A new report by the UK Health Security Agency suggests that climate change could increase the rate of mosquito-borne diseases in the UK. This is because higher temperatures may attract more mosquitos, meaning that viruses not commonly found in the UK, such as dengue fever, chikungunya, and zika virus, may rapidly increase in the next two decades. Although alarming, this echoes the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which states that humans will become more vulnerable to disease, food insecurity, and livelihood loss as the impacts of climate change worsen. These worrying predictions highlight the importance of addressing the climate crisis and collectively taking action to reduce its impact.
Global efforts are underway to address the climate crisis, with world leaders recently coming together at COP28 to discuss what each country can do to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. However, with the outcome of COP28 being seemingly weak, and the UK government recently backtracking on some of their green policies and potentially missing their climate targets, you are not alone in thinking the government is not taking climate change seriously.
But what can we do? The weak action taken by our government and the wider international community can make us feel unable to win this climate crisis. But this isn’t true. Although government action is a vital part of stopping climate change (and we should certainly keep pressuring them to step up), there are lots of actions that we can take which collectively will make a big difference. Here are a few that you can begin with.
"knowing our carbon footprint is vital"
First, we can all start to understand our individual carbon footprint. Since reducing the impacts of climate change means rapidly reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, knowing our carbon footprint is vital to helping achieve this. The WWF Carbon Footprint Calculator provides an easy way of learning what your annual carbon footprint is and provides simple suggestions on what you can do to reduce it, from shopping in charity shops to reducing your beef consumption. For those of you who would like to know more about the science behind climate change and your carbon footprint, taking part in Carbon Literacy Training will do just that, so check out what training is happening in your area.
Secondly, you can start to eat more plant-based foods. Incredibly, food production contributes over a quarter of our global greenhouse gas emissions, with agriculture using just under half of the world’s land surface, causing 90% of deforestation and being a key driver of biodiversity loss. Livestock production is the most environmentally damaging, so reducing your meat and dairy consumption (especially beef) and swapping them for plant-based foods would greatly reduce our individual carbon footprint. In fact, recent research shows that individuals who practice a plant-based diet have 75% less environmental impact than those who eat meat. And if you still fancy something meaty, plant-based meat alternatives can emit 89% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a beef equivalent, so grab a plant-based option instead.
"Travel contributes significantly to our carbon footprint"
Third, we should use public transport more. Travel contributes significantly to our carbon footprint, with transport accounting for one-quarter of the energy sector’s global carbon footprint. While taking the bus emits half of the emissions of a petrol car, the most sustainable mode of transport is the train, which is three times better than taking a bus. Catching a train instead of driving a car for a medium-length journey would reduce your emissions by 80% while catching the Eurostar from London to France instead of a short-haul flight (which we all know is a huge emitter of greenhouse gases) would reduce your journeys carbon footprint by 96%.
Fourth, we can pressure the government to take climate change seriously. Although this might feel like a lost cause at times, using our voting power during the next general election allows us to collectively elect a government with strong climate commitments. And if we feel like this might not work, we can join Greenpeace’s campaign to collectively pressure our government to take climate action and write to our local MP asking for stronger climate commitments. If enough of us do this, collectively we can instigate change.
"£88 billion of UK pensions has been financing the oil and gas sector"
The final action we can take is to make sure that our banking and pension providers are not investing our money in unsustainable activities. Unfortunately, these companies have been reported to finance industries fuelling the climate crisis. For example, according to the Ethical Consumer, $4.6 trillion has been invested in the fossil fuel industry by banks since 2015, and Make My Money Matter estimates that £88 billion of UK pensions has been financing the oil and gas sector. Although it may feel trickier to make change in this area, multiple resources can help you. Bank.Green helps you check how green your bank is and the Ethical Consumer provides updated information on the greenest banks (with Triados and the Co-operative Bank often being the most highly rated). At the moment, pensions may feel less straightforward, but we can all support Make My Money Matter’s campaign which is fighting for all investments made by pension providers to be net zero.
So, there we have it – five sustainable actions that we can all take to make a difference. While doing our bit to stop the climate crisis may feel overwhelming at times, it is important to remember that every sustainable action we take collectively helps develop a more positive and sustainable future.
PhD Candidate & EAUC Student Honorary Fellow
Plymouth Marjon University