10 big ways to help the climate

Time to act: Stephen Little of Climate Hope Action In Norfolk (CHAIN) with ten important ways you can help to stop the climate and ecological crisis

If you think what you do won’t make a difference consider this: recent data released by the Global Carbon Atlas has illustrated that the average person in the UK will have a greater carbon footprint by 12 January than the average person in the poorer African nations will have over the whole year. Because, as individuals, we emit so much carbon, even small changes to our lifestyles can have a positive impact. Not only that, we have a voice and, as individuals, we have power with the choices we make and the way we choose to spend our time. So if climate change seems daunting and overwhelming, the best response is to act. Here’s how…

1 Tread lightly as you visit

For the Norfolk coast, tourism is a great thing and an important part of the economy. However, it can also put pressure on the local environment and habitats.

Of course, no one wants to holiday in a traffic jam, so a great way to start reducing your impact is to leave the car behind and get about using the bus, train, bike or on foot. This can make your trip much more interesting too (details on pages 26-7).

Also, do on holiday as you do at home; be waste-wise by recycling, and water-wise too – Norfolk has relatively low rainfall for the UK and is likely to be increasingly prone to water shortages which is bad for wildlife too, so think about what you use.

If you’re in self-catering accommodation, bring along a few flavourings from home so you can make simple meals from scratch, using locally-sourced produce, rather than relying on ready meals.

2 Nature needs to adapt, and it needs a helping hand…

How we manage nature and how we help it to adapt will be crucial for the survival of habitats and species in a rapidly changing climate. The UK is lucky enough to have a network of voluntary organisations, from small community groups to those operating at a national level, that enable anyone to get involved in conservation work, community gardening and litter picking. This could be on your local urban green space, or in the beautiful wilds of places like the Norfolk coast. For volunteering ideas visit norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk; tcv.org.uk;  rspb.org.uk; nationaltrust.org.uk. For beach cleans visit norfolkcoastaonb.org.uk. Alternatively, find a voluntary group in your local area – either online or look out for posters.

3 Campaigning, lobbying, protesting, voting; it all works! 

Over the last year climate change protestors have been a common sight on our TV screens and they have certainly played a part in raising awareness of the issue. However, if that’s not your way of doing things, there are many other equally effective ways to make your voice heard. Any MP will tell you that if a constituent takes the time out to raise an issue with them, this means a lot in determining where they put their energies. Go to citizensclimatelobby.uk for advice on how to lobby your MP and how best to get results. 

Campaign groups, both national and local, either campaign directly on the issue or focus on local causes such as opposing environmentally damaging developments. Go to climatechain.org for a list of groups in the Norfolk area. Other great sites to check out are: campaigncc.org and gofossilfree.org. And last but not least, when it comes to election time, look at what the different parties or candidates say about climate change and make it a big factor in how you cast your vote.

4 Be a champion for the climate

Wherever you work, volunteer or even just where you go to socialise, start a conversation about climate change. See how your company or organisation can change for a low carbon world by educating its staff, changing working practices, assessing what it buys in and ultimately, ensuring that what it provides doesn’t come with a carbon price tag. There’s a range of advice online on achieving environmental accreditation for your company.

5 Check your home

As well as being a particularly effective way of reducing your carbon footprint, saving energy at home can, of course, save you money too. Insulation, draught-proofing, double-glazing, boiler replacement, smart heating controls/meters and switching to LED lights are all important to consider.  

Once your house is as energy efficient as it reasonably can be, you can then think about generating your own energy with solar panels, solar heating or ground source heat pumps. While they don’t attract the same payback as they used to, the upside is that the cost has come down considerably. 

A cautionary note – there are some providers of insulation, double-glazing and solar panels out there with aggressive sales techniques. It’s generally best to ignore them, and only go with people you contact yourself.

Of course, many of us rent our homes or live in social housing and don’t necessarily control this. However, from 2016 all domestic tenants have had the right to request energy improvements in their properties so it’s always worth raising it with your landlord or housing provider. 

For all this, and for lots of other energy saving quick wins, energysavingtrust.org.uk is a great source of advice.

6 Check your diet

While eating local food is one way to reduce carbon emissions, far bigger reductions can be made by focusing on the type of food you eat. The main exception to this rule is the importance of avoiding food which has been flown. 

The difference in carbon emissions for different types of food is quite astounding. At one end of the scale is beef (from beef herds), which emits 60kg of CO2 per 1kg of food. Compare this to vegetables which emit only 0.4kg. Other interesting examples are: lamb 24kg; cheese 21kg; chocolate 19kg; pork 7kg; chicken 6kg; farmed fish 5kg; wild catch fish 3kg; cow’s milk 3kg; wheat 1.4kg; soya milk 0.9kg; peas 0.9kg; citrus fruits and nuts 0.3kg. While these figures might suggest that, ultimately, you can’t beat being vegan, they also show you don’t need to go that far to make a big difference.

7 Check your A to B

All sectors of the economy have shown a marked decline in carbon emissions since 1990 apart from one; transport. Transport emissions have barely budged and are now responsible for more emissions than any other sector. Cars have on average got larger and heavier, offsetting gains from fuel efficiency.

Clearly there is big room for improvement, so while many need to drive for work or personal circumstances, it’s good to think about when the bus, train, bike or your own two legs will do just as well. And of course, with cycling or walking, your health gets to benefit too. It’s also good to put low emissions at the top of your checklist if you buy a car. 

As for aviation, just one flight will significantly add to anyone’s carbon footprint, so cutting that flight out is no small thing. In particular, avoid internal and other short-haul flights. And for the continent, the train really is the way to travel. 

8 Put your money where your heart is

Where we spend or invest our money is a powerful thing.

As consumers, we can buy better and we can buy less. We’re encouraged to buy the latest fashion or technical accessory, yet we know we can retain our quality of life if we keep things that bit longer, consider what we buy and repair rather than replace.

If you have money to invest, it’s great to look around at fossil-free funds.  Many companies and investment houses are now factoring in the risks of climate change, and as they increasingly see opportunities in a low carbon economy, your investment choices can only encourage them to make the switch. 

For anyone with a current account, there’s no harm at all in writing to your bank or building society to express your concerns as to where they are putting their investments, and make clear you don’t want your money to cost the earth.

9 Make a space for nature

If you have a garden, however small, or even just a window box,  why not make it somewhere for nature to flourish. Growing bee-friendly plants, creating a wildflower meadow in your garden, making a pond or feeding the birds are all great things to do and, in terms of money and time investment, they can even be a rewarding alternative to keeping pets. Research has shown, for instance, that the feeding of birds has made a significant contribution to halting the decline of certain species, particularly in urban areas. If nature is to adapt to the rapid changes brought about by climate change, all these little interventions we can make could add up to one big difference.  

10 Most of all, have fun! 

Join in with wildlife activities, or even just go for a walk. If people become disconnected from nature, then they are less likely to care what happens to it. One great thing that Norfolk offers is plenty of opportunities to strengthen that connection. The Norfolk Wildlife Trust, RSPB, National Trust, all offer events suitable for children and adults alike. The more people these organisations engage with, the more awareness they raise, the more funding they attract and, ultimately, all the more they can do to protect and enhance our natural habitats.

If walking is more your thing, the county is of course unmatched. The more people make use of the fantastic network of footpaths that criss-cross so many beautiful parts of Norfolk, the more those paths will be retained and maintained for future generations to enjoy, and make that connection with nature (Tip: you can’t beat an orange-covered Ordnance Survey map!).

Climate Hope Action In Norfolk (CHAIN)

CHAIN was founded in 2015, initially by doctors concerned about the health impacts of climate change, but soon attracting people from across a wide spectrum of the community and each with their own areas of interest. The group is dedicated to raising public awareness of climate change and, ultimately, influencing government at national and local level. Over five years, the group has been responsible for a range of events and initiatives including: work in schools; film screenings; street/public activities; lobbying & petitioning; and panel events with local politicians. 

If you’re interested in learning more or being involved go to climatechain.org  All are welcome!