How Have You Destroyed The Planet Today?

Even before we wake up, each and every one of us is responsible for causing a little more environmental destruction each moment that passes. Whether it’s the heating system kicking on so you’re comfortable when you finally summon up that energy to roll back the duvet, the bacon that’s sitting in your fridge ready for breakfast, or even the phone sitting by your bed primed to ring that dreaded alarm so that you’re not late for work; everything that we do, or use, or create, has an impact on the environment that is rapidly killing this planet.

There is no magic cure, or perfect solution. Simply by living in our complex and advanced societies, we will affect the world around us; however the question is – what can we do to live sustainably?

Why Act?

I hope that we can all agree that the climate is changing – the data on this is undeniable. How bad is it really though, and why do we need to act now? Here are some shocking statistics and events:

The Paris Agreement was established primarily with the aim of limiting the global average temperature to a maximum of 1.5°C higher than pre-industrial levels. The reasons for this are two-fold. One is that a rise of around 2°C is expected to have a devastating effect on ecosystems and human life, and the other is that at some point – and no-one knows the exact point – around this increase, a runaway effect would be triggered. This means that at a certain temperature increase, the heating of the climate would accelerate the rate of greenhouse gas escape from the oceans, and polar ice, which in turn would increase the volume of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This would become a self-sustaining cycle, as the warming kills off forests and releases yet more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, further accelerating the warming process.

This has happened before. Scientists believe that around 252m years ago, Earth’s temperature increased by around 10°C due to a runaway greenhouse gas event, potentially triggered by a massive volcanic eruption. This period is known as “The Great Dying” for the very reason that 96% of marine and 67% of terrestrial species were wiped out.

Yes, but the Human Race will find a way!

Some people argue that the human race is the most advanced species that this planet has ever seen, and so surely we could adapt. This grossly underestimates our dependency on the natural world around us, and even if it were possible to survive as a species – it would be at an enormous cost. We’re not talking about Pounds Sterling or US Dollars here (although there would be an awful lot of that too) but human lives.

In 2018, natural disasters linked to climate change claimed the lives of 5,033 people and affected a further 29m people. Today, the temperature is only 1.1°C above the pre-industrial average – with every fraction that this increases, extreme natural disasters are made ever more likely. Entire regions of the planet could be rendered uninhabitable, creating a refugee crisis like never witnessed before. As ecosystems collapse, we will not be able to supply enough food to our swelling population and billions will go hungry.

Will it even affect me?

We’re not talking about the distant future here either. It can be tempting to think that we will all be long dead from a comfortable old age before any of this really starts to bite. If you’re over 90 years old, then you’re probably pretty safe, but at our current trajectory we will likely surpass the 1.5°C limit by 2033, which is only 14 years from now. Irreversible, or runaway climate change could occur even before a 2°C rise, which we are on course to hit in 2045, buying us only a further 12 years.

The emergency is real. The emergency is now. It is incumbent on Every Single One Of Us to do something about it.

Before I am 65 years old, I could be witnessing the beginning of the end of human society as we know it. If I were to have children next year, I could be leaving them to inherit the collapse of society before they are 25 years old. Hardly the legacy anyone want to leave those that they love the most. The emergency is real. The emergency is now. It is incumbent on Every Single One Of Us to do something about it.

But new technology will take care of it!

Putting our faith in technology is a dangerous gamble too. The technology that we need is not here. It is not now. And even if it were, there is an energy cost with adopting new technologies before their efficiencies start to bear fruit.

Electric cars, for example, would require you to dispose of your old, perfectly functional car. All the metal that needs to be mined, and refined, and blasted in a furnace, and transported, and tested, and assembled – all this is additional emissions. The batteries require rare earth elements, which are (as the name suggests) rare and very finite in nature. The manufacture of the batteries has an environmental impact. The batteries still need to be charged by the grid – so you would need massive power stations to be constructed to support this new fleet. Charging points would need to be installed in every single parking space across the world for it to work.

There is only one answer in the short term, and that answer is available to us now. Reduce our consumption. As I mentioned at the beginning, every product or service we buy has a carbon footprint. The easiest way to have an immediate impact on your emissions is, to put it simply, buy less. The UK is on track to meet its emissions reduction targets for 2020, which means carbon dioxide emissions have been reduced 37% since 1990. However, it is clear that based on the current plans, the UK will fail to hit the targets set for the future. The next target is 51% by 2025.

If you were to do your part in achieving this, you would need to reduce your consumption by 2025 to 78% of your consumption this year. The average UK consumer is responsible for around 10t of carbon dioxide emissions annually. A sensible, achievable target for each of us, would be to reduce our own emissions by 4% (or 400kg for the average consumer) each year between now and 2025.

What can I do?

The first step is to find out how much carbon dioxide you are responsible for. There are a number of calculators out there that you can use. Some are quick and high level, and others are more detailed and might require 10 – 15 minutes of your time to complete, but give you a more accurate picture of your usage. I liked this one provided by Resurgence as it shows you where you can make a difference in your usage. Alternatively the UNFCCC has a quick and easy calculator integrated with its citizens climate pledge pages. Consider signing the pledge to reduce your emissions.

The next step is to identify where you can make your 400kg reduction for this year. Depending on farming methods used, for every 100g of beef you eat, it has a footprint of 20kg to 105kg of carbon dioxide. If you eat beef once a week, you could change to every other week. Replacing this with beans and pulses would have a carbon footprint of around 2kg per 100g eaten. If you therefore eliminate 26 200g beef steaks from your diet and replace with a vegetarian alternative, you stand to save at least 468kg of emissions from that one change alone.

I’ve prepared a basic calculator that shows you how your food choices affect your emissions. Use it to see what changes you can make to your diet to achieve emissions savings.

Here are some other easy to achieve emissions savings ideas:

  • Reducing the temperature of your heating by 1°C saves about 320kg in the average UK home.
  • Every 10 miles you walk instead of taking the car saves around 3kg. Consider walking for distances of 2 miles or less. If you do this twice a week where you previously took the car you save 30kg.
  • One return flight to Europe contributes around 700kg per person. Consider switching one of your holidays this year to a UK based holiday.
  • Making an effort to buy seasonal, local produce could save 900kg per year per person.
  • Reduce wasted food – the UK wastes a third of the food it buys, and this could save you 200 – 800kg in emissions per person per year.
  • Eating out less – if you spend £10 per week less on going out, you could reduce your footprint by 300kg over the year.
  • Buying fewer new clothes – every £50 you spend on new clothes could generate around 20kg emissions.

Each year you will need to maintain the emissions saving actions you put in place and identify a new one to ensure that you’ve reduced your consumption in line with your targets.

For the rest – the emissions that you are still generating – you could consider investing in a carbon offsetting project. Beware though, there are many profit making carbon trading companies out there, and not all offset schemes are created equal. You should do some research first to determine that your money is being used wisely and that the scheme will realistically deliver the permanent savings that it promises to. The UNFCCC carbon offset portal is a great place to start. Offsetting 1t of carbon dioxide emissions can cost as little as $0.33 USD or as much as £15 GBP (and possibly more).

Based on average emissions, by my 35th birthday, I would have been responsible for 350t of carbon dioxide emissions. As these are in the past, and I can’t take them back, I have decided to purchase carbon offsets for them. Looking forward, carbon offsets are simply a displacement of emissions so not a replacement for reducing our own – so I will aim to reduce my emissions by a minimum of 4% each year of today’s levels until 2025, and I will purchase offsets for those emissions that I still make.

This isn’t perfect, but it is my part in delivering carbon neutrality as best as I can. Please share your carbon calculator results below and ideas you have for achieving your 4% saving this year.

One comment on “How Have You Destroyed The Planet Today?

  1. I know you didn’t write this post just for your old dad. But, I have appreciated it none the less. I have shared a few links around social media and I will continue to do so.

    I still feel very frustrated that I cannot impress on people just how important this issue is, for each and every one of us.