Welcome, welcome. In this article, I do wish to get a little bit serious, but I’m going to do my best to keep it fairly lighthearted so that I refrain from scaring you away. At the very least, my intention is to give you some actionable food for thought.
The original title I had penned for this article was ‘What can we - as consumers and citizens - do to help fix the environment?’ Ultimately, I felt that declaring a climate emergency at a personal level may be the umbrella that all of the answers to that question fell under. Let me explain why.
As you may have seen in the news, some well-known organisations have come out publicly and declared a ‘Climate Emergency’. One of these declarations was from a large alliance of 11,000 scientists who went one step further than an announcement and instead provided an in-depth accompanying report called “World Scientists' Warning of a Climate Emergency.” Prior to that, Bristol City Council had been the first organisation in Europe to declare a climate emergency and they were soon joined by global figures such as Pope Francis, Canada, the UK Parliament, France, Argentina and many more.
If major powers can declare a climate emergency, so can you.
What I plan to argue for in this article is that you can hold yourself accountable as a consumer and a citizen of your country, and (to borrow a leaf from JFK’s book) ask not what your planet can do for you, but what you can do for your planet.
Declaring a personal climate emergency
The top scientists in the world have all agreed that time is running out, so if you are willing to act fast and make some changes to your life by way of your contribution, here’s what you can ask of yourself (and what we will explore together).
The power of I
But, I’m just me?
As Yoko Ono once said, ‘Remember, each one of us has the power to change the world. Just start thinking peace, and the message will spread quicker than you think.’ Now, I’m not sure that Yoko was talking about carbon offsetting when she said that, but I’m going to apply it to this cause.
Your effect on this planet in an environmental sense is called a ‘carbon footprint’ and using advanced, but easy-to-fill calculators online, you can find out how large or small your carbon footprint is. Here’s a very good one.
Now let’s imagine you’ve got your carbon footprint figure in front of you. What can you do with it? Well, the first thing you can do, before working to reduce it, is to offset it right now so that you can then go about working towards carbon neutrality (balancing your emissions). Offsetting is the most cost-effective and economical way of combating greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, but it’s not the ultimate solution. Individuals, governments, businesses, and more, must reduce emissions as a collective and only use offsetting for the carbon footprint that goes beyond our necessary minimum.
For some actions to take to reduce your carbon footprint, see the section ‘The Easy Wins and Hard-Fought Victories of Lifestyle Change’.
Recycle, Reuse, Reduction, Refurbish, Repurpose
Is your relationship with resources and consumption sustainable?
We are all guilty at times of buying things we don’t need. We’re also guilty sometimes of buying more than we need, especially with food. A weak relationship with resources has kickstarted major movements to recycle, reuse, reduce, refurbish, and repurpose our ‘waste’. The first and the best thing you can do is to stop seeing your rubbish as a type of waste and instead start seeing it as a type of resource.
- Carry a reusable shopping bag and refuse plastic bags
- Say no to straws
- Borrow something instead of buying it - embrace the sharing economy
- Look for options to refill
- Find digital alternatives to paper ‘solutions’
- Fix and maintain things instead of throwing them away and purchasing new
- Extend the life-cycle of an item by donating it
- Review your waste habits and try to be as ‘zero waste’ as possible
- What looks like waste could actually be used for your garden, home decor, or arts and crafts, so refresh your perspective
The Easy Wins and the Hard-Fought Victories of Lifestyle Change
Some of the changes you will make will be simple, for example, switching to bars of soap instead of plastic bottles of soap will not be hard to do. Switching from aluminium coffee capsules to home-compostable alternatives can be done right away. Starting with the easiest changes can help you build momentum for the hard-fought victories later in your environment-fixing journey.
Easy to do:
- Hang your washing instead of using a tumble dryer
- Turn your central heating down 1%
- Only fill your kettle with the water you need
- Shower quicker and take fewer baths
- Turn off or unplug instead of leaving on standby
- Improve your home’s insulation
- Upgrade to energy-efficient appliances
- Switch to LED lightbulbs
Want to start with the big changes? Environmental journalist Justin Rowlatt advocates for ripping the plaster off...
Harder to do:
- Cut down on your non-renewable energy sources - install solar panels if you can (they can be costly, or you might struggle for permission in an apartment block)
- Change the way you travel to work - driving alone in your car is highly-inefficient for your carbon emissions. Take the tram, train, bus, underground, or even better, walk or cycle. At the very least, try to carpool and share your emissions.
- Use your votes wisely - voting in local and national elections for parties and individuals with an environmentally-focused agenda can make a huge difference to the habitable planet. Parties that support fracking and fossil fuels are not going help prepare us for the future.
- Eat more plants and less meat...
Is my Diet Making the Planet Die?
I’m not going to sit here and preach to you. I eat meat, I love seafood, and you would have to be a master hypnotist to get me to cut out ice cream from my diet. However, I’ve made changes based on solid information I received and I approached vegan and vegetarian friends, as well as nutritionists in my circle to redesign my diet to help the planet.
Here’s what they told me:
- Cutting out red meat is the biggest way to reduce the carbon footprint of your food
- Foods that require deforestation and aggressive agriculture are damaging the planet especially when 30% of crops are used to feed animals that themselves go on to be major polluters
- Eggs and dairy agriculture release dangerous amounts of methane - sustainable alternatives exist (see this article about sustainable milk)
- Land use in the UK is not as effective as it could be - there’s a lot of it being underutilised. You can try growing your own produce on an allotment.
- Beans and peas can replace your protein consumption from red meat at less than 1/6th of the environmental emission
- Eat seasonally, researching which produce grows locally to you at which time of year
- Be willing to assess everything that you consume, even coffee (which we explored in this article)
Leading Change From the Front
‘He that plants trees loves others beside himself.’
A willingness to get involved in environmental activism is admirable in my books. It doesn’t mean blasting fear-speech through a megaphone on your high street or chaining yourself to a fence in front of a polluting company’s offices. It can be so much simpler. You can get involved in a beach clean, litter picking, take part in an awareness group, spread positive information on social media, educate your family and more.
To become an actual campaigner or activist:
- Utilise every platform you can, from knocking on doors to posting on Instagram
- Develop a clear and relatable story that explains why you are doing what you are doing
- Put pressure on businesses and services to make a change and embrace corporate social responsibility - this has led to companies changing their materials, supply chains, logistics and more
- Embrace social momentum, digital signatures, and the power of the people
- Put pressure on local government officials and MPs to make changes at a local level as a basis for national and global change
- Don’t waste your energy feeding the trolls
- Find existing groups that align with your values and join them
- Put your money where your mouth is and donate to important causes if you are not able to donate your time
Philosophy of the Climate Emergency
The final section of this article does actually look at philosophy because I believe the damage we have done to this planet and the too-little-too-late approach to saving it both warrant a great deal of introspection and retrospection.
If you are keen to think deep and really understand the problem, I recommend these resources:
- UNESCO: The Philosophical and Ethical Issues of Climate Changes
- Keiran Setiya, Professor of Philosophy at MIT asks ‘How can Philosophy Address the Problem of Climate Change?’
- Can existentialism provide a basis or guiding philosophy for tackling climate change in cities?
My final words on the matter
At the start of this article, I wanted to get across the idea that declaring a climate emergency at a personal level is an immediate answer to making a difference and answering ‘What can we, as consumers and citizens, do to help fix the environment’. That question was so loaded, so overbearing, and so thought-provoking that it led me to explore personal power, lifestyle change, activism, diet, philosophy and more. I hope you will agree that nothing in this article is truly out of your reach. You might not have a roof to grow solar panels on, or the money laying around to buy an eco-friendly fridge, but you can make the most of your situation and use your time, energy, money, and freedom of choice and thought to act with more integrity. We all can.
Teaming up with Halo to write this series of content, it was my goal to show their role as an innovator, how they had assessed a problem that was important to them, and that they had committed to providing a solution. They did it at a business level, but ultimately a business is a group of individuals working with a common goal. You, as an individual, share the common goal of everyone on the planet - health, wealth, and happiness. Those things cannot be truly realised on an uninhabitable planet.