Responding to Climate change: What can I do?

Responding to Climate change: What can I do?

In our recent series on A Christian Response to Climate Change we began to explore how we can be part of the solution in caring for God’s creation.  Over the series, a number of people suggested that we build a bank of ideas for things we can do.  This post focuses on what each of us can do to be good stewards of God’s beautiful creation. 

In week 2, we looked at some things we can do as individuals that will reduce our carbon footprint. 

This post offers three things each of us can do to be part of the solution. The great thing about these three, they save you money not cost you money. What are they? Well, according to the experts here they are: 

  1. Reduce Food Waste
  2. Fight Fashion Waste
  3. Conserve Energy

We are putting together a Wellington Square Green Team—a group that will work to help our church develop actions we can take together. If you’re interested in the green team, contact the office at office@wsquare.ca and expect notice of a meeting soon.

 

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1. Reduce Food Waste

In Canada, almost 50% of food goes to waste. Food waste in landfill is a major source of methane—a potent greenhouse gas. We need to reduce that. If we cut that to 0, we could ensure no one goes hungry. We could turn more land into forest.

Food waste comes from three sources: 

  • spoiled food that never comes to market—this occurs because market conditions sometimes make it unprofitable for the grower
  • food that gets damaged in transit—this food just disappears into waste.
  • Food we buy but do not consume—either because it goes bad, or it is wasted leftover.

What can we do about this? 

God calls on Christians to be good stewards.  Good stewards don’t waste things.

Buy “ugly food”.  Some grocery stores and certainly markets are now selling seconds or short “best before” foods. Often these are cheaper. Buy those and use them right away. 

Go to market. Shopping at the market allows growers to benefit directly from their crops and can allow you to find the food that might not look good on store shelves. Bonus, it’s fresher. 

Plan your menu.  We know that at our house when there’s a menu plan before grocery shopping we are more efficient at the store, we buy only what we need, and we can plan to use whatever is left from the previous shop in the next meals. If you have trouble planning—and we do when life gets busy—buy fewer groceries at a time. Buying less at a time offers a good way to ensure we use what we buy. 

Support food programs.  Burlington Food Bank, Second Harvest and Feed-it-Forward are programs that actively make use of food that would otherwise be wasted to support those who are struggling with food insecurity.

Plant a garden.  As I write this, gardening season is coming to an end, but it’s always good to plan for next year. If you have space and sunshine, consider growing some of your favourite veggies. It’s rewarding to have your own crop. Nothing is fresher. And it’s virtually free.

The graphic below comes from the Food Matters Action Kit.  It shows the climate impact of North American food waste.  

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2. Fight Fashion Waste

“See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these.” Matthew 6:28-29

According to Bloomberg News, Americans throw away the equivalent of 70 pairs of pants per person in waste from clothes and footwear.  Canadians are not far behind. All told, North Americans send 10 million tonnes of clothes to landfill every year.  What’s worse, more than 95% of that waste is reusable or recyclable. 

Why does clothing matter? 

Consider these stats:

  • According to TruEarth, globally, the textile industry accounts for 10% of the global carbon impact; that’s One Trillion killowatt hours of energy every year.  That’s 15x the power generated by Niagara Falls (Canadian and American hydro facilities combined). 
  • Also from TruEarth, the fashion industry uses 79 million cubic metres of freshwater every year. And that number is predicted to rise. To bring that home, manufacturing a single T-shirt requires 27 bathtubs full of water, or about 2700 litres.  Some companies are committing to lower their footprint, but this is still the exception not the rule. Demand for water is expected to outstrip available clean water supply by 2030, so gaining control over water use is important for climate and for people. 
  • Many of our clothes contain blended fabrics (like poly-cottons) or synthetics. Synthetics are oil products, just like all plastics. And like all plastics, they do not biodegrade. They do allow clothes to have a bit of stretch. When we wash synthetics and blends, they give off microfibres. These microfibres can travel through the wastewater stream and get into the environment, where they are consumed by aquatic species. Eventually, they make their way back and into us too! On average, we consume 13,000 microfibers every year. These are known carcinogens (in people and other organisms). Maybe that’s why Leviticus 19:19 says, “Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.”

What can I do?

Wear clothes out. Get a zipper repaired. Sew on a patch. For the fashionistas among us, it can be hard to push clothes through an extra season or two. But, if each of us makes each item of clothing last 50% longer, then we could put a significant dent in our global impact. 

Wash clothes less. If we can get more wear between washes, clothes will last longer and we will not use as much water. And if we also hang them to dry they will last much longer. 

Pass them on. Organizations like Salvation Army and Compassion Society run thrift stores that welcome good quality clothing that you’re done with. This contributes to a circular economy—keeping goods in motion for as long as possible. Helpful Hint: donate clothes appropriate for the upcoming season. (e.g. donate winter clothes in October and November). Most facilities do not have storage to hold things across the seasons. 

Invest in microfibre collection. If you wear blends and synthetics, use the money you’re saving by wearing clothes longer to invest in something to catch the microfibres before they enter the waste stream. There are two kinds of products to keep those out of the waste stream.  The first is an external filter that gets installed in the out stream from your washing machine. It is more complex to install, but probably more effective. The second is a bag or ball that you can put directly in with the clothes. Both types of filter need to be cleaned and the waste needs to be put into the garbage (not down the drain). This article from the New York Times offers some useful guidance. 

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3. Conserve Energy

At the moment, Ontario’s energy supply is largely green as can be seen in the figure at right. However, the provincial government has said that it will use Natural Gas to meet the increased needs expected by 2030. That increase is expected both because our nuclear facilities are aging, and because demands on electricity will increase (including for things like electrified rail and electric cars).  

Fortunately, recent economic assessments show that it is now cheaper to build wind and solar with storage than it is to build or operate expensive gas plants. We just need the government to catch up with the new reality before they start to waste tax dollars in old dirty energy. 

So, if we do our parts to conserve energy, we are more likely to give the government time to catch up—as long as we also keep the pressure on government (but for that, wait for another post. This one is about what we can do as individuals.) 

What can I do?

Start with these relatively easy things: 

  • change to LED lightbulbs
  • hang laundry to dry
  • cut “phantom power”. Almost any device that “sleeps” rather than gets turned off (computer, TV, stereo, or other device that starts with a remote) uses more energy while “off” than it does in use.  So making use of power bars that allow for a hard “shut off” will save energy (and money!) and only take a split second longer to start. 

Housing makes up a large part of our carbon footprint in Burlington. If you are a homeowner, consider getting an energy audit. This will provide an objective means to determine what you can do in your home to improve your energy efficiency.  If, like most people in Ontario these days, you heat your home with natural gas, finding out the flaws in the system could save you money too. 

Below is the Pyramid of Energy Efficiency that I received from Stephen Collette who works with the United Church of Canada’s Faithful Footprints program.  He says that “when starting out, ALWAYS focus on the bottom and work your way up. This makes your $ investment gain the best bang for your buck.”  You can learn more at Stephen’s  company website that is full of great ideas and information. 

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