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Week Forty - Big Carbon Cuts Are Simple & Urgent

Simple changes will cut your carbon footprint by 77%


- Tell me something you learned during our Carbon Diet?

My kindergartner

- Carbon makes lots of pollution on the environment. We need to stop using carbon please.

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I've been worried about climate change my whole life. When I was in primary school, they called it the 'Greenhouse Effect'. I thought that by the time I grew up, someone would have fixed it. Guess what? No one has. And it's not up to 'someone'. It's up to you and me. Our kids are at stake.

Since I started this project, millions of children have taken to the streets to beg for their lives. We've moved from record-breaking temperatures each year to record-breaking temperatures each day. Unprecedented bushfires devastate the country. The smoke from our burning towns and bushland is so bad people drop dead from it. And we haven't even started to cut emissions yet. Emissions have either flatlined or increased, depending on how you run the numbers. If we don't make big cuts now, then when?

Ain't it all too hard?

When I began this project 18 months ago, I set out to cut my carbon footprint and that of the average Australian by 75%, one week at a time. I had no idea if I could do it. I didn't even know how big my carbon footprint was. I feared all the political wrangling meant climate change was contentious and big cuts were impossible.

I was wrong. The science on climate change is clear. It's been clear for decades. We know we have to cut carbon if we're going to save ourselves and the planet. And slashing carbon is easy. Most Australians could cut their carbon footprint in half overnight and still live a good life. The whole thing is so simple, my five-year-old understands it.

How big is the average Australian carbon footprint?

Federal Government calculates Australia's carbon dioxide and equivalent emissions (CO2e) at around 22 tonnes per person per year. That's based on what we produce and it leaves out a lot. I'm more interested in how much CO2e we consume. For the first time, Federal Government has reported against this at around 18 tonnes per person per year (which also leaves out a lot). I've tracked around 11.6 tonnes CO2e of that to the average Australian (see Notes for details).

How do we cut back?

Here's the good news. With simple changes, the average Australian could cut that 11.6 tonnes by 77% to 2.6 tonnes CO2e per person per year. You don't have to wear hemp, be vegan or shun flying for the rest of your life to achieve this. I've tested out these changes and they fit within a normal urban life. Most will save you money. A few come with a cost but I always give a cost-free alternative. Below is a video to show how to do it. Details are in this blog. My book is coming soon.

Is my Carbon Diet really 7,700 times more effective than the Federal Government's?

The Federal Government's latest inventory claims a 0.1% emissions cut of around 0.7 million tonnes CO2e over the past year. That is not a victory. Agriculture emissions dropped by 4.2 million tonnes CO2e or 0.6% during this time because so much livestock died during our climate-change-induced drought. Australia's carbon cuts are tiny. And those cuts are not due to good management but the devastating impacts of climate change itself. Sorry, farmers, sheep and cows. Yay inventory?

On the plus side, if we keep going along SmoKo lines we'll see big cuts soon. Millions of people and more animals will die from the climate crisis. This is not what climate policy should look like.

What about my personal Carbon Diet?

I set out to cut 75% of my carbon footprint, one week at a time. I've done pretty well. I've cut my personal footprint by 61% from around 6.3 tonnes to 2.5 tonnes CO2e per year. The changes saved me money and gave me a richer, better lifestyle. I'm saving up for the last two steps to switch away from natural gas and buy an electric car. Those will both cost money up-front but will probably save money over the long term. I will then have cut 82% from my carbon footprint.

What's not covered?

I ran out of time to cover some pretty carbon-intense aspects of the Australian lifestyle like investments, home renovations, medical services, other services and general consumables. I also haven't included the personal share from our communal footprint (think hospitals, roads and wars). That's why I've only tracked 11.6 tonnes from an 18 - 22 tonne footprint.

What's next?

Next up, I'll look at carbon offsets and the impact of climate change on people. After that, I'll be running workshops in Canberra and writing articles and a book about what I've learned.

What are you waiting for?

You can cut your carbon footprint in half right now with simple steps. You should definitely do this. But it's not enough. We are in a climate emergency. If we are going to avoid catastrophic impacts, we need governments at every level decarbonising our economy and helping us adapt to the climate change already locked in. Time is running out.

I've been a climate activist for years. I'm now running for the ACT Greens. I urge you to take political action, too. Whatever time and skills you have, use them. Stand up. Speak out. Do not wait for someone else to fix this. You may not get another chance.

Spreadsheets and notes on data in the 'Notes' section, Week Forty.