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‘Every Little Helps’… But Does it Really?

November 2018 by Flavia Marini

There are many instances where every little helps – When trying to reach a fundraising goal; When collecting a set number of signatures; When managing to gain a couple of more minutes sleep in the morning; Or even as a very successful supermarket motto. However, it turns out that climate change might just not be one of those instances.

I recently read a quote in the brilliant book, by Mike Berners-Lee, “How Bad Are Bananas? – The Carbon Footprint of Everything” (essential reading in my opinion for anyone interested in gaining a carbon instinct) which I believe helps to explain this concept:

“A friend recently asked me how he should best dry his hands to reduce his carbon footprint; with a paper towel or with an electric hand dryer. The same person flies across the Atlantic literally dozens of times a year. A sense of scale is required here. The flying is tens of thousands of times more important than the hand drying. So my friend was simply distracting himself from the issue.”

Climate Change is a pressing and staggering matter and it can be natural to feel overwhelmed by it, almost paralysed at the realisation of the scale of the problem. Thus, taking a small step will always be a good start to turn the shock and fear into the empowerment that demands and works towards  the change we need. Unfortunately, given our current climatic circumstance, and the urgency of the issue, there isn’t time to take things slow, and gradually accustom ourselves to a low-carbon life. The changes we need – from everyone – are big, and are needed now.

Most importantly, it is necessary to understand the scale of our actions in relation to our carbon footprints. It is futile to become panicked about the choice of an apple or an orange, trying to quickly calculate the carbon footprint of each off the top of our head whilst standing frozen in the shopping aisle. Especially if after the purchase, we drive home, forget about it, find it rotten at the back of the fridge, and then throw it away in the general waste bin.

Instead, our attention and efforts should be aimed at the bigger changes we can make in our life, the easy wins for the planet. Deciding to fly once less per  year will have a significantly bigger impact in reducing your carbon footprint than any apple you will pick at the supermarket. Likewise, lowering or eliminating your meat and dairy consumption, changing to a 100% renewable energy provider, moving your money or mortgage to a bank which invests ethically, or insulating your home (to name but a few) will help you take action on a scale that will have a lasting impact.

Every little does help and we should be making those little actions throughout our daily lives. However, little at this point in time is simply not enough. If we only do a little, then we will only achieve a little. And critically, we should be careful that the noise from the constant little decisions we make not distract us from those big, easy actions that will ultimately help us achieve our end goal of preventing runaway climate change.

Perspective is important when trying to tackle climate change. Yes, it is unrealistic to think that overnight we can change every habit and aspect of our lives into a greener one (although I am not discouraging it). Yet, this is exactly the reason why, if we need to pick a few things to change, let them be big, not little. The challenge we have ahead is huge, so let’s fight it on the same scale.

And remember, rapid transitions have been made before. So if the scale of the problem is putting you off from acting, don’t forget about the 5p bag charge, the indoor smoking ban, or seatbelts! The future is ours for the changing, so be brave and be bold, and think big!

If you are wondering though, the apple is likely to be the more carbon friendly option. Especially if those strawberries you’re eying up are out of season and flown in from South America!

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