There is a growing global consensus that governments and businesses must take proactive roles in the battle against climate change. And they are. Governments across the globe are increasingly setting robust sustainability and renewable energy targets and implementing regulatory policies to support emissions reductions. The private sector has also stepped up, with major corporates setting bold sustainability goals for their internal operations and supply chains. Many of these commitments have been driven by increasing pressure from the boardroom, customers, and employees.
But the onus to become more sustainable must not only fall on governments and corporates. Individuals can and should play a critical role in tackling climate impacts through small, incremental measures.
Mark Maslin, a leading scientist, author, and professor of Earth System Science at University College London, offers 10 actions we can all take to make our planet more sustainable.
1. Talk about climate change
The first and most important thing you can do is talk about climate change. The greatest challenge in the history of our species should not be a taboo subject. We need new solutions, new social structures. and new economics to solve this crisis. So, talk about climate change. Share the ideas, as just one idea shared with one of your friends or relatives will get the conversation rolling.
2. Switch to a more vegetable-based diet
You can become a Flexitarian – a diet of mostly plant-based foods but that allows for meat and dairy products in moderation.
A western standard meat-based diet produces 7.2 kgCO2e/day.
A vegetarian diet produces 3.8 kgCO2e/day.
A vegan diet produces 2.9 kgCO2e/day.
Meat production, particularly beef, is a major cause of tropical deforestation. Cutting your meat consumption saves the environment and reduces your carbon emissions. A more vegetable-based diet is also good for you and your family’s health. Meat–especially highly processed meat–has been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and bowel and stomach cancer. Use locally sourced and seasonally appropriate food to reduce carbon air miles and support your local economy. If you’re not already, aim to become vegetarian. Try dairy-free alternatives.
3. Switch to a renewable energy supplier
This is a simple change that may not even cost you anything extra. If we all switched, then energy companies would have to generate more renewable energy to meet demand. Persuade your work, place of worship, local authority, school, and sports club all to switch to renewable energy.
4. Make your home energy efficient
Save energy by making your home as heat efficient as possible. Ensure your home is insulated (roof and walls) to the highest standard. Ensure your windows and doors are fitted properly to avoid drafts. Turn the thermostat down a degree, wash at a lower temperature, reduce the use of home appliances, install a smart meter, and replace halogen bulbs with more energy-efficient LED bulbs. All this energy efficiency will save you money. If your heating system at home needs replacing, make sure at the very least it is replaced with the most efficient gas boiler possible. Better still, invest in ground and air heat exchangers that can produce either heating or cooling (which you will need as the world heats up).
5. Use cars less
Increase your walking, cycling, and use of public transport. This will improve your fitness and your health. If you need a car occasionally, try to hire an electric or hybrid vehicle. If you really need to own a car, choose the smallest and most efficient one possible or, if you can afford it, buy an electric or hybrid car.
6. Reduce flying
Choose an alternative form of travel such as the train – it is less stressful and offers more space and time to work or relax. If you must fly for work, then select only essential trips and ensure you offset the carbon emissions using reputable specialist firms. Alternatively, use the ‘offset’ money to reduce your emissions at home or work. Many organizations have now decided to offset all unavoidable emissions at 10 times the estimated emissions and to closely monitor their chosen offset schemes. This way they can be assured that their emissions have been removed.
7. Divest your pension and investments from fossil fuels
Lobby your pension fund to divest from all fossil fuel investments. Or move your pension fund if they do not divest. Your pension money will be safer and may even earn more if you move it away from fossil fuels and into the green economy.
The fossil fuel industry will be greatly affected by future climate change legislation and will cease to be profitable. Fossil fuel companies will suffer from what is called ‘stranded assets.’ The company’s nominal worth is based on how much fossil fuels they have in their oil and gas fields and in their coal mines. These assets will be worthless when fossil fuel mining and drilling are banned due to climate change. Fossil fuels are a poor long-term investment. Green companies are already returning twice as much profit as fossil fuel companies.
8. Refuse/reject excessive consumption
You do not need all that stuff. Reject the idea that consumption is good for you and that more stuff makes you happier. Think carefully about what you need and how you want to live a sustainable, low-carbon lifestyle. Competing to have the latest gadget, car or clothing just leads to social stress. Not worrying about what everyone else is buying will reduce your social stress and make you healthier and happier. As we found out during the Covid pandemic, it is friends, family, work, and community that make you happy.
9. Reduce and reuse what you can
Encourage everyone you know to reduce what they use. As a consumer, you have significant power. Exercise that power through your choices. Do you need that much packaging on your goods? Do you need fast fashion? Buy clothes that are stylish but will last so that you can reuse them again and again. Do you need plastic bottles or disposable coffee cups? Invest in reusable water bottles and coffee cups. Do you really need a big SUV, car, or truck? Consider public transport or biking. Plan what you eat to reduce food waste in your household. Engage with your local community reuse network–someone local may want to reuse the stuff you no longer need or want. Fix things when they break. Replace your phone battery and/or screen instead of buying a new phone.
10. Protest and vote
People power is real. The School Climate Strikes and the Extinction Rebellion protests have brought together diverse groups of people across the world who all want governments to start taking the protecting of our planet seriously. Protests are having an impact and change is starting to happen. In democratic countries, we are lucky that we can vote for new governments. Demand that your politicians tell you where they stand on dealing with climate change. Demand that they tell you where they are getting their campaign money. Demand change. Demand action. Use your vote wisely.
Mark Maslin has written 10 books, more than 60 articles, and over 170 papers. His latest book, “How to Save our Planet: The Facts,” was published by Penguin in early 2021. Maslin is also the co-founder of Rezatec, a leading global geospatial analytics company.
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