By Johannes Schroeten
Last Saturday, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris ended. 196 Countries participated, represented by 10000 officials. The expectations were high. Officials such as President Obama and German Chancellor Merkel had pledged massive cuts in CO2 emissions and fixed targets to keep the rising temperature below the magical 2 C° mark. The outcome has been perceived as a success by many observers. For the first time, the international community has agreed to a formal, legally binding treaty. The first step towards a clean future has been taken!
Reduction of CO2 shall take place in the energy sector as well as industry. But what possibilities do we have to decrease at least a little bit our personal emissions? Here are five suggestions for your very own tackle on climate change:
1) Less meat! On average, every EU citizen eats about 88 kilos of meat per year. Though depending on the animal, one kilo of meat is responsible for 10 kilo of CO2 on average. According to a BBC report a kilo beef equals 16 kilo of CO2, whereas a kilo chicken only accounts for 4.4 kilo. Of course, we should not expect everyone to become a vegetarian. At least, I could not say no to a nice rump steak. Nonetheless, if we reduce our meat consumption by only 10 percent, we could already save 88 kilo CO2 per capita. With 500 million Europeans this would account for about 44 million tons of CO2 every year. So maybe think about one steak less during the week. Remember, Foodbank has shown us that no meat is not so bad after all. Worth a thought, right?
And to all those who already quit meat: You can still do something! Kiwis are amazing, great taste, no CO2 emissions. Or so you thought! Because 1 kilo of the fruit from down under actually produces 3.2 Kilo CO2. Shipping, you know. Same goes for grapes produced in South Africa. One kilo is responsible for 7 kilo of emissions before its ready for you at the jumbo. So next time you do your grocery shopping, you might want to buy something locally grown. Fresh potatoes or a nice lettuce, for instance.
2) Shopping: Do it yourself! This goes out to everyone who is a victim of online shopping. It is easy, you can stay on your couch and if it does not fit you just sent it back. And that is the problem. The German newspaper ‘die Welt’ estimates that only in Germany, about 800 000 deliveries are returned every day. That accounts for 400 tons CO2 per day. So next time you order something online, just get what you really want. However, this is a critical point, because in fact, e-commerce can be more eco-friendly than shopping in stores. If you live on the country side, it might be preferable to get your stuff from amazon & co. But Maastricht, with all its fancy stores, is a good chance to reduce your personal emissions.
3) I believe I should fly… less. There is a German saying: “Why seek for the distance if happiness is close?” But of course, we all want to get out of our boring lives from time to time. Nonetheless, are you sure you always have to take the plane? The Arsenal football team recently took off for only 14 minutes. Not the most sustainable way to travel. A flight from Brussels to Berlin creates about 420 kilo of CO2 emissions. A car ride with a middle-sized vehicle will produce less than half of the amount. And you can further reduce the amount by taking others with you. So in the end, a flight would account for 9 times more emission than taking the car. Not to speak of Buses or Trains which are even more efficient.
4) Know your Sh*t! Did you hear of this retro thing called a lexicon? In fact, it can be pretty helpful to look up things. And it is more eco-friendly than something called Google. Heard of it? Together with Wikipedia and Coffee the best friend and saviour of every student. But did you know that Alex Wissner-Gross, a Harvard University scholar, claimed that the emissions for two searches on Google equal the boiling of water for a cup of tea? Every search, therefore, produces 7 grams of CO2. Only for this article, I boiled already more water than the Queen in the past ten years. You are probably thinking by yourself: Is this guy crazy? How can something happening in the magical digital world have so much impact on the real one? Well, every time you look something up on Google, data centres around the globe do the job for you. But those things are energy inefficient as hell (No joke intended!) All data centres combined consume the energy of 14 power plants with 1000 megawatt generation capacities. I am sure, the world would reach its climate targets if we would be willing to let questions unanswered. Next time, you might reconsider if you really have to know how many times Hugh Hefner has been married (actually only three times – I just googled it.) And by the way, CO2-neutral search engines like ecosia.org buy emission certificates and reinvest 80 per cent of their revenues into projects reforesting rainforests in Brazil.
5) Home, sweet, energy efficient home! At last, I would just like to mention a very basic one: turning up the heat in summer is actually rather useless. Letting the lights burn when you are not at home, as well. Come on! It is not that hard to check if everything is turned off. And a jumper is just as warm as heating up your room to a cosy 25 C°, so you can wear those self-made Bermuda shorts Grandma gave you for Christmas. In the US, an estimated 20 percent of Energy is wasted in Residential areas. The area outside of the old houses in Maastricht is probably better heated than the house itself. So why not turn off the heater while you sleep? And you are probably old enough to switch off the lights during the night despite potential Monsters under your bed. And by the way, this might save some money as well. Lower energy costs, you know!
These are just a few tips. And honestly, I think if we all just restrict ourselves a little bit, we will not need to build a new arch to save at least two of us. There is no need to live in caves again, but to act with a little conscious when it comes to energy efficiency does not hurt.