3 simple life hacks to help fight climate change

Andreas Chai

Andreas Chai

Last month’s dire report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may have left you feeling overwhelmed, or unsure what to do next. We often hear about ways everyday people can tackle climate change, but which acts will make the biggest difference? You might be surprised to learn there are 3 simple life hacks to help fight climate change…

The academic literature tells us three spheres of our lives contribute most to climate change: home energy use, transport, and food consumption. Together, these activities comprise about 85 per cent of a household’s carbon footprint.

As one study showed, by adopting readily available practices, households in developed countries can cut their carbon footprint by 25 per cent with little or no reduction in well-being.

Clearly, national governments must set, and meet, ambitious emissions-reduction targets. But 72 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions are related to household consumption. So small changes at the household level really can make a world of difference.

So here is a guide to get you on the right path to making 3 simple life hacks to help fight climate change:

1. Home

Using energy in the home more efficiently is a good way to reduce your impact on the climate. Signing up to so-called “demand response” programs is a relatively new way to do this.

Demand response involves making changes to energy use to reduce stress on the electricity grid during times of high demand. In Australia, this often entails electricity companies offering financial incentives to households so they use less energy at peak times.

For example in Queensland, the state-owned company Energex offers up to A$400 to those who install a “PeakSmart” air conditioner. When the electricity system is under stress, the electricity network will remotely switch the air-conditioner into a lower performance mode.

Energy retailers have also been trialling demand response programs in other states. For example under AGL’s Peak Energy Rewards program, customers can choose to receive an SMS message prompting them to reduce their energy use at peak times. By turning up the temperature on the air conditioning or waiting to do the laundry, people can earn discounts on their energy bills.

3 simple life hacks to help fight climate change
Image: @beachbumledford via Twenty20.

Demand response leads to less electricity use and reduces the need for fossil-fuel electricity generation at times of high demand – and so, can cut greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity sector.

2. Transport

If you drive a traditional petrol or diesel vehicle, try to reduce the amount of time your engine idles. Research last year found Australian motorists are likely to idle more than 20 per cent of the time they’re driving. If idling was eliminated from all journeys, the emissions saved would equal that of removing up to 1.6 million cars from the road.

While some idling is unavoidable such as when stopped at traffic lights, drivers can turn their engines off while parked and waiting in their vehicle.

And drive smoothly, not aggressively. Driving with limited acceleration and braking has been found to significantly reduce emissions.

You might be thinking of making your next car an electric vehicle. While the cost of electric vehicles has traditionally been prohibitive for many people, the technology is expected to reach price parity with conventional cars in Australia in the next few years. And these days, you can even get a good second-hand deal.

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about whether electric cars are a good choice for the planet. So where does the truth lie?

It’s true that electricity used to charge an electric vehicle’s battery is often sourced from fossil fuels. And energy is still required to make an electric vehicle – in particular, the battery.

However, last year, research found in 95 per cent of the world, electric vehicles were less emissions-intensive than traditional cars over their full life cycle – even accounting for the current emissions intensity of electricity generation.

If you buy an electric vehicle, it’s important to ensure potential emissions savings are realised. One way of doing this is by recharging during the middle of the day when renewable electricty is most abundant. And don’t forget, as renewable energy forms an ever-increasing share of the electricity mix, the climate benefits of electric vehicles become even greater.

And of course, don’t forget about the obvious low- or zero-emission ways to get around: walking, cycling, catching public transport and car pooling.

family unloads boot of electric car
Second-hand electric cars are a lower-cost option. Image: Good Car Co

3. Food

Research earlier this year showed food systems are responsible for a third of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. And recent studies show even if the world stopped burning fossil fuels immediately, emissions from the global food system could still push global temperatures over the 1.5℃ warming threshold.

Reducing meat consumption is a well-known way to cut your carbon footprint. In fact, recent research from Sweden showed just how high emissions from meat and dairy products are, compared with substitute products. It found:

  • Lamb is 25 times more polluting than tofu.
  • Milk is five times as polluting as oat drink.
  • Dairy-based cheese is four times as polluting as vegan cheese.
3 simple life hacks to help fight climate change
Plant-based foods have less impact on the environment.

Read more: Ordinary people, extraordinary change: addressing the climate emergency through ‘quiet activism’

In Australia, the range of meat alternatives is growing quickly. In just one example, Sydney-based All G Foods is developing plant-based mince, sausages, chicken and bacon, as well as “cow-free” dairy products. Helped along by $5 million in federal government funding, the company’s first product launches this month.

Another food that promises to help cut your carbon footprint is seaweed. Australia is only just catching on to the benefits of commercial seaweed production, which can be grown with few environmental costs.

Australia’s first factory manufacturing food-grade seaweed products opened in New South Wales last year. It has the capacity to put seaweed into pastas – and even muesli!

Reduce, reuse, inspire

Reducing your climate footprint is not just about buying “green” stuff: it’s also about avoiding consumption in the first place. So try to buy less – and if you can’t avoid it, try and buy second-hand.

You never know, you might start a revolution. Evidence suggests people who observe their peers undertaking environmentally friendly behaviour often adopt similar actions.

About the author: Andreas Chai is associate professor at Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

Main image: @jullymalynovska via Twenty20.

Andreas Chai

Andreas Chai

Associate Professor Andreas Chai is the Head of Department for Accounting, Finance and Economics at the Griffith Business School. Andreas specialises in analyzing household consumption behaviour and their adaptation to climate change. His work has appeared in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, Cambridge Journal of Economics as well as the Journal of Evolutionary Economics. Andreas has also organised several international workshop on development and inequality featuring international scholars and was a member of the organising committee for the 2012 International Schumpeter Society Conference at the University of Queensland. He has been a visiting scholar at the Max Planck Institute of Economics (Germany) and the Austrian Institute for Economic Research (WIFO) and has been invited to speak at the Centre for the Study of African Economies (Oxford University), New York University (USA), Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna (Italy), University of Bocconi (Italy), SKEMA Business School (France). He writes for The Conversation.



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