The richest 10 per cent of the world are responsible for more than half of global emissions, but there’s plenty we can all do, writes Louise Boyle
It may come as a surprise to learn who belongs to the high-carbon emitters club.
The richest 10 per cent of the world (around 630 million people) were responsible for more than half of global emissions from 1990 until 2015, according to Oxfam.
How do you know if you’re one of them? Globally, the richest 10 per cent have incomes of above $38,000 (£28,000) a year, and the richest 1 per cent make more than $110,000 (£82,000).
All that is to say, if you’re living in a developed country, there’s more of a chance you have an outsized carbon footprint than many parts of the world. Below are some ideas on how you can cut carbon from your lifestyle, and tackle the climate crisis at large, as we kick off 2022.
Identify your climate superpowers
There’s five areas where people with high-emitting lifestyles can have the most impact says Dr Kimberly Nicholas, a sustainability scientist at Lund University in Sweden and author of Under The Sky We Make: How to Be Human in a Warming World.
These are as a consumer; part of an organisation; role model; investor and citizen.
“For high emitters, the actions that quickly reduce our personal emissions are going car, flight and meat-free. If you’re over budget in those areas, cutting as much as you can makes a really big difference,” Dr Nicholas told The Independent.
Start with swaps. The Man in Seat 61 travel blog has a detailed breakdown of how you can cut carbon emissions by up to 90 per cent by taking a train over a flight. And a recent study of 3,800 people across seven cities found that cycling over driving once a day cut the average person’s carbon emissions from transport by two-thirds. Sites like Green Commute Initiative, and Mossy Earth are good places to start for advice on a more eco-friendly trips.
We can also take climate action via our jobs, and Dr Nicholas recommends seeking out ideas at Climate Solutions at Work by the nonprofit Project Drawdown.
And while we can’t all be Warren Buffett, look at how your private or workplace pensions are invested. While so-called Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) investing continues to be a bit of a Wild West, initiatives like Make My Money Matter is a good place to start if you want to make sure your pension isn’t funding industries like fossil fuels, tobacco and arms.
As for being a role model? “We know from research that we are affected by the people around us,” Dr Nicholas said. “We see that, for example, you’re much more likely to get solar panels if your neighbours have solar panels. If you know someone who’s stopped flying or reduced flying, you’re more likely to do so yourself. Our behaviour does matter.”
Dr Nicholas said that she hopes to see a shift away from a social media culture which valorises “sitting on a tropical beach with an umbrella drink as the idea of a good life” and more towards people sharing images of spending time with family and friends, closer to home and in nature.
For eco-newbies, the climate expert suggests starting small and dedicating two hours a week to high-impact climate action. That breaks down to 20 minutes, over six days, with Sunday as a rest day.
“Rest is also a high-impact climate action, and napping is great for your wellbeing – however, you have to do more active stuff on the other six days,” Dr Nicholas noted.
Buy less s***
New WWF polling found that a third of British people were inspired to have a more environmentally-friendly Christmas in 2021 due to the recent attention on the climate crisis, dubbing it the “Cop26 effect”.
Among the changes people were taking were: Buying gifts with less packaging (38 per cent); decorating the Christmas tree with LED lights (30 per cent); and using recycled Christmas cards and wrapping paper (30 per cent).
WWF said the shift was more perceptible in young people with 70 per cent of those aged 18-34 aiming for a greener festive season.
There’s plenty of ways to carry good intentions into the new year, and cutting down on consumption is a great starting block. Known as the “circular economy”, it’s broken down as: rethink, redesign, reduce, reuse, recycle.
Normalise reuse via websites for second-hand items. The Reuse Network, Gumtree, and Craigslist are the tip of the iceberg. And if you want to get hyper-local, consider setting up a neighbourhood or apartment building network. FreeCycle is just one of the ways to help you do it.
Let 2022 be the year you finally discover the wonders of second-hand stores, flea markets, charity shops and thrift stores. You’ll no longer have to look like a sponsored Instagram post. If you’re sartorially challenged, Fashionforgood is one site with dozens of tips to help you get the hang of it. Oxfam has more fashion ideas here. And while you’re there, check out the online shop for books, music, and gifts. Worth a look if you don’t have time, or just hate, trailing around stores but would rather avoid the e-commerce monolith named in honour of the tropical rainforest we are rapidly losing.
Renting can be a good way of sharing out the carbon footprint – but do your research. A study this year found that despite the recent popularity of renting clothes, it’s less eco-friendly than you might think.
If this all seems like a lot of hard work, then focus on the “rethink”. Do you need [insert item]? Does [insert relative/friend] want it? Does anyone actually want this? If the answer is no, walk away. Buy less, buy better. Don’t get cluttered. Spend time finding brands that are genuinely green instead of a greenwash. Leave the s*** in 2021 where it belongs.
Let’s get loud
One good thing to come from Cop26, says Jean Su, Energy Justice Director and Senior Attorney at the non-profit Center for Biological Diversity, was that it was a breakthrough year on fossil fuels. “It was the first time there was finally an acknowledgement that fossil fuels are the root source of the climate crisis,” she told The Independent.
“The reason for that is because millions of people around the world have been marching and have been vocal about it. The best thing that people can do is get vocal as much as possible about the climate emergency.”
Ms Su recommends getting involved in climate protest actions in your part of the world. Write as much as possible, she adds, get stories on the climate crisis into the media, and get educated.
“Put political pressure on politicians. We need all politicians at all levels of authority to stop using fossil fuels – now is the time that we have to press on transitioning to electric and renewable sources,” she adds.
Sometimes counteracting the climate crisis can happen in unlikely places, writes Ashley Thomson, a Greenpeace climate campaigner in the US, and the rapid extraction and commodification of natural resources is connected to a never-ending quest for bigger profits.
“Unfortunately for most workers, this too often comes at the expense of worker rights and wellbeing: this means lower wages, gruelling hours, and other unreasonable working expectations,” she notes.
“While starting a union won’t stop pollution tomorrow, it will start to rebalance these broken power dynamics, and tip the scales away from extraction and exploitation towards the restoration and equality we need.”
Eco-anxious? Increase your greens
Tree-planting alone won’t stop climate change but introducing more greenery into your life has myriad benefits, says Michael Cunningham, founder of 9Trees, a carbon-offsetting company in Wales.
“I suffer greatly from eco-anxiety so putting trees in the ground helps to quell that,” Mr Cunningham says. “I think because [the climate crisis] is such a massive issue worldwide, people get kind of frozen and that’s the main thing that stops them from doing something.”
Work with what you have available to you, Mr Cunningham advises. If you live in an apartment, increase your houseplants. Peace lilies, snake and spider plants are all easy to look after and have the added benefit of oxygenating and purifying your home.
“Try to find a local florist or nursery and buy from them,” he adds, and focus on products made locally to lessen the carbon impact.
Small, paved or slabbed outdoor spaces, and balconies, can be transformed using planters and potted plants. If you have a small garden, re-wilding areas and planting hedgerows are great for bees and other insects, along with helping to retain water during heavy rainfall and reduce flooding. Trees like hazels and maples work well in small spaces, and if you have a big garden, take advantage of the space with fruit trees.