What actions would be the most effective to end climate change?
Although no single policy will end climate change, the most effective policies will lead to a phase-out of fossil fuel use. There are many different policy approaches: an important one for the UK is improving the energy efficiency of our homes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which will save us money too! Improving public transport provision and making cycling and walking easier and safer options will lead to fewer cars on the road and contribute to improving air quality as well as reducing climate impacts. It’s important that all policies are implemented in a fair way that creates good jobs and strengthens communities.
Systemic changes are needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, but taking individual action is still effective. Project Drawdown has created a Table of Solutions for climate change: reducing food waste, health and education, and plant-rich diets are listed as the top three most effective solutions. If everybody reduces their meat and dairy intake by half, that is comparable to half of the population cutting their meat and dairy intake completely.
We will have to change the things we buy, what we eat and how we cook, which people can be resistant to, but if we do it right it can improve our lives, wellbeing and our communities and save us money! Taking individual action is also a great way to remain hopeful about the future and overcome any feelings of helplessness. We as individuals also have the power to encourage systemic change, for example by writing to your MP, signing petitions, and voting with our money (e.g. by opting for loose goods over packaged ones or buying second-hand where possible).
What are the best things I can do as an individual to tackle climate change?
The most common things that have a big impact on climate change are:
- Did you know that a third of the food produced around the world is wasted? Some top tips to reduce your food waste include having an ‘eat first’ section in your fridge, planning your food shops to avoid buying excess, and composting your food scraps (or trying to regrow from them!).
- Adopt a plant-rich diet. Make plant-based swaps at a pace that is sustainable for you. You don’t have to go totally vegan (though it would certainly help) but if everybody makes large reductions in their meat and dairy intake it would have a huge impact, with additional likely improvements in animal welfare from a shift away from intensive farming.
- Travel consciously: try to avoid long-haul or frequent short-haul flights and, closer to home, walk or cycle, or take a bus or train rather than drive.
- Ensure you are on a green energy tariff that is ideally 100% renewable and turn down your thermostat to reduce your energy use. If you are able, you could also consider fitting a heat pump and/or switching from a gas hob to an induction hob to reduce your use of gas.
- You can also reduce your consumption in other areas of the house, such as clothing, plastic and electronic devices, and think about how you dispose of items. Can you donate items to charity, or to a neighbour who is in need?
- Think about where your money is being invested: opt for an ethical bank, and if you have a job and pay into a pension, find out where the money is invested.
The most useful action you can take will depend on things like your lifestyle, age and income. Wealthy people have a much bigger carbon footprint (the amount of carbon emissions and impact your lifestyle is responsible for): an Oxfam report found that the richest 10% of the world’s population are responsible for around half of global emissions while the poorest half is responsible for only around 10% of global emissions.
To start, it might help you to find out what your carbon footprint is using this simple questionnaire. You can then follow the recommended actions to help you and your family reduce it.
The important thing is to change whatever you can, and demand that it becomes easier for others to do the same, so write to your MP, and remember that your actions can inspire others. Use your voice (and your vote, when you’re old enough) to advocate for change: talk to your family and friends about the actions you are taking and why it is important to you. This makes climate action more accessible to others, whilst also being cost-effective and allowing you to integrate more in your community. If you’re not sure how to start these conversations, try these tips from YouTuber ClimateAdam!
You can also read this article in The Conversation by University of Leeds researcher, Max Callaghan, on the most effective things you can do to fight climate change.
How effective are climate strikes?
There has been huge engagement with the Youth Strikes for Climate, starting discussions and building momentum among all sorts of people and organisations – many strikes have taken place since they began in 2019, often with millions of strikers around the world! These strikes draw attention to the issue of climate change and encourage policymakers to listen to the voices of the youth. They are most effective when they are aligned with other actions, for example writing to your MP or lobbying councillors to ask for specific changes that are within their power to achieve. Climate researchers at the Priestley Centre are also collecting data to measure the impact of these demonstrations, so watch this space!
Will people protest in the future? Will the decision-makers listen?
During the first school strikes, the organisers said that they will keep holding them until there is concerted political action and change. Lots of local authorities around the UK have since declared a climate emergency and are setting ambitious new climate targets, and young voices have helped to achieve this. Greta Thunberg, who started the school strikes for climate, has spoken to world leaders and some are listening: after meeting her in 2019, EU President Jean-Claude Juncker promised the EU would spend a quarter of its budget on climate action over seven years.
What are green jobs?
Any job can be a green job if you do it right! In fact, all jobs should be ‘green’ with consideration for the environment and the climate. Most people think of green jobs as being about wind turbines or solar panels, but green jobs can also be working for charities or being a childminder or a farmer (or a climate researcher, of course!). Even jobs in healthcare can be seen as green jobs now that doctors and nurses are having to deal with different diseases and the impacts of droughts, heatwaves and other extreme events made more likely by climate change.
Find out more about green jobs and see some great examples in this article.
I get really worried about my future when I hear about climate change. What can I do?
Lots of young people feel worried about climate change and their future, and this can be termed “eco-anxiety”. Eco-anxiety can look different for different people, but common feelings can include helplessness, stress and worry, hopelessness, anger and sadness. You might find it difficult to talk about these feelings, but talking to your friends and family might help you to feel less alone.
Climate researchers also recognise that taking positive actions to tackle climate change can help you feel more in control and inspire hope.
There are lots of resources available to help you understand and cope with eco-anxiety. The Young Upstart Eco-Anxiety website and Hold This Space website are great places to start. The Marine Conservation Society also has a range of eco-anxiety resources you can explore.
How can I get in touch with other people in Leeds who want to work together to take action?
There are lots of groups in Leeds that have been set up for that purpose!
- There is a Leeds for Climate Facebook group
- The Leeds Climate Commission posts news and information about actions the city is taking on climate change
- Climate Action Leeds and Our Future Leeds tackle a range of issues centring on climate change
- There is a local Extinction Rebellion group
- If you are studying at the University of Leeds, you could join an existing LUU society such as EnviroSoc or even set up a society focused on climate action
You could also get together with a group of friends and set up a local Fridays for Future group.