Ways we can help combat climate change

There are lots of ways we can help combat climate change at home. Top of the agenda, alongside cutting fossil fuels : CUT PLASTIC WASTE ! We don’t always think that both issues that seem to compete for our attention are in fact closely linked. Plastic manufacture emits greenhouse gases – and throwing it away pollutes the environment. The expansion of plastic production is estimated to emit over 56 billion Mt of carbon-dioxide-equivalent (CO2e) in GHGs between 2015 and 2050, which is 10–13% of the entire remaining carbon budget [that which some say can be emitted before catastrophic climate change occurs]. Read this recent study by Bangor University staff and PhD students.

Ways we can help combat climate change : in our gardens

There are lots of ways we can help combat climate change in our gardens. The RHS estimate that a quarter of homes have hard paved garden creating huge flooding risks. try to avoid hard paving or better still, replace hard surfaces with grass and plants. Plant borders and lawns allow the the rain to soak into the soil and help reduce flood risk. Pebbles and stones do the same. Create an eco-friendly driveway – use permeable paving or laying down grids on top of a grassy drive to prevent it getting muddy. You can also plant up a drive or walkway with shrubs and grasses that will withstand a bit of impact. For example thyme, sedums, creeping jenny, bugle and grape hyacinths.

Hedges are a better choice of boundary for wildlife than fences or walls as they absorb water and CO2. They also allow wildlife to move about between gardens and other spaces, and provide feeding and breeding opportunities for many species.

Plant more greenery around your house ; grow climbers on your walls (roses, clematis, and honeysuckle are great for wildlife and for cooling down external walls) trees and tall shrubs have a great shading effect. Let your lawn turn into a mini meadow – less mowing for you but fantastic for wildlife, and lets water soak in better.

Collect rainwater all year round in a water butt or better still create a pond to store it! Use it to water your plants in dry spells.  Sprinklers can use as much as 1,000 litres of water an hour! In truth, it’s okay for the lawn to go brown, it will recover the next time it rains. Use mulch on your plant borders, it will help to reduce evaporation by up to 75%.

Create your own compost using any green waste from your garden or from vegetables [don’t compost meat products] and add it to your soil; it will not only store carbon in the soil but increase plant growth thereby absorbing even more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Try not to buy compost but if you must, insist on peat-free compost. Peat bogs are a fantastic natural store of carbon and a wonderful ecosystem : don’t destroy them, digging them up releases carbon into the atmosphere, accelerating climate change. If you buy house plants, check that they are grown in peat free compost. Check your garden centres, DIY stores and supermarkets before you buy !

Ways we can help combat climate change : in our houses

There are lots of ways we can help combat climate change in our homes. Mitigation measures on the house do not need to be all about extra expense – many will actually save you money! Housing accounts for about 14% of the UK’s greenhouse-gas emissions, mostly because of gas-boiler heating systems and poor insulation, the CCC says.

Turn down the heating and wear an extra jumper, don’t heat rooms you don’t use and fix drafts [but be careful about condensation if you close off rooms or reduce ventilation]. Take advantage of any government grants to install insulation, both in the loft and in cavity walls. Solid stone cottages can be problematic to insulate, but make sure you have a damp proof course injected in your walls and maybe focus on underfloor insulation. Install double glazed windows. Check the most effective means of heating if you need to install a replacement system. Much of Anglesey has very old solid rock at shallow depths so ground source heating systems may be expensive to install. Explore options for solar panels, especially if there are any grants available; in some cases you will get your own electricity free and even make a profit selling to the grid! Check installation costs and payback times carefully.

Most measures will both keep the cold out and keep the heat in. Sometimes you need to keep the heat out. Window blinds, shutters or shades can keep direct sun off in summer. Plant shade bushes or trees to keep direct sun off the building which can also be a wind break in winter.

The North Wales Naturalist Trust have an excellent page on ways to help combat climate change

Ways our farms can help combat climate change

Anglesey is an agricultural landscape – “Mon Mam Cymru” refers to Anglesey feeding Wales. There are lots of ways we can help combat climate change on our farms. The Climate Change Commission says emissions from agriculture & food need to be cut by 30% between 2019 and 2035.

Hedges are a better choice of boundary for wildlife than fences or walls as they absorb water and CO2. and transfer lots of carbon into the soil beneath They also allow wildlife to move about between gardens and other spaces, and provide feeding and breeding opportunities for many species but a well maintained hedge is stock proof.

Planting trees is even better than hedges for carbon capture; those unusable corners of arable fields, those steep banks and inaccessible parts of the farm: all could be planted with native hardwood species to improve biodiversity and to capture carbon.

Incorporate as much organic matter as possible into your arable soils; chop cereal straw and cultivate with min till methods to avoid organic matter decomposition. Keep farmyard manure and use it wisely for both nutrient inputs [replacing the need for manufactured fertiliser] and organic matter inputs. Accept composted green waste from the local authority and incorporate that into cultivated soils. Accept treated sewage sludge from Dwr Cymru. All these methods increase the carbon stored in soils and help to counteract greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel usage.

Wetlands areas and peat bogs should be maintained in their natural state or restored if they have been drained. Generally when drained they are not that productive but can be a huge store of carbon. Anglesey may not have the massive upland peat bogs of mainland Wales but there plenty of small areas, for example between the drumlins in north and central Anglesey, bogs like Cors Goch, Cors Bodeilio and of course the massive Cors Ddyga. Any drained patches would benefit from being re-wetted and so starting to re-accumulate carbon in the peat rather than emitting carbon dioxide. They are also fantastic sites for biodiversity.

Explore the various farming systems that reduce, minimise or avoid using nitrogen fertiliser. The manufacture of ammonium based fertilisers is hugely energy intensive and some claim this alone is responsible for 50% of GHG emissions from agriculture. Cultivation has destroyed nearly half of soil’s organic matter driving massive carbon dioxide emissions : a recent study from America showed massive improvements in soil organic matter and consequently in soil fertility by changing agricultural system. No, you don’t have to convert to certified organic farming – you can adopt many of their practices and benefit the environment.

Anglesey is largely livestock farming these days; careful soil and manure management can reduced GHG emissions considerably. Avoid compacting soil or creating slurry like conditions around feeding troughs by grazing outdoors in wet weather : these practices cause enormous losses of nitrous oxide (N20) which is 300 times worse than carbon dioxide (CO2) ! Similarly , spreading manure or slurry on wet or compacted soils also causes nitrous oxide (N20) emissions.

The Royal agricultural society has published a Briefing Paper, Farm of the Future: Journey to Net Zero, to coincide with COP26. It addresses key policy issues and argues that climate change has major consequences for UK farmers and land managers.

Ways our choice of food can help combat climate change

There are lots of ways we can help combat climate change in our diets and food buying. Many people claim that eating meat is the major cause of GHG emissions from agriculture but its not necessary to give up meat altogether. Careful livestock farming can reduce its emissions considerably. Eating less meat is good for our health and daily meat consumption in the UK has fallen by 17% in the last decade but is not happening quickly enough to meet a key national target, according to the National Food Strategy which recommends meat consumption in the UK fall by 30% over the next 10 years.

Food wastage is the biggest issue – around 30% of the food produced is wasted – mainly in households. Just think how our food bill would be significantly less and the climate change footprint of food would dramatically lower! Buy what we need, use leftovers, freeze surpluses etc. For Anglesey, with so many seasonal tourist food outlets, it is a challenge to avoid food wastage – but perhaps some of those schemes to pass surpluses on to foodbanks or to feed the homeless / unwaged or low income families could be developed?

We can do a lot to lower the environmental footprint of our diet – eating less meat, eating more healthy food, cutting down on wastage by buying only what we need or by utilizing left overs in the next meal, eating food in season to avoid “food miles” or excessive production costs, eating locally produced food or even growing our own food !

There are ways to produce food without harming the environment and also dodge the impacts of climate change. Hydroponics – growing in carefully controlled nutrient solutions – can be done in controlled environments, from glasshouses to old shipping containers or tunnels. By using vertical farming systems, plants can be grown on racks or even on walls. A Holyhead school is experimenting with this system of growing. Less water is needed, soil damage and GHG emissions are avoided, more food is produced per square metre of land and the vagaries of the weather are avoided.

Read this good summary of the impact our food choices have on the environment

A study of what drives people to reduce their meat consumption has revealed some simple strategies that participants have found helpful, including:

  • Trying one new vegetarian recipe a week;
  • Making one meal in a day vegetarian, rather than going a whole day without meat;
  • Reducing portion size: In a recipe that includes meat, like a bolognese, reduce the amount of meat and supplement that with lentils and vegetables.
  • you can get healthy protein from chickpeas and similar pulses.
  • try meat alternatives like Quorn
  • restaurants and cafes can help by offering more vegetarian options – or by making them more prominent on menus. Don’t be guilty of the “vegetarian options ‘box of shame’ at the bottom of the menu” Always make one of the chef’s specials a vegetarian option.

Hear Idris and Sabrina Elba discuss the impact on the planet of what we eat on the What Planet Are We On podcast on BBC Sounds

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