Diverse effects of climate crisis and what we can do as individuals
7 Actions to reduce CO2 emissions and planet footprint as an individual
In this article Caro Feely finds herself with her ‘eyes wide open’ on climate crisis and gives seven tips of how we can address climate crisis as individuals using research from doing an review of her own situation and how she could improve.
In the face of climate crisis what can we do on an individual level?
Early 2020 my bedside reading nudged into territory not good for bedtime,
- This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate,
- ‘The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History and
- The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming,
books to shock me awake to the emergency that the environmental crisis and climate crisis represent. It’s not just the polar bears’ home and their survival that’s at risk, it’s ours too.
Shocking facts from David Wallace Wells include:
- More than half of the CO2 released into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels (our cars, our heating, our food miles) has come in the last 3 decades. This means that we have done as much damage to the potential for our planet earth to remain habitable for humans, since 1989 (my final year in university); as was done in all time since the beginning of industrialisation. He makes the point that the United Nations created a climate change framework in 1992. The world knew. Yet we did not act, in fact we accelerated the harm.
- We are speeding towards a 4 degree celcius climate change by 2100 (it seems far away but look at how fast 2020 has arrived and how little we have done). This would make large parts of the planet uninhabitable (rising sea, extreme heat and more). Long before that, and already today, climate change is taking its toll, creating a long list of devastating effects including from his list: heat death, hunger, drowning, unbreathable air, wildfire (look at Australia for an idea of the horror and also of the multiplier effect fires have on global warming), disasters no longer natural eg tornados, hurricanes, freshwater availability, dying oceans, plagues of warming, economic collapse, climate conflict and the multiplier effect of these acting together.
The climate crisis and the environmental crisis (which is interlinked to climate crisis but goes beyond, to include things like pesticides in agriculture which create environmental hazards beyond their CO2 emissions) are not distant crises to put on the long finger; we need to look them in the face right now to have a hope of getting out alive ourselves and as a species. If I hadn’t discovered yoga , I would be frozen in fear unable to take action. It helped me manage the fear but also harness it for action, my action, individual action which will lead to team action.
Cop (out) 25 – the United Nations Conference on Climate Change
This post was bubbling in my head for a while but was spurred to completion late 2019. Travelling home for a mid-course break from an intensive yoga teacher’s training in Biarritz I tuned into French national radio. The United Nations Conference on Climate Change, known as COP 25 in France, was playing out in Madrid. A journalist attending the conference was giving her impressions to the talk show host, she summarised the conference as a cop out, a disaster, because large players like the USA, Brazil and Australia countered every proposal. It was seriously bad news. Given what I had been reading I had an inkling how bad, perhaps more than most people listening. My jaws clenched and my body tensed.
The show host commented; ‘there is nothing we can do as individuals; we need governments to act’. The journalist at COP (out) 25 continued as if she had not heard what the host said. I felt my body tighten with more stress at the false message they were passing to their audience, a message of powerlessness, of hopelessness, of our inability to make a difference. The host was wrong, if governments are not acting, it is even more imperative for us to act as individuals and to make the changes necessary to avoid total climate chaos and destruction of our only home, planet earth.
I needed the yoga breathing technique learnt that week, used by Navy Seals and first response emergency units, to keep calm. It’s called called ‘box breathing’ or ‘square breathing’ because you can think of each set of four as a side of a square. Breathe in for four counts, hold your breath for four counts, breathe out for four counts and hold your breath for four counts. Continue in that method and you soon find yourself in a calmer state, more in control of your instinctive body.
Individuals are responsible- we must take action
We cannot pass the responsibility over to governments, it is us. What are they, if not a set of us? What we do guides what they do. What we do guides how much and what kind of food, energy, shelter and entertainment is created. If we don’t buy it no one will make it. If we don’t vote for them, they won’t be in power.
Look at the impact one 16-year-old, Greta Thunberg , has had. One individual. When we act, we also influence others to act -as she has done. We never act in a vacuum.
But what can we do?
I decided to do a review of articles on individual action and then use that to assess our own case. I looked at our transport, food, housing, clothing and finance. Interestingly, as I discovered, a more sober planet footprint could be better for my bank balance and my happiness too.
Energy, electricity and supplier related action
I am sitting in two extra layers, a scarf and a bonnet as I write this. I turned the thermostat down from 16 deg Celsius to 14 deg Celscius after being inspired by an article on the website treehugger (I receive their weekly newsletter) that reminded me of things I can do better. For example, it is easier and more efficient to heat my body with extra undergarments than to heat an entire room.
I’m not getting into the fashion industry now but buying new clothes can be ecological folly too. I added layers without going on a shopping spree, some thermals at the back of the cupboard from years ago when we had less heating or couldn’t afford it, an extra outer layer, my favourite coat of all-time purchased for 10 euro at a used-clothes shop.
Another quick hit was changing electricity to 100% green energy. I did it a while ago for a small increase in cost, well worth it for the peace of mind that we are supporting green energy and not supporting coal or nuclear and encouraging the installation of more renewable energy using wind and solar. In France you can find details of how to change your energy supplier (in 5 minutes) at guide-electricite-verte ; if you live elsewhere an internet search should help you work out how to do in your home country.
The treehugger article also got me thinking about small changes that can make a difference to our energy consumption –like making sure our devices like the television and computer are off at night, not in sleep mode. Putting my mobile on power-save or airplane mode whenever possible to save battery and hence energy consumption. Thinking about what we watch on streaming and the weight of the digitals we share.
The internet now uses around 10% the world’s electricity .
These small changes can help offset the small increase in cost of changing to a green energy supplier. Yes, my family are sick of me saying ‘turn off the lights’, ‘turn off the device’ etc but eventually it becomes a habit.
I have made a mental note to demand that any investments we make or have made on our behalf are in green and socially aware industries and companies. If you have direct investments then research and divest if necessary and if you have an investment manager (think about pension and insurance products too) demand they divest from companies that are contributing to the environmental and climate crisis. In the long run it will be a good investment strategy too – those businesses who are not preparing themselves to be more environmentally and socially aware will be punished by consumers in the long run.
However, in all the articles I read about decreasing your individual planet footprint and CO2 emissions; two areas came up again, and again, choice of transport and food/ consumption.
Number one is to avoid the car – walk or bike or take public transport. I created an incentive for our daughters to ride their bikes or walk to and from where they caught the school bus when they were about seven – I calculated exactly what we saved in a month by not driving up and back each day and paid them that difference. It was a super win win as some ecological changes can be.
When we needed to change cars we invested in a hybrid to decrease our fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. If you need collection from Gardonne, the nearest train station for your stay with us or for a tour or class with us this is the vehicle we use. We have rustic bikes available for guests too. See 10 ecological reasons to stay at Chateau Feely. In rural France we don’t have many public transport options and electric points are not yet widely available so pure electric wasn’t a viable option for us when we made the change. My decision tree for using the car has become stricter, only when necessary. We work harder to regroup things to do around one trip to our local town of Bergerac instead of many. When I travel to an event I seek colleagues to do ‘co-voiturage’ (shared transport); it means I get to know new people and / or have time to chat with old friends.
A second major area of transport is to say no to air travel unless we really must – and if we must, to offset our CO2. Some airlines, like KLM, offer it when you buy your ticket.
Coldplay have put their music tours on hold while they consider how to make their concerts environmentally friendly both in terms of travel and waste. Phenomenal. What an amazing band. I love their music and now I love them even more. Wow. Inspiration.
Vogue Italy recently ran a series of artwork instead of doing fashion shoots to avoid the massive consumption of air travel and the single use waste generated by an international fashion shoot.
We encourage brands to take action by letting them know we expect them to. We can also make change by participating in climate marches, supporting the work of organisations like Greenpeace and sharing information and action with those around us.
Food and consumption action
Food choices are key to our global CO2 future. Second after the car at the individual level is food. Eat less meat (and dairy) and choose natural healthy organic locally grown food. Organic vegetarian protein options like beans, lentils and chickpeas (see our vegan wine pairing suggestions) are less expensive than non-organic meat so your food budget doesn’t need to go up if you change to organic and more vegetarian. It could even go down.
We’re lucky to live on a farm where Sean grows most of our vegetables. We do still eat some meat but only meat purchased from local organic farmers that we know and that have their animals on pasture all year round and who are thus contributing to regenerative agriculture.
Growing your own (easy for me to say when Sean grows mine!) is the perfect solution- no CO2 is used to get it to your plate – it’s possible to do even on a small apartment balcony. There are helpful GIY groups like GIY Ireland – a way to be part of a community and grow food. Some urban gardeners offer to grow food in your garden- to use your land – in exchange for some of the produce (read about urban farming in Vancouver Canada). When we were city professionals I loved gardening, like yoga, it offered a great way to be active and relax with a big benefit of good food as a result.
Buying organic supports farmland that holds CO2 rather than releasing it, regenerative organic agriculture is the way forward for agriculture (see my ten reasons to celebrate support organic agriculture here). Supporting local agriculture at our local farmers market rather than food flown in from the other side of the world is also a great way to connect to community, we love Bergerac market which offers many fantastic organic food producers. When you stay at Chateau Feely the local markets offer a wonderful day out.
We are not powerless, each of us can make individual changes and inform ourselves. If anything, we are more able to be informed and more empowered to change the world than ever before given the ease of sharing enabled by the internet and digitisation of books. Taking action influences others to take action too.
I have found yoga can to help to manage the stress of climate crisis but also to help us as a society to find a spiritual happiness, an ‘enoughness’, that will help us to get away from the ‘moreness’ of our society, the need to constantly seek a bigger car, a bigger house, a better vacation. I’ll be writing more about this soon.
When you act as an individual you motivate others to do the same. We are all in this together.
I’d love to hear from you. Have you done a review of your situation lately to see where you can make changes? Do you have any good suggestions that can help us and others make changes to help address climate crisis? Click below to add a comment.
Happy new year! Here’s to this year being the year where we (and our governments) take climate action seriously.
For the speed-readers looking for a fast summary of the 7 tips:
- Decrease the thermostat in winter and wear more clothes (or increase it in summer if you have aircon and wear less clothes)
- Change to a green energy supplier and look for all the small ways you are wasting power: lights left on, machines on sleep not off etc. to help offset the small increase in cost.
- Walk, ride a bike or take public transport (get rid of the car or if you must go electric or hybrid at a minimum)
- Avoid airplane travel (and if you must offset your carbon emissions)
- Eat less meat (and less dairy)
- Eat healthy organic food
- If you are invested in funds demand that your investments are in green and socially responsible businesses.
Come and learn more about organic farming with a visit to Chateau Feely in South West France ; stay with us or do a multi day course with us through our sister site French Wine Adventures , multi day tour or walking tour.
You can read about the story of our organic farm the series includes three books Grape Expectations: A Family’s Vineyard Adventure in France (Caro Feely Book 1). The series offers a ‘warts and all’ exposé of what its like running a vineyard and wine business and life on a vineyard. Read the second Saving Our Skins: Building a Vineyard Dream in France (The Caro Feely Wine Collection) and the third Glass Half Full: The Ups and Downs of Vineyard Life in France (Caro Feely Book 3).
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Well said Caro, I admire your principles greatly, and we’re completely on board with not flying and don’t eat any meat or dairy..
We dress warmly but ‘m not sure I could turn my heating down to 14, thats very hardy!
Thanks Debbie! We’re seriously wrapped up. Its amazing to think my Gran didnt have any heating in her house in Matatiele, near the Lesotho border in South Africa, for most of her life. When my parents gave her a ‘fin’ oil electric heater (I think she was already about 80), she felt like ultimate luxury had arrived because she could heat her bedroom a little before having to change or go to bed. Before that, she relied on putting a hot water bottle in the bed, and lots of blankets. In Matatiele, the temperature regularly goes below freezing in winter. She was amazing and she lived to 96. The idea of heating our bodies with more inner clothes and having less space heating is such a good and simple one. That said a nice cosy room to come into from the cold is a wonderful luxury.
thanks for this article, Caro. We did one of your wine tours in 2012, one of the highlights of our trip! You’re so right, we can do a lot more than we think and in the end, the market (and government) will always be driven by the consumer in the end. In NZ we have public transport, although not fantastic, it is steadily improving. I make our kids walk to school unless the weather is really bad, but it’s sad seeing so many large SUVs coming and going from school everyday. I feel like health and the environment go hand in hand. By walking/riding more it’s a win-win! The thing I will struggle with is travel via planes. Not that I go anywhere often, but we’ve done one big trip to Europe and I’d love to visit again someday and we have a lot of family and friends around the world, but at least Air NZ offers to offset the carbon. Keep up the informative articles 🙂
Thanks Charlotte! It is great to hear from you. Yes we’d love to see you here too. Good for Air NZ. It seems like such an easy thing for airlines to put in place carbon offsetting to make it easier for people to offset the impact of their flights. Lets hope more follow.