As much as it’s easy to be gloomy about the amount of work that needs to be done to combat the climate crisis -- and a lot of work needs to be done -- we have in many ways, turned a corner in the past few years.
Increasingly, the majority is recognizing the threat that climate change represents to our communities, and importantly, that the time for action is now. Donald Trump may have pulled the US out of the Paris agreement (which aimed to limit global warming this century to 1.5°C) but individuals are no longer waiting for politicians to solve the problem.
If the world’s wealthiest 3% went carbon neutral tomorrow it would have an environmental impact equivalent to turning every single vehicle on the planet electric!
The good news is that individuals have the ability to make an immediate and significant impact on carbon emissions. If the world’s wealthiest 3% went carbon neutral tomorrow it would have an environmental impact equivalent to turning every single vehicle on the planet electric!
Individuals are taking action!
The growth of veganism, vegetarianism and flexitarianism is one of the clearest examples of how individuals are making lifestyle changes to benefit themselves and the planet. US surveys suggest that over the past year, 23% of people have reduced how much meat they consume , while the growth of events such as Veganuary , show how individuals are increasingly open to more dramatic lifestyle change.
Individuals have an almost unique ability to take immediate action, and that in itself is a powerful catalyst for driving faster change within society. According to Media Matters, US television coverage of climate change was up 138% in 2019 📈 😊 , while MeCCO have reported US mainstream print coverage up 46% .
So, what’s the best way to reduce my footprint?
But what actions can individuals take to most effectively reduce their carbon footprint and their impact on the environment? And how much difference can I really make? Is that one burger on a Friday night really going to make a difference? Or cycling to work in the rain when I could just take the car?
The answer, as ever 🙄 , is that it’s complicated.
The average CO₂ footprint in the UK is almost double the global average . If you live in a developed country like the US or the UK, then you probably owe the rest of the world a favour.
The average CO₂ footprint in the UK is almost double the global average.
Imagine a cloud the size of 56 double-decker buses, and you’ll get a sense of how much CO₂ the average person in the UK produces each year . Perhaps unsurprisingly, this means that there are a lot of lifestyle decisions you can make to shrink your personal emissions, from buying an electric car, to going vegan, to simply buying less new stuff.
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But even if you were a super-reducer: went vegan, drove an electric car, and completely gave up both air travel and central heating, you would still be producing 4x the emission limit needed to cap global warming at 1.5°C! Or in other words, each year you’d still be pumping out a cloud of CO₂ the size of 41 double decker buses!
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The fact is, living in an industrialized economy, it is impossible to live emission-free. Everything you eat, every item you buy, and every journey you make has its own carbon footprint. And if you want to have a positive impact on carbon emissions, you have to take responsibility for the fact that this cannot be addressed by lifestyle choices alone.
Individuals don’t have to be net contributors to carbon emissions. By supporting carbon offsetting projects, individuals become carbon neutral, and even help to reverse the continuing rise of global emissions.
Offsetting - the only way to reach carbon neutral
Carbon offsetting involves donating a sum of money to a project that either prevents greenhouse gas emissions from entering the atmosphere (such as constructing a solar plant) or removes emissions from the atmosphere (such as large-scale tree planting). Effective offsetting requires someone to calculate the amount of emissions produced by the action you are trying to offset, and the monetary cost of offsetting those emissions.
It’s important to remember that offsetting isn’t a solution in itself. Offsetting should not prevent companies or individuals from trying to reduce their emissions or seeking practical solutions to environmental problems, however, it does have the potential to be a useful tool to get to carbon neutral.
For more on offsetting, see our follow up blog post: What is Carbon Offsetting? And how can I do it properly?
The process has to start with an accurate measurement of your carbon footprint
You can’t effectively offset your emissions if you don’t know your carbon footprint, and how your emissions increase or decrease as your lifestyle changes.
From day-to-day, month-to-month and year-to-year, your emissions vary widely, depending on what you’re having for dinner, whether you’re at home or on holiday, if you’re commuting to the office or working from home. The amount you pay to offset should reflect that.
“You can’t effectively offset your emissions if you don’t know your carbon footprint”
Accurately calculating your carbon footprint in a way that captures the complexity and variability of your life is one of the hardest things to do. But we have to try, because effective offsetting can’t be a one-size fits all approach. If we are going to tackle climate change in a meaningful way, then we need individual accountability and personal responsibility to be a part of that.
Of course, this is not to say we aren’t inspired by those that want to have an impact beyond their personal responsibility. We just believe it is important that individuals who are offsetting can contextualise that decision alongside their other actions.
So, to sum up:
- Increasingly, people are recognizing the threat that climate change represents to our communities and want to take action
- Individuals can make a huge difference in tackling climate change
- Reducing personal emissions will always be a good place to start when aiming to lower carbon emissions, but the key to being carbon neutral lies in effective offsetting
- Effective offsetting starts with accurate measurement of your carbon emissions
 Eora MRIO model (CBA) https://www.worldmrio.com/footprints/carbon/
 Average CO₂ emissions are 12.2 tonnes in the UK. One tonne of CO₂ would have a volume of 19,700 cubic feet at normal atmospheric pressure. The volume of a new Routemaster is 4,300 cubic feet.