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The Eco Lifestyle Challenge - Brave enough?

 

The science is clear. The world needs to cut its emissions - and urgently.

Humankind has tripled its energy consumption in just the last 50 years. 
We live in a world where many people, particularly in the West, can eat and buy anything they like and where foreign travel is cheap.
But all this has a cost.
Scientists say we need to halve our emissions by 2030 and cut them to zero by 2050. Failure to do so will push warming above 1.5C degrees and beyond. It will mean extreme weather events, major constraints on the world food supply, mass migration and poverty.
These targets can't be achieved without changes to the way we all live.
 
So what is a carbon footprint?
We're talking about the total climate change impact of absolutely everything you do.
It includes everything from what you buy, how you keep warm, what you eat and even how the government spends your taxes.
"Carbon" is being used as shorthand for Carbon Dioxide Equivalent (CO2e) - in other words, all the different greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. 
It's not an exact science but the average UK person has an annual carbon footprint of 13.1 tonnes of CO2e....think about that for a moment!
This compares with America where the average is 23.6, China where the average is 7.7 and Bangladesh where the average is 1.9.

 

 

For most people, the worst emitters are through travel and diet. Particularly if like many busy people today, you take five or six return flights a year and drive around 120 miles a week.

 

So, here's the challenge .........

Could you live an ultra low carbon life for just two weeks to pick up the tips and techniques you need to plan your new low carbon lifestyle?

It won't be easy, but if you're game.....here's how.

To get straight to the point, you need to cut your carbon footprint by around six tonnes.

To do this, you would need to:

- Live a vegan diet

- Buy no air-freighted food

- Waste no food

- Take no flights

- Ditch the petrol car (this one is admittedly tricky, but at least try to reduce the use by half)

- Keep your gas and electricity use to a bare minimum

- Avoid eating out unless the restaurant is low carbon


 

Food

The first thing we can all work on is the food we eat. To bring this under control, there are three key rules...

1 - Radically reduce the amount of meat and dairy in your diet

Here is where a vegan diet (or a least a partial one, 2-3 days a week) really starts to make sense.

Agriculture and land use currently make up 24% of total global emissions - much of this comes from the practices associated with the production of meat and dairy.

There is a clear "league table" in the carbon footprint of protein sources. 

Beef and lamb are the worst - both are ruminant animals which means they burp up methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

In the case of cows, there is also significant deforestation associated with farming them, not least because they are large animals which are too often fed human edible foods.

Below that is pork and chicken, and you might be surprised to learn that farmed fish and crustaceans also have a considerable carbon footprint.

Plant-based sources of protein such as nuts, soy and tofu have a radically smaller impact.

If this is starting to seem a little daunting, then perhaps focus on the fun of experimenting with different types of cooking and simply trying something new. You must admit its boring eating the same meals and shopping for the same things every week, look on it as broadening your horizons.

 

2 - Never buy air freighted food

Sounds obvious doesn't it?

But many people don't really consider it when browsing in the supermarket.

As soon as food has been on a plane it's a carbon disaster and has a huge footprint.

But how can you tell?

As a general rule, if something is durable enough to have survived a boat journey it's almost certainly been shipped, so apples, oranges, bananas, pineapples, melons etc are all fine.

Anything with a thinner skin and a shorter life has probably been on a plane - so asparagus from Peru, grapes from India, tender-stem broccoli from Kenya are all out.

This is actually an incredibly easy change to make - once you're aware it's easy to choose options which are from the UK or at the very least from Europe.

And the good news is that frozen options are absolutely fine.

 

3 - Don't waste food 

It's crucial to eat everything you buy.

Shockingly, the average European household wastes a quarter of all its food.

Cutting waste by half would add 20% to the world food supply.

Be honest, how often do you throw away half eaten food you've left in the fridge? Or food left over from a Birthday, Christmas or similar? 

It would also save you money and reduce your carbon footprint - what's not to love?

Flights

There's no getting round it, flights are a massive emitter and one of the worst things you can do in carbon footprint terms.

The average UK person only takes one return flight every two years - if you fly more than that your footprint is likely to be over the average, no matter how good you are in other parts of your life.

To give it some context, four return flights to Hong Kong emit more CO2e than the average person uses in an entire year.

 

Where possible, try to fly short haul, make your journeys count (maybe go less frequently and for longer) and always fly economy - a business or first class seat takes up more space on the plane and could quadruple the carbon impact.

 

Cars

While on the road electric is clearly greener, but it's important to note that an electric car is not a carbon zero option. 

Not only does the manufacture of an electric car have a large carbon footprint, but much of the electricity used to charge them still comes from fossil fuels.

In fact, a third of the carbon footprint of a standard car comes from its production - the best advice is to avoid replacing your car as long as you can and when you do, go electric or hydrogen fuelled.

 

And, of course, the best low carbon form of transport is still your feet!

Energy

Nationally, household energy use is 16% of the average person's carbon footprint.

There are easy things we can all do to keep our energy bills down: wear a jumper and remember to switch off the lights.

Then there are bigger, more expensive things: invest in proper insulation, get double (or even triple) glazing and replace your gas boiler.

The good news is that changing infrastructure is going to help us with this one.

There's been an explosion in the development of renewable energy and we are gradually weaning ourselves off coal. See our blog on Solar

Recently saw the National Grid run its first two coal-free weeks since the 1880s.

 

Buying Stuff

There's an inherent carbon footprint in anything new that's made.

If the item involves parts from across the world, heavy manufacturing or a complex mass of activity the carbon footprint will be higher.

A new laptop, for example, has roughly the same carbon impact as a return flight from Glasgow to Madrid - and that's before you switch it on.

The advice here, buy fewer things and make them last.

Where possible buy second-hand, embrace DIY, and if you have to buy new, look for something made locally and sustainably. 

 

So, still up for the challenge?

 

It's important to emphasise that you DON'T have to live by the extremes of the 2 week challenge forever.

It is all about proportions, cutting down on the big emitters is fantastic - no one is expected to completely cut out everything immediately.

But we do have to start now and we do have to be ambitious.

The need for change is immediate and urgent.

While we may feel that the actions of just one person are tiny in the global context, societal change relies on individuals leading the way, and while making green choices can be tricky, infrastructure and attitudes are shifting fast and it will get easier.

Plus, as the creators of the industrial revolution, a nation which got rich the dirty way, many argue we also have a moral imperative to take the lead. Yes, the UK Government has pledged the country will be " Carbon Net Zero" by 2050; but let's be honest...if we don't all play our part in that, it's not going to happen.

 

There are simple wins which are achievable for all families, and much of it is about changing our mindsets.

A low carbon life is not a worse life; in fact it is often liberating, healthy, cheap and fulfilling.

And surely a low carbon world is one worth fighting for?

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Co-authored by Helen Anne Smith, 2019