In order to reach net zero emissions by 2050, everything – from diets to transport and fashion – will need to change. And individuals will play a more significant role than you may think. Here are some smart ideas about how to bring the idea home
Net zero week is upon us, the UK’s annual awareness campaign to highlight the scale of the climate challenge, and a yearly reminder that change is coming.
Although policy shifts imposed by the powers that be will play a huge role in getting us to net zero emissions by 2050, the importance of individual-level action can’t be overstated. After all, more than a third of emissions stem from homes and cars.
With that in mind, here are five easy but impactful ideas to help you ‘net zero’ your life not just this week, but all year round.
1. Get the knowledge
Tick Zero takes Cambridge University’s climate mitigation course and condenses 16 hours of lectures into six bite-sized films for anyone to watch, completely free.
The idea of hitting net zero in a few decades might feel daunting, but Tick Zero points out we only need to reduce our carbon footprints by 6 per cent a year to get there, and the project’s videos and website are packed with ideas and solutions that show exactly how to do it.
Moreover, it highlights the importance of taking individual action to counter what Tick Zero project director Professor Julian Allwood calls the “techno optimism” of governments and the oil and gas giants.
“It assumes that magic beans fertilised with unicorn blood are going to come along and take the problem away – and in all honesty we know that’s not the case,” says Allwood. “Tick Zero is a realistic view of what climate mitigation means, rather than a kind of fantasy about new technology.
“The way that it will work is by individuals demonstrating that they’re enjoying life having switched to zero emissions – that’s where change comes from.”
2. Watch what you eat
We can eat our way towards net zero simply by shifting our diets away from meat and dairy, and towards fresh fruit, vegetable and plant-based proteins.
Around a third of global greenhouse gas emissions come from food production, with meat accounting for 60 per cent of the sector’s total. While going vegan represents the gold standard of climate-friendly diets, carnivores needn’t despair – the World Wildlife Fund’s ‘Livewell’ diet plan doesn’t mean giving up meat entirely, and still promises a 36 per cent cut in emissions.
3. Use people power to support green power
Thrive Renewables has been building and funding renewable energy projects for almost 30 years, but you don’t have to start your own solar or wind farm to get involved with one.
Louise Daniels, Thrive’s head of marketing and communications, suggests volunteering with a local community energy co-operative, or simply using your power as a citizen to support planning applications for sustainable projects through the public consultation process.
On the outskirts of Bristol, for example, residents on the deprived Lawrence Weston estate set up Ambition Community Energy to build Britain’s largest on-shore wind turbine, with a £4m loan from Thrive. Closer to the city centre at St Phillip’s Marsh, residents successfully fought plans for a diesel-fuelled power station, and Thrive built a battery storage facility in its place, offering the community a share in its ownership.
“Small actions count,” says Daniels. “They might be as simple as asking your local councillor what the net zero plans are, and what they’re doing to put them into action. You can talk to your employer about net zero and ask how staff can get involved, or ask if they’ve considered putting solar on the roof.
“If we all do a little bit, then we can achieve a lot – that’s what the community energy movement is all about.”
4. Learn to love the shirt on your back
While it’s tempting to snap up sale bargains to cram into already overburdened wardrobes, design activist and sustainable fashion expert Kate Fletcher’s stance is unequivocal: we need to buy less.
“Buying things that are modular or longer lasting is all very well, but in a world … where we’ve got too many clothes, making them more durable doesn’t take us anywhere near to net zero,” says Fletcher, a professor at the Royal Danish Academy in Copenhagen and Norway’s Oslo Metropolitan University.
“Those things are all dependent on us first taking that step towards less.”
Fletcher suggests adopting a more mindful approach to fashion. “Work on the part of you that’s craving for something new and, instead, recalibrate it to find delight and pleasure in what you’ve already got,” she offers.
“If you are bringing a new or secondhand item into your wardrobe, the most important thing is to choose something that you really want, something you can really see becoming part of your life – that’s the only way it’s going to be part of a net zero story.”
5. Embrace slow travel
With new European sleeper trains offering a more comfortable alternative to short haul flights, there’s never been a better time to shun the skies and embrace greener, slower travel.
“No one’s asking people to don sackcloth and ashes, and suffer to save the planet,” says Mark Smith, founder of train travel website Man in Seat 61. “Travelling by rail might cost a bit more than air, and it certainly takes more organisation, but actually doing it, it’s a whole new ballgame. It’s so much nicer.”
A new sleeper service between Brussels and Berlin means British travellers can leave London on an afternoon Eurostar and, after changing trains in Belgium, wake the next morning for breakfast in the German capital. Smith says sleepers between Amsterdam and Barcelona and between Vienna or Munich and Italy are also in the pipeline.
Closer to home, rail operator Lumo’s no frills London to Edinburgh service is giving budget airlines an 800-mile run for their money – as Lumo marked its first birthday last October, train was the preferred option for the trip.
Like Fletcher, Smith suggests a mental reset in order to get on board with the idea of slower travel. “The journey is part of the adventure. It’s part of the holiday. That’s got to be the mindset,” he says.
Main image: Pekic