Written by Brad Dixon
The threat of climate change requires us to change. If we can all act together with continuing lifestyle changes, our kids will be grateful.
Most of society responds to the words “climate change” with an eye roll, or some off hand comment blaming the earth’s normal weather cycles, or another bigger country’s impact. I’m starting to get more frustrated with this lack of personal responsibility to the impending crisis. Shifting blame or responsibility on any issue in life is a sign of lack of personal maturity. Taking stock on how you have contributed to an issue; taking time to self examine is how we grow, mature, and change. Socrates stated that an unexamined life is not worth living. This impending climate change crisis is a chance for all of us to do some self reflection and make changes for the better; make changes to literally save our children’s future. Do you love your kids? Time to be authentic with that. Love is an action, not empty words.
What causes the climate to change?
Increasing volumes of greenhouse gases (GHG) like carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane in the atmosphere are creating climate change. When the concentration of GHG in the atmosphere increases, more radiation is trapped than usual (solar energy passes through the atmosphere – is absorbed at surface – warms and emits infra-red radiation) and some of it is redirected back to the surface and lower atmosphere driving the climate to a new warmer balance.
The most abundant GHG’s are water vapour, carbon dioxide, nitous oxide, methane, and ozone. In NZ almost 50% of our GHG emissions (methane and nitrous oxide) come from livestock and fertiliser use.
What can we do?
Drive & Fly Less
In NZ the transport sector contributes around 19% of our total GHG emissions. Using your bike or walking is a great way to cut emissions, it saves you money, and it’s good for your individual health. Our family scooters to school, and I try and ride my bike to work. Look at carpooling, video conferencing instead of flying to a meeting, and using public transport where possible. Another option is investing in an electric vehicle as a second car to trip around town. As the EVs come down in price and the range improves, more families can then use more conveniently for longer trips. Watch out for hydrogen technology to come online as well. The combustion engine will be a relic – and not soon enough. Every litre of petrol burned contributes 2.3kg of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The average NZ car produces around 2.8 tonnes of CO2 yearly (based on 12,000km travelled).
Reduce Electricity use
NZ has a high level of renewable electricity production (85% hydro and wind) but it’s still topped up with coal (Fonterra is the 2nd largest user, burning milk to powder). So turning off lights, using LED bulbs, unplugging electronics from the wall, and using your dishwasher and washing machine efficiently will all help. All of these habits are not only good for our GHG emissions but they will save you money! Another idea is to look at investing in solar panels to help harness the sun’s energy. We now use our panels to charge the EV car on the weekends and get heaps of satisfaction taking fossil fuels out of the equation on energy production and petrol consumption. It is about 1/5 of the cost to run an EV compared to a petrol car.
Buy local, Eat less meat and dairy
A meal bought from a supermarket uses 4-17 times more petroleum for transport than the same meal using local ingredients. If possible (and it probably is), plant your own vegetable patch, and put in some fruit trees. I am always amazed at the incredible yield of our micro orchard, and mini raised vegetable patch. Containers, or large pots are great if you are short of space. Try and buy local and in season. Producing meat and dairy requires significantly more land and water than growing plants to eat. 83% of the world’s farmland is used for livestock, and it only contributes 18% of the total calories. Also, livestock production is one of the key reasons for deforestation, acidification, and nutrient runoff into our waterways. So please cut down on meat and dairy. Eat more vegetables, fruit, legumes, seeds, nuts, and leafy greens. Why get your protein second hand through an animal when you can get it straight from the source? Using animals is inefficient, and ridiculous. They produce carbon dioxide and methane and consume oxygen while crops trap carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. Over 76 billion animals are born, grown, and killed every year worldwide for no reason other than for taste. NZ grows and kills 147 million animals every year (117 million of those are chickens). At present, 96% of all mammalian biomass on earth is humans and livestock, and only 4% is wild! Please move away from animals as food (especially industrially raised) and replace it with nutritious, antioxident and fibre rich plants. This will improve your health and give our planet a fighting chance to re-establish the natural ecosystems required to keep us alive.
In NZ, forests offset almost 30% of our GHG emissions. A regenerating native forest can remove more than 8 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare per year over its first 50 years. Coastal vegetation will reduce erosion and minimise the impact of raising sea levels. Trees provide shade which cools urban concrete jungles and decreases electricity use if placed around buildings. So plant trees on your property, get involved in forest restoration projects, and on a global scale we need to stop clearing forests to raise animals as it’s a crime against wisdom. Nature needs protection against expansion for inefficient industrial animal food production practices.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, refuse.
We need to be more savvy with our waste. The best way to deal with it is not to produce it in the first place. Plan your shop so you don’t waste food. Around the world up to 30% of all food is wasted – this contributes to methane production. in NZ this amounts to 160,000 tonnes. Buy products without packaging if possible. Use mesh bags for your produce in the supermarket, refill your single use plastic bottles for cleaning products (Ecostore has great refilling stations). Donate your unwanted goods to charity shops and spend your money with companies that have robust sustainability methods. Invest in the world you want to see. Companies, corporations, and governments are reflections of the people – it’s time to drive change with how we live, and what we spend our money on.
Water will become even more precious due to the changes in temperature, and rainfall patterns bought about by climate change. Look at replacing lawn with native plants – they will provide shelter and food for native species and a lawn requires 80% more water to maintain compared to plants. Take shorter showers (try a cold one – it will be shorter, better for your health, and it will save you money!). Collect rainwater, and if you are buying household devices, check the water efficiency rating. Food choices will have a massive impact on water resource use – one litre of cow’s milk requires around 1000L of water to produce, and 1kg of beef takes on average around 16,000L of water. An animal’s efficiency to turn its food into body mass known as feed conversion ratios (FCR) (i.e., identical units of feed to meat, so feed:meat). The range of FCRs is based on the type of animal, and according to Dr. Robert Lawrence of Johns Hopkins University, the ratios are approximately 7:1 for beef, 5:1 for pork and 2.5:1 for poultry. The larger the animal, the larger the percentage of that animal’s body mass is inedible material like bone, skin and tissue. This is why beef conversion ratios are the highest and it takes exponentially less water and energy inputs to produce grains, beans and vegetables than meat. Vegetables, fruit, and grains take less water on average and as stated above there is less emissions and waste from growing plants for food compared to animals. Many NZ farmers are already diversifying into plant food production. Our family enjoys NZ grown quinoa, and oat milk.
Having uncomfortable conversations will allow us to grow and all get on the same page. It makes no sense increasing our population until we have our home functioning well to house us. According to Canadian researchers the most effective lifestyle choice to reduce GHG is to have fewer children. In fact, this study (The climate mitigation gap: Education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions, Environ Research Letters, Vol 12, No. 7, 12 July 2017) claimed that having one fewer child would save 58.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person per year, compared to the second most effective method (a vegan diet) which saved 3.76 tonnes per person per year. We have already talked with our girls about this issue and how having less children will help with the future management of the climate changing.
It has been said that the only constant is change. I am hopeful that climate change is the existential crisis that will bring all of humankind together. Coping and adapting with change is the best way to move towards growth and our best selves. Please pick one lifestyle habit that you can change from the writings above and put it into practice; progress that one and add another. If we all keep working on changing, then the systems created by our capitalist economic growth culture will defrag and be rebuilt. Growth at the expense of the natural world is no longer an option. Animals are here with us, not for us. Be more, have less, consume less, reduce, recycle, rewild, and simply refuse the status quo. Change is required and it starts with you – our kids depend on it.