Ten Life-Style Change Responses

We live in a society that has far exceeded a sustainable level of living. Those in the developed nations are responsible for ensuring that those in the developing world are starved of resources, or ware exposed to environmental crises. The planet simply isn’t big enough for us to continue living the way we currently do.

Critics of suggestions such as those that follow say that this is anti-consumerism, but this is not the case – in fact, it is life-style changes that will protect consumerism from an inevitable collapse later on. Every species except one – human beings – live sustainably with their environment. Now we have come to realise that continued unsustainable living will have serious long-term consequences on our economy, our health and our planet.

With this in mind, we suggest Ten Life-Style Change Responses in the face of Climate Change.

1. Reduce

The first part of the essential three stage life-change – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – asks us to think about what we need before we acquire it. What purpose does it serve? Do we really need it? This stage asks us to differentiate between what we want and what we need.

Reduce also relates to things that come to us without our control. For example, door-to-door mail, on unaddressed mail as it is sometimes called, is often put in the recycling bin by environmentally-friendly home owners. But even greener would be to reduce the amount sent in the first place - send an email to optout@royalmail.co.uk with your name and address, telling them that you no longer want any door-to-door mail sent to your home. If you don’t have email, you can write to your local post office to tell them that you want no more unaddressed mail.

One of the reductions clearly necessary in the UK is a reduction in the amount of food purchased, since it is well documented how much we throw away. Rotting food emits significant amounts of methane which, as noted in the Scientific Perspectives on the Environment, is a particularly harmful greenhouse gas.

2. Reuse

Got a glass dish from a crème brulée? Turn it into a dish for drying out tea bags before putting them in the compost, or put it in your shed to hold screws or nails. Got a used cereal box? With a few quick snips of some scissors, you’ve got a stand-up folder for document in your home. Before going out and filling your house with more clutter, or before sending something away to waste or recycling (which, it should be remembered, does still cost the earth in terms of carbon emissions), see what you can do with the things you already own. This is especially pleasurable if you have children, because their imaginations can lead to very creative uses of items you would have never expected.

If you can’t think of anything to do with something before getting rid of it, remember the old maxim – “one person’s junk is another person’s treasure.” Are you sure that no-one else would want what you’re throwing out? When people started thinking like this, they created the Freecycle network, which enables you to advertise anything for disposal. Judging by the speed with which most items are snatched up (you can expect a few ‘phone calls within the first day alone), the old maxim obviously still holds true. From washing machines to garden soil, you would be hard-pressed to find someone not interested in your item. And the best thing is, they’ll come and pick it up from your home.

Look online to see if there is a Freecycle network in your neighbourhood. If not, contact them and start one up. The concept of sharing hand-me-downs is also very valuable in religious communities where it brings people closer together and creates a stronger sense of community. After all, when people give of themselves to others, they create a bond with them, and that is the basis of a solid community.

3. Recycle

Critics of recycling suggest that it is not financially viable, although recycling is not just a financial endeavour. Recycling an aluminium can saves 95% of the energy of creating a new can, recycling plastic saves 70%, steel 60%, paper 40%, glass 5-30% and cardboard 24%.

4. Reduce Your Energy Consumption

When most people think of “reducing,” they think in terms of goods (see point 1), although energy reduction is clearly necessary for sustainable living. The good thing about energy reduction is that it almost always saves you money.

There are very good economic reasons, other than the fact that it saves the consumer money, to reduce energy consumption, the most obvious being that the age of cheap energy is coming to an end with oil supplies dwindling. The mindset at the moment is that we must keep the same amount of energy, just obtain it from somewhere else. However, it is becoming more apparent that “we are going to have to make do with less energy, start reducing our demand for it and ensure that any renewable projects we do promote are human-scale and accountable to those they are intended to provide for.”

Alistair Darling made a statement to the House of Commons on the Energy White Paper. He said “ ‘world demand for energy continues to grow. It is expected to be 50 per cent higher by 2030 than it is today and is likely to be met largely by fossil fuels for some time to come. This means rising greenhouse emissions and greater competition for energy resources, which has massive implications for both climate change as well as security of supply.’ “ Reducing our energy consumption therefore needs to be an important part of our life-style change. Below are some ways to achieve this:

"Old single-glazed windows are a major source of heat loss, so it’s worth considering double-glazing. However, new windows are expensive, and the payback period can be as much as twenty years, so if you have a limited budget it’s better to start off with adding loft insulation and placing inefficient appliances.” Placing foil behind a radiator also causes the heat to be reflected back into the room, as opposed to partially absorbed by the wall. If you can, placing shelving above radiators deflects heat into the middle of the room, which gives the room a warmer feeling. If you have to replace an appliance, only buy a machine rated A+ or higher. This will save you money and energy.

Turning down the thermostat:
Turning down the thermostat by just 2°C makes a substantial energy and financial saving. Turning it down by 1º can make a 10% saving on your energy bill.

Use renewable energy sources: “The UK has been described as the ‘Saudi Arabia’ of wind, with some 50 TWh of onshore and at least 450 TWh of offshore power available every year, will in excess of our current electricity demand.” Critics of wind-power say the turbines are ugly, but beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder, and for some people the sight of lines of wind turbines on a hill is a glorious one. Offshore wind farms are more efficient than onshore farms, although in 2007, the Whale and Dolphin Society said that the growth in offshore wind farms poses a potentially devastating threat to whales and dolphins, indicating that the noise caused during construction can dramatically change behaviour at a distance of up to 20km.

There are firms that provide some of their energy from renewable sources, and firms such as Ecotricity that can provide all of their energy from renewable sources. Although the government said that by 2015, 15% of all our energy needs to come from renewable sources in order to achieve 20% by 2020, the Department of Trade and Industry has said that this target is way beyond our reach with current consumer demands for cheap, unsustainable energy.

One of the concerns of consumers about renewable energy is the cost. However, “if enough of us buy green power, solar panels, solar hot water systems, and hybrid vehicles, the cost of these items will plummet. This will encourage the sale of yet more panels and wind generators, and soon the bulk of domestic power will be generated by renewable technologies. This will place sufficient pressure on industry that, when combined with the pressure from Kyoto, it will compel energy-hungry enterprises to maximize efficiency and turn to clean power generation. This will make renewables even more affordable. As a result, the developing world – including China and India – will be able to afford clean power rather than filthy coal."

Light bulbs account for around 10-20% of domestic electricity usage – that’s more than £1 billion each year in bills between us – yet around 95% of the energy that typical incandescent bulbs use is lost in heat. Energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs reduce energy waste by more than 75% and they also last around ten times as long.” Replacing one incandescent bulb with a CHL (compact fluorescent lamp (aka “energy-saving bulb”) can save around £100 over the duration of the bulb. LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are helpful for mood lighting and are four times as efficient as energy-saving bulbs, although they are not yet powerful enough to be used for general lighting.

Invisible power drains:
It is now well-known that leaving appliances on stand-by simply wastes energy and money. Unfortunately, many mobile ‘phones use energy if they remain plugged in once charged, so it is best not to charge them overnight.

Kitchen appliances:
Defrosting your fridge and freezer significantly improves energy-efficiency, as does placing old newspaper in the gaps in your freezer. If you have to replace a machine, always buy one rated A+ or higher. To save energy, though, you may want to wash the dishes by hand.

Washing clothes:
"The average UK household uses their washing machines 274 times each year. Typically, 90% of the resulting energy consumption goes towards heating water, so select the lowest temperature – and the shortest cycle – that will get the job done to a satisfactory standard… For even greater CO2 saving, always let clothes dry on a line or rack rather than using an energy-hungry dryer."

Working at home:
The concept is simple. The more you work at home, the less you have to commute. This means you have more time to yourself, you get less frustrated in terms of avoiding traffic jams, and you reduce emissions.

Avoiding the rush hour:
If you must drive to work, see if you can come in earlier or later than others. Apart from finding that this means you have time by yourself to get down to some hard work, it also means that you’re less likely to get stuck in a jam. If you are stuck in traffic, it may help to know that if you’re not expecting to move for at least 2 minutes, turning the car off saves emissions. However, if your engine is idle for less than 2 minutes, it is more efficient to simply leave it on.

5. Reduce Your Water Consumption

As mentioned in the Scientific Perspectives on the Environment, there is considerable water stress around the world. However, we are not expecting that if we save water then it can be shipped over to other countries (although there are countries in the world that literally import water). The creation of water costs us energy and, of course, costs the consumer more money. Saving water therefore saves energy and money.

"Cisterns that predate 1993 tend to use around 9.5 litres of water, whilst later models typically use around 7.5 litres. Aside from flushing less frequently (as per the old saying “If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down!), the easiest way to make savings is to put a displacement device in the cistern. A water-filled plastic bottle will do the trick."

"A five-minute shower typically uses around 25 litres of water, compared to 80 litres for a bath and 120 litres for a power shower. For maximum green points, if you do use a bath, consider recycling the water for your garden [possible with syphon pumps].” If you are brushing your teeth, it is a waste of water to keep the tap running while brushing. Wet the brush, turn the tap off, brush your teeth, and only turn the tap on when you need to.

"Watering the garden with a hose can consume more than 1000 litres per hour, so it makes sense to use alternative sources as much as possible. The first thing to do is get a water butt fitted to the down pipe from your roof and start collecting rainwater. Plants actually grow better in natural water sources so this makes sense from every perspective. Combine a water butt with a solar-powered irrigation system and the garden will even water itself. However you water the garden, you can minimise evaporation by doing it in the evening and watering the base of plants rather than the leaves."

Running taps waste around 10 litres of water a minute, so soaking vegetables in a bowl is better than washing them under a running tap. It also makes them easier to peel. If you are boiling a kettle, it makes sense to only boil enough water needed. There are now environmentally friendly kettles that will assess how much water you need for each cup of tea, and will only boil that amount. Washing machines can use up to 95 litres of water per cycle, so make sure the machine is full before using it.

Water Footprint:
"Of all the freshwater in the world, 10 per cent is for household use, 20 per cent for industry and 70 per cent for agriculture.” To save water, you need to also bear in mind how much water is being used to help the food get to your plate. In Ten Consumer Actions, you will see how much water is used for certain foodstuffs.

6. Help alleviate Global Poverty

All too often conservation focuses on saving specific animals, or protecting habitats. While these actions are important, they are short-term fixes to longer problems. It is now becoming increasingly recognised that the alleviation of poverty is an important step in combating extinction of species and climate change. “You just can’t go to somebody who’s trying to feed their children and talk about the conservation of a wolf or a whale. It just doesn’t mean anything. And so we can deal with some of the symptoms and try and stick some band-aids on these last few pockets of environment, but it really is not going to be addressing the core problem: the poverty that surrounds a lot of these environments."

"There are many environmental problems that don’t get talked about these days. I’m talking about bringing electricity to masses of people efficiently and cleanly. I’m talking about potable water, clinics, health care and eradicating diseases and pests such as mosquitoes which can carry malaria. These are environmental catastrophes that oftentimes are exacerbated by some of the environmental policies that first-world organizations are pushing."

People who live in developing nations are often guilty of environmental mismanagement because that is literally all they can afford to do. They hunt the nearest animals regardless of population numbers, they chop down the nearest trees, and exploit anything which will allow them to live. Unfortunately, some of the governments of these countries embrace the destruction and export of their own timber because it allows them to remove some of their foreign debts. So, relieving global poverty helps to relieve the human strain on the environment. That said, though, this does not mean that we should only focus our attention abroad – that is important lest we set up a blame culture. We, in the developing world, are the ones who lock such individuals in poverty, and it is only us who can pull them out.

7. Fight for a Cause

Having a personal cause helps take our lives out of the routine. It helps us move beyond the 9-5 and realise that we are united with other people in making the world a better place. It is liberating and empowering. Your cause may be local, national or global.

Whatever the cause, it helps to praise those who have made progress in the field, but it also pays to be wary of spin. Environmental initiatives such as the Severn River Barrage were initially praised for being forward-thinking, until it became apparent that “the barrage would have devastating impacts on the tidal flats of the river Severn, destroying the habitats of wading birds and the wider environment [to the point where] the RSPB says it would ‘destroy an irreplaceable national treasure.’” However, initiatives such as “Marine Current Turbine’s Sea Gen system, which generates electricity by means of slowly rotating underwater turbines" may create electricity without damaging the local environment.

If your cause is a pressure campaign, bear in mind that governments only act if people demand it. Your local politician does not have to raise any issue in the House of Commons unless you say you want it raised. “To stiffen the resolve of your government in respect to climate change, you must put the issue at the top of your agenda when it comes time to vote. As Alfred Russel Wallace said over a century ago, “Vote for no one who says ‘it can’t be done.’ Vote only for those who declare ‘It shall be done.’” And don’t just ask your politician what their position is. Ask them what they, personally, are doing to reduce their own emissions."

8. Protect Your Local Biodiversity

You can protect local biodiversity by joining a regional environmental group, or you can create an eco-garden at home. “Hedgehogs, harvest mice, salmon and sparrows have been included on a list of wildlife in danger for the first time. In all, 1,149 species of plants and animals – twice as many as ten years ago – need special protection… Gardens account for 3 per cent of the nation’s land, and people are manicuring them to such an extent that birds no longer find the insects and hiding places that they need.” There are many ways to ensure that your garden is accessible to wildlife – birdhouses, bee and bat boxes, hedgehog boxes and so on. Ask at your local garden centre or pet shop what can be done, or research online.

"Very few people understand the land, or even know what grows in their gardens or on the bit of wasteland behind their back fence.” Ultimately, growing an environmentally-friendly garden brings a lot more pleasure than one that is completely prim and proper.

9. Assess Your Role in the Consumer Society

Are we really in control of what we spend and why we spend it? It is becoming more and more clear that we simply aren’t in control. Advertising is so clever and subtle that much of the time we don’t even realise the effect that it has had. Items are placed in prime locations in shops, colours and smells induce us to buy things we sometimes don’t even need. And, when we think we don’t need something, a buy-one-get-one-free offer brings out our wallet because we’ll do anything for a saving.

There is another way. Frugalism is the way of life that makes the starting assumption that we’ve already got enough “stuff.” We probably have enough games, videos, DVDs, collectibles. We’ve turned from consumers to hoarders. If you, like most people, have things stored in a loft or cupboard, and you haven’t used them for at least a year, then you’re hoarding.

Someone who follows a frugal lifestyle is not averse to buying anything, but if they do, they get rid of something afterwards. This is particularly effective if you give away something of the same kind – if you buy a new CD, you need to give one away. This remarkably simply idea entirely changes our perspective on consumerism and causes us to ask "Do I really need this?" every time you pick something up to buy it.

10. Re-Value your Life

"Downshifting in its most extreme form is often associated with people who reject the rat race entirely and head for the country, perhaps to tend pigs and chickens and aim for greater self-sufficiency. But the term covers a far wider spectrum. Put simply, it’s about living more simply, slowing down, about making life less frantic and fraught. It values time over money and possessions – which usually means freely trading part of your income for more time and reducing the amount of stuff you buy. It’s about taking control of your life and seeking more of a work/life balance. Which means different things to different people."

Downshifting doesn’t have to mean living in a mud hut in the wilderness, but it does mean asking probing questions. To downshift, just make occasional gestures. Try going without your mobile ‘phone for a day (if you find it difficult, what does that say for your life?). Try going without electricity for a day. Again, if it’s difficult, why?

If you’re ready for more advanced steps, cut up a credit card, put a cloth over the TV, or cut your work hours so that you can spend more time with your family (make sure you run over your finances first).

The most extreme, but apparently rewarding, ways of downshifting is by living “off-grid.” This means not using electricity at all, or generating your own. It may mean not using the telephone or gas as well. Not everyone can go off-grid, but those who do report a much-greater sense of well-being.

"In the UK alone, while our economy has grown continuously over the last few decades, study after study shows that our sense of satisfaction with life has flatlined….In a unique survey carried out by the New Economics Foundation (NEF), more than 35,000 people reported on both their general, everyday levels of consumption and their levels of wellbeing…. The staggering finding…came when consumption was compared to different levels of life satisfaction. There was virtually no connection at all. You were just as likely to have a good life if you lived using thrift, as if your ecological footprint stomped around the globe all year courtesy of a 747 jumbo jet… This is because at Britain’s stage of economic development, when most of our basic material needs are met, other things determine the rise or fall of wellbeing, such as the quality of family life and our friendships, and the opportunities we have to do things that give us lasting satisfaction, such as learning, being engaged in creative pastimes and meaningful work."