Overconsumption by wealthy countries is a major driver of our environmental crises. Our impact on the environment can be described as our consumption per person multiplied by our numbers. With global consumption continuing to increase due to a large number of people escaping poverty, it is crucial that we embrace more sustainable economic systems and cut back on excess consumption where possible.
A person living in Nigeria produces 11 times less CO2 consumption emissions per year than the average UK citizen and 24 times less than someone living in the US.
According to the Global Footprint Network, if all 7.8 billion of us lived like the average Brit, we’d need three planets to meet our natural resource demand without going into ecological overshoot, and five planets if we all consumed at the level of the average American.
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These figures can be very eye-opening as most people don’t think their lifestyle is particularly excessive! The good news is that there are some very effective ways to reduce your personal environmental footprint. Aside from choosing a small family, here’s a few things you can do.
Buy less stuff
We live in a world that tries to convince us that we always need more. More babies, more money, more stuff. This toxic growth-obsessed thinking is at the heart of the environmental crisis. So much of what we buy — mobile phones, clothes, cars, laptops, etc. — ends up being tossed aside for newer, fancier versions. With 7.8 billion of us and counting, ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ really does make a big difference. Managing the huge amount of landfill waste we collectively produce is going to become increasingly difficult with more and more people and less and less space to store it.
Avoiding buying a lot of things we don’t need and paying that little bit extra for durable goods that are produced in an ethical and environmentally-friendly manner goes a long way. Make sure that most of the waste you do produce can be recycled.
Eat a planet-friendly diet
Reducing the amount of meat and dairy in your diet can make a big difference to the planet and is kinder to animals. Animal agriculture is responsible for a very large proportion of the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change. Livestock farming is the biggest driver of deforestation and slurry run-off from farms is a major cause of water pollution and fish die-offs. The production of red meat in particular has a disproportionately big environmental impact as it is energetically inefficient. Cattle require a tremendous amount of water and feed during their lifetimes.
When possible, choose local, organic produce to limit transport emissions and support environmentally-friendly farming free of synthetic pesticide use.
Choose low-carbon transport
Using a bicycle, public transportation, or even your own two feet to get around helps reduce air pollution and climate change emissions. If you are unable to live without a car, perhaps choose an electric one or enter a car-sharing scheme.
By far the biggest contributor to personal transport emissions is flying. Long distance flights in particular produce an enormous amount of carbon emissions per passenger. Avoiding air travel when possible is an excellent way to reduce your environmental footprint. When planning your next holiday, for example, why not consider going somewhere accessible by bus or train?
Ditch single-use plastic
We are producing and throwing away more plastic than ever before. Single-use plastic can take thousands of years to break down and ends up accumulating in landfills, entering the ocean and killing marine wildlife. Try to avoid buying anything wrapped in single-use plastic and write to your nearby supermarkets asking them to stop unnecessary packaging.
Bring your own reusable bag and use a reusable bottle and cup when out and about. Buy produce from local markets if you are able and bring your own lunch to work. See how fast you can cut your total waste just by ditching single-use plastic!
Put your money where it makes a difference
Other people use our money all the time – pension funds, mortgage lenders and banks take what we give them and invest it. We might invest directly ourselves in stocks and shares. Be informed about who has your money and where it goes, and look for providers which use it ethically, to promote human wellbeing and the health of our planet. And think about charitable giving (we don’t just mean giving to us!). Most charities are heavily reliant on individual donations, and philanthropy is a very effective way of making a difference, even if the sums aren’t large.
Learn about your own impact
The Global Footprint Network has an online ecological footprint calculator that helps you assess how your lifestyle is impacting on our planet and its resources. It’s an attractive and easy-to-use tool that also helps you identify how you can reduce your impact. You might be shocked by the result though!