Inconveniently truthy

We live in a very different world to that of 2007. That was the year Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth pipped some Oscars, Leo graced the cover of Vanity Fair with a baby polar bear, the GFC was kicking off, Steve Jobs released the iPhone, and Britney was mid-breakdown. At that time, we’d already known about climate change for at least 15 years. And if we didn’t know, didn’t care or were in denial in 2007, it’s been pretty hard to avoid feeling the change since then. 

So, how have we been doing since Leo posed with a polar bear?

By ‘we’ I’m talking about individuals like you and me. It’s easy to look at companies and countries overseas and point the finger of blame. They are why all those koalas died in the Australian bush fires or why salmon aren’t surviving in the Malborough Sounds. 

But we are not as innocent in this whole climate debacle as we think we are. What we choose to buy and what we choose to do matters. Household choices account for 71% of New Zealand’s total greenhouse emissions according to Statistics NZ. 

We are making better climate choices now: we’re using paper straws and our own bags at the supermarket, we’re recycling more, we’re trying to eat less meat. Surely, our emissions are decreasing? Surprisingly they are not. 

Since 2008, Kiwi household emissions have increased by 11.8%. When MfE measured this back in 2017, we had a higher rate of increase than 38 countries reporting on household emissions. 28 / 38 countries actually reported decreases in household emissions, including the UK who saw household emissions decrease by decreased by 12% during the same period. 

Why aren’t we managing our emissions better than we were pre-iPhone? 

We may have smarter phones, but we haven’t been particularly clever in taking climate action. Some lifestyle choices we make are simply way worse for the climate than others, but we aren’t very good at knowing what those are or gauging their impact. Only 14% of people know their own carbon footprint according to one study in the UK, and this practically impossible quiz shows that we are terrible at understanding the carbon impact of our actions.

One choice that makes up a significant proportion of our household footprint is how we get around. We just love our cars. When we’re not working from home:
  • we’re spending longer on the roads, 
  • nearly 3/4 of us use a vehicle as a primary means of transport, 
  • fewer kiwis walk or cycle to work today than in 2013, and 
  • only 11% of us use public transport regularly.
As a result, our household transport emissions actually increased by 15% between 2011 and 2017. We’re emitting more from our cars than ever. Even when we know, we should be trying to reduce our emissions. It’s not the only factor, but its a big one.

So how can we start doing better?

We should be taking more considerate climate action, starting with making informed choices that have a real impact, not just a showy one.

The first step is to calculate your personal emissions. We use the Future Fit calculator for this. By getting an idea of where in your life you are emitting the most, you can prioritise climate action that is going to have the largest possible impact on your footprint. 

The next step, after reducing your own emissions, is to reduce other emissions where you can. You can only reduce your own emissions so much living in today’s world. You still need to buy imported food occasionally or charge your smartphone. By helping others reduce their emissions, you can have a significantly larger reduction than if you just focus on your own actions. You can do this by encouraging others to reduce their impact, petitioning the government for change, planting trees, and supporting projects that remove and reduce emissions from the atmosphere.

The climate crisis is far too urgent for us to continually keep emitting more. We’re stuck in an alarming trend, and just like Leo who needs to start dating woman over the age of 25, and Britney who needs to be break free from her Dad’s control, it’s going be challenging, but we need to do it for the longterm good of us all.

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Low-carbon. High-impact.