Clear out the clutter and try some new thinking in how you eat, shop and travel for a climate-conscious 2019.
No one person can undo the effects of climate change but, taken collectively, our individual actions can make a difference.
If there’s one thing we have learned from 2018, it’s that consumer pressure can drive changes in industry and spur governments into action.
You don’t have to take a giant leap into a dramatic lifestyle change, but you can start taking small steps towards environmentally friendly living any time.
1. Try a different kind of new year diet
A study published earlier this year found that meat, aquaculture, egg and dairy farming account for up to 58pc of total greenhouse gas emissions from food production, yet they contribute just 18pc of the world’s food calories. As research leader Joseph Poore explained it to The Guardian: “Converting grass into [meat] is like converting coal to energy.” We know now that coal is unsustainable, and we need to apply that logic to the food we eat.
Vegetarian and vegan dietary options are becoming more widely available, so it’s a fine time to give it a go. Drastically altering your diet can be a lot to take on, and is not a viable option for some, but there are conscious consumer choices you can make.
Try the odd meat-free meal day per week and challenge yourself to build up a repertoire of vegetarian or vegan recipes. Red meat is the climate’s food enemy number one, so start by swapping your minced beef for a soya protein variety and work from there.
You can also look out for locally grown food sources and prioritise seasonal produce when shopping as this reduces the transport emissions associated with what you eat. If you’re green-fingered, you can even try growing your own, and compost whatever you can.
2. Buy less stuff
Mass production has resulted in a throwaway culture where we buy fad items and ephemeral bits and bobs by the dozens. But the fact is there is no ‘away’ in throwaway and what you use for less than a year can live on for a number of lifetimes in landfill.
There are now five Rs to consider: reduce, reuse, recycle, repair and refuse. Think twice before you buy any product and ask in advance what its end-of-life cycle will involve. Products made for the long term can cost more up front but, if you can afford it outright, you will inevitably save on cost per use. Online sources such as BuyMeOnce can help you find products that fit the brief.
Fast fashion is a real problem here, from pollution to overproduction. Denim, a material meant for long and lengthy use, has transformed to plastic-laced stretch jeans that hardly last more than one season. Thankfully, there are brands working on new forms of production for clothing that will last without an exorbitantly high environmental cost. Fill your wardrobe with new labels that are changing with the times, and wear your climate consciousness with pride.
3. Cut back on single-use items
Ireland is the EU’s worst offender when it comes to plastic waste and the Government is finally taking steps to reverse this reputation by tackling single-use plastics – but plastic isn’t the only single-use material we’re throwing away. Take stock of all the single-use products in your life and ask if there’s a reusable replacement.
For example, the cotton balls, pads and wet wipes that are clogging up our sewers as fatbergs can easily be swapped out for reusable organic cotton discs and face cloths. Try bamboo cotton buds and consider trading in your plastic container of liquid soap for a good old-fashioned soap bar. Reusable feminine hygiene products and nappies might be hard to get your head around, but more and more people are trying them out so products are more easily available if you want to have a go.
4. Switch up your transport
Despite accounting for almost one-quarter of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions, transport has not seen the same decline in emissions as other sectors. Clearly, this needs some work.
If you can, walk, bike or opt for public transport to get you places. If you must have a car and 2019 is time for an upgrade, you can check out hybrid and fully electric models but you would also want to check what kind of fuel mix your electricity supplier uses.
The fact of the matter is we need fewer cars on the road, and a bit of extra walking won’t do the average able-bodied person any harm.
Flights are persistently problematic, but you can at least opt to fly direct to lessen the amount you’re contributing to the excessive fuel burned during take-off. Also, since all airlines will have to offset emissions under a UN directive by 2021, many already include carbon offsetting in the price.
5. Join a clean-up crew
So you’ve cut back on plastic and waste starting this year, but there’s still plenty of it that will be knocking around and getting into the world’s oceans and seas for years to come. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is growing and marine creatures are inescapably devouring the microplastics flooding their environment.
A few minutes cleaning up a park, riverside or beach takes minimal effort and can bring benefits to you as well as the environment. Sisters Easkey and Beckey-Finn Britton both spoke at Inspirefest about how we can clean up our coasts, and the mental health boost this can bring. If you’re a social creature, you can team up and join a clean-up community, or you can become a citizen scientist by contributing to projects such as Litterati.
6. Support education for women
Population growth hugely impacts the environment and its resources and, thus, is a risk factor for climate change. Sexual health education and freely available reproductive healthcare can help individuals take control of their own situation and make their own decisions when it comes to family planning.
Further to this, empowering and educating women – a goal worth striving for on its own merits – has the added benefit of giving women the knowledge and power to have children by choice and not by chance. In fact, girls’ education and family planning ranked higher than many infrastructure and energy-related suggestions on a list of 100 climate change solutions proposed by a team of hundreds of researchers.
7. Talk about it
What we must remember from 2018 is that public discourse on climate change contributed to the changes we are seeing taking shape today. So, reach out to your Government representatives, your employer and the businesses you patronise and ask how they are tackling climate change. Make like Maeve Higgins and call your bank to find out if your money is being invested in fossil fuels. Keep the conversation going at work, at home and at your leisure. Raise your voice and help raise climate consciousness.
According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we need to make “unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” to roll back on climate disruption, and this can only be achieved with broad public support and commitment to what needs to be done.
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