Climate Change: What You Can Do

January 21, 2019

Continuing Newell Legal’s series on climate change (the first article looking at the 2018 IPCC report), this piece looks to provide advice on what is merely the tip of the iceberg of how members of society can individually reduce their carbon footprint, and proactively act against climate change for a wider impact. 

 

Of course, as will be considered in a further piece of this series, it is widely reported (as may have been seen on various social media platforms) that around 71% of the world’s carbon emissions originate from just 100 of the world’s companies/corporations. A 2017 report further bolstered such controversial statistics by claiming that more than 50% of global industrial emissions (since 1988) can be traced to just 25 companies. As of 2013, agriculture was the third largest contributor to global emissions by sector, following the energy sector (power & heat production), and transportation. In 2010, emissions from electricity and heat production reached 12.5 billion tons, and emissions from transport totalled 6.7 billion tons.  

 

 

These high statistics of corporation and company contributions to global emissions will not be surprising to many readers, with companies and corporations playing a large role in modern consumerism. An everyday example, that many readers will be guilty of buying into is solely focusing on electrical devices, such as computers and phones. The energy needed to make a new computer or phone is many times the amount used to power it over its lifetime, with Apple previously saying that roughly 80% of the carbon footprint of a new laptop comes from the manufacturing and distribution, not use in the home by the consumer. This suggests that it is a corporation and industry issue more so than an individual issue. Though individual consumption ties in with public demand, the more society desires and consumes, the higher the demand for such requested items. This idea behind this statement is further reinforced with some companies having recently been found to be implementing planned obsolescence in their products. Apple even inadvertently admitted that planned obsolescences helped bolster previous years’ iPhone sale figures

 

The suggested actions in this article will be presented in an unbiased and realistic manner. For example, although it is ultimately a positive change in the long term, for the short-term, statistics show that currently the manufacturing of an electric car may produce more emissions than an older petrol/diesel vehicle may actually produce in its entire lifetime. Of course, electric cars will ultimately pay for themselves as manufacturing processes are improved, made more efficient, and the original source of the cars electrical charge is shifted to be taken solely from renewable sources. However, as it stands, simply going out and buying a brand-new electric car is too costly for most of the general public. This is without factoring in the associated costs of insuring a new (and costly) car and road tax costs. 

 

Although the fight against climate change cannot be won at an individual level, a social, economic, and political change brought about by the public’s demands, and actions, can combat the titanic task of carbon and waste reduction. Sometimes change originates from the individual, so here are various actions that can be undertaken personally to reduce one’s carbon footprint. 

 

Travel

  • Optimise/combine trips together. For example, when requiring your car for multiple trips, plan an efficient route that can cover all your destinations in one round trip instead of going to and from each destination separately. Another example is if meeting others at a destination, car share with other people instead of each individually driving. It does not cut emissions completely, but will dramatically reduce the total emissions contributed if only one vehicle, not several, are being utilised. 

  • Use public transport options or carpool when available/suitable. This would not only reduce individual carbon footprint levels, by spreading a single vehicle’s emissions across multiple individuals, thus also reducing the volume of traffic, and hence reduce congestion. An example best visualised by this GIF comparing the volume of space taken by 200 people across cars, bikes, bus, and a train. 

  • Bike or walk for local, no-luggage, short journeys. This would not only reduce carbon emissions from driving short distances, save money, and prevent extra unneeded wear on your vehicle, it would also help combat your local areas emission levels. As an extra personal bonus being more physically active will help to improve fitness and mental wellbeing

  • Work from home/remotely whenever possible and available. What’s the best way of cutting needlessly wasted emissions for a daily commute to work? Cutting out the commute itself. Working from home, even just one day per week, will help reduce one’s carbon footprint, and has been shown to be potentially more productive. Of course, this action is down to what employers will allow/agree to. Something that politicians should be more vocal to support (as will be looked at in a future piece). 

  • Fly less. Emissions directly derived from flights (not accounting for various associated transport, packaging, and construction emissions) account for about 2% of global emissions. If aviation were a country, it would rank in the top 10 producers of global greenhouse emissions. For example, flying from London to New York and back generates roughly the same level of emissions as an average EU citizen does heating their home for a whole year. 

  • Ensure that your car is running properly; maintain tires at correct inflation levels, replace air, oil and fuel filters according to schedule. 

  • Drive with efficiency in mind. Up to 30% of the difference in miles per gallon (MPG) is due to driving habits alone. You could save more than a ton of CO2 per year by simply doing the following; accelerating slowly and smoothly, driving at the speed limit, maintaining a steady speed, anticipating your stops and starts. 

Home: 

  • Insulate your home and fit double or triple glazed windows. Insulating homes properly, both walls and windows, help to retain the heat within the building better and for longer, helping to reduce the usage/need to reheat living spaces. Proper insulation of homes will also further help reduce energy and heating bills. 

  • Upgrade your boiler/heating and electrical systems to a higher energy efficient standard. 

  • Install eco-friendly renewable energy sources; solar panels, wind turbine, or heat recovery systems. Although they are a more costly option, over time the systems will pay for themselves in the money saved across bills. It could even earn you money if you have surplus energy to sell back to the grid. 

  • Upgrade home appliances to a higher energy efficiency standard and reduce usage/use more suitably/sparingly. In the short term, upgrading as many home appliances as possible, such as lights, washing/drying machines, fridges/freezers, can be a costly undertaking. However, in the long term the energy saved from their use will cover their cost and produce less emissions. Further energy-saving actions include turning off lights and unplugging electrical equipment when not in use, washing clothes at a lower temperature, drying clothes naturally (outside or on a drying rack) instead of using a tumble dryer. 

  • Turn off unused electrical devices at mains. The equivalent output of a 1,500MW power station over the course of a year could be saved if every home with a set-top box switched it off at night; that would conserve enough electricity to make 80 billion cups of tea. With consumer electronics accountable for about a third of home energy use, as of August 2018, according to the Energy Saving Trust. With that figure forecasted to balloon to 45% by 2020. 

  • Stop/unsubscribe from any junk mail/unwanted paper-based letters (catalogues, bank invoices, etc). All those catalogues and paper invoices take up materials to be produced, printed, and shipped. With catalogues typically having an online presence, and banks providing paperless options, it’s mostly wasted materials, and needless contributors to carbon emissions and waste. 

Food: 

  • Reduce/change meat intake. Research from 2018 shows that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined. With current agriculture a key contributor to global carbon emissions. Even just switching your main source of protein from beef to eggs & chicken (which take less emissions & land to farm) will help reduce your carbon footprint

  • Buy locally grown produce. Shipping any item uses fuel and contributes to global emissions. A pound of package shipped by air across the US creates roughly 12 pounds of CO2 (3 ½ pounds if shipped by truck). So why not reduce the shipping distances and purchase from locally sourced farms. Support local farmers and businesses, or even grow your own if you’ve the space and ability to. 

  • Reduce food wastage. As of 2015 1.3 billion tonnes of food was wasted on average per year. Which is about a third of all that is produced. 45% of all fruit and vegetables, 35% of fish and seafood, 30% of cereals, 20% of dairy products and 20% of meat. This ultimately means roughly 30% of the world’s agricultural land area is used to produce food that is ultimately wasted (as of 2015). 

Lifestyle: 

  • Reduce what you can, offset what you cannot. Reduce waste and producing emissions where you can; pack your own lunch in a reusable container, use a reusable bottle for drinks. Drive, buy, consume, and waste less. Unplug electronics when not in use (leaving equipment on standby or plugging in still consumes small amounts of electricity). For wasteful or emission-producing aspects of a lifestyle that can’t be reduced, offset instead. Recycle, up-cycle, sell on or event repurpose more of unwanted/unneeded items. Plant some plants and trees. Buy more local produce, or even start your own allotment/vegetable garden.  

  • Recycle/Up-cycle/Restore when possible. Instead of disposing of unwanted or “broken” items, why not recycle, restore them to extend their usage, up cycle into something new and needed, or sell on and make some spare money. 

  • Buy and consume less. Food, clothes, electronic items, toys. All things produced must be harvested/made with materials, packaged, and shipped. Refrain from buying the next big toy, or the newest mobile phone, especially if it’s not a required purchase. 

  • Buy from companies that support the switch to a low-carbon future. 

  • Actively support campaigns against uneconomical activities. An example being a recently surging ‘Right to Repair’ movement that looks to give consumers more control over how they repair and maintain their purchased property. 

  • Vote for a political party/candidates that have environmental policies that align with your own thoughts on combating global warming and reducing waste. The main route to voicing public thoughts to corporations and companies (which are the leading greenhouse emission contributors), is to have representative politicians with environmental policies that align with your own thoughts on the issue. 

Ultimately this list is just the tip of the iceberg of methods to individually combat global warming and reduce one’s carbon and waste footprint. Though this issue cannot be solved by individuals changing their consumption habits, the more individuals that change their said habits collectively, and collectively demand changes from politicians and corporations, the greater one’s impact can evolve into. To recap a previous motion; sometimes change is started with just the individual. 

  

The websites below provide further information and advice on reducing own carbon emissions:  

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