There is so much conflicting information these days – some say our emissions-reducing efforts will have little effect on climate change and we should carry on as normal; others say a liveable future depends on it. So what is the truth?
The answer lies in physics: scientists assure us that, unless we cut our emissions to net zero and then start to remove accumulated carbon from the air, the planet will keep warming. We are already seeing the effects of warming really hitting home this year, with relentless extreme weather events happening around the globe.
Modern living is a big part of the problem, so we are looking at lifestyle changes to reduce our reliance on fossil fuel generated electrical conveniences and transportation.
This will involve changing to clean and renewable energy sources, with more investment in solar, wind, wave, tidal and geothermal power. Switching to quality public transit systems and to electric vehicles powered by clean energy, along with minimising flying, will reduce air pollution too.
Other essential changes will include insulating our homes and installing green energy solutions, like solar and heat pumps. Latest studies show vegan diets produce only 30% of the emissions of meat and dairy consumption. Reducing our personal lifestyle emissions – travel, fashion, food, and reducing plastic (made from fossil fuels), all have beneficial impacts on our carbon footprint and thus the climate.
Collectively, we can call for governmental and economic policy change – reduce demand for and keep fossil fuels in the ground; incentivise smaller families; upgrade building regulations to green standards.
Food industry and farming could improve farming practices with more plant-based food options and more robust supply lines. Economic perspectives need to change towards producing only what is needed, without waste. Our use of plastics is especially problematic and polluting.
We know it can be done. The Earth Shot initiative identifies projects which have a significant impact in reducing carbon emissions in a positive way. Last year’s winners recently demonstrated their collaboration at a London cafe, attended by Prince William. Their veggie burger was made from veggies grown in greenhouses in India by Kheyti, cooked on a low pollution stove designed by Kukuru Clean Stoves of Kenya, and served in a plastic-free box made by Notpla, using a seaweed-based coating.
Beware, though, of companies who adopt a green sheen to achieve business as usual, with poor emissions accounting, vague plans for emissions reduction and dependence on carbon offsets.
Voluntary initiatives alone cannot solve this problem – governments and regulators must step in and compel companies to slash emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.
Planting new trees is the most popular method of carbon offsetting, but critics argue that this won’t help reduce emissions soon enough. Greenpeace notes that: “A newly planted tree can take as many as 20 years to capture the amount of CO2 that a carbon offset scheme promises. We would have to plant and protect a massive number of trees for decades to offset even a fraction of global emissions.”
Carbon offsetting as a solution doesn’t work because it’s very difficult to predict and account for how much CO2 will be saved through any given project, with often overly generous carbon credit estimates!
Carbon offsetting can be seen as unethical in that they are funded by wealthier countries and can often harm indigenous communities. Often, they would have happened anyway – they need to be ‘in addition’ to ongoing environmental plans happening in the world.
Deforestation is one of the biggest sources of CO2 emissions – when trees are cut down and burned, their stored carbon is released into the air. Eliminationg cutting down trees would cut our annual emissions by about 10%!
So we need to do what works and stop doing what doesn’t to reduce carbon emissions more effectively, plus protect and expand natural areas that already act as carbon sinks and take more CO2 out of the air.
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Sherwood Forest Friends of the Earth