How to reduce your carbon emissions? It starts with knowing what you emit and taking a scientific approach.
Discover some surprising tips on how to significantly lower your personal carbon emissions.
We can roughly gauge the height of the Skytower, the length of a piece of string and the weight of a tub of ice cream. Some of us can also fairly accurately count the calories in a KitKat. But, when it comes to the carbon emissions in driving to the beach or in that book shipped via Amazon, we struggle. It's hard to take meaningful climate action when we do not know our impact.
There have been a bunch of studies on this with surprisingly sad results. In one carbon numeracy test, assessing how well people know the carbon impact of their actions, the highest score was 75% (Grinstein et al. (2018)). That's a B + at best. If you want to be humbled, the NY Times published this quiz
based on the study. Spoiler alert, it's really, really hard.
Based on these studies, Wynes et al. (2019) put together two lists of the things we consistently got wrong. One list spelled out climate-friendly actions that we all typically underestimate the impact of. The other detailed actions we typically overestimate the impact of. By prioritizing the underestimated climate actions you could lower your own carbon emissions by 48% within a month. With the average New Zealander's emissions being 8.6 tonnes of CO2e / person / year, and the WHO recommending we lower it to 2 tonnes of CO2 / person / year, these often overlooked actions can go a long way.
The big wins: climate actions that are more impactful than you'd think.
Losing air miles
You do not have to go on an around the world flight to spew out plane-sourced carbon emissions. Ordering a shirt online that has to be flown to your door from some far-flung place creates an avenue for unnecessary emissions. Learn to shop locally and buy in season. Supporting local businesses reduces your carbon footprint.
Check out this blogpost, 10 Ethical Kiwi Fashion Brands You Need To Get Behind
, for some clothing options that are not only sustainable but are ethical too.
Reconsidering how you get around
Wynes et al. (2019) found that you could save a massive 2.4 tonnes of CO2e emissions per year by leaving the car at home. That's more than 1/4 of the average New Zealander's carbon footprint (8.6 tonnes of CO2e).
Biking, scootering, walking or using public transport may mean your trip takes a little longer than usual, but it's an easy way to get a little exercise into your daily routine. Without having to focus on the road you can take this time to listen to a podcast, read a book, check the news, facetime your Mum or clear your emails en route. It'll save you battling congestion, fighting for a park and the cost of topping up your tank. Driving is seeming less fun by the minute.
Wynes et al (2019) also found that switching to a plant-based diet could shave 0.8 tonnes of CO2e per year off your carbon footprint. That's huge, especially when compared to other climate actions.
Going vegan is 180 times more effective at reducing emissions than not using plastic bags at the supermarket.
For most people, switching to a vegan diet is pretty daunting but there's nothing wrong with taking baby steps. Ease into it by adopting meat-free monday, meat-free weeks or vegan lunches and build on it from there. Not only are you helping temper climate change, you're giving factory farms the middle finger and are looking after your health.
Need some inspo? Check out these Mouthwatering Vegan Dinner Recipes
Ditching the clothes drier
We've all heard we need to turn off and unplug our many electrical devices in the hope of reducing emissions, but did you know that a lot of our efforts aren't particularly useful? For example, people buy LED lights before they cut out the use of their clothes drier but you would have to leave an LED light on for roughly 300 hours (about 13 days) straight to have the same carbon footprint as one load in the drier!
Regardless of the season, there are normally a few good days in the week where you could do your laundry and dry it out in the sun. It always smells fresher with a blast of wind than it does with recycled drier air. We use Metservice
to check the weather and usually find it quite reliable. So let's incorporate some planning into doing our laundry and only use the drier when it's absolutely necessary. Worst case, a clothes rack inside is your best friend. Father Rabbit
has some gorgeous folding wooden ones that are more pieces of art than your tumble drier.
The small fries: climate actions that are less impactful than you'd think
Now that you know where you should be focusing your efforts, you might also want to know where you can relax a little. Wynes et al. (2019) and Krause (2018) have listed the actions we typically overestimate the emissions saving from. Things we think have a higher impact than they really do. These include:
- Not using plastic bags;
- Turning off the lights;
- Switching to LEDs; spirit
- Buying organic and avoiding excessive packaging.
We do not want you thinking that because you used your reusable bags at the supermarket, you've done your bit for the climate and it somehow offset the fact you drove all the way to the supermarket across town. Not all climate actions are created equal.
We've all got limited time, energy and resources. If you are going to put some of it into taking climate action, you may as well prioritize the highest impact, often underestimated actions first. We are in a crisis after all.
Where to start?
The first step in taking climate action is learning about your impact. How do you brush up on your carbon counting skills and find out what your carbon impact is? Playing around with the calculator at Future Fit
is a good place to start.
Once you know the carbon impact of your commute to the office, you can begin to think about how best to reduce it. We should be prioritizing the actions that most effectively reduce emissions, tackling the underestimated actions (like flying less) first before we get stuck into the overestimated actions (like turning off the lights).
Finally, you can only reduce your footprint so much in 2021. You will still need to use the internet, buy imported food occasionally and create waste. We do not want you to beat yourself up about it. An often overlooked step two is to help others reduce theirs. This can be via political campaigning, spreading the word, making changes in your community and by supporting low-carbon initiatives.
That's where we come in. By joining us in crowdfunding for low-carbon projects you can help others save approx. 10 tonnes of CO2e per year. If you're the average Kiwi, that's much more than you emit in an entire year. You'd have to use reusable bags for 1620 years to have the same emissions savings.
Now that you know a little more about the underestimated ways to reduce your carbon emissions, what did you learn that surprised you? What can you change that was perhaps easier than you thought?
Did we miss anything? If you enjoyed this blog post, share it with your friends to encourage people to start thinking about the actual carbon impact of their actions. For more science-based advice, sign up to our newsletter here
and if you're keen to start supersizing your emissions savings, sign up here
to help us crowdfund low-carbon projects here.