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101* things to do about global warming: is one right for you?

Dalmatians in 1925Many of us despair of the endless arguments about the best way for government and business to reduce carbon pollution. But there’s plenty of simple and easy actions we can take in our own lives  – it’s better to act than get frustrated or complain, right? And individual actions add up and create momentum for community change.

You don’t need to be a ‘carbon warrior’ to make a difference – we’ve consulted widely to identify actions that are easy to take but also have an impact on the issues that matter most – energy use, food, transport and the stuff we buy. Some will save you money as well!

*maybe not quite 101!

Take it easy

First up – don’t worry about things you have done in the past or things you can’t do. As Alexx Stuart says “ Don’t be down on yourself for how you’ve done stuff yesterday, once you learn a better way. Be excited about the changes you are going to make today.”

Find the actions that work for you and do them. That’s better than dreaming of big changes that aren’t going to happen. Of course by all means also make plans for bigger changes that may take time to implement.

Know the landscape …

If you can only do one thing today, choose one that you know makes a bigger impact. For a typical household, our biggest carbon impact comes from our energy use at home, the food we eat, transport and the products we buy, usually in that order. In this article, we provide tips on energy use and food; we’ll look at transport and products later.

If you’d like a more precise understanding of exactly where you have the biggest impact, there’s plenty of online carbon footprint calculators to help. We’ve listed a few below.

Make it social

Millions of people use buddies and groups to get fit, lose weight or learn something knew. We’re all strongly influenced by what our friends, family, neighbours and other people do and there’s plenty of evidence that we’re all prepared to make changes when we know other people are joining in. Why not team up with a group like One Million Women or DoSomething, or share what you are doing with your friends or the world?  You may just inspire them to take action too!

Save energy at home

We asked consumer group CHOICE for three energy-saving tips. Katrina Lee provide these three:

  • Look at installing a ceiling fan. Combined with a reverse-cycle air conditioner or heater, it will also help reduce your energy costs.
  • If you have an old hot water system, upgrade or review the available options so that when it goes, you can install an energy-saving system. Water heating can account for a quarter of typical household energy use.
  • A good fridge/freezer should do more than keep your food safe—it should also be energy-efficient. As it’s working non-stop, the energy it consumes adds up, so think of the long-term running costs as part of the purchase price of the fridge.

For more information on energy efficiency at home, have a look at one of these resources from Greenpeace, WWF and the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Green Home pages. Some changes can be made right now; others take some planning and investment or lifestyle changes.

Choose clean energy

For most people it’s easy to choose government-accredited GreenPower, and for many households installing solar panels makes sense.

Around 800,000 Australian households (1 in 10) are already using GreenPower for all or some of their electricity. For the average household, 100% GreenPower costs about $1 per day extra. GreenPower Australia has advice on how to switch together with links to rate comparison information.

There are already more than 1 million Australian households with solar PV systems installed. There’s a few financial traps, so before diving into solar, get some independent advice from an organisation like the Alternative Technology Association and use their solar rates comparison tables.

Saving water saves energy too

We don’t often think of it, but elements of the water-supply system including water recycling and desalination mean that getting clean water to your home is an energy-intensive process.  The ACT government’s Thinkwater site has tips for saving water around the home and garden.

Take a bite out of your carbon footprint

As much as we love and need to eat, there’s no getting away from the fact that the production, distribution and commercial storage of food, especially meat and dairy, is one of the main sources of carbon pollution.

It’s not for everyone, but reducing meat consumption will really reduce your carbon footprint. Maybe you’re not about to join Ellen de Generes and the other famous vegans, but why not go for higher quality meat in smaller serves or less often? At Foodwise’s Meatfree Monday page you can pledge to get involved and find recipes for out times.

Growing food at home kicks goals on health and budget as well as climate. No matter how much space you have, there are options for you. You can even grow food without a backyard-join the growing balcony garden movement! Sowing the right seeds at the right time and getting to grips with the tools of the trade might take a little practice. Thankfully, there’s online resources abound to help give you your green fingers. Try Sustainable Gardening Australia’s site or The Little Vegie Patch for information to get started.

Reduce the amount of food you waste. As much as 20% of the food we buy is wasted, along with all the carbon it took to make it and get it to you. Reduce food waste by shopping smarter, storing better, and creating a waste free kitchen. The Foodwise toolkit can show you how.

Adding up your impact

The WWF publishes a fun interactive carbon calculator that gives you the choice of simplified results or lets you get down into a little more detail. The end result is a graph that identifies the areas where you have the greatest impact; those that you should perhaps concentrate your efforts on.

If a more conventional calculator is more your style try Carbon Neutral’s calculator, which focuses on many different areas: energy, waste, fuel use, air travel, food and other sources.

Two other options are the calculator from Global Footprint Network,  which gathers regional data on resource consumption, and myfootprint which creates a household action plan to save power, water and money.


Adam Browning and Sabine Prahl for research and writing and Rupert Posner, CEO of Good Environmental Choice Australia and Katrina Lee, Strategic Policy Advisor at CHOICE for suggestions.

Coming soon – tips on carbon saving in transport and when you’re shopping for stuff.

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