Frequent droughts, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, temperature extremes, increasingly severe storms and floods. Climate change is visibly affecting not only the environment but also human lives. Scientists warn that the climate crisis could bring “unimaginable suffering” if the way of life does not change significantly.
Climate change is not the only threat to our planet. Pollution of waters with microplastics and chemicals, destruction of soil with plant protection products and waste, extinction of animal and plant species, destruction and overexploitation of water resources, deforestation and excessive tourism are the result of our consumer lifestyle, which has a strong impact on the environment. New technologies and appropriate policy decisions play a very important role in tackling environmental problems, but they will not be sufficient without our attempt to make our lifestyle more sustainable as well. Individuals and households can do a lot to make our way of life more environmentally friendly and sustainable. Taking part in simple activities, every human being can move closer to a carbon-free and clean society that will help achieve the common goals of the Paris Agreement and preserve the Earth for future generations (1).
Just thinking positively will not be enough, we need to actively reshape our lifestyle!
Scientists say humans in the developed world have 10 to 20 years to change our consumer habits into sustainable ones. There is not much time to act. Global climate change is evident and it is therefore important to take the warning, signed by 11,000 scientists, seriously (2). We cannot transfer responsibility for problems to others, and at the same time, we should not judge ourselves either. We need a strong will and motivation in a constructive approach to tackling environmental challenges. Today, most scientists agree that greenhouse gas emissions are accelerate climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions can be understood as indicators of negative environmental impacts. The lower the emissions, the less impact our lifestyle has on the environment. According to the results of scientific research, households are directly or indirectly responsible for as much as 72% of global greenhouse gas emissions (3). This means that making our habits more environmentally friendly, can importantly contribute to reducing the impact of human activities on the planet and the environment.
More wealth also means more pollution
Pollution with greenhouse gases and other types of waste is closely linked to the standard of living.
|Image 1: Impact of living standards on greenhouse gas emissions (4)|
The population of the United States, which has one of the highest income per capita and whose lifestyle is highly consumer, is among the biggest polluters, emitting as much as 16 tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere each year. European Union with 5 tons, despite a similar income, produces much less emissions. Slovenians produce an average of 7 tons per capita, which is above the EU average. The EU as well as the US have managed to reduce emissions over the last two decades, but because of the fast emerging of Asian economies especially China and India, total emissions still continue to rise (Figure 2). If we want to move closer to the goals of the Paris Agreement in the EU, emissions will have to be reduced by 80% by 2050. Without a change of our lifestyle, we will not succeed.
|Image 2: Overview of EU and global greenhouse gas emissions (5)|
Large differences in greenhouse gas emissions do not only exist between the rich and the poor countries. In the most developed countries of the world, there are great differences between the lower class, the middle class and the ultra-rich individuals. According to one study, the annual greenhouse gas emissions of a typical upper class two-member household are 128 tons per year (Figure 3). Luxurious lifestyle, which is associated with material abundance, means a great impact on the environment. Therefore, it is very important to ask ourselves whether material wealth really brings the quality life.
|Image 3: US ultra-rich greenhouse gas emissions (6)|
Becoming masters of our destiny by changing our lifestyle
With new green technologies, we can mitigate and reduce our harmful impact on the environment, but without changing our lifestyle, we will find it very difficult to cope with climate change. The famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking (7) once said in a slightly different context that nowadays the main obstacles to achieving a better life is no longer technology, but our behaviours and habits. One of the important steps in changing our habits is shaping new values and a proper understanding of the quality of life.
Especially in developed societies, it is increasingly clear that the quality of life cannot be measured by the material goods we possess, but by access to basic things, such as clean air and water, life in a healthy society and possibility of getting steady as well as creative jobs. In order to adopt these values, we need to start organizing activities and educations on local, regional and national level. Children, adolescents, students, adults and the elderly need to get the sense that their actions count.
Basic ecological principle
Although we have to change our lifestyle on individual level and we have to act locally, climate change is a global problem and that is the reason why we have to strive to achieve common goals, solidarity, tolerance and equality. Protectionist and nationalist tendencies do not help to confront global problems. Due to cultural, economic and social differences within individual countries and between countries themselves, it is good to have a common basic ecological principle that can be applied generally, regardless of the religion or culture to which we belong.
We can construct this global ecological principle with help of philosopher’s Kant ethical rule, which could be understood as: Act in a way that your actions could become general principles that other people could follow. Applying this rule to modern ecological problems is quite simple. A 100-metre yacht clearly doesn’t fit in this principle, and neither do 7 billion people using overseas air travel every year. This basic ethic principle in the context of climate change means that people in developed countries should gradually reshape the way of life so that other people could live in a similar way without damaging the balance of the environment. In order to move closer to such a goal, greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced by at least 2.5 tons per individual by the year 2050, which means around 6.8 kg of emissions per day. (8)
However, since lifestyle change is a process that cannot be done overnight, it is necessary to start with problem solving as soon as possible. We can change our lifestyle if we gradually adopt new values and form new habits day by day through various activities. With the help of new technologies, we can create an environmentally friendly way of life that will enable us, our children and their descendants to live a quality life in healthy environment.
Therefore, we suggest that we start with the first steps as soon as possible. We have prepared various activities for you, with which you can reduce your harmful impact on the environment. Individuals, households, associations, schools, institutions and companies can participate in various activities.