Measuring your personal carbon footprint is a first step towards taking action to combat the climate crisis. It's a first step and a small step and there is much more to be done. Recent reports make that abundantly clear.
First of all, we hear that Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil has been defeated in the presidential election. He has long been criticised for turning a blind eye to the devastation of the Amazon by illegal loggers, poachers and miners. As the second round of the election is complete, his rival Lula has the majority. Prior to the result, Bolsonaro claimed that the electoral process was flawed and that he would fight to retain the presidency. At the time of writing he had not conceded. Watch this space.
Recent reports include the World Energy Outlook from the International Energy Agency (IEA), and a new report from the World Meteorological Organisation, which say that climate change puts energy security at risk, and there’s a report from the UK’s Joint Committee on National Security Strategy which says the same and more. “Exceeding 1.5°C global warming could trigger multiple climate tipping points,” warns an article in the journal Science, and the UN publishes its Emissions Gap Report 2022, subtitled “The Closing Window – Climate crisis calls for rapid transformation of societies”.
Action - COP27
What are you doing about it? What can you do about it? We’ll come to that, and I’ll share a preview of an interview with someone who is very definitely doing something about it. First let’s talk about COP27 which starts in Sharm El Sheikh in just a week.
Inaction - Britain
Britain was of course the host of COP 26 held in Glasgow last year, and holds that role right through until the opening of COP 27. In view of that there is a surprise both domestically and internationally that the prime minister has decided that he will not attend, even though most world leaders, probably including President Biden will be there. Prime Minister Sunak also confirmed the advice of Liz Truss to King Charles that he should not attend.
Government minister Alok Sharma, who chaired COP 26, as well as the Climate Change Minister and the Environment Secretary will attend, although the latest government re-shuffle has removed Sharma and the Climate Change Minister from the Cabinet. Asked on BBC Breakfast what she was personally doing about the environment, Secretary Thérèse Coffey recommended reusable cups.
Insights from Secretary for the Environment
“I’ve always tried to keep the good habits that I got into when I was environment minister before, so the use of kind of cups as it were, to be about permanent cups that we can recycle properly or reuse I think is a better way of doing it.
“We just all have to keep thinking about the amount of packaging we endure or food waste and other elements like that.
“So I’ll be getting back very much being a champion for those habits, which is about improving what we can do every day in order to help tackle the environmental challenges we face.”
In other interviews she suggested that COP27 wasn’t very important because the really important climate conferences only occur once every five years. She obviously hasn't been listening to Antonio Guterres or reading the reports.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres
Speaking to the BBC, and if you're in the UK you can watch the whole interview on iPlayer, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said,
“There has been a tendency to put climate change on the back burner. If we are not able to reverse the present trend, we will be doomed."
"Bring back climate change to the centre of the international debate,"
He said he would like to see both King Charles III and new UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak attending COP27, saying King Charles has been a "constant voice" calling attention to the problem of climate change.
He also called on the US and China to work together at the conference, saying the world relies on their leadership.
"This is the defining issue of our time, nobody has the right to sacrifice international action on climate change for any reason," he warned.
"We need to tell the truth. The truth is that the impact of climate change on a number of countries in the world, especially hotspots, is already devastating.”
The English Disease
The whole issue of climate appears to be downplayed by the British government which is supposed to be taking a leading role. The prime minister says the current financial crisis in the UK is more important, but others say his actions are rather like tidying the garden as the house burns down. There are signs as I write that the PM will change his mind.
Meanwhile, oil company Shell has made vast windfall profits in the face of rocketing energy prices and is in line for a heavy windfall tax. Except that it won't have to pay much because it can offset over 90% against investment in exploiting new oil and gas reserves. It is returning substantial sums to shareholders through dividends and share buybacks.
What can we do?
Let’s look at your role - and my role - in tackling the climate crisis.
When I was a management consultant I used to do financial sensitivity analyses. We'd take a look at the latest performance of the company and examine the effect on the bottom line of changes to all the factors that defined its operations – revenue, price, materials, labour, overheads and so on. The most revealing lesson was that a change in one area could have a dramatically different effect from a similar-sized change in another area. It gave us a clear set of priorities. We knew where to start to have the biggest affect on profitability.
Your carbon footprint
Let's apply that to your carbon footprint. First of all, if your carbon footprint is 10 tonnes today, where do you want it to be tomorrow or next year?
In calculating your carbon footprint you should know that it's made up from your diet, travel – car, train, bus, aircraft – the way you heat your home, the things you buy – clothes shoes, appliances and the services you use, like streaming subscriptions.
When sustainability activists block roads or glue themselves to things or even throw soup over works of art, people often respond: "How did you get here? In a car? In a bus or train powered by fossil fuels? You're a hypocrite!” The activists’ answer must be, “We are where we are. If there weren't any fossil-fuelled transport I wouldn't need to be here, but as there is, I’ll use it to protest against it.” The underlying question to the protester of course is, “What are you doing about it, if anything?” Fair point. A frequent, and lazy, response is oh well it's all down to governments and big business I'm just trying to make some take notice. I think that's a cop-out because we can all play our part.
It's been suggested that constant activism, constant complaint about the climate crisis and about no one doing enough about it reinforces the impression that it's a lost cause. You could say it plays into the hands of the denialists. If it's a lost cause why do anything about it? Why bother? It needs governments, corporations and massive organisations to take action. What difference can be made by little me?
You are part of the problem (and so am I)
Let's look at it from another angle. Do you accept that you are part of the problem? Do you intend that your carbon footprint will be net zero come 2050? Is it reasonable to suggest that we start now? Every day counts, and many say 2050 is far too late - 2030 is more realistic.
You've heard my mantra – “Think Carbon, because your carbon footprint is determined by everything you choose to eat, use or wear.” It's a good principle but I've come to realise that it's pretty useless on its own. If you agree that you should have a net zero carbon footprint by 2050 or ideally much earlier (and it's no defence to say you won't live that long) then the first question is what is your carbon footprint today?
Calculate your carbon footprint
If you don't know it, work it out. Now. There are multiple calculators on the internet: just go and find one, preferably one that goes into a lot of detail. Yes, I know your situation is different; I know that it won't accurately reflect your lifestyle, but the important thing is to find a calculator and stick with it, because it will allow you to compare your carbon footprint year by year on a consistent basis.
I suggested you should use a calculator which goes into detail because you want to be able to analyse as many options as possible for making a difference.
What's my carbon footprint?
Okay. Money-where-your-mouth-is time. What's my carbon footprint?
I've used https://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx from Carbon Footprint Ltd, a carbon management consultancy. There are many others and they use various methodologies and give significantly different results. Just remember always to use the same one for consistency of comparison.
My footprint comes out at 4.08t, which is lower than the EU average of 7.6t according to ourworldindata.org . It's far better than North America at 17.6t but more than Asia with 3.8t and Africa with 1.1t. Denmark has reduced its per capita emissions from 14.24t in 1996 to just 4.52t in 2020. The UK peaked at 11.85t in 1971 and had fallen to 4.85t by 2020. Much of these national falls of course will be due to off-shoring – abandoning local manufacture and importing goods from abroad. Globally emissions continue to rise, from 25.2bt in 2000 to 36.7bt in 2019. The pandemic did bring down emissions in 2020, but we still added 34.8bt of emissions to the atmosphere in that year.
We all need to take steps to reduce.
My footprint – calculated as half of our two-person household – is based on home heating and energy, travel, diet and other purchases. Home heating accounts for 27% of the total, followed by food, eating out, clothing and computers. Together these categories account for 75%.
My task and your task is to set targets for 2030 and for each year from now to 2025. Next year we'll add 2026, the year after, 2027 and so on. If 2030 is net zero, you could divide the difference by the 8 remaining years. Let's set 12.5% and decide how each of the components will play its part. And if 12.5% looks unfeasible let's find something that is feasible but recognise that the shortfall must be made up as soon as possible, or we won’t reach the 2030 target. That may well involve transformational solutions rather than incremental, and I'll go into that next time when I share my plan for next year.
Making a Difference
“How is my insignificantly small effort going to make a difference?” you ask. Well, first it goes some way to refuting the hypocrite argument but there's a great deal further than that to go. We need to hold government and organisations to account and understand how they are planning to reach their targets, year by year. I will address that next time.
For the moment I’m working on my target for the next 12 months from the 1st of November. I'd be interested to see yours. It's not a question of forgetting about it for 12 months until November 23. I'll review it each quarter starting in February. Let's start our contributions to the net zero world now: speed is of the essence; the next challenge is scale – making a global difference. We’ll look at that next time as well.
Coming up shortly is my interview with Zoe Cohen. I described her as a protester and activist but, “No,” she says, “I am a concerned citizen.” She is concerned about the future of her daughter and for her daughter’s whole generation. Here are some of the things that she says.
We spoke about the art gallery protests.
“So whether it's throwing soup, and let's remember the, the soup, right? It was not thrown at a painting. It was thrown at a glass covering a painting.
And let's just be real about, frankly, as a mother, every single one of these young people, way more priceless than a bloody painting. I don't care about a painting, but I care about my daughter and I care about every one of those species that's going extinct. And I care about the fact that Oxfam have said every 39 seconds or thereabouts, someone is dying of extreme malnutrition and starvation in the Horn of Africa because of the worst climate drought in living memory driven by the global north.”
I asked her what we should do by this time next year towards achieving Net Zero 2050.
“By this time next year? Oh, right, well, you know me, Anthony, well enough by now. I, I don't, I don't accept the premise of questions if I don't agree with them. So I go back to the question, no, zero 2050 is bullshit. It's too little too late. And it's not Zoe saying that it's, um, the likes of Sir David King and … Rostrum and others. So if people don't, if anyone listening doesn't understand why net zero 2050 is too little, too late, please, please, please go to the Climate Crisis Advisory Group website, I think it's www.ccag.earth , and look up their reports. And they state very, very clearly, it's a group of the world's leading scientists from every continent, brought together by Sir David King, the former Chief Scientific advisor of the UK government.
And that’s it!
The full interview, and there’s an awful lot to it, should be available next week.
And that's it for another week.
As usual there are extensive links below.
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I'm Anthony Day
That was the Sustainable Futures Report
Until next time.