You’ve heard it all before. Walk to work. Turn off the lights. Take a reusable coffee cup. Avoid palm oil. Don’t leave the tap running. Take your own bag. Buy organic.
There are a million things you can do in your personal life to reduce your environmental impact, and a million more policies you can support and campaign for. But many of them are pretty hard and take a lot of energy (or money) if you’re not already all over the sustainable living hype. Many others, you’re left wondering how much impact it’ll actually have.
I think it’s a good bet to go for the low hanging fruit. The stuff that has the best Impact Per Effort score.
Sounds reasonable, right? But what IS this low hanging carbon cutting fruit I speak of?
I’ve thought a lot about this, and the three simplest things you can do to fight climate change are:
- Switch to renewables
- Eat less meat
- Get political
Let’s dive in and I’ll explain.
Switch to renewable energy
This blows everything else out of the water in terms of Impact Per Effort. Here’s a fast win you can do right now in less than 10 minutes.
Climate 101: Burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide into the air which is making the climate change via the greenhouse effect. Most of the time the energy in your home is produced by burning fossil fuels. Energy used in people’s homes accounts for 19% of EU greenhouse gas emissions. So it’s pretty major.
You can get renewable energy for your home which is price competitive and no hassle, and it only takes a few minutes to switch. Why wouldn’t you? I think people assume it’ll be more expensive to get renewable energy but that just isn’t the case anymore. I recently switched from EDF to Ecotricity and my monthly bill just went from £67 down to £64. It took me 10 minutes. Seriously!
Here’s what to do:
- Go to www.ecotricity.co.uk
- Click ‘For Your Home’
- Click ‘Switch to Ecotricity’
- Fill in the 4-step form, which asks for your address, your energy usage*, your contact details and your bank details.
- Verify your email
- Tell a friend or post on social media about what you just did (optional: but why not spread the word?)
- When your letter arrives, give them a meter reading (or not) and just start paying your bills like you would with any energy company
* This is optional as the form already inputs the national average for you. But if you live in a flat not a family house then this will be higher than what you actually use. To save money you can look at the back of your most recent energy bill for the kWh usage, times it by 12 or 4 (if it’s monthly or quarterly) and put that into the form.
Honestly, if you only ever do one thing for the climate, do this.
Eat less meat
This one is a harder and slower process, not exactly something you can do in 10 minutes.
But I wanted to include it because meat production has a HUGE impact on the climate, way more than most people realise, and eating “less” of it is a pretty easy goal – unlike giving it up completely (which would obviously be more effective). I mean eating bacon every other day instead of every day is a still a hell of a lot of bacon but it makes a big difference to your carbon footprint.
Climate 101: Intensive farming of animals and their food crops uses a lot of energy (usually from fossil fuels) and land (which in many cases used to be forest). Cows also produce a lot of methane, a potent greenhouse gas which messes up the climate like carbon dioxide. 14-18% of global emissions comes from animal farming – which is even more than the whole world’s carbon-spewing cars, buses, trains and planes. Beef and lamb are by far the most carbon heavy meats.
— WRI Food (@WRIFood) December 1, 2016
— WRI Food (@WRIFood) November 17, 2016
What to do: Cut down on meat gradually by learning to make veggie versions of your favourite meals or choosing veggie options when eating out. If you’re the kind of person that just wants to dive in the deep end, then cool. But most people find it better to ease into change bit by bit, than go from steak-loving carnivore to vegan overnight.
Base your meals around a plant-based protein-rich food like chickpeas, kidney beans, mushrooms, tofu or nuts. Too lazy to cook with wholefoods? Don’t worry. There are hundreds of different brands of ready-cooked sausages, burgers, pies and mince which are vegetarian or vegan. Just make sure you try a few different ones, as the tastes vary a lot.
I definitely recommend the Thug Kitchen blog for delicious and healthy plant-based recipes, which will make you laugh all the way to the kitchen (warning: LOTS of swearing). Vegan Recipe Club is great for a wide range of recipes for all cuisines and also product information and Happy Cow is an unbeatable resource for finding eateries (all over the world) that will provide something more exciting than salad with chips.
Already vegetarian? You could cut down on dairy and eggs, which also have a big climate impact – especially cheese. Plant-based versions of milk, butter, yoghurt and cheese are available in every UK supermarket and most coffee shops. Most recipes that call for eggs don’t actually need them (unless it’s an egg butty, then tough luck!).
Already vegan? You win on this one. Have you changed your energy supplier yet?
This one is also ongoing, but it’s less about what you buy, use and eat and more about what you say, write and do.
Here’s the thing. While our individual lifestyles and consumption is undeniably important, climate change is a global human rights issue which is fundamentally political.
And by that I don’t mean that it’s tied to specific political parties, I mean it’s about power.
There’s only so much we can do by ourselves. We need collective campaigning and policy changes to really build a workable post-carbon world.
Despite its urgency, climate change rarely gets the attention it deserves in the political sphere. To counter this, I think we should all make a conscious effort to bring it up. Whether it’s in casual conversations at work, or drunken political debates with your friends, or in the form of actual campaigning. Here’s some things that I try to do when I can:
- When discussing the economy, public health, energy, farming, animals, refugees, global poverty, cities, architecture, the future, or really anything that’s even remotely related to climate change, bring it up. Make it part of the conversation.
- When there’s an election, read the environmental policies, discuss what the candidates are saying about climate change and keep that in your mind as you decide who to vote for.
- If canvassers or polls ask you about your most important issues, mention climate change
- Sign all the petitions. What’s the worst that can happen? You waste 30 seconds, big deal. Sign them and share them.
- Go to a protest march. Shake some signs and shout about it and make a fuss. It does help – it gets the issue into the media and into people’s conversations.
- Share articles and videos about climate change impacts and solutions on social media. It shows solidarity and makes people think. Sharing positive stories is particularly important to give hope.
- Volunteer with a campaign or non-profit that you admire. Even if it’s not very much, it will help and it will make you feel good. If you have more money than time you could donate instead.
There’s definitely loads more you can do. But these three things are hugely important and impactful, and are relatively simple to do. You can do the first one right now and know you’re achieved something tangible in the fight against climate change. And the other two you can work on gradually.
What about you?
What do you think is the best, most effective or easiest way to fight climate change? Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter at @TheClimateLemon.
Featured image: Windmills are beautiful. Especially with a sunset behind them. Credit: Karsten Würth / Unsplash, Creative Commons).