Climate action is the defining opportunity of our time. The scale and pace of change required and the potential co-benefits to wellbeing and social justice create this opportunity. But this is all so big that it can create a sense of feeling overwhelmed or disempowered. This blog is about what we can do to counter these feelings and take meaningful action as individuals and as a society. I hope that by the end of this blog you will agree with me that it is precisely the need for collective action and the distributed all encompassing nature of the problem that makes climate action so incredibly empowering. We can all contribute.
So this is a list of what each of us can do in this collective context. Its about having the biggest impact on global cumulative greenhouse gas emissions that we can. Its about thinking big and changing quickly. The faster we decarbonise our lives the more deaths we will avoid from climate change and the more health and other benefits we will get. This is about transforming our lives and our world for the better so that we avoid the worst of climate change and address some of the horrendous problems we currently have in society like premature death, poverty, and gross unfairness. This list is based on my personal experience so it will be most relevant to those in developed countries, particularly the UK.
So what can we do:
1) Talk about climate change with …..everyone. Behind every choice in the home, boardroom or parliament is an individual who is affected by the culture in which they live and work. It is our conversations which shape our culture. We can influence this by talking to our family, friends and colleagues about climate change, being positive and ambitious, and sharing our own actions. This is how we will turn individual action into global change.
2) Change your energy provider to a renewable supplier. At the heart of the climate change challenge is the need to stop using fossil fuels and switch to renewables. Where the option to switch to a 100% renewable energy supplier exists (as it does in the UK) it is a brilliantly easy way to make a step change in your carbon footprint. It acts as a signal to the market and if we talk about it with our friends and family this could be amplified further.
3) Focus on the big decisions. Decisions like which house to buy/rent and where to live, which career path to take, where to go on holiday, even how many children to have are the ones which predominantly determine our footprint. These decisions have many competing drivers and I wouldn’t presume to dictate how these personal issues should be weighed up. But my view is that the carbon footprint (and the resultant deadly harm) of different options should be a consideration in these decisions. We should not look away just because its uncomfortable or inconvenient. In some cases we will conclude the benefits do outweigh the climate harms but in others we will realise that we could be just as happy with a different option.
4) Get political – vote, petition, campaign. Using our voices as citizens is crucial to driving large scale social change. Many of us have shied away from being political. But so much of what happens depends the laws, regulations and policies which are pursued by national and local governments. There is currently a massive gap between what the maths of climate change is telling us we need to do and the policies being pursued. Voting only for those who will act to close this gap and petitioning and campaigning against policies like subsidising fossil fuels or increasing fossil fuel reserves (e.g. fracking) are vital if we are to move off our current path towards devastating climate change. Energy isn’t the only issue. Policy needs to change in relation to transport, food, nature, healthcare, planning the built environment and many other things so if some of these are particularly important to you then this is probably where to devote your effort. 350.0rg is a good place to start for climate campaigning.
5) Divest yourself and support divestment. The growing fossil fuel divestment campaign is rapidly making supporting the fossil fuel industry socially unacceptable. The list of those supporting divestment range from universities and churches across the world to the British Medical Association. If you have links to a university, religious institution, unions or pension fund you can use your voice to lobby these to move their money out of fossil fuels. On a personal note it makes sense to also shift your own banking if you can find a suitable option. In the UK Move Your Money can help with this.
6) Change your diet. The big thing here in terms of greenhouse gas footprint is meat and dairy consumption because of the high footprint with ruminant animals, and deforestation in some parts of the world. Cutting down red meat and particularly processed meat is associated with reduced risks of diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and colorectal cancer. (NB if you are at high risk of low iron levels e.g. from heavy periods, you should probably be more cautious with substantial dietary change and discuss it with your doctor or dietitian prior to making these changes).
7) Change how you get around. Everyday travel is strongly habitual and requires active effort to change. Changing to walking or cycling for at least part of your journey is great for health and public transport and car clubs (particularly if electric) are good alternatives where available. Moving home or work, and buying a car are big decisions which largely determine how we move around so don’t forget climate change when making these choices. Flying is something which should in my view always be put into the category of ‘big decisions’ above. There will be some occasions for some people when the benefit of flying will outweigh the harms of flying e.g. if you are flying somewhere to secure a global climate change deal or to see a loved one, perhaps for the last time, who you can’t see any other way, but most flying isn’t of this sort. For the rest of us to fly is a choice in which we are implicitly prioritising the marginal benefit of a particular destination to ourselves over potentially dreadful harms to the lives of others.
8) Change your home. How we habitually use energy in our home – the temperature we heat it to or the lights we do or don’t leave on are important things to consider and change if possible. But probably more important is the fabric of our homes, getting them insulated (and, importantly for health,ventilated) properly. A step further is to install renewables such as rooftop solar power (for hot water or electricity). The pay back time for these is falling rapidly as the more and more people get them.
9) Share and connect. Sharing stuff and connecting up with our local communities is important for climate change as it has the potential to substantially reduce our consumption of stuff (all of which has a carbon footprint). In the UK mechanisms to encourage local sharing such as Streetbank are developing and the growing global Transition movement is helping communities to join up with each other to shift to a more sustainable way of life. This all helps us become more resilient to our changing world.
10) Look after yourself. In this blog I haven’t really focussed on the need to protect ourselves from the impacts of climate change or on how we need to look after our mental health as we cope with the dissonance climate change can create in us. But both of these are really important so please do think about them and be proactive in anticipating potential risks (e.g. from flooding) and caring for your own wellbeing. To link back to the top of the list I think the more honest dialogue we have with those we trust and care about on this subject the more resilient we will be to cope with any challenges which we do have to face.
So that’s my ten. I have done most of these and think my life is as rich and happy as its ever been. I’m probably healthier for it too. If you are interested I’ve noted below what I’ve done personally in relation to each of these ten things. It would be great if others used this list as a sort of check list or even better devised and shared your own. This blog has been my attempt to put together a collection of positive steps we can all take to help move society in the right direction on climate change. So think big, be bold, commit to action and start now, and before you know it we will have changed not just our own lives but the whole world for the better.
Checklist – My Progress to Date:
1) Talking about climate change – I talk about this a fair bit with my family, friends and colleagues but could probably do even more! It helps that I work in this field but not that I can be quite introverted.
2) Using renewable energy supplier – We use Ecotricity (at home in the UK) and have found them excellent.
3) Focussing on big decisions – All our big decisions recently have include a consideration of climate change. We’ve stayed in our 2 bedroom home longer and holidayed closer to home than we might otherwise have done.
4) Getting political – I am just starting to dip my toe into the world of politics. In September I took my family on our first climate march in London and have the 7th March 2015 in my diary for the next one. I use social media to promote campaigns I support. In the next election I’ll be voting for the party which is taking climate action most seriously (that’s currently looking like the Green Party).
5) Divesting – I’ve moved my UK current account to the Co-op Bank. I haven’t moved my mortgage yet. I support divestment on social media and made enquiries of the professional body I’m a member of to encourage them to divest any investments they have.
6) Eating – For the last 2 years I’ve reduced my consumption of beef, pork and lamb to 5 or fewer days a year. This was a big change for me as I used to regularly eat this for lunch and/or dinner several times a week. Now its something I have on birthdays and celebrations like Christmas. When I do eat it I try to eat good quality local meat. I still need to work on my dairy though.
7) Moving – I walk, cycle or use public transport for most journeys including holidays. We use a cargo bike to ferry our children around. (Thankfully this is becoming quite normal in Cambridge.) I drive only on ‘special occasions’ although I would love to replace this with use of an electric car club (like this) if one existed here. I haven’t flown for 6 years now.
8) Improving our home – I often think a small terraced home with double glazing can’t be too bad. But the truth is that there is much more I could probably do with the house including getting solar.
9) Getting involved locally: I’ve start joining in with the local Transition movement (the energy group and a book club). I’ve joined StreetBank and I’m helping a local climate change charity too.
10) Looking after yourself – There is real value in combining all the above. An physically active lifestyle, healthy diet, and engaging more with the local community and family and friends are all helping build up my personal resilience and wellbeing. I do need to invest more time understanding the risks to my home and family from floods and heatwaves.
So lots done but lots more to do.
[I’ve learnt from my last blog that I shouldn’t commit to when I will do my next blog but look out for it in the New Year sometime.]