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Whole world in our hands

28 February 2020

Jocelyn Timperley identifies ways to achieve a lower carbon footprint, and some websites to help


BEFORE the solemnity of Good Friday, and the glory of the resurrec­­tion on Easter Day, Christians have the opportunity to remember Christ’s withdrawal into the desert for forty days. It is a time to re-evaluate: a moment where we can turn away from the luxuries and distractions of daily life and face God. In so doing we face light, love, and life.

Facing God makes Lent a time for renewal. We are called to care for and honour God’s creation as a way of delighting in its Creator. We are also called to care for our brothers and sisters all over the world who face having their families uprooted and their livelihoods destroyed by the effects of climate change.

This Lent is an opportunity for us to rebuild our relationship with our planet, and, in turn, with the God who is Lord of everything.

From the Introduction by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to #LiveLent: Care for God’s Creation (Church House Publishing).

THE vast scale of climate change can make it hard to see how we, as indi­viduals, can do anything to tackle it. Many of the changes need to come at a societal level, but taking action in our own lives can make a difference. Enough people making efforts to live a good life using less carbon will help to move the dial towards a more sus­tain­­­able society.

Five high-carbon habits to give up for Lent

The following changes are some of the most signifi­cant ways for a UK resident to reduce their footprint. 

1. Flying

MOST people in the world have never flown. Even in England, about half the population do not fly in any given year, thereby avoiding what is prob­ably, hour for hour, the most carbon-intensive activity.

For those who do, though, flying is likely to be a big part of their carbon footprint. Just one re­­turn flight between London and New York emits the equivalent of around 2.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide: equal to a quarter of the average yearly carbon emis­sions of a British person. Fre­quent fliers are likely to have a carbon footprint well above the average.

There is a rising movement of people cutting back on flying for climate reasons, led by campaigns such as Flight Free UK (flightfree.co.uk), whose mem­bers pledge to avoid flights for a year. Not flying does not have to mean not travelling. Taking a train or a coach is far less carbon-inten­sive, and “slow travel” — savouring the journey as much as the destina­tion — is gaining in pop­ularity. The website seat.61.com has a useful, up-to-date data­base of itineraries for travelling without flying, both within the UK and internationally.

2. Car journeys

IN ENGLAND, the car is the most frequent means of travel for journeys of more than a mile; 60 per cent of journeys of between just one and two miles are made by car. But government figures show that each kilometre driven alone in a car releases an average 171g of carbon dioxide, compared with 104g in the bus, 41g on the train, 27g by coach, and 0g if you walk or bike.

Although public transport or going by foot or bike is usually better than driving, travelling in a fuel-efficient car holding four people can also be a relatively low-carbon option.

For those living in rural areas, or with mobility difficulties, for whom walking, cycling, and sometimes public transport may not be realistic alternatives, car shares or car pools can be a good option, carbon-wise. Websites such as liftshare.com can help to link people up with others, both for one-off journeys and regular commutes. For city-dwellers, car clubs such as ecarclub.co.uk are increasingly an option for longer distances, and often offer electric vehicles.

If you are buying a new car, opt for the most fuel-efficient models: the rising popularity of SUVs in the UK means that the average carbon- dioxide emissions of new cars is actually increasing, despite there being more electric cars. Electric or hybrid vehi­cles are the lowest carbon options for private transport.

3. Food waste

ABOUT one sixth of the food bought by UK households is thrown away, contributing to the 9.5 million tonnes of edible food waste pro­duced every year. The significant emissions gen­er­ated in getting food from farm to truck to plate are all for nothing if the food simply goes in the bin.

Using meal plans and shopping lists can ensure that you buy only what you need, while taking care to use up older food or leftovers before cooking a new meal can help prevent waste. Make sure your fridge is at the right temperature (1-5°C) to conserve food for as long as possible.

It’s also important to understand different food labels. Food should not be consumed after a given “use by” date — a safety measure. But products are usually safe to consume after the “best before” date, which is a quality measure. For food that you are worried may expire before you have time to eat it, consider using your freezer: bananas, bread, hard cheese, and most cooked meals can be frozen, for example.

The site lovefoodhatewaste.com has a useful A-Z of how differ­ent food items can be stored and used up. For unavoidable food waste, aim to com­­post or recycle: food rots in landfill and produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

4. Meat and dairy

THERE has been much debate about the relative merits of going com­pletely meat- or dairy-free, but studies show that reducing your intake of meat and dairy is one of the most effective ways to cut your carbon footprint. In the EU, about 83 per cent of greenhouse-gas emis­sions from the average diet come from eggs, meat, and dairy, and just 17 per cent from plant-based foods.

Some meats are more carbon-intensive than others: beef, lamb, and farmed shrimp generally have higher emissions than chicken, eggs, and pork. Plant-based proteins such as beans, peas, and nuts generate the lowest quantities of carbon.

If you are eating meat, choosing good-quality meat produced more sustainably can still make a differ­ence. Opt for local meat that is fed using local sources — forests cleared in South America to graze cattle and produce soy feed for animals are a huge source of emissions. And try to use every part of the meat that you buy.

”Local” eating can also reduce the carbon footprint of food, although what we eat makes a much bigger difference than how far it has trav­elled. This is because most food-related emissions come from pro­cesses on the farm, or land-use change, rather than transport or packaging.

The BBC has a helpful climate-change food calculator where you can check the carbon intensity of different foods. bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-46459714

5. Fast fashion

SINCE the 1980s, the pace of fashion has accelerated. The fashion industry is now responsible for about ten per cent of global greenhouse-gas emis­sions, according to the UN, and people in Britain buy more clothes per person than in any other country in Europe.

Aim to buy fewer, better-quality clothes, and extend their lifetime by following washing instructions and repairing them as needed. Buying from charity or other second-hand shops is more climate-friendly than buying new clothes. And let brands know you care about their sustain­ability. At loveyourclothes.org.uk, there are other tips to help UK consumers reduce the environ­mental impact of their clothing.

Jocelyn Timperley is a freelance climate and energy journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @jloistf

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