Cut Carbon for Health and Happiness

  • 16 Oct 2011
  • Reading time 17 mins
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How to reduce your carbon footprint and increase your health and happiness. By Mukti Mitchell.

“To live in harmony with nature we will have to make lots of sacrifices.” Is this true? An emerging understanding turns this thinking on its head. The activities that people most enjoy are in fact generally low carbon and a lifestyle designed to be low carbon includes more activities such as exercise, rest, human interaction and quiet time that are now recognised to be essential to physical and mental well-being.

Since the industrial revolution energy resources have been used to fuel increased trade and commerce. The search for quality of life has been channelled into increased consumption. Only recently has it come to light that our life-supporting environment has a limited capacity to absorb the gasses emitted from the energy sources we are currently using. At the same time, new social indicators such as happiness indexing are showing that quality of life has not increased in countries with high energy use. A remarkable truth is now becoming evident: These two problems are connected. Energy use only improves quality of life up to a certain level, above which it can reduce quality of life. Most of the lifestyle choices you can make to save carbon have significant benefits for health and happiness, with the added bonus of preserving the natural environment. Not only does reducing your carbon footprint improve your quality of life, it is now possible to say that improving your quality of life reduces your carbon footprint.

Thanks to the fact that 80% of the energy we use is wasted, you can make significant cuts without giving up the things you enjoy. It is not what you do that counts, but how you do it. An approach that avoids guilt and makes you feel good is essential, as is moving forward in small, bite-sized chunks. Cutting carbon is much easier than you think, and will have a positive effect on your health, wealth and happiness.

Making the most difference
We are each involved in hundreds of activities every year. Some have large emissions and some have tiny emissions. In order to change our lifestyles we want to implement the small changes that have a big effect, and avoid the big efforts that have little effect. This way we can avoid continually feeling guilty over insignificant emissions, and relax in the knowledge that the few changes we do make are really effective. This will give you the highest feelgood factor as well as health and well-being benefits. 

To make carbon reductions easy and fun, start with the easiest changes for you, and aim at an achievable target such as 4% reduction per year. Since our lives are very different, the most effective changes are completely different for different individuals. Later in this report you will have an opportunity to look at your own lifestyle, but first lets look at a typical UK lifestyle. What creates the most emissions and what are the easiest changes that make the most difference?

First, some terms:
CO2:  Carbon Dioxide, the main greenhouse gas harming the environment.
CO2e:  Carbon Dioxide Equivalent – a way of comparing other greenhouse gases to CO2.
Carbon:  An element that, when combined with oxygen, makes carbon dioxide.  However it is also commonly used as short for carbon dioxide.
Carbon footprint:  The amount of CO2 emitted by one person in a year.
Tonne:  1,000 kg
Kg: 1,000 g

A typical UK citizen’s carbon footprint is 10 tonnes CO2 per year. This can be divided into five main lifestyle areas: Heating, Transport, Food, Holidays and Shopping, each emitting around 2 tonnes. Let’s look at the emissions from each of these areas in turn, and the easiest reductions.

A typical UK home spends £1,300 a year on heating. This normally emits between 4 and 8 tonnes of CO2 depending on fuel type and price. If we take an average of 6 tonnes of CO2, divided by three household occupants, this gives 2 tonnes per person. 

The best way to save heating energy is to insulate your home. A typical home looses heat through the following surfaces: Lofts 10%, Windows 20%, Draughts 30%, Walls 25% and Floors 15%. Here is a table of insulation types, guide costs to install, and CO2 savings.

The low hanging fruit are loft insulation, draught proofing and double or secondary glazing.  These can save energy by nearly half, cutting your footprint by 10% in one go. If you are aiming to reduce your footprint by 4% per year, this is 2½ years cuts all in one go!  Once you have insulated your home and cut heatloss by half or more, you can install a properly sized, more efficient heating system to make further savings. Due to the rising price of fuel, insulation now represents one of the best investments you can make, giving a return of over 20% per year. And having a cosy home has immediate benefits for comfort and health.

Personal transportation to and from work, school, shopping and other activities (not including holidays) typically emits 2 tonnes of CO2 per person per year. For example, a 20-mile commute by car morning and evening amounts to 10,000 miles per year which in a small car emits 2 tonnes CO2. Here are some examples of CO2 emissions from different forms of transport:

There are two ways to reduce transport emissions. One is to downshift transport type, and the other is to car share. Both these methods can save over a tonne of CO2 a year for a daily commute, a 10% reduction to your carbon footprint. Regular driving is stressful, tiring and bad for posture so taking turns to drive improves mental and physical health. Switching ......

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