An unusually warm autumn is one of the consequences of global warming. And it is important to remember that the rise in the planet’s temperature will cause irreversible changes in ecology.
We no longer need to ask ourselves whether climate change is happening and whether it is caused by human activity. Instead, we should ask ourselves: ‘What can I do right now?’
It turns out, quite a bit.
- What should humanity do first?
The main goal is to reduce the use of fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and natural gas, and replace them with renewable and environmentally friendly sources of energy, while increasing energy efficiency.
The number one goal is to replace fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy.
The path to this goal involves daily decisions such as reducing car trips and air travel, switching to a “green” energy provider, and making changes in diet and food choices.
It seems that the problem of global warming won’t disappear if a few conscious individuals start buying eco-friendly products or switch to bicycles.
However, many experts agree that such decisions are important—they influence the behavior of our acquaintances, compelling them to change their way of life sooner or later.
- Can I influence changes in production methods and subsidies for industries?
Yes, it is possible. By exercising our rights as citizens and consumers, we can pressure the government and corporations and demand necessary systemic changes.
Another way that universities, religious groups, and lately, at the national level, have begun to actively use is influencing financial institutions.
It involves divesting from fossil fuel producers’ stocks or disregarding banks that invest in industries with high emission levels.
- What else can be changed in our daily lives?
A 2017 study, conducted in collaboration with Associate Professor Kimberly Nicholas, assessed the effectiveness of 148 actions that each individual can take daily.
At the top was the refusal of car trips.
Compared to walking, cycling, or using public transportation, the car significantly pollutes the environment.
According to one ranking, giving up car trips is the most effective measure an individual can take.
In industrialized countries such as the EU, refusing car trips reduces CO2 emissions into the atmosphere by 2.5 tonnes—about a quarter of the average per capita emissions (9.2 tonnes), as stated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
- But aren’t renewable energy sources too expensive?
In reality, renewable energy sources like wind and solar are becoming increasingly cheaper worldwide (although final costs depend on local conditions).
Solar energy is the cheapest source of electricity for many households in Latin America, Asia, and Africa.
In the UK, offshore wind and solar energy are successfully competing with gas and will become the cheapest source of electricity production by 2025.
Some critics argue that these prices do not account for the costs of integrating renewable energy sources into the power system—but recent data indicate that these costs are quite moderate and generally accessible.
- Can I influence the situation by changing my diet?
This is an important factor. In fact, after fossil fuels, the food industry, particularly the meat and dairy sector, is one of the main reasons for climate change. If the large ruminant livestock were a separate country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world after China and the USA.
The meat industry contributes to global warming in three main ways.
Firstly, the belching that occurs in cows during the digestion process releases a lot of methane, which is a greenhouse gas. Secondly, feeding them corn and soy makes the process inefficient.
And finally, they also require a large amount of water and fertilizers, which emit greenhouse gases. They also require lands often obtained by deforestation — another cause of carbon emissions.
Actually, to change the situation, it’s not necessary to immediately become a vegetarian or vegan.
Simply reducing the amount of meat consumption is sufficient.
If animal protein in your diet is reduced by half, you can decrease your “carbon footprint” (activity leading to harmful gas emissions in the atmosphere) by over 40%.
- Do flights really cause such harm?
Planes operate on fossil fuels, and as of yet, there is no effective alternative to this.
Although some attempts to use solar panels for long-haul flights have been successful, discussing commercial flights powered by solar energy is premature.
According to Kimberly Nicholas’s research, a standard transatlantic round trip causes emissions of about 1.6 tons of CO2. This is equivalent to the annual emissions of one person in India.
And it highlights the inequality in the issue of climate change: although a relatively small population flies, and even fewer do so less frequently, everyone will suffer from the ecological consequences.
There are already numerous groups of scientists and public representatives who refuse air travel or at least reduce its frequency. Solutions include virtual conferences and meetings, vacations at local resorts, and traveling by train instead of by plane.
If you want to know to what extent your flights affect climate change, use the calculator developed by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley.
- Does it matter what I buy in stores?
Yes, because almost everything we buy causes emissions of harmful gases either during production or during transportation.
For example, about 3% of global CO2 emissions come from clothing production, mainly due to energy use in manufacturing. Fast-changing fashion and low-quality items contribute to rapid disposal and new purchases.
International goods transportation, by sea or air, also causes harm.
Food shipped from Chile and Australia to Europe, or vice versa, incurs more “food miles” (meaning a longer distance from “farm to table”) and therefore leaves a larger carbon footprint than local produce.
But this isn’t always the case, as the cultivation of off-season vegetables and fruits in energy-intensive greenhouses also causes atmospheric emissions.
The best option is seasonal food grown nearby. Although vegetarian dieting still prevails in terms of eco-friendliness.
- Does the number of children in my family matter?
Kimberly Nicholas’s research showed that fewer children in a family contribute to lower emissions, reducing them by almost 60 tons per year. But this is a rather controversial conclusion.
On the one hand, are you responsible for the climate changes your children’s lives will bring, on the other hand, the place of children’s birth plays a significant role.
If we are responsible for the ecological impact of our children, then do our parents bear responsibility for our actions? And what about every individual’s right to have children?
Perhaps the question should not be about the number of children but about raising the next generation as conscious and responsible individuals capable of solving environmental problems.
These are complex, philosophical questions, and we will not attempt to answer them here.
- Alright, I eat less meat and fly less, but others aren’t going to do the same. So what difference does it make?
Sociologists have found that when one person chooses a more ecological lifestyle, others tend to follow their example.
This is evidenced by the conclusions of four studies:
Customers in an American café, told that 30% of Americans have started eating less meat, were twice as likely to order a vegetarian lunch.
In an online survey, half of the respondents said they started flying less after someone they knew gave up air travel due to climate change.
Residents in California were more likely to install solar panels if their neighbors had them.
Active community members found it easier to persuade people to install solar panels if they had them in their homes.
Sociologists explain this by stating that we constantly compare our lifestyle with the actions of those around us and form our coordinates based on them.
- What if I can’t reduce the number of flights or give up my car?
If you can’t change your lifestyle, an option might be to contribute to a reliable ecological project.
This doesn’t mean that you’re absolving yourself of responsibility but provides you with another way to compensate for the negative consequences of your actions on the planet.
The UN Climate Convention’s website provides information on dozens of such projects worldwide. To figure out how much emissions you need to compensate for, use their convenient calculator.
No matter who you are, whether a farmer on a coffee plantation in Colombia or a homeowner in California, climate changes will impact your life.
But it’s also true that your actions will affect the planet in the coming decades, for better or for worse. The decision is yours!