets. If you want to calculate the footprint of a particular flight or car journey and turn that into a sum of money to offset the carbon, go to www.climatestewards.org  They run projects in Uganda, Nepal, Mexico and Kenya that will directly benefit.  

Meanwhile, here are some quick tips to consider:

1.  In the home

Much of our carbon footprint results from heating our homes. The ideal home is built to Passivhaus standards in which little energy is lost at all. Hot waste air is used to heat cold, fresh incoming air; hot waste water is used to heat incoming water; there are very high levels of insulation. In 5 years time all new houses will be built to this standard and older houses will need to be retrofitted.

You can some easy things for a start:

  • Turn the thermostat down and wear a woolly jumper
  • Draught proof your windows and doors
  • Check the thickness of insulation in your loft. Nowadays it should be 270mm (nearly 1 foot) thick!
  • Put lids on saucepans and turn down the gas
  • Heat just the right amount of water in the kettle
  • Keep the fridge door shut as much as possible
  • Only heat your bedroom when you need to
  • Close your curtains as soon as it gets dark.

More ambitiously: 

  • Install double or secondary glazing
  • Buy the most efficient boiler when you need to replace it, or a little sooner
  • Invest in an air-source or ground source heat pump which might repay the extra cost over the next 5 -10 years.

2.  Food and Diet

Perhaps the easiest and biggest effect in reducing our carbon footprint is to cut down the amount of red meat we eat. We eat 65 billion animals per year worldwide and the meat industry produces more greenhouse gas that all our cars, planes, freight and shipping combined.

Red meat is particularly damaging to the environment because:

a)   Cows and sheep, being ruminants, emit large quantities of methane when they chew the cud, which is an extremely powerful greenhouse gas.  

b)   Vast areas of arable land are required to provide the feed for the cattle and pigs when it could be used to feed humans.

The area of 5 football pitches of Amazon rainforest was cleared every minute last year, with deforestation driven largely by the cattle industry, either for direct grazing or to produce the soya feedstuffs.

Be ethical when buying your food.  Was the cow, sheep or pig reared humanely?  99% of animals in the USA are factory farmed. Factory farming is almost as common here, so are you sure your bacon comes from a happy pig?  How was your chicken reared? Where did your beefburger, sausage or Sunday roast come from?

So perhaps you could:

  • Reconsider the role meat plays in your diet
  • Try out more vegetarian dishes: pasta, dahls, curries, soups, roast vegetables.
  • Try oat milk as an alternative to cows’ milk
  • Check out the new meat substitutes
  • Regard red meat as a very special treat
  • Check out where your meat comes from. Does the butcher know? Was it free range?
  • Check where the food you buy in the supermarket has come from, especially out-of-season fruit or vegetables. Were air miles involved?
  • Rice paddy fields emit methane, so rice is less sustainable than pasta or potatoes
  • Peas and chickpeas are nitrogen fixing plants, which improve soil fertility, so a particularly sustainable.
  • Support local producers and buy organic food if you can.

3.  Cars and Transport

Try to cut down on the use of your car.

  • decide to walk or cycle more often
  • share your car whenever you can,
  • drive smoothly to improve your fuel consumption
  • stop your engine when you are waiting at traffic lights and in queues.
  • smell the exhaust of passing traffic and decide that it is not healthy!

More ambitiously: 

Go electric as soon as you can. 

  • If you’ve got a driveway or garage and a roof with a solar panel, you could soon be driving on your own sunshine! 
  • Take an EV test drive just for the fun of it. Electric cars are really fast!

4.  Clothing and ‘stuff’

The way we design, make and discard clothes has a huge environmental impact. The globalised market for fashion has created a fast fashion phenomenon: cheap clothing, with quick turnover that encourages repurchasing.

The raw materials used to manufacture clothes require land and water, or the extraction of fossil fuels. Production processes require water and energy and use chemical dyes and often toxic finishes.  Large quantities of carbon dioxide are emitted throughout the clothing supply chain. On its current path the global fashion industry could use more than a quarter of the world’s annual carbon budget by 2050. So:

  • love your clothes
  • form a lasting relationship with your sweaters, shirts, dresses, trousers and shoes
  • revive the skills of darning and repairing
  • go for quality and classic fashions rather than cheaper purchases that won’t survive the first few washes.
  • Cut down on the plastics you buy, whether as packaging or disguised in things like wet-wipes. There are now bio-degradable ones: https://www.twipes.eu
  • Have  a few favourite shopping bags that you use for years. While the 5p charge for carrier bags worked, supermarket last year sold 1.5 billion ‘bags for life’. That’s 54 per household! We didn’t really change our habits at all!  See https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/news/supermarket-plastic-reduction/
  • Subscribe to Ethical Consumer to check human rights record, environmental policies and sustainability company selling the product. It’ll even tell you whether they pay their taxes! https://www.ethicalconsumer.org

5.  Flying

Cut down the number of times you fly and if you do fly, consider taxing yourself. There is no tax on aviation fuel, so nothing in the cost of your flight goes to clearing up the pollution it causes. Some airlines offer a tick box to offset the carbon footprint of your flight, but these are derisory and you have no control over where the money goes. 

So how about choosing to tax yourself at 10%, 25% or 50% and sending the money to a charity that specializes in helping poorer parts of the world switch to clean energy? Charities like:  

By paying to clear up your own pollution, you are not asking your children to do it. There maybe huge benefits to families and communities that you donate to, over and above offsetting your flight.

Be wary of the ‘carbon offset’ companies that claim to offset your flights with often minimal contributions. They might salve your conscience but may not actually deliver the offsetting value of the CO2  tonnage emitted by your flights. They will also being taking a percentage of your contribution, of course!

6.  Leadership

The science has been clear for decades, but political leaders have been very slow to grasp the enormity of the challenge and the urgency of the crisis. Fine words have been spoken and ambitious targets set, but greenhouse gas emissions are still rising and the dangers are now very real. So:

  1. Show leadership in your own life choices and amongst your friends and community groups.
  2. Get involved in local action groups such as Saffron Walden Action on Climate Change www.swacc.co.uk
  3. Get involved in national and international groups such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Extinction Rebellion
  4. Lobby your MP, write to your supermarket, sign petitions

7.   Money

Perhaps our greatest power now is as consumers. Consider every purchase as your chance to make the world a better place.

  • Sign up to Ethical Consumer, which will tell you all you need to know about the human rights record, environmental policies and sustainability of the product, restaurant or company. It’ll even tell you whether they pay their taxes! https://www.ethicalconsumer.org
  • Write to your supermarket, and petition them. They keep telling us that they are only responding to ‘customer demand’, so do your share of demanding!

More ambitiously:

  • If you are in control of your pension, ask your advisor to invest in ethical and carbon-free funds. It's a great feeling to know that you are using your pension fund to help change the world and the chances are that your pension will grow faster than those that are still tied into coal, oil, gas, airports and airlines.
  • Insist that your company pension divests from fossil fuels. Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England gave very clear advice to fund managers on this. He has suggested that while £16tn of assets could be wiped out by climate change, while companies at the forefront of efforts to curb emissions could be handsomely rewarded.:  

“If we were to burn all those oil and gases there’s no way we would meet carbon budgets. Up to 80 per cent of coal assets will be stranded, and up to half of developed oil reserves…There will be industries, sectors and firms that do very well during this process (of curbing emissions) because they will be part of the solution, but there will also be ones that lag behind, and they will be punished.”