Lists of ’ways to reduce your carbon footprint’ are hardly new on environmental websites, and no doubt, as you’re all such wonderful people, you will all already be well on the way to a low carbon life already.
This list is just another reminder, a small nudge, to help keep us all focused on what is perhaps the most significant threat our planet will face in our lifetime.
Personal actions alone aren’t going to suddenly bring atmospheric CO2 levels back into line, but on the other hand, without them nothing will !
1 – USE LESS ENERGY AT HOME
Energy use in our home (or place of work) is the seemingly obvious place to start, in reducing carbon emissions. More efficient heating and lighting and improved insulation are all important areas, as is improving energy efficiency by turning off unused appliances, using room thermostats and timers to properly control heating and cooking more efficiently (for example by keeping lids on, using pressure cookers and not over-filling pans with unnecessary water that needs boiling etc). By using less water we also reduce the need to abstract, treat, store and supply so much, reducing our carbon emissions further, as does producing less wastewater for treatmeent, including unnecessary toilet flushing.
We can also take steps to ensure that the energy we do use has as low a level of carbon as possible associated with it, perhaps by generating some electricity ourselves from solar cells, or using solar thermal tubes to heat domestic water.
There is also the vitally important question of where we buy our energy from. Though obviously all electricity is essentially the same once fed into the grid, by selecting a supplier who will invest in low carbon generation, we can help decarbonise our countries energy supply.
2 – USE LESS ENERGY TRAVELLING
Of course we should all try to travel less, by grouping trips together or using phone/email/video-conferencing in place of travelling in order to meet-up. Arranging for home delivery is also usually more efficient than making a special trip to the store.
We could try becoming more familiar with local bus and train routes and timetables, and trying to use public transport as much as possible. We should also try to share transport wherever we can by lift sharing and car pooling. Most obviously, we should also try to walk, rather than drive, where we can.
Air travel unavoidably generates significant quantities of carbon, and we should also think carefully about the amount of flying we undertake. Anyone flying a few times a year will emit more carbon through air travel than all their other activities combined!
3 – EAT A LOWER ENERGY DIET
A significant percentage of the world’s carbon emissions are produced by agriculture, food processing and transport. Eating a greater proportion of locally produced food, unprocessed food, and food with less packaging, will significantly reduce carbon emissions. Growing any food ourselves ticks all three boxes.
A number of foods also have greater carbon emissions associated with them, particularly meat, and in limiting our consumption of these high carbon foods we can further reduce our emissions.
4 – BUY BETTER STUFF
Better, in this context, means lower carbon footprint over the lifecycle. More energy efficient home appliances, gadgets, cars, are all obvious choices, but it’s usually more beneficial to buy second hand items wherever possible, and reduce the carbon generation associated with production and transport of something new – second hand furniture, clothes, toys, books, bikes, tools are all possible options.
The issues of durability and repairability are also important. Much less carbon will be produced repairing a good quality product than simply throwing away an inferior one that isn’t worth repairing, and buying another.
We should also try to buy locally produced goods wherever possible, to reduce the transport impacts.
5 – BUY LESS STUFF
The easiest way to minimise the carbon emissions associated with the production of various goods, is simply not to buy them.
Many of us in the developed world have a highly consumerist lifestyle, being obsessed on a constant cycle of working-earning-shopping and throwing away. Changing our lifestyle so we gain more enjoyment from non-consuming activities, such as spending more time with family and friends, or enjoying the outdoors and nature, will reduce our dependency on shopping and consumption, as an enjoyable pastime.
It’s not all bad news though. We can also shift more of our consumption from material goods to digital goods and services, which typically have a much lower associated carbon footprint.
6 – PRODUCE LESS WASTE
Energy is needed to treat and dispose of the waste we produce, but far more importantly waste also represents unnecessary energy usage and associated carbon emissions. Whether food waste, packaging, junkmail, old clothes, unrecycled building materials or anything else, waste represents an inefficient use of our resources.
As the wider economy moves to reduce/reuse/recycle as much as possible, we should work to do likewise in our personal lives – producing as little waste as we can, reusing items or donating them so others can. Finally recycling them as a last resort.
7 – FIND TIME TO SLOW DOWN
The thing is all of the above takes time, and effort, and daily life is all too often hectic and exhausting. Many of us struggle to reduce our emissions because we are too pressed for time, or too short of energy to change.
Sometimes it’s just easier to jump in the car, buy a packaged ready meal or throw stuff out rather than sort through it and donate it. If that sounds familiar, you might first have to look at slowing down your pace of life, so you can then find the time and energy to tackle reducing your carbon footprint.
8 – FOCUS ON THE BIG PICTURE
You might have seen endless lists of ways to reduce your carbon footprint talking about things like turning off the lights when you leave the room for five minutes, making sure your car tires are properly inflated to maximise efficiency, using both sides of a piece of paper or using rewashable towels instead of paper napkins.
While these aren’t wrong, they do tend to miss the point.
We’re not going to manage to avert our current course from potentially catastrophic global warming by simply making a few tiny changes like these here and there in our lives.
We’re actually going to have to live differently.
Hopefully better technology will help us out, but we’re also going to have to change our collective behaviour.
9 – TELL OTHERS
Pretty much the most important thing you can do from this list is to influence others to start reducing their carbon footprint too. Tell your friends, family and work colleagues, use you social media and also be sure to let your MP, Council, school or employer know your thoughts.
Of course there’s the tricky question of how you tell them.
In most cases pointing out the extra advantages of reducing carbon might prove more effective than focusing on the carbon issue alone. Insulation = lower bills. Car sharing = less petrol. Switching to digital billing = less paperwork. Using technology instead of sending staff travelling to meetings = more efficiency.
Just in case you need a bit of extra motivation – this is a recent talk by Climate Blogger David Roberts, set to some nice visuals.
Photo from NASA