So far, we’ve lacked a realistic approach for individuals to take action on climate change. We need to make improvements in our everyday lives that don’t involve going to live in a treehouse, or we won’t prevent more human-made climate change.
Before we get started, here’s a brief overview of the method I’ve used to successfully reduce my carbon footprint without sudden, radical lifestyle changes. And, how it can make the journey not only possible but rewarding.
Lean and Agile are problem-solving approaches that are core to the success of many progressive businesses. One focus of the Lean/Agile approach (as I’ll call it for ease) is about learning from our inevitable mistakes to keep incrementally improving. This is opposed to coming up with a perfectly thought-out plan of big changes and trying to roll them out in one go. This old-fashioned approach invariably doesn’t go to plan and usually causes more problems. If you’re not quite ready to live caveman-style, but you do want to make positive and rapid improvements to avoid catastrophic climate change, then using a Lean/Agile approach to achieve your goals is the perfect tool.
Here, I’ll touch on some of the other focusses of Lean/Agile which are vital to succeeding, but what most books that give guidance on individual action lack…
Goals and measures
You have to know your individual goals and success measures for the improvements you make. Because, only then, you’ll know when you’ve reached a lifestyle that is part of the solution rather than the problem.
1. Primary goal
Our primary goal is to reduce our individual carbon footprint to a level that helps us avoid global catastrophic climate change. It’s recognised that to reduce the risks of extreme weather events and poverty, for hundreds of millions of people, we need to keep global warming below 1.5°C of pre-industrial levels.
The success measure
We need to put a measure in place to make sure we achieve the goal. Why bother putting effort into something if we don’t know that it’s bringing success, (i.e., getting us towards achieving our goal as fast as possible)? Currently, as no one knows what success actually is, they can’t prioritise. This has led to people focussing on the ‘wrong’ things or justifying doing very little as being enough.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) research11 suggests that to have a good chance of keeping global warming within 1.5° C, we need to reduce our emissions globally by about 45% by 2030. And reach net-zero by 2050.
The global average carbon footprint, per person, is about 4.3 tonnes per year. But this global average doesn’t tell us anything about our individual contribution. Or, that those of us in the developed world are responsible for much higher emissions and have largely caused the problem with our lifestyles. For example, the average footprint in the UK is 8.46 tonnes per year, and in the US it is 17.75 tonnes. (This is the ‘consumption-based’ figure that places the emissions on the country that purchases the products rather than the one that produces them.)
The global average also doesn’t delve into issues around expectations that struggling economies – with low footprints – lower theirs. Hopefully, most of you reading this are reasonable enough to put the expectation of change onto the economies that have caused the issue. I realise that some of this is contentious. That said, endlessly debating the variables delays immediate action, and there is no argument that immediate action is vital if we are to prevent catastrophic warming.
So, in the target I’m proposing, I’m taking the IPCC recommendations into account. But I’m also respecting that responsibility lies far more heavily with the people with higher-than-average carbon footprints. The ones who have done more to create the problem than people in the poorest nations. (That’s you and me, folks.) So, our key success measure will be tracking our personal carbon footprint, and bringing it down to:
3 tonnes of CO2e per year
To know where you are against achieving the 3-tonne target, you’ll need to keep an eye on your personal carbon footprint. To do this, we’re using a carbon footprint calculator from the Global Footprint Network. It’s available online at http://www.footprintcalculator.org/
Go there to find out your current footprint now!
For simplicity, and for the purposes of this book, we are only interested in the carbon footprint reading on the calculator, not the ecological one.
2. Secondary goal
In chapter 1 of Spend Green and Save The World (which you can read for free here), I talk a lot about our collective wellbeing suffering at the hands of a key root cause of climate change – being trapped in the current Consumer Capitalist system. Our collective focus on increasing material wealth instead of connecting with nature is destroying our natural home. And focussing on increasing possessions and wealth means less time connecting with each other.
The practical solutions in this book all reduce your carbon footprint, but because they are based on an understanding of the root cause, it’s my experience that they have other benefits.
I feel they can also inspire a deeper connection between our behaviours and their effects on the natural world. And because they help us focus on the greater good – rather than materialistic pursuits – our personal wellbeing can heighten.
Scientifically speaking, there is no single definition of wellbeing, but here are some of the key areas:
• Physical and emotional components
Based on these areas of wellbeing, I’m proposing the following goals to aim for, as individuals, with the improvements we put in place:
• A closer relationship with your natural surroundings.
• A sense of creating a positive future for your younger loved ones and yourself.
• Gaining some knowledge and skills to help fight climate change.
The success measure
You possibly won’t feel the need to measure your wellbeing as it’s something that you’ll just sense and that will be enough. But, if you wanted to, you could give yourself a mark out of 10 for where you feel your wellbeing is currently at (against the goals set out above).
You can re-score yourself every time you reduce your carbon footprint by an amount of your choice. By reaching a lifestyle that avoids catastrophic warming (i.e., reducing your CO2e to 3 tonnes per year), the aim is to get your wellbeing score up to a 9 or a 10.
3. Stretch goal
The third goal is to be part of the Consumer-Led Movement. The aim is to reduce our collective footprint and create cultural change. Cultural change influences governments and businesses. The Consumer-Led Movement aims to shift culture towards conscious consumerism, to influence governments and businesses to create policies and practices that help us avoid catastrophic warming.
Measuring the stretch goal
By being part of the Consumer-Led Movement, we’re saying that we’re spending less money on the things we don’t need and spending more consciously on the things we do. By signing up to the movement, we can begin to track the impact this is having on culture, businesses, and government policy.
We’re talking about pending human and environmental catastrophe. No one really knows the full extent of it, but the end of civilisation as we know it is predicted as highly likely if we don’t take radical action within the next few years. With this in mind, as well as how long it has manageably taken me to reduce my footprint to 3 tonnes per year…
The set timeline to achieve our goals is 5 years
• When problem-solving, having a goal to aim towards, and a measure to judge success, are crucial. We, as individuals, have been lacking these so far for tackling climate change.
• We’re aiming to keep global warming within 1.5°C to minimise the negative impacts of climate change. There is no exact measure for individuals to achieve this because of many fluctuating factors. That said, by collectively reducing our carbon footprint to 3 tonnes per year in developed nations, we can have a dramatic impact.
• We can also increase our wellbeing in the process: We’ll be escaping the trappings of the current system which focusses our thinking on materialistic pursuits.
o We’ll get a sense that we’re doing something for the greater good by creating a positive future for ourselves and those we love.
o We’ll gain some skills and knowledge to tackle climate change and feel a deeper connection with our natural home.
• The stretch goal of being part of the Consumer-led Movement is also to impact culture and subsequently encourage environmental business practices and government policy.
• The timeline we’re aiming for is to reach the 3-tonne carbon footprint goal within 5 years.