Your bills are piling, the price of pasta keeps rising, you have a cold you can’t shake and politics is anything but strong and stable
Throw in that gnawing sense of impending climate change doom and, well, the world can sure feel like a lot now.
Right now, prime ministers, presidents, princes and princesses are wrestling with this and more at the 27th session UN climate convention known as COP27.
But it’s not just the powerful who are worried. Nine out of 10 Brits are anxious about climate change, according to research by ad agency CPB London.
This is all pretty ‘overwhelming’, Dr Christina Demski, the deputy director of the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations at the University of Bath, tells Metro.co.uk.
‘In part, people might feel overwhelmed because they feel their own actions are insignificant. People also don’t realise how much other people are concerned,’ she says.
‘We then get the sense that we are alone in our worry and willingness to take action.’
Here are eight realistic changes you can make to help the climate according to environmental experts and campaigners.
1. Make your voice heard
Your local MP’s job is a simple one: Represent their constituents.
So if you’re concerned about the climate, contact your MP, councillor, mayor or any other official you can think of and tell them all about it, says Dr Neil Jennings, a partnership development manager at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at the Imperial College London.
‘Whether that’s your local councillor or MP, it’s really important that they know so that they can put the right infrastructure (e.g. cycle lanes) or incentives (e.g. grants) in place to make it as easy as possible for us all to make changes ourselves,’ he says.
2. Eat less meat and dairy
Producing food causes about a third of the planet-warming gases humans make – and using animals for meat causes twice the pollution than plant-based grub.
That’s a lot of gas. So consider cutting the amount of meat, especially red meat, that you eat each week, says Dr Conor Walsh, associate professor in environmental science and sustainability at the University of Greenwich.
‘Eating meat – particularly beef – produces significant emissions,’ he says. ‘Going vegan or vegetarian can play a big role in reducing this impact.
‘Substitutions for non-meat products can be tricky as some products, such as non-dairy milk, are resource heavy to make. But you don’t have to go “all in” – just swapping meat for vegetarian meals occasionally is an option.’
Jasmine Clark, environment campaigner at Viva!, adds: ‘Not only is a vegan diet greener, but it’s also kinder to the animals and better for your health. Ideal!’
3. Don’t fly but do board a bus
Driving less, especially when it comes to short distances, is one of the easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint or, well, carprint.
Burning through your fuel tank when you’re riding solo is really ‘inefficient in terms of impact per activity,’ adds Dr Walsh.
‘Public transport and cycling are obviously better but they’re not always an option. There are a lot of car-sharing apps available. Every journey offset counts!’
If you have the cash, Dr Demski recommends buying an electric bike.
‘These are really good because they allow people to go longer distances than on a normal bike; they are also a great option for those that are less physically able,’ she says.
Most climate experts say if you don’t need to fly and could just chat over the phone or video uplink instead, do that.
Dr Walsh says if you really, really need to catch that flight consider booking one that has a ‘carbon offsetting’ scheme.
It’s a bit ‘controversial’, he admits, but it means investing in a project that reduces the CO2 level by the same amount as the flight.
Some airlines have their own schemes, or you can use the non-profit Atmosfair to choose how much to donate to things like tree planting.
4. Only use what you need at home
Turning off lights and switches when you’re not in the room, turning the television off at the mains, taking five-minute showers and using cooler washing cycles.
These are all examples of small everyday things people can do around the house that can make a big difference to not only their bills but the planet too.
Other good shouts include throwing on a blanket rather than popping the heating on and swapping light bulbs with low-energy versions or LEDs.
‘Simple things, such as boiling only what we need in the kettle, can make a big difference,’ says Dr Walsh.
‘Each cup can produce the equivalent of about 12 grams of CO2. And kettles are about 80-90% efficient so boiling more than we need adds up.
‘As with many things, timing is key. We need to use energy when the renewable energy supply matches the demand of the grid.
‘Some providers have schemes that can help with this. Octopus’ Agile is an example of a smart meter working with a flexible tariff to tell you the best time to do the big wash!’
5. Buy less, waste less
Everything you buy has a carbon footprint. So next time you’re in the shop or scrolling online, think to yourself, do you really need it, or do you just want it?
That’s the question Dr Demski wants more people to ask themselves as more people should try ‘buying less “stuff” or buying second-hand’.
‘There are a lot of apps and organisations now that support buying and selling good quality second-hand clothing, furniture, toys – you name it. It’s also a great way to save or even make some money,’ she says.
Buying less also applies to single-use plastics. Think reusable grocery bags, package-free produce (like veggies, nuts or shampoo bars) and eco-friendly water bottles.
The last one is a big one. Buying fewer or not buying any bottled water at all seriously helps as it takes 17 million barrels of oil to produce all the plastic water bottles we use each year.
Recycling things definitely goes a long way, but also think about whether you can repair them or find ways yourself to reuse them first. You could, for example, tear up old t-shirts and use them as kitchen towels.
6. Eat everything in your fridge
Britons throw out 42% of the food they buy each year. That’s about £2,675 that just goes in the bin, researchers found in 2020.
But chucking that soggy bag of salad into the bin doesn’t mean it just vanishes. Food takes up a lot of space in landfills that spill more methane into the atmosphere as it decomposes.
Wasting less food is easy, says Tessa Clarke, the co-founder of the food-sharing app OLIO.
Plan meals, use shopping lists to stop impulse buying, cut portion sizes if you find yourself throwing food scraps or opt to bulk buy and batch cook instead.
Storing fresh produce more sensibly in your fridge and pantry can make a difference, Clarke says.
‘Tomatoes should be stored in a bowl on the countertop rather than in the fridge as they tend to go “mealy” in the fridge,’ she says.
‘Lemons keep well at room temperature for about a week. However, pop them into a sealed plastic bag or container in the fridge and they’ll last four times longer than when kept at room temperature.
‘Finally, it can work wonders by having an “eat me” shelf in your fridge so you know everything there needs to be eaten soon before it goes off.’
And for the scraps and things you don’t quite get around to eating, consider getting a small compost for your home or garden.
7. If you have the cash, make your home more energy efficient
‘Long-term, especially for those who can afford it, improving the insulation of homes is really important,’ says Dr Demski.
There are a fair few cost-effective ways to do this, though. Think draught excluders to plug up holes with pipeworks and wrap those with pipe lagging from DIY stores.
Investing in a smart thermostat allows people to set the temperature of the room and mean you don’t have to gave the heating switched on all the time.
‘One change that a lot of people are unaware of that can save us hundreds of pounds a year is turning down the flow temperature on our combination boiler,’ adds Dr Jennings.
‘It takes about five minutes to do the charity Nesta has put together a website to show people how.’
A few other purchases that can go far for those who can afford them: swapping a gas-fired water heater for an electric one and installing solar panels.
Though when it comes to solar panels, this shouldn’t be something only for those who can afford it, says Paul Gilding, the former global CEO of Greenpeace.
‘In the war against climate warming, investment in renewable energy is every bit as important as munitions in a conventional war,’ he says.
‘These are not nice-to-haves we can just wait for the market to develop: governments have to invest in scaling them up at speed all around the world – right now.’
8. Do a bit of all of the above
‘The trick is to try and build up a toolkit of practices that you can draw from,’ he says.
‘Maybe take the bus today and have a meat-free day tomorrow? The important thing is to make these normalised choices so that we routinely do something.’
Climate experts are calling on governments, companies and the wealthy — all a lot more responsible for greenhouse gas emissions than us — to do more.
So it’s easy to feel that it’s too late to do anything, that buying a tote bag to put apples and soup cans in won’t make a difference, Dr Jennings adds.
That doesn’t mean there’s no value in doing what’s right for the climate, though.
‘However bad things can seem, there is always a better and a worse path that can be chosen,’ Dr Jennings says.
‘That’s why climate action is so important — both for the impact it has on reducing greenhouse gas emissions but also by bringing people together to better cope and adapt to the climatic changes that do occur.’
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