James Murray suggests four simple climate actions we could all take that would make a difference
The green Twittersphere is abuzz today with DECC's first tweetathon to promote climate action and encourage an already surprisingly engaged public to recognise the climate risks they face and take steps to tackle them.
Leaving aside the legitimate questions about why it has taken until the fag end of the parliament for the government to attempt any sort of co-ordinated climate change engagement initiative, this is a welcome, and judging by the way #backclimateaction is trending, popular initiative. However, it sparks one obvious (and intended question), what climate action are we being asked to back?
The tweetathon is being managed by environmental engagement charity Hubbub (full disclosure: I am a trustee of Hubbub) and, as founder Trewin Restorick explained on BusinessGreen today, the aim is to spark a debate, not set out a prescriptive set of actions. "We are encouraging organisations to share what they are doing, specifically highlighting how this will impact upon daily lives," he writes.
So far it appears to be working, with Mayor Boris Johnson tweeting about how London's CO2 emissions are down 12 per cent since May 2008 while the "green economy alone [is] worth over £25bn", Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey praising how "renewables now provide 15% of Britain's electricity and 35% of our electricity is low carbon", and a host of green businesses touting their environmental achievements.
But, if the goal is public engagement, what are the climate actions that everyone from Emily Thornberry to Dan the White Van Man should consider? I'd argue that despite the tendency amongst some environmentalists to downplay the contribution any one individual can make to tackling climate change there are four simple steps people could actively consider as part of #backclimateaction. Here they are, starting with the easiest to achieve and ending with those actions that should be simple, but can prove harder than you think to deliver:
One of the biggest steps you can take to encourage climate action in the UK is to simply exercise your democratic right. An election is not a referendum on a single issue, but equally if you are one of the three quarters of Brits who want to see more co-ordinated climate action then it makes sense to vote for a party that offers exactly that. The Greens, Labour, the Lib Dems, and the Conservatives will all argue at the next election they are serious about climate action (and UKIP gleefully won't) and it will be up to green-minded voters to decide which argument they find the most credible. If you want to back climate action, you need to back the politicians who are committed to delivering it.
Voting as a form of climate action is also the first step towards a more general political engagement on climate change. As any environmental campaigner will tell you, it is possible to drive climate action step-by-step by making a nuisance of yourself, asking MPs, councils, and businesses what they are doing to tackle climate change and why more is not being done. It requires a willingness to invest time and energy, but it can and does work.
2. Embrace green "gestures"
A lot of criticism is aimed at the small steps we can each take to help tackle climate change, but while some measures can be dismissed as gestures most help to both curb emissions and create markets for cleaner technologies. So, turn the lights off, don't leave the TV on stand-by if you can avoid it, use public transport when possible, walk, cycle, recycle. All the steps we can individually take to curb emissions make a difference and serve to normalise environmentally responsible behaviours that were anathema to many of us just a few short years ago.
And then there are the bigger gestures that help cut emissions and leave you with more money in your pocket at the end of the month. Improving the energy efficiency of your house may be a sizeable undertaking, but it adds value to your property, cuts bills, and can now be achieved at no upfront cost. Similarly, if you are fortunate enough to be able to afford it and it is right for you, solar panels, electric cars, and heat pumps are all now mature technologies that deliver proven benefits. Climate action on this level is now possible, effective, and often more affordable than people think.
As a typically financially lazy/illiterate Brit, this is the climate action I procrastinate around the most, but it is also one of the easiest means of delivering emissions cuts. The emergence of credible green crowd-funding offers and ethical bank accounts makes it possible for people who care about climate action to ensure their money is compatible with their values. It would be a whole lot easier if George Osborne delivered on the Green ISAs he promised, but it is possible to invest as little £5 relatively safely in renewable energy projects. If you want climate action, it really is worth putting at least some of your money where your mouth is.
4. Don't leave your green ambitions at the office door
As I've argued before, I'm all for greater public engagement on climate change and the need for climate action, but to deliver real decarbonisation it needs to be married with structural change at an economic and business level. However, every member of the public is also a participant in the economy and most work for the private and public sector organisations that can deliver the structural change that is urgently needed. Talk to the businesses that are pioneering green investments and technologies and all too often the initial spark for a world-leading sustainability initiative is provided by one or two people within the company requesting action. If you want to deliver climate action ask what your employer is doing and propose some of the simple yet effective steps it could take. You would be amazed how many green business transformations start this way.
These are the four climate actions I would recommend everyone to consider. I'll reluctantly admit I struggle to live up to all of them all of the time, but they represent tangible and achievable actions that aren't too daunting, yet can still make a genuinely positive contribution to the fight against climate change. You'll have your own ideas, and if you want to share them #backclimateaction is the place - there's only a few hours left.
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