This post was originally published on 23rd February 2017 and was fully updated and republished on 10th February 2019.
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. Yada yada yada.
It’s a bit overwhelming, right? There are a million things you can do in your personal life to fight climate change and reduce your environmental impact, and a million more policies you can support and campaign for.
But many of them are a bit of a pain to do because they take a lot of effort (or money – or worse, both!) if you’re not already all over the sustainable living hype.
And with a lot of the easy stuff, you’re left wondering how much impact it’ll actually have.
I think it’s a good bet to go for the low hanging fruits. The stuff that has a big impact, and also doesn’t cost you much effort or money.
Sounds reasonable, right? But what IS this low hanging carbon cutting fruit I speak of?
I’ve thought a lot about this, and I think the top three simplest things you can do to fight climate change are:
- Go renewable
- Eat plants
- Use your vote
Let’s dive in and I’ll explain.
NOTE: This post is aimed at newbies who are concerned enough to want to do something, to take their first baby climate action steps. If you’re sitting there reading this as a seasoned eco warrior or a green lifestyle goddess, this post is not for you. By all means please share it with your network or leave a comment with your ideas, but don’t complain these things are too basic or not enough, because it’s meant for beginners!
Okay, now let’s actually dive in and explain each of the three points.
Probably the quickest and simplest way to have a significant positive impact on climate change is to switch your energy provider to renewable energy.
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.
How to fix it: Switch to a renewable energy supplier.
In the UK where I live this is surprisingly easy and affordable. If you have tips on how to navigate this in other countries, please let me know in the comments!
Many people assume that green energy must be more expensive, but that’s an outdated assumption. Actually, renewable energy tariffs are now some of the most competitive in the UK, especially the newer platform-based companies that have sprung up in recent years.
Ecotricity and Good Energy were the pioneers, and now we have loads of newer options like Bulb, and Pure Planet. There are even community owned options in some cities, like Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham. And a lot of the Big Six fossil-fuel based energy companies now offer green tariffs. I would recommend switching to a 100% renewable company if you can, as this will have a bigger impact, and they may well be cheaper.
And when you switch, let your old company know why you’re leaving, to have an even bigger impact! You can just tag them in a tweet or FB post if writing formal emails isn’t your jam. The publicness of this is actually more effective anyway.
How quick and easy it is to switch depends on your company and billing situation. I have done it in literally 10 minutes before. In any case, you can start now!
Use the Big Clean Switch to plug in your details and see which renewable option would be the best deal for you, go to your chosen company’s website and sign up to switch to them.
If you only ever do one thing for the climate, do this!
Cut the meat, eat plants
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 cutting down on meat 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.
How to fix it: Cut down on meat and other animal products and eat more plants.
Cut down on meat gradually by learning to make veggie versions of your favourite meals or choosing plant-based 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 plant-based protein-rich foods like chickpeas, beans, mushrooms, tofu and nuts. Too lazy or busy 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.
If you just want to start with one thing, try just cutting out beef and lamb, as those have the highest environmental impact, by far.
Already vegetarian? You could cut down on dairy, which also has quite a big climate impact. 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?
Use your vote
Yeah I know, voting doesn’t directly cut your personal carbon footprint the way switching to renewable energy or cutting out meat does, but I still think it’s one of the simplest and best ways to fight climate change.
Only a certain amount of emissions are controlled by individual people’s lifestyle choices, a lot of this is about national policies on things like infrastructure, business regulations, taxes, and trade. As well as acting as individuals, we also need systemic change to the way the economy works.
Most people in the UK agree the government should be doing more on climate change, and yet most people don’t actively use their democratic vote to make this happen. That’s a lost opportunity.
About a third of people in the UK don’t vote at all. That’s a massive waste of potential, and it’s enough to swing any election. I understand why people would feel apathetic and left out of the political process, but it’s a self-defeating action – if you don’t vote, the politicians ignore you.
(The two thirds figure isn’t accurate for the UK, it’s more like the US midterms, but the point of the meme still stands. Even less than a third is enough to swing any election).
And the people that do vote, well let’s just say usually they aren’t too informed about climate change and don’t prioritise this issue.
If you’re concerned about the threat of climate change (and you should be) and want to do something, you should definitely make this a central issue when you decide who to vote for.
Look up the climate policies of the candidates and parties. If you Google it and don’t find anything, it’s not a great sign. If you get polled or go to a debate, ask a question about what they plan to do about climate change.
When it comes to election time, I’ll be either writing about which party or candidate has the best climate credentials, or at least I’ll be sharing other people’s analysis on Twitter. Follow @TheClimateLemon and subscribe here for email updates.
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.