The world emits about 50 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases annually. In contrast, the average UK citizen contributes roughly 10 tonnes each year to the grand total. This represents one part in every five billion parts of global emissions. It’s one fifty-millionth of a percent (0.00000002%). In other words, it’s a rounding error and practically negligible, according to some people.
Given how tiny our personal carbon footprints are, it’s easy to dismiss individual efforts. It’s also common to feel despair about how much influence you can really have on climate change — after all, what meaningful difference can a ‘one fifty-millionth percenter’ make in the grand scheme of things?
In recent months I’ve come to appreciate that our personal action matters more than we realise. In fact if you combine a lower personal carbon footprint with climate activism, the impact you can have is hugely meaningful. Here’s how I see it.
Every tonne of CO2 matters
First, let’s bring to life what 1 tonne of CO2 really looks like. This is roughly the amount someone in the UK emits every 5 weeks. Below you’ll see how much volume you can fill up with just 1 tonne of CO2.
Now imagine dumping one of these cubes or balls outside your home every five weeks for 60+ years. Would it be something you’d ignore? Is it really that negligible? Or, does this volume of CO2 actually count and would you be compelled to do something about?
What you do is magnified negatively or positively
Our collective impact on the planet is unquestionable. We already have irreversible climate damage and events such as the recent 1-in-a-1,000-year heatwave in Canada — which was 150 times less likely to happen without human influence — are a testament to this. But surely our individual action is so tiny that there’s no point trying, right? This statement is wrong on two accounts.
1. Negative Knock-on Effects
In the Jenga example, small changes appear harmless until they aren’t. This is also the case with climate. Someone’s pollution seems harmless but in the background, it’s linked to a collective instability that each one of us — to varying degrees of course — is responsible for. So although one person’s footprint will always appear negligible in isolation, its systematic influence — which accumulates as time goes on — isn’t. Tiny changes can drive harmful butterfly effects.
2. Positive Knock-on Effects
The things you do about climate can also have wider positive knock-on effects. For example if you decide to live an eco-friendly life, your friends will take notice and ask about it. This won’t necessarily turn them into climate activists, but in learning about your choices, your friends (and their friends, too) might consider doing something good for the planet.
You can also multiply your impact through activism. And when I say activism, I don’t just mean just going out on the streets and campaigning — although this is certainly a proven means of enacting change. You can be a climate activist in other ways.
For instance, you can amplify your impact when you vote for and support politicians who are serious about climate change; you can influence sustainable investments with your wallet when you spend money with climate-positive businesses; and finally, you may also choose to put your talents and time to work at an employer that’s aligned with a greener future, just like I did when I joined tickr.
The challenges of climate change are undeniably epic. Governments and corporations will have to work hard together at a global level to avert disaster. However, what’s clear to me now is that there’s no reason to feel despair about how much you can do on personal level.
All our carbon footprints count. Who we vote for and where we spend our money and time all matters. And although our individual actions might not count for much in isolation, the reality is that they often go further than we realise — certainly much further than our ‘one fifty-millionth of a percent’ would suggest.
Originally published at https://michaeltefula.com on April 25, 2021.