New Year Solutions

Climate ChangeThe effects of climate change and environmental damage are becoming more and more obvious.

Extreme weather events, such as the unprecedented quantities of snow in Europe currently, plus unseasonal timings, such as the primrose in flower seen near Maidstone on 1st Jan! You can view and add to the long term records of what happens when, known as “phenology” here
We’ve also been made aware of the vast amounts of plastic in our oceans and waterways. At the UN Climate Change Summit in Poland recently David Attenborough said

If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.

We need to act to reduce our impact on the earth but it is difficult to know what we can do as individuals. For an individual the three main headings for carbon dioxide production are heating, transport and the things we buy including food. It is difficult to take big steps such as never flying, becoming vegan or giving up a car entirely. We need to pick our battles and do what we can maintain. BBC Radio 4 has just run a short series called “New Year Solutions” which is worth a listen: They helpfully pointed out five areas where we can do something relatively easily, perhaps just one day a week, that, cumulatively, could make a difference. NB the information below is all from this series, we have not independently fact checked it.

Have a meat free or vegan day each week

One effective, simple thing we can do for the environment in our own lives is to give up meat & dairy. Protein from vegetable sources can be produced for half the carbon footprint of meat. Even the most sustainable meat uses more greenhouse gas emissions than the most unsustainable alternative.
Grass fed animals, cows particularly, produce a lot of methane (in their burps, from the bacteria they use to digest cellulose) which is a serious greenhouse gas.
Around 50% of the world’s surface is farmed and 80% of the world’s farmland is used to rear animals to eat or to grow food to feed them, so it is not an efficient use of space for human food production. A typical UK consumer of animal products is using the equivalent of about 1.5 football pitches of land a year, but this can be reduced by 80% if we avoid animal products (down to just 3 penalty boxes of land!).
The combined effects of the methane produced, plus the impacts of growing food animals’ food (fertilisers, pesticides, tractor fuel, transport etc.), is responsible for 15% of the world’s greenhouse gasses!
All foods are not equal, for example we could just reduce impacts somewhat by just cutting out red meat, or dairy.
There is a tool here to look up the carbon footprint of different foods and one that compares vegan milk alternatives
Meat Free Mondays have info and recipes here

Don’t use a car one day a week and drive slower and steadier when you do

In this country we use about 46 billion litres of petrol and diesel a year, the equivalent of 4 full bath tubs of petrol for each human here (this may include lorry transport). Not driving one day a week could save an average of half a bath tub per person per year, which would really add up if everyone did it.
We can also save petrol (and money) by driving slower & more steadily; looking further ahead and anticipating speed changes to avoid sharp breaking and acceleration. Dropping from driving at 70mph on the motorway to 50mph would take a third off your carbon footprint. If this seems too slow, just dropping 10mph saves 10-15% of your carbon footprint and would not add much time to a journey.

Mend or give away an item of clothing one day a week

Clothes and shoes account for 8% of greenhouse gas emissions! We are buying four times as many items as we were just ten years ago and wearing them for half as long.
Avoiding modern “fast fashions” which are often cheap clothes which are not designed to last beyond a few wears is a good idea. The massive scale of intensive cotton growing for the fast fashion clothes industry has led to the Aral Sea (which was the size of Ireland, on the boarders of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan) drying up! Price should be seen as value multiplied by wear. A more expensive item which is worn for years is, in reality, a better price than a cheap item we wear once or twice. Most of us don’t need as many clothes as we have. Could you hire instead of buy that special coat you’ll wear just a couple of times a year? Giving to and buying from charity shops also allows us to have a change without creating a need for brand new clothes to be manufactured. Saving energy is a handy excuse to avoid ironing!
Many clothes are made from synthetic fibres. The second largest amount of plastic in the sea comes directly from clothes! This is not whole items of clothing, but every time we wash our clothes they release microfibres into the water. These are too fine for our washing machines or water companies to filter out, so they end up in waterways and the sea. They can then absorb toxins and they may be eaten by fish, that we later eat! The first 8-10 washes of a new item produce the most fibres. Therefore, avoiding artificial fibres or at least keeping clothes in use for as long as possible helps; another reason for buying second hand. Washing clothes in a bag designed to catch these fibres can help (e.g. GuppyFriend).

Reduce water use by limiting showers to 3 minutes and collecting water for the garden

Water shortages are one of the main ways we feel the effects of climate change but how we use water also has impacts. Even in the UK we are more prone to droughts than one would think. London gets less rain than Sydney and even Scotland has had water shortages lately.
Cleaning, moving and heating water all use energy. On average 25% of our home energy use is to heat water. Saving water therefore also saves energy, and money! We can often turn the heating down a degree or two without noticing.
There are simple changes that can save water such as always turning the tap off while brushing teeth and collecting the cold water when running a tap to get hot water out, then using the clean, cold, water collected to rinse dishes, water plants etc. Many people have a shower every day, which is not always necessary; try every other day instead. Or, save water by taking shorter showers of just 2-3 minutes. Shower timers are available, perhaps make it a competition in your family! You can also put a bucket in the shower to collect some of the water and then use this to flush the toilet or water plants in the garden. Flushing the loo uses about 6 litres of water, this also doesn’t need to be done every time. “If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down!”
The average amount of water we use in a day in the UK is 141 litres, we will need to reduce this. Summer 2018 was the joint hottest on record, plus this winter has been dry; if this happens frequently, we may need to reduce water use much further. This is even more likely if we don’t hit the carbon reduction targets in time to slow climate change. In Cape Town recently people were only allowed to use 50 litres a day, when they had an imminent risk of completely running out!

Share garden tools with a neighbour

We may think de-cluttering cannot possibly help reduce our impact on the climate, but we’d be wrong! It helps us recognise what really matters (plus it also feels very liberating).
‘Things’ take energy and resources to make, so should be purchased and used more sparingly. We can consider sharing items that we only need occasionally, such as sharing a lawn mower, garden tools, or even a car, with a neighbour/friend.
Fewer belongings also mean we need less space, so we can downsize our homes more easily, or share living spaces, which is more energy efficient. Cooking together & sharing washing loads saves energy. An example of co-living is ‘The Collective’ at Old Oak in London, a sustainable building for co-living where tenants just have their own en suite bedroom but it is supplemented by many shared living spaces & facilities. Loneliness is one of the biggest sources of unhappiness, so more communal lives can also help reduce this.
Sustainable living is difficult in large, inefficient, homes. Downsizing is a big change to make, but as a first step we can all start to de-clutter, get to know our neighbours, share what we can, and really think whether we need items before we buy them.

Conclusions

The climate is changing. The impacts of this are felt by the most vulnerable in the world first. God gave us all a responsibility to tend his world. The speed of climate change is therefore a responsibility for all of us, not just politicians.
Above are suggestions of some small things we can do to help (e.g. eating less meat, driving less, saving water, buying fewer clothes, sharing things). Better still, if lots of us do them it will create a new ‘normal’ way of life, which will have the largest beneficial impact of all.
There are many ideas above but let’s just pick some of these solutions and make them our new year’s resolutions!

Best wishes for 2019. Alison Riggs and Clare Taylor, St. Luke’s Environment Officers

Web Admin

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