Our carbon footprint is a big deal. If we don’t reduce it, it’ll literally be the end of the world (through climate change). Being aware of how much carbon our lifestyle is emitting and how best to reduce that figure can be a huge help, so this week I’ve been trying to find out more.
My attitude has always been a little radical. Although most people live in a house and have a car, I’ve always felt it would be excessive of me to have both. For the past 10 years I’ve worked as a musician and sporadically worked for someone disabled and both these jobs necessitate a car. So, the only way I’ve felt able to justify having a vehicle is to live in it too, thus ditching the house.
I tried a year the other way around – with house, without vehicle. It was an enjoyable challenge. However, gigging car free was so limiting as to be unworkable in the long term. So then I shared a van. Now I live in one of my own, using housesits and friend’s living rooms to subsidise my lifestyle.
So far so good. But since buying a van, bit by bit, I’ve taken on more and more work that requires driving and have worried about how much pollution this generates. I became curious about my carbon footprint? Surely it must be below average – that’s part of the reason I’m living this way.
Using an online Carbon Calculator, which factors in most everything, I entered minimum and maximum estimates for my annual energy usage. It included annual mileage, an educated guess home energy usage (when I’m at other people’s houses), public transport, food and the limited consumer goods I buy.
Disappointingly my carbon footprint is between two thirds and three quarters of the UK average per person – I had expected it to be much less.
Average annual UK carbon emissions per person: 9.80 metric tonnes of CO2e
Kimwei’s annual UK carbon emissions: Between 6.5 and 7.5 metric tonnes of CO2e
To make matters worse, around half of my carbon emissions come from driving the van. If only I had a modern van with lower emissions, or drove a small car instead! As it is, using public transport or cycling would be about 90% better for the planet than using my big old van.
I’d certainly recommend using the calculator. It’s a helpful tool to show where you can effectively & easily cut down. In some cases (home energy especially) being careful saves you money too. I’m definitely going to try driving my van less – I had no idea it accounted for HALF of the pollution I create. The website also had some good info on which energy saving habits make the most difference around the house. I’m pretty sparing when I’m housesitting out of respect to my hosts, and am always keen to improve.
My alternative lifestyle doesn’t reduce my carbon footprint as much as I had hoped, but if everyone in the west could drop their usage by a quarter or a third, the planet would be in much better shape. I’m not saying everyone should live like me – that wouldn’t work. But could you find a way to reduce your emissions by 5% 10% 20% or even more? Could you persuade the company you work for to do the same? Everyone will have a different way of doing it.
Although owning a van is my worst offence, producing between 3.2 and 3.8 tonnes of CO2e per year, it was interesting to see that someone could do much worse by simply being a wasteful consumer. Re-doing the Carbon Calculator as if I was someone who didn’t recycle much, bought a new car, supermarket food, loved fashion and the latest gadgets, showed that this behaviour alone would add over 8 metric tonnes of CO2e to someone’s annual pollution quota! If you’re a high consumer, you could make a big difference through simple lifestyle changes that are guaranteed to save you money too.
I’ll leave you with some environmental pros & cons of my current way of life. Can you think of any more? Comments welcome. Also, do write to me with suggestions as to how I could reduce my carbon footprint even more.
|Limited consumption of consumer goods: borrowing/sharing other people’s stuff rather than buying my own. When housesitting this includes white goods, washing machines, and a good many other things too!||Food shop wherever I can in transit – less likely to find unpackaged local food.|
|Lend out many possessions to avoid storing them in the van, therefore helping others to avoid buying.||Hard to recycle when in van due to limited space to store rubbish. This is an area I could improve.|
|Make use of otherwise wasted energy: When I housesit for someone and use their fridge, they wouldn’t otherwise turn their fridge or central heating off whilst on holiday. The same applies if I use someone’s living room as office space whilst they are at work in winter, as long as I don’t turn the heating up!||Pollute by driving to housesits and living rooms.|
|Have more time to source 2nd hand or free things & food rather than buy new: Often, this process leads me to rescue stuff being thrown to landfill, take what I need and give the rest to a good home or charity shop.||Often don’t have enough money to buy ethically, or take public transport where it’s more expensive than driving.|
|Use less energy in houses: I’ve had to adapt to the fact that I can’t wash myself or my clothes as often as I used to, but I’ve done it WITHOUT lowering my standards of personal cleanliness. Honest! More about that in future posts!||Prone to rely on/be offered work that requires driving.|
Take part in Kimwei’s Music Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2XNDwS7wUwE