A recent check on United Kingdom data for 2017 suggests that since the 1970s we have generally cut our emissions by 40%.
Current thinking is the world stands at the edge of a climate emergency and so we will all have to reduce our emissions and energy usage significantly yet again.
I had spent some time over the festive season thinking what more could we reasonably expect the average citizen to do to reduce consumption of the world’s resources as a means of reducing emissions.
Being Christmas at the time, my eyes fell on the Christmas lights and then I began to follow a train of thought.
People like Christmas lights, they are uplifting at the darkest time of the year but what is a reasonable use of illuminations?
- Lights on trees and picture rails: not necessary, but nice.
- Lights on the outside of the house: not necessary, possibly a nuisance.
- Lights in the streets near stores: draws in visitors, and jobs follow in the shops.
- Seaside illuminations: draw visitors and keep hotels and B&Bs in business.
- Illuminated monuments and structures: floodlights at sports events.
Where in this list would I take action to reduce my contribution to the problem of climate change? It isn’t easy to decide on issues not directly in your control.
Local shopkeepers will clamor for Christmas lights. Given the British weather, anything that draws visitors to resorts will be used, and illuminations are part of life.
There is a serious question to be asked about lighting monuments. Is it cost-effective? Does it add to the sum of life’s experiences?
Clearly it will be difficult to change the use of sports floodlights. The same goes for theatre lighting, festival sound systems and so on. So, at what point would you limit your use?
Festive lighting? I can limit my use of festive lights (and candles too). Maybe I can raise the issue of excessive house decorations with neighbors. Does not attending festivals reduce the energy used at such events?
This exercise can be done in other areas of life.
Try listing the things you have already done to reduce, reuse, recycle and so on, then ask what more could you do? What would be the next step? What did you not do that you could have? Is it time to revisit that decision?
Areas to consider are:
- Communications: TV, radio, telephones, texting, use of the internet, social media.
- Transport: Walking, cycling, motoring, use of buses, use of delivery or courier services, flights, use of taxis.
- Hobbies: This is a neglected area. Can you find a less energy-intense hobby?
- Clothing: Do you buy for multiyear use? Do you really need new outfits every season? Could you use renewable materials rather than synthetics? Does your ethical eating strategy push you away from wearing renewable materials?
- Pets: Big dog or small mammal? Horse or goldfish? Is employing a dog walker who drives your pooch (and others) to their walk acceptable in 21st century? If you can’t walk your own dog, should you own one?
- Food: The concepts of “food miles,” growing your own and shopping locally are well known.
Wider adoption of these principles should be encouraged. But the preparation of food is a neglected area.
Do we really need to rack up energy usage by triple frying chips? We can avoid using out-of-season fruit and vegetables.
Should we change to all-in-one-pot cooking? Should we use “flash cooking” in preference to long, slow oven roasting or four pans boiling on the stove?
More radically, you can move closer to your work or church, take a vacation nearer home or avoid sports and recreations with very high energy usage, such as motorcar and bike racing, rallying and so forth.
We are all going to have to make more serious efforts to reduce our environmental impact, but after the obvious steps that most of us have already taken, it becomes more difficult to make greater changes.
No activity stands alone. Hobbies and telecom devices assist social interaction and help overcome isolation. Sports, theatre, Christmas lights, festivals and the like add pleasure to life.
Looking from the other end of the telescope, the issue is can you justify your choices?
Life can change. The whole edifice of retail is changing rapidly, some of the changes are driven by online selling and buying, but are we also seeing the passive effects of people choosing not to?
Not buying new seasonal clothes, not spending big for Christmas, and then, more positively, demand is reduced by reusing, recycling and repurposing.
In 2019, large numbers of people have grasped the issues by the neck and stood out from the crowd and become militant. Behind the public militancy, there will be changed lifestyles, an honest reappraisal of how each one lives.
I think a sizable chunk of the reduction in retail demand is people rebooting their life by making significant changes to how they live.
What marks you out? Inertia, satisfaction at what you’ve done or an honest review of what you have yet to change?
Many years ago, I read a book titled “Christ the Controversialist” by John Stott. Is it time to rock the boat at your church, club, workplace or childcare facility over unnecessary energy usage and environmental carelessness?
As my daughter is wont to say, “Just putting it out there.”
Dr. Andrew Wright is chair of the John Ray Initiative board.