In our efforts to tackle the Climate Emergency the single, most important thing we can do is to share the stories of our journeys; stories which can provide inspiration and encouragement, stories that remind us that the change, although not easy, is possible and will certainly be a legacy for which our future generations will be grateful. This is the latest instalment in my Climate Journey Story.
At the end of 2020, I shared a summary of my Climate Journey towards a kaleidoscope world in which we can live in a more climate conscious and sustainable way that is in balance with our planet. I had set myself a challenge to further reduce my footprint and to do more to address other aspects of my lifestyle including my impact on the land and nature as well as thinking about the things I buy and where they come from. So how did I get on?
When I pulled together the data on our home energy use for the year and ran this through the carbon footprint calculator I was pretty excited. The installation of our heat pump system had enabled us to reduce the total amount of energy we used by about 15%, and to reduce this part of our carbon footprint by 50% (the result of being able to move away from using gas, apart from for cooking). On top of this only half of our electricity came from the gird the rest was supplied by our solar panel and battery system. The installation of the heat pump had been done as part of a package of home energy improvements we had undertaken following the guidance of Cosy Homes Oxfordshire which also included cavity wall and loft insulation. As these were only completed part way through the year, we will have to wait to see their full impact but as we head into winter again, we are already feeling the benefits of increased comfort at less cost (both to me and to the planet).
Another big part of my carbon footprint which had changed was transport. This had come down by a whopping 90%. Most of this can be attributed to two things; for all my short journeys I walked or cycled, and we got rid of our second (non-electric) car which meant that we finally embraced the idea of using the electric one for longer trips (when going by train was not practical) which actually proved to be quite simple once we got the hang of the different charging systems. Will I be able to sustain such a low travel footprint in the coming years? Possibly not, I have certainly travelled less due to Covid restrictions, attending many meetings on-line, but then maybe that is a new way of doing things that will endure. We will have to wait and see.
The final set of changes which had a further positive impact on my carbon footprint relate to food. As well as growing more of our own fruit and vegetables we switched to buying the rest through an organic veg box scheme (thank you Riverford). This in combination with a commitment to eating more seasonally, wasting less and also sourcing our bulk staples (rice, lentils, beans etc.) from sustainable organic suppliers, where possible, helped to reduce my food footprint by around 50%.
Overall, I calculated my carbon footprint in 2021 to be 3.3 tons of CO2, roughly a third of what it was the previous year. What about the wider sustainability impacts of the lifestyle changes I have made? Looking beyond carbon to a more holistic global footprint I find that I am using less of the world’s resources but at 1.1 earths this is still more than my share. There are things which still need more attention such as water use and, perhaps more significantly, that large white elephant called consumption that we often somehow ignore. Before I look at this in more depth, I want to address some of the other aspects of my climate journey which are also hard to measure but are no less important. Aspects relating to biodiversity and my relationship with the world around me.
Two of the biggest changes I have made this year relate to my garden. I already mentioned that I elected to grow more of my own fruit and veg and to grow it organically. I have never used pesticides and fertilisers on a large scale before but until now I have always used some. I have for many years made my own compost from garden waste and food scraps such as potato peelings; this year I also added coffee grounds into the mix which I previously poured down the sink (what a waste of nutrients!). Something amazing happened; I am not sure what to attribute it to but the population of worms and other soil fauna in my compost exploded and the quality of my compost improved enormously as a result. The other thing we changed was to let our grassy areas go wild, we did not mow them until harvest time when we gathered a crop of hay which should keep our pet rabbits going through the winter. The effect was magical, so many types of grass and wildflowers all providing sustenance for insects and birds. I had a little colony of blue damsel flies which took up residence in a patch of grass and yarrow for several weeks. Even now in the winter season we see more birds which are nourished by the seed heads we left behind. The garden might look a little scruffy round the edges but it’s an amazing place to spend a few minutes each day enjoying being part of nature.
When on a journey it is always good to pause and admire the view. Looking back over the past year I am pleased with the progress I have made. Each thing has required some investment either of time, money or in most cases just a little more thought. Should I give myself a pat on the back? Absolutely! Should I sit back and relax having come so far? Absolutely not! My journey is far from done. I have set myself the goal of reducing my footprint by a further 10% in 2022 and, based on progress made so far, that should be relatively easy to do – or should it? I spoke before about the white elephant called consumption; we tend to ignore it because it is hard to quantify. But just because it is hard to quantity that doesn’t mean we can’t seek to reduce it. In the coming year I will be looking at ways to do just that. I am not suggesting following a puritanical approach just a more practical one; investing less in carbon intensive things and making then last longer when I do; investing more in carbon neutral, sustainable things, investing more in the world to which we belong and reaping the rewards of that richer relationship. Want to join me on my journey? Share your story and let’s explore that world together.