It’s fantastic that the world’s leaders are coming together this week to, we hope, agree on International CO2 reductions. The most important thing is that they come to an agreement that enables the whole world to make a start in tackling climate change. In reality we are going to raise the targets every few years, so getting caught up with the exact levels at this stage is less important.
Starting with palatable targets is a good idea. We have a vast international society that is travelling at a rate of knots, a bit like a herd of wild bison stampeding across the North American prairies. You don’t change their direction by coming at them head on and expecting them to turn around in their tracks. The only way is to approach them from the side and begin to head them off. You achieve a small change in direction to start with and as you nudge them more and more, eventually you may be able to get them going in completely the opposite direction.
And that is eventually what will be needed with CO2 emissions in order to avert catastrophic climate change. We will need to not only bring our CO2 emissions down to zero but employ large-scale, natural sequestration techniques such as rich-soil farming, bio-char and reforestation to reduce existing CO2 levels.
It’s a little known fact that if all the ice caps in the Arctic, Antarctic and Greenland melt, global sea levels will rise by 65 metres. That may take well over 100 years to happen, but it is caused by C02 emissions now, and the window of opportunity to reduce these in time is only open for the next 10 to 20 years. Due to the urgency, COP 2015 may prove to be one of the most important events in human history.
The more we can all do collectively to reduce our personal carbon footprints the better. This decade is the real opportunity to tackle climate change, in 20–30 years time the future will be set in stone. What’s called for is a change of mindset, and if we all pull together and do our best, we have a real opportunity.
The good news is that after 20 years of experimenting with sustainable living, I can advocate that as you help to reduce climate change you also dramatically improve your quality of life – so low carbon lifestyles solve both these problems together. This is because low carbon activities are better for your health, state of mind and make you feel good about yourself – and these factors contribute to your happiness far more than we sometimes realise. Try it. Choose any action to cut your carbon footprint just a tiny bit. You will see that you get immediate feedback and you’ll feel better within a month.
A typical UK annual carbon footprint of 10 tons of CO2 per person comprises of five key lifestyle areas, emitting around two tonnes each: home heating, transportation, food production/distribution, holidays, and buying products. So for a low carbon lifestyle, you insulate your home, share transport, eat organic local food, take holidays by ground transport, and purchase long-lasting products.
The most satisfying approach is to measure your carbon footprint and then aim to reduce it by 4% per year, which is easily achievable. You can measure it using the carbon calculator I designed, which is recognised as the most user-friendly and accurate online. It’s available on the Resurgence magazine website: www.resurgence.org/carboncalculator.
Here are five effective and simple ways that you can reduce your carbon footprint:
1. Insulate your home by fitting loft insulation, draft proofing, secondary or double glazing, wall and floor installation (in order of cost and effectiveness). (See www.cosyhomecompany.co.uk for more details.)
2. Use shared transport – buses, trains and full cars all emit a quarter of the emissions of a solo car journey.
3. Eat organic, local food – ideally from small scale organic farms and gardens because agricultural methods can produce even more emissions than transport.
4. Use your money like a vote – spend it with organisations you would like to see in your ideal world. For me these are small scale, ethical shops and farms – places where I’d like to work myself. Spending your money in the shops you like makes you feel really good, and positive that you are building the world you want.
You may want to look at the different lifestyle areas that make up your carbon footprint and start with the ones you personally find easiest to address. Don’t feel guilty about your carbon footprint – we’ve all been encouraged that successful lives mean getting wealthy and consuming more! The bigger your footprint is to start with, the more easily you can reduce it. And there’s room for treats with a low carbon lifestyle – occasional exotic foods from abroad or a drive to the cinema make little difference, it’s your regular daily activities that mount up across the year.
So as Ghandi famously said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Start with taking some small steps and you will immediately feel better for it. Your gift to your planet is your gift to yourself.
Mukti Mitchell is Director of the award-winning CosyHome Company which retrofits energy saving insulations for period properties (see www.cosyhomecompany.co.uk). The author of The Guide to Low Carbon Lifestyles (downloadable free from www.lowcarbonlifestyle.org.uk) and five highly commended online carbon calculators, he has been leading a low carbon lifestyle for 15 years. He famously sailed around Britain in a zero-emission microyacht, and is an acclaimed writer and speaker on low carbon living.
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