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Here’s what anyone can do to reduce their carbon footprint

The climate crisis can feel overwhelming – but there are plenty of things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint.

There’s little doubt that climate change is one of the biggest threats that humanity faces today.

From wildfires to flooding and rising sea levels, the evidence of a warming planet has become difficult to ignore, and scientists have warned that there’s a limited window for us to fix the problem.

In the face of all this disaster, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and want to stick our heads in the sand. 

Yet all is not lost. While organisations like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have warned that the risks are very high, they’ve also repeatedly said that we still have time to stop the very worst impacts of climate change.

Fixing this crisis will require change from all levels of society, not least governments as well as large corporations, who are responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions. 

What that doesn’t mean, however, is that individuals have no responsibility for doing their bit. Average consumption levels in western parts of the globe are unsustainable, and behaviour change will have to take place alongside larger, structural changes.

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The good news is, you as an individual have the power to influence both your own behaviour and the behaviour of others through collective action. 

If you’re keen to get started, and want to help fix climate change in whatever way you can, we’ve put together a complete guide.

While this guide offers steps you can take to reduce your own impact, it also acknowledges that the most effective action will be collective, and gives tips on spreading your impact beyond individual actions. 

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Bringing down your carbon footprint 

In richer western countries, consumption habits are contributing to climate change on a disproportionate scale.

This is because a number of everyday activities carried out by middle and high-income populations are very carbon intensive.

This includes driving, flying regularly and eating high levels of meat and dairy. 

If you want to act on climate change but don’t know where to start, looking at your own impact can be helpful.

You can do this by calculating a rough estimate of your carbon footprint, which represents the impact your lifestyle has on the planet.

You can do this using a carbon footprint calculator like the one made by the Cambridge Carbon Footprint charity.

The calculator can show you how many tonnes of carbon you rely on per year, as well as suggesting practical steps you can take to reduce your impact.

Alana Sinclair, a manager at CCF, told the Big Issue: “If you’d like to reduce your carbon emissions then calculating your carbon footprint is a good place to start.

“It can help you better understand where your emissions are coming from, and where you might be able to make a change.”

Of course, changing your individual habits is unlikely to have a major impact on climate change.

However, making changes in your own life can help reduce feelings of eco-anxiety, as well as allowing you to take the first steps towards bigger and more impactful actions.

Changing your own behaviour may also have an impact on the people around you. If enough people decide to change their behaviour, this may lead to bigger, more structural changes.

The rise of plant-based foods is one example of this, where a wide-scale change in dietary habits led to companies offering a greater range of climate-friendly foods. 

Household energy consumption

Thanks to our leaky housing stock, a huge amount of the UK’s carbon output comes from our housing.

This is because our homes can’t stay warm for long, and require more energy to heat. Most people’s homes are fitted with boilers that rely on fossil fuels, making this an unsustainable situation. 

Of course, the easiest way to reduce your energy consumption at home is to simply use less – whether that’s by only heating the rooms that you’re using, or closing curtains to keep warmth in.

Yet we all need to use energy, and cutting usage sometimes isn’t possible. As such, if you have the means, you should explore making your home more energy efficient with insulation and a renewable heating system.

The government currently has a grant available to homeowners who wish to make these changes. 

If you live in social housing, you may be eligible for funding to have your home insulated. 

Some people may not have the means to insulate their homes. In this instance, you could try switching to a renewable energy supplier like Good Energy to ensure that the energy you do use is sustainably sourced.

Aside from heating, you should keep an eye on how much water you use at home. This will both keep your bills down by also avoiding damaging environmental impacts. 

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How shopping can impact your carbon footprint

Worldwide, the items we buy contribute around 30 per cent to global greenhouse gas emissions.

This means that being considerate about what you buy, and where from, can help to reduce your impact on the environment.

Generally speaking, simply purchasing less is the best way to reduce your carbon footprint.

You could also buy second-hand, which avoids a new item being produced and generating more carbon emissions.

Learning how to mend and make things can be a massive help as well because items can be repaired rather than replaced. 

If you do prefer to buy things brand new, there are ways you can use your money in sustainable ways. Outlets such as the Big Issue Shop only stock items made by retailers with an ethical or environmental impact, meaning you can shop guilt-free.

Reducing the carbon footprint of the food we eat

A study conducted by Oxford University in 2020 estimated that practicing a vegan diet could be the single most effective way of reducing individual impact on the environment, reducing a person’s carbon footprint by up to 73 per cent. 

Animal agriculture is an enormous contributor to global emissions due to the amount of methane animals release during digestion. 

Going vegan is a great way to reduce your impact on the planet, though this isn’t always accessible or feasible for everyone.

If so, simply cutting down on meat and dairy can have a hugely positive impact on the planet. 

One way you can also reduce your carbon footprint is by wasting less food and disposing of food waste properly. 

In Landfill, food scraps are broken down by bacteria to produce methane. Love Food Hate Waste figures show the UK discards almost one million tonnes of milk, bread and potatoes every year, the equivalent of a million kilos. 

The carbon footprint of travel 

Travel is another large contributor to global carbon emissions, with aviation and diesel and petrol cars particularly bad for the environment.

In England, 60 per cent of short distances of one or two miles are made by motor vehicle

The UK Government recently announced a £175 million fund for local authorities to be used for long term cycling and walking schemes but despite this push, only around a quarter of current journeys are made by foot. 

As such, re-thinking what journeys you take by car is one way to reduce your carbon footprint. You could consider walking or cycling, or even car-pooling with others to lower your impact. 

Flying also has a large environmental impact – so before you fly, you should think about whether the journey is necessary, and whether it could be taken by train. 

The majority of emissions generated by flights come from frequent fliers, meaning a frequent flyer levy would be one way to tackle emissions from aviation.

As well as reducing your own flights, you could write to your MP or join a campaign group to lobby for this kind of tax. 

Spreading your impact 

Of course, individual actions can only go so far to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.

Experts agree that one of the most important things we can do to consider our impact on the environment is to talk to each other.

Many people are not aware of the damage our actions can have on the environment, and the knock-on effect this has on our health due to things like air pollution. 

Making as many people as possible aware of the crisis we’re facing will be key to tackling the emergency.

Beyond awareness, joining a local campaign group or writing to your MP about environmental issues is an effective way to help reduce overall carbon emissions, rather than only focusing on your impact. 

There are dozens of local campaign groups to choose from. The best way to get started is to pick an issue you really care about and focus your efforts there.

For instance, if you’re het up about river pollution, try joining your local river campaign group. If you’re not sure exactly which issue to focus on, you may have the most success going to large environmental organisations like Friends of the Earth which usually have local branches you can join.

Public pressure can be hugely effective in forcing politicians and governments to act on climate change where they might otherwise be too slow.

What progress are we making in reducing our carbon footprints? 

In April 2021, research conducted by WWF, the environmental organisation, found Covid-19 played a large part in reducing carbon footprints mainly due to a decrease in flights. 

But, in welcome news, they found that the average carbon footprint per person had decreased across all areas of lifestyle, which indicates an appetite for more sustainable living.  

They found a 17 per cent reduction in the average person’s carbon footprint from 15 months of data between February 2019 and October 2020 as Brits led more eco-friendly lifestyles

There was almost a doubling in the numbers of people switching to 100 per cent renewable energy tariffs and a 25 per cent increase in people adopting plant-based diets and turning vegetarian or vegan. 

While travel habits have largely returned to normal, there has been a large shift towards sustainable diets, and climate assemblies and surveys have consistently shown the public have an appetite for sustainability.

Many surveys show that members of the public would be willing to change their own habits and see legislation introduced to tax things like flying in order to tackle the climate emergency.

This puts the public’s attitudes ahead of the government, who have traditionally been reluctant to introduce measures like frequent flyer levies and taxes on meat. 

The Big Issue’s Today for Tomorrow campaign aims to tackle the climate crisis, poverty and pandemics with the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill. Support the Bill by emailing your MP today:bigissue.com/today-for-tomorrow/

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