Be Part of the Solution
Climate change is one of the most significant challenges that humanity has ever faced. Nearly every aspect of our modern societies contribute to the problem. Overcoming it will take a concerted effort from all sections of society, from governments, industry and individuals. Nevertheless, there are lots of steps that individuals can take to lessen their contribution to global warming and even make a positive impact. These pages explain what climate change is and what individuals can do to combat it.
1. The Problem
The term climate change is popularly used to refer to the phenomenon of the gradual increase in the average global temperature of the Earth since the beginning of the 20th century. This increase in temperature is linked to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere that would otherwise escape into space. The more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere the more heat is trapped, thus increasing global temperatures. The diagram below illustrates how this ‘greenhouse effect’ works.
Figure 1 - The Greenhouse Effect
Carbon dioxide is by far the most important greenhouse gas. Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring gas and without it, life on Earth would be impossible. However, when we burn fossil fuels such as gas, oil and coal we release additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution humans have been burning ever more fossil fuels to generate electricity, to power industry, to move us around and to heat our homes. This has improved the quality of our lives but it has also resulted in huge amounts of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. Over time the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased so much and is trapping so much heat that it is having an effect on the planets temperature. Human activities are causing the planet to warm up.
To help prevent this warming effect governments, industry, civil society and individuals around the world are attempting to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that they emit into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases come from a wide variety of human activities.
The majority of world greenhouse gas emissions come from burning fossil fuels to generate electricity, to heat our homes and workplaces, to power industry and to move us around.
The problem is clear. We are emitting too much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.
- The Solution
The best solution to the problem would be to stop burning fossil fuels entirely and reduce our carbon footprint to zero. That’s a tall order. The best we can do is to avoid as much carbon dioxide emissions as we can and reduce the rest as much as possible.
For individuals, that means reducing the amount of electricity we use in our homes, reducing the amount of oil or gas we use to heat our homes and reducing the amount of petrol we use in our cars. It can be difficult to know where to start but it’s important to remember that every little helps and some really simple changes can make a big difference.
Chart 1: Five stages of climate change awareness.
2. Avoid Emissions
You can avoid some of your carbon dioxide emissions by simply turning off equipment when it’s not in use or not travelling by car if you don’t need to. Switching off lights when you leave a room or turning off equipment rather than leaving it standby is the simplest step in lowering your carbon footprint.
3. Reduce Your Emissions
Many emissions cannot be avoided so the next step in lowering your carbon footprint is to reduce the rest of your emissions as much as possible. You can begin a few simple steps.
- Insulate you home to the recommended standard
- Switching your light bulbs to low energy models
- Switch from using a car to using public transport, cycling or walking
- Reduce your water usage
4. Offset the Rest
Even when you’ve reduced your carbon emissions as much as possible there will still be some emissions that you simply cannot avoid. Purchasing carbon offset credits allows you to take your carbon footprint down to zero and become carbon neutral.
All over the world there are projects underway that reduce the amount of carbon being emitted into the atmosphere. These projects include building low carbon renewable energy generators, like wind turbines or solar panels; improving energy efficiency; and protecting forests from being cut down. Typically these projects are located in countries in the developing world and they help those countries develop in a sustainable way towards a low carbon future. To fund these projects they are allowed to sell carbon offset credits. A carbon offset credit, or simply a ‘carbon credit’, represents one tonne of carbon dioxide that has been removed from the atmosphere. If your carbon footprint for a year is one tonne, then you can offset your emissions with one carbon credit. In doing so you will not only become carbon neutral but you will also be helping to build a more sustainable world.
Once you’ve decided to offset your carbon emissions you must choose which offset provider to use and which project to purchase your offset from.
5. Assess the Provider
Some will only sell large volumes of credits to business whilst some are happy to sell small amounts to individual consumers as well. The first thing to do is find an offset provider that is willing to sell to consumers.
The UK Government advises that a good offset provider will be able to:
- Calculate your emissions accurately
- Deliver your carbon credits within a year of you buying them
- Declare clearly how much the credits cost per tonne
- Provide you with information about the role of offsetting in tackling climate change and advise you on how to reduce your carbon footprint (DECC, 2012)
6. Assess the Project
With a variety of offset projects around the world it can be hard to know how to choose the best one for you. First and foremost, you need to know that the project is really reducing carbon emissions. The best way to be sure is to check that it has been certified against a quality standard. There are many standards available but the most commonly used ones are:
- Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) (34%)
- Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standard (CCB) (19%)
- Climate Action Reserve (16%)
- Gold Standard (8%)
- BMV Standard (5%)
Data taken from Ecosystem Marketplace, 2011
Your offset provider should be able to tell you which standard the project has been certified to. Your offset provider should also be able to either provide you with the project development document or provide you with a good description of the project.
In choosing a project you might want to consider benefits other than carbon emission reduction. For example, a project to replace open fire cooking with efficient wood burning stoves in rural African communities will reduce carbon emission but will also improve indoor air quality for the people using them, reducing the risk of respiratory and eye problems and birth defects.
Choosing the right provider will help you to choose the best carbon offset for you, allowing you to become carbon neutral and contribute to sustainable future.
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