After a year of flooding, bush fires and record temperatures Grantham Institute suggests the best low-carbon new year commitments to make for 2021.
With the Government’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution and the United Nations COP26 climate conference coming to Glasgow in 2021, cutting carbon emissions and protecting and respecting our environment should be a top priority for individuals, organisations, businesses and governments, according to experts from the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London.
Alyssa Gilbert, Director of Policy and Translation at the Grantham Institute, says: "2020 brought devastating health impacts and economic challenges to many. As well as COVID-19, we broke more record temperatures in 2020, witnessed extensive flooding around the UK and saw devastating wildfires across the world. Scientific studies continue to confirm these impacts are associated with the changing climate.
"Recent polling indicates that while health and economy have jumped up the priority list, climate change and the environment are still areas where people want to see action and changes that lead to a better environment. For many, 2020 has been a time to value nature even more highly than before. If you feel this way, it is vital to remind those in power that climate change is a pressing priority and demand urgent action.
"The decisions taken now by politicians about issues like airports, roads, infrastructure for walking and cycling, waste and recycling, and energy efficient homes will impact hugely on the UK’s future and its commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Ultimately, steps to reduce carbon emissions will positively impact local issues, like improving air quality and public health, creating jobs and reducing inequality. Measures to help us prepare for the unavoidable impacts of a changing climate, such as heatwaves and changed rainfall patterns, will also be necessary."
Studies conducted by teams at Imperial have shown: an increased rate of deaths as temperatures rise; an increased risk of flooding because of warmer and wetter winters with more frequent rain; and, that unprecedented numbers of animal species are set to go extinct because of human activity including deforestation.
Alternative resolutions for a green new year
Our top resolutions for a green new year include to:
- As opposed to the usual “Wake up earlier” – you could Wake up those in power by making your voice heard.
- Instead of the cliched “Get more exercise” – Get out of your car and get on your bike! It will be better for your waistline and will reduce pollution levels.
- Rather than the usual “Eat healthier” – Eat less meat and dairy – it will be healthier for you and healthier for the planet.
- In place of the hope to “Spend less money” – Reduce your energy use and your gas and electricity bills, or invest in your home to prepare for the future.
- As opposed to “Give up bad habits” – Cut consumption and waste from clothes to cigarettes or vapes, and of course plastic bags.
- Instead of just making a resolution to “Be nicer” – Encourage others to be more thoughtful about the environment - just chat about the changes you’re making.
- Rather than aiming just to “Spend more time with family” – See friends and family outdoors while respecting and protecting green spaces.
- In place of planning to “Take on a new challenge” – make this to Cut back on flying – if COVID-19 has taught us anything it is the power of Teams and Zoom to change the world
- As opposed to saying you will “Live life to the fullest” – Make sure you save or invest your money responsibly for future generations.
Green resolutions – and tips on how to keep them!
1. Wake up those in power by making your voice heard
Tell your MP, local councillors and city mayors that you think action on climate change is vital. Find out who your MP is and the best way to contact them. You can also join an environmental campaign such as the Youth Strike 4 Climate or Extinction Rebellion.
2. Get out of your car and walk or get on your bike
If you walk or cycle or scoot you can enjoy the physical and mental health benefits, and the money saved! For longer journeys and where public transport isn’t an option, do switch off your engine when you park. You could also try:
- car sharing schemes
- trading in your diesel or petrol car for an electric or hybrid model
- Look up all-electric car hire companies.
Not only do cars contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, but air pollution caused by traffic exhaust fumes poses a serious threat to public health that has been shown to affect the health of unborn babies and increase the risk of dementia. Furthermore, Imperial research shows that poor air quality in the capital leads to around 1,000 London hospital admissions for asthma and serious lung conditions every year.
3. Eat less meat and dairy, which can help you lose weight, learn new recipes and save money
Avoiding meat and dairy is a key way to reduce your impact on the environment. Studies show that a high-fibre, plant-based diet is also better for your health. You can try to:
- Eat fewer or smaller portions of meat, especially red meat, which has the worst environmental impact
- Choose fresh, seasonal locally grown to help reduce the carbon emissions from transportation, preservation and prolonged refrigeration
- Check out our blog on going vegan for top tips on making it a success
- Adopt a more plant-based, seasonal diet: Saving the planet, one meal at a time
- You might even be brave enough to consider eating insects – Imperial researchers have been investigating how people in the Western world can be convinced to eat them!
4. Reduce your energy use as comfortably as you can – and your gas and electricity bills
Small changes to your behaviour at home will help you use less energy, cut your carbon footprint and your energy bills. These include putting on an extra layer, turning down the heating by a degree or two, switching off lights and appliances when you don’t need them and replacing light bulbs with LEDs or other low-energy lights.
You can also make simple changes to how you use hot water, like buying a water-efficient shower head, make sure your home is energy efficient. Check the building has proper insulation, and consider draught-proofing windows and doors and consider switching energy supply to a green tariff – this could save you money on bills too.
5. Cut consumption and waste by avoiding single us plastic bags, and cutting food waste by freezing excess and eating left-overs the next day
Everything we use as consumers has a carbon footprint. Try to avoid single-use items and fast fashion and try not to buy more than you need. Shop around for second-hand or quality items. You can also:
- Repair and reuse, because the biggest environmental footprint is embedded in making new things
- Give unwanted items a new life by donating them to charity or selling them onAvoid wasting food, such as by getting creative with leftovers or not buying too much in the first place
- Avoid single-use cigarettes and vapes, which contain materials that are toxic for the environment and your health
- Choose refillable cosmetics, cleaning products and store cupboard items, which can save you money. Let brands know if you think they are using too much packaging.
6. Chat about the changes you’re making
Conversations are a great way to spread big ideas. Don’t be a bore or confrontational – just talk enthusiastically to friends, family, clients and customers about steps you’re taking. And for some tips on successful climate-based conversations, check out Climate Outreach’s work with climate scientist and communicator Katherine Hayhoe.
7. Spend more time outdoors while respecting and protecting green spaces
Parks and gardens absorb carbon dioxide and are associated with lower levels of air pollution. They help to regulate temperature by cooling overheated urban areas, can reduce flood risk by absorbing surface rainwater and can provide important habitats for a wide variety of insects, animals, birds and amphibians.
They provide multiple benefits to public health, with studies linking green space to reduced levels of stress. And there is lots you can do to enhance this including:
- Planting trees. The Woodland Trust are aiming to plant 64 million trees in the next decade
- Show your children how to plant flowers and herbs in pots on your windowsill and don't replace the grass with paving or artificial turf
- Help to protect and conserve local parks, ponds and community gardens. Check out organisations like Fields In Trustand the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces
- Community volunteering charity TCV offers access to open spaces to those without it.
8. Stay grounded – when COVID is behind us, consider avoiding work trips abroad if you can use video conferencing instead
If you need to meet colleagues abroad, consider using video-conferencing instead. For trips in the same country or continent, take the train or explore options using an electric car. When flying is unavoidable, you can pay a little extra into one of a variety of reputable carbon offsetting schemes. For leisure trips, choose nearby destinations, and fly economy – on average, a passenger in business class has a carbon footprint three times higher than someone in economy. Meanwhile, Myclimate also compares the carbon emissions of your particular flight, with the maximum amount of carbon dioxide a person should produce per year in order to halt climate change.
9. If you are able to, save and invest your money as ethically as you can to benefit future generations
Voice your concerns about responsible investment by writing to your bank or pension provider, and ask if you can opt out of funds investing in fossil fuels. There are also a number of ‘ethical banks’ you can investigate.
Banks, pensions funds and big corporates often hold investments in fossil fuel companies. However, the discussion around responsible investment – weighing up environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors and taking them into consideration when investing money – is growing.
Article text (excluding photos or graphics) © Imperial College London.
Photos and graphics subject to third party copyright used with permission or © Imperial College London.
The Grantham Institute for Climate Change
The Grantham Institute for Climate Change
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