Updated: Feb 6, 2022
"Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.” John Muir
Last night I watched a Panorama episode about what we can do as individuals to mitigate catastrophic climate change. I noted that most of the changes that were advised by the experts were prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of the world’s population. This made me sad. Living within planetary boundaries must be achievable for every human. Climate change mitigation is not a middle-class fad and being ‘eco’ is not reserved for the wealthy, indeed it is the wealthy who must undertake the most genuine transformations. Buying an electric car and retrofitting your house are perhaps progressive steps for many (given where we are currently) and for a few are affordable but what I really want to see addressed is the real, attainable lifestyle changes that will make genuine impact and progress towards a sustainable existence on this planet.
So, these are for everyone. They are either free or cheap and some will save money (hopefully mitigating the ones that do cost something). Eco-Warriors cannot buy such status, it is hard-earned through real lifestyle changes, through confronting the reality that the planet needs us to deeply transform our daily existence, the ways we eat, move, buy, entertain and relax. I am excited, because I believe that the work towards a sustainable life leads one onto a path of a life well lived; an existence with community, health and compassion. These are the by-products of true, beyond the ego, eco-living. Follow these and wear your Eco-Warrior badge with humble pride.
1. Stay Grounded
The aviation industry is one of the fastest growing polluters. A single return flight from London to LA emits 1,650kg of carbon dioxide (The Guardian, 2019). Cheap holidays abroad have terrible climate outcomes. Opting for more local breaks and travelling by train must become the new normal. If you must fly for a holiday, do it as little as possible. Frequent flyers need to be investigating ways to decrease their air miles. Lock-down has shown many that alternatives are absolutely possible and it is imperative that we work to maintain any positive lessons from this time.
Private transportation is one of our largest carbon problems. In England, around 60% of 1-2 mile trips are made by car (BBC, 2020). This quickly adds up to enormous green house gas emissions. Electric cars may help but their costs are very real, both financially and in their embodied carbon. Taking public transport or better yet, cycling or walking will vastly reduce your footprint, and keep you fit and healthy, whilst an electric bike could help make longer commutes viable (the average commute on Copenhagens Farum Cycle Highway is 9 miles! (ibid)).
3. Eat Food, Not too Much, Mostly Plants
Thanks Michael Pollen for this sage advice. This really is a key step in mitigating climate catastrophe. The vegan/vegetarian movement has some serious traction, with 1 in 8 Britons now shunning meat altogether. Decreasing meat and dairy consumption will really help to reduce your carbon footprint, but we must also be careful not to simply exist on processed vegan foods grown on the other side of the planet. Eat food, real food.
4. Wear Jumpers
Home energy is a real problem for the climate movement. Retrofitting houses is often dubbed as one of the most important moves to diminish fossil fuel usage but is so prohibitively expensive that here we will focus on what we can all do. Switching to a green energy provider (such as Bulb, Octopus Energy, Tonik Energy and Ecotricity) is a step everyone should take, but no energy is totally impact free, so being very conscious of usage is still vital. My advise: wear a jumper and socks before you turn up the heat.
5. Be a Locavore
Eat local, seasonal fruits and vegetables. Supporting local food producers removes some of the deep complications of our polluting global food system. Seeking out and signing up to an organic veg box scheme, or shopping at a local store or market will lower your personal carbon footprint and support the markets that are fighting the damaging food system, encouraging more growers to respect nature. Especially avoiding out of season soft fruit and veg is key, as these are usually transported by air-freight, which is around 100x worse for the climate than shipping.
6. Old is the New New
We are obsessed with stuff. We fill our houses to busting with things we do not need. Every single one of these items has its own carbon footprint. Here are some amazing facts to consider: Over the course of our lifetime, each person spends an average of 3680 hours searching for lost items. The average British 10-year-old owns 238 toys, but only plays with 12. There are 300,000 items in the average American home. This is a mad state of affairs and has terrible environmental consequences. So let’s avoid buying more new stuff, let’s sell or give away what we don’t need, and buy second-hand what we do.
7. Waste Not Want Not
Globally, we waste over 30% of food. This is a travesty. Not only should food be given to those who are without, but the environmental impact of such waste is astounding. It is not only food waste but all kinds of waste that contribute to global warming and environmental degradation. Be mindful not to waste electricity, gas, water, things, time or your energy!
8. Break the Chain
Supporting conscious, local businesses builds community and encourages good practice. It makes people more easily accountable for their activities and brings the impacts of business, be it good or bad, to our doorsteps, giving reality to the state of things and leading to faster positive changes. It also gives the opportunity for people to thrive in meaningful works. Support the master baker, not the Morrison’s executives. Support the local potter, not Ikea. Support the permaculture farm down the road, not the rainforest-destroying mega farm in Brazil. The benefits of this step are immense and very personal.
9. Avoid Being Eco-Fooled
Being ‘Eco’ has been sold to us as another consumer fad. It is important that we recognise the difference between buying into green consumerism and simply decreasing consumption. The latter, although perhaps more difficult, is the real deal. Remember that no car is many times better for the planet than an electric car, and you probably already own a lunch box so a bamboo or steel one is just unnecessary consumption.
10. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
Banks generally support any business that’ll make money, regardless of their enterprise (it may well be in weapons, rainforest destruction or tar sands). Ethical banks recognise the need for building a sustainable future, so in banking with them we support their methods and help provide for the positive businesses they can support, removing funds for businesses that are destroying the planet. Triodos are probably the best example in Europe. It takes a few minutes to switch and is a very powerful statement that could lead to deep transformation.
I believe that these are the top ten most impactful changes we can all make without significant modifications to our lives and the systems that hold us. Maybe we cannot embody them all fully, straight away, but in doing some and working towards the others we can quickly and independently reduce our personal impacts on climate change. These changes go well beyond the ’small-self’; they demonstrate a desire for positive change, they help sustainable businesses thrive and they remove support from the damaging ones. Society needs transforming and the benefits of doing so will lead to a more beautiful world. Take a long look at this list and consider what you can do. Then act.
Comments are very welcome and I really encourage compassionate, non-judgemental discussion with friends and family about this complex topic.
Jocelyn Timperley. BBC. 2020. How our daily travel harms the planet https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200317-climate-change-cut-carbon-emissions-from-your-commute
Niko Kommenda, The Guardian. 2019. How your flight emits as much CO2 as many people do in a year. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/ng-interactive/2019/jul/19/carbon-calculator-how-taking-one-flight-emits-as-much-as-many-people-do-in-a-year