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Climate Solutions Workshop at Reading Climate Festival

I spent a very enjoyable evening yesterday facilitating a Climate Solutions workshop as part of the Reading Climate Festival and Great Big Green Week.

Using the En-ROADS simulator we explored the many possible interventions that can be put in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming along with some of the associated equity challenges that go hand in hand with making such changes . The group managed to create a scenario which could limit warming to +1.8C by 2100.

Creating this scenario provided a sense of hope that it is possible to limit future warming and a sense of urgency that we all need to step up and commit to strong action now. We closed out the session by using the Climate Solutions resources to translate the global solutions that we had identified into potential local actions that we could take as individuals.

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Climate Action Planning – Ridgeway Education Trust

Today I had my first action planning meeting with the Ridgeway Education Trust (RET) Climate Champions. Over the coming months we will be using the One Planet Living framework to develop an action plan for the schools within the trust which will help them towards realising their shared vision of a sustainable, climate and eco friendly community in which staff and pupils can thrive.

We will kick off with a series of visioning activities to find out what the pupils and staff imagine their one planet schools could look like. I cant wait to see what they come up with…

As we progress along our journey I’ll be sure to keep you posted on how we are getting on. In the meantime if you would like some support with helping your school to become more sustainable you can contact us for more information.

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Climate Solutions – The next step…

In my first post of the Climate Solutions series I posed a question, asking about the nature of the challenges we face with tackling Climate Change. The biggest one, in my opinion, being that of knowing where to begin. Hopefully now that we have worked our way through the Climate Solutions from understanding our Carbon footprint, through the topics of energy use, transport, food, money and ending with what we buy, you now have a good idea of the options that are open to us and have taken your first steps on your Climate Journey. The trick now is to keep on that path, and to build momentum, to keep an eye on your goal and commit to reaching it.

What if you falter along the way? The negative narrative around us in the press and on social media can be a constant drain on our resolve to do better. We need to switch this narrative to a much more positive one and we can do that by each choosing to take a lead, to share what we are doing and encourage others to do the same. In parallel with preparing this series of posts I have been watching Climate Solutions 101 a set of lectures and resources developed by Jonathan Foley and colleagues at Project Drawdown. The last of these includes a short video in which Jonathan encourages us to “Make it happen” in which he calls for a bold vision of leadership, for us to dream big and to remember that the future is not written yet. There is a lovely phrase that he uses which I feel I must share here as it makes the point entirely.

Martin Luther King didn’t go around saying, “I have a nightmare…”, he talked about a dream… and that dream was beautiful and he invited all of us to join in and make it a reality…

Jonathan Foley, Project Drawdown

My dream is of a future in which we can thrive, a future which is better for all of us living in harmony with our planet, a future which our children can enjoy and pass on into the future to the generations beyond them. It is up to all of us to share our dreams and help each other to make them a reality, to write the collective future we choose and start writing it now, together.

I hope you have enjoyed the Climate Solutions series. If you would like your own copy of the infographics you can sign up to our mailing list by clicking here.

Contact us if you have some thoughts, a dream, or maybe a climate journey story you want to share. We’d love to hear how you are getting on.

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Climate Solutions – What we Buy

Most of us live our lives immersed in a consumer culture that we are hardly aware of. Wherever we are, whatever we are doing we are bombarded with enticing messages urging us not to miss out on this or that latest deal. From Clothes to TVs to SUVs there is always something newer, better and if we buy it today we will save money by taking advantage of that limited special offer.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could press the pause button and give yourself a moment to think? To move beyond that in-built urge we all have for wanting colourful, sweet and shiny things; to flip our minds from marshmallow mode to a more objective way of thinking. If we can engage our acorn brains, as Roman Krznaric author of The Good Ancestor encourages us to do, then we are free to ask ourselves important questions like “Do I really need this?”, “How long will this product last me?”, “How easy will it be to repair?” or “What is the carbon footprint of this product?”.

The impact of the consumer culture on global warming is huge and yet it is almost invisible to most of us. We are starting to see some progress, the availability of products which are sustainably produced and better for the environment is increasing. We see new adverts everyday, some of them genuine and unfortunately some of them “greenwash”. We can easily get sucked in to agonising over which is the right thing to buy from an environmental and ethical perspective. But here is the rub, perhaps we should be asking ourselves whether we really need it all; you probably wont find an advert suggesting that!

To me consumption is possibly the most important piece in our Climate Solutions puzzle as it links together so many other things. The good news is there are several, simple things you can change to start reducing this part of your carbon footprint and most of them will end up saving you time and money. To find out more check out the latest Climate Solutions infographic on What we buy

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Climate Solutions Workshop at the Catalyse Change Summit

I really love having the opportunity to have Climate Conversations with young people. Yesterday I had the pleasure of running a workshop with a groups of really engaging young women at the Catalyse Change Summit. We used the En-Roads Climate Solutions Simulator to explore our visionary question and come up with our top 3 Climate Solutions.

What if we could find the best Climate Solutions that will limit global warming to +1.5°C and create a path to One Planet thriving by starting to put them into practice?

Our Visionary Question

Having created a scenario which could satisfy our vision’s goal of limiting warming to +1.5C by 2100 we shared our feelings of hope. There was a real air of optimism, a sense of possibility, a feeling that we need to be ready and a sense of urgency. The group felt energised.

We then got stuck in to thinking about positive, impactful actions that they could take to make their imagined future a reality. The Climate Solutions infographics provided a helpful way to translate the broader global solutions identified in En-Roads to more tangible actions that could be applied on a local scale.

We rounded off the session with the group members each pledging to start taking action by doing one new thing. For some this was to share the experience and what they have learned, for others this was to start reducing the amount of meat and dairy that they eat.

I hadn’t really appreciated the importance of reducing methane emissions before.

Ellie

Every time I run a workshop like this we generate a slightly different scenario but the common themes are always the same. What is even more important to me is the increased understanding and engagement that it brings and the motivation to take action that the participants feel. If they each take away one new positive action and start doing it then I consider it to be a success. So to the amazing young women I worked with yesterday I can only say – Thank you for you enthusiasm and commitment, keep doing what you are doing!

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Climate Solutions – Money

When I was developing the set of Climate Solutions resources I did not at first appreciate the role that our money plays in the Climate Change drama. It is a complex one, one with two faces. It has the power to do good but it also has the power to do enormous harm. Most of us, when thinking about money, consider the choices we make in terms of what we purchase (so called consumption) but we don’t often think about the other things that we do with our money. It is these other things that I want to focus on here; I will leave the topic of consumption for another day.

If we want our money to be a force for good in the Climate Change drama what then do we need to pay attention to? Most of us will have a bank account, if we are lucky we might have a savings account too. Many of us have some sort of pension scheme that we contribute to either personally or through our employers. We also want to protect the assets that we own, our homes and their contents, our cars (if we have one) so we take out some sort of insurance policy. All of these things involve money, money which the institutions that provide these services use to invest in businesses of many shapes and sizes. It is the collective power of those investments that can have a huge impact on Climate Change. When I first looked into this I was horrified to learn that some of my choices were unwittingly contributing to investment in fossil fuels!

Yet it is not so difficult to flip this coin on its head and ensure that your money is a force for good. There are an increasing number of institutions which are moving investment away from fossil fuels and focusing on supporting green energy and sustainable businesses. There are also a growing number of organisations that can help you make informed choices. To find out more take a look at my latest infographic and find the next simple step to take on your Climate Journey.

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Climate Solutions – Food & Land use

Our relationship with the land, what we eat and how we grow it is perhaps the most challenging topic to explore when thinking about Climate Solutions. It reaches beyond the idea of a carbon footprints, woven into a complex web of considerations about natural resources, ecosystems, biodiversity, soil, water, the list goes on.

At a recent pre-COP26 Climate Summit organised by my local MP I was inspired by the speakers from The Earth Trust and Nature Friendly Farming Network who encouraged us to move beyond seeing farms as being just for food production; to also see them as assets for biodiversity, carbon capture and water management. Farmers working to increase the health of our soils, hedgerows, woodlands and water courses by reimagining the way we grow our food and raise our livestock.

The relationship between consumers, suppliers and farmers is complex and can be quite hidden from view. When we choose to buy a ready meal from our local supermarket on our way home after a long day at work we are typically unaware of what the exact ingredients are. Even if we take the time read the tiny print on the packaging it is not obvious where and how the ingredients were produced, what impact this had on the environment. Yet our food consumption habits, what we buy and how much we waste are a critical part of our carbon (and ecological) footprint.

There are some simple things that we can do to reduce our footprint and some of them have more impact than you might think. When I started researching the topic of Food & Land Use, I realised that there are some common misconceptions about what is most important. I have attempted to address this by using a simple pyramid representation, the larger the wedge the bigger the impact. Why not take a look at my latest infographic and find the next simple step to take on your Climate Journey.

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Climate Solutions – Transport & Travel

No matter where you live and what kind of lifestyle you lead it is likely that travel makes up a large proportion of your carbon footprint. It is estimated that around a quarter of UK emissions come from transporting either ourselves or the goods that we buy.

When I was researching the carbon footprint of different modes of transport it quickly became clear to me that how we choose to travel can have a huge impact. To illustrate this I decided to do a thought experiment creating two hypothetical people who did the same amount of travel in the course of a year but chose to use different modes of transport. One used their car a lot and chose to fly when travelling abroad, the other chose to walk whenever possible and use the train for longer journeys, even for their holiday abroad. The difference this made to their carbon footprints was huge; one was 10 times that of the other!

Of course this is an over simplification. We all lead complex lives with many different journeys filling out our year. However, once we understand the impact of the way we choose to travel we can make informed decisions. We can decide to travel smarter, using less polluting modes of transport, we can also decide to travel less often and be more efficient with our journeys.

In my latest Climate Solutions Resource on Transport and Travel I have set out the ways in which you can make simple changes that will help you to reduce your carbon footprint. Hopefully you will find something that fits for you and helps you take the next steps on your Climate Journey.

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Climate Solutions – Energy at Home

Whatever type of home you live in you are likely to use some form of energy to heat/cool the rooms, generate hot water and run appliances. Your home will also “leak” waste energy to the environment. This is true for all of us even Hobbits!

Having started exploring your Carbon Footprint and taken a Carbon Walk through your daily/weekly routine you have probably come to the conclusion that Energy in the Home makes a significant contribution to your footprint. In the UK it is estimated that this contributes as much as 22% to our annual carbon emissions.

So what are your options for reducing this part of your footprint? In essence there are 3 main aspects to consider:

  • How much energy you use
  • Where that energy comes from (i.e. how much CO2e is released when generating it)
  • How much energy is wasted

There are several ways in which you can tackle all 3 of these aspects to help reduce your carbon footprint. The amount of energy that is wasted is probably greater than you think. I was quite surprised to learn that this can be as high as 50% and much of it is down to poor insulation.

Often people think that addressing these aspects will be expensive but actually many of the things will cost you nothing and will in fact lead to reduced energy bills. Some things do require up front investment but even those will save you money in the long run. So tackling Energy in the Home really is a win win for you and the planet.

Take a look at our latest Climate Solution Infographic on Energy at Home to learn more and determine which solutions you can get started with straight away.

To receive your own, high quality copies of the Climate Solutions resources Subscribe here

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Climate Solutions – Solving the Puzzle

What is the biggest barrier to solving the Climate Emergency? Is it understanding the causes of Climate change? Is it finding potential solutions to help reduce future warming? Is it appreciating the urgency of taking action? Is it a sense of futility, that the problem is too big for individual actions to matter?

I could go on listing reasons. The fact is that all of these things play a part but perhaps the biggest challenge is knowing where to begin. In all the Climate Conversations I have had both individually and as part of group workshops the ultimate question I get asked is – I want to know what actions I can take, could you give me some ideas? To help answer this question I have created a set of Climate Solutions resources which provide a structured approach for people to use.

We all have different lifestyles so there is no one size fits all solution. In fact there is no one magic solution, what is needed is a combination of things. We need to start by understanding the carbon footprint of our current lifestyle, which aspects are contributing the most, how much we need to reduce it by and how quickly? Once we understand the nature of our personal puzzle we can then select the Climate Solutions which will work best for our own situation. Selecting things which will have a big impact and can be done relatively easily are the best place to begin; remembering that we are embarking on a Climate Journey and it will take several years to reach our goal. The quicker we start the easier it will be.

In this series of posts I will be exploring the Climate Solutions resources. We will start with Carbon Footprints, how to calculate yours and setting your own goal to reduce it. Each week I will then work through each of the Five Climate Solutions Topics to help you select the ones which will work best for your situation. So I invite you to head over to the Climate Solutions page and get started on your Climate Journey.

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Happy Earth Day

Today is Earth Day. I invite us all to take a moment to pause and reflect. To remind ourselves that we belong to this planet and not the other way around. It is an important distinction.

The verb to belong has two simple definitions:

  • To belong – be the property of…
  • To belong – be included in…

In belonging to this planet we recognise that we are part of it, and all the intertwined, mind bogglingly complex living systems that make up the whole.

Google Earth recently released a set of time-lapse images which provide a stark reminder of the pace with which our planet (our home) is changing.

I am grateful to all those around the world who are committed to finding ways to live better within the limits of our planet. For all your actions thank you; you bring me hope.

The one thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act, hope is everywhere. So instead of looking for hope, look for action. Then, and only then, hope will come.

Greta Thunberg
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Catalyse Change Masterclass on Climate Action

Yesterday I had the pleasure of hosting a Catalyse Change Masterclass with a group of young women who are interested in pursuing careers in sustainability and are committed to taking meaningful Climate Action. We used the En-ROADS simulator to explore which climate solutions would have the most impact on global greenhouse gas emissions and limit warming as much as possible.

Together we created a scenario that could limit warming to +1.7degC above pre-industrial levels. The discussion was wide ranging, considering not just the impacts on warming but also the equity issues and potential co-benefits associated with some of the solutions.

The group shared reflections on what they had seen, how it made them feel and what local actions they could take on their path to Net-Zero. We all felt a renewed sense of hope that if we act together we can create a better future for our planet.

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LetsgoZero

I am proud to be supporting the LetsgoZero campaign organised by the Climate Action Charity Ashden. Over the next few months I will be working with them to encourage local schools to sign up to the campaign ahead of COP26 in November. But it doesn’t stop there; over the next few years we will also be helping those schools to develop their Climate Action plans and turn their commitment to NetZero into a reality.

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Climate Journey Video

How many kg of CO2 make up your daily carbon footprint? It is probably more than you think, I was certainly surprised when I calculated mine.

In my new Climate Journey video I use buckets of water to visualise the size of a typical daily carbon footprint and map out my current path towards Net Zero.

When I set about making this video I had not appreciated how large my carbon footprint was at the beginning of my Climate Journey in 2017. I needed more buckets than we owned! Luckily my friend Jenny was able to lend me a couple of hers.

Since 2017 I have made quite a few changes which have enabled me to significantly reduce my carbon footprint. Some of these are mentioned in the video, others can be found in my Climate Journey pages.

What will the path to Net Zero look like and how long will it take to get there? This very much depends on the level of commitment that we all make and how we choose to work together to adapt the system to support a more sustainable future.

If you haven’t done so already, why not start your Climate Journey today!

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En-Roads Workshop with DGS Science Club

Over the past two weeks I have had the pleasure of running En-ROADS workshops with the girls from the Didcot Girls School Science Club. We spent a couple of hours exploring the various Climate solutions sliders and their impact on green house gas emissions and global temperature rise over the rest of the century. The girls then made suggestions of how we could combine potential solutions to create a scenario which limited warming to +1.5degC by 2100, fantastic!

We closed out the workshop with sharing reflections on what it would feel like to make this scenario happen and discussing follow up actions based on what we had discovered. The girls made lots of great suggestions of what they were going to next from changing to a more plant based diet to buying an electric car. It was a real pleasure to guide them through the exercise and share in their enthusiasm!

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Towards the Kaleidoscope -sustainable living

As a society we place a lot of focus on recycling our waste. I have always been proud of the amount of paper and plastic that I recycle;  my family would probably say that I am quite obsessive about it and my children have been made to “bin dive” on more than one occasion. A while back I had a revelation which really gave me pause for thought. Of the set of “Four R’s” relating to waste, recycling is last on the list not first. The order goes reduce, re-use, repair, recycle. I had been focussing in the wrong place. I was also surprised to find that many things which I had been putting out for recycling, such as textiles are really difficult to recycle so a lot of it ends up being incinerated. Even when things are recycled quite effectively, things like aluminium cans, there are material losses which mean that the number of times they can be practically recycled (in the case of aluminium cans about 14) is limited. The Ellen McArthur Foundation has produced a great video which explains this.

Currently we (Humanity) are stripping our planet of its resources on a drastic scale. It is estimated that, on average we use 1.6 planets worth of resources annually (3.1 if you live in the UK). It is this high consumption lifestyle which is in turn driving much of our greenhouse gas emissions and impacting on biodiversity loss. We urgently need to find a way to live sustainably and adopt the approach of One Planet Living to ensure that our planet and its ecosystem thrives well into the future.

The best way for any species – including our own – to ensure its longevity is to fully adapt to and preserve the ecosystem in which it is embedded… Put simply: if we want to survive and thrive for thousands of generations, don’t foul the nest.

The Good Ancestor, Roman Krznaric

This may seem like a Herculean challenge, surely it would mean redefining our whole economy, what can we as individuals do? The four R’s are useful point of reference when we consider practical ways in which we can live sustainably. If we look to reduce the frequency with which we buy new things and focus more on the quality of what we buy. If we consider re-using things (buying second hand), and repairing things rather than buying replacements as a first option that will be a start. Of course it will also help if these things become easier for us to do; at the moment the default of going on-line and one-click checkout is far too easy an alternative.

I am no follower of fashion; I typically shop for clothes once or twice a year. Even so I have several items in my wardrobe which I have only worn once and perhaps one or two I have never worn at all. In the past, when I have cleared out my cupboard I would have sent these items for recycling; now I give them to second hand shops. My children often buy from second hand “thrift stores” rather than new; the younger generations are leading the way on this and fashion swaps are becoming much more common. When I was a student with limited means I hired outfits for special occasions; sadly as an adult (with more money in my wallet) I got out of the habit . This is something which is slowly changing with many more retailers starting to hire out clothes as well as sell them; again the younger generations are tending to lead the way. The next time I need something “new” for a special occasion I will hire instead of buy.

It’s not just clothes that we should consider, what about white goods and tech items such as phones and computers? Many of us will upgrade these items on a regular basis even if there is nothing wrong with them; we are typically encouraged to do so. What do we do with the old items? Sadly, much of it ends up in landfill and only a small proportion is recycled. Again we are starting to do better especially with tech items; sending old models to be refurbished and sold on or replacing damaged ones with second hand. We need to do so much more and it will only be made easier by changes in manufacturing processes so that goods are designed to be more easily repaired or upgraded in order to dramatically extend their lifetime (adopting a Circular Economy approach). Again it comes down to quality and resisting the temptation to buy that bargain item which will probably break in two or three years. I have a microwave oven which is thirty years old, it was a relatively expensive model given to me as a gift by my parents; the lamp is broken but it still heats food reliably. I have bought three dishwashers in the space of fifteen years, each one a replacement for a broken one. It was cheaper to buy new than to get them repaired. That is something which needs to change; manufacturers need to have a vested interest in repair rather than replacement.

Of the resources we consume perhaps the most invisible, and hence taken for granted, is water. Maybe because it is not an end product but a transient part of our processes; flowing through our bodies, our hose pipes, our sewage systems, our manufacturing plants. That seemingly infinite supply of fresh water that we (in the global North at least) have ready access to and are prone to squander on a daily basis. But it is not infinite; once the ice caps have melted our major rivers will be reduced to trickles and our supply of fresh water will be dramatically reduced. Learning to value our fresh water and use it sustainably is becoming more and more critical. Indeed water is the topic of UN Sustainability goal number six. Capturing more of our rain water and putting it to use; reducing our consumption of potable water (which takes energy to purify and pump and hence has a carbon footprint) and replacing it where possible with grey water or rain water will be key to doing this. As individuals we can make a start by installing water butts for garden use and installing low flow and low flush sanitary systems. We can also pay attention to how much water has been used in the supply and manufacture of our food and clothes. Judicious choice of these can have a big impact on our individual water “flipper print” (sorry, calling it a footprint just seems wrong).

When I  consider my Climate Journey and look beyond my current path towards the Kaleidoscope landscape in the distance I am forced to pause and reflect on how sustainable my lifestyle really is. I need to do more than consider my carbon footprint and my direct relationship with land and nature; that will only get me so far. I have gone from an ecological footprint of 5.9 earths and reduced this to 1.6 earths in 2020. Now it is time for me to consider water and consumption of material resources and pay more attention to the blue and red paths as well.

Imagine, for a moment, what that Kaleidoscope landscape might be like. One where we emulate nature and produce very little which is genuine waste. One in which we have adapted our lifestyle such that we can live well within the resources of our planet. It may be a journey, many years in the taking, with some difficult terrain to navigate along the way but what a reward we will have to share with each other and our future generations when we get there.

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Embracing the green – considering land use & nature

Since my childhood I have taken a keen interest in nature and the world around me. We used to go on family walks in local woods and fields and I would take delight in recording the names of the birds, butterflies and flowers that we had seen. We had a small vegetable garden in which I would spend endless hours getting grubby helping to plant and harvest or just watch a trail of ants as they toiled up and down the bean plants harvesting sweet liquid from the aphids that they were farming in their garden. I took it for granted that all that natural diversity and beauty would always be there and that everyone had as intimate a relationship with it as I did. As a parent I have travelled the same path with my children, sharing with them the delights of the nature around us and the pleasure of growing our own food. And yet the path is not as  rich in diversity as it once was; the erosion has been so slow and subtle that it is easy to be deceived. It is only when you listen to those from older generations sharing their stories of the abundance of nature and you look back at the records that have been kept that you are unblinded and notice how diminished our world has become.

We share Earth with the living world – the most remarkable life-support system imaginable, constructed over billions of years. The planet’s stability has wavered just as its biodiversity has declined – the two things are bound together. To restore stability to our planet, therefore, we must restore its biodiversity, the very thing we have removed. It is the only way out of this crisis that we ourselves have created. We must re-wild the world.

David Attenborough – A Life on Our Planet

This shifting of baselines is compounded by the increasing number of people who live their entire lives in an urban environment and have, through no fault of their own, become so disconnected from the natural world that they have no mental baseline from which to even make a comparison. The green path on our Climate Journey is tightly interwoven with the others, the health of the land, the abundance and diversity of the species which inhabit it are critical to maintaining the healthy balance our planet needs to sustain life. We urgently need to re-connect with and grow the green as well as reducing the black and grey. Each of us has a different relationship with the natural world by dint of where we live and how we source our food. Our opportunities to embrace the green path on our Climate Journey are in fact very similar, the difference is in the amount of help we may need to guide the way.

Although I have always had a strong relationship with the natural word around me it is not until recently that I have become more aware of how I can improve it further. Planting trees and growing plants is a good thing, protecting our existing established woodlands and habitats is even better. I have consistently supported charities like the Woodland Trust and the Wildlife Trusts who do essential work in this area. I have now come to recognise that the very habitats and species I seek to preserve are under threat because of some of the life choices I have made; most of these relate to food.

In the UK a large proportion of our food is imported and details of the conditions under which it is grown (or reared) can be hard to find. I have always been conscious of animal welfare and took care to make careful choices about where my meat came from. In 2019, when I adjusted my diet to a more plant based one I started to pay more attention to where all of my food comes from and how it is grown. I have tried to buy more local produce and increase the amount I grow myself. I have been careful about which brands of plant based proteins I buy and how sustainably things like soya have been sourced. Sadly this requires more than a casual glance at the packaging to determine but some brands are getting better at sharing this kind of information.

It was only in 2020, when I started to read more widely about our food system that I realised the full impact that agricultural methods have on our environment. Whilst I have tried to avoid pesticides in my own garden it is clear that their ubiquitous use has had a huge impact on our bee and wider insect population globally. I have until recently used artificial fertiliser until I became aware that it’s use leads to water pollution and formation of nitrous oxide gas which is a significant contributor to global warming. Only now do I realise that I should buy not just local but also organically grown produce. The next steps on my Climate Journey will be directed towards changing my growing and food shopping habits to further enhance the green on my path towards a more sustainable way of living.

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Hidden Footprints – Tackling the Indirect Emissions

So far in describing my Climate Journey I have referred to direct carbon emissions. It is likely that many of you have already started to tackle these and like me are feeling pretty pleased about the progress you have made. The next aspect I want to focus on is a little trickier as it is often obscured from view; that is the issue of indirect or “hidden” emissions. The size of these emissions is difficult to assess and the official figures that we tend to rely on as a benchmark commonly do not include them at all. Take for example a recent UK government report which suggests we have made enormous progress in reducing our emissions (43% reduction since 1990) but the data does not include flights, shipping or any emissions relating to imported goods and services. As we import a lot of things into the UK and most of this comes by air or ship there are clearly a lot of indirect emissions that have not been accounted for; climate change is a global issue so we can’t just sweep these under the carpet and look the other way.

The common saying “out of sight, out of mind” is quite apt here. Because we don’t see these contributions to our footprint we probably don’t even think about them. Donella Meadows in her book “Thinking in Systems” refers to a great example of this in which people who have electricity meters in their hall will automatically use less energy than those whose meter is hidden in a cupboard. The first step on our journey to reducing this part of our footprint is to be aware that these “indirect” emissions are there and find out how to see them more clearly, only then can we hope to make changes that will impact on them. Rebecca Solnit sums this up quite nicely in the closing chapter of her book “Hope in the Dark”.

Many people believe that personal virtue is what matters in this crisis. It’s a good thing, but it’s not the key thing. It’s great to bicycle rather than drive, eat plants instead of animals, put solar panels on your roof but it can give you a false sense you’re not part of the problem. You are not just what you personally do or do not consume but part of a greater problem if you are a citizen of a country that is a major carbon emitter, as is nearly everyone in the English-speaking nations and the global north. You are part of the system , and you need, we all need, to change that system. Nothing less than system change will save us.

Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark

When I examine my progress on my Climate Journey through the grey lens of “Indirect emissions” I think the first key step I took was this realisation that my behaviours can help to shape the wider system of which I am part. It is this switch in mindset from “me and the system” to “us within the system” which is the key here (for more on system mindsets see the System and Self Concept). Once I had realised this I started to think about what changes I could make. As with my direct footprint I started small, in this case with a focus on plastic. I dramatically reduced the amount of single use plastic I used from refusing to use disposable plastic cups at work to trying my best not to buy anything which was unnecessarily made of or wrapped in plastic. I started to pay attention to brands which used sustainable packaging. Any plastic packaging which I could not avoid was recycled. The impact on my waste stream was huge; my recycling bin overflowed and I hardly had anything in my refuse bin. These were small things but collectively across the UK people doing the same have changed the way their local councils manage waste and influenced the larger supermarkets to think again about the way they package their food.

One of the other “hidden” ways in which our behaviour can influence the system is with money. A chunk of my monthly salary was going into my pension fund. I realised that where that money was being invested was having a big impact on global greenhouse gas emissions, and I wanted to be sure it was going to support companies and projects that were committed to reducing their emissions and becoming more sustainable. So I switched my pension into a green investment fund. I did the same with my personal savings putting them in an account with a green bank. I have also recently invested in a local community energy company that is building new renewable energy infrastructure.

It is difficult to measure the impact these changes have had on my carbon footprint; I estimate it as a reduction of 0.2 tonnes of CO2 per year. If I want to reduce my overall footprint further I will need to look at other aspects of my indirect footprint. This will involve tackling some of my more entrenched behaviours around consumption. Learning to focus less on price and more on quality. Only buying things I actually need and considering whether repairing broken items or buying second hand would be an option. Being more careful about where I buy from and making sure I support those businesses which are developing sustainable products which have a reduced carbon footprint. Trying to use the power of my money to move the system in a positive direction.

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Sustainability Groups En-Roads Workshop

Yesterday evening I was joined by a group of enthusiastic representatives from several local sustainability groups in South Oxfordshire to explore potential climate solutions using the En-roads simulator. We had a really vibrant discussion and ended up creating a scenario that limited warming to +1.5C by 2100!

It was great to discuss the pros and cons of some of the solutions and how they worked in combination with one another. Everyone came away with some new insights and inspiration for the next step on their Climate Journey and a feeling of hope that creating this future would be possible.

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Beginnings – dialling back on my direct carbon footprint

In late 2017 I made the first tentative steps on my Climate Journey and I started by taking stock of what “baggage” I was carrying as a part of my lifestyle and thinking of what I could easily do to lighten the load. At the time the biggest contributors to my “Carbon baggage” were flights, food and home energy; all part of what we might term “direct carbon footprint” . My carbon footprint was a whopping 18 tonnes of CO2 in 2017 (not including business flights) and 12 tonnes of that was from one thing, a return flight to New Zealand!. Typically I was flying long-haul every year for a family holiday and quite a lot on business too. We had already booked our next holiday in Canada and flying less on business was going to be difficult (although not impossible). I couldn’t instantly change this, however I made the commitment not to fly on holiday in future years.

So what could I change easily and immediately? The simplest thing was switching my energy provider to one which supplied 100% renewable electricity and green gas.

After my family holiday in Canada, when I finally realised the full consequences of the “baggage” that we all carry on our life journeys, my commitment to change was strengthened. It was definitely time to tackle the next things and have even more impact! I had already decided to switch to an electric car, my lovely Leaf which was delivered in November 2018. I also committed to driving less; why drive when I could walk, cycle or get the train. It made me fitter and I saved a lot of time (and frustration) not waiting in traffic jams! Taking stock at the end of 2018 I felt I had done pretty well and  looked forward to a 2019 in which my baggage would be much lighter. The journey was only just begun and already I could see progress!

Feeling encouraged I started to look at other things I could tackle. Food was still one of the bigger contributors to my Carbon Footprint, so what could I change? My eldest daughter decided to do “Veganaury” and switch to a vegan diet for January. To support her I committed to being vegetarian; I loved cheese too much to consider going dairy free at that stage. Eventually I took the plunge and after Easter I went meat and dairy free. We had our ups and downs; I have yet to find some vegan cheese which is palatable and some of the meat alternatives we tried were pretty awful. We discovered a whole range of new things which we really like and I lost those extra pounds I had been trying to shift for years. I actually don’t like cheese any more (too fatty) and the range of meat and dairy alternatives had improved dramatically. My husband and younger daughter still ate meat but much less often and only rarely do they have red meat so as a family we had been able to cut our “methane footprint” quite a lot. Recalculating my Carbon Footprint at the end of 2019 I was really excited to see that it was now down to 5.5 tonnes (excluding business flights) which was  a massive reduction!

Riding this wave of excitement we then took a look at what else we could do. One thing still to tackle was energy in the home. How could we do better there? We decided on two things; firstly looking to make our home more energy efficient and the second to start generating our own electricity from solar. You might ask why do the second thing if we had already switched to a green supplier? Simply put, because the grid is not powered completely by renewable energy (yet). It is perhaps better to think of switching to a green supplier as a way of investing in further development of renewables rather than buying 100% green electricity.

In early 2020 we had solar panels and a battery installed which means that around two thirds of our electricity has been self-generated since then – amazing! We also had a whole house energy survey carried out which identified a number of ways in which we can improve our energy efficiency, reducing our “carbon baggage” and our bills at the same time. Some of these were straight forward and relatively inexpensive things like cavity wall insulation and better loft insulation others were a bit more involved such as replacing the heating system from gas boiler to air source heat pump.

2020 has been an unusual year due to the pandemic so some of these things are still a work in progress. Despite this I estimate that my Carbon Footprint is now around 5.1 tonnes. Once we have completed the planned home energy improvement I am confident this will be reduced to less than 5 tonnes per year.

That is by no means the end of my Climate Journey; it is perhaps the end of the first leg. Now is a good time to reflect; I have shed most of the “heavy baggage” associated with direct carbon emissions. The next stage will involve looking more closely at some of the more hidden, indirect emissions and looking at other aspects of my “environmental baggage” as well.

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Introducing the Climate Journey – thinking about baggage

We can think about life’s journey in a variety of ways. Typically we focus on where we are heading and where we have been, often missing the where we are now and perhaps also what we are carrying with us. On any journey we will have some baggage, some essential things that we think we will need along the way or for when we reach our destination. The umbrella in case it rains, the snack in case we get hungry, the swimming costume and shades for when we get to the beach, whatever it may be we have to carry it with us.

When we talked about the Carbon Walk Concept we thought about our Carbon Footprint in terms of bags of sugar and tried to imagine what it would be like to carry that around wherever we go. When considering our Climate Journey it is useful to think about what carbon, and other environmental, baggage we are carrying with us based on our daily habits and lifestyle. Perhaps we can lighten the load by shedding the things we don’t need and at the same time make the journey more pleasurable by adding things which enrich our daily lives but don’t add to load.

Often we get hung up at this point; the challenge can seem too big. It can feel like there are too many options, which is the “right” one to do? If you feel overwhelmed by the challenge then, don’t worry, you are not alone! There are a couple of really useful things to keep in mind. Firstly, you don’t need to change everything over night; plan for a journey which takes the gentle path with some stops along the way; it will take you several years so be patient. Secondly, start with the things which are easier for you to do; maybe there is something which can have quite a big impact on lightening your load and will feel like you are pretty much strolling along. Once you have done that you will feel good and be ready to contemplate the next step.

In this new section of the Climate Concepts website I seek to share my Climate Journey with details of the path I am undertaking and the steps I have taken so far. It is an evolving journey, the highlights of which I will share with you as I walk a path towards a more sustainable future. I hope you will join me.

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En-Roads at the Reading Climate Festival

Last Friday I had the real pleasure of guiding a group from the Reading Climate Festival through an En-roads workshop. Having explored the pros and cons of a range of potential Climate Solutions we ended up with an amazing scenario in which we limited global warming to just +1.3C by 2100!

It is always heart-warming to see people so engaged with the simulator, leaving with a real sense of optimism and ready to take the next steps on their Climate Change journey.

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Introducing the Carbon Walk

Commonly people refer to a “carbon footprint” as a way of measuring their greenhouse gas emissions. When I started writing this post I realised that the idea of using a “footprint” as a metaphor in this context is potentially confusing. Traditionally a footprint as a metaphor comes in one of two flavours. Either thinking of a set of footprints in the sand and focusing on their transient nature before they are washed away to leave no trace; a carbon footprint is not like that, it leaves a long lasting imprint on our environment. Or, thinking of footprints as a mark of achievement and the bigger the footprint the better as its’s a sign we have had more impact; a carbon footprint should not be big, quite the opposite! We need to learn to tread as softly as we can and leave almost no trace at all if we are to live in harmony with our planet.

How much we each contribute to the global level of greenhouse gas emissions very much depends on where we live in the world and what kind of lifestyle we enjoy. To reduce global emission levels we all need to contribute by reducing our individual footprint.

Everybody has to look at his or her own footprint and do the best they can. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about doing something. If we’re looking for perfection, we’ll never, ever get there.

Laurie David, environmental activist and producer of the film “An Inconvenient Truth”

We have developed the Carbon Walk Concept as a simple way for people to visualise their carbon footprint and explore how they are contributing to it through the things they do in their daily lives. So why not take a “carbon walk” with us, you may find some surprises along the way…

Footnote:

There are several online calculators that can help us to calculate our “carbon footprint”. If you use more than one you will most likely get a different answer from each of them. Some people may find that confusing or frustrating; which one gives the right answer? Actually, none of them do but that isn’t really the point. They all ask you some fundamental questions about your lifestyle and give an indication of which ones are probably having the biggest impact helping you to decide which changes are most important for you to make.

When I first started on my “Climate Journey” I used some of the online calculators to try to understand my carbon footprint better. There were some big things which really shocked me such as just how big a contribution flights make. So I set about trying to reduce my footprint, some things were simple and made a big impact quite quickly, others have required more of a commitment to change my habits. Everyone’s climate journey will be different depending on where we live and work and, what our financial situation is. I think the most important thing is to remember that you can’t make all the changes in one go. What we can do is start with one thing today and maybe next week or next month think about the next change to make. Many of the changes I have made have not only cut my carbon footprint they have also made my life better too. Watch out for the “Climate Journey” page which is coming soon on the Climate Concepts website where I will share a lot more details on this.

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Introducing the Climate Bathtub

Understanding the Climate Emergency using the Climate Bathtub Concept.

As humans we find it easy to imagine what happens when we change things which are in a static state (on or off) we are not so good at imagining things which are changing over time (a dynamic system). This quote from Donella Meadows in her book “Thinking in Systems” sums it up nicely.

“Systems fool us by presenting themselves – or we fool ourselves by seeing the world – as a series of events… Events can be spectacular (victories, tragedies)… they hook our emotions… its endlessly engrossing and constantly surprising because that way of seeing the world has no predictive or explanatory value… We are less likely to be surprised if we can see how events accumulate over time into patterns of behaviour.”

Donella Meadows, Thinking in Systems

Traditionally, when experts try to describe such systems they use graphs and mathematical equations to represent those “patterns of behaviour” which, does not make them easy to understand and accessible to everyone. Global warming and the behaviour of greenhouse gas levels is one such example of a dynamic system. The Climate Bathtub concept provides a simple, visual representation which is much easier  to grasp and is the topic for the next instalment in our Climate Concepts journey. Click on the link to view or latest video.

Footnote:

To truly understand why we are in a Climate Emergency we need to be comfortable with the idea that greenhouse gas levels are in a changing state (a dynamic equilibrium). Reducing greenhouse gas levels is not like flicking a switch, the response is not instant, it’s more like trying to change the course of a massive container ship, it responds very slowly. As we start to reduce our  greenhouse gas emissions the global temperature will only stop rising after we reach the balance point with absorption and even then there will be a delayed response.

The use of a bath tub to help visualise the changing level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere was first introduced by Professor John Sterman at MIT and further developed by the team at Climate interactive. I found it a really simple and effective way of showing the level of change we need to make and the urgency with which we need to act without having to use graphs. I believe this makes it much more accessible to people from non-scientific backgrounds. You can also try it out in real life in your own bath or sink but take care not to cause a flood if you do!

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Welcome to Climate Concepts

Taking action to limit the progress of Climate Change has never been more urgent! We see frequent reminders of this across a range of media; the challenge is to make the key information accessible enough to everyone so that we are all empowered to act and to enable people to continue having conversations about Climate Change even in these times of limited social interaction.

Today I am excited to be launching the Climate Concepts platform! Our goal is to provide access to a set of resources to help people untangle some of the aspects of Climate Change which they find complex and overwhelming, to empower everyone to feel part of the Climate Conversation and encourage them to take meaningful action. We have developed a range of resources which can be used equally well on-line or in person (where practical).

In this first instalment I would like to share with you the story behind Climate Concepts and what inspired me to start the journey. In addition you can view an introduction to the Climate Concepts resources which sets out how you can use them to stimulate your own Climate Conversations and the first of four concepts videos called “Planetary Fever“.

I hope you find the videos useful; please let us know what you liked and anything you think we could improve by visiting the contact page.

The world is on fire… … do we watch the world burn or do we choose to do what is necessary to achieve a different future? Who we understand ourselves to be determines the choice we will make. That choice determines what will become of us. The choice is both simple and complex, but above all it is urgent.

— Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, The Future we Choose [My must read book for 2020]

Footnote: Why did I choose to launch on 21st Sept? Firstly because this week is Climate Action Week and this time last year, in solidarity with Fridays for Future movement, I took my first step on my Climate Action journey by organising a Climate Action Workshop at my former company.  Along with some of my colleagues from our sustainability group we held a workshop in the canteen, sharing information about climate change and encouraging people to make their own Climate Action pledges. It was a great success with many pledges being made and veggie sausage sandwiches being consumed. Secondly, because there is a growing sense of urgency that, as we move towards a post-Covid-19 “new normal”, we keep climate change at the centre of our focus and put in place new and better ways of doing things which will make our lives more sustainable. There has never been a better opportunity to create such a change, so let’s start that journey together today!