Undoubtedly there’s been a lot of talk about climate change recently, from the COP26 summit to activists like Greta Thunberg taking to the streets to protest, and demanding the leaders of the world commit to action.
Hearing about climate change might prompt eco-anxiety, or worry that you don’t know what you can do to help. It might feel like this insurmountable problem, but the good news is that we all can make a difference. Every small action adds up. And one place to start is by taking proactive steps to reduce your carbon footprint.
Put simply, your carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases (e.g. carbon dioxide, and methane) your actions and lifestyle produces – including things such as fuel consumption, the food you eat, and the energy used in your household.
And while there are so many things that need to change on a global scale, and big businesses that need to be held accountable, your personal carbon footprint is something that you can have direct control over.
The UK government says the average person in the UK has a carbon footprint of 6 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year, but other reports argue that this is an understatement, and the true figure could be 10 tonnes (or more)! To put that into context, just 1 tonne of CO2 is equivalent to a petrol car driving about 10,000km in six months, and it would take roughly 50 trees growing for a year to remove that CO2 from the air.
By 2050, the UK government has set a goal of reaching net zero emissions, but we have a long way to go. While averages serve as a guide, you can calculate your individual carbon footprint for a more accurate measurement on sites like [carbonfootprint.com](http://carbonfootprint.com), and check back in after making changes to see your impact.
Why does it all matter?
If you’re wondering why we’re doing this, it’s because we, as a collective of people living on this planet, need to protect it from rising global temperatures – which would have a devastating impact on ecosystems, risk deadly heat waves, lead to increased deforestation, rising sea levels, and could result in food shortages, among other consequences. Estimates say that everyone on Earth will need to aim for an average annual carbon footprint of 1.87 tonnes by 2050.
It’s scary stuff, yes, but the good news is we all have the power to do something about it; starting today, we can make choices to reduce our personal footprint, to play our part in protecting our planet.
The further up the food chain we go, the more carbon that goes into the meal – the agriculture emissions of growing plants, to feed animals, to feed humans. Estimates state that a vegan diet could reduce your footprint by 0.8 tonnes per year, and if you’re not sure you could completely change your diet, there are still options such as having ‘meat-free’ days, or flexitarianism.
Trying to eat local and seasonal produce is another big way to save on emissions, as it reduces transportation. And another simple thing is to only buy what you need, to avoid waste.
This is probably the biggest area we can make an individual difference. Lockdowns have made most of us rethink about journeys, and what we need to get around. Perhaps you’re working from home more, and could share a family car, or use public transport instead? Reports say that going car-free could reduce your footprint by 2.04 tonnes per year, and even going electric could save 1.95 tonnes.
For those who do need their vehicles, you can still try to group trips together, so if you’ve got errands to run, try to do them at the same time.
Speaking of reducing waste, this applies to your wardrobe, too. Avoid fast fashion, and instead focus on responsibly sourced pieces, and quality items that will last longer. You could buy more from charity shops to give pre-loved items a new lease of life, or rent clothes for events, rather than purchasing for one-off occasions.
Another good idea is to look up sewing tutorials online to try repairing pieces rather than discarding them – especially when there are clothes that might mean something to you, hold special memories, or just make you feel amazing.
When we spend so much of our time at home, it’s no wonder our energy usage can skyrocket here. Simple habits can make a big difference though; for example, make sure you don’t leave the tap running when brushing your teeth and doing the dishes, and try to cut down on the length of your showers. Try to have more energy-efficient appliances, and turn off plug sockets when not in use – that phone charger doesn’t need to be on 24/7.
You could also turn your heating down by just one degree, or try to limit how often you even have the heating on, by keeping toasty with extra layers. Using renewable energy is also a key step, so take a look online and see what options are out there.