How to respond to the climate crisis (without getting overwhelmed)

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If you’re anything like me, all the bad news about how terrible things are for the environment has you panicked and overwhelmed with despair. Unfortunately, despair is not a sensible response to the news. Rather, we need to respond to the climate crisis by taking focused and high-impact actions.

Otherwise the world will end.

Okay, okay, that wasn’t in keeping with the ‘without getting overwhelmed’ part of the title of this post, was it?

Let’s try again.

I’m not a scientist. But I listen to scientists, and they are currently telling us in no uncertain terms that if we don’t reduce carbon emissions the world will continue to warm up, with some fairly catastrophic consequences.

The good news is that because human behaviour is driving the increased carbon emissions, human behaviour can also curb them.

It’s easy to feel like there’s nothing you can do and we’re all doomed. But humans have responded to potential catastrophes before.

In the 1990s we were all stressing about the hole in the ozone layer, and now that’s pretty much healed thanks to international action in banning CFCs.

In the 1960s we were all stressing about the potential for nuclear war. But the iron curtain came down and whilst there are still atomic weapons, we’re at somewhat less risk of a general world-ending holocaust now.

What is the climate crisis?

Also known as ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change’, the climate crisis refers to the fact the world has warmed up by about 1°C in the last century or so.

Rising temperatures - graph of the climate crisis.
(Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory/Robert Simmon)

The rise in temperature has been linked to carbon emissions. Basically, a combination of burning fossil fuels and industrial farming releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In addition, we’re cutting down the trees that naturally absorb carbon dioxide.

The result is that there is extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This then ‘traps’ the heat of the sun, resulting in a warming planet.

Hotter climates disrupt habitats, lead to melting polar caps, and cause many animals and insects to go extinct. That, in turn, means less food and more extreme weather.

Not good!

We need to stop the climate crisis now

Unfortunately, there is a point of ‘no return’ with rising temperatures. Scientists have pegged this as a rise of about 2°c. Sadly, we’re currently racing towards that cliff-edge like we’re determined to hit it as quickly as possible.

So humans need to come together as a whole and do everything they can to:

  1. lower carbon emissions
  2. replace carbon sinks (forests)

Good news. That’s actually two really simple and obvious things!

What you can do to respond to the climate crisis

So what, specifically, can we do about it? Here’s my list of positive actions you can take to respond to the climate crisis.

Don’t feel like you have to do everything on this list. But whatever you can do will help.

1. Get political!

In order to respond to the climate crisis we need legislation to protect forests and we need legislation to stop companies burning fossil fuels. We need incentives for clean energy, investment in public transport and carbon taxes that fairly reflect the environmental cost of generating carbon dioxide.

The only way to get these things is through political action.

Write to your local politician

Tell them that you are extremely worried about the climate crisis and ask them what they are doing about it.

Go to a meeting with your local politician

You can also go to a meeting with a local politician – this really shows that you are serious in your concerns!

There are some great tips about preparing for a meeting with your MP at Campaign for Climate Change.

Be clear about how important you think this issue is.

Sign a petition

You can also sign petitions – there are a number being run by various charities, including:

Vote green

Whilst the Green candidate or party may not stand much chance in your area, a vote for them sends a signal to all the other parties about what side of the issue you are on.

If you don’t have a Green candidate, then vote for whoever has the most progressive environmental policies.

I am going to be totally upfront. Getting political is the most important thing you can do. The following actions will all reduce your personal impact on the world, but we need systemic change.

2. Get rid of your car

This is the most significant decision a single individual can make to reduce their carbon emissions (aside from not having children — but that decision is a little more complicated).

A car contributes about 1/4 of the average yearly carbon emissions for each person in an industrialised country (according to the OECD).

Yes, getting rid of your car is a big lifestyle change. It may well involve moving house! But if you are serious about making a difference, then your car is the best thing you could sacrifice.

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Instead of driving, get around by walking, cycling, or public transport. This requires a safe network of footpaths, cycle paths and bus/train routes. Get back in touch with your local politicians and start demanding they invest in the infrastructure a modern city needs.

If you absolutely cannot do without your car, then you at least need to pay for the emissions. You can choose from various projects that reduce, avoid or remove greenhouse gas emissions.

But I want to be clear, carbon offsets are a limited counter-measures. The best thing you can do is stop driving.

Good news – giving up your car won’t just be good for the environment. It will also save you money, make you healthier and make you happier 🙂

I’ve been car-free for a little over a year. I do occasionally rent one to visit people that aren’t on public transport routes, but I always donate to counter the carbon emissions.

3. Avoid long haul flights

I hate this one, because I married someone whose family lives on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. I actually would have no problem going on holiday to local destinations, or taking a ferry or train rather than flying.

However, if you’re lucky enough to not have to travel long distances then this is another easy and highly effective choice.

We’re all used to seeing wonderful exotic destinations on social media. But there are plenty of beautiful places closer to us.

What is the purpose of travel? For many of us it has become a bucket-list exercise, an attempt to tick off as many cool and instagrammable locations as possible.

But it should be about immersing ourselves in something new, about slowing down and taking in the world. Why not try and practice living in the moment, rather than chasing another white sandy beach?

The general term for this kind of approach is slow travel. This is an excellent post about slow travel and its advantages.

Again, if you do have to fly, make sure you offset the carbon emissions.

4. Switch to green energy

Thankfully, there are lots of energy companies now offering 100% green electricity, and some that are also offering a certain amount of green gas.

I personally use Octopus Energy* as they offer 100% green electricity, and offset gas. They aren’t any more expensive that most other energy providers.

But you can find any number of other ‘Green’ energy companies if you look around.

5. Eat less meat (and dairy)

Red meat is responsible for a lot of carbon emissions.

Climate crisis - Total greenhouse emissions from food
Image from the BBC

A seasonal vegan diet is by far the best diet for reducing carbon emissions. But if you don’t want to make such a drastic change then just swapping red meat for chicken will make a substantial difference.

6. Protect forests

Forests are crucial to respond to the climate crisis. The more trees we cut down, the less resilient the planet becomes to rising carbon dioxide. But the more trees we plant, the more resilient the planet becomes.

According to CarbonBrief.org:

Increasingly, some scientists are arguing that “natural climate solutions”, such as “afforestation”, should take precedence in efforts to achieve negative emissions. Afforestation refers to the practice of planting new forests in areas that currently do not have trees.

CarbonBrief.org

There is some nuance here — there’s evidence that forests with a mix of trees are better than monocultures, for example. But in simple terms, more trees = good.

This is another good thing to badger your politicians about 😉

You can also:

  • Support charities that are protecting at-risk forests. For example, World Land Trust.
  • Volunteer with your local environmental organisation to conserve local habitats. The Wildlife Trusts and RSPB are often looking for people to join conservation work parties.
  • Look for the FSC symbol on products we buy to ensure they are being produced in a sustainable way

How to avoid getting overwhelmed

Look, the news that is coming out about the climate crisis isn’t good. And it’s natural to feel grief in the face of mass extinction.

But it’s important to stay focused on what you can do and not worry about what you can’t. So remember to look after yourself.

  • Practice self-care. Turning into a sobbing ball of pessimism is of no help to anyone. And remember that even in the worst case scenario we still have a few years that we should try and make the best of.
  • Stop reading the news. The facts aren’t going to change. Plugging yourself into a daily cycle of apocalyptic articles isn’t going to help anything. Instead, focus on your local community and the actions you personally can take.
  • Talk to friends and family. There’s a sense that this is a big impending doomsday event that we can’t control and so we don’t talk about it. But talking about your frustration, fear and grief is important.

What action are you taking to respond to the climate crisis? And how do you avoid it sending you into a spiral of despair? Leave your thoughts below.

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