10 top tips for carbon reduction
Author Debi Gliori takes a look at ten easy things we can do with our families to make our lives a little bit greener
Armed with missionary zeal, I had written a green-up-your-family list which read like a counsel of perfection crossed with some of the leafier, pastoral pages from the Mini-Boden catalogue. Reading through it, I realised how far short of that ideal I fall. In fact, as I write this, it occurs to me that I’m probably the biggest carbon criminal out of my entire family, and as such, have no right to dish out the Carbon Commandments from some crumbling perch up there in the moral high ground.
So, instead, here are ten things that my family and I are doing to reduce our footprint. Some of these will undoubtedly be things you are already doing yourself, but others might be new to you and hopefully you’ll find some workable suggestions for ways in which you and your family can make a difference to your carbon output.
Get out there
If we’re going to try and save the planet from overheating, the first thing we need to do is to connect with the natural world. Walking is one of the easiest ways to do this - the pace is slow enough to allow us to engage with what surrounds us, rather than rush from point A to point B, which disengages us and turns our perception of the world around us into something with about as much meaning as wallpaper. So - walk. Breathe. Try and find somewhere to walk with trees, water and enough space to see the sky. Walk. Breathe. Observe. Never forget that you are part of the Earth, and it is part of you. By destroying it, we are destroying ourselves.
The weather only looks horrible from inside. Once we get out in it, it’s rarely so bad that it can’t be enjoyed. Reality check: I am Scottish, I hate rain as much as the next person, but it's different once you're out there. Our family’s rather insane solution to the I’m-sooo-bored-it’s-the-weekend, I’ve-got-nothing-to-do and no-money-to-do-it-with blues is extreme picnicking. No matter what the weather does, we make soup, fill flasks, pile up sandwiches, pack a hipflask (adults only) swaddle ourselves in deepest goretex, and head out into the rain/sleet/snow/midges/gales/frost. Yes, the teenagers moan for Scotland, and we used to have to carry our younger family members on our backs and yes, we do get very wet sometimes. But... we’re Out There, engaging with the natural world, watching it change through the seasons, gaining an appreciation of our human place within the vast complexity of the biosphere, and thus we have all come to realise how precious and fragile that world is.
And drinking hot soup on a loch-shore in the rain is a very fine thing to do.
Less is more-ish
We do eat meat, but we have radically cut down our consumption. These days, once or twice a week is about our average. Not only did it become more of a treat, only eating it occasionally, we are able able to afford organically produced, locally sourced meat which tastes better, is better for us and most importantly, is better for the planet. Meat production produces one-fifth of global carbon emissions. The production of only one kilo of beef is roughly equivalent, carbon-wise to an average family car travelling two hundred and seventy five kilometres.
Squint at the small print
Until our food has a carbon cost printed on it, consumers are left puzzling over what the most ethical food choices are. Home-grown would be perfect, but for those of us without an acre or two, organically produced, locally sourced and minimally packaged are three ideals. Obviously there are an infinite number of varying shades of ‘green’ within every choice we make as consumers, but it doesn’t take a degree in climate science to work out that apples grown in season in Kent are preferable to apples shipped in from China out of season.
Staff of life
It takes roughly a square metre of wheat to make one loaf of bread. That’s quite an acreage of wheat required to feed the UK, far less the rest of the world. With land being squeezed by the need for more houses, let’s make every grain count. Instead of turning all our wheatflour into tasteless, packaged pap, why not make real bread ourselves? So - make your own bread. By hand. Not only is it ridiculously easy, fills your kitchen with a to-die-for aroma and gives you a vast sense of achievement, but it is a far better food than the Chorley Bread Method, steam-risen mass-produced fluff that supermarkets call bread.
Just Don’t Do It (fly abroad for short holidays)
This does not need explanation. I reckon if I can’t live without sunshine, Europe is accessible by rail and bus. End of story.
An end to slavery
I don’t buy rock-bottom cheap-as-chips fashion items for myself. Not ever. Not only are ultra-cheap clothes often made by underpaid people working in conditions which I wouldn’t be able to tolerate, they’re also manufactured from oil, shipped across to Britain thanks to fuel oil and usually end up as landfill after one year. If I buy these garments, I am effectively giving a thumbs-up to the dark side of the fashion industry. I don't want to condone slavery or be a slave to fashion; my wardrobe consists of a lot of vintage or second-hand clothes interspersed with some classics which are, on average, over five years old. Well-made clothes cost more, but they can, if looked after, last for years.
Learn to sew properly
That way I can customise my wardrobe, mend tattered but beloved garments, make original clothes and if I absolutely have to wear cutting-edge fashion, I'm just about able to make my own version of whatever’s in vogue at the time.
This has to be a conscious decision and may involve a bit of slightly inconvenient juggling of the daily timetable but it does save bucketloads of fuel, so it is A Good Thing. Keep your speed below 60 m.p.h on the open road, always keep in as high a gear as possible, where practicable, and avoid braking. For more tips on how to minimize your car’s environmental impact, visit www.eta.co.uk.
Obviously it would be preferable to give up cars altogether, but sadly, we’re not there yet, at least not in my home.
Work it out
There are a bewildering number of internet carbon calculators with which you can, with varying degrees of accuracy, work out your household’s footprint. There are also a bewildering number of pundits spouting wildly varying figures regarding the exact percentage of cuts in carbon output that our governments have to make in a very short space of time. I’m neither a scientist, nor a pundit, but from what I have read on the subject, I strongly believe that if we are to have a hope of slowing the planet’s headlong rush towards runaway climate change, we need to implement global cuts in output of 90% as soon as possible. To help this along, we should be aiming for a zero-carbon output in our own homes.
Realistically, most of us have a long way to go before attaining this degree of carbon purity. However, this shouldn’t be a cause for despair, or an excuse for nihilistic apathy; I find it’s more helpful to regard it as one of the biggest challenges we have ever faced. Like every seemingly impossible summit, the best way to tackle the ascent is to break it down into manageable stages.
First - define your footprint. Second - work out a timetable of cuts in a month-by-month plan to reduce your household output to as near to zero as humanly possible. If you can involve all your family in this procedure, so much the better. Third - write out your plan in as much detail as you feel necessary, then sign and date it.
This is your contract with the Earth; as unimportant as a seed planted in the ground, as legally binding as gossamer, but as morally imperative as the promise we make to our children to love them forever, no matter what.
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