I found David Attenborough's address to the UN climate conference very moving and motivational. I hope others felt the same way, although I think many might just move to type four denial: "it's hopeless so let’s just drink and be merry and go down with the ship." However, that's not me. While I believe governments must do the heavy lifting on this issue by building consensus for action, passing legislation, closing loopholes, and focusing new investment into sustainable activities, there is much the individual, and particularly young people can do. As an ordinary working stiff, I've been working on the reduction of my carbon footprint for years, obtaining a better lifestyle, and having fun as a result. There is no reason to suffer a reduced lifestyle as a result of climate change action. Some of the things I've done to reduce my carbon footprint are as follows:
- Eat healthy - I've gone Vegan, which cuts out the whole meat industry which is a big carbon liability, and received commensurate health benefits (better weight control, more energy, better heart health, etc.). It also substantially cuts garbage and all the carbon associated with collection, and dumping. I find I now have a much greater variety of pleasing eating experiences open to me as a result. I don't miss the meat at all, and have the added satisfaction of reducing animal suffering as a result.
- Eat locally - In Canada, we have long cold seasons, but there is still lots of opportunity to eat local during the rest of the year. Local produce tastes so much better than the trucked-in variety.
- Reduce the consumption of products made of plastic, which use excess packaging, have short life-times, or built-in obsolescence.
- Purchase long-lasting alternatives to cheaper products built to end up on the scrap heap after a short life.
- Repair products with creative solutions when they crap out due to hidden obsolescence or poor design. Feels good to thumb my nose at the "suits" building throw-away products I've been forced to buy as the best of a bad lot.
- Invest in home insulation and related home-improvement projects — I've been working on this over the long haul, improving insulation, upgrading windows, reducing air-leakage etc. — my home is so much more enjoyable in both summer and winter as a result.
- Reduce my travel for work - I'm a consultant and tend to fly a lot. I've required clients to work with me remotely to the point where my 6-12 month projects now only involve a max of 2 site visits, and sometimes are done completely via remote technology. It has made my work so much more enjoyable to be able to avoid the hassle and risk of air travel - I did this when I was an employee as well, implementing work-at-home, saving my employers a lot of money after my plan was implemented more widely.
- Purchased an electric car - I'm a proud Tesla driver, and am having a ball burning around in my "S" - the performance of an Italian exotic at a third of the price with the comfort of a sedan. What fun!
- We're expanding our summer place up north and moving in full-time, reducing to one home, thus reducing our carbon footprint even more. We're going to enjoy country living.
- Up north we have additional acreage which provides enough excess wood to supplement heating needs using wood, reducing our reliance on gas while keeping the wood usage to renewable levels. We're doing this with a gas/wood hybrid furnace & adding superior insulation to reduce heating costs.
- Investing in energy efficiency technology in lighting - using LED technology which is so nice to use.
- Continuing to look for reduction technology that improves lifestyle at the same time, such as newer clothes-washing and hot water technology that reduces energy usage. For example, by simply adding a timer on my electric water heater so that it heats the water only during off-peak times, I'm able to heat using what is essentially waste energy, since our province uses a lot of nuclear which can't be dialed back in the evenings when usage drops off. This also reduces gas usage that would alternately be consumed by a gas water heater, and saves me a lot of money using off-peak electrical with a very small investment in a timer.
- Invest in projects designed to reduce the environmental risks of home-related losses associated with Climate Change (increased flood, fire, wind, drought damage etc.).
While it costs money to do much of what I list above, it costs much less if a person does a lot of the work themselves, or uses contractors sparingly and selectively for things best done by a professional. There are often government programs to help mitigate the costs as well. Those with less funding can still work to save money through reduction strategies, and by redirecting money towards reduction projects otherwise spent on non-essentials. While all this may overwhelm some, it is important to take on these projects one at a time. Each bite taken out of your carbon footprint is an improvement, and so a win, and before you know it, the wins start to add up and snowball into a sizable improvement without heroic measures. Start small and gain confidence.
Finally there is much the young can do. After all, it's their world that's going to be affected by climate change the most. A young person's voice has a huge moral weight in the public eye (e.g. Greta the Swedish teen and her protest movement). Young people mobilizing can have a huge effect, galvanizing politicians to act rather than putzing around with lacklustre centrist policies of inaction and procrastination. In their personal lives, young people can also make a huge difference by making personal lifestyle changes and serving as examples to their friends and family.
Politically, we can all make a difference with an active writing campaign to our political representatives expressing support for, and demanding, real climate change action, including support for those policies that will inevitably result in increased living costs. Those who are implementing the above strategies, will find the increased living costs associated with such political policies minimal because they've already made the changes to minimize their carbon footprint and are poised to take immediate advantage of new technology that reduces footprint further. I urge everyone to get ahead of the climate curve. It feels good to be in control rather than being swept along in the aftermath, it's an inspiration to others, and leads to an improved lifestyle. Win - win.
James A Scarrow