Five surprising ways the world can beat climate change
These are exciting times in the fight against climate change, as every day brings new green innovations. But which ideas will be the most effective?
One attempt to answer that question is Project Drawdown, which brings together 100 practical solutions to global climate change proposed by climate experts. It ranks the solutions by the quantity of emissions they could cut by the year 2050. Green energy plays a key role, as renewables like wind, solar and hydro replace fossil fuels. But you may be surprised by some of the other important ideas in Project Drawdown. Here are five of our favourites.
Number 1: new fridges for old
Many old fridges and air conditioning units use chemicals called HFCs to absorb and release heat. These chemicals can have up to 9,000 times greater capacity to warm the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
But if we begin to dispose of old units carefully we could avoid emissions equivalent to 89.7 gigatons of CO2. That’s a lot! In fact, scientists think it could be the number one way for the world to achieve ‘drawdown’, which is the moment when the concentration of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere begins to decline.
The good news is that there are great natural substitutes for HFCs. Most domestic fridges on sale in the UK are HFC-free (here’s a guide in Ethical Consumer). And in 2016 more than 170 countries met in Kigali and agreed to phase out HFCs by 2028. Excellent!
Number 3: less waste, more chutney
About a third of the food that is produced in the world is thrown away before it even reaches a table. And in rich countries people throw out around 35% of the food they actually buy.
When you think of all the carbon produced in growing and distributing food it’s not surprising that reducing waste ranks at number three in Project Drawdown’s top 100 ways to cut emissions.
Luckily there are lots of great new businesses doing exactly that. As people become more aware of food waste, they’re finding ways to make good use of discarded produce. We recently wrote about our favourite - Rubies in the Rubble - who turn rejected fruit and veg into chutney. Yum.
Number 4: eating more plants
Animal farming for meat makes up about a fifth of global greenhouse emissions. But Project Drawdown calculates that a realistic reduction in meat eating in rich countries could result in at least 26.7 gigatons of emissions being saved by 2050.
Plant-based food is getting ever more popular. Websites such as The Flexitarian are packed with recipes, while businesses like Allplants now deliver delicious meat-free, chef-made dinners. We recently wrote about Bulb hero Natalie Slack, whose Black Mylk ice cream uses no dairy products at all, despite being as tasty as they come.
Number 6: opening more schools
Social advances are as important to fighting climate change as scientific ones. Making schools in the developing world better and more accessible, especially to girls, will have a big impact. Educated children are better able to look after land, waters and forests when they grow up. Educated girls have fewer and healthier children.
Project Drawdown estimates that for a cost of £28 billion per year we could achieve universal education in low-income countries. As well as the social benefits, that could result in 59.6 gigatons of emissions being cut by 2050. Charities like United World Schools and WWEP are helping to make it happen.
Number 33: switching to LED lights
LED bulbs have really caught on in the UK. That’s not surprising. They use 90% less energy than incandescent bulbs for the same amount of light, and last much longer too. Using LEDs has a big impact - on your bills and your carbon footprint. Especially as we tend to use lighting at periods of peak demand on the grid. In the evenings in winter, almost 30% of our electricity consumption is for lighting. At this time, a higher proportion of energy on the grid is dirty energy from fossil fuels. As a result, using less energy-hungry forms of lighting at this time has a disproportionate impact on carbon reduction. And when you buy them from companies like Plumen, they look pretty good too!
But the really big benefits of LEDs will be in developing countries. More than a billion people in the world live in ‘light poverty’, which means that when it gets dark, so do their homes. Low-cost LED lights will help lift people out of light poverty without the emissions of older technologies. According to Project Drawdown, LEDs will cut some 7.8 gigatons of CO2 emissions by 2050. It’s pretty much our number 1 energy saving tip.