With so many articles on the subject, sometimes it can feel overwhelming to think about how to have the biggest impact.
A country’s climate footprint is loosely defined as the amount of resources it uses, including the amount of greenhouse gas emissions caused by that country. Their carbon footprint, specifically the amount of carbon dioxide released, is often broken down into per capita consumption to see how much each individual is emitting, as obviously larger countries with more people will have a larger footprint if looking as the country as a whole.
If you are reading this piece, you’ll likely have a higher carbon footprint than most of the rest of the world. The UK’s average carbon output per capita is 5.62T, the US is 16.56T and Australia has the highest in the world, at around 17T. For comparison, the global average is around 4.8T (2017). In just under 2.5 days the average American or Australian emits as much as the average Malian or Nigerian does in a year. In order to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, we must reach ‘net zero’ carbon emissions by 2050. The UK became the first major economy in the world to pass a law committing itself to this target. So far the government has fully achieved only 2 out of the 31 milestones set.
An individual’s carbon footprint is not the sole measure of their climate impact however. Their use of resources, such as consuming clothes, food, plastic etc., has an impact of its own. Behaviours such as recycling have a small impact on carbon emissions, but a much larger impact on reducing waste and conserving resources, which is why they are so important.
Tackling the climate crisis requires a multifaceted approach. Thankfully, we have the information and technologies we need to make a real difference, we just need to implement them in order to prevent more irreversible damage. Much of this can be helped through individual action, but the role of governments and cross-border cooperation such as the Paris Agreement in implementing larger-scale policies cannot be downplayed.
Below are some great steps you can take as an individual to make a real impact on our future.
SWITCH TO A GREEN ENERGY PROVIDER
One of the reasons the UK’s per capita carbon footprint is lower than many comparable countries around the world, is because a much larger proportion of energy produced in the UK is from renewable resources. Switching to a green energy provider not only reduces your carbon footprint, but also allows these companies to expand. The more money we put into green energy globally, the better. As we move into autumn, it’s the perfect time to move over to an energy provider that is not only better for the planet but also potentially better for your wallet too. The UK’s favourites are Bulb and Octopus Energy. The great thing about switching is that once it’s done, other than being sensible about energy usage, it’s not something you have to think about every day, unlike some other lifestyle choices. Switching energy provider takes about 5 minutes, and once it’s done, it’s done!
SWITCH TO AN ETHICAL BANK
While many people focus a lot of energy on how they spend their money, aiming to be as sustainable as possible, not many people think about how their money in the bank is being invested. A report was released in 2018 suggesting that the ‘big 5’ UK banks (Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, RBS and Santander) are hindering our efforts to tackle climate change. The report shared that in 2019 alone, banks invested $736 billion in fossil fuels. They also provide financing for companies that exploit natural resources unsustainably, fund tobacco, nuclear weapons and practices such as fracking. By switching to an ethical bank you can remove your money from these investments, instead placing it into projects that make a positive environmental and social impact on the planet. Moving your money to an ethical bank places pressure on mainstream banks to follow suit and clean up their game. If you don’t want to change bank, at least ensure that any investments you make are not funding the fossil fuel industry. Many banks now have ‘ethical investment’ portfolios.
Before we come onto recycling, it is important to remember that reducing consumption and reusing items is absolutely vital if we are to protect the environment. Simply buying second hand and items made from recycled materials, reusing what we already have and passing on unwanted belongings to friends, family and charity shops can significantly reduce the impact those items have on the planet. Reducing consumption is probably the most important of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ – we cannot live in a world where we continue to consume unrenewable resources at the rate we currently do. Before buying something, consider whether you really need it. This is especially important with clothes. If the fashion industry were a country, its emissions would rank almost as highly as the entirety of Europe, and the average item of clothing in the UK has a lifespan of just 2.2 years before being thrown out. Extending this lifespan by just three months would lead to a 5-10% reduction in their carbon, water and waste footprints, and cut resource costs by £2bn. As an incredibly unsustainable industry, it is important we buy only what we need, and ensure that items remain in circulation for as long as possible, before being recycled at the end of their lives. For household goods, aim to purchase refillable options to reduce packaging. Reuse items as long as possible – a glass jar used just twice has half the impact per use than one used just once and then recycled. Only if an item cannot be reused should it be recycled.
Recycling is something taught at many schools, and yet as adults, we seem incapable of remembering to do it on a mass scale. Part of this is because the recycling systems in place in the UK are outdated and often difficult to understand. However, it is still vitally important. The energy saved from recycling one glass bottle is enough to power a lightbulb for four hours. Recycling a plastic bottle would power a bulb for up to six hours, as it takes significantly less energy to create new bottles from recycled materials. Not only does this save energy, it also saves valuable resources, too. All the oil, water and other resources used to make an object are wasted if that product isn’t recycled. Keep the loop closed and minimise landfill waste by recycling everything you can.
While these are all great ways to reduce your individual impact, there is without a doubt the need for systemic change. Without voting for parties who you feel will tackle the climate crisis head on, it is hard to believe that individual chance will be enough to lead to global improvements. However much we reduce the amount we drive, change what we eat and take fewer flights, so long as governmental regulations allow for unsustainable practices in industry, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible to reverse the impact we have had on this planet. Voting is one of the most important things we can all do to reduce the country’s climate footprint.
There are many more things we could and should be doing to reduce our climate footprint, from flying and driving less to switching to a plant-based diet.
The above suggestions are just the start, but can make a great impact with relatively little effort. Individual action counts!
“Use your voice, use your vote, use your choice” – Al Gore.