How to reduce your carbon footprint

The 2019 UK average (total annual emissions divided by population) is 5.3 tonnes per year. The world average is 4.8 tonnes; the averages for the USA, China and India are 16.6, 7.2 and 2 tonnes, respectively (source: Carbon Brief).

Look at your own carbon footprint. Unless you have already done so, almost certainly, you can halve it. This need not be a painful and solitary sacrifice. Join up with other people to go cycling, or walking in Warwickshire’s woods and meadows, instead of flying off to some far-away place to sit in the sun. Cycle to work! If cycling does not seem safe, join campaigns to make it safer. Working with others to bring meaningful change that all believe in is itself a rewarding experience.

Below are some estimates of how much you can reduce your carbon footprint by simple actions. You can get estimates tailored to your own lifestyle and choices by using an online Carbon Calculator — many are available. In our opinion the best is Giki, which also suggests a range of ways to reduce your footprint . But although practical measures are important and valuable, don’t leave politics out of it. Making sacrifices in isolation is hard to sustain, and can be simply miserable. Climate change is above all a communal problem, and we need joint action to face up to it.

  1. Switch your electricity supplier to a renewables only company and save 1 to 2 tons of CO2 per year. There are more than 10 clean energy suppliers. A Which magazine article from April 2017 rates them. This need not cost you anything: the price of clean energy is no higher than energy from fossil fuels.
  2. Bike or walk instead of driving, and use public transport for longer journeys– save up to 2 tons of CO2. Walking and cycling come with notable health benefits — and give you time to think.
  3. Take your holiday closer to home: a return flight to the US releases 1.4 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere per passenger.
  4. Insulate your home — and save up to 1.5 tons of CO2 per year.
  5. Reduce your consumption of meat, especially beef — going vegetarian would save about 0.8 tons.
  6. Install solar panels (Solar PV) on your roof. The Feed-In Tariff paid by the energy companies for the electricity you feed in to the grid has unfortunately been abolished by the government, so you will only benefit from the electicity you use yourself, but to set against this, the cost of the solar panels has steadily declined too. It may be that the falling cost of battery storage will make this once again an economic option.
  7. If you don’t get on with Giki, try the app from the Earthhero website. It helps you to estimate your carbon footprint and suggests ways to reduce it. If you are suspicious of online apps, check out the developers at the the Earthhero team page.
  8. Become political! Politicians do respond to the opinion of their voters, especially at a local level, where a few votes can make all the difference. Write to your local councillors about cycle lanes, air quality and speed limits. Once you take the plunge, you will quickly learn what is what, who to write to, and how to gain attention to your demands. Join others — on our Active Groups page we list some local groups you could join.
  9. Find out about the realities of climate change. Take a look at our pages on climate science. And there are many excellent books. For the science, we recommend Six Degrees, Our future on a hotter planet, by Mark Lynas. For the politics, Too hot to handle by Rebecca Willis. For inspiration, The future we choose by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, the principal organisers of the COP21 Paris climate conference in 2015 that led to the Paris Accord. If you like the American novelist Annie Proulx, try her suggestions for books on climate change. The astonishing book Merchants of Doubt, by Oreskes and Conway, documents the campaign of misinformation on behalf of the fossil fuel industries by some of the same people who were paid by the tobacco companies to cast doubt on the link between smoking and lung cancer.
  10. Talk to your friends and neighbours. You may well find that they will be only too happy to talk because they too are worried about the future.
  11. If you have an occupational pension, find out whether your pension fund has investments in fossil fuels. Increasing numbers are divesting, including the UK’s largest, the National Employment Savings Trust. The business case for divestment is increasingly strong — fossil fuel reserves and technology will lose all value when world opinion reaches a tipping point, and meanwhile investments in renewable energy and green technologies are flourishing. 
  12. Some corporations and industry bodies lobby actively, though often secretly, against measures to limit carbon emissions. Stop buying their products! Each time you fuel your car, you are paying for lobbying against your children’s future. 

The suggestions above are all practical ones. Of course, in practice not everything goes as we imagine it will. The Lived Experience Page contains some accounts of what really happened. If you’d like to contribute with your own experience (serious, humorous or tragic, or all three at the same time), please write to info@warwickshireclimatealliance.org

Climate change is unlike any other challenge that humanity has ever had to face, and we have no template for the kind of political, social and economic transformation we need. But there are examples we can learn from. Movements of peaceful civil disobedience, from the suffragettes of the early twentieth century, to Gandhi’s drive for Indian independence and Martin Luther King Jr. and the 1960s civil rights movement in the United States — all are inspirational because they mobilised huge numbers of people to champion their causes.  An open, inclusive structure, and a sense of working collectively to change the world for the better, took them further than they ever imagined possible. 

As Nelson Mandela said, it always seems impossible until it is done.  

Every person who joins the campaign to prevent dangerous climate change will bring us closer to the tipping point for success! 

One point to bear in mind: everything that you do to limit your carbon footprint will benefit everyone else in the world. For the same reason, the direct benefit it brings you may be small, even negligible. This is one of the reasons why we have reacted so slowly to the threat of climate change. Compare our response to the Corona Virus, where local actions can bring immediate local benefits, such as a reduction in the level of infection. But working for the collective instead of for ourselves alone, can be a survival strategy, when it stimulates action in others. The civil rights protestors who refused to move from whites-only lunch counters in the southern USA, or were clubbed by police in Alabama and Mississippi, in the main improved their own lives, though at considerable risk, because thousands of others were inspired to join them. 

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