Image for 12 ways to phase fossil fuels out of your life

12 ways to phase fossil fuels out of your life

Big oil and gas are doing their best to keep us hooked on expensive fossil fuels. Here’s how to wean yourself off

Big oil and gas are doing their best to keep us hooked on expensive fossil fuels. Here’s how to wean yourself off

While ordinary people in the UK struggle to pay the bills, energy firms are creaming it in. Last week, British Gas announced a 10-fold increase in annual profits to £750m in 2023 – the same year a firm acting on its behalf was found to be breaking into vulnerable people’s homes to fit prepayment meters (British Gas has subsequently stopped working with the contractor). 

Meanwhile, the world’s five largest listed oil companies have recorded profits of more than a quarter of a trillion dollars since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine led to dramatic increases in energy prices and household bills. It adds to the feeling that while the climate crisis accelerates and people struggle with the spiralling cost of living, fossil fuel firms have never had it so good. 

And it begs a question: how do we liberate ourselves from these companies at a time when many are trying to keep us hooked on their products? 

fossil fuels
1. Vote for parties that prioritise the green transition

It’s a big year for elections, with the US, UK and India among the nations going to the polls. Gone are the days when parties championing green policies are the preserve of ‘hippies’. The green industrial revolution is now in full swing – and China is racing ahead. Low-carbon technologies were the main driver of its economy in 2023, and western politicians who don’t seize the opportunities in clean-tech risk being left behind, while locking citizens into higher bills – worth bearing in mind before you put your X in the box.

Look out for parties that recognise who’s responsible for the lion’s share of emissions. An investigation by Oxfam in 2023 revealed that the richest 1% of humanity belched out more emissions in 2019 than the poorest 66%. That paves the way for the kind of targeted climate solutions that Paris is pioneering. Billing it as a form of “social justice”, politicians in the French capital just tripled parking rates for SUVs, after research showed carbon emissions from the global SUV fleet outweighs that of most countries.  

Image: Mike Bird

2. Switch to a green bank

Fossil fuel firms are financed by banks, with Barclays, HSBC and JP Morgan among the biggest funders. Many lenders have pledged to defund fossil fuels, but progress is slow. Fortunately, firms like Triodos and Ecology Building Society are helping put the banking sector on a more sustainable footing. Rather than using depositors’ money to fund oil and gas projects, they bankroll green initiatives. 

“We’re not going to make significant inroads on issues such as climate change unless we rethink the role of banks in society,” says Bevis Watts, CEO of Triodos UK. 

Image: Pixabay 

3. Change up your pension

It’s not the sexiest way to spend an afternoon but dedicating some time to switching your pension could help starve fossil fuel firms of cash. 

“Investing in your pension more sustainably could be 27 times more powerful than going vegan and stopping flying combined,” says Henna Shah from Make My Money Matter, a campaign group that highlights what people’s pensions are funding.

The Resolution Foundation calculates that private pensions are the largest component of household wealth in the UK, totalling over £6.1tr. And while a study suggests that 68% of the population want to invest in companies that put the planet alongside profit, through their pension funds they could unwittingly be backing fossil fuels or even weaponry.

“Speak to your employer and your pension provider and say: ‘Actually, I want an option where I’m not investing in these things,’” advises Shah.

Image: SHVETS production

4. And while you’re at it …

Consider switching insurers, which are the second biggest investors after pension funds. Choosing an ethical insurance company will ensure your money isn’t propping up the fossil fuel sector. Naturesave, for example, donates profits to environmental projects and is campaigning for the industry to divest from fossil fuels.

Image: Ketut Subiyanto

Good news
5. Travel differently

Figures suggest that 60% of journeys between one and two miles in England are made by motor vehicle. Meanwhile, more than 50% of adults in England are either overweight or obese, leading some doctors to prescribe bikes. Embracing active travel, then, is a no-brainer for these related issues. With transport accounting for a third of the UK’s emissions, substantially reducing car use – especially for short journeys – would also have a big impact on the planet. 

For longer journeys, trains are generally the most eco-friendly way of travelling. If you’re not ready to hang up your driving gloves just yet, ditching the gas-guzzler for an electric car would at least divert you from the petrol station forecourt. 

Image: Nantonov/iStock

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6. Quit plastic

As electricity grids decarbonise and more battery powered vehicles hit the roads, fossil fuel firms are eyeing plastic production as a growth industry. According to a 2021 report, plastics are on track to drive more emissions in the US than coal plants by 2030.

“The fossil fuel industry is losing money from its traditional markets of power generation and transportation,” says Judith Enck, president of Beyond Plastics, the organisation behind the report. “They are building new plastics facilities at a staggering clip so they can dump their petrochemicals into plastics. This petrochemical buildout is cancelling out other global efforts to slow climate change.”

Plastic is so embedded in our lives which makes quitting the stuff challenging. Here are 20 tips to get started.

Image: Anna Oliinyk

7. Get a heat pump and solar panels

It was during a pizza night in the village of Swaffham Prior, Cambridgeshire, when residents hatched a plan to wean their community off oil-fired heating. Fast forward a few years and Swaffham Prior has become Britain’s first ‘heat pump village’

It’s a tale of derring-do that highlights how ordinary people can take agency of their own energy, freeing themselves of sky-high bills from profit-hungry fossil fuel firms. See also the ‘solar punks’ who created a ‘community power station’ along their London street

Though the UK is a relative laggard when it comes to installing heat pumps, grant schemes are available for those looking to heat their homes with one. Meanwhile, the falling cost of solar and heat pumps has made green energy more accessible to homeowners, who are installing them in record numbers

Image: Napa74/iStock

8. Cut energy use

Insulating draughty homes is one way to cut energy use – and a vital first step if you want to get a heat pump. Grants are available to help finance this in the UK, but the government has disappointed climate groups by not diverting more resources to fixing leaky homes. Amid this absence of leadership, one social enterprise has taken matters into its own hands

Using energy wisely is another way to cut fossil fuel dependency. “Being a smarter consumer can make an awful lot of difference,” says Matthew Clayton, managing director of Thrive Renewables. “It’s not just how much energy you use, it’s when you use it.”

Setting timers for appliances to run through the night, when demand is low, or during the brightest part of the day, to utilise solar, can help.

Image: Amin Hasani/Unsplash

9. Tweak your diet

Mixing up the menu at home could deliver a 36% reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions compared to the average UK diet – without ditching meat and dairy.

That’s according to the WWF’s recent Eating for Net Zero report, which formulates a diet that doesn’t deviate drastically from current British eating habits, but is much kinder to the planet – and costs the same to buy.

“Achieving a healthy, sustainable diet is possible – without everyone having to go vegetarian, vegan, or give up treats,” says Tanya Steele, CEO of WWF-UK.

Though organic produce often costs more to buy, making the switch will mean fossil fuel fertilisers were not used in the production of your food. And buying local and seasonal will cut down on food miles. Better still, plant and save seeds and grow your own as a form of resistance to the broken food system. Or join one of the many community gardens springing up in towns and cities. 

If you’re hungry to campaign on the issue, follow the example set by the people of Hull, England, who persuaded the authorities to let people grow produce on unused council land – a big boost for the burgeoning ‘right to grow’ movement.

Image: micheile henderson/Unsplash

10. Make do and mend

A needle and thread are all you need to take a stand against our throwaway culture, which is underpinned by burning fossil fuels. Repairing your ripped garments with a ‘stitch in time’, taking worn out shoes to the cobblers, or a knackered toaster to a Repair Cafe will help to extend the life of old products, and save emissions from making new ones. It will also likely save you money. 

Image: Matt Benson/Unsplash

11. Become an activist

This doesn’t mean you have to glue yourself to a road. Activism comes in many forms these days. Share Action, for example, is a responsible investment charity that buys up shares in firms so its volunteers can attend board meetings and pressure companies from inside to adopt green business models.

Image: Markus Spiske 

12. Join a campaign group

Power for People is another impactful organisation trying to accelerate the energy transition. It lobbies politicians to speed up the switch to renewables, and has some good advice on getting your MP to take climate action seriously.

Alternatively, start your own group by bringing together neighbours and friends to look at how green initiatives could be better supported where you live.

Image: Kaboompics .com
Main image: iStock

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