Elaine Butler of Living Lightly in Ireland on ways you can actually make a difference…
Since I read analysis of the recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) report and the inaugural Hamburg Climate Futures Outlook I’ve wavered between despair and steely determination.
If you’re not familiar with either, the first states that we’re heading for climate catastrophe unless we halve carbon emissions by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050, the second concludes that achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 is feasible and possible but not plausible given the lack of progress on interventions and social change to date.[restrict]
I would say I’m a pragmatist at heart, I expect the worst and hope for the best and that’s been my attitude to the climate crisis. I don’t expect my children to be able to have children of their own, but am wishing desperately to be proven wrong.
Whether I am or not is all down to the collective ‘you’. I’m doing the best I can, if you do too, there is hope, and where there’s hope there’s a future worth living for.
I often hear the argument that systemic change at government level is far more important than individual action. Why is it either or? Are they implying that people can’t email their public representatives and eat more plant-based food? Or sign a petition and bring reusable bags to the supermarket? Do they really have such a low opinion of us?
Our actions support or shatter new initiatives. Whether they’re top-down or bottom-up doesn’t matter, how we choose to respond to them does. If you’re ready to do your part, here are some ways that you can help the fight against climate chaos, both individually and collectively.
Move your money
We vastly underestimate the power we have, particularly when it comes to our money. Until very recently people in Ireland couldn’t avoid investing in climate damaging businesses but that’s changed now that the bank Tomorrow has entered the Irish market. Tomorrow is an online bank that exclusively invests in sustainable projects.
Prioritise plant-based food
If the world moved to a vegetarian diet we’d save up to 60% of carbon emissions, and if we went vegan that increases to 70%. Despite animal farming in Ireland being very efficiently run, the Irish agriculture sector emits nearly twice the amount of transport and more than 3 times the amount of residencies. Simply put we can’t avoid cataclysmic climate change without reducing our intake of animal products.
Source second-life goods
What one thing can you do to save yourself money, reduce your carbon footprint and reduce our waste problem? Answer: buying pre-owned goods instead of new. It’s becoming easier to do and hopefully in the near future we’ll be able to buy second-life versions in our favourite stores. In Ireland we’re lucky to have lots of charity shops, online vintage and resale outlets along with international peer-to-peer resale platforms.
Buy renewable energy
What is the point in you reducing your own personal carbon footprint if you’re shelling out money to companies who are pumping it out? We’re lucky to have quite a few suppliers of renewable energy in Ireland, some better than others. Choosy.ie is a website that compares renewable energy providers, although it doesn’t currently have all suppliers listed on it, so do your own research too.
Is it unfair that the days of carefree flights are numbered? Or that the cost of our treat trinkets will skyrocket? Or that animal products will cease to be an everyday staple? Yes, yes and yes. It is totally unfair, but necessary. Holding on to the unfairness shackles us to the pain of what once was and blinds us to the future that could be. Clean unpolluted air, water and soil, free public transport on uncongested roads, affordable organic plant-based meals and a retail sector built on need and enough instead of dissatisfaction and exploitation.
Stop shopping and get happy
Buying stuff is lovely, who doesn’t get a warm glow as they lift that crisp store bag from the cash desk or click that ‘order’ button. But the pleasure is short lived and this pick-me-up drains our bank accounts, and gives us even more stuff to tidy, clean, repair and rehome. It takes time to find alternative ways to achieve pleasure, but, believe me, in the long run life is so much sweeter off the consumption treadmill.
Aim for active and public transport
This is one I struggle with. I drive way more than I should. It’s just so convenient and generally a lot quicker. Sometimes it’s the only viable option but in reality we can often walk, cycle or bus it to where we need to go – it just takes a bit more planning. I found it very helpful to start small with just one journey a week for the first month, then two and so on and so on. Electric cars may be better than fossil fuel cars but not having a car is best.
Share your efforts
Change is social. People are far more likely to try something if they see a friend doing it. Despite what Instagram might tell you, we’re all influencers, and you’ll influence people that I don’t have a hope of reaching. This is why it’s so important for everyone to do what they can, with what they have, where they are. Each action ripples out, affecting those in our sphere of influence.
Why doesn’t your local cafe take reusable cups? Why doesn’t your apartment block have a brown bin service? Why did your local politician vote against a new cycle lane? When I do this I do so in a respectful, inquiring manner. My goal is not to convert. My goal is to plant the seed of an idea. Don’t underestimate the power of a question to nudge people in the right direction, even if their initial reaction is to be defensive.
If you do drive, don’t leave the engine idling while parked. Not only does it cost you money and wear down your engine, it also affects your lungs and others nearby. Plus it puts 150 balloons worth of toxic fumes into the atmosphere every minute.
Vote with your Euro
The upside to living in a capitalist society is that you get to vote every time you spend. So when you buy a non-fairtrade, non-organic coffee in a single-use plastic cup from an international chain you’re saying yes to having more of this in your world. Equally when you buy sustainable, ethical goods and services you’re sending a clear message out that this is the kind of future you want.
Inspire and encourage political change
In Ireland people vastly underestimate their ability to change policy and legislation. In a previous life I was on the management team of a political party for 5 years. I can tell you categorically that politicians only ever introduce what they think the electorate will tolerate, and they decide what’s tolerable based on feedback from voters. So if they’re only hearing requests for ‘more of the same’, then that’s exactly what they’re going to deliver. It’s not rocket science but we act like it is.
Image via Unsplash