While the federal government continues to look for enlightenment in all the wrong places, and lists of heat records being shattered and sea-level rises being charted proliferate, it’s a good time to take a step back from the policy intransigence and focus on what any of us can do here and now.
Here’s The Fifth Estate’s favourite, do-able suggestions gathered from experts around Australia and abroad on how to make a positive difference to your carbon emissions and climate change.
1. Green your commute – Canadian ecology guru David Suzuki lists this as the number one thing anyone can do to reduce their carbon footprint. Figures from the [now axed] federal Department of Climate Change show that in 2010, transport accounted for 15 per cent of Australia’s total emissions, and passenger cars were responsible for half of total transport emissions. Suzuki says to swap driving the car for walking, cycling or public transport, and gain the bonus of health benefits as well as saving money. If your workplace is not reachable by public transport, foot or bike, he says try car pooling, car sharing or if you really, truly must own a car, make it the smallest, most fuel-efficient one possible.
2. Stay grounded – The Nature Conservancy suggests swapping air travel for teleconferencing whenever possible for business meetings. Airplane travel has the highest rate of greenhouse gas emissions per kilometre of any form of transport, so every plane trip swapped for phone or video linkup saves the atmosphere from gaining another major hit of pollution.
3. Make your home more airtight – The Union of Concerned Scientists puts this high up their list of what individuals can do to reduce the collective carbon footprint. Just as a commercial Green Star project ensures the building envelope is well sealed to manage thermal comfort and reduce the requirements for mechanical heating and cooling, the same is true of a home.
4. Do an audit – of the energy use in your home, and if your workplace hasn’t done one, get to work on management. There’s a bottom-line benefit to be had, because as industry sources keep telling us, “What you can measure, you can manage.”
5. Trim the energy use – What are the big ticket energy users the audit revealed? Can they be replaced, upgraded, switched off more often, put on timers, unplugged or substituted for a low-energy or no-energy alternative? Can they be lived without altogether? Many experts recommend installing a home energy monitor, and most also suggest that any heating or cooling system that lacks a thermostat should have that remedied pronto. It’s also important to set it at an energy-efficient temperature.
6. Join the renewable revolution – whether it’s adding solar panels to the home, solar chargers for laptops on the office balcony or buying GreenPower where the building is unsuitable for solar, small-scale wind or geothermal, buying into renewable energy options is a practical solution and high on most expert’s lists of how individuals can make a real difference.
7. Eat local, organic and unprocessed – That asparagus flown in from Peru might look good, but its carbon footprint is immense, including air freight, road freight, the chemicals used in its cultivation and the endless cycle of chemicals used to compensate for depleted soil lacking in stored carbon, also known as humus. Friends of the Earth have a whole raft of suggestions for how you can trim the emissions factor of eating.
8. Compost your way to carbon sequestration – By composting food waste or keeping a worm farm and then using the results in whatever dirt you have available to you, even the smallest pocket garden or patch of lawn can be part of the effort to sequester carbon emissions. Ecologist and soil scientist Ted Floyd, who planned the Whites Creek Wetland in Lilyfield, Sydney, has a great explanation of how it works and what types of plants work best here.
9. Let your dollars do the talking – Make the switch to a fossil fuel-free financial institution and super fund. 350.org and gofossilfree.org are promoting Global Divestment Day on February 13-14, details of local activities and how to participate can be found here.
10. Make mindful purchasing decisions – One Million Women estimates that simply by stopping for a minute and asking yourself, “Do I really need this?” And also thinking about the environmental and social impact of products can lighten your personal carbon footprint by about 200 kilograms of CO2 a year through reducing impulse buying. There are other ways to shift the load in terms of accumulating stuff too, like swapping, buying second-hand, upcycling, recycling and simple sharing.
Got a suggestion on powerful ways to make a difference? Leave them in the comments sections.