A Few Climate Actions That Matter in Your Daily Life
I reacted like a stubborn child when my girlfriend suggested that we turn down the thermostat on our heating panels every evening to reduce our carbon footprint and electricity bill.
Really? Yet another thing to do, right? I clean out aluminum and plastic food packaging for recycling. And I turn off the lights in rooms that are not in use. It’s tiring to do all the right things. I felt fed up.
But climate action is a recurring activity, not a one off. We have to make the right choices collectively. Over time. So we have to focus on the most impactful choices and turn them into habits.
How do we know which actions in our daily lives have the most impact on the environment? Luckily, Mike Berners-Lee provides valuable estimates of CO2e emissions (CO2e is short for CO2 equivalents — learn more) for different purchases and activities in his excellent book How bad are bananas.
3 Tips To Reduce Emissions By 7%
For comparison, the average U.K. person’s emissions are 15 tons CO2e per year.
- Line dry your clothes and save about 300 kg CO2e per year, the equivalent of 2% of the CO2e footprint of an average U.K. person. Each time you line dry laundry instead of tumble drying, you save about 2 kg CO2e. If you line dry 3 loads of laundry per week, that’s about 312 kg CO2e saved per year. Bonus? Your clothes last longer.
- Shorten your showers and save nearly half a ton of CO2e per year, the equivalent of 3% of the CO2e footprint of an average U.K. person. A typical 6 minute shower has a 550 g CO2e footprint, while a 15 minute high-volume shower is estimated to 1.9 kg CO2e. If you make your shower a bit shorter every day, you save ~440 kg CO2e in a year. That’s equivalent to the CO2e footprint of eating 0.5 kg beef per week in a year or the emissions of flying from New York to Atlanta. You even save time.
- Switch out cut flowers with longer lasting green plants to save about 250 kg CO2e per year, nearly 2% of the CO2e footprint of an average U.K. person. Out-of-season cut flowers have an unexpectedly high footprint because they need to be flown in from hot areas. For example, 10 red roses flown in from Columbia could have a CO2e footprint of 3.5 kg. Worse are flowers grown in cold regions. 10 roses grown in hothouses in the Netherlands and then flown have an estimated CO2e footprint of 25 kg! If you buy just 10 fewer bouquets of roses grown in dutch hot houses per year, you reduce your CO2e footprint by 300 kg.
We can reduce our CO2e footprint substantially with such simple changes. How might we reduce our CO2e footprint further?
Eat Delicious Greens, Just Be Aware of Hothouses
- Eat lots of tasty seasonal fruits and vegetables. 1 kg of seasonal regular tomatoes grown locally has a tiny footprint of roughly 0.4 kg CO2e. A basket of local, seasonal strawberries has a footprint of a mere 150g CO2e.
- Enjoy imported fruits and vegetables, as long as they travel by boat. A banana transported by ship has a low carbon footprint of about 80g CO2e. This is because bananas are grown using natural sunlight (no hothouses with artificial heating), boat transport is about 1% as bad as flying, and there’s barely any packaging needed.
- On the other hand, be aware of fruits and vegetables that are grown out-of-season in cold climates using hothouses. Organic cherry tomatoes grown in Ohio in March could be a staggering 50 kg CO2e, according to a study by Cranfield University. Berners-Lee explains that the footprint is high because of the artificial heating needed in a cold climate and because the yield for cherry tomatoes is substantially lower than the yield for classic, loose tomatoes.
- You surely already know that we should reduce our meat and dairy consumption. 1 kg of beef has a footprint of about 20 kg CO2e.
Make Your Trips Worth It
- Make each trip last longer. Flying roundtrip London — San Francisco has a footprint of 2.8 tons CO2e according to myclimate, nearly one-fifth of an average U.K. person’s annual CO2e footprint. Yet, it’s hard to give up flying entirely. Instead, let’s make the trips we take worth it. Could you instead go for a 3 month study/work visit to really get to know a foreign place?
- Take advantage of what’s in your region for shorter getaways. Is there a good trail hike nearby? Museums in the neighbouring city? With our current COVID restrictions, I have friends who have checked into a hotel in their own city for a relaxing staycation. Why not?
Tiny changes accumulate to a large impact. “If you can get 1 percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done,” writes James Clear in his book Atomic Habits.
Let’s make these improvements together.
Do you have thoughts about other high impact changes?