Carbon neutral during coronavirus?
It’s all happening so fast!
We’ve all seen the media and posts regarding greenhouse gas reductions due to coronavirus. Images focusing on nitrogen reduction have been circulating but researchers have found carbon to have reduced too. It’s super! So surely this is the solution – housebound forever…?
Carbon production has reduced temporarily which is a beautiful silver lining to the coronavirus cloud, but we need to normal life become carbon neutral – and sitting around just isn’t here to stay (phew…). Carbon neutrality means balancing the scales: matching the amount of carbon we use (our emissions) with the carbon we remove (through trees etc). So this gets easier the less we emit in the first place! We are a long way off being ‘carbon neutral’, but we start from where we are: housebound. We suddenly have the time to consider how we can help our area become carbon neutral. Then when the time comes, we will be ready to make a difference.
A little is always better than nothing.
Why do we need to become carbon neutral?
Unfortunately, we are closing the stable door after the horse has bolted – the overall world temperature has increased by 1°C since preindustrial times (IPCC – check out ‘understanding Global Warming’). If we carry on the way we are it will increase easily to 2°C by the end of this century (projections say this is more than likely for current scenario). This might not seem like a lot but this would normally happen over hundreds or thousands of years. Our ice caps, ecosystems, farming and the adorable Pika won’t be able to handle this sudden change (plus numerous of other less adorable creatures).
If you’ve noticed the increase in flooding over your lifetime you probably know what it feels like when it all happens too fast – but do not fear, read on for some slow solutions.
What is my carbon footprint?
Your carbon footprint is all the carbon you use to survive, it’s produced by (say, your car) and embodied (as part of the production process) in the things you have and use. Scientists have broken this down lots of different ways; your household energy use, food, transport, that used by government on your behalf, construction and business energy use (one infographic here). There’s a range of things you could consider – lobbying government and big business, carbon-intense industries and avoiding foods that are more likely to be produced by a carbon-heavy system. But ultimately these elements are hard for you or me to influence, and anxiety is caused by focusing on that which you cannot control!
So what can you control? Your home energy is generally the biggest slice of your carbon footprint that you are directly responsible for, unless you lead a high-flying life (discussed in Smart Energy GB’s Missing Piece report here).
We can split this further between heating your water and home and using energy for your appliances. Of these two, heating is the larger, and can often be reduced by simply using insulation and draught–proofing alongside appropriate ventilation (there’s also something called active ventilation – meaning mechanical, like a fan). ‘Retrofitting’ houses in this way has been around for a while, but you might be able to go further still – making your home carbon neutral through something called a deep retrofit. We will be running deep retrofit workshops once we emerge from lockdown, so if you’re serious about going carbon neutral – look out for these.
Slow down and relax
Ultimately, carbon footprint is more than just ‘things’ and ‘uses.’ It is also about lifestyle and perspective.
If this strange season has taught us anything about our impact on the climate, it is that as a society we need to slow down and relax. Getting back to basics and adopting a more natural rhythm to life has had a noticeable impact on the environment.
You’ve usually got so much to do in a day you end up driving here, there and everywhere to hold meetings and get bits you need. You grab a quick, plastic-coated lunch from a large retailer. Happen to spot something the family desperately wanted and grab this disposable toy straight from the shelves. Dash back to charge your iPhone, book flights for your weekend trip overseas, send a multitude of emails and calculations. All before getting back in the car to pick the kids up from school. On returning there’s mini mars bars and a tea of exotic produce. And breathe…
OK, so your day might not be quite like that, but you get the picture – it’s busy and it’s full of things. It’s clear to see how slowing it down would help both your carbon footprint and your wellbeing.
There is considerable behavioural and social change that we need to make so that this is not the norm. Living sustainably is not solely about we eco-warriors and the environment, either. Given current statistics on the state of our mental health, carbon is not the only horse to have bolted. There are some more radical social ideas on this to check out here, but as for me, I am going to start with slowing down, relaxing and being more resourceful.
Staying local benefits the community in various ways. To become carbon neutral, we will need to work together with businesses, government, charities and with those who we may only just be getting to know – our community. Below are some ways that you can work towards being carbon neutral as an individual and perhaps by sharing this blog with someone they will take action and perhaps feel a little less powerless.
- Reduce your energy use; maybe through smart technologies or through some good old–fashioned insulation see our five top tips to save energy
- Get clean and green energy, community renewables may not be available in your area but green tariffs are offered by most suppliers.
- Buy and eat locally, from farmshops and local sellers. This reduces how far your food has to travel from farm to plate, and any avoided transport-costs are good news! Reduce your meat consumption if you can. Meat is often very carbon-intensive to farm, health–wise we don’t need to eat meat every day and red meat can do us harm if overconsumed. Start with Meat-Free Mondays and see how you go.
- Purchase less processed, packaged and temporary products ranging from gifts to those for personal use – the more we buy, the more is made, and all goods production emits carbon.
- Get active (loads of workplaces have cycle schemes), use public transport or carpool – both great ways of reducing carbon and improving your wellbeing.
- Reduce the amount you travel abroad. ‘Staycations’ have now become an enforced pleasure this Spring but this doesn’t mean you can’t continue to appreciate your local area long after coronavirus has passed.
Is it possible, though?
Ashton Haynes is a community of 1000 people already work to strive to be carbon neutral, it’s a great way to bring the community together. They provide support to one another to achieve their goal of being the first carbon neutral town in Britain. This in turn will affect the governing and policy of the town.
Remember none of us is perfect and it’s often difficult to act if you feel you are going against the grain. Support one another and be kind, we’ll get there.