Climate change is real, it’s complicated, it’s scary, but it can still be tackled.
Of course the biggest actions need to come by decision-makers, but individuals can still contribute by adopting carbon-cutting measures and embracing change.
Although, activities such as recycling, reducing our use of plastic, or cutting down on paper use, are worthwhile, the bulk of an individual’s carbon footprint usually comes from transportation, housing and food.
Here are some effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint in those areas:
There reason why air travel takes the brunt of environmentalists’ anger is because it accounts for a huge proportion of a person’s annual carbon footprint, especially if you’re a frequent or long-haul flyer. In fact, research has shown that one single long-haul flight can produce more carbon emissions than the average citizen produces in a year in a number of countries.
Of course if you absolutely can’t avoid racking up the air miles, one way of making up for the emissions caused is to offset them by donating money to sustainable projects, which can sometimes be done through the airline itself. (Related: How to Travel more Sustainably).
Although flying has the highest carbon footprint, top of the list for individuals to reduce their impact on our planet, is living car-free, which would save an average of 2.04 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per person annually. Of course cutting down on car use is easier in places where public transportation such as trains and buses are available and efficient. Alternatively, how about riding a bike?
Challenge yourself to drive less and cycle or walk more, but if for whatever reason you are not in the position to completely do without your car, try and make your car use more climate-friendly. Easing on the gas and brakes, regularly servicing your car, keeping tires in check, not weighing your car down with extra weight, or switching off air conditioning and using cruise control, are all ways to drive more efficiently. Also, look into carpooling with others to reduce emissions even more by splitting them between the number of people in the car.
There’s a lot you can do to cut your home emissions without having to pick up a hammer or write a check. For example saving water by turning off the tap when brushing your teeth, or taking shorter showers (find more easy ways to save water here).
Keep in mind however, that although saving water is important, the biggest producer of carbon emissions in the home is energy usage, so trapping heat effectively with small changes to the insulation and design of your property, from do-it-yourself hacks to building changes, can help significantly. Things like installing a programmable or smart thermostat (alternatively keeping blinds closed to help keep temperature stable indoors), draught proofing your home by blocking the edges of doors and windows, or replacing energy-wasting bulbs with more energy efficient LED bulbs.
Ultimately the biggest action you can take to reduce emissions in your home is to switch to sustainable, clean energy! Thankfully there are so many amazing, innovative ways to source energy in this day and age, so do your research and see what your options are. Yes, installing solar panels on your roof is a great solution, but it’s a big expense, so talk to a trusted company and sign up for alternative energy saving programs they might have.
Best way to cut your food emissions? Buy locally, eat seasonally, and cut down on red meat in particular.
Buying food that has travelled fewer air miles has become a truism in environmentally-conscious circles, which is why shopping for food that is produced nearest to you is always best, but remember the seasonality aspect of it too. In fact, most greenhouse gas emissions happen during production, rather than transportation, meaning that what you eat is actually more important than where it comes from. Something may have been harvested near you but because it’s not its natural environment or season, it was harvested in a carbon intense production process by artificially creating certain temperature conditions. Seasonal food does not require any of that.
As far as cutting down on meat consumption, while different estimates vary, it’s generally agreed that you could cut your carbon footprint by around 20% by switching to a vegan diet. This is because animal products are much more intense to produce as they require more water and resources, meaning that the majority of plant-based foods, are healthier and better for the planet.
As not everyone can face going fully meat free, the best meats to cut down on are from sheep and cows, the animals that produce the most atmosphere frying methane as well as using the most feed, water and land. Swap beef and lamb for chicken for example, or commit to a few vegan or vegetarian meals a week to make up for when you do have carbon-intensive meats.
However, it's important to note that following all these rules is pretty much redundant that food, meat or plant-based goes to waste, so find out how to prevent food waste in your fridge and how to reduce waste when dining out.
Finally, did you know that even something as simple as surfing the internet, or reading this very blog, is impacting your carbon footprint? Find out how to reduce your digital footprint here.