Decisions at a political level are essential to solve the environmental crisis. But that does not mean that what you do at an individual level is insignificant. Decision-makers are sensitive to public opinion, and businesses are sensitive to customer demand. You can also act directly by building and supporting sustainable infrastructure for energy, transport and food in your community.
Make your voice heard
We can stop air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions if we want to. The opportunities are there, but the political will has not been strong enough so far. But this can be changed. In order for politicians to take the necessary decisions they need the support of strong public opinion. Often it already exists, but is not apparent in debate.
The most important thing you can do is therefore to make your voice heard. You can do this individually, by mobilising on social media, writing letters, contacting politicians, etc., or by becoming an active member of an environmental organisation.
You can find lists of national groups that are part of international networks here:
Let the money talk
Divest has become a buzzword within the climate movement. Citizens have demanded, often successfully, that schools, universities, religious organisations and pension funds should divest from fossil fuels and instead invest in non-polluting renewable technology.
On a personal level, it can sometimes be a bit trickier. The market for sustainable financial services is still in its infancy. Your personal banker should at least be able to find saving alternatives that avoid the worst culprits in the fossil fuel industry. And you can also buy shares in companies that invest in renewable energy.
Don’t go by car – walk, cycle and use public transport
The best choice is not to own a car at all. Significant amounts of energy and materials are needed to manufacture a car and you will be less tempted to make short and unnecessary car journeys. Walking, cycling and public transport are normally good options in urban areas where most of us live. A study in Stockholm showed that 60 lives could be saved each year thanks to reduced air pollution, if everyone who has less than a 30-minute bike ride to work, cycled to work instead of taking the car.
Second best is to use the car you have as little as possible. See if you can share journeys with your neighbours or workmates. And if you are going to buy a car, buy an electric or biogas one. Choose the most energy-efficient model that fits with your needs.
For many people in wealthy countries flying is the activity with the greatest climate footprint. One journey by airplane can easily offset the climate benefits of decades of recycling. A 600-kilometre flight generates carbon dioxide emissions of around 80 kilograms per person (and around 150 kg per person if the high-altitude “climatic forcing” effect is taken into account), compared to only 1 gram when taking a train that runs on electricity from renewable sources.
Eat less meat
Reduce your meat consumption to one or two meals a week. Or, even better, become vegan or vegetarian. Nowadays, there are plenty of meat-free alternatives in most supermarkets and restaurants. Don’t forget to register as vegetarian or demitarian (reducing meat consumption for environmental reasons), when attending conferences and meetings. Your demand for greener food will help change the supply.
Buy green electricity
In a growing number of countries, consumers can freely choose which type of electricity they buy, and from which supplier. This makes it possible to choose electricity from renewable sources, so-called green electricity. And try to find a supplier that reinvests the revenue in renewable energy.
Become your own producer of electricity
Be part of a movement – set up solar panels on the roof and install your own wind turbine – together we will challenge the multinational energy giants. Some countries have financial support schemes that make this even more appealing, but it is becoming more and more affordable even without feed-in tariffs and investment support.
Get your home in order
Find a home that is no bigger than you need. Engage an energy advisor to help you make a plan for energy-saving measures such as wall cavity and roof insulation, double/triple glazing of windows, passive heating and cooling. Investment support is often available for this type of redevelopment.
Renewables such as solar heat and geothermal energy, including efficient heat pumps, are recommended for heating your house. District heating can also be an eco-friendly solution, depending on the source of the energy. If you need to have a stove or boiler make sure they pass the requirements of the EcoDesign Directive.
Using electrical appliances sensibly is just as important as buying the right energy-efficient appliances in the first place. Turn off appliances that you are not using – even in standby mode they still consume power.
Pay homage to an environmental hero
Doing things that are good for the environment sometimes means being uncomfortable and swimming against the tide. Support people in your family, at your workplace or in your community who dare to defy ideals and lifestyles that encourage big cars, big houses and, of course, air travel.
>> Further reading
For campaigning advice, see the campaign strategy website. http://www.campaignstrategy.org