Whilst we await government figures for the nation’s 2020 carbon footprint, the word is that it dropped significantly due to the Coronavirus.
The WWF’s study of 300,000 footprints concludes that Britons cut their footprint by 17% between February 2019 and October 2020. Covid certainly played an important part with most of us massively reducing our transport, holidays and entertainment spending.
Whilst the pandemic presented big challenges and some were impacted more than others, there were also silver linings. Many found their lives were simplified, with the opportunity to question old priorities and notice that in some areas of life we get more satisfaction from going slower, doing less, and spending more time in nature, to name a few.
So let’s consider the lessons we can take from Covid to improve our quality of life in the years to come. Could the kinds of activities that raise wellbeing contribute to saving CO2? Is it possible that higher quality lives have smaller carbon footprints? And that, sometimes, doing less, and having less, gives us more?
I started cutting my footprint 25 years ago, mostly out of a sense of guilt and responsibility. My efforts included maximising car-free days, buying muddy vegetables from the local market garden and spending more money on high quality tools purported to have greater lifespans (and therefore smaller footprints).
It was several years before I noticed an astonishing pattern: almost every action I took to reduce my carbon footprint improved my quality of life. For example, when I looked back on my week the brightest, shiniest days in my memory were often the ones when I didn’t get into my car. I realised that the endorphins generated by walking or cycling to work or to the shops made me feel more alive, raised my mood, and I saw more wildlife which made it a more enjoyable day.
During lockdown people have reported similar benefits from the restrictions: a certain relief in not having to get in their cars every day, making more of their local area, whether for walks or for errands. Less traffic meant more wildlife, and people delighted in seeing woodland creatures getting bolder and crossing gardens, parking lots and lanes, as well as brighter stars from lower light pollution.
We recognise these benefits, and yet we also want our freedom back. But do we want the old normal, or would we prefer a new normal that includes some of the better ways of life we have found? How can we create a new normal in which we live more the way we want?
Following the success of a carbon footprint calculator I wrote for Resurgence magazine in 2002, I developed a ‘quality of life calculator’ to help people assess their own lives. Through gathering results from workshop audiences another amazing pattern emerged. Most of the choices people want to make to raise their quality of life would reduce their carbon footprint.
And what actions do people want to take to increase their quality of life? They are usually along the lines of: spend more time with my partner / children/ family / friends; spend more time in nature / the garden / walking the dog. Spend more time doing art / music / creative writing or similar activities. Perhaps these very things helped keep us sane during lockdown! And perhaps the biggest hardship was being prevented from seeing our nearests and dearests.
My conclusion from the quality of life assessments was that not only does reducing your carbon footprint improve quality of life, but genuinely improving your quality of life in the long run, reduces your carbon footprint. Whichever way you approach it, one leads to the other. It is my hope that the lockdowns of the last year can help us see this link, and give us a chance to reconsider what gives us most satisfaction in life.
Looking to the future I don’t see the move to avert climate change as being about making sacrifices for the planet and future generations. To me, getting in harmony with the planet is actually all about getting in harmony with ourselves and living the lives we really want. It’s about natural boundaries which, just like Covid, put restrictions on us, helping us remember that the things in life giving us the most satisfaction - like family and relationships, meaningful work and time in nature - are good for the planet too.
In response to the accelerating threat of global environmental catastrophe, Mukti Mitchell has joined up with leading green thinkers to present the landmark new Carbon Ambassadors course, sharing simple tools everyone can use to reduce their carbon footprint and improve their quality of life.
Running from Friday 28 May to Friday 9 July, the seven-week course, held in association with Carbon Savvy and the Resurgence Trust (the educational charity extending the work of Resurgence & Ecologist magazine) - and featuring guest speakers Satish Kumar, Penney Poyzer and Peter Owen Jones - will teach how to reduce emissions in all key areas of life, including food, shopping, transport, heating your home, and holidays and travel.
Mukti Mitchell says: “David Attenborough, Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg have all powerfully highlighted the United Nations’ warning that unless we radically cut global CO2 emissions by 2030, we’ll be unable to prevent run-away global warming which could jeopardise the capacity for our youth and future generations to survive on our beautiful planet.
“While many of us look to the world’s governments to sort out the problem, almost all CO2 emissions are actually produced by the products and services bought by us as individuals, so it’s up to each one of us to play our part. Many people fear that making the necessary lifestyle changes will cost too much and reduce their quality of life, when actually the opposite is true. Our new Carbon Ambassadors course will give people the knowledge and tools to not only cut their carbon footprint, but also to lead happier, healthier lives and save money in the process.”
Designed for councillors on climate change committees, sustainability managers for businesses, teachers, MPs, and anyone wanting to make decisions and communicate about carbon reductions, the Carbon Ambassadors course will consist of seven weekly two-hour sessions, providing a big picture overview and the details on low carbon living.
The course will be led by Mitchell, who will kick start the first session on Friday 28 May with an overview on how to reduce your carbon footprint. Best known for sailing an eco-micro yacht around Britain to promote his message that reducing your carbon footprint improves your quality of life, Mitchell has 25 years’ worked experience in the field of low carbon living.
Guest speakers to be featured during the remaining six sessions, include renowned environmental activist and Editor Emeritus of Resurgence & Ecologist magazine, Satish Kumar, who’ll give a talk and Q&A for the Shopping session (11 June) impressing the importance of buying lasting, durable products. Maverick vicar and BBC TV’s ‘Extreme Pilgrim’ Peter Owen Jones will elucidate about low impact travel during the Holidays session (18 June), reflecting on the original meaning of holiday (‘holy’ day); and broadcaster and environmentalist Penney Poyzer, dubbed “The Queen of Green” - who retrofitted her house on BBC2’s No Waste Like Home - will share tips for conserving energy in the home during the Heating session (2 July).
Other guest speakers include author Barbara Haddrill who famously travelled from Wales to Brisbane by land and sea (Transport, 4 June); Nic Marks, creator of The Happy Planet Index (Quality of Life, 25 June), and Jonathan Smith, organic food grower, who co-developed the concept of carbon farming with his Farm Carbon Toolkit and Farm Carbon Calculator (Food, 9 July).
Carbon Calculators are one of the key tools presented by Mitchell for reducing your carbon footprint during the course. Carbon Savvy has produced a new suite of calculators based on the award- winning calculator originally developed by Mitchell and Resurgence magazine. The new calculators, comprising of 1-minute, 5-minute and 40-minute versions, have full tracking allowing you to monitor your carbon footprint as it changes over time, and offering tailored recommendations for how to reduce it.
Carbon Savvy has attracted endorsements from leaders in the field for its positive approach to low carbon living. Sir Tim Smit KBE, Founder of the Eden Project, said: “Carbon Savvy will come to be seen as a turning point in our approach to sustainability. This is the highest praise I could offer anything or anybody in these times.”
The Carbon Ambassadors course costs £79.00 for seven weeks, or any of the single sessions can be attended for £15.00.
Book your place at www.tickettailor.com/events/theresurgencecentre/489828.
Every participant will receive a free copy of Resurgence & Ecologist magazine.