What can I do to stop climate change?
1. Adjust your diet. Cut out meat and dairy, especially beef and lamb. And make sure you eat everything that you buy: food waste accounts for eight per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Avoid air-freighted food, such as vegetables like berries, mange-tout or asparagus, when they are out of season.
2. De-carbonize your travel. Transport’s biggest source of emissions are planes, then cars. For a family of four, a return trip from the UK to Australia emits 12 times more carbon than running a car for an entire year. So if you fly a lot, this will be the biggest part of your carbon footprint by far. Fly less or, better still, stop. To cut your car emissions, try walking, cycling, public transport, car shares, working from home. You can ditch the car altogether or get a smaller one and drive it carefully. At 95 kilometres per hour (60 miles/hr) you burn through 30 per cent less fuel per kilometre than at 128 kilometres (80 miles/hr). If you need a new car, buy an electric or plug-in hybrid, if you can. But remember the industrial production of the car itself emits around a third of the footprint of driving so there is also a good argument for keeping old, efficient cars on the road.
3. Consume less, and wisely. Buy less junk, buy local. Understand the supply chain of everything in your weekly shop, checking for carbon responsibility, fair livelihoods and all the other sustainability criteria. Buy high quality things and make them last. Buy things that are designed to be repairable and make sure that is what happens. When you have finished with them, sell on or give away. Choose the most energy-efficient white goods. Don’t leave the house without a reusable cup, and understand that this advertises how you are minimizing junk.
4. Cut home energy use. The basics, which cost nothing: turn lights off, hang your washing out to dry. Wash at a lower temperature and keep showers short. In a cool climate, wear a jumper, turn the thermostat down and turn radiators off in empty rooms. If you can afford to invest in your home, the priorities in terms of carbon cutting, in order of maximum impact, are roughly: insulation (starting with drafts, then the loft, windows and walls), smart heating (efficient boilers, remote controls that include radiators), moving on to solar panels, or heat pumps (a renewable energy technology that converts energy in the ground or air into heat). In a hot climate, take a shower to stay cool. If you can, choose the most climate-friendly air conditioner and minimize use. Buy electricity from a green energy provider if they can demonstrate that your bill goes entirely towards additional renewable power.
5. Clean up investments. Use any money you have to push for the future you want to see. Use pension and saving schemes that don’t touch fossil fuel companies. Invest instead in the things we urgently need, such as renewables and reforestation.
6. Talk about it. Cutting carbon won’t signal the climate emergency if no-one knows you are doing it. Take your low-carbon mindset to work, to the pub and into your own household. Be friendly but don’t let that get in the way of clarity. All of us can help create a culture in which it becomes embarrassing to ignore climate change – in the same way that other harmful behaviours like smoking or drink-driving are now seen as toxic.
7. Be kind to yourself. Very few of us are squeaky clean in carbon terms. You don’t have to become so overnight but most of us do need to make serious changes over the next few years. It’s important to keep moving in the right direction and enjoy the process of cutting carbon out of our lives. Don’t beat yourself up, but don’t let yourself off the hook either.
8. Use your power. We need to think about the pressure we can exert on the whole system. All our politicians need to hear - well in advance of elections - that we insist on coherent and strong climate policies. And given the lack of progress to date, each of us has to be considering how and where to take to the streets.
9. Do all of the above. It’s an emergency. Put a plan in place and work your way through it.
Mike Berners-Lee is the author of There is No Planet B – a handbook for the make or break years (Cambridge University Press, 2019). He is a professor at Lancaster University and the director of Small World Consulting.