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Ten simple ways to act on climate change

In a new report published in September 2018, the world’s leading climate scientists made their starkest warning so far: our current actions are not enough for us to meet our target of 1.5C of warming. We need to do more.


It’s settled science that climate change is real, and we’re starting to see some of the ways that it affects us. It increases the likelihood of flooding in Miami and elsewhere, threatens the millions of people living along the Brahmaputra River in north-eastern India and disrupts the sex life of plants and animals.

如今,地球气候变暖已是不争的科学事实,对人类生活的影响已经显而易见:地球气候暖化增加了迈阿密(Miami)以及其他地方洪水泛滥的概率,威胁着南亚的布拉马普特拉河(Brahmaputra River,中国境内的上游称雅鲁藏布江)沿岸数百万居民的生活,并且扰乱了动植物的生命繁衍。

So we don’t need to ask whether climate change is happening – or whether humans are causing it. Instead, we need to ask: “what can we do?”


What can you do that will have the biggest impact? Here’s our guide.


1. What is the single most important thing humanity has to do in the coming years – and what does that mean for me?

1. 未来几年对人类而言的首要任务是什么,而它对我个人意味着什么?

The number one goal? Limiting the use of fossil fuels such as oil, carbon and natural gas and replacing them with renewable and cleaner sources of energy, all while increasing energy efficiency. “We need to cut CO2 emissions almost in half (45%) by the end of the next decade,” says Kimberly Nicholas, associate professor of sustainability science at the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS), in Sweden.

首要的任务?限制石油、煤炭和天然气等化石燃料的使用,并且改用更清洁的可再生能源,同时提升能源的功效。瑞典隆德大学可持续发展研究中心(Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies, LUSUS)副教授尼古拉斯(Kimberly Nicholas)说:“我们需要在下一个十年内将二氧化碳气体排放量减少近一半(45%)。”

The road towards that transition includes daily decisions within your reach – like driving and flying less, switching to a ‘green’ energy provider and changing what you eat and buy.


Of course, it’s true that climate change won’t be solved by your buying or driving habits alone – although many experts agree these are important, and can influence others to make changes too (more on that later). Other changes are needed that can only be made on a bigger, system-wide basis – like revamping our subsidy system for the energy and food industries, which continue to reward fossil fuels, or setting new rules and incentives for sectors like farming, deforestation and waste management.


One good example of the importance of this regards refrigerants. An advocacy group of researchers, business-people and NGOs called Drawdown found that getting rid of HFCs (chemicals used in fridges and air conditioning)  was the number-one most effective policy to reduce emissions. That’s because they are up to 9,000 more warming for the atmosphere than CO2. The good news is that we have made global progress on this, and two years ago 170 countries agreed to start phasing out HFCs in 2019.

制冷剂是是体现上述做法重要性的一个很好的例子。 一个由研究员、商人以及非政府组织组成的名为“节能减排”(Drawdown)的倡议团体发现,放弃使用氢氟碳化物(HFCs,一种用于冰箱以及空调的化学物质)是减少碳排放的最有效方法,此类物质对大气层的影响比二氧化碳严重9000倍。好消息是我们在这方面取得了全球性的进展,两年前,170个国家同意在2019年开始逐步淘汰氢氟碳化物。

This is important because we need “unprecedented changes in all aspects of society to deal with climate change, says the IPCC report. “Everyone is going to have to be involved," says Debra Robert, co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the group tasked with the report.

联合国下面的一个跨政府组织“政府间气候变化专门委员会”(IPCC)的报告指出,这事非常重要,因为我们需要“在社会的各个方面进行前所未有的改变,以应对气候变化。”负责该报告的IPCC联合主席罗伯特(Debra Robert)说道:“所有人都必须参与进来。”

2. Changing how industries are run or subsidised doesn’t sound like anything I can influence... can I?

2. 改变产业运营和补贴方式听上去不像是我个人能影响的。我真的可以起到作用吗?

You can. Individuals need to exercise their rights both as citizens and as consumers, Robert and other experts say, putting pressure on their governments and on companies to make the system-wide changes that are needed.


Another way, increasingly undertaken by universities, faith groups and recently even at a countrywide level, is to ‘divest’ funds out of polluting activities – such as avoiding stocks in fossil fuels, or banks that invest in high-emission industries. By getting rid of financial instruments related to the fossil fuel industry, organisations can both take climate action and reap economic benefits.


3. Other than that, what’s the best daily action I can take?

3. 除了上述方法,我个人在日常生活中可以采取哪些最有效的行动?

One 2017 study co-authored by Lund University’s Nicholas ranked 148 individual actions on climate change according to their impact. Going car-free was the number-one most effective action an individual could take (except not having kids – but more on that on that later). Cars are more polluting compared to other means of transportation like walking, biking or using public transport.


In industrialised countries such as European nations, getting rid of your car can reduce 2.5 tonnes of CO2 – about one-fourth of the average yearly emissions (9.2 tonnes) contributed by each person in developed countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

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在诸如欧洲等工业化国家,如果取消私家车可以减少2.5吨二氧化碳排放——这几乎是经济合作与发展组织(Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development,OECD,简称经合组织)中发达国家人均每年排放量(9.2吨)的四分之一。

“We should choose more efficient vehicles and, whenever possible, switch directly to electric vehicles,” says Maria Virginia Vilarino, co-author of the mitigation chapter in the IPCC’s latest report.

政府间气候变化专门委员会最新报告中关于减排这一章的联合作者维拉尼诺(Maria Virginia Vilarino)称:“我们都应该选择能效更高的交通工具,只要有可能,就直接转用电动车。”

4. But isn’t renewable energy extremely expensive?

4. 但可再生能源不是很贵吗?

Actually, renewables like wind and solar are becoming increasingly cheap across the world (although final costs are subject to local circumstances). The latest report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) found that several of the most commonly used renewables, like solar, geothermal, bioenergy, hydropower and onshore wind, will be on par with or cheaper than fossil fuels by 2020. Some are already more cost-effective.

实际上,世界各地的风能、太阳能等可再生能源的价格已变得越来越低(虽然最终成本取决于当地情况)。国际可再生能源机构(International Renewable Energy Agency,IRENA)的最新报告显示,到2020年,太阳能、地热、生物能、水力发电、陆地风力发电等最为常用的几种可再生能源的价格都将与化石燃料价格齐平或更低。其中一部分的性价比已经高过化石燃料。

The cost of utility-scale solar panels has fallen 73% since 2010, for example, making solar energy the cheapest source of electricity for many households in Latin America, Asia and Africa. In the UK, onshore wind and solar are competitive with gas and by 2025 will be the cheapest source of electricity generation.


Some critics argue that these prices disregard the price of integrating renewables on the electricity system – but recent evidence suggests these costs are ‘modest’ and manageable for the grid.


5. Could I make a difference by changing my diet?

5. 改变我的饮食习惯有用吗?

That’s a big one, too. In fact, after fossil fuels, the food industry – and in particular the meat and dairy sector – is one of the most important contributors to climate change. If cattle were their own nation, they would be the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China and the US.


The meat industry contributes to global warming in three major ways. Firstly, cows’ burping from processing food releases lots of methane, a greenhouse gas. Secondly, we feed them with other potential sources of food, like maize and soy, which makes for a very inefficient process. And finally, they also require lots of water, fertilisers that can release greenhouse gases, and plenty of land – some of which come from cleared forests, another source of carbon emissions.


You don’t have to go vegetarian or vegan to make a difference: cut down gradually and become a ‘flexitarian’. By reducing your consumption of animal protein by half, you can cut your diet's carbon footprint by more than 40%. A larger-scale approach could be something like banning meat across an organisation, as office-sharing company WeWork did in 2018.


This explainer of sustainable diets by the World Resources Institute (WIR) and its longer associated report provides more answers to questions about food and carbon emissions.

由世界资源研究所(World Resources Institute, WIR)所著关于可持续饮食的指南及其更为详尽的关联报告中提供了更多有关食物以及碳排放的答案。

6. How harmful are my flying habits?

6. 我的飞行习惯会造成多大危害?

Planes run on fossil fuels, and we haven’t figured out a scaleable alternative. Although some early efforts to use solar panels to fly around the world have had success, we are still decades away from commercial flights running on solar energy.


A normal transatlantic round-trip flight can release around 1.6 tonnes of CO2, according to Nicholas’s study – almost as much as the average yearly emissions of one person in India. This also highlights the inequality of climate change: while everyone will be affected, only a minority of humans fly and even fewer people take planes often.


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There are groups of scientists and members of the public who have decided to give up flying or who fly less. Virtual meetings, holidaying in local destinations or using trains instead of planes all are ways to cut down.


Wondering how much your travel contributes to climate change? Measure your carbon emissions in this calculator by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

想知道你每次的旅途会对气候变化产生多少影响吗? 可以使用这个由加州大学伯克利分校(University of California, Berkeley)的研究人员制作的计算器计量你的碳排放。

7. Should I be shopping differently?

7. 我应该改变我的购物方式吗?

Most likely. That’s because everything we buy has a carbon footprint, either in the way it is produced or in how it is transported.


For instance, the clothing sector represents around 3% of the world’s global production emissions of CO2, mostly because of the use of energy to produce attire. The hectic pace of fast fashion contributes to this figure as clothes are discarded or fall apart after short periods.


International transport, including maritime and air shipping, also has an impact. Groceries shipped from Chile and Australia to Europe, or the other way around, have more ‘food miles’ and usually a higher footprint than local produce. But this is not always the case, as some countries grow out-of-season crops in energy-intensive greenhouses – so the best approach is to eat food that is both locally grown and seasonal. Even so, eating vegetarian still beats only purchasing local.


8. Should I think about how many children I have (or don’t have)?

8. 我是否应该考虑养多少个(或不养)小孩?

Nicholas’s study concluded that having fewer children is the best way to reduce your contribution to climate change, with almost 60 tonnes of CO2 avoided per year. But this result has been contentious – and it leads to other questions.


One is whether you are responsible for children’s climate emissions, and the other is where are these babies born.


If you are responsible for your kids’ emissions, are your parents responsible for yours? And if you are not, how should we consider the fact that more people will likely have more carbon emissions? We also could ask whether having offspring is a human right beyond questioning. And we could ask if having children is necessarily a bad thing for solving climate change: our challenges may mean we will need more problem-solvers in future generations, not fewer.


Those are hard, philosophical questions – and we’re not going to try to answer them here.


What we do know is that no two people have the same emissions. Although the average human releases around 5 tonnes of CO2 per year, each country has very different circumstances: developed nations like the US and South Korea have higher national averages (16.5 tonnes and 11.5 tonnes per person, respectively) than developing countries like Pakistan and Philippines (around 1 tonne each). Even within national borders, richer people have higher emissions than people with less access to goods and services. So if you choose to take this question into account, you have to remember that it’s not just about how many children you have – it’s where (and who) you are.

我们确切知道的是,每个人的碳排放量都不一样。虽然平均每个人每年释放5吨二氧化碳,但是每个国家的情况都各不相同:美国与韩国等发达国家便拥有更高的平均国民排放水平(美国:人均16.5吨;韩国:人均11.5吨)。而巴基斯坦与菲律宾等发展中国家的平均国民排放水平则较低(两国人均各约1吨)。 即使在同一国家内,富人也比那些食物和服务来之不易的人占有更多碳排放量。考虑这方面后,你应该明白,碳排放的高低不仅在于你有多少孩子,还在与你(是谁)及生活在何处。

9. But if I eat less meat or take fewer flights, that’s just me – how much of a difference can that really make?

9. 如果只有我一个人少吃肉、少搭飞机,这能对现实产生多少影响呢?

Actually, it’s not just you. Social scientists have found that when one person makes a sustainability-oriented decision, other people do too.


Here are four examples:


Patrons at a US cafe who were told that 30% of Americans had started eating less meat were twice as likely to order a meatless lunch.


An online survey showed that of the respondents who know someone who had given up flying because of climate change, half of them said they flew less as a result.


In California, households were more likely to install solar panels in neighbourhoods that already have them.


Community organisers trying to get people to install solar panels were 62% more successful in their efforts if they had panels in their house too.


Social scientists believe this occurs because we constantly evaluate what our peers are doing and we adjust our beliefs and actions accordingly. When people see their neighbours taking environmental action, like conserving energy, they infer that people like them also value sustainability and feel more compelled to act.


10. What if I just can’t avoid that flight, or cut down on driving?

10. 如果我无可避免地要乘坐那班飞机,或无法减少驾车次数,那我可以做什么呢?

If you simply can’t make every change that’s needed, consider offsetting your emissions with a trusted green project – not a ‘get out of jail free card’, but another resource in your toolbox to compensate that unavoidable flight or car trip. The UN Climate Convention keeps a portfolio of dozens of projects around the world you can contribute to. To find out how many emissions you need to ‘buy’ back, you can use its handy carbon footprint calculator.

如果你就是无法作出必要的改变,可以考虑通过一个绿色基金项目来对冲你所产生的气体排放——这不是“免死金牌”,而是一种你用于弥补那些无法避免的飞行和用车的碳排放。联合国气候大会(The UN Climate Convention)有一系列世界范围内的项目可供你选择作为对冲。要计算你需要买“回”多少碳排放量,可以使用联合国碳补偿平台的碳足迹计算器来计算。

Whether you are a coffee farmer in Colombia or a homeowner in California, climate change will have an impact on your life. But the opposite is also true: your actions will influence the planet for the coming decades – for better or for worse.




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