You’re aware of climate change? Who is responsible for solving the climate crisis? What can you, as an individual, do about it, and will it even make a difference? Many of us feel hopeless and are not convinced that their individual action will have a significant effect on our huge climate system. That’s where we should change our mindset. Individual action is the start of collective action. Climate change will not be solved by one person, but it can be solved by the collective change in behaviour. Moving towards sustainable behaviour is a key factor in addressing climate change and becoming aware of how your consumption drives climate change is the first step. The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report point out the high mitigation potential that behaviour, lifestyle and cultural change can have. It is important to understand the categories of behaviours that are most influential, and from there on make informed choices. How much emissions can we avoid by promoting change on individual scale?
Over half of global emissions are related to our consumption behavior. The main components of household footprints being car and plane mobility, meat and dairy consumption, and heating. Project Drawdown offers insight into how to reach the point where we start to draw down – where the level of greenhouse gases starts to decline. The project, led by Paul Hawken, presents 100 substantive climate solutions per sector with quantified the emissions impact or in other words, the mitigation potential. Many of these solutions refer to individual or household consumption such as reducing food waste, eating plant-based, choosing the right electricity, using sustainable transportation such as cycling or public transport.
Why you should treat every dollar you spend as a vote
Every dollar you spend… or don’t spend… is a vote you cast for the world you want. – L.N. Smith
We are constantly spending money and are free to decide how to spend it. We buy food in the grocery store based on our diet and what we like to eat. When we go out, we can choose to order a coffee with milk. Or maybe we decide to get one with oat milk. Maybe you’re having a cheat day and decide to eat a burger. You invested in a car and spend money on the fuel or perhaps you own a bike and go by train once in a while. We pay our electricity bills. Perhaps we invested in solar panels and generate our own electricity.
Every time we buy something, we are voting for more of that thing in the world. This is why it is so incredibly important to be aware of what you are spending your money on. Every time you open your wallet, think about your purchase or service. Is it that activity or person something you want to support? The core of our climate crisis is in our consumer behavior, in the food we eat, the products we use, the clothes we wear and the home we live in.
An example: why what you eat & buy matters
We spend a lot of our money on what we eat. What you buy in the grocery store, or order in a restaurant, has a bigger impact than you might think. The agriculture industry alone accounts for 24% of all anthropogenic emissions. And as Bill Gates states: “if all cattle were to join and start a country, they would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.” The average Western European contributes to the climate footprint with 18% through what they eat. Moving towards a plant-rich diet, and especially reducing your beef, lamb, pork and dairy intake has a huge mitigation potential. In addition, be mindful about what and how much you buy, in order to limit food waste – another huge emission source.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has estimated that one-third of the food produced for human consumption is wasted and does not reach end consumers. Especially in developed nations, food waste occurs because people don’t like the appearance of a product or the expiry date has passed. This loss of food occurs further down the supply chain and is much more carbon intensive compared to on-farm or distribution food wastage, as is mostly the case for food waste in developing countries. So, it’s largely developed countries that have the most influence in reducing emissions due to food waste. This can be done by shopping realistically, planning meals, making a grocery list, storing food in the right place and saving leftovers.
We need climate government policies and societal frameworks to be put in place for the necessary change. Our individual behavior influences the people around us, provide a setting for policy change and can create systemic change. We have the power and control we have as a citizen in environmental decisions, to shape emission pathways and push governments in the right direction. It’s not about pointing fingers to who is doing it all wrong, neither is it about changing our lifestyles fundamentally. It is about being aware of the change you as an individual, are able to make. The potential every individual has to create a sustainable world. Because after all, solving the climate crisis will rely, one way or another, on the changes in our own behavior.
- Blanco G., R. Gerlagh, S. Suh, J. Barrett, H.C. de Coninck, C.F. Diaz Morejon, R. Mathur, N. Nakicenovic, A. Ofosu Ahenkora, J. Pan, H. Pathak, J. Rice, R. Richels, S.J. Smith, D.I. Stern, F.L. Toth, and P. Zhou, 2014: Drivers, Trends and Mitigation. In: Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Edenhofer, O., R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, E. Farahani, S. Kadner, K. Seyboth, A. Adler, I. Baum, S. Brunner, P. Eickemeier, B. Kriemann, J. Savolainen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow, T. Zwickel and J.C. Minx (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
- Broussemaere, P, 2018. Tien klimaatacties die werken. [internet] Available from: https://10klimaatacties.be/.
- Dubois G, Sovacool B, Aall C, Nilsson M, Barbier C, Herrmann A, Bruyère S, Andersson C, Skold B, Nadaud F, et al. 2019. It starts at home? Climate policies targeting household consumption and behavioral decisions are key to low-carbon futures. Energy Res Soc Sci. 52(January):144–158. doi:10.1016/j.erss.2019.02.001.
- Gates, B. October 17, 2018. Climate change and the 75% problem. GatesNotes. [internet] Available from: https://www.gatesnotes.com/Energy/My-plan-for-fighting-climate-change
- Hackel, L. October 26, 2018. Reducing Your Carbon Footprint Still Matters. Slate. [internet]. Available from: https://slate.com/technology/2018/10/carbon-footprint-climate-change-personal-action-collective-action.html
- Project Drawdown. [internet]. Available from: https://www.drawdown.org/
- Smith P., M. Bustamante, H. Ahammad, H. Clark, H. Dong, E.A. Elsiddig, H. Haberl, R. Harper, J. House, M. Jafari, O. Masera, C. Mbow, N.H. Ravindranath, C.W. Rice, C. Robledo Abad, A. Romanovskaya, F. Sperling, and F. Tubiello, 2014: Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU). In: Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Edenhofer, O., R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, E. Farahani, S. Kadner, K. Seyboth, A. Adler, I. Baum, S. Brunner, P. Eickemeier, B. Kriemann, J. Savolainen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow, T. Zwickel and J.C. Minx (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
- Williamson, K., Satre-Meloy, A., Velasco, K., & Green, K., 2018. Climate Change Needs Behavior Change: Making the Case For Behavioral Solutions to Reduce Global Warming. Arlington, VA: Rare.