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 our own impact.
All of us have a carbon footprint, the total amount of carbon dioxide emissions we create over a certain period of time.
Our carbon footprint’s size depends on many things—the products we buy, how we travel, how we heat and cool our home, what we eat, among other things. It can also be influenced by where we live.
One Swiss study found people in rural areas create 20% more carbon dioxide 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 carbon dioxide produced per person also varies hugely across the globe, with developed nations tending to have much higher figures than developing ones.
Niger, for example, emits just 0.15 tonnes per person, while in the United States that figure is 13.97 tonnes. Qatar produces a staggering 32.47 tonnes of carbon dioxide 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. Check out these six tips to living more sustainably.
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.
Air drying laundry and turning off lights and other electrical appliances when nobody is using them help, too.
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.
Whenver you can, find alternatives to products that damage the environment.
Cyclists ride on La Ronda del Sinu. © WWF / David Estrada Larraneta
3. Travel greener
Air travel is a huge emitter of carbon dioxide, especially during take-off. So, if you absolutely have to travel by plane, choose a direct flight when you can.
Gasoline and diesel cars also emit a lot of carbon dioxide. 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 generating 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, people consume animal-sourced foods far beyond what is healthy for people or planet. In others, people should increase meat consumption 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.
Sustainable recipe © Sabrina Bqain / WWF
5. Speak up
It’s important to make sure your voice is heard. Ask your favorite 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 your place of employment, landlord or school. 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 transportation, ask your local government to do something about it. You can also vote 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 or other movement, seize it.
Remember individual actions can bring about huge change.