“If many of us do little things, they can add up to make a big difference. Even if they are marginal, they remind us of the importance of good stewardship.”
(from #Live Lent:Care for God’s creation Church House Publishing)
CLIMATE action too often seems all about the Do Nots. Sometimes, it can be more useful to think about what positive, proactive steps we could be taking rather than what we should be excising from our lives.
Five climate actions to take on for Lent
Below are five areas of action that, if enough people take them on, could make a big difference.
1. Home insulation
BRITISH homes are notoriously draughty; so insulating could make a big difference to your bills as well as your carbon emissions. The use of oil and gas for heating and hot water in homes accounts for about 15 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse-gas emissions. It also makes up about 60 per cent of yearly household bills. In uninsulated homes, about one third of the heat lost escapes through the walls, and one quarter is lost through the roof.
Loft insulation is effective for at least 40 years, and should pay for itself many times over, the Energy Saving Trust says. The type of wall insulation which you can install depends on your house: newer homes with spaces between the walls can use cavity-wall insulation, while older homes with solid walls can usually be insulated from the inside or outside. For windows, installing double or triple glazing, secondary glazing, or even just heavier curtains are all energy-saving options.
Draught-proofing is an alternative, cheap, and effective way to cut heat loss from your home. Sticky strips can block window draughts; draught-excluders and covered letterboxes can reduce cold air coming through doors; and fillers can be used for floorboards and cracks in the wall. Even if you are renting, your landlord may agree to install draught-proofing measures — or, at least, pay for the materials so that you can install them yourself. Be careful not to close any intentional ventilation that maintains air flow through your home.
The website energysavingtrust.org.uk has great advice on the different kinds of insulation, and other ways to save energy at home.
WHILE the Government has a part to play in the nationwide switch to low-carbon energy, there are still options that individuals can take.
A simple step is to switch to a renewable-energy company. An increasing number — including Good Energy and Green Energy UK — are now offering power that is 100 per cent renewable. Look out in particular for companies that are actually building renewables themselves, such as Ecotricity. Because of the way in which the national grid works, however, minimising electrical consumption is still important to avoid burning of fossil fuels. The Ethical Consumer website ethicalconsumer.org/energy/electricity-gas-revisited provides useful information on renewable energy providers in the UK.
For some, installing rooftop solar panels may be an option. Savings on carbon emissions and money will depend on where in the UK you live: the Energy Saving Trust’s Solar Energy Calculator can give an idea of the benefits. Earlier this year, the Government’s new Smart Export Guarantee came into force: this obliges electricity suppliers to pay people for exporting electricity to the National Grid, provided that certain criteria are met.
BANKS are big funders of the fossil-fuel industry — with money that could be used for renewables, or other green investment.
The money that you hold in the bank will not be used directly for investments, but, as a customer, you can still have influence. The website Good with Money has lots of information on choosing an ethical current account, while the Good Shopping Guide ranks UK banks and building societies on their environmental performance. If you decide to withdraw your business from a bank or other company, tell it why you are doing this.
Pension investments are another massive part of the financial system. Often, pension providers put money into a default fund that invests in big companies with no consideration of ethics. More than ten per cent of your pension could be invested in fossil-fuel companies, according to non-profit ShareAction.
If you want to ensure that your pension is ethically invested, you can ask your employer or your pension provider what options you have. While it is not always possible to switch pension provider, many providers do offer an ethical fund that you can switch into. For more information on investing pensions ethically, Good with Money has a useful “Good Guide to Pensions”: good-with-money.com/2019/08/20/the-good-guide-to-pensions.
THERE are many different ways to take part in climate action, from community events and letter-writing to protests and political campaigning.
In all cases, one of the most important things you can do about climate change is to communicate with others. Research has shown that individual efforts to be green can have an influence on others: even just discussing it can be a useful step, especially if you keep in mind the values of the person you are talking to.
For an example of the impact that can be made by engaging other people, just look at the “School Strike for Climate” movement. In August 2018, Greta Thunberg started her strike alone outside the Swedish Parliament; by September 2019, she was leading what is probably the largest-ever climate protest.
5. Enjoying life
PERHAPS the best way of taking climate action is to focus on how being environmentally aware can also improve your own life.
Research has shown that, above a certain level, the amount of resources that we consume stops being linked to increased well-being. Pursuing low-carbon activities such as country walks, local sport, joining a choir, or spending time at home with family or friends are all conducive to higher well-being.
A rising body of research shows the importance of proximity to nature for our mental health, as well as our environmentalism. Perhaps unsurprisingly, one recent study found that people who lived outside urban areas and spent more time close to nature were more likely to take actions that benefited the environment. But increasing access to cycling and other environmentally friendly transport options, besides a rising acknowledgement of the benefits of urban green spaces, offer city-dwellers the chance to make just as much of an impact.
Jocelyn Timperley is a freelance climate and energy journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @jloistf