Sometimes the challenge of climate change seems so enormous the natural response is to throw up our hands in despair and assume there’s nothing we can do to make a difference.
But the devil, as they say, is in the detail, and it’s the little things – how we work and travel, what we buy and eat, our domestic routines – that have the potential to tip the balance one way or the other. By listening to our better angels, we can begin to change our personal habits in positive ways.
It might be as basic as reminding yourself to switch off a light when you leave a room, turn down the thermostat by a couple of degrees, or even go a day without meat, but when you repeat them over a period of months and years, the impact on the environment is profound and long lasting.
Set some house rules
The home is where we consume most of our energy, and it’s where we can make the biggest impact in the battle against climate change. There are the actions we all know, like turning off lights when not in use, not leaving the TV in Standby mode, stopping the water tap running when brushing our teeth, and so on.
But did you know that when it comes to everyday laundry, washing in colder water (around 30-40°) is just as effective as hot water? In fact, it may even be better at preserving your clothes, retaining the texture and colour of the fabric. More importantly, since about 70-80 percent of the energy required for a washing machine goes into heating the water, it’s cheaper as well as more environmentally friendly.
Invest in good appliances
Making your home a much greener place may involve certain investments, some of which are relatively cheap, like replacing any incandescent light bulbs with LEDs and CFLs, which use up to 80 percent less energy and last 25 times as long.
You might also think about acquiring a smart meter to track your consumption – many energy companies now offer to install these for free. For a more comprehensive option, companies such as Smappee provide monitors and plugs that not only track your energy consumption in detail, but enable you to operate the electrics in your house remotely via an app on your phone. This means you can crank up all of the appliances a few minutes before you enter the house and power down as soon as you leave.
When it comes to buying major appliances like a cooker, fridge freezer, washing machine or dishwasher, look for ones that are more energy efficient. They might cost a bit more initially, but after a couple of years the savings on your energy bills will have cancelled out the difference. Look out for the EU energy rating system – it goes from A+++ (most efficient) to D or G (least efficient) depending on the appliance.
Be a responsible consumer
Domestic consumption on a much smaller scale is primarily focused on food and household goods. Again, there are some ways to help the environment we all know about here, like choosing food with less packaging, buying locally-sourced produce, and opting for organic produce that uses less pesticides and synthetic fertilisers, most of which are by-products of oil refining.
But had you stopped to consider how your diet itself was affecting climate change? According to the Worldwatch Institute, animal agriculture amounts to as much as 50 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases. Reducing your consumption of meat, specifically beef, can have a surprising effect on the environment – for example, half a kilo of beef is responsible for 18 times the emissions of half a kilo of pasta.
The World Wildlife Fund runs a fantastic project called LiveWell, which not only teaches you how what we eat affects the world’s ecosystem, but also presents you with practical ways to change to a healthier, cheaper and more sustainable diet.
Leave a smaller footprint when you travel
Outside the home, our most obvious personal impact on the climate comes from the ways in which we travel. With Electric Vehicles (EVs) becoming cheaper and more practical, now is the time to think seriously about buying one when next looking for a car, especially given the restrictions already starting to come into effect on diesel cars in cities, with some countries like France, Spain and Sweden even set to ban them in the next five-to-ten years.
In the meantime, make sure your car is at least running efficiently by fully inflating your tyres to improve gas mileage and driving in such a way as to keep fuel consumption down. But if it’s as practical and cheap to take a train then do that, and if you can make journeys by bicycle or on foot, even better.
Make your voice heard
Finally, remember you have a voice! If you’d like to use a bicycle but there are no bicycle lanes in your local area, start campaigning for them. As with all climate change issues, activism is incredibly important: talk to neighbours and friends, contact your local councillor or MP, set up community groups that might be involved in tree planting (a single tree will absorb on average one ton of carbon dioxide during its lifetime), car-sharing or raising awareness about pollution.
Finally, think about offsetting your carbon emissions, especially when you travel by air. You can do this in any number of ways. For instance, you might calculate the cost of your carbon footprint for any given journey and then choose to donate the equivalent to an organisation involved in combating climate change.