Decarbonise Your Life

Tom Swaffield-Bray writes about how we can decrease the level of carbon consumption in our lives.


How can we decarbonise our lives?

We often put the responsibility for reducing emissions at the feet of the government, and that is right, national leaders have the power to change the system so that a low carbon economy is built, or so that high emissions industries transition away from fossil fuels. That’s why negotiations like COP26 last year are so important. Voices from all over the world, coming together to redesign the system, to set out new rules and new boundaries for the pitch we are all playing on.

And alongside that responsibility of international leaders comes those people that have to play to the rules. Industry, community groups, families and ultimately, individuals. Currently we all operate in a high carbon system, in the UK we heat and power our buildings, mainly, using fossil fuels. We travel in vehicles that rely on fossil fuels, our towns and cities are organised in ways that makes travelling in fossil fuelled cars easy. When we play to the rules, or follow along blindly with the rest of society, we operate in a high carbon way.


Living Differently 

As Christians, we follow a saviour who talked about a shepherd leaving the 99, a father running to meet the prodigal, the Samaritan who stopped for the stranger. Jesus challenged his followers to live differently. I wonder in what ways we could live differently in the context of emissions. I wonder how we could live low emission lives, despite the high emission system. I wonder whether as people of faith, we could be the first to take the steps required to drastically reduce our personal emissions. And having done so, I wonder if we could influence those around us or even help share understanding about how we might reduce our emissions as quickly as possible.

So, what might that look like? In the UK, our emissions come broadly from 4 areas

  1.       Electricity - the energy we use to light and power our homes, schools, libraries, workplaces.
  2.       Heat – in most buildings we stay warm by burning gas in a boiler.
  3.       How we get around – the miles we drive.
  4.       What we consume – the stuff we buy.

For most of us, our emissions will be split roughly equally across these four.

We can do something about all these emissions, and although I am speaking from a UK context, there will be similar actions in many countries.


Use Less

Firstly, we can use less. Reducing the need for power, heat, transport and stuff means we reduce emissions, every time. With electrical power, every extra unit you use will have more emissions than the last, the less we use, the cleaner electricity is for everyone.

So, every bit of energy efficiency we can gain is a win. That might mean swapping lights for high efficiency LEDs, that might mean insulating buildings well so we don’t need as much heat, it might mean altering settings on our heating system to maximise efficiency (hint turn the temperature of your radiators down) or it might mean driving more slowly.

And when it comes to getting around, we could move away from private cars completely, walking some short journeys, cycling slightly longer journeys, taking public transport where it is available or join a car club and car share scheme to end owning a car at all. Our towns and cities are built so that the car is king, that doesn’t mean we need to use one. And should move out of the car as much as possible.

Next, to engage with work, entertainment, dispersed friends and family, and to survive all around the world in both summer and winter, we are going to need to use power. But when we do we should push to power renewably. Fossil fuelled power stations are amazing and are how we have generated power in many places around the world since the industrial revolution, but we need to move away from traditional ways of generating electricity, and we can do, by using solar power or wind power. This might mean paying to install solar panels at your home, or it could mean buying electricity from a renewable energy supplier.

But what about heat? If we are used to burning fossils in a gas or oil boiler or furnace, how do we move away from that? Well, we have a technology that is available now, that can provide heating and hot water to a building without burning anything locally. Powered by electricity, and if we have moved to renewables, powered by renewable electricity, a heat pump can be a very low emissions source of heat.


And finally, we need to be conscious about everything we consume. Whether it is food, clothing, news, and goods in general, the things we consume will have used energy to be made and to be brought to you. We should value the energy that has gone into its life by consuming less, by being careful with the things we consume, and ensuring that the things we don’t need any more have a purposeful life after they have moved on from you.

We should be valuing every spark of power, every moment of warmth, every mile we travel and every thing we consume as if it were like a precious artefact, to be cherished, not wasted.

We can use less. We can use renewably. We can travel without fossil powered cars, and we can be conscious of the resources we use.

But back to where we started, without systemic change, our actions are small, we need to campaign, persuade, cajole, and vote for meaningful transformation. Every action we can take to reduce emissions in our own communities, we should. It helps and it helps build the case for change more broadly. Every kg of CO2 counts, and we should work hard to make decisions that will reduce our emissions as much as possible.

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