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Students in Sydney, Australia demand climate action. Photo: Holli/Shutterstock

Climate change:
A problem we know
how to solve

Climate change:
A problem we know
how to solve

Words: Robert Langkjær-Bain

Photos: Various

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The latest warnings about climate change are scary. Fortunately, we know how to stop the worst of it. Here’s what you can do.

When the UN’s top climate scientists warned this week of “unprecedented and irreversible” changes, and described their report as a “code red for humanity”, they were choosing their words carefully.

At this stage, they shouldn’t really have to tell us: we only have to look at the images coming in from Greece and the United States – not to mention the recent floods in Germany, India, Belgium, China, Singapore – to see the effects of climate change with our own eyes.

“Climate change is no mystery. We know what’s happening, we know why, and we know what to do about it”

The report reveals that the world has already warmed by 1.1℃ from pre-industrial levels, and we can expect to hit 1.5℃ – the target enshrined in the Paris Agreement – maybe as soon as a decade from now.

On one hand, it’s shocking. On the other hand, as Greta Thunberg points out, the report  “contains no real surprises”.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing of all about climate change, and yet also the thing that provides the most hope, is that it is solvable. We know what’s happening, we know why, and we know what to do about it.

We already have what it takes to drastically reduce the carbon we emit into the atmosphere and build up the natural carbon sinks that take it out. It’s the doing that’s hard.

But the last year-and-a-half have taught us that when the world sees an urgent challenge, it can act pretty fast. And the threat to our climate is even more urgent than Covid – as this week’s report so vividly reminds us.

A wildfire rages in Oregon, US in 2017. This year has seen yet more major fires in the US, as well as Turkey and Greece. Photo: Marcus Kauffman/Unsplash

Right now we have an opportunity to act. Here are 10 things we can all do.

1. Make your voice heard

Before you think about switching brands of washing liquid, hold on a moment. Many of the things we must do to tackle climate change – change laws, redesign economies, reinvent food systems, make massive investments – are not in the hands of individuals. We have to come together and demand change from our representatives. As campaigner Bill McKibben told the podcast A matter of degrees, we each only have so much time to give, so: “Job one is to organise, job two is to organise… and job three is to organise. And if you have some energy left over after that, by all means, check out every light bulb in your house.”

Find out who’s campaigning on the climate where you live, and get involved. Push politicians to do better, and don’t let them fall short. The COP26 Climate Change Conference this November will be a huge moment in getting leaders to act. Let’s make it count.

2. Drive less

Emissions from petrol and diesel vehicles are major contributors to CO2 in the atmosphere. Go electric or hybrid, if you can. Take the train. Even better, walk, cycle, or ask yourself if the journey needs to be made at all. A study published in the UK last year found that going car-free or electric was the single most impactful thing people could do to reduce their carbon footprint.

“Live the way you want to live, but just don’t waste”

Sir David Attenborough

3. Buy less

Every product we buy has some kind of environmental impact, from the energy it takes to produce them, the environmental damage involved in making them, and the impact they have after we throw them away. Often the best choice is to not buy in the first place. For instance, we could all afford to buy around one third less food, since that’s the amount that currently gets wasted when we leave it in the fruit bowl too long or scrape it off plates uneaten. If we limited ourselves to the resources we truly needed, we could all prosper on a healthy planet. Sir David Attenborough summed it up beautifully when he gave his advice to the next generation: “Live the way you want to live, but just don’t waste.”

4. Fly less

Taking just one less long-haul flight a year can save the equivalent of 1.68 tons of CO2 – almost as much as you’d save by switching to an electric car. During the pandemic, businesses have realised just how much can be done remotely, and for tourists, companies like Byway Travel are making it easier and more fun to travel flight-free.

“Every time we spend money, we make a choice about what kind of world we want to be part of”

5. Cut down on meat and dairy

Growing plants involves far less carbon emissions than growing meat. In fact, you can save the equivalent of 0.8 tons of CO2 a year by going vegan, according to a 2020 study by energy researchers in the UK. Even if you just cut down a little, it’s a big win. As well as reducing methane emissions, consuming less meat can also free up land that can be reforested to absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

6. Move your money

While more of us are getting picky about what we buy, it’s easy to forget the impact of how we invest money through our bank accounts, pensions and mortgages. Ask your bank what they do and don’t invest in, and if you’re not happy, take your money elsewhere. If you’re really into investing, you can use apps like Tickr to choose companies that have been vetted for their sustainable and ethical credentials.

There’s only so much firefighters can do. To prevent more fires like this one in California, we need drastic action. Photo: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

7. Choose sustainable businesses

Every time we spend money, we make a choice about what kind of world we want to be part of. And it’s getting easier to make informed choices, thanks to the growth of independent sources that list ethical providers, such as Ethical Consumer, and the fashion rankings app Good on You.

8. Switch to green energy

Different electricity providers use different mixes of green energy and fossil fuels. Of course, switching who you get your bills from doesn’t immediately cause a furnace to go dark and a wind turbine to start spinning – there’s a system of quotas and certificates that let’s suppliers manage capacity while keeping the lights on – but the more of us insist on green providers, the more the supply of renewables will grow, and the less sense it makes for suppliers to keep burning fossil fuels.

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9. Make your home more efficient

If you have the chance to make improvements to your home, there may be things you can do to cut how much energy you use, and save yourself a lot of money. From new insulation and windows to better heating and lighting, it’s worth finding out what your options are and whether you could save in the long run by spending a little upfront.

10. Learn and share

Climate change can be a tricky topic to talk about (we know) so let’s normalise it. Let people know what you’re doing and what’s possible. If you’re interested in digging deeper, check out Project Drawdown’s free online course Climate Solutions 101.

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