Climate Week 2011: How can we help cut carbon?

Climate Week ends this Sunday. People around the world have been asking what they can do to make their lives greener. Turns out, the answer's not straightforward.

Being green matters. Climate change is real, it's happening, and it has a lot of the experts fairly frightened. There's every reason to take the threat seriously.

But what can we actually do about it? Most of us know that when we use energy like electricity or gas, we're relying on fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels makes carbon dioxide (CO2), which is responsible for global warming.

That means there are some obvious things we can do. We can turn lights off when we don't need them. We can turn the heating down a degree or two. We can make sure TVs are switched off not left on standby.

We also know that burning fuel makes CO2. So cutting down on car travel is good. So is taking fewer aeroplane flights.

The average person in Britain is responsible for producing around 11 tonnes of CO2 each year – enough to fill two Olympic swimming pools. And doing the simple things does help reduce that number. But in fact, most of our CO2 comes from sources you'd never normally suspect.

Food, for example. What we eat is responsible for an amazing 1.39 tonnes of CO2 per person per year. Cooking obviously uses energy. But so does refrigeration, transport to and from the shops, packaging and production.

A kilogram of beef, say, might cost the equivalent of 13kg of CO2.

A large amount of that cost comes from greenhouse gas which cows produce by burping.

You might want to go online to research some more about the CO2 cost of food. But be careful. A few minutes of online searching can produce as much CO2 as boiling a kettle, as you dig through information stored on energy-guzzling online servers.

Say you want to avoid air travel and go on a British walking holiday instead. A good quality pair of walking boots might cost 90kg of CO2. A hiking jacket will cost a further 30kg. Altogether, making and washing our clothes costs one tonne of CO2 per person per year.

Even going to school has a so-called 'carbon footprint'. Buildings, books, uniforms and all the other things you need for education may account for 500kg of CO2 towards the 11 tonne total.

Counting carbon
Working out carbon footprints is far from easy. But that doesn't mean we should give up hope. Instead we should embrace the challenge of seeking out products that account for little carbon, and avoiding those which account for a lot.

You might think that you can't do much on your own. That a single person is helpless against a problem of this scale. But if everyone does their bit, together we can make all the difference.

You Decide

  1. Are you worried about climate change? What could you do to help?
  2. 'One person on their own can't do anything about climate change.' Is this true, and does it matter?


  1. Design a poster persuading people to do their bit to fight climate change. How would you get people's attention?
  2. It's not easy, but see if you can make a list of things that have a high carbon footprint and things that have a low carbon footprint. Make an action plan to cut some carbon from your life.

Some People Say...

“Cutting my carbon footprint is too much effort.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Honestly, how much does it matter whether one person cuts down on carbon or not?
It's true, a single individual's actions are nothing compared to the huge problem of global CO2 emissions. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to act. Take littering, for example…
What about it?
It doesn't really make much difference if one person drops litter, but if everyone thought that way, the streets would be covered in rubbish. There's actually an old moral principle which deals with this.
There is?
It was first formulated by the philosopher Immanuel Kant. He said, basically, that you should only act according to principles that you'd like to see adopted by everyone else.
Meaning what?
Meaning that whatever you do, you should always ask yourself 'what would the world be like if everyone acted the same way as me?'

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