No man is an island. Everything we do, even the smallest gesture, can make a difference. This is not just an expression, it is a scientific fact: sociological research has shown that when a person or a group does the right thing, others tend to follow suit. How about a few examples? A newspaper featuring an article with the headline ‘One American in three has stopped eating red meat’ was left on tables for customers to read in an American diner; orders for red meat fell by 30 percent in the restaurant that day. Or this: installation of solar panels in a neighbourhood triggers a ‘copycat’ reaction that quickly results in that neighbourhood ending up with a far higher percentage of panels than average. This happens because a part of our brain is dedicated to the important task of evaluating the costs and benefits of other people’s actions. If the benefits of sustainable behaviour, such as eating less meat, are perceived to be higher than the costs (giving up steak), we tend to imitate such behaviour.
So here are ten small (big!) actions to start us off in helping to bring about change. Do you have any other suggestions? Write them down, post them, share them, let everyone know – let’s make #MyClimateAction a useful hashtag that helps to reduce the planet’s temperature.
1. DRINK TAP WATER AND CARRY YOUR OWN BOTTLE
Water from a plastic bottle is almost never better; it is more expensive (not least in terms of the associated emissions of CO2) and it generates vast amounts of waste. Check the make-up of the mains water where you live: it is controlled by law and guaranteed fit for human consumption. There are also excellent filters on the market that are cheap and easy to install, and these will extract any unwanted substances (such as chlorine) from the water while leaving the essential mineral content untouched. Buy your own personal water bottle, made of aluminium, glass or even plastic as long as you use it for life; this is a very simple way of avoiding having to buy single-use bottles at bars, at the office or on the street.
2. WASTE NO WATER
Let’s take quick showers, running the water for only as long as really required, and fit shower heads that reduce water use. We can use natural detergents such as vinegar to wash surfaces and floors; these need a minimum of rinsing, release no harmful substances and, most importantly, do not come in a plastic bottle like most of the chemical cleaners available in the shops.
3. REDISCOVER BARS OF SOAP
Remember bars of soap? They still exist. We don’t need plastic bottles with a dispenser nozzle to wash our hands or take a shower. You can also buy shampoo in solid blocks, which reduces plastic waste. Take a quick look online and you will be spoiled for choice.
4. GIVE BAMBOO A TRY TOO
Bamboo is waterproof, light and hygienic and lends itself to a thousand uses for tasks involving contact with water: toothbrushes, hairbrushes, cutlery, plates and shatterproof beakers for children.
5. LET’S ALL GO ON A PLASTIC FREE PICNIC (WITH NO WASTE)
Plastic glasses and cutlery are top of the list of rubbish that ends up in the sea forever. By 2021 they will be outlawed in Europe. All you need for a picnic is a basket that will take all your plates and dishes and is made out of other materials (metal, wood, bamboo – see above). Take it home at the end of the day and if there are lots of you, each person can carry their own.
6. WALK, CYCLE AND USE PUBLIC TRANSPORT
The obvious idea for reducing emissions is to leave the car at home as often as possible. There are electric car-sharing schemes (in big cities, at least), public transport, weekend rental schemes and cycle paths. And if these options aren’t yet available in your area,
ask for them.
7. STORE FOOD IN GLASS AND CERAMICS
Remember Grandma’s fridge, with leftovers from lunch covered with a plate? There’s nothing wrong with this method of saving food, so let’s use it! Forget clingfilm, moulded lids and plastic containers: glass and ceramics are fine and don’t need to be thrown away after one use.
8. BE SWITCHED ON ABOUT TURNING OFF LIGHTS AND AIR-CONDITIONING
Low-energy lightbulbs are a given, but we should also be turning on fewer lights. You can’t be everywhere at once, so remember to turn off the lights when you leave a room. And let’s use air-conditioning only when it is absolutely essential.
9. CULTIVATE YOUR GARDEN
Whether your little patch is hydroponic or traditional, down the back garden or up on the balcony, why not grow some vegetables? It’s a fantastic way of increasing the proportion of your diet with zero food miles, while making your city greener. Gardening is also a great way of unwinding from stress for those who give it a go.
10. EXPLORE THE RECYCLING CENTRE
Every town has its own waste disposal system, but understanding how recycling works can sometimes be more difficult than deciphering a code from outer space. Why not take a tour with the manager, ask for clear information and share it with neighbours. Remember the copycat principle? It works.
- This is an extract from “We are All Greta” written by Valentina Giannella, illustrated by Manuela and published by Laurence King Publishers, available at leading bookstores for about R262