Unexpected benefits of reducing your carbon footprint

Thanks to Dr Pat Watson from East Garston Eco Group for sharing her experience of reducing her carbon footprint over the past few years.

About four years ago I became both frustrated with the large amount of contradictory information and also concerned about the future for my three children. I very much hope that climate change is not as bad as scientists predict, but for piece of mind I decided to reduce my own impact.

Using the WWF footprint calculator, I estimate that I have reduced my carbon footprint from 14 to 9 tonnes/year and I aim to reach 7 tonnes by 2030. This is in line with the science-based recommendation from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030.

The main downside to achieving this has been the time needed to research what changes are worth making and how to put these into action. This appears to be mainly due to polluting industries using their large profits to delay changes which will reduce their future profits. The BBC iPlayer documentary ‘Big Oil v the World’ is worth a watch for more information.

Reducing my carbon footprint has come with many unexpected benefits. I feel healthier from eating more veggie meals (similar to a Mediterranean diet) and I find veggie cooking easy and also cheaper, eg by using tinned beans or cashew nuts in place of mince or chicken in chillies, casseroles, stir-fries etc. This was a big mindset change having been brought up on a small beef and dairy farm and eating meat daily. It was finding out how much land and energy (fertilisers, pesticides, machinery, irrigation, transport, etc) is needed to grow crops for either animals or humans and that up to 90% of this land-use and energy is lost if these crops are fed to farm animals, instead of the crops being used to feed us, that convinced me to change.

I have replaced my 50 year old oil boiler with a heat pump and improved my loft insulation and curtains. It costs about the same to keep my house warm all day compared to when I only ran the boiler for a couple of hours in the morning and evening. I work mainly from home and really enjoy having a warm house all day. With a government grant (currently the Boiler Upgrade Scheme) the cost of the heat pump was the same as a new boiler.

I replaced my old car with a small electric car after finding out that the higher carbon footprint of electric car manufacture is offset after 10,000 or so miles of driving and that many of the negative stories about EV’s are more scare-mongering than fact. I am usually able to charge my car from solar panels and it has no tax and cheaper servicing. Over the lifetime of the car it will cost me considerably less compared to a petrol or diesel car, as well as helping to reduce local air pollution, which is linked to dementia, asthma, stroke and other lung and heart diseases.

I am more selective about buying stuff now I have a better understanding of the impact this has and the limitations of recycling. This has saved me money and encouraged me to declutter my home (which also made the insulating the loft easier!).

Finally, I have joined up with a group of friends to share experiences about reducing our carbon footprints and I highly recommend this as a fun way to stay on track for what we are calling ’50 by 30’.

Everyone’s situation is different, and as well as a lack of time, the upfront costs will stop some people reducing their carbon footprint as much as I have. Our political system could give more support, eg by taxing polluting companies and using the revenue to invest in equal access to sustainable technologies. One fascinating finding is that when as little as 1 in 4 people are making meaningful changes, a snowball effect is triggered, carrying along company and political leaders. So, although the changes I have made are relatively small, if enough people make similar changes, the collective effect could be transformative.

If it turns out that scientists are wrong about how bad climate change is, at least me and my friends will be healthier, have warmer homes and have saved money as a result of our time and effort. I try not to think about what will happen to my children and their friends and future families if our scientists are correct. I therefore encourage as many people as possible to try halving their carbon footprint by 2030.

If you would like to discuss any of the above please email me at ecoeastgarston@gmail.com

Dr Pat Watson

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