Likewise, in Phuket, we are suffering from haze, water shortages, floods and the spread of diseases like dengue. These are all at least partially attributable to climate change.
In October 2018, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report that says we have until 2030 to act before the effects of climate change become permanent. The picture of the future that it paints is not bright. According to the report, increases in hurricanes, floods, fires and droughts, which we are already seeing, will lead to massive migrations, food shortages and animal extinctions.
The scope of the problem seems so big that it can leave you feeling hopeless, helpless, anxious and depressed. However, the problem of climate change is not intractable and there are solutions.
The good news is that promising new technologies such as direct air capture, which removes CO2 from the ambient air, combined with renewable energy make it possible to avoid the harshest effects of climate change. The bad news is that there is so much political infighting that many of the worst offenders, such as the United States and China, are doing little to truly address the issues.
You might think that climate change is somebody else’s problem, but if you eat food, use electricity, drive a car or fly in an aeroplane, then you are as much a part of the problem as anybody else. Fortunately, you can also be part of the solution.
The latest IPCC report is a wake-up call and the message is clear. We all need to change our behaviour. Here are 15 things that you can do in your daily life to help prevent climate change from getting worse.
1. Write to your government representative and demand change
Although personal responsibility is important, systemic change is the only way that we will successfully solve this problem, which means holding our governments accountable. If you are from the US, you can go to www.citizensclimatelobby.org and click on “Write Your Representative.” After entering your address, you will find pre-written letters to send to your representative. If you are not from the US, you can go to www.global-greenhouse-warming.com/climate-change-letter. html and use their pre-written letters to send to the government representative in your country.
2. Support companies that are actively fighting climate change
Unilever is one of the largest consumer products companies in the world and owns brands like Ben & Jerry’s and Dove. To reduce their CO2 footprint, they are purchasing more renewable energy and working with farmers to ensure their practices are more sustainable. Other companies that are doing the same include Apple, Facebook, Google, Ikea, Microsoft, Tesla and Patagonia. HowGood.com has a database with over a million food products that can help users make more sustainable choices.
3. Sign a petition
You can sign the “Declare Climate Emergency and make Thailand use 100% renewable energy by 2040” petition here. While petitions alone won’t work, when combined with other tools such as direct protest, conscientious consumerism, social media and rallies, they can be an effective tool as they raise awareness of the issue.
4. Have one child or even opt to have no children
While this is likely to be met with controversy, according to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Global Environmental Change, if you reduce your family size by just one child, you are saving 58.6 tons of CO2 per year. This is calculated by using the carbon output of your child as well as your child’s children. Consider whether you want to have children or not. If you are on the fence at all, realise that most studies show that children don’t generally lead to higher levels of happiness. If you do decide to have children or wish to have more than one child, consider adoption as an option rather than having your own.
5. Buy carbon offsets
This works by donating to organisations that are working on projects to reduce carbon emissions. This could mean planting trees, putting up solar panels and wind farms or installing equipment to reduce methane gas in landfills. Most sites even have a carbon calculator to help you figure out how big your footprint is. To find out more, go to sustainabletravel.org, terrapass.com, nativeenergy.com or conservationfund.org
6. Fly less
Flying is one of the worst contributors to climate change; one return long haul flight can emit as much CO2 as some people do in an entire year. Some solutions are to take holidays closer to home rather than going abroad, drive or take the bus or train when possible. If you must fly, book direct flights rather than multiple flights since the majority of the fuel is used during takeoff, and make sure to buy carbon offsets to reduce your footprint. To offset a round trip flight from Phuket to London costs around B2,700.
7. Drive less
In Phuket where public transportation isn’t great, this isn’t always an option. But you can reduce the amount of driving by carpooling. You can also make sure to keep your car or motorbike tuned up and buy a fuel-efficient car rather than a gas-guzzling SUV. As mentioned above, you can also buy carbon offsets to balance out the kilometres you drive. Go to CarbonFootPrint.com to calculate your annual emissions and fund projects to offset them.
8. Eat less meat and dairy
In addition to creating CO2 gases, meat production uses a lot of water and pollutes the ocean, and consuming too much meat can lead to the three main killers: heart disease, cancer and diabetes. While you don’t have to go 100% vegan, going meat- and dairy-free a few days per week can make a huge impact. Not only is it good for the planet but eating a plant-based diet is better for your health and will reduce animal cruelty.
9. Compost your organic waste
You might think that throwing your waste into a bin is enough, but this will end up in a landfill where it slowly releases CO2 and methane into the air. If you have a garden or grow herbs and plants, this will save you from having to buy fertiliser. For classes on composting, you can go to Phuket Farmers Club or there are plenty of videos on YouTube on how to set up a compost bin for your house or apartment.
10. Reduce your consumption
Everything that you buy has a carbon footprint, whether it’s your car, your computer, your clothes, your TV or your tennis racket. If we’re honest with ourselves, many of these things we can do without. Other things we can buy used and be just as happy with while saving money and reducing our carbon footprint. There are several secondhand shops in Phuket, including Good Shepherd Phuket’s Second Hand Store & Crafts Shop, Second Hand Shop Phuket and Japan 2hand Phuket.
11. Buy your fruits and vegetables locally
If you go to certain supermarkets, you will notice that some of the fruits and vegetables come from Chile, the US, Australia and New Zealand, not to mention that they are wrapped in copious amounts of plastic. The costs to buy these may not be high in terms of baht, but in terms of carbon footprint, they are sky high. When you can, buy your fruits and vegetables from the night markets, Phuket Farmers Club or from another local source.
There are lots of ways to volunteer online or locally with organisations that are working toward a cleaner environment. One is globalgoals.org which has 17 goals for a sustainable future and several projects that you can help with. Another is Earth5r.org which works toward building zero waste communities. There are also plenty of beach clean-ups organised around the island, including by Trash Hero Phuket and Clean The Beach Bootcamp. Follow the links to find out when the next clean-up is.
13. Build or remodel your home with renewable energy
Renewable energy is in growing demand around Thailand, especially hydroelectric. The current goal is for the country to get 30% of its energy from renewable sources by 2036. If you would like to speed things up, you can buy solar or wind energy systems at Solaris.co.th
14. Donate to non-profits who are trying to save the rainforests
These are the lungs of our planet but are being destroyed in favour of palm oil, cattle and soybeans. My favourite group is the Rainforest Action Network.
15. Use Ecosia.org as your search engine
This company plants a tree for every 45 searches you make on the internet. It works the same way that Google does, but when they get paid for their ads they use the money to plant trees in deforested areas of the world. They claim to respect user privacy by not selling your data and don’t use trackers. To use Ecosia, go to their website and add their extension on Chrome or download their mobile app.
Even though climate change may seem impossible to solve, it’s not. New technology, combined with systemic changes, renewable energy and collective action, can stave off the worst effects of it. None of us is powerless. You can make a difference daily with a few changes to your lifestyle and mindset.
Palmer Owyoung is an environmental activist working with the Kamala Green Club and the Asia Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) to keep Phuket beautiful and clean.