I was struck by the challenge set out by Christina Figureres, UN Climate Negotiator, in “The Future We Choose”– that to reach net zero by 2050, we all need to half our net greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. So, how could our fairly normal UK household achieve such a radical reduction?
Our guest blog this week is written by Lizzie Insall – who is a St Albans resident who loves the outdoors and cares about the climate. She lives with her husband and two young children.
A person’s greenhouse emissions or ‘carbon footprint’ are the sum of the environmental impact of everything they do; the gas and electricity used at home, the petrol used to get around, the food eaten, everything bought, and any waste created.
My partner and I have taken many incremental steps over the years to live more sustainably but these actions have focused on reducing emissions; category-by-category, ie. food, transport, consumption. Our flight-free 2020 was certainly made much easier by COVID. We liked the challenge of thinking about our total emissions over a ten year horizon, and so have taken it on.
Working out our Carbon Footprint
In fact the hardest challenge at the outset is establishing the data on our own “carbon footprint”. I have learnt that what we actually want to count is CO2e, which is a carbon equivalent that takes into account other greenhouse gases as well as carbon dioxide. There are carbon calculators out there which use this measure and can help you amass average data either on your whole footprint, or on particular categories like transport and energy and food. Much harder are the everyday purchases that we make, clothes, gadgets, toys; how those items are made and how they get to our door.
Recently Extinction Rebellion have also promoted the importance of identifying and reducing the role of your savings and investments in emissions. They have a handy blog on how to talk to your financial institutions on how your money is being used.
For this first year, our main focus will be on baselining – establishing data on the emissions we are responsible for in as many areas of our lives as possible. Each month we will hone in on a different area to understand the carbon associated with our choices (e.g. everything we eat and drink for a month).
Becoming engaged consumers
Whilst many companies will tell you how much carbon they have saved, few tell you how much they are producing. Part of our family’s strategy is to engage each of our ‘suppliers’ (supermarket, internet provider, delivery companies, childcare provider, financial institutions etc) and ask them to help us understand our emissions associated with their service/products, and what actions they are taking to reduce these by 2030. The responses so far have been mixed! No one has produced any data at all, but some have actively (and honestly) engaged with the question, whilst others have repeatedly fobbed us off with their FAQ page.
.and engaged citizens
Once baselined, some reductions will be in our power, but others rely on the actions of government and private companies. Therefore a significant aspect of our strategy is about being not just active consumers but also active citizens, participating in campaigns like St Albans ’20’s plenty’.
A journey of exploration
We know that we won’t be able to accurately count all of our emissions. Guidance exists for determining the scope of emissions an organisation is responsible for. In the absence of a household model we are ad libbing our own. Even determining that scope can become an existential crisis (does my childcare provision count and does that include the key workers’ journey to work?) But we are ready to dive into those questions with curiosity and to be realistic in what they mean for our goal. Where we can’t count we can still try and influence.
Our vision of a net zero future is not a puritan one achieved by depriving ourselves of things that make activities efficient and living fun. It is of a future where we have reprioritised, put climate at the centre of our decisions, and found the efficiencies and fun that come from that new configuration.
“I’m pretty sure my partner would describe his avid scouring of the internet for second hand children’s shoes as a genuine hobby.”
Is anyone else up for the challenge? We’d love to hear pointers and advice if you have them. Otherwise, I’ll let you know how we get on.