Don’t Have Kids: Top 9 Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

The Eco Experts
electric car charging up

The average person’s carbon footprint in the UK is 6.2 tonnes of CO2e

You can reduce your footprint by 56% by using renewable energy

Cutting out beef will save 0.48 tonnes per year


The climate crisis isn’t your fault.

Fossil fuel companies have tried to push the blame onto consumers for decades, when it’s actually their actions and those of sycophantic, short-termist politicians that have set us on the road to disaster.

Nevertheless, it’s now up to all of us to fight climate change, so we can save the world and create a social environment in which it’s impossible to get away with poisoning the planet for profit.

Here are the actions you can take to rapidly reduce your footprint, in order of how much of a difference they’ll make.

1. Don’t have children

If you have one less child, you’ll save 7.8 tonnes of CO2e* per year, according to research by Canadian and Swedish professors – that’s more than the typical Brit’s annual emissions.

Of course, this is just an average. The climate impact of any given individual can be high, low, or even positive – it depends on the person’s intentions and resources.

So if you’re climate-conscious and affluent enough to take action, raising a child with the same ideals may be a net good for the planet.

Also, the freedom to choose how many children you have is a crucial human right that should be protected, so it should absolutely be your decision alone.

After all, we’re saving the planet so that future generations can enjoy it.

 

* carbon dioxide equivalent, a measurement that converts all greenhouse emissions into CO2 terms

2. Power your home with renewable energy

The typical UK home emits 3.5 tonnes of CO2e per year from its heating and electricity usage, according to the Energy Saving Trust.

That’s 56% of the average person’s carbon footprint.

Instead of relying on gas, oil, or an electricity supply that’s still mostly powered by non-renewable sources, you can slash your carbon footprint by going renewable.

For instance, if you buy solar panels, they can provide your electricity and power an air source heat pump, which in turn will supply all the heat you need.

If solar panels are beyond you right now, you can even just switch to a green electricity supplier.

3. Shop more sustainably

Making eco-friendly purchases is difficult.

Shopping and ordering online uses electricity, most deliveries release petrol emissions, and the manufacture of the goods you’re ordering was likely fuelled by coal and gas.

All of this combines to create an annual carbon footprint of 215 million tonnes, according to the British Retail Consortiummore than half of the UK’s total emissions.

That adds up to 3.2 tonnes per person. You’re obviously not responsible for the carbon-intensive nature of the supply chain, but you can still do your part.

Reduce your impact by walking or cycling to a shop on your local high street – or if you’re shopping online, you can bundle orders together and forgo express deliveries to cut your footprint.

When it comes to clothes, be careful. Fashion production currently makes up 10% of humanity's carbon emissions, and came third on our list of the most polluting industries.

If you can, buy second-hand clothes from vintage or charity shops, rent special outfits, and make your clothes last longer.

Around 350,000 tonnes of clothes in the UK go to a landfill each year.

woman shopping in a sustainable shop

4. Make home improvements

If you’re not in a position to pay £5,000 (the average cost with the government’s Boiler Upgrade Scheme grant) for a heat pump, you can still cut your home’s emissions in multiple ways.

You can save 450 kg of CO2e by turning your thermostat down one degree, boiling only as much water in a kettle as you need, and switching all the lights off when you leave a room – all for free.

Draught-proofing your doors and windows and replacing all your light bulbs with LEDs can cut your energy consumption by another 170 kg, while using a smart thermostat will save around 500 kg.

And you could even insulate your loft, for another massive saving of 550 kg – at least.

All together, these home improvements will reduce your carbon footprint by 1.67 tonnes of CO2e – 27% of the average person’s carbon footprint.

And you can save even more energy – and money – by changing your behaviour in a few small ways. For instance, by not heating rooms no one's in, not blocking your radiators, and not preheating your oven.

5. Drive an electric car – or not at all

Transport is the biggest contributor to the UK’s carbon footprint, and car emissions make up the majority of this category with a head-spinning 67.7 million tonnes of CO2e.

The average person drives 6,800 miles per year in a car that emits 228 grams of CO2e per mile – making for an annual total of 1.55 tonnes per driver.

Fortunately, there are alternatives.

Taking a train is four times better for the climate, taking a coach is six times better, and driving an electric car could potentially reduce your travel footprint to practically zero.

2020 represented a landmark year, as renewable sources produced more of the country’s electricity than fossil fuels for the first time, by 43.1% to 37.7%, according to government statistics.

This still isn’t as green as it should be, so make sure you either use solar panels or a 100% renewable energy supplier like Octopus to near-enough erase your transport emissions.

6. Stop flying

Planes are terrible for the climate.

Flying is responsible for 1.04 billion tonnes of CO2e globally, and that figure is rising, despite it being a generally unnecessary habit of the wealthy and impatient.

This is emphasised by the fact that 1% of the global population is responsible for 50% of emissions from commercial flights.

Each year, the UK emits 0.42 tonnes of CO2e per person from international flights – but 48% of people don’t fly abroad.

That means that those who do are each responsible for 0.8 tonnes of CO2e.

7. Recycle as much as possible

UK households only recycle 45% of their waste each year, with 14 million tonnes going straight to landfills.

There, these waste products emit 14.2 million tonnes of CO2e annually.

With 27.8 million households in the UK, that means each household releases an average of 0.51 tonnes of CO2e.

You can shrink that carbon footprint by using recycling facilities, reusing bags and other common items, and giving unwanted items to charity shops.

8. Don’t waste food

The UK throws away 9.52 million tonnes of food per year, which emits 25 million tonnes of CO2e.

Residential homes alone get rid of 4.5 million tonnes of edible food, which equates to 14 million tonnes of CO2e – or 0.5 tonnes per household.

That’s eight meals per week wasted, according to WRAP data.

If we worked together to eliminate these 14 million tonnes of emissions, it would be equivalent to taking one in five cars off the road, according to government data.

cows in a field

9. Eat less beef

The average Brit is responsible for 0.48 tonnes of CO2e every year due to their beef consumption, according to University of Oxford research.

30.6 million tonnes of greenhouse gases – 7.4% of the national carbon footprint – are emitted because we’re struggling to ditch the likes of hamburgers, steaks, and cottage pie.

National meat consumption has fallen by 17% in the past decade, but we need to act faster – and you could have a direct impact, simply by swapping beef for a plant-based alternative.

Why is beef such a carbon-intensive food? Well, simply from their excrement and flatulence, the UK’s 9.4 million cattle produce 21.6 million tonnes of CO2e each year, according to government data.

And instead of using all our grain to feed people, we give a large amount of it to cows. This inefficient use of resources contributes massively to the six million tonnes of CO2e that agriculture produces per year.

Next steps

It’s vital to reduce your carbon footprint, as every action you take will make the future a little less disastrous – particularly for low-lying nations like the Maldives, which may soon be destroyed by climate change.

But don’t forget who the real enemies are: oil and gas companies that are ravaging the planet for profit, and governments all over the world that haven’t taken steps to cut their national emissions.

So while you should absolutely adopt as many of the above behaviours as possible, the next step is to hold polluting companies and the government to account – by writing to your MP to encourage them to take climate issues seriously, for instance.

Josh Jackman Senior Writer

Josh has written about eco-friendly home improvements and climate change for the past three years. His work has featured on the front page of the Financial Times; he’s been interviewed by BBC Radio; and he was the resident expert in BT’s smart home tech initiative.

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