Will The Rich Change For The Sake Of The Climate?

By Guest Blogger Rajiv Vij, Life and Executive Coach, Author and Speaker

“Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody ever does anything about it.” ~ Mark Twain.

I too have been guilty of this. I thought I was doing my bit by segregating waste, using more recycled products, buying more organic food, avoiding plastic, using energy-saving devices and so forth. Clearly, I was lulled into a sense of complacency. However, triggered by the onslaught of adverse news, from Delhi pollution and the Venice flooding to forest fires in California and Australia, I decided to calculate my own annual carbon footprint.

It is roughly 11 tons. Just to put it in perspective, an average American’s annual carbon footprint is 16T, an average Indian is 1.8T and the global average is around 4.5T. If the world follows through on the Paris climate change accord, the global average would need to be below 2T by 2050. I guess that’s what my goal should be – progressively reducing my carbon footprint from 11T to 2T.

Looking through the data, what was apparent was that the biggest contributors of CO2 emissions for me are: a) use of my car, b) consumption of food and other household products, c) international travel, and d) use of electricity. Incidentally, I work from home and use my car only 3-4 times a week, I am not an extravagant spender and my international travel is limited to a couple of holidays and a few short work-related trips every year. If you are a business leader, I wonder what your carbon footprint might be?

As I analyse my options for the way forward, it is becoming quite evident that there aren’t many easy answers and that we would need more substantive shifts. I thought of sharing with you some of the views I have explored in case they are helpful in some way.

Calculate your carbon footprint

What gets measured gets done. If we don’t have a clear measure of our carbon footprint and its sources, we may remain ignorant of the personal efforts we need to make to fight climate change. While the governments and the industry surely need to do much more, we can take greater self-responsibility too. For quick and easy carbon footprint calculators, you can try Calculate FootprintWhat’s my footprint, or Carbonify.

Reduce consumption

Humanity’s burden on the planet now exceeds its carrying capacity. We are using natural resources 1.7 times faster than earth’s ecosystems can regenerate. The only way to reverse this alarming trend is to reduce our consumption levels. This has to begin with the wealthy. The wealthiest 10% of the world contribute to half of the global emissions, with the average carbon footprint of the super-rich (with an investible surplus of over US$ 1 million, besides their home) estimated to be a staggering 65T.

The challenge is the rich are used to a certain lifestyle that they don’t wish to change. How many are willing to reduce their number of international holidays, buy fewer clothes, or move to a moderate-size home? The rich not only consume more, they waste more too. They throw away over 3kgs of stuff every day. As the rich moderate their consumption, the less affluent may also be less tempted to seek hedonistic consumption.

Move to renewable energy wherever possible

Use of coal-based electricity, airline fuel during plane travel, and petrol/diesel for the car account for a large portion of our personal carbon footprint. Any changes we can make in this usage can be significant. Simply flying less and primarily using public transport is ideal. I figured moving to an electric vehicle, powered by solar energy, can reduce my footprint by nearly 25% (I am actively considering this). Similarly, moving to solar-powered electricity for my home (I just did) can help reduce my footprint by another 15%. Choosing airlines that progressively use bio-fuel instead of standard jet fuel can be greatly helpful.

Alter food habits

We all know meat consumption is a huge contributor to carbon emissions. The global livestock industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars, planes and ships combined. Unfortunately, with growing prosperity among developing nations, worldwide meat consumption is on the rise. Actively reducing meat consumption is essential to mitigate climate change. It’s also a healthier option.

Further, we can choose to buy more food products that are organic (better for the soil and bio-diversity) and locally produced (reduces transport emissions). Also, we can consider recycling our food waste. If food waste were a country it’d be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind China and the U.S. For example, an average Singapore home throws away about 2.5kg of food waste each week. I am proposing an eco-digester for our building. Else, we can consider starting a compost at home.

Plant more trees

Lastly, we can plant more trees to offset our carbon footprint. My wife and I have been gifting trees to our friends on their happy occasions. Also, we have just planted hundreds of trees to offset our family’s annual carbon footprint. While planting trees in not the long-term solution – reducing consumption and minimising our carbon footprint are – it certainly helps in the short-term. If you are looking to plant trees, you can consider Grow Trees.

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