A different kind of bucket list

Cool Tips for a Hot Planet series

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By Ginny Colling

Ginny Colling was passionate about the environment before retiring from teaching college communications students. After retiring she trained with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project and has presented to numerous groups about the climate crisis.

Turn down the thermostat. Make the house more air tight.

I’m just one person.  What I do is a drop in the bucket.

I hear that a lot when it comes to taking action to reduce climate disruption. Why bother? Who’s going to notice if I choose not to fly? If I ride my bike or walk instead of driving, or drive an electric car? If I cut back on burgers?

For years I was one of the people saying the most important thing you can do is vote for climate conscious governments. They wield the most power, make the biggest decisions affecting our emissions. And they do need to take serious action. On our current trajectory we’re set to blow way past that aspirational goal of limiting global heating to 1.5 C since pre-industrial times. And given the mess we’re in at the current 1.2 C increase, we don’t want to go there.

While it’s true that governments and big business have the most influence, we are not powerless. Far from it. A study that looked at the top, proven methods to curb climate disruption found that individual actions alone could reduce global emissions by 20-37 per cent.

And individual actions have a snowball effect. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Other research shows we are influenced by people we haven’t even met. By the time I picked up my electric car, I knew at least six others who drove EVs.  Less than two years after I drove my car home, two friends had purchased newer versions of the same vehicle.

Every new EV on the road, or new electric heat pump installed in a home, means fewer greenhouse gas emissions. According to the World Resources Institute, the average Canadian emits 19.6 tonnes of GHGs a year. The global average is 6.3. To get to a balanced climate, we’re told we should be aiming for 2 to 2.5 tonnes each. 

That’s not going to happen overnight. But we know it’s critical that we reduce our emissions globally by about half in the next seven years, so we need all hands on deck.

What can little old me do?

Half of us think recycling is the best way a person can reduce emissions, according to an IPSOS poll of almost 24,000 people in 30 countries last year.  As it turns out, that is #60 on the list. The top actions are to:

  1. Go car free. (Okay, not so practical if you live in a rural area.)
  2. Drive an EV. Not there yet? Drive less and carpool, walk or bike more.
  3. Vacation closer to home. Taking one less flight to Europe can shrink your emissions by as much as two metric tons. Sure, the plane may still fly, but your money isn’t funding the growth of air travel.
  4. Reduce fossil fuel heating. Turn down the thermostat. Make the house more air tight. Eventually, switch from natural gas to a heat pump.
  5. Eat more delicious fruits and veggies and less meat.

And talk to your friends about what you’re doing and why.

We may think our actions are a drop in the bucket, but as David Suzuki has said, “with enough drops, we can fill any bucket.”

1 Comment

  1. Regarding the recent IPCC report, Guterres said that to save our environment from a dramatic loss of species and increasingly severe weather events, to reach the goals we have repeatedly committed to but never met: ““Our world needs climate action on all fronts – everything, everywhere, all at once.” That isn’t going to happen. “Everywhere” includes North Korea, Yemen, China, Iran, Russia and I could add many more examples of countries in the “everywhere” Guterres says must comply with carbon reductions that won’t even try to reduce their carbon footprint because they need coal and oil and gas to survive. When PM Trudeau met with PM Hipkins recently, they both agreed they support both extreme actions to stop climate change AND the war in Ukraine. War is especially bad for emissions consumption, so that sort of commitment is enough to make even the most zealous adherent of climate action suspicious. Are our leaders just saying what they think will attract the most partisan support or are they deluded about the position we find ourselves in, as the top species on planet Earth? In the past, and I am talking about the far past, humans adapted to climate change. They migrated and fought with others over the limited resources they needed to survive. It is not as easy to do that today because most of the world 8 billion live in settled communities. Nevertheless, there are more displaced persons now than ever before in human history and most are not free to migrate or fight with others to get what they need to feed their families. Instead, they get stuck in refugee camps or unsafe boats trying to cross choppy waters or trying to cross borders illegally to get to figuratively higher ground. What our leaders should be doing is focusing on what human kind can do to adapt to climate change and to save as many threatened species as we can with the technology we can use to our advantage. As far as hectoring the locals to stop driving their cars, that is getting old. Sure, the wealthy among us can buy a new EV and feel righteous about their good fortune. But most of us are simply not in a position to renovate our homes, cycle to Peterborough to attend medical appointments, or buy an EV to drive to the airport to feel righteous about buying carbon to vacation abroad.

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