Climate change and anthropological pressure on the environment is a global issue, one so large that an individual may question what their eco-friendly efforts are actually achieving. Recent political developments have exacerbated this air of futility as we find ourselves at a tipping point in regards to the environment and climate action. However these set-backs mean that unity is more important than ever, and doing our individual part to contribute to the whole is vital.
1. Eat less meat
Livestock agriculture accounts for 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions, most of which is produced by the farming of cattle and their by-products. That's pretty shocking considering all modes of transport worldwide account for only 13%. This makes livestock farming the largest anthropological driver of climate change.
Flickr | US Department of Agriculture
Recently the UN recognised the impacts of livestock agriculture and called for a global shift towards a meat free diet to halt climate change. Switching to a vegan diet would make a huge difference as one person on a plant-based diet produces 50% less CO2, and uses 1/11th of the oil, 1/13th of the water and 1/18th of the land compared to a meat eater. But if you're not ready to make that switch a responsible vegetarian diet, or simply reducing your meat intake and replacing animal products with plant-based alternatives would be a lot more sustainable. Even switching from beef to chicken is still a significant step as the land use and carbon footprint attributed to chicken production is far smaller.
2. Sustainably sourced food
Palm oil is in everything so be sure to check food packaging for sustainably sourced palm oil. Free range eggs and organic products are also more sustainable as they not only ensure the welfare of the animals but that environmental damage has been kept to a minimum. Ethical Consumer has great tools to help you find the most sustainable products (even illusive palm oil free products), and avoid unsustainable and unethical supermarkets.
Greenpeace | Palm Oil Commitments
You can also check that the fish you buy has been caught sustainably by boycotting companies that overfish or use methods detrimental to other marine life. For instance both John West and Princes tuna have been called into question repeatedly for breaking their pledges to catch 100% sustainable tuna, and both companies use Fish Aggregating Devices which cause the indiscriminate by-catch of sharks, rays and turtles. Oriental & Pacific are also unsustainable.
Checking packaging for Marine Conservation Society (MCS) certified logos, whether it's pole and line caught and the particular species of tuna is key, as some species are more abundant than others and pole and line minimises by-catch. For example Bluefin tuna has seen massive declines, whereas pole and line caught Skipjack is considered the most sustainable option.
3. Be plastic aware
Flickr | warrenski
Microbeads, plastic straws, plastic bags, single use coffee cups. All of these are the biggest plastic problems on the Planet; we've made a truly disposable society. But there are ways of reducing your plastic.
You can invest in a reusable bamboo coffee cup, there are loads out there and are 100% biodegradable. Also reusable shopping bags, whether it's canvas or a more durable plastic than current polyethylene bags, the key is to not throw it away and always keep it with you.
Seeking out recyclable packaging would make a difference too as only a fraction of waste is recycled in the UK. There are organic produce and farmers markets that don't provide packaging at all; you have to take your own. This cuts down on both plastic use and food waste.
Also avoid products with microbeads in as if they were the plague!
4. Reuse & upcycle as much as possible
Reusing isn't confined to coffee cups and bags for life either. There are many innovative ways to reuse plastic containers instead of throwing them away to become part of the 18million tonnes of waste landfilled in the UK every year. Creative reuses range from growing herbs to turning them into lights.
Vintage and second-hand clothing is also an eco-friendly strategy that would significantly reduce your carbon as it too keeps those items from ending up in landfill, gives back to the causes the charity shops are selling them for, and helps small independent sellers. The textile industry has a huge carbon footprint as it's the second largest consumer market after food and drink, with over 1million tonnes of textiles going to UK landfill every year. Modern manufacturing uses vast quantities of water and energy and also includes many animal by-products such as wool, leather and silk, so purchasing new clothes made from fresh animal by-products contributes to the environmental impacts of both the textile and livestock industries.
Buying vintage leather, wool and silk garments can be considered sustainable as they don't currently contribute to climate change, however if you're not comfortable wearing animal products anyway there are sustainable plant-based alternatives such as hemp or bamboo.
Flickr | Wicker Paradise
Upcycling furniture is fun and sustainable too, especially by reclaiming old wood as this doesn't contribute to current deforestation. Even the most mundane of objects can be transformed into something useful and long-lasting, for instance simple wooden pallets can be used to make everything from shelves to beds to clocks. But almost anything can be repurposed and given a new life instead of ending up in landfill.
5. Advocate environmental awareness
Flickr | Backbone Campaign
People may feel disheartened by political decisions in recent years which have not only turned people against each other but done nothing or very little to tackle climate change and our effect on the planet. For years, particularly in the US, climate change has been used as a political stance instead of being treated as a fact we should collectively be dealing with. In today's developed society it's almost impossible to be ill-informed on the subject given how connected we are but in many cases, especially in regards to the US Republican Party, ignorance on climate change has become a choice.
Although climate change is not a political opinion, political action is the only thing that can help stop it, as it is no longer just an environmental issue but a social, economic and security issue. On the global scale developed countries which have disproportionately contributed to greenhouse gas emissions through their overuse of fossil fuels will hardly feel the effects, yet underdeveloped countries and small island developing states, which have hardly contributed to driving climate change, will face the brunt of it.
If left to continue "business-as-usual" the effects of climate change will include severe flooding and drought as well as extreme hot and cold temperatures depending on global position, and as developing countries lack the capacity to adapt quick enough will lead to mass migrations. This major displacement would create worldwide tension and possible conflict.
Flickr | Backbone Campaign
Throughout history people-power and activism has tried and won on many occasions in safeguarding the environment, and will continue to do so as more people become environmentally aware. Politics driven by fear, bigotry, and greed seek to hinder the progress of renewable energy, environmental protection, indigenous rights and climate action, so facilitating togetherness and collective awareness is essential for the future.
By Thomas Phillips - Online Journalism Intern