Saturday, 4 January 2014

Time for change - but not too much at once

On holiday in Finland
The New Year is a time when many people resolve to change their lifestyle in some way - perhaps to be more fit and healthy, or to save money for a special purchase, or to reduce your carbon footprint. As a member of Transition Cambridge and Cambridge Carbon Footprint I know some people with what I consider to be quite extreme lifestyles, such as being totally vegan or living with hardly any heating (from choice not from necessity). On the other hand, I have found it relatively easy to make changes to my lifestyle - a bit at a time. For example I now take exercise most days, we eat vegetarian or vegan often, and although we are in the house all day we run it cooler during the day than in the evening. So here are some suggestions for fun and healthy ways to reduce your energy use and carbon emissions in small doses.

Try eating vegetarian or vegan, a couple of times a week.
Vegetarian food isn't necessarily lower in carbon emissions if there is a lot of cheese and dairy in, though eggs are not so bad. (See Meat Eaters Guide to climate and health). A couple of years ago I resolved to try eating less meat and now I think having it all the time is boring. Some of our favourite zero meat recipes are: cider casserole (onions, cider and beans), Thai vegetable curry with peanuts, Turkish aubergines and chickpeas stew, frittata, Indian dhal or just puy lentils topped with an egg, shakshuka, various vegetable and bean soups. For low meat recipes, we like pizza, cassoulet (mostly beans with a little chorizo for extra flavour), risotto (can even be zero meat if you use kombu or vegetable stock) and lots more. None of these are complicated to make and many of them can be prepared in less than 30 minutes.

Avoid long distance travel for holidays
We have almost given up aeroplanes but actually air travel is only twice the emissions as train travel for the same distance - it is the distance that matters rather than how you get there. New York is 5,500 miles from London. We restrict ourselves mainly to the UK and Europe. If you want exotic landscapes, try Stonehenge and the iron age forts on the Ridgeway, northern Finland in winter (1500 miles to Lake Inari), this bamboo forest in France (550 miles), or visit Venice during the Carnivale (700 miles).

Walk or cycle instead of taking the car
There are times when you need the car - and times when you don't. When you can, walk or cycle instead. It is healthier and it may even be quicker, depending on congestion and how long it takes to park the car. Aim to walk or cycle somewhere once or twice a week. You get to know a place better when you walk through it and you may find you like it more. A recent study has found that when you drive a car you tend to be more negative about poor neighbourhoods you drive through or young people you see hanging about.

Wash your clothes less often
Depending on what you do during the day you probably don't need to put on a clean shirt every day. If you do, maybe your office is too hot! (Or maybe you use the London Underground during rush hour. Ah well). Try airing your clothes overnight and check them in the morning. Clothes last longer if you wash them less.

Turn down the heating
Home heating is responsible for nearly quarter of our energy use and quite a lot of our spending too. Turning down our thermostats is good for our wallets as well as the planet. However, we are quite sensitive to dropping temperatures, much more so than rising ones. This is why I complain of the cold in the autumn when the outside temperature is down to 10C but after a cold February 10C seems quite balmy. So, if you want to turn down the thermostat, try just half a degree and leave that for a couple of weeks. If you find you've got used to it and don't feel chilly, turn it down a bit more. Also, try setting the timer to turn off half an hour earlier in the evening. Get a blanket to snuggle under in front of the TV in the evening. This is more fun if you have a beloved to cuddle at the same time.

If a little change works for you - keep going
Making big changes in your life, for whatever reason, is hard and often unpleasant. Making a small change is much easier. If you find it works for you then keep going. But remember that not everyone is the same and what works  for other people might not work for you and vice versa. Preaching doesn't help but sharing experiences and tips does.

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