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Six (NOT EASY) key lifestyle changes can help avert the climate crisis, study finds

Research shows that governments and individuals making small changes can have a huge impact in reducing emissions

By Matthew Taylor for The Guardian, Monday, 07 March 2022

People in well-off countries can help avert climate breakdown by making six [for some people, major] lifestyle changes, according to research from three leading institutions.

The study found that sticking to six specific commitments – from flying no more than once every three years to only buying three new items of clothing a year – could rein in the runaway consumption that is partially driving the climate crisis.

The research carried out by academics at Leeds University, UK and analysed by experts at the global engineering firm Arup and the C40 group of world cities, found that making the six commitments could account for a quarter of the emissions reductions required to keep the global heating down to 1.5C.

The study was published on Monday, March 7th, alongside the launch of a new climate movement to persuade and support well-off people to make “The Jump” and sign up to the six pledges. Tom Bailey, co-founder of the campaign said: “This ends once and for all the debate about whether citizens can have a role in protecting our earth. We don’t have time to wait for one group to act, we need ‘all action from all actors now’.”

Last week the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its “bleakest warning yet”, saying the climate crisis was accelerating rapidly with only a narrow chance left of avoiding its worst ravages. Bailey said as the world reaches the edge of ecological collapse, it needed a workable alternative to this ‘universal consumer society’ in the next decade. “The research is clear that governments and the private sector have the largest role to play but it is also equally clear from our analysis that individuals and communities can make a huge difference.”

The Jump campaign asks people to sign up to take the following six “shifts” for one, three or six months:

  • Eat a largely plant-based diet, with healthy portions and no waste.
  • Buy no more than three new items of clothing per year.
  • Keep electrical products for at least seven years.
  • Take no more than one short haul flight every three years and one long haul flight every eight years.
  • Get rid of personal motor vehicles if you can – and if not keep hold of your existing vehicle for longer.
  • Make at least one life shift to nudge the system, like moving to green energy, insulating your home, or changing pension supplier.

The campaign was officially kicked off on Saturday and Bailey said there was already a growing movement emerging in response to the evidence with Jump groups up and running around the country. “This is not just new information, or a normal behaviour change ‘campaign’, but a fun movement that is working to go way beyond the usual ‘greenie’ suspects,” said Bailey. “A movement that is able to engage all types of people … engaging and being led by communities of colour and the economically excluded.”

Bailey said there has been a widespread belief in climate circles in recent years that individual action was relatively ineffective and the only option was to get out on the streets and demand system change from governments and corporations.

“Obviously this is still hugely important but what this research shows is that there is a role for a new joyful climate movement which can help lead the way to less stuff and more joy.”

Some of the shifts the campaign calls for are, at least partially, dependent on systemic change – the prohibitive cost of train fares might leave individuals with little choice but to use short haul flights for essential journeys; public transport may be expensive or nonexistent in areas of the country, leaving people with no choice but to use their car.

Bailey was the lead author of Labour’s plan to decarbonise the UK’s energy sector at the last election. He has worked in the green energy sector in the UK, US and China for the past 15 years, and said individual actions could have a cascade effect, leading to community level action and ultimately contributing to systemic change. 

Although not everyone would be able to commit to all the pledges, just “making a start” could have a big impact, he said.

“This isn’t going back to the stone age, it’s just finding a balance. Less consuming in relatively rich western countries can mean more creativity, comedy, connection … Live for joy, not for stuff.”

The research is based on a study by academics at Leeds University, Arup and the C40 group of leading cities which assesses the impact of consumption by people in the world’s leading cities. Analysis of that data has found that six steps set out above could cut global emissions by between 25% and 27%.

Ben Smith, director of climate change at Arup, who led the analysis, said that as scientific evidence mounts, it was clear that all sections of society had to act.

“Our research shows that all of us, from politicians, city and business leaders to individual citizens, have important roles to play. And it is clear there’s lots that we can do as individuals, and that this is one of the easiest and quickest places to start”.

What is a Sustainable Community?

Blue Planet United is dedicated to promoting an agenda for sustainable living and sustainable communities.  But what do we mean by sustainability?

The term is often defined as having an equal balance of the three Es: Environmentalquality, Economic vitality, and social Equity.  Building sustainable communities requires careful integration of environmental, social and economic strategies. If we can focus on all three – not just one – these strategies create a sense of place, personal responsibility, and social well-being that together foster improvements in quality of life.

Sustainable communities are healthy communities where natural resources are preserved, jobs are available, sprawl is contained, neighborhoods are secure, education is lifelong, health care is affordable and all citizens have opportunities to improve the quality of their lives. Who doesn’t want to live in a place like that? Who doesn’t want clean air and clean water and tasty local food and safe playgrounds for children? We can achieve those goals by changing our focus and our behavior.

To sustain is to support without collapse. As the 21st century lurches forward, sustainable communities will be the ones that become more resilient. Pandemics and the climate crisis will require rethinking how we live. For example, in order to avoid pandemics, the world needs to shut down wild animal markets, which are cruel and unsustainable anyway. To avoid worsening climate disasters, we need to transition away from fossil fuels as soon as possible, fossil fuels that are not good for our health in any case.

In this respect, the current pandemic has produced some unexpected and thought-provoking consequences.

  • People have noticed and appreciated bluer skies and cleaner air as a result of the declining use of fossil fuels. Waterways are cleaner too!  The shift to renewable sources of energy, such as solar and wind, has accelerated, supported by changing public attitudes.  
  • People have seen that disadvantaged communities, minorities, marginalized groups and low-wage industries have been disproportionately affected in the pandemic, highlighting the increasing inequality of the social order that has attracted widespread attention.  It is a reminder that a sustainable community is also a just community that guarantees the right to equal treatment and equal opportunities for everyone.
  • People have experienced a dramatic change in the relationship between work and home life, raising questions about the emergence of new and better ways of living and working.   

If nothing else, we have learned that people can make substantial daily lifestyle changes very quickly when required to do so.  To live sustainably we must endeavor to be civic minded, to treat ourselves and others with respect, and to create innovative solutions to our current problems. 

To be sure, the problems we face are complex, systemic and multifaceted.  But to get started, individuals can take steps on their own, such as:

  • Get to know the place where you live as a bioregion, not just as a political jurisdiction. Get to know native plants and animals. Appreciate the roles they play in your health and well-being.
  • If your income rises, instead of buying more, bigger, or fancier things, reward yourself with less stuff and a simpler life that allows you more freedom and more time for family, friends and community.
  • Engage in social discourse that explores complex issues, avoids stereotyping and extremism, and searches for creative solutions.  

As we work together to make a more sustainable world, we must be kind to ourselves and others, and creative in envisioning solutions for a better future.  

As things are now, it may well be that our ability to change the way we live will depend not only on the capacity to be flexible and creative, but also on compassion. In the alchemy of the human soul, almost all noble attributes—courage, love, hope, faith, beauty, loyalty—can be transmuted into ruthlessness. Compassion and empathy alone stand apart from the continuous traffic between good and evil proceeding within us. Where there is compassion, even the poisonous impulses remain relatively harmless.

Paraphrased from Eric Hoffer

CLIMATE CRISIS: The Really Big One

From the Executive Director

The global—and local—response to the pandemic is in a sense a testing ground for the capacity of communities to deal with the biggest and most complex challenge of all—the climate crisis. It has not gone away.

In terms of recognition of the danger, and co-operation for the common good, the Covid-19 experience so far yields a very mixed report. And the tensions that are likely to persist in the post-pandemic world will complicate things greatly. 

The question remains: How and when will we change? Will there be a renewed sense of urgency and purpose? Will there be a new global order? Will that allow for rapid progress on this hugely complex issue? 

In order to slow lurking climate disasters, we must greatly reduce our use of fossil fuels. What can we do as individuals? The chart below gives us a start.