Two monumental events are about to commence - COP21 in Paris, and Black Friday. One event is geared towards solving the environmental challenges of climate change, the other to drum up pre-Christmas sales, giving consumers the best deals. Yet there's irony in the fact that they're happening alongside each other, because delivering benefits to consumers is much more than just offering discounts. The best deal for the consumer would be the protection of the environment - after all, what good is a flat-screen TV if we can't provide the energy to run it?
Leonardo DiCaprio recently said on climate change "this disaster has grown beyond the choices that individuals make. This is now about our industries and governments". Yes, governments and industry both have a role to play. So what should we do? Sit back, and hope for the best? Can we honestly say that, as individuals, we have no role to play? It's great to see celebrities such as DiCaprio speaking out about this matter. But it's my firm belief that it's not just up to governments or industry - we as individuals must mobilise together and tackle the challenge, head on.
Climate change is an issue that affects us all, and will affect future generations even more so. Believing that the issue is out of our hands as individuals isn't a pragmatic mind set. The last thing we want is to end up feeling helpless and frustrated that the issue is not being dealt with appropriately. Instead, we should want to feel galvanised, and ready to step up to the challenge at every single step of the way.
The fact is - we all have a role to play. Our everyday actions, our buying decisions, the way we consume, the way we use and discard products - it all counts. Be it recycling, not wasting food, or using public transport over driving. There will be almost 50,000 attendees at COP21 making the big decisions, yet there are over 7 billion of us as individuals, and we all have the power to make the little decisions that can make a big impact.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) latest working group report raised the topic of sustainable lifestyles and the need for a change in behaviours. And the government's Global Calculator also shows that better design and product use, coupled with food waste and sustainable diets could keep the climate at what's deemed a 'safe' temperature.
But how does this relate to us, as consumers? As individuals?
Consider this - the UK's consumption of clothing and textiles today accounts for 38 million tonnes of global carbon equivalent emissions - that's over half of the greenhouse gases Ireland produces annually. And yet each year, 350,000 tonnes of clothes are thrown out as household waste. This would be equal to all the clothes owned by the residents of London. Likewise, if you look at the consumption of electrical products - this accounts for 160 million tonnes of global carbon emissions. However, only 10% of these goods are re-used once they're thrown out - deemed to be waste or rubbish, despite the fact that much of them still work, or could easily be repaired.
With a stream of frenzied sales, whether it be 'singles day' in China, or Black Friday in the USA or UK, it's no wonder products are being bought, replaced and discarded in haste. And all this spending comes with a price. This year, Visa predicts that spending will be up 17% on last year, and we'll be splashing out the equivalent of an astonishing £1.4m every minute.
And it's not only our credit cards that are being plunged into debt. We're also going into ecological debt. This year, August 13 marked 'Earth Overshoot Day' - the point in the year we had already used a year's worth of natural resources. But unfortunately, nature doesn't have a credit card. There's no option for spending beyond your means and paying back later. We are fast approaching an era where supply can't keep up with demand - and it's costing the earth.
But it's not all doom and gloom - far from it. Whilst world leaders establish targets and approaches to help address the issue of climate change, we can all take matters into our own hands - starting today. It doesn't mean that we shouldn't buy things, but we could start by just considering what we consume, and the way in which we consume it. Whether it's food, clothing, electricals or anything else - there's a vast amount of resources that have gone into making these every day commodities, which have carbon emissions associated.
We always strive for more 'stuff'. But to really become climate advocates - sometimes, thoughtful consumption is key. It's a fact of life that we will buy new products - but our old ones still have an environmental price tag attached, considering the resources and distribution that has gone into production. So if we are buying something new, consider if it's needed. And if so, what will we do with the old product it's replacing? Seek ways to keep our unwanted products in use for as long as possible. Can they be repaired? Refurbished? Re sold? Re-used? Donated to charity? Donated to a friend? Traded-in, in exchange for vouchers or cash even (yes, increasingly high street stores such as ASDA and Argos offer this type of facility)? Recycled? Upcycled?
Famed naturalist, Sir David Attenborough, was recently asked, as an individual, what one thing can you do to help the environment? His answer - "don't waste". Whether it be food, energy, fuel or anything else, he explained, there's an enormous financial and environmental cost associated with them all.
We can't give up on the planet - it's the only one we will ever have. We need to keep trying. We need to persist in finding new ways of working and looking for solutions, and we need to shake off the psyche that we can't do anything to help - because the fact is, we can. We all can. And we need to achieve.