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Dropping a Tonne

 

Marlborough students climate protest outside the Town Hall on May 24.  (Photo: D Waltham)Marlborough students climate protest outside the Town Hall on May 24. (Photo: D Waltham)As I may have mentioned once or twice before, if we’re to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C, we should only emit another 100 tonnes each of carbon dioxide.  

Being optimistic, society-wide changes might bring annual emissions down steadily from ten tonnes per person, currently, to zero in 2050, but that still leaves an average of about five tonnes each per year for 30 years.  We’ve got to lose another 50 tonnes each somewhere.

A good, initial target might be to try to drop a tonne, by which I mean reduce annualemissions by one tonne.  The necessary changes are easily achievable, for most people, and many of them will make us healthier, better off and really, really smug.  What’s not to like?  

Dropping a tonne will get us closer to the hundred tonne target and, if it catches on, could have wider effects.  If 10 per cent of the UK population gave it a go, it would be the equivalent of taking three million cars off the road.  

If 10 per cent of the world population did the same, it would remove more than the total current emissions of the UK and Australia combined.  Changes on this scale would not only buy us a little time, they would also send a powerful message that this is an issue people care about.  Dropping a tonne is a political act.  It’s a form of protest!

So what are these trivial adjustments to lifestyle that can have so much effect?  

They come from thinking more carefully about what we eat, what we buy, how we get around and how we heat our homes.  A minor tweak here and a minor tweak there adds up.  

A small change to diet could save a few hundred kilograms.  Walking half a mile - when it is oh so tempting to just jump in the car - could save a hundred kilograms more if it became a habit.  And what about dropping your central heating temperature by a degree? How much could that save?    

The best changes to make will differ from person to person, but any goal or target is more easily reached if it can be broken down into smaller chunks.  For me, what works is thinking about it in terms of activities that can each save 200kg of emissions.  Find five of these that work for you and it’s job done.

So, for example, you could save 200 kg by not eating one quarter pound burger a month.  Or you could switch to soya milk (switching two litres a week will do it).  

Reducing your central heating could also give savings of one or two hundred kilograms a year, but installing insulation is a better first step than turning the dial down a degree.  

Another way forward would be to cut your driving by a thousand miles a year or to drop your speed from eighty mph to seventy if you do much more than about 10,000 miles a year on motorways.  

I’ve found most of my own tonne by switching from the car to the train - three thousand miles will give you that 200 kg contribution and I commute a lot further than that over a year.  

You might also consider avoiding a few flights.  Two returns to Paris would do it whilst avoiding a transatlantic flight would save over a tonne on its own.

A surprising suggestion is that you could just get your car serviced!  Constructing a car typically produces about six tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions which is roughly half a tonne per year over the typical lifetime of a car.  

Getting it serviced regularly can easily extend the lifetime by several years and so this could be your biggest single contribution to dropping a tonne.  Don’t buy that shiny, new electric car just yet!

Finally, if you’re a vegetarian cyclist who wears a thick woolly jumper when at home (or just someone on a relatively low income), then you’re probably already emitting well below the ten-tonne average in a year and you should not join the drop-a-tonne campaign.  You’re already doing your bit!

If you want to hear more about my 100 tonne diet, you could pop along to the Marlborough Scout Hut on Friday, June 7 for 7:30 pm. I’m giving a public talk about climate change and everyone is welcome.

 

 

4 June 2019

 

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