The following is excerpted from the December 8-14, 2018 edition of the New Scientist, written by Graham Lawton, staff feature writer:
Keeping global warming below 1.5°C will require behavioural changes – but that doesn’t mean you have to don a hair shirt. The cumulative effect of small, low-effort actions can be great, and the more each of us contributes, the less impossible it will be to meet the target. Here’s a selection of the most doable and effective interventions, as selected by scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Switching to a plant-based diet can reduce the carbon footprint of your food by more than 90 per cent. If nothing else, avoid beef: its carbon footprint is three times that of pork and six times that of chicken. The second-worst offenders are tropical fruits imported by air, and cheese. It is estimated that a shift to a plant-based diet across the globe would cut carbon emissions by up to 70 per cent.
Car journeys, especially short ones in cities, account for a disproportionate share of emissions. That doesn’t mean you have to stop driving entirely: a 2017 study in the Netherlands found that members of a car-sharing scheme drove 15 to 20 per cent fewer kilometres than before they joined, and so emitted between 13 and 18 per cent less CO2.
Leg power can replace many car journeys, too. In London in 2009, for example, journeys to places within walking distance (defined to be up to 2 kilometres) accounted for 11 per cent of the distance travelled in cars, while trips within cycling distance (up to 8 kilometres) accounted for 55 per cent.
Be warned, though: all of the small gains achieved by not driving can be wiped out by taking a single holiday flight. A return economy flight from London to Majorca in Spain – about 2 hours’ flying time – emits the equivalent of 490 kilograms of CO2, about the same as you would save in a year by going vegetarian or driving 2500 kilometres less.
Run a tight ship
According to a US study from 2009, just choosing an energy-efficient model when it comes to replacing a home appliance could reduce your carbon emissions by 1.9 per cent on average. Other simple changes such as lowering the temperature of your hot water and washing machine, using a lower-flow showerhead, not leaving appliances on standby and drying washing on an outdoor line rather than with a tumble dryer can cut a further 2.2 per cent – not huge, but everything counts.
Smart thermostats would make a bigger contribution. A modelling study in Germany in 2017 found that these can reduce a household’s emissions by up to 26 per cent, with a bonus reduction in energy bills.
And if you are rattling round a big house, consider downsizing. A smaller home can cut your emissions by 27 per cent, according to a UK study in 2016.
Be a desk warrior
Offices are a major source of unnecessary emissions. So turn off lights when everyone has left for the day, switch off your workstation when you go home and don’t leave phone chargers plugged in when they aren’t in use. A UK study from 2017 found that these simple actions can cut office emissions by up to 28 per cent.
Even better, don’t go into the office if you can get away with it. A US review from 2012 found that homeworkers travel up to 77 per cent fewer kilometres in a vehicle by avoiding a commute.