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August 26, 2021

How can I reduce my emissions? A woman in a group of protesters holds a sign saying Less is More. It's Eco-logical

If you’ve read the recent IPCC report that was released this month — which describes climate change as “widespread, rapid, and intensifying” — your head may be spinning a little bit. Written by the UN’s team of scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the report is a pretty damning look at where we’re headed as a planet. 

Basically, if we remain on our current trajectory, temperatures are set to rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius over the next 20 years, meaning a dangerous increase in heat waves, rainfall, floods and other natural disasters, as well as rising sea levels and temperatures. If the climate rises by 2 degrees Celsius, this might be too much for agriculture and human health to withstand.

BUT the truth is that there are things we can do, personally and collectively, to help mitigate climate change and its effects. Climate change is a humanmade catastrophe, which means we humans have the power to turn things around. The IPCC report tells us that “strong and sustained reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases would limit climate change”. 

If you’re feeling concerned or overwhelmed about the climate, one of the best and most empowering things you can do is change your own habits for the better. You might feel like you’re only one person and that your behaviour won’t make a difference — but it can! In fact, there’s a whole lot you can do to help. 

How can I reduce my emissions? An aerial shot of a factory releasing smoke

Where do emissions come from? 

Emissions come from a variety of places. We often talk about carbon emissions, which come from burning fossil fuels (including using coal to produce electricity), but methane and other greenhouse gases are also a big part of the problem. 

About three-quarters of emissions come from energy usage, which is partly made up of electricity (mostly residential use) and transport (mostly car travel). 

One-fifth of emissions come from agriculture and land use. This is because of land clearing, the methane produced by livestock, and the greenhouse gases produced when fertilizers are mixed with soils. These kinds of emissions are actually even more potent and damaging than carbon emissions. 

Throughout history, nature has taken care of re-balancing the emissions released by capturing or sequestering these emissions. But the fact that we’re not taking such good care of nature (eg. by cutting down forests and damaging marine ecosystems), combined with the radically rising population of the world and our consumerist, means we’re overshooting our ability to balance the emissions we’re releasing.

How can I reduce my emissions? A forest that's half been cut down

What can we do to help reduce emissions?

The everyday

  • Limit your energy usage at home

This means turning off lights and power points that aren’t being used, switching to LED lights wherever possible and choosing appliances with a high energy rating. Wash your clothes in cool or warm water rather than hot, and do so on a sunny or windy day so that you can line-dry them. Your power bills will also be reduced, so it’s a win-win!

  • Retrofit your home

If you’re a homeowner, there are plenty of things you can do to make your place more energy efficient. Consider installing green insulation to better heat and cool your home, use curtains or blinds to keep the heat in or out, learn how to draught-proof your home and how to use ventilation to cool the place down in summer. If you wanted to go further, you could install double-glazed windows and solar panels. Gas stovetops, while popular, are less energy efficient than electric ones. 

Renters will be able to do some of the same things: you can draw the curtains or blinds for temperature stability, for example, or use a door sausage to keep cold air out in winter! You might not have the option of putting in double-glazed windows, but you could use a method such as stick-on window insulation from Clear Comfort.

How can I reduce my emissions? A washing line strung between trees with three white items on it
  • Walk, ride or car pool 

While air travel does play a role in emissions (1.9 per cent of global emissions), road transport is a bigger problem (11.9 per cent). More than half of road emissions come from passenger travel in cars and on motorcycles and buses. Whenever you can, choose to walk or ride to your destination — or share a ride with others! 

  • Shop local 

Each time you purchase something that has to travel to you, either by plane or road transport, you’re increasing your carbon footprint. Ask yourself what you can source locally. Buy what's in season so there's less chance the food has been transported from somewhere far away. Go to farmers’ markets, subscribe to fruit and vegetable boxes in your area and shop with local makers and producers wherever possible ­— or better yet, grow your own food!

How can I reduce my emissions? A woman rides a bike in the sunshine

  • Reduce consumption

Between four and 10 per cent of global emissions come from the fashion industry. While online shopping is super convenient and tempting, resist the urge to buy your clothing and accessories new, reject fast fashion and shop second-hand instead. When buying new, opt for linen, hemp, tencel or silk. Do your research on brands and businesses that actually care about the planet and their policies and processes. Look for a sustainability section on their website and specific details about their practices. If you can’t find anything, send them an email.

  • Go without meat and dairy

“Limiting other greenhouse gases and air pollutants, especially methane, could have benefits both for health and the climate,” says Panmao Zhai in the IPCC Report. Livestock — in particular beef and lamb — are constantly releasing methane, so reducing your consumption of red meat and dairy products from cows can help. If you’re not ready to go vegetarian, maybe consider committing to Meat Free Mondays and lay off the dairy. 

How can I reduce my emissions? A fresh food stall
  • Stop wasting food

The organic waste produced by humans — including the food we throw away — contributes 3.2 per cent to global emissions. If you don’t already have a compost bin, get one! And if you don’t have a back yard or garden, you can buy a bokashi bucket or worm farm for your kitchen, or donate your compost to a community garden (including schools with kitchen-garden programs). Check the fridge and write a shopping list before you hit the shops so you’re not buying excess food; store your perishable foods properly so they last longer; and remember that you can freeze most leftovers! 

The other things

  • Offset your emissions

As well as (rather than instead of) reducing emissions, you can pay to offset unavoidable emissions in various ways, including through organisations that plant trees in your name to help draw down carbon. SunButter does this through Greenfleet, which gives you the option of offsetting your personal or business emissions. You can also sign up to donate to Carbon8, which is on a mission to rebuild the carbon in agricultural soil.

How can I reduce my emissions? A young plant sprouting from the dirt
  • Think about your construction

The construction industry has a huge carbon footprint: a quarter of Australia's overall greenhouse gas emissions. If you’re building or renovating a house, take the time to research sustainable methods and materials, and choose a builder that focuses on minimal waste. A good architect or builder will design a house takes into account the factors that make an energy-efficient building — for example, an orientation that allows for passive cooling and heating.

  • Re-consider your banking and superannuation

You might not think about it, but when your money is sitting in your bank account, your financial institution is using your funds to invest in companies such as those in the fossil fuel industry. The same goes for your superannuation. It might not seem like a big deal if you don't have a lot of money to your name, but it adds up! Banks such as Bank Australia and superannuation institutions like Australian Ethical focus on divesting from the fossil fuel industry (as well as the gambling, tobacco, weapons, live animal export industries and others). Instead, they invest your money in ethical projects like affordable housing and renewable energy. The great thing about putting your money in the hands of an ethical financial institution is that it means a large pool of funds can be divested from planet-harming industries and towards planet-helping ones. You can check how your bank invests your money through

How can I reduce my emissions? Wind turbines over water
  • Cast your vote, sign petitions and write to MPs

Do your research before the next local or state election and find out which parties or politicians are taking a stand against climate change. Contact your local member (there’s a helpful guide to do this here) or the Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, and tell them that we want the energy, transport and manufacturing industries to be powered by renewables, and for our taxpayer money (more than $10 billion a year!) to stop subsidising fossil fuels. Tell them that Australia needs to commit to net zero emissions by 2050. Remember that the role of our politicians is to represent our needs and interests, and that your voice counts.

It's up to all of us to protect our beautiful planet. We can turn things around — but only if we act now.