How To Make An Individual Difference to Climate Change

Ever felt completely overwhelmed by climate change and unsure how you can make a difference?

In a game-changing report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) – a United Nations agency, warned the world has just 12 years to reverse global warming.

It said there’s a 93% chance we’re tumbling toward a world that is 5 degrees celsius warmer by the end of the century – just two years away.

That’s far beyond the 1.5 degrees estimated as a plausible goal to contain the type of global warming that could cause “a mass extinction event…by the end of this century. Unnerving for anyone with a heartbeat.

Climate change is an issue I’ve avidly followed since it hit our collective conscious 30 years ago, but since having a child I feel even more responsible to raise the next generation in a sustainable way.

What’s being done about it?

To reach the 1.5 degree target we need to drastically reduce carbon emissions to reach a net output of zero by 2030. We also need a way to remove future greenhouse gases from the air.

Scientists are exploring using bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, planting more trees by afforestation and reforestation and seasoning the oceans with iron dust creating algae blooms that could take carbon dioxide out of the air and thereby cool the planet.

Other strategies include community scale programmes focussing on land use, energy used in the building sector, transportation and infrastructure (paving).

But these carbon removal technologies are still in their infancy and a coherent global climate change strategy does not exist.

President Trump has also undermined efforts by mocking the evidence, preferring instead to pull the US out of the Paris international agreement and causing chaos this January by cutting back the US Environmental Protection Agency.

What can I do about it?

Reducing your carbon footprint
Credit Seth Wynes and Kimberly Nicholas. Environmental Research Papers

You may feel there’s no point in taking individual action if governments don’t commit to a more equitable and sustainable society.

What difference can one person make in an ocean of humanity?

Yet there are profound ways to make a difference. The only problem is how confronting they are.

According to a study by Lund University, the greatest impact individuals can make to climate change is having one fewer child.

The next best actions are living car-free, avoiding long flights and eating a plant-based diet.

Lead author Seth Wynes said: “For example, living car-free saves about 2.4 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year, while eating a plant-based diet saves 0.8 tonnes of C02 equivalent a year.

These actions reduce emissions many times more than accepted green activities, such as recycling (which is 4 times less effective than a plant-based diet) or using low energy light bulbs (8 times less effective).

However, the researchers found government advice and school textbooks rarely mention these high impact individual actions.

But it’s so hard changing my lifestyle to be green

Green living
Making green resolutions are hard – everyday I chuck out one box of recycling. I think my son is equally appalled.

Yes it is. We’re so conditioned to accept our modern day practices of eating roast beef on a Sunday and flying abroad on holiday that it’s an anathema to change such ingrained habits.

Not to mention the choice to have children. As a woman grateful and fortunate enough to have one child I accept how galling preventing that would be.

Calculating the actual difference you’ll make by making a lifestyle change can also be thwart with difficulty.

Consider not drinking dairy; it can be paralysing when you consider the implications of another alternative: almond milk as an example – mostly grown in drought-hit California – needs millions of litres of water to be produced.

Nevertheless, always one to accept a challenge,  I’m going to give living a more green lifestyle a go as far as I possibly can.

That’s going green throughout my home, with the products I use, the travel I make, the food I eat and the energy I consume.

That’s no small test. Every day I chuck out one box of recycling. We also consume meat and take air travel as much as the next person.

So I’ll be taking a more realistic approach to going green. No patronising and no nonsense.

I’ll be trying to navigate the complicated nuances of the advantages of apparent green activities, such as using cloth nappies compared to disposable ones, when balanced against other environmental impacts for that product, like harvesting and production costs.

I’ll also be celebrating women and men who are making a difference to a more sustainable planet along the way.

You can follow my progress on Instagram here, using the #realgreenmum and on this blog.

Call it a New Year’s vow, call it a list, call it what you like, but this year I’m making a conscious resolution to leave a lighter footprint on planet earth.

Perhaps the best way to describe it my change game for the planet. Who’s with me?

resolutions blackboard
I’ve set our family some ambitious green targets for this year. What’s yours?

Published by Julia Bullas

Hi, I'm Julia: a journalist, writer, content strategist and campaigner. Get in touch to see how I can help you. Julia

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