Recently I’ve been musing on the UK referendum vote to leave the EU. The exit campaign used a simple, catchy message, which was highly effective. It went something like, “We pay the EU vast sums of money to dictate our laws for us and allow immigrants to come here, claim benefits, and take our jobs. Let’s exit the EU and take control of our borders.” They identified a (perceived) problem, and offered a straightforward solution. I’ve been pondering whether the environmental movement, which is strong on identifying problems, should try to match these problems with solutions. In the sense that, say, a bulletin about the likely destruction of an ancient forest by the hosts of a Winter Olympics should be followed by recommendations about how you can prevent the disaster happening.
I tend to write about environmental problems rather than solutions, but here I’ll buck that trend and describe a number of measures that a person living a comfortable life me in the privileged world can take to reduce her or his environmental impact.
Don’t fly. The environmental impact of flying is devastating. Not only do aeroplanes emit copious quantities of carbon dioxide, they also release other greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide. Furthermore, water droplets that result from flights form vapour trails and clouds, which also contribute significantly to global warming. And on top of that, they create a massive amount of noise pollution.
Avoid driving. It’s not just the traffic and fuel consumption that is damaging, also road networks spoil the countryside, and car noise ruins fills our lives with stress. I can hear the M1 from my bedroom at night, and I live a couple of miles away. I think of all the wildlife (outside) that has to live with that constant noise. Cycle instead! Or walk.
Become vegan. The carbon footprint of meat, particularly red meat, is massive. As a rough guide, a kilogram of British hill farm beef or lamb protein produces more greenhouse gas emissions than a passenger flying from London to New York. Free-range farming is the worst offender for carbon dioxide because the animals roam around burning calories, producing methane, and devouring the countryside. The carbon footprint of high-density farming is better, although still high, however, such farming is often inhumane, and we tolerate it only by choosing to ignore it.
Buy organically grown produce. Organically grown produce is managed in an ecologically balanced way to promote sustainability, soil health and biodiversity. It uses less environmentally damaging herbicides and pesticides than other farming methods. Organic production tends to increase yields.
Buy local produce, or grow your own. For fewer transportation miles! And to support your local community in working in the local community (rather than commuting to London, or wherever).
Don’t eat fish. This is covered by becoming vegan, but I thought I’d mention fish separately as so many are critically endangered and yet we eat them anyway. If you do eat fish, then only eat fish approved by the Marine Conservation Society, or even better, fish approved by Greenpeace.
Support and volunteer for environmental charities. Such as, in the UK, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, World Land Trust, Rewilding Britain, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Wildlife Trust, Butterfly Conservation, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, British Dragonfly Society, World Wide Fund for Nature.
Campaign for the environment. Contact your MP about environmental issues. Chain yourself to a nuclear missile.
Switch to a renewable energy supplier. We use Good Energy. You could also try Ecotricity, and there are others too. We have a ground-source heat pump that supplies us with energy, and we don’t use gas.
Consume less. Less of everything: clothes, plastic packaging, computers, electricity, water.
Buy second hand. And donate to charity shops: don’t hoard things you no longer use.
Insulate your house. Loft insulation, double glazing, cavity wall insulation, led light bulbs, thick curtains, draft excluders, floor insulation, and so on.
Holiday closer to home. For us that means Bletchley, Luton or Northampton.
An omission from this list is having children. I’ll steer away from this issue because it’s not so straightforward. Problems of climate change are exasperated by increasing populations, but it’s unclear to me how individuals should respond to this – it depends on their circumstances. Certainly adopting children is a thoroughly admirable thing to do, and I have great respect for those who have the generosity to do it!