There’s no longer any doubt about it – this is a climate emergency. We’ve left tackling it very late. And small solutions are really not going to be enough at this point. Listening to the advice of some organisations, we might be tempted to think that if we just drive a little less often and buy some reusable shopping bags then everything will be okay.
This is not true. If we don’t make some radical changes, we’re looking at mass starvation, drought, a huge increase in natural disasters, the flooding of coastal cities and more. That’s without mentioning the extinction of countless species (including possibly ourselves in the long run), ocean acidification (which is killing coral reefs and harming ocean life), and wildfires. Scientists generally agree that to avoid the worst impacts of warming, we need to keep the rise in temperature below 1.5°C. Right now, we’re on track to hit 3 or 4°C. This is very bad.
I’m not writing this post to scare anyone, or to make people feel guilty. I’m writing it to inspire a sense of urgency, because although this is an emergency, its effects are not yet clearly visible to many of us. That can make it difficult to take it seriously, especially when we’re all so caught up in our day-to-day lives. And I’m also writing it to show that we are not powerless. If we believe that, then we are doomed.
So I’ve made a list of the measures we, as individuals, can take to make a change. I’m aware that corporations have a bigger impact than we do as individuals, but we’re the ones creating demand for their products and services. The quickest way to encourage them to change is to stop doing that.
Note: I’ve put the more important things closer to the top of the list, but the order isn’t prescriptive.
Adopt a plant-based diet
Animal agriculture is the number one cause of climate change. Raising livestock uses huge amounts of resources; it takes 18 times more land to feed a meat-eater than a vegan, for example. It’s hugely inefficient to feed half the grain we grow to farmed animals. Also, animal agriculture creates huge amounts of pollution, including ocean dead zones. And 91% of Amazon rainforest destruction is linked to animal agriculture. (See the page linked above for sources.)
The lower down on the food chain we eat, the fewer resources we use. Adopting a plant-based diet is something you can do today which will drastically lower your environmental impact. It’s kinder to animals and better for your health, too. Bonus points for eating local and seasonal produce where possible.
In the UK, Extinction Rebellion is an organisation on a mission. They have three aims – get the government to declare a climate emergency, achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2025, and put together a Citizens’ Assembly to make these changes, since the government can’t be trusted to do it.
Critics argue that making change at a governmental level is too difficult and slow, but XR have a plan. They know that creating civil disobedience and economic disruption is a sure-fire way to be heard. And they also know that historically, once 3.5% of the population gets involved in a rebellion, that rebellion has always succeeded.
Already, Extinction Rebellion has mobilised vast numbers of people to create economic disruption by blocking roads and bridges in London. The movement has huge potential. Join your local group if you have one. If you’re not in the UK, XR is active in many other countries too – do a search to find out if there are groups in your country. You can always start one!
Of course, there are many other admirable environmental groups too, but I reckon XR may be the only one with a chance of creating the radical change we need at this point.
Avoid flying wherever humanly possible
Aviation is a huge source of emissions. Here’s my recent post on the subject.
Stop buying stuff
Excessive consumption is hugely damaging. We need to get out of the mindset where we think we need new phones, cars, clothes, TVs etc every year or two. It takes huge amounts of resources to create all these things, and generates lots of pollution too – never mind the likely exploitation of workers in developing countries.
Consider whether you really need a car. Can you move closer to work? Could you get the bus or the train, or cycle? Do you really need to drive to a supermarket that’s less than a mile away? Walking and cycling are great ways to get some exercise as well as helping the planet.
If you must go by car, consider whether you could car share. Also, big four-wheel drives can use several times as much fuel as a small, economical car. It really makes no sense – environmental or financial – to drive one unless you genuinely need it. Usually, these cars are just status symbols.
Electric cars are obviously preferable to petrol/diesel ones, if you can afford one. But they’re still not as good as not driving at all.
I’ll admit to not being fully there myself on this one. I’m trying – I’ve invested in a menstrual cup, an all-metal safety razor and a bamboo toothbrush, plus I’ve started using homemade toothpaste in a glass jar and cotton thread instead of floss. I ditched toiletries and cosmetics long ago – a bar of paper-wrapped soap is really all you need. Baking soda is a great shampoo substitute, and apple cider vinegar works perfectly instead of conditioner (read more about this here). You can also make deodorant with just coconut oil and baking soda.
I carry a metal water bottle around with me, and I’ve banished plastic wrap from the kitchen by covering leftovers with a plate or tea towel, or putting them in a jar or tupperware box. I get my fruits and veggies loose where possible, and choose the oats in the paper bag rather than the plastic one. But I’m still struggling somewhat when it comes to food – packaging-free pasta, lentils, snacks, meat alternatives and so on still often elude me. I’m working on it.
Change energy supplier
That are now many green energy suppliers in the UK. Ecotricity is greenest, and vegan-certified too (disclaimer: they’re sponsoring the current issue of Seedling, but they didn’t pay me to say this! I just think they’re great). There’s also Good Energy, Bulb, Green Energy and Green Star Energy. Some are more expensive than conventional energy companies (Bulb excepted), but if you can afford it then the planet is worth it.
Rethink your resource use
We often act like the water and energy supplies in our homes are infinite, because they seem to be. But we need to start treating them like they’re not. Don’t waste anything. Always switch things off when not in use, use LED light bulbs, wash clothes at lower temperatures etc. Another good tip is to use recycled toilet paper and kitchen towels, available in many supermarkets. The impact of this is small relative to the other changes we can make, but it’s about changing our attitude to resources and appreciating that they are finite.
There isn’t much time – it could be game over in 12 years if we don’t change things now. If we burnt all the fossil fuels still in the ground, we’d go over the 1.5°C limit. We can’t afford to burn them all. Things will have to change – we need to be carefully considering the impact of every single thing we do and buy.
Many of these lifestyle changes may seem inconvenient. But you know what else is inconvenient? Starving to death because we can’t grow enough food. Or having our hometowns flooded by rising sea levels.
Those of us in developed countries may be protected for a while, but not forever. And those in developing countries will suffer the most as a result of our actions. This is happening already – we have increasing rates of natural disasters and flooding in low-lying countries, for example. It’s estimated that 400,000 people a year are already being killed by climate change. This will only increase as we emit more and more greenhouse gases. We need to act now. Time is very short.