“Act as if our home is on fire. Because it is”
*These are the words of the incredible Greta Thunberg, a 16 yo climate activist from Sweden, who has single-handedly done more to highlight this extinction-level issue than most politicians combined. That in itself is a damning indication of just how miserably politicians are failing their respective electorates.
You’ve always lived your life in a certain way, and you don’t want to change. After all, we’re all creatures of habit, right? So why should you need to make any changes?
Besides, you’ve watched Blue Planet, and even signed a few online petitions, so you’ve done your bit, right?
Wrong. Very wrong, in fact. Social change is desperately needed from each and every single one of us. Climate change is real, and terrifying. Every single source that disagrees with man-made climate change has been scientifically discredited, and the UN’s IPCC panel recently released a bombshell report stating quite clearly that we have only 12 years to stop runaway climate change. (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/08/global-warming-must-not-exceed-15c-warns-landmark-un-report). Pay particular attention to senior authors of that report stating that they presented a very conservative view, and that reality may be worse. Also, remember, that’s 12 years to become carbon-neutral, not 12 years to cobble together a plan. And it’s been almost 2 years since the IPCC’s report was compiled, so it’s less that 12 years. Currently, we have just over ten years left. We simply do not have time to waste here!
You may be unaware that half of all plastic ever made has been made during the past 13 years – https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/07/plastic-age/533955. Our oceans are heavily polluted with plastic, and we now have conclusive scientific evidence that we ourselves are ingesting plastic that has been absorbed through our food chain – https://news.sky.com/story/humans-swallowing-tiny-plastic-particles-in-their-food-study-finds-11532893. Think about your own purchasing choices, and how that contributes to the problem.
Most people don’t make the link between their own, everyday choices, and climate change, and yet, every single one of us share both the blame and the responsibility for climate change. It is crucial that every single one of us changes our ways, and soon.
A clear example: Poundland, for Valentines 2019, thought it wise to sell “The gift of nothing”. This is an empty plastic packaging item, where the plastic is shaped as if there should be a heart-shaped object inside. However amusing and gimmicky it might be, the fact is that this is unwanted, unnecessary plastic in a world that is drowning in plastic!
It’s long been said that the greenest thing a human being can do is to not exist, and while that may sound harsh, it is an accurate indication of what good little consumers we have been trained to become. While steps like banning plastic straws are a positive measure, they by themselves risk exactly the same as signing online petitions do: they make people feel like they’ve “done their bit”, while actually doing almost nothing.
I would very much like you to watch the following video, called The Story Of Stuff:
The Story Of Stuff takes a deeper look into the broader impact our throwaway society is having. And we are all guilty of being active participants in that throwaway society. If you don’t believe me, a quick look at the normal and recycling bins at your place of work should be enough to convince you.
Many people do New Year’s Resolutions, but I’m going to challenge you to make eight New Life Resolutions. Nobody will check up on your success rate, and besides, we all would fail regularly at this, but it remains important to try our best, so we can save our world. After all, there is no Planet B, and one day, in the midst of water wars, mass-migrations, energy crisis, constant food shortages, coastal flooding and more, what will you say when your grandchildren ask you “Why didn’t you stop this from happening?”
Here are the steps I challenge you to take:
1) Switch to a green energy supplier. Energy production is a huge cause of greenhouse gases. At the same time, become more energy efficient in your daily life: put on a jumper, rather than turn on the heating, switch lights off when not needed, boil just enough water to make that cup of coffee or tea – this is true at home and at work.
2) Green your commute. If you have to drive – and if we’re brutally honest, most of us don’t, but merely choose to – try car sharing, drive part of the way and either walk, cycle, or take the bus the rest of the way, or take the train. Even if you have to drive some days, that doesn’t mean you have to do so every single day. Transport emissions is a staggeringly large cause of climate change. It goes without saying that you should try your absolute best to never fly, as that is the most polluting form of transport.
3) Eat less meat. Farming with animals is another cause of emissions that directly contribute to climate change. In fact, livestock farming contributes 14.5% of greenhouse gases: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S221209631730027X. Even if you don’t become a vegetarian (that’s a whole different argument, with many compelling motivations), simply reducing your meat consumption is a positive step that anyone can easily take.
4) Buy less stuff! Do you actually need that new thing? A simple example is your mobile phone – before upgrading, do a business case analysis and honestly answer this question: What does the new handset do that your current handset cannot do? And if there are any new features, e.g. Apple Pay or Android Pay, do you truly need that functionality? Keeping up with the Joneses is not a valid reason for buying new things. The pressure to be a good little consumer is relentless.
For birthdays and Christmas, consider giving cash instead of bought gifts that may well end up being binned soon, and don’t buy Valentines, birthday, Christmas or other cards. When buying gift-wrap, avoid almost anything shiny, as that usually cannot be recycled.
Be a rebel: DON’T be a good little consumer! Be proud that your car isn’t brand new, as there is a huge CO2 footprint in producing any car. The longer you can make a car last (with a few caveats) the better for the environment. In fact, make this a new thing throughout your life, to be proud of buying secondhand, and to be proud of owning things that are older.
5) Divest from fossil fuels. Do you have any investments? What about your pension fund? Are any of those investments in fossil fuels? What can you do to change that? What about your bank – do they invest in fossil fuels? If they do, consider changing to a more ethical bank, and be sure to tell your bank of your reasons for leaving. Did you know that half of all greenhouse gases can be traced back to just 100 companies? More here: https://b8f65cb373b1b7b15feb-c70d8ead6ced550b4d987d7c03fcdd1d.ssl.cf3.rackcdn.com/cms/reports/documents/000/002/327/original/Carbon-Majors-Report-2017.pdf
6) Vote. From local councillors to MPs, vote for representatives that understand the existential risk we’re facing as a species. Ignore old tribal party lines, and vote for people who will act to save our world. Your world. Alongside this, lobby, no pester your local ward or parish councillors, your county councillors and your MP into taking this issue seriously. Too many of them are still doing a Trump on climate change!
7) Reduce, re-use, recycle. You’ve heard that before, but – like most of us – you might be focused on the “recycle” bit. Far more important are the re-use and reduce parts. We cannot recycle ourselves out of this mess. Most UK plastic materials for recycling used to be shipped to China, but as China is starting to get serious about fighting climate change, they’ve pretty much stopped importing plastic waste. A disappointing large amount of “recycling” never gets recycled, but is incinerated instead.
8) Go calculate your personal carbon footprint here: https://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx. Just remember, like any such calculator, it only gives an estimate. Also, purchasing “carbon offsets” is an accountancy trick that will do nothing about your carbon footprint, but – like signing some petition – may fool you into thinking that you’ve done something of real value. Once you have your carbon footprint, actively try and reduce it. The single biggest difference most people can make is to drive less. Go recalculate your carbon footprint at least every six months.
Remember, as Greenpeace always say, think global, act local. We can each find a way to change our habits and hopefully together we can save our world.