Discover more from Future Proof
The climate actions that actually make a difference
Recycling isn’t the answer.
Kia ora! Welcome to Future Proof. I’m Ellen, thanks for joining me this week.
Climate change is in the top five issues concerning New Zealanders. Eight out of ten of us say we’re concerned about the impacts. But sadly, we don’t seem to have grasped what will actually help us reduce emissions and adapt to a changing climate, according to an annual survey by Ipsos. Recycling ranked number one most impactful individual climate action among the survey respondents, Newsroom’s Marc Daalder reported. While, yes, plastics are made from fossil fuels, recycling doesn’t make that much difference emissions wise. In a 2020 study, recycling was ranked 60th (out of 61 actions) for climate impact. So what does work, according to the evidence?
Changing how you get around
The number one individual action you can take to slash your personal carbon emissions is to live car-free. For many New Zealanders, that might be tricky, with our cities not particularly well designed to facilitate car-free lifestyles. But other transport actions – like shifting to public transport, or swapping your petrol wheels for an EV – also rank highly for climate impact. Plus, the dominance of cars is slowly changing: The Detail reports on moves to make our city centres car free – which doesn’t just ease congestion but has heaps of co-benefits too. Outside of everyday travel, taking one less long-haul flight saves around 2 tonnes of carbon.
A plant-based diet
A vegan diet ranked 7th in the 2020 study and was identified as a “high impact action” in a 2017 analysis. Consuming less meat and dairy will reduce your carbon footprint, since production of plant-based food requires a lot less carbon – even when you take into account emissions associated with transport. This neat data vis, drawing on Kiwi research, illustrates the carbon emissions of different food items. More on sustainable eats in this previous edition of Future Proof.
Producing your own renewable electricity also scored highly in the 2020 ranking, as did “renovation and refurbishment” of housing and smart meters (for monitoring energy consumption patterns). The 2020 study noted that not having a pet had a moderate impact, while the 2017 analysis concluded that having one less child was the single most powerful climate action an individual could take. However, thinking has shifted since the 2017 research was released, with some questioning the science underpinning the calculation.
Using your voice
Of course, we know that individual changes only go so far, and can prove difficult in a system that doesn’t enable sustainable choices. Which is why it’s so important to speak out – whether that’s voting in an election, joining a group to raise a collective voice, or having a conversation with friends or family. Research suggests that social pressure is a powerful motivator for behaviour change. More on our copycat tendencies – and what that means for climate action – in this edition from last year.
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Luxury carbon tax key to fairer climate policy?
Not all carbon emissions are equal: some arise from everyday activities, like heating your home, while others come from non-essential goods and services. The extravagant lifestyles of the rich are particularly carbon intensive – think private jets and superyachts. A higher carbon tax on these “luxury” goods and services, like long-haul flights and vehicle purchases, might offer a fairer solution than a uniform carbon tax. In new research, modelling across 88 countries suggests a luxury carbon tax could achieve 75% of the emissions reductions needed to stay within 2ºC of warming.
Tech ‘breakthroughs’ for solar cells, EV batteries
For a modern solar cell, the maximum theoretical conversion of sunlight to energy sits at 29%. But researchers have developed a new coating that boosts conversion above 30%. These next-gen solar cells could accelerate the rollout of solar, The Guardian reports. In another tech milestone, Toyota says it can make a solid-state EV battery with a range of almost 1200 km and a charging time of just 10 minutes. In comparison, the top-performing EVs currently on the market top out at around 750 km. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that Biden’s climate legislation (the Inflation Reduction Act) has boosted the development of emerging climate tech, including sustainable aviation fuel, clean hydrogen and direct air capture.
The challenges of lab-grown meat
More than 150 companies around the world are developing lab-grown meat, according to Nature, by growing animal cells in bioreactors. Often billed as an eco-friendly alternative to conventional agriculture, not everyone is convinced that cultured meat will deliver on its promised enviro creds. For example, one analysis predicts that production in 2030 will use 60% more energy per kilogram than beef. One of those 150 companies is a New Zealand start-up, Opo Bio. Stuff’s Olivia Wannan meets the scientist behind the operation and learns about the company’s plans using New Zealand animal cell lines.
Christiana Figueres, a global climate leader and key negotiator for the 2015 Paris Agreement, writes that she thought fossil fuel companies could change. But the industry’s actions over the last year have changed her mind.
Looking for sustainability inspo on TikTok? The EcoTok Collective has you covered.
Shanti Mathias checks out the “spongier” city emerging from the Auckland floods.
The global shipping industry has agreed to reach net-zero “by or around 2050” but the deal has attracted criticism from both industry and environmental voices.
The Emissions Trading Scheme is set to be reformed to recognise carbon sinks beyond pine forests, including more types of on-farm vegetation, wetlands and peatlands, Marc Daalder reports.
Would lowering the voting age to 16 lead to more climate action?
It’s been hot. Really hot. Last week, a heat surge shattered global temperature records.
An excellent long-read from the New Yorker on climate anxiety and grief, and what to do about it.
For more on “feeling” climate change, Shanti Mathias speaks to climate scientist James Renwick about his new book, Under the Weather.
Southern elephant seal. Image credit: Ellen Rykers.
To finish this issue, this brief history of “seal silly season” headlines by Alex Casey is fabulous. Here in New Zealand, you’re most likely to encounter kekeno NZ fur seals, or pakake NZ sea lions down south. Leopard seals also hang out here (Owha!), and were reclassified as a “resident native” species (rather than vagrant) in 2019. But it’s the rare elephant seal sightings that get me excited: these fellas are HUGE. There were incredible scenes in Whakatāne during the summer of 2018-19 as an elephant seal called Momoa lolled about. And last summer, a “big boy” elephant seal visited Dunedin. Sharing our coastlines with these charismatic chonks gets my seal of approval.
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