Solving climate change is a huge international challenge. Only a concerted global effort, involving the governments of all nations, will be enough to avert dangerous consequences. But that said, the individual actions of everyday people are still crucial. Large and complex issues, like climate change, are usually best tackled by breaking down the problem into manageable bits.
For carbon emissions, this means reducing the CO2 contribution of each and every one of the six and a half billion people on the planet. But what can you, as an individual person or family, do that will most make a difference to the big picture? Here are my top ten action items, which are both simple to achieve and have a real effect. They are ranked by how much impact they make to ‘kicking the CO2 habit’.
1. Make climate-conscious political decisions. Some commentators said that the 2007 Australian Federal election was the first to be strongly influenced by the stance made by competing political parties on climate change. Regardless of how true this may be, it is obvious that the strong and urgent action needed to combat climate change will require a healthy dose of political will, and the courage to make tough choices. This willpower comes from voters, who consistently demand real action and can see through ‘greenwashing’ (pretend ‘solutions’ and half-measures that do not do the job). Climate change should be a totally non-partisan issue since it affects all people and all countries. If climate change is not perceived by both sides of politics as a ‘core issue’, it will inevitably be marginalised by apparently more immediate concerns. So assess policies clearly, and make your vote count towards real climate solutions – each and every election. This is the only way a global solution can be put in place, in time.
2. Eat less red meat. Traditional red meat comes from ruminant livestock such as cattle and sheep. These animals produce large amounts of methane, which is a greenhouse gas that packs 72 times the punch of CO2 over a 20 year period. Other types of meat, such as chicken, pork or kangaroo, produce far less emissions. At average levels of consumption, a family’s emissions from beef would easily outweigh the construction and running costs of a large 4WD vehicle, in less than 5 years. There is no need to cut out red meat entirely, but fewer steaks and snags mean far less CO2.
3. Purchase “green electricity“. The future of energy clearly likes in renewable sources such as solar, wind and wave power and ‘hot rocks’. Even without climate change, there are limits to available oil, natural gas and coal. ‘Green power’ is electricity that comes from these technologies, but is delivered to you in the same way as ‘dirty power’ from fossil-fuel burning. That is, down your power lines. You can buy enough to replace your entire energy usage, or some fraction (I recommend going for 100%; the cost is a few more cents per kilowatt hour of electricity). Most energy suppliers now offer this service and will purchase energy from green sources that is equivalent to what you use. As more people take up this scheme, it will drive ever greater investment in these technologies, reduce cost of delivery, and so further hasten the pace of update. It’s a feedback, and you can be the catalyst of change. [Note some problems with GreenPower here]
4. Make your home and household energy efficient. We all unthinkingly leave lights on when we are not in the room, or switch off the TV by the remote instead of at the wall, fire up the heater on when we could put on an extra layer of clothing, or turn on the air conditioner when we could open the window and turn on a fan. It’s force of habit – a bad habit we can break, with just a little thought. Behaviour change lies at the heart of most individual actions on reducing our individual carbon footprint. By being sensible about your use household energy use, and making sure your house is well insulated, you can make a huge dent in your CO2 emissions. Oh, and it will save you plenty money that you no longer spend on wasted energy, year in, year out.
5. Buy energy and water efficient appliances. Aside from behavioural change, we can invest in more sensible technologies that help us in our day to day lives. When buying new electronic appliances, air conditioners or washing machines, look at their energy and water usage. The more energy efficient they are, the more they’ll save you in the long run, and the lower their CO2 impact will be. In most cases the ‘payback period’ – the difference between the initial cost of a high versus low efficiency appliance and the long-term savings in lower electricity and water bills, is only a matter of a few months to a few years. After that, you are laughing all the way to the bank, and doing something meaningful to combat climate change at the same time.
6. Walk, cycle or take public transport. Cars are not only a slow way to get to work when you’re faced with a city gridlock – they are also a huge user of oil (which is running out globally) and cost the tax payer heft amounts in road building and maintenance. Getting people from A to B using trains, buses, bikes and on foot is much more greenhouse friendly, and often considerably cheaper. The main problem right now with public transport is that because not enough people use it, there is not enough investment by government to improve the quality of service and capacity to support large volumes of commuters. It might seem like a Catch-22, but some cities have solved the dilemma and now move most of their people about on public transport. So start patronising your public transport network, and push governments at all levels for some decent bicycle and walking trails instead of building more and more roads for cars and worrying incessantly about fuel costs. The transition to a new transport system has to start with each and every one of us.
7. Recycle, re-use and avoid useless purchases. We throw too much away and still re-cycle too little of what we must discard. Large amounts of energy and water go into producing endless amounts of ‘stuff’, much of which we don’t really need or end up using. So be sure to use your local recycling service, for plastics, metals and paper. Try to get appliances and tools fixed rather than replaced – the carbon footprint of fixing things is far lower than making them from scratch. Avoid the temptation to buy useless trinkets and knick-knacks, just because it feels good to accumulate things. There are limits to everything, including, most importantly, the ability of the planet to supply people with an ever burgeoning supply of raw materials. Think sustainability.
8. Telecommute and teleconference. Do you really need to fight your way through traffic each and every day, just to sit at your office desk and work on your computer? Do you need to fly to a business meeting in another capital city in order to talk to your colleagues? Or can you think inventively and make best use of the benefits of the Internet to do some of this remotely? Telecommuting can be an effective way of doing ‘paperwork’ in your home office and more and more employers are seeing the benefits of this and embracing the concept. Teleconferences mean less wasted aeroplane trips, which create a huge CO2 burden. It can’t always be done, but even a few less trips, here and there, add up to make a big difference. As with the other 10 points, it is about making smart and informed choices when you have options.
9. Buy local produce. Food miles are now firmly part of the new carbon lingo. This is a way of expressing how far an item of food has travelled before it reaches your dinner table, and therefore how much CO2 has been emitted during freighting. A better concept is probably ‘embodied energy’, which takes account of all the carbon, water and energy that goes into producing any food or manufactured item. Either way, a good rule of thumb is that if you buy something that has been produced locally, it will usually have a lower CO2 tag attached to it. Your local fresh food market is a good place to start for your food shopping. Buying Australian-made manufactured and food products is another carbon-friendly option. Both will make a difference to your climate change impact, and help the local economy. Another win-win choice.
10. Offset what you can’t save. Avoiding the release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, in the ways described above, is by far the best and most direct way or reducing our climate change impact. Yet some emissions are unavoidable. For those, offsetting is a worthwhile option. This is done by purchasing ‘carbon credits’ from accredited companies which offer this service, who will then invest those dollars in (for instance) renewable energy projects or planting trees. Carbon offsets should definitely not be seen as the solution, or as a relatively pain-free way to expel your carbon guilt. There is nowhere near enough offsetting potential in the world for this to be an option for most of the world’s population. But in conjunction with other methods of kicking the CO2 habit, offsets can help make a difference and allow you to pay a small penance.
31 replies on “Top 10 ways to reduce your CO2 emissions footprint”
If somebody could give me a good argument why the aluminium smelters should have their electricity subsidised by retail consumers I might be tempted to buy green energy.
When the smelters are forced to pay a more realistic price for their energy I might think about it.
No argument with any of the other strategies suggested for helping get emissions down.
Most discussions about efficiency revolve around fairly small percentages. For example chicken farmers add enzymes to chicken
feed to increase the energy extracted by chickens by a percent or
two. Likewise people are told to keep their tires inflated to the
correct pressure to save a few percent of fuel.
The greenhouse warming difference between animal and plant foods
are measured in factors rather than percents. The paper that
Barry and I did in Australasian science last year
estimates beef creates 317 times more warming than wheat, with
pig meat coming in at 30 times more warming and chicken at about
4 times more warming.
What about protein? Nobody will change their diet if it puts their
health at risk. The recent Eureka prize awarded to Prof. Stephen Simpson has fuelled the idea that low protein diets cause obesity.
His work is supposed to have “revolutionised our understanding of
obesity”. The European Prospective Investigation of Cancer has
huge cohorts totalling 500,000 people in various countries.
The “health conscious” cohort (about 66,000 people in the
UK) consumes the lowest protein percent of any of the
cohorts (pers. comm with researchers, publication soon, the rest
of this paragraph is published data), has the lowest rate of
about half the rate of mortality from all major diseases as the UK average. Its meat eaters consume an average of about 20g per day of meat including about 7g of red meat (women even less).
Its vegetarians consume no meat. Most of its members (80%) eat no fish and about half the dairy products of the normal UK population.
One of my pet peeves about washing machines is that if you want one that is both carbon and water efficient and not rough on clothes then there is no such washing machine available in Australia. The problem with all front-loading washing machines available is that they don’t allow you to use significant amounts of externally-heated water for a warm wash or even allow a normal cold wash. They use electricity to heat up cold water after the clothes are wet. So if you have gas or solar-heated hot water available then you can use little, if any, of this hot water in these washing machines. The washing machine companies make the excuse that if they let you put hot water onto the clothes then it might set stains in them. And being paternalistic they don’t want to allow us to have the choice.
Until the washing machine companies improve this situation and give people a choice, there is still a long way to go in reducing carbon emissions.
BTW, I made my own smart-arse solution to this problem by feeding my hot and cold water hoses into a tee-junction and taking the output to the cold-water inlet of my washing machine. I turn on the hot water (40 degrees C max) for the washing machine to use at the beginning of the wash and then switch to cold water before the rinse starts. I then turn it back to hot water after the machine finishes, ready for the next wash.
BTW2, I suspect that if everyone in Australia turned their hot water supply down to 40 degrees C, there would be a significant reduction in Australia’s CO2 emissions (along with a significant saving in energy cost).
40*C – yes the savings associated with our population being wiped out from water borne diseases would certainly put a dent in greenhouse emissions that is for sure.
My front loader (LG) takes cold inputs for a normal cold wash. They do exist.
We have a Bosch front loader which is pretty good too. However I would give a qualified agreement with your comment on washign machines – I don’t know if there is one that meets your requirements and is reasonably priced. You seem to pay more for being green in many respects, not all of which appear justified by the resources requird for the product.
I’d also like to clarify 9 – buy local. While I agree with the food miles principle, transport modes vary greatly by their oil usage. Sea and rail freight use less than a tenth of the oil per tonne-km that trucks use. Thus produce shipped from NZ may have created less emissions than something trucked from remote parts of NSW or QLD.
Not many people sterilize their cold water supply so I wouldn’t expect that’s the purpose of having really hot water. And it’s pretty difficult for micro-organisms to multiply unless they have a food source which city water supplies normally don’t provide. If you’re really worried you could avoid drinking the hot water.
It cuts down the choice a little but in any case, if you want a wash temperature any higher than the cold inlet then you’re stuck with electric heating of the cold inlet water.
The 10 kg Bosch front loader that I know of only has a cold water inlet and although it is very efficient with water and thus as efficient as it could be while electrically heating the water, it is nowhere near as carbon efficient as it could be if you could feed it hot water from a low-carbon-emitting source.
My front loader would be half full of cold water before anything hot came out of the tap anyway.
I’d have thought most who cared would just do cold washes all the time and use a cold eco friendly powder regardless. The rare occasion you’d actually need to use hot water would amount to such a tiny amount of CO2 I just don’t see it as a core enough issue to worry about on this blog.
I’ve got two kids under 3 and use cloth nappies and don;t even use hot washes on them!
Can I direct you to http://www.concerneedcitizensofwashingmachinedesign.com/blog
Sounds like your supply pipe is so long you’re better off not using a hot water system at all. For any hot water needs you have you’d be better off just using the kettle.
Perhaps not so great with a water temperature of 10 degrees.
Move somewhere warmer? ;)
Was that set up in response to http://www.wewontgiveyoucontrolofyourwashingmachinesogetlost.com/blog ?
I think there’s a lot of potential for using ventilation to minimize the need for air-conditioning in places with varying temperatures like Melbourne. Melbourne often has hot days and substantially lower temperatures at night so the logical thing to do is to turn-up the ventilation when the temperature is low at night and then close-off the house when it’s hot during the day. I’ve found that to do this most effectively requires exhaust fans of much greater capacity than the usual ceiling exhaust fans and sometimes requires running fans all night. I’d guess that very few people organize ventilation to this degree. It’s interesting that sometimes in Melbourne, the best strategy is to ventilate the house at night so that it’s quite cool in the morning to avoid becoming too hot in the late afternoon, e.g. if the minimum and maximum forecasts are 15 degrees and 35 degrees.
Solar hot water
Those were the biggest two immediate payback carbon saving changes on a chart I saw recently.
> turn-up the ventilation when the temperature is low at night and then close-off the house when it’s hot during the day.
I grew up with that tactic in the US South and it worked fine there before air conditioning was common. Works well.
“Whole house fan” is the term we used.
We now accomplish something similar by just forcing air through our attic space on hot days with a simple little computer box fan, the kind in most desktop PCs of a certain age, and it works surprisingly well. That’s basically a way of faking what we need to accomplish next time we replace the roof by putting in proper eave and peak vents so the hot air goes away by convection.
I recon someone should make a reservior that you can burry in you driveway. it should hold your suridge for a sufficient period that it collects methane gas, then the effluent continues to suridge, and the gas is stripped of its sulphur dioxide then pumped into the home for stove and heating.
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We have an ‘Ariston’ front loader (10 years old) which has hot and cold inlet pipes. I just turn up the temperature to 55 degrees c on my ‘instant gas water heater’ when I need to do a hot wash. Then, once the machine has filled with hot water, turn off the hot tap and turn on the cold tap for the rinses. Some wash loads come cleaner with a hot wash. My washing machine water is run out onto our front lawn and it is surviving quite well.
hey this is a superb way i think so by not only planting trees but making more use of these planted trees wold be better, see friends if we can make the trees release oxygen at night and absorb carbon dioxide it would be more better as it happens in day. we can provide artificial light to it as green or red as it has the highest wavelength the process would be more better and the oxygen demand would also be met what do you think?????????
i liked this very much.it is effiecient.
Very good ways but sadly most of em can not be adopted in developing countries like Pakistan…
If we didn’t eat the beef and pork products wouldn’t that mean there would be more greenhouse gases emitted or do these animals release more greenhouse gases when they are dead.
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These are very silly ideas, when we can look at the United States at night and see the country lit up from all the natural gas flaring! What good is it to worry about your small individual contribution when political action to stop China’s coal based energy production and the USA waste of natural resources overwhelms it all?
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Reblogged this on Elizabeth Pena.
Nobody has mentioned the real polluters. How about the huge ships burning 850 tons of crude oil/day? These are increasing in number 10% /year. How about the producing of cement? The dirty coal burnt by Chinese power stations? Increasing at rate of !/week.
American Military? nobody is allowed to mention that and how much it pollutes. Cars, steak, washing machines, are nothing in comparison. I say go have a party and enjoy this stuff whilst you can. The heat is going and there is nothing going to be done about it.
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