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Sustainable Future: Ten Steps You Can Take
Climate change is a large-scale problem — but there are many ways individuals can make a positive difference to help build a sustainable future.
We all want a sustainable future but climate change is having a serious environmental and economic impact the chances of Australia having a sustainable future. The Department of the Environment and Energy has published extensive documentation that reveals the negative effects of climate change.
The impact of climate change in Australia doesn’t only result in changes to coastal regions, reduced water resources, significant detriment to Australia’s native flora and fauna, and reduced health and wellbeing for Australian citizens, through — climate change affects us all on a day-to-day basis.
The science that supports climate change is comprehensive and highly compelling. Rising CO2 levels, temperatures, and mean sea levels cause widespread large-scale effects that result in economic damage, ultimately making life at home and work more difficult for everyday Australians. The budgetary impact of climate change on global supply chain infrastructure, for example, threatens to increase the cost of everyday commodities around the world.
The issue of climate change raises a broad range of questions. These questions, however, are no longer oriented around whether or not climate change is actually occurring or whether humans are responsible. The most important question about climate change is “what can we do to stop it?”
Large-scale awareness campaigns led by climate change activists such as Greta Thunberg alongside government and international initiatives have a positive impact on our climate, but there are many small changes Australians can make at home and at work to contribute to climate solutions.
1. Understand the Climate Change Issue and How it Affects You
Taking action to help build a sustainable future means first understanding the climate change issue and how it affects you. The basic foundation of climate change action is a single goal — limiting the global use of fossil fuels such as natural gas, carbon, and oil, which are the largest contributors to rapid climate change.
Climate action is focused on replacing these energy sources with cleaner, renewable energy sources that both increase efficiency while dramatically reducing emissions. The changeover to renewable energy is happening slowly, but not fast enough. Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming since before the industrial revolution — climate action efforts aim to restrict this figure to 1.5°C.
To achieve this goal, global CO2 emissions must be halved before 2030, which requires action on an individual, national, and global scale.
The specific actions we can take on an individual basis consist of choices between high-impact and low-impact climate choices. Driving vehicles with a smaller carbon footprint or reducing the amount that we drive overall can minimize climate impact. Switching to a “green” or renewable energy provider at your business or home is another small step toward a stable future climate.
Climate change isn’t caused by the individual driving or shopping habits of consumers alone — just 100 global companies are responsible for 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. Individual consumer choices do have an important impact on climate change, however. 40 percent of CO2 emissions in the UK, for example, come from households. Simple, small changes in household habits, such as minimizing electricity usage, can reduce the carbon impact of a single household by as much as 79 percent.
Large scale changes such as dramatic reforms to carbon subsidy systems that promote the use of renewable energy and minimize carbon emissions are still the core of climate change action, however. Institutional change is needed to make a meaningful impact on climate change around the world.
There are, fortunately, thousands of advocacy groups around the world working to alter the behavior of the large-scale companies that are the biggest contributors to climate change. Climate change advocacy group Drawdown, for example, is tightly focused on eliminating the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in air conditioning, refrigeration, fire retardants, and aerosols.
Replacing the use of HFCs with climate-friendly alternatives could avoid 0.1°C of global warming by 2050. Phasing out the use of climate-damaging chemicals such as HFCs, however, requires collective action across all levels of society, which means altering the way major industries operate on a global scale.
Individuals aren’t left out of the fight for a sustainable future — exercising your rights as an individual can have a profound impact on how major industries are subsidised and run.
2. Exercise Your Right to Affect Change
Affecting climate change on a global scale doesn’t stop at your doorstep. The entire country of Australia contributes just 1.3 percent of all global CO2 emissions — but this doesn’t mean we’re not responsible for climate change. While Australian emissions are just 1.3 percent of all global emissions, The Australian population is just 0.3 percent of the global total.
While Australia’s direct physical impact on climate change is not as significant as other countries, the Australian per-capita contribution is far higher than other countries. The economic position of Australia, as the 10th highest per capita nominal GDP globally, places Australia in a unique position to affect change.
In turn, Australian citizens are able to leverage this influence by placing pressure on the Australian government and Australian companies to make the necessary changes to minimize climate change.
3. Incorporate Climate Action into Your Day-to-Day Life
Individual action to build a sustainable future will take many forms. A 2017 Lund University Environmental Research Letter identifies 148 actions that can significantly minimize your impact on the climate. The most impactful action outlined in the letter, going car-free, can have a powerful effect on the total carbon footprint of an individual.
Switching to a daily public transport or cycling trip instead of a vehicular commute to work can cut 2.5 tonnes of CO2 from the annual 9.2 tonnes of CO2 contributed by the average person in a developed country.
The promising future of electric vehicles offers individuals for whom a car is an absolute necessity with another means to minimize their carbon footprint. Electric vehicles have been demonstrated to emit up to 43 percent less carbon than traditional vehicles and cost less than half as much to run as fossil-fueled vehicles — going green isn’t only good for the climate, it can significantly reduce household costs.
4. Consider The Benefits of Renewable Energy to Your Home or Business
Seeking alternative transportation methods isn’t the only way you can harness renewable energy and decrease your climate impact to build a sustainable future. Renewable energies are rapidly becoming a cost-effective solution for households around the world and, in some cases, are cheaper than fossil fuel options.
Australia is building and deploying renewable energy five times faster per capita than the EU, Japan, China, and the USA, and is currently operating with a renewable energy pipeline that could potentially reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2032.
Renewable energy is becoming increasingly cheaper in Australia and around the world — data from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) indicates that renewable energy will be a cheaper source of electricity than fossil fuels within just a few years.
The cost of electricity in Australia is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh), with electricity retailers charging between 25 and 40 cents per kWh. IRENA data reveals that a combination of bioenergy-for-power, hydropower, geothermal and onshore wind projects will see the cost of renewable electricity fall to USD 0.06 and USD 0.10/kWh by late 2020.
While Australian business owners and homeowners are unlikely to see the economic impact of cheaper renewable energy within 2020, an increase in cheap renewable energy availability is set to offer consumers a green, climate-friendly alternative to fossil fuels that lower overall energy costs.
5. Assess Your Dietary Choices
The food we eat also incurs a climate cost and so is important as we strive for a sustainable future. The food industry is the second-largest contributor to climate change after fossil fuels, with the meat and dairy sector contributing the most greenhouse gases of all.
A 2019 study published in the Journal of Science reveals that meat and dairy provide just 18 percent of calories and 37 percent of protein generated by the food industry, but are responsible for over 60 percent of food industry CO2 emissions. If the dairy industry was a nation, the CO2 emissions it releases would place it as the third-largest contributor to climate change after the USA and China.
There are three ways in which the dairy and meat industry contributes to climate change. Firstly, dairy livestock is responsible for the release of massive amounts of methane, which is produced in the ruminant stomachs of cows — a single cow releases between 70 and 120 kilograms of methane every year.
Secondly, dairy and meat industry livestock is typically fed a diet based on maize and soy, resulting in an inefficient food cycle that further exacerbates the climate impact of the dairy industry. Lastly, the dairy and meat industry requires a massive amount of land. Without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75%, which could be used for more climate-efficient agricultural use.
Reducing the amount of dairy or meat you eat could cut your climate impact and emissions by up to 40 percent. One single meat-free day at the office, for example, could cut away 71 kilograms of CO2 emissions per person, per day — a scheduled weekly meat-free day at your office could dramatically reduce the carbon footprint of your entire business over a year and so contribute to a sustainable future.
6. Minimize Your Travel Carbon Footprint
The way in which we travel has a clear and measurable impact on climate change. The CO2 emissions of aircraft in flight account for 3 percent of all human-caused climate change, and are causing an increasing amount of damage to our climate.
The United Nations aviation body has predicted that the CO2 emissions of the aviation industry will reach over 27 billion metric tonnes by 2050 if left unchallenged. Additional data released by the International Council on Clean Transportation indicates that the emissions caused by global air travel are increasing 1.5 times faster than the UN estimate as international demand for air travel increases.
Should the emissions of international air travel go on, air travel will account for over 50 percent of the planet’s current CO2 emissions budget by 2050, contributing 1.5°C to total global warming alone. A single transatlantic round-trip flight contributes as much as 1.6 tonnes of CO2 to global emissions — a fully-booked Boeing 777 emits as much C02 as the yearly CO2 emissions of 120 average households for the same flight.
Cutting back on air travel by hosting virtual business meetings, holiday locally and taking environmentally-friendly travel alternatives, and using trains instead of planes are all highly effective ways of cutting down your carbon footprint.
7. Shop Climate-Friendly
The consumer choices we make also affects how we interact with our climate. Every single thing we purchase, from daily groceries, to vehicles, clothing, or houses, has a measurable carbon footprint based on how it’s made, where it’s made, what it’s made from, and how it was transported to us.
The clothing sector, for example, accounts for 3 percent of total annual global carbon emissions. The rise of “fast fashion,” semi-disposable clothing, and the inefficient use of energy in the manufacture of clothing all contribute to the large climate impact of the clothing we wear.
The international supply chain and shipping industry plays a critical role in the climate change issue. International shipping, similarly to international air travel, currently accounts for approximately 3.1% of annual CO2 emissions worldwide.
The rate at which shipping is damaging our climate is increasing rapidly. CE Delft Maritime Greenhouse Gas Emission Projections predict that shipping emissions will increase by 120 percent by 2050 if no changes are made, resulting in shipping causing 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Part of the problem is the increasingly global nature of food supply chains. A study published by CERES Community Environment Park reveals that a typical Australian shopping basket travels over 70,803 kilometres to reach a Melbourne-based consumer. Cadbury’s Tasmania-based chocolate factory, for example, imports cocoa beans from Indonesia via Singapore. Hans sausages are made with pork imported from Denmark, traveling 25,000 kilometres to reach Melbourne.
The distance commodities travel before they reach consumers is not always indicative of the carbon inefficiency of the product itself, however. Producing specific crops or meat products and shipping it to the UK can, in some cases, be more carbon efficient than producing it locally in the UK due to soil quality factors.
A diet for a sustainable future involves purchasing a combination of locally-grown and carbon-efficient imported foodstuffs. Determining exactly which products are carbon-efficient, however, can be complicated. Fortunately, a recent open-access study published in Nature Climate Change could potentially change the way Australians shop.
“Carbon efficiency labels” were demonstrated in the study to provide consumers with the ability to make informed decisions based on the climate impact of products, allowing shoppers to select foodstuffs that minimize their carbon footprint. If you’re not ready to commit to a vegetarian diet to minimize your climate impact, shopping locally and selecting seasonal products can still make a significant difference.
8. Educate Your Children About Climate Change
US-based National Public Radio conducted a poll in 2019 across American families and public school teachers that found over 80 percent of parents and teachers support educating children about climate change.
Swedish environmental activist and TIME Person of the Year 2019 Greta Thunberg spearheaded a youth-oriented climate change campaign that highlighted the disproportionate effect climate change has on the younger generation, illustrating the importance of building a sustainable future for our children.
Taking steps to ensure that your children are aware of the climate crisis and the importance of promoting climate-friendly action ensures that you are able to take positive steps toward carbon neutrality and minimize climate change before it’s too late.
9. Encourage Others to Take Action
Taking action against climate change on an individual basis doesn’t mean you’re taking action alone. Sociological evidence indicates that once individuals observe others making decisions based on climate change and positive action, they also begin making informed sustainability-oriented decisions.
Patrons at a US-based cafe, for example, were more likely to order meat-free food when informed that 30 percent of Americans had adopted meat-free diets to combat client change as part of the trial. Credibility plays an important role in affecting sustainability based decisions in others — community organizers attempting to promote the installation of solar power in their neighborhood are more likely to succeed if they have adopted home solar power themselves.
When people see their neighbours leading by example, they are more inclined to participate in sustainable endeavors and combat climate change together.
10. Contribute Where You Can
Minimizing your climate impact doesn’t mean immediately selling your family car, giving up imported food or meat, and writing stern letters to your local member of parliament. Incorporating climate-friendly sustainable practices into your everyday life can have a profound and positive impact on your carbon footprint and present a positive example to those around you without negatively impacting your life.
A green project or a carbon offset project can assist homeowners and business owners in reducing their carbon footprint, even if it’s not possible to directly minimize carbon emissions by eliminating car or air travel.
The Australian Taxation Office currently allows taxpayers to claim deductions for assisting in the establishment of carbon sink forests and provides tax incentives for conservation. If you’re interested in the potential tax incentives provided to taxpayers donating to eligible environmental organizations, reach out to Fullstack for clarification today.
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Stuart Reynolds is the founder of Fullstack Advisory, an award-winning accounting firm for businesses leading the future. He is a 3rd generation accountant who specialises in tech companies, agencies and entrepreneurs.