From climate breakdown to species going extinct, humankind’s effects on our world can seem so huge, it’s easy to feel like there’s no hope of making a difference. But if we’re all a small part of the problem, we can all be part of the solution too. The first step is to look at the impact we each have.
All of us have a ‘carbon footprint’. It’s the total amount of CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions we create over a certain period of time, with measurements usually made across a year.
Your carbon footprint’s size depends on many things – the products you buy, how you travel, how you heat your home, what you eat. It can also be influenced by where you live.
One Swiss study found people in rural areas create 20% more CO2 than those in urban areas. This was mainly due to their greater demands in terms of transport and heating compared to warmer, more compact urban environments.
The amount of CO2 produced per person also varies hugely across the globe, with richer nations tending to have much higher figures than poorer ones.
Niger, for example, emits just 0.15 tonnes per person, while in the USA that figure is 13.97 tonnes and Qatar produces a staggering 32.47 tonnes of CO2 per person.
For many people living in countries with higher footprints, there’s a lot that can be done to reduce their impact on the planet.
1. Use less energy
You may be able to switch your home energy supply to a green energy plan, or to use a 100% renewable energy provider. If you can, great. Unfortunately, most of our energy – even electricity – is still generated by burning fossil fuels. So, the less we use, the better.
You can make a difference by installing solar panels and water heaters, fitting LED lights, choosing energy-efficient appliances and properly insulating your home.
Of course, these solutions will cost money but you can also take action without spending extra cash – for example, by air drying laundry and turning off lights and other electrical appliances when nobody is using them.
2. Buy less stuff
Producing ‘stuff’ uses energy and eats up even more of the world’s natural resources. The answer is to consume less, reuse things more, borrow, buy second hand and recycle everything you can.
And if you have to buy something new, think very carefully about it first. Research which companies have the strongest sustainability values before deciding who to buy from.
Wherever you can, find alternatives to products that damage the environment. Reusable nappies and eco-friendly cleaning products are just a couple of examples.
Cyclists ride on La Ronda del Sinu. © WWF / David Estrada Larraneta
3. Travel greener
Air travel is a huge emitter of CO2, especially during take-off. So, if you absolutely have to travel by plane, choose a direct flight where you can.
Petrol and diesel cars also emit a lot of CO2. An electric vehicle can help. But if that isn’t an option for you, you can also:
• take fewer trips
• car share
• use public transport
• make sure you’re not driving with any unnecessary weight, so your car runs as efficiently as possible.
If you can, why not cycle or walk? It’s better for your health as well as the planet’s.
4. Think about your food
The way we produce food is rapidly degrading the planet – causing 70% of biodiversity loss on land and 50% in fresh water, and being responsible for around 30% of greenhouse gas emissions.
Some foods are worse for the planet than others. Animal-sourced foods generally have a bigger impact on nature than plants and crops, with the production of meat, dairy and seafood causing particular harm.
Globally, we need to reduce consumption of animal-sourced foods. But there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
The contribution made by each of us will be in line with our unique culture, culinary traditions, environmental footprint and health profile.
In some places, the amount currently consumed is far beyond what is healthy for people or planet. In others, meat consumption should actually be increased to help achieve health and nutrition goals.
The science is clear that we can continue to enjoy some meat as part of a healthy and sustainable diet but, together, we must learn to balance meat consumption with the environmental limits that the Earth places upon us.
Sustainable recipe © Sabrina Bqain / WWF
5. Speak up
It’s important to make sure your voice is heard. Ask your favourite companies to produce more sustainable products and avoid those that pollute or harm the environment.
Choose a bank that doesn’t invest in fossil fuels or lobby your pension fund to invest ethically.
Talk to the company you work for, the landlord where you live or the place where you study. Can you get them to adopt energy-saving measures or recycle more of the waste they produce?
If the town you live in makes life hard for cyclists or has poor public transport, ask your local government to do something about it. You may also be able to take action by voting for government representatives who share your values.
Earth Hour Uganda © WWF-Uganda
6. Stand up
In 2018, a 15-year-old girl nobody had ever heard of sat outside the Swedish parliament, declaring she was on ‘school strike’ for the climate. She sparked a global movement, inspiring school children around the world to stage similar walk-outs.
Greta Thunberg’s voice is now heard by world leaders at UN summits and cannot be ignored. It just goes to show that direct action works.
If you have the chance to attend a climate march, seize it. If you can take part in our Earth Hour campaign or other movements, do that too.
And if you ever feel like there’s nothing you can do, remember individual actions can bring about huge change.