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The Guardian

You'll be surprised how much you can do to help.


As world leaders meet to talk about global warming, Ros Coward offers 10 practical steps we can all take to help save the planet.

Today, world leaders are meeting in the Hague to discuss climate change and what - if anything - can be done to combat global warming. Their discussions will be full of abstractions about "carbon trading" and "flexible mechanisms". But for many us here, the issue has suddenly become far from abstract. Extreme weather conditions have brought home the fact that our climate is changing - and changing fast. It may be easy to be fatalistic about it, but the truth is that although we humans have caused the problem, we also have the solution. "Think global and act local," said Friends of the Earth founder David Bower, who died last week. In many small but important ways we can make a difference. Here are my top tips for how to begin:

1. Count your food miles
What you eat and where you buy it affects global emissions. Pollution from transport is the fastest growing source of carbon dioxide emissions, so it is madness to fly out-of-season vegetables across the world to supermarkets. Supermarket treatment of British food is also absurd; centralised distribution means food is taken miles by lorry to another area, often returning back to the starting point. We should lobby supermarkets for a system of classifying food according to the distance travelled: 0 for local food, 1 for British, 2 for Europe, and 3 for intercontinental. Better still, we should shop at farmers' markets. Local growers get more money: less transportation means less pollution. Ideally, says Sustain, "You should also buy organic, not just for health reasons but because it is sustainably produced. It avoids conventional pesticides which are petro-chemically based, and it uses more human labour which is renewable energy."

2. Airmiles: no smiles
By 2020, there will be 1.56bn tourists, double the current numbers. We should think about the impact of our own journeys. Are there alternatives to flying? Could we manage without hiring a car? How can we conserve energy in our host country (other than sleeping by the pool all day)? The Association of British Travel Agents found 85% of British tourists on package holidays believe it is important not to damage the environment. But the vast majority don't do anything: only 18% said they switched off air-conditioning in hotels to save energy, only 17% said they ask for towels not to be washed daily.

3. Recycle your newspaper
Use the recycling bin. Astonishingly, the UK still only recycles between 8% and 9% of everything that can be recycled. Newspapers, magazines and notepaper make up 30% of household rubbish. Waste disposal is a major contributor to greenhouse gasses. Even better, avoid buying things you don't really want, and shun unnecessary packaging. What better time to start than in the run-up to Christmas. "Making things to throw away uses up natural resources and wastes energy," says the Women's Environmental Network, "only buy what you need. Buy goods that are durable, that have components which can be re-used or recycled."

4. Turn off anything that winks at you
A video recorder on standby uses almost as much electricity as one playing a tape. Small changes in small habits make big differences. Turning down the thermostat by one degree, not leaving TV and music centres on standby, turning off lights, putting lids on cooking pots, and only half-filling kettles can cut energy consumption by 30%, saving you money as well as saving the planet, as they used to say in more innocent times.

5. Buy your electricity at the windfarm
This is one the door-to-door power sales sharks won't offer you, but you can buy green energy if you ask. Many suppliers now offer it. For some suppliers it means investing in the development of renewable energy technology, such as wind power. Others pledge to use energy from existing renewable energy supplies, putting into their supplies green electricity to match the amount used by green consumers. Future Energy runs an accreditation scheme to check suppliers are as green as they claim. Friends of the Earth will soon publish a green league table so you can compare suppliers. So far only 16,000 have signed up, significantly less than in green-conscious Germany and Holland. If 1m chose green energy in the UK, 5% of our power supplies would be renewable, considerably reducing harmful emissions.

6. Do the obvious: lag the loft
We all know about saving energy in the home, don't we? In reality only 1.4% of the population has bought energy-efficient white goods such as dishwashers or washing machines even though 50% claim they have, according to a survey by WWF and Energy Saving Trust released today. One quarter of the UK's overall carbon dioxide emissions come from our homes but less has been done to reduce pollution from this area than any other. Each house emits six tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, more than the average car. Simple improvements, such as lagging the loft, fitting double-glazing and using low-energy light bulbs make a huge difference. People know about these but are surprisingly ignorant about other things they can do. When you buy new appliances, look for the European Union eco-symbol: energy-efficient appliances use 25% less energy than ordinary ones.

7. Let the worms do the work
Half of all our waste is biodegradable. Buy a kitchen compost bin; it can save as much as a ton of rubbish per household per year. You can even help the process. Women's Environmental Network's home composting guide says: "Wee on it - the nitrogen accelerates the process." To take this to its logical conclusion, arrange a natural burial for yourself or a loved one. Green Burials offers the woodland coffin which comes flat packed and can be assembled in 10 minutes. It is ideal for a woodland burial.

8. Leave the rainforest where it is
Check all wooden furniture and timber comes from sustainable sources. Rainforests may not be the fashionable symbolic cause they once were, but they are still the planet's lungs. Their products pop up all over the place. WWF says the only guarantee that timber comes from forests which are socially and environmentally well-managed is Forestry Stewardship Council approval. Only buy wood with the FSC symbol.

9. Just stop using petrol
Yes you can, and the car industry may (eventually) help you. Hydrogen-powered cars are loved by car designers and could become a reality in about 10 years. Meanwhile, consider converting to liquified petroleum gas (LPG). You won't be alone: a new pump for this is opening every day. Visit the Powershift website to find out how. Meanwhile, you can cut down on conventional petrol use just by changing driving habits - the one positive lesson that can be learned from the fuel protests: no rapid acceleration, lower speeds, keeping tires at the right pressure. Join the Environmental Transport Association. It offers all the services of the AA and RAC, but is not part of the road lobby.

10. Well, you can always walk
Or cycle. The majority of car journeys are less than five miles and, honestly, once you've stepped out, you'll find it's really not that bad. The only energy used is your own and that's healthy. You only have to look at the collective girths of the people's fuel lobby to know this makes sense.

These changes will save you money which you should invest in an ethical saving account. They are profitable and they put the pressure on business to clean up its act.  

Source: The Guardian Website - Author:  Ros Coward