Friday, August 19

Four Cheap and Easy Ways to Mitigate Climate Change as a Student at Royal Holloway

With the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) happening in Glasgow, discussions surrounding mitigating and adapting to climate change are circulating around campus. Human activities (primarily deforestation, burning fossil fuels and agricultural practices) increase the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. The IPCC predict that rising global temperatures are resulting in more extreme weather, increased instances of natural disasters, the melting of glaciers, consequent rising sea levels, and mass extinction of species. Not only is climate change an environmental issue, it also has detrimental social consequences, affecting communities around the world unequally. 

It is now more important than ever that we recognise the impacts that our consumer choices have on communities and ecosystems around the world. Making more sustainable consumer choices is the best way to reduce your carbon footprint, and it doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Here are a few ideas to help you get started…  

Try a Plant-Based Diet

Livestock production is one of the major contributors to climate change, accounting for 60% of emissions from agricultural practices. The meat and dairy industries emit greenhouse gases through deforestation (to clear space for rearing livestock), fossil-fuel-generated farming machinery and the transportation of animals and food. On top of this, livestock production uses up huge amounts of water – contributing to water scarcity and water pollution. 

Additionally, oceans – making up over 70% of the Earth’s surface – are one of the world’s biggest carbon stores. Unsustainable fishing techniques, such as ‘trawling’, result in overfishing, by-catch (catching species of marine life other than those intended), and the destruction of corals and marine plants on the seabed. When marine life is lost, carbon is released back into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. The protection of marine life is, therefore, crucial to mitigating climate change.

It is often assumed that following a vegan or vegetarian diet is more expensive. Admittedly, trying plant-based options when going out for a meal can be pricier (though as demand increases, prices are improving!), but cooking vegan food could actually save you money. Why not try adding a ‘no-meat Monday’ to your weekly routine or limit your meat, fish and dairy consumption altogether?

Avoid Plastic Packaging

From its production made using climate-damaging chemicals to taking hundreds of years to decompose, plastic is harmful to the environment throughout its entire lifecycle. It harms wildlife, often ending up in the oceans, and makes its way through the food chain, with microplastics being found in our food and drink. Our reliance on plastic is damaging to the environment, calling for a need to become more packaging-conscious. 

Next time you’re in Egham doing your Tesco shop, look out for recyclable packaging and avoid single-use plastics where possible. You can save money by carrying your own shopping bags, buying vegetables loose instead of packaged or pre-prepared, and carrying a reusable water bottle. Some cafes even offer discounted prices if you bring your own reusable cup. 

Don’t Fund Fast-Fashion

The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global emissions. Fast-fashion companies mass-produce clothing using cheap materials and labour, expending vast amounts of water and polluting public waterways with toxic chemicals from treatments and dyes. Trees are cut down for materials such as rayon, viscose and modal, and fossil fuels are used to make polyester, acrylic and nylon. Since clothing is more affordable, companies churn out countless micro-collections each year, encouraging customers to keep up to date with current trends. Since people are buying more, they’re wasting more, too. Tons of clothes are dumped in landfill every day, and take years to break down. The clothes may be cheap, but the environmental costs are high.

Buying fewer clothes or purchasing second-hand clothes – from shops like Depop, eBay or by thrifting in charity shops – is a more environmentally-friendly option and can save you money. If buying new, look out for clothes made from more sustainable fabrics, such as organic cotton or Lyocell/Tencel.  

Get Involved & Raise Awareness

So now that you’ve started making these changes to your lifestyle, what’s next? Spread the word! Many people are not aware that the consumer choices they make can have direct impacts on the environment. By informing other students of more sustainable options, we can collectively tackle climate change. 

Luckily, there are plenty of environmental movements to take part in on campus from joining societies (such as @rhul_nature) to running your own campaigns. If you would like to run your own environmental campaign or encourage the university to take climate action, contact [email protected] for more information. 

Making more sustainable consumer choices doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. It can be as simple as having a plant-based lunch or thinking twice before buying a plastic-wrapped packet of pre-chopped veg. Whether you try out all these tips, or just one, you’ll be making a huge difference in helping to mitigate climate change (and can save a little money on the way!).

SOURCES

Animal Equality (2021) 4 Ways the Fishing Industry is Destroying the Planet. <https://animalequality.org/blog/2019/09/30/fishing-industry-destroying-environment/>

BWSS (2021) The problem with fast fashion. < https://www.bwss.org/fastfashion/>

Carrington (2018) Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single best way’ to reduce your impact on Earth. <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/31/avoiding-meat-and-dairy-is-single-biggest-way-to-reduce-your-impact-on-earth>

Devlin, H. (2018) Rising global meat consumption ‘will devastate environment’. <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jul/19/rising-global-meat-consumption-will-devastate-environment>

Friends of the Earth (2021) Plastic Pollution: how to reduce plastic in the ocean. <https://friendsoftheearth.uk/plastics>

Greenpeace (2021) 7 reasons why meat is bad for the environment. [accessed 20/10/2021] <https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/news/why-meat-is-bad-for-the-environment/>

Gonzalez, N., Marques, M., Nadal, M., Domingo, J. (2020) ‘Meat Consumption: What are the current global risks? A review of recent (2010-2020) evidences’, Food Research International, 137, pp.1-6

NASA (2019) A Degree of Concern: Why Global Temperatures Matter. <https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2865/a-degree-of-concern-why-global-temperatures-matter/>

NASA (2021) The Effects of Climate Change. <https://climate.nasa.gov/effects/>

Shutlet, J., Watson, A. (2020) The Oceans are Absorbing More Carbon than Previously Thought. World Economic Forum<https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/10/oceans-absorb-carbon-seas-climate-change-environment-water-co2/>

Sustain Your Style (2021) What’s Wrong with the Fast Fashion Industry? < https://www.sustainyourstyle.org/en/whats-wrong-with-the-fashion-industry>

The Royal Society (2020) The Basics of Climate Change. <https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/projects/climate-change-evidence-causes/basics-of-climate-change/>

UN COP26 (2021) UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021. <https://ukcop26.org>

Header image by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

By Elena Monreale