Individual action on climate change includes
- understanding the problem and avoiding repeating misinformation
- reducing one's own carbon footprint
- becoming a campaigner.
Understand the problem
- obtain reliable information from trusted sources
- avoid repeating misinformation.
Reduce your carbon footprintCalculate your CO2 total for the last calendar year and set yourself a target of reducing it by a certain amount. We suggest that most people can reduce their personal total by 10% without any real difficulty or hardship. Once you have achieved this (it will probably be easier than you think), you can go on to a further 10% reduction in subsequent years.
- stop flying for leisure purposes - for most people, flying is the most polluting thing they might do - it generates 1 tonnes of CO2 for every 4 hours they are sitting on a plane
- use more public transport
- walk more
- cycle more
- consider whether your journey is really necessary
- if still driving, obey all road safety laws, e.g.
- obey all speed limits (e.g. 21mph is illegal where the limit is 20mph)
- park on pavements only on roads where it has been legalised.
Use video conferencing to avoid travel to international conferences.
Home heating and lighting
- make sure everyone in the household has a good supply of vests and jumpers for the winter, and is wearing them. Then everyone will be too hot and you can turn the heating down.
- put on some thick socks as an extra pair
- turn heating off in rooms that are not used
- set your heating to turn off 1/2 an hour earlier at night
- if you live in a large house, spend more time in the smaller rooms, and the south-facing rooms (which tend to be wamer anyway) - keep these warm and allow the larger and north-facing rooms to be cooler
- the human body is very adaptable - you will find that cooler temperatures soon become the norm, and then other people's houses, businesses and public buildings all start to feel uncomfotably hot (then you can complain and ask for the heating to be turned down!).
- change to low energy light bulbs.
Many people consider 20 or even 21°C to be a standard room setting for a thermostat. Previous generations had very different ideas - 16°C has been regarded as standard in the past - and Workplace Regulations specify 16°C as the minimum temperature for workrooms (or 13°C where much of the work involves severe physical effort) (http://www.hse.gov.uk/contact/faqs/temperature.htm).
Washing and drying
- use lower temperature washes e.g. 40 deg.
- fill the machine, or use the half-load setting
- dry washing outside where possible, or on a drying rack inside, rather than using a tumble drier
- move to organic and locally grown food - if it is more expensive, this is often outweighed by it being of better quality
- eat seasonal food - it's more likely to be produced in the UK
- support farmers' markets - find your nearest from www.thefoody.com/regionalfm.html or www.farmersmarkets.net or search the internet
- grow your own food - in your garden or ask your local authority for details of allotments
- avoid throwing food away to landfill sites - 17% of what UK households throw away is kitchen waste  and decomposition releases methane - keep an eye on use-by dates and re-use leftovers to cut this right down to the minimum, and compost the rest - this will save 0.2 tonnes equivalent of CO2 every year. See also www.lovefoodhatewaste.com.
- their low prices are often at the expense of paying suppliers an unfair price or as a result of ignoring environmental factors - and when you look carefully, you find they are very crafty at giving the impression of low prices when many, less commonly bought items are actually more expensive than alternatives.
- the food can be transported across continents e.g. some Asda and Tesco chicken comes from Thailand but this was not apparent from the label (see Which? - October 2007) - Sainsbury's and the Co-op label the origin of meat more clearly.
A good resource is Sustainable Sustenance, a four-page briefing sheet on food transport and the environment produced by Women's Environmental Network, available as a .pdf from www.wen.org.uk/local_food/resources.htm, or from https://www.carbonindependent.org/files/foodmiles.pdf.
OtherThink about everything you buy and consider more sustainable alternatives. Examples are
- buy Fair Trade prooduce (food, clothing etc) where possible - unfair trade (i.e. exploitation) is not sustainable in the long term - economic migration will be the result
- buy seasonal, locally grown flowers rather than flowers driven in or even flown from abroad.
- avoid oil-dependent chemicals e.g. use Potassium alum as a deodorant (this is a mineral salt - traditionally used in dying and tanning) - available in the UK as the Deodorant Stone
- aim to buy from local / UK / European companies to cut back on transport CO2 emissions. Many goods sold in Europe and now manufactured in China, with large transport-related emissions - and the other reason for avoiding Chinese products is its poor human rights record e.g. see www.freetibet.org
- avoid buying from large corporations e.g. for wordprocessing and related office software, remember that OpenOffice is considered by many to be as good as any, but is the results of the work of many individuals and is free - from www.openoffice.org.
Become a campaignerHere's a good description by Jacinta Kent from the Leeds newsletter A Little Less Conversation www.alittlemoreaction.net:
"Activists. We come from every race, country and background imaginable but are all bound by one thing. It starts with a sense of injustice that won't stay at the back of our minds. The more we learn the further it shuffles, bustles, sometimes leaps to the forefront of our thoughts. It makes inaction an inconceivable idea and urges us to search the far flung corners of our creativity to try and find a way to make things better; so we take action."
John Ruskin (artist and social reformer) said:
"I saw injustice done and tried to remedy it. I heard falsehood taught, and was compelled to deny it ... I knew not how little or how much might come of the business, or whether I was fit for it."
Get involved with others, but bear in mind the descriptions of a committee as
- a group of people who individually can do nothing, but as a group will be able to decide that nothing can be done
- a body that keeps minutes and wastes hours.
Try to give people something that they want and they will take it.
Ideally you want to convince those in a position of power that they have a problem and that you have the solution.
When contacting people as part of a campaign, e.g. sending an email or a letter, always ask them to do something - e.g. say whether they agree, or sign a motion (if an MP).
First published: 2007
Last updated: 22 Aug 2023