We are used to making our everyday purchase decisions based on preferences such as comfort/fit, pleasure, timing, price, functionality, or brand. It is still unusual to take climate change or ecology into account as a further factor. We should, however – and it is not difficult.
Sometimes climate change benefits dovetail with other benefits. For instance, replacing your lightbulbs with energy efficient LEDs is a great choice economically and it helps reduce carbon emissions. The same is true for many other resource efficiency measures. Increasingly, there are green choices that are also fun or status choices. Wouldn’t you like to drive the new Tesla or BMW i8? (Although, of course, from a climate perspective, buying a small, fuel efficient car would be better than buying an electric sports car as long as electricity is still mostly produced from fossil fuels.)
There are other consumer choices that have a powerful impact on climate change – but are seldom thought about in these terms. This is is a great starting point for making an impact. Here are two specific examples: Eating habits and travel preferences.
Production of meat, especially red meat, is a major driver for climate change. Globally, the livestock industry produces more greenhouse gases (mostly the very potent methane) than we emit through all transportation emissions put together (refer). In fact, if current global trends towards more meat eating continue, the world’s entire carbon budget might be consumed by agricultural emissions alone by 2050 (refer). When ordering a steak, take this into account, too. (P.S. Farmer organisations tend to get very angry with this argument. When Nicholas Stern made it – an angry retort was that “there are no methane free-cows!”. Perhaps we can start a methane capture and storage programme for cows?)
A second area in which emissions should come into the picture is travel. To keep it simple: The most damaging form of travel is by air. It has the highest emissions per person/km. In addition, we currently have no clue how to shift to low-carbon fuels for planes. That is why oil majors see their future growth in the globally booming airline industry.
By contrast, rail travel is much less polluting (refer). Just taking that into account when making your travel plans can make a big impact. In many countries, a flight of up to 2 hours can be replaced by a rail journey at little extra cost in time, taking into account the time it takes to get to and from airports and the time you spend at airports until you board your plane.
Also, if you fly, going Business or First Class makes it much worse (you take up more space in the aircraft). I don’t know anyone who really does that yet, but who knows, maybe in a couple of years time, flying anything else than Economy will be considered an egotistic indulgence, like throwing your garbage on the street.
For me personally, some choices are easier than others: While I would find it tough to give up steaks, I really enjoy rail travel. I am trying to become more aware of emissions as a factor in my consumer choices. Perhaps this changes my choice only 10% of the time. It’s not good enough yet, but it is a start.