As we look for ways to decarbonize our planet, we’re often led to believe that doing so necessitates significant sacrifices, such as giving up meat or drastically altering our lifestyles. However, that’s not quite the case. The real issue lies in the fact that we need significant changes at the corporate and government levels. While individual actions to reduce our carbon footprint are vital, they often require substantial purchases or lifestyle changes.

Reducing transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions has more mitigation potential than actions focused on home heating. By reducing vehicular travel by half, one can save nearly twelve percent of their annual greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, changing to lower-carbon meats or buying locally produced food barely makes a difference on the list.

Gavin Mooney had a great take about this on LinkedIn:

It’s often assumed that decarbonising means downgrading, giving up meat, some sort of sacrifice. But that’s not the case.

There may not be too many surprises in this list, but the relative mitigation potentials ARE surprising. For example, did you know that:

➡️ Actions relating to transport offer far more abatement potential than actions around home heating?
➡️ Taking one less long haul (return) flight offers almost the same abatement as not using your car for a whole year?
➡️ Switching to lower carbon meats or buying locally produced food don’t even make the list.

However, most of the actions that individuals can take to reduce their carbon footprint generally DO involve a fairly large purchase or lifestyle change.

And this leads to the next point. Depending on where you are in the world, the best and most important thing you can do for the climate is to vote for candidates who prioritise it.

Why? Let’s check some numbers.

Imagine you buy an EV, you’ll save around 2 tonnes of CO2 emissions a year. Imagine 1 million people buy an EV, that’s 2 million tonnes saved.

But a single coal-fired power station (such as Yallourn in Victoria) emits over TEN million tonnes of CO2 emissions every year.

So closing a couple of coal-fired power stations offers the same abatement potential as switching every car in Australia to a BEV…

And perhaps that’s why the whole idea of a carbon footprint was invented by BP in the first place, because focusing on individual carbon footprints distracts from the need to make substantive change where it can have the biggest impact: at the corporate and government levels…

Of course, these numbers are all averages and will vary between regions.

While the little things matter in decarbonizing the planet, the most impactful action you can take is to vote for leaders with climate priorities. Several countries have detailed their policies on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and you have the power to choose leaders with those priorities.

If you were to buy an electric vehicle (EV), you could save two tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. Though it may seem small, if one million people switch to EVs, we could save two million tonnes of CO2. While this is a good start, it’s crucial to keep in mind that a single coal-fired power plant, such as Yallourn in Victoria, emits over ten million tonnes of CO2 emissions every year.

Corporations and governments also need to take action to reduce the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. While individual and small collective actions will improve things, it’s essential to put significant pressure on corporate and government bodies to act.

Decarbonising isn’t about compromising where you’re already struggling, and it’s increasingly becoming an individual burden. Instead, it’s about urging corporations and governments to follow through on their promises to rebuild our planet. While individual actions like buying an electric vehicle, adjusting air conditioning, and changing light bulbs matter, it’s not the most impactful thing you can do. By voting for leaders with climate policies paramount, supporting organizations that are pushing for corporate action, and being mindful of your carbon footprint, you can help promote a sustainable lifestyle. Remember, it’s only by working together towards this goal that we’ll see tangible progress in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that are threatening our planet.