KN Green Week: Climate change and the individual: Where to begin… by starting to ask the right questions

3 May 2019

Emily Carter is lawyer living in central London with two small children. Although she knows a thing or two about the law, she is not an expert in the science of climate change or the answers to the current crisis. She has, however, been asking herself some questions…

The starting point for any conversation about environmental sustainability is clear. Our climate is changing, increasingly rapidly. Humans are responsible for this change. And the changes to the climate impact upon us all - irrespective of where we live and the way we live. And finally, as recently explained by Greta Thunberg with great clarity, time is running out to manage these changes in a way which protects our futures. The International Panel on Climate Change reported last October 2018 that we have only 12 years before an unsustainable 2 degree rise in global temperature becomes inevitable, with consequences which range from extraordinarily challenging to catastrophic.

Ignoring the issue is no longer an option. But where do we even begin? I wish to add my voice to those of the hundreds of thousands of students who have joined protests across 100 countries to point out the blindingly obvious: governments should be taking direct, immediate and decisive action on carbon emissions.

But what changes should I make to my own life? What concerns me, given the scale of the issue, is whether anything I can do makes any difference. There is a lot of information available concerning the environmental impact of what we buy and what we throw away, with new scientific and technological developments all the time. The information available is not always consistent or easy to follow. With the US President issuing an Earth Day message which fails to even mention climate change, it is clear that not all information can be trusted, and there are plenty of vested interests in the debate.

The answer, I believe, is to start asking some very basic questions when you are standing in a shop, browsing the internet or making decisions about big purchases.

  • How long will I use it?  How long will it last?
  • What will happen to it when I no longer need it, want it or can use it?
  • What is it made from? How was it made?
  • Where was it made? How far has it travelled? Could I find one which has not travelled so far?
  • Where will it be in one year's time? In five years' time? In ten years' time?
  • Do I even a need a new one? Could I borrow one? Rent one? Buy a second hand one?
  • And most importantly, taking into account all of the above, do I really need it? Do I really even still want it?

You will find that some of these questions apply to most of what you consume, whether avocados, cars or coffee cups. And there are variations of these questions which can apply to all other areas of your life including your energy provider, your transport decisions and your financial investments.

If you cannot easily find out the answers, then it is time for all of us to start asking those who can and should know.

And do these day to day decisions make a difference? As consumers, our decisions are immensely powerful. By changing the way that we approach what we buy and what we throw away, and by letting those who supply us with our day to day goods and services that their answers to the questions above affect the decisions we make, change will follow.

And can an individual change the world? You only need to look at Greta Thunberg to answer that question.

Over the next week, we will be publishing blogs on four topics questioning the decisions we make on a day to day basis – about food, packaging and clothing. Finally, as lawyers, we could not resist writing about the potential of the law in holding governments to account.

KN Green Week blogs:

  1. Tuesday 7 May - Eating the Environment Better
  2. Wednesday 8 May - Plastic Packaging – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
  3. Thursday 9 May - Confessions of a (mostly) reformed ‘Shopaholic’
  4. Friday 10 May - Can law help save the world?

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We welcome views and opinions about the issues raised in this blog. Should you require specific advice in relation to personal circumstances, please use the form on the contact page.

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