In full swing this week are the crucial UN CoP21 climate change negotiations in Paris, aiming to broker a global agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions which are warming the planet at an alarming rate.
While a global deal has been attempted unsuccessfully in the past, leaders and negotiators have reiterated, in numerous political statements, that there is increased momentum for agreeing one in Paris. Climate action is here to stay, they say. Optimists might see some vigour in these reassuring statements while pessimists might point towards the complexities that cast doubt for an ambitious deal.
Either way, everyone pretty much agrees that tackling the immense challenges to keep the world within the previously agreed 2ºC warming target would require massive financial investment as well as industrial, economic and societal transformation. Most importantly, we should not expect public policy solutions to the climate change crisis to be a replacement for what we ourselves can contribute on a daily basis – small behavioural changes in our everyday life can make a big difference.
Aside from the more obvious ways to lower your environmental footprint (don’t drive that shiny SUV!), here are a few tips and hints to ensure your love for the planet is more than just well-intended words.
Green up your plate!
Your plate says a lot about how much you care for yourself as well as the planet. Agriculture is one of the most important drivers of deforestation and one of the main culprits for this is our increased demand for animal produce.
It’s been long known by researchers and scientists that a meat-rich diet is neither healthy nor environmentally friendly – excessive consumption of meat has been associated with obesity and an increased risk of developing heart disease, type-2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. At the same time, industrial livestock production makes inefficient use of scarce resources such as land, energy and water. A new report adds more weight to the link between our increased appetite for meat and climate change.
Interestingly, a paradoxical situation is created – dubbed ‘the cycle of inertia’ by the authors of the study – whereby low public awareness around the direct links between climate change and meat consumption leads to governments feeling no pressure to intervene to incentivise lower meat consumption for fear of a public backlash.
Livestock is responsible for just under 15 per cent of all annual global emissions – more than all car, train, ship and plane emissions combined! Global meat consumption is set to increase by over 75 per cent by 2050. That means huge pressure for the climate but also more deforestation for grazing and growing crops for feed. Although meat consumption has stagnated in developed countries, the average individual still consumes twice as much as is deemed healthy, while the US consumes three times the recommended intake. Across developing countries, as incomes and living standards rise so too does meat consumption.
But don’t worry! All of this doesn’t mean you need to go vegetarian or vegan (although you should if you feel like doing so); it means we should try to eat less meat, especially beef which is estimated to be 14 times more climate-damaging than chicken, for example. While a healthy diet is difficult to define as nutritional needs vary from one person to the next and dietary choices are heavily determined by socioeconomic, cultural and geographical factors, moderation is key.
Turn off & unplug
The average household in the UK has 40 to 50 electrical appliances and most still consume some energy even if turned off, from cell phone chargers to computer speakers. Then there are appliances with a clock or light, such as coffee-makers, microwaves, TVs, computer monitors, etc. While unplugging all your appliances might be a minor pain, you can always rely on standby savers to cut down on your electricity consumption.
There are a million ways to cut electricity consumption which, in turn, will save you money. Did you know that setting your washing machine at 30º will use about 40 per cent less electricity compared to washing at higher temperatures? And be sure to always wash a full load. More useful tips are offered by Energy Savings Trust.
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Is your bank a high carbon lender?
Most probably, the answer is yes. In the UK, the largest five banks have a pretty dirty portfolio of energy investments. You could easily ditch your account and change to a more equitable financial institution – but not before you inform your bank on the reasons for your discontent.
Global fossil fuel divestment campaigns have gained traction in the US and originated as university campus students started to protest against their institutions’ massive investment portfolios in fossil fuel-related assets. In recent years, global divestment campaigns also gained traction in Europe, focusing on the systemic risk climate change poses for the financial sector and capital markets and in relation to dirty energy investments of banks, insurance companies, hedge funds and pension funds. While there is no alternative to using the services of the latter, you can have your say in persuading these institutions to move their money away from dirty energy.
Reuse, repurpose, recycle!
While most of us will not make it as far as this New York resident who managed to reach a zero waste lifestyle, you can take advice from her. Generally, aim to recycle all your waste and compost kitchen scraps. You can find information on composting in the UK from your local council.
Don’t need it? Maybe someone else does. Shoes, furniture, clothes, appliances, all the things you don’t fancy anymore because they’re ‘soooo last season’ can make another person happy. So start decluttering and avoid that big bad garage bin!
Use your consumer power
Last but not least, each and every one of us must understand that we have a great power we can use to draw attention towards environmentally damaging practices.
Everything we use or buy comes with a price tag to both our pockets and the planet. An informed consumer should make informed choices and carries with them the responsibility to spread the word. There is a lot of consumer power that comes with your shopping list but the question is whether we’re willing to use it to make an impact. Writing letters, challenging companies on Twitter and joining campaigns are all very easy steps we can take to help bring about change.
So, there you go! Some easy steps to follow in daily life to lower our environmental footprint that will hopefully inspire others to follow suit – one small change for us as individuals, one huge step for the health of the planet!