Help slow climate change: 6 things you can do right now
If you were unsettled by the frightening revelations from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – it’s understandable.
Warning of a “code red for humanity”, the report shows that our planet is the warmest it has been for 125,000 years and seas are rising faster than at any point over the past 3,000 years.
The alarming report may have also left you feeling despondent. After all, how much difference can individuals really make, compared to the actions of governments and large corporations?
But, actually there are things we can all do to help slow climate change and taking positive steps will not only be good for the planet, but will also help you feel less helpless.
Read more: How green is your trolley? Why shoppers have gone eco
Of the findings, David Symons, UK director of sustainability at WSP, the world’s largest environmental consultancy, says: “Things will sadly get worse before they get better, as extreme climate events such as floods, heatwaves and wildfires are already baked in for the coming years, even if we take exceptional action.
“The report sets out a bleak picture but also offers hope that we still have the time to act.”
Indeed, there’s much that you can individually do – from how you shop to what you cook – that will help. Here’s our top six...
1. Write to your MP
This is one way to use your voice to effect change on a larger scale, according to the climate change experts at Imperial. You can find out who your MP is and how to contact them on the UK Parliament website.
Not sure what to write? You can find a good template at Hope for the Future.
2. Change your eating habits
The contents of our plates have a huge impact on the environment, with the current global food and agriculture system driving much climate change.
Dr Shireen Kassam, environmentalist and founder of Plant Based Health Professionals UK, notes that meat and dairy production uses 83% of farmland and produces 60% of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.
By adopting a plant-based diet – filled with plenty of fruit, vegetables, grains, pulses and legumes – you’ll be doing your bit to help significantly.
Dr Kassam explains: “It could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 56% and other environmental impacts of the food system by 6 to 22%, whilst at the same time improving the nutritional quality of our diet.”
Reducing your food waste is also important, because this will help conserve energy and resources used on growing crops, manufacturing, transportation and selling of food.
An estimated 250,000 tonnes of the food that goes to waste every year in the UK is still edible, points out Dr Kassam – enough for 650 million meals.
3. Make tweaks at home
We’ve been spending a lot more time staying put of late – so it makes sense to also turn our attention to how to be climate-friendly within our four walls.
Professor Stephanie Henson, principal scientist in marine biogeochemistry at the National Oceanography Centre, warns that our houses can be “hotbeds for wasted energy”.
In order to counteract this, she recommends: “Enlist simple actions like turning down your heating by a couple of degrees, switching off the lights when you leave a room and closing doors to avoid draughts.
“As a bonus, as well as cutting your carbon footprint, your gas and electricity bills will be lower."
4. Alter travel plans
We’ve long known hopping on a plane wasn’t the best for the planet.
But how to get around more sustainably? Nimisha Brahmbhatt, founder of Quantum Global Consultants who focus on helping businesses become more sustainable, says that one good thing to come from the pandemic was the rise in staycations.
She says: “With travel one of the biggest contributors to carbon footprint, continuing to consciously choose to reduce frequency of trips to warmer climes and ski resorts, in favour of continuing to appreciate what the UK has to offer, will help hugely.”
And don’t forget about your car.
“More and more car companies are offering attractive electric options, and in the long run you will save money on petrol and fees for low emission zones,” says Brahmbhatt
“If you can’t go electric, go hybrid and reduce your petrol consumption.
5. Get gardening
Talking of travelling, while eating more plant-based is a good idea, the air miles of avocados from Central America and strawberries in December can really add up.
As well as eating in-season and avoiding buying produce that has travelled from another country, Brahmbhatt recommends growing your own fruit and vegetables if you can.
She says: “Even if you don't have a garden, window boxes can be a great way to grow herbs or small fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, carrots or radishes. Another option if you don’t have access to a garden is to gain access to an allotment.
“I am looking forward to a big harvest this autumn of squashes, courgettes, broccoli and kale.”
Nurturing a garden will also help the environment in other ways, by creating a more welcoming space for nature.
“Whilst a sterile lawn worthy of Wimbledon looks great, it lacks biodiversity which is required to sustain plant and animal life," Brahmbhatt explains.
“In the past few decades we have seen a large decrease in space for wildlife. Simple acts that can make our gardens more wildlife-friendly include, planting more bee friendly flowers.
“Also consider installing a pond to support more dragonflies, having a couple of bird boxes in trees and allowing some weeds to grow.”
6. Consume consciously
A whopping 40% of our individual carbon footprints can be attributed to the products and services that we use, reveals Eva Gladek, chief sustainability officer at Dayrize, a company that assesses how eco-friendly certain items are.
Of how we can do our bit when it comes to shopping, she says: “If you don’t really need something, don’t buy it. When you do buy something, look for quality. Think twice about whether you really like that colour. Think about how often you’re really going to use it.
“Read the reviews! Will this thing break apart after a couple of uses? It’s also ok to spend a bit more if you use something for longer, so enjoy splurging once in a while.”
What you do with new purchases years on is also crucial too. Gladek says: “The production of new stuff consumes vast amounts of planetary resources, so make sure you extend the life of items you already possess.
“And if you fall out of love with something, give it a second life by passing it on to someone else.”