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.
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.
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.
If I know about the flower, don’t I lose the flower and have only the knowledge?D.H. Lawrence, Women in Love
I first read “Women in Love” in my teens and this particular sentence has stuck with me over the years.
D. H. Lawrence uses this metaphor to explore the pros and cons of education and whether imparting knowledge is a good thing. At about the same time I read “Gaia – a new look at life on earth” by James Lovelock and I think my mind was cross-pollinated by these seemingly un-related texts. To me the quote about the flower is a symbol for thinking about systems; a metaphor for holistic rather than reductionist thinking. We tend to focus on deconstructing things to understand them and then forget to look back at the whole and how the pieces fit together, i.e. we lose the flower. The Gaia hypothesis encourages us to see our planet as a whole living system of which we are a part. In order to tackle climate change effectively we need to be re-connected with that concept – we need to challenge ourselves to know about the systems within the “flower” and to see the “flower” as a whole, not one or the other but both.
In the final instalment of the current series of Climate Concepts videos, System and Self, we explore the idea of the system we live in and how we as individuals can influence the system if we adopt the mindset that we are a part of the system. We have more power than we realise to effect changes that will have a positive impact on our climate. What change will you make today to start your climate journey?
Talking about Climate Change is one thing but if that is all we do then nothing will change and we will sit on the side-lines and watch our planet slowly deteriorate. Alternatively we can choose to step up and join the ever growing, global community of people who are actively making changes within their lives to start reducing their carbon footprint. Nearly everyone starts with something small and then adds more and more things along the way. Remember, we don’t have to do everything at once, it will takes years not weeks to establish a new way of doing things, but the sooner we act the more impact it will have. I started my Climate Journey by choosing to eat less meat and dairy and opting to use less carbon intensive forms of transport, such as walking, cycling, taking the train when I could. I also chose not to fly anywhere for my family holiday. Over the next few months I will be sharing more about my Climate Journey so far so stay tuned.
I hope you have found the Climate Concepts videos useful and have been inspired to take the first steps on your Climate Journey too. I would love to hear about the changes you are making so why not drop me a line via the Contact page.
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…
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.
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.
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!
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!