If you want to tackle climate change, change your own personal habits first


  • Climate
  • Tuesday, 03 Dec 2019

Changing your daily commute into a cycle will help reduce your carbon footprint, even if you would normally use public transport.

The reality of climate change is becoming established in people’s minds, and that’s prompting many to ask whether they should be doing more personally to tackle the problem. There are things we can all do, but it will require changes to our lifestyles.

Is a climate-neutral lifestyle possible? Experts say that it is, but we’ve a very long way to go before we get close to it. The average consumer around the world is well over the emissions target of 2 tonnes a head – meaning big savings will have to be found.

The first question to making everyday changes is finding somewhere to start. “First, you have to accept that paying a little attention is not enough, ” says Michael Bilharz of Germany’s Federal Environment Agency.

“The majority of people think environmental protection is good but, in everyday life, many are trapped by habits and structures that have been developed over years.”

These include our cars, apartments, and the huge range of consumer goods on offer around us. According to Bilharz, there’ll have to be action on national and international levels – but each consumer can help by changing well-established behavioural patterns.

New flat-screen TVs are more efficient at using electricity, but buying one and throwing away your old one won't exactly help the environment.New flat-screen TVs are more efficient at using electricity, but buying one and throwing away your old one won't exactly help the environment.

Online CO2 consumption calculators can give a good overview of how your lifestyle choices affect your personal carbon footprint. Anyone can enter their data on the most important adjustable factors, such as housing, transport, nutrition and consumer consumption. The result is a personal CO2 reading that shows which areas could be addressed. In the home, the primary concerns are electricity and heating. “Everyone can easily switch to a green electricity provider – a one-off action that doesn’t necessarily cost more, ” says Seraja Bock of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Indeed, green electricity tariffs are sometimes even cheaper.

“At the same time, even with green electricity, you should turn off the lights and all electrical items when they’re not in use, ” she adds.Reducing heating levels can make a big impact – and this will also save you money. “For each degree you reduce room temperature, you can save up to 6% of your heating energy, ” says Jens Groeger from Germany’s environmental research institute Oeko-Institut.

Household electrical appliances are big energy guzzlers. “We often buy fridges that are too large for the number of people in the household, ” says Groeger, adding that even those with a good efficiency rating consume a lot of energy. “With washing machines and dishwashers, it’s important to fully load them and to select lower temperatures, ” he says.

“Watching television via a streaming service causes 100kg of CO2 per year in the network alone, ” continues Groeger, “and flat-screen televisions consume more electricity than old tube monitors despite their efficiency advantages.”

So, turn them off when not in use; similarly, with lights. “Because LED lamps require so little energy, there are no more savings to be found there, ” says Groeger, “but rooms are often stuffed with many light sources that are rarely turned off. All in all, that leads to more consumption.”

Energy-efficient lightbulbs cost less to operate, but that doesn't mean you can forget to turn them off and keep a good conscience.Energy-efficient lightbulbs cost less to operate, but that doesn't mean you can forget to turn them off and keep a good conscience.

A significant impact can be made by choosing not to fly. “A European flight directly causes 1-2 tonnes of CO2, intercontinental flights 3-5 tonnes, ” explains Bilharz. So, if possible, travel by train instead, or at least off-set the emissions from your journey.

Climate organisations such as Atmosfair and MyClimate provide options to do this.

In order to establish a new lifestyle on a long-term basis, it helps to to set priorities. First change one habit, then change another. As Groeger sums it up: “I go shopping on my bike, but I still whip my cream with an electric whisk.” – dpa


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