Working in Transition University of St Andrews, our job is to try and persuade folk to get out of cars and walk and cycle more, to improve their health and well-being using recycled bikes (eg. Bike Pool), to eat locally produced food instead of consuming imported food with high carbon miles (eg. Edible Campus), and despite Landfill Tax, to try and prevent items being trashed like tools (eg. Tool Share), clothing, crockery and cutlery recycling (eg. St And Reuse). As a member of the RAF Pipe Band, I was asked whether I would like to participate in the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Sydney, Australia and I jumped at this wonderful opportunity. However, with Greta Thunberg’s much publicised sailing trip across the Atlantic as she refuses to fly (The Guardian), I decided to undertake a WWF (World Wildlife Fund) carbon footprint calculator survey to obtain a more detailed analysis of my present lifestyle. The results were not surprising, but very informative, so would like to share them with the reader.
My carbon footprint was 9.6 tonnes which was 95% of the 2020 UK Government target. This was higher than expected, but a breakdown revealed that 38% of this carbon came from travel, despite having a small economical car which we car-share, the long-distance return air flights to Australia proved to be the killer even although I offset this carbon by investing in offshore wind energy and reforestation. So, despite an active lifestyle of regular walking and cycling, this trip (5 tonnes worth) blew a massive hole in my annual carbon budget. The second highest percentage of 30% was for ‘stuff’ or items bought. This year both the old fridge/freezer and sofa collapsed so had to be replaced. We bought both items from a local second-hand furnisher, which, although not new, were in good working order and cost a fraction of the price of new items. However, the survey did not have an option for used versus new, and this was reflected in the high percentage for ‘stuff’, which was unexpected. The next highest percentage was 20% for food and this was informative as although we grow a lot of our own vegetables and fruit like black currents and raspberries during the warmer months, preserving some in the form of jams and chutneys, we do eat some meat/fish and cheese/milk. But as we have growing, forever hungry twin teenage boys, it is hard to be vegan. This factor obviously is affecting my carbon footprint (unsurprising, but surprising that it was affected so much). The balance of 12% came from the home. This result was surprising as we have a small, semi-detached home with a wood pellet heater (which although is not burning fossil fuel, is still emitting CO2), an eco-rated fridge/freezer, double glazing, loft insulation, energy saving lighting, low flow shower fitting, a green provider of electricity and regular recycling of plastic, glass and paper and composting our own green waste. We also spend very little on grooming products, eating out, entertaining and buying new clothes (many are from charity shops). However, we did have a dog (Morven, who died some months ago) and still have a pet gecko, who did/do add to our carbon footprint, but they are/were well worth it as pets increase our well-being and get us out into the fresh air for walks, in the case of Morven.
The act of just being alive and respiring gives our household a carbon footprint, naturally, but what this has really driven home to me is the huge impact international travel has on individual carbon footprints. As 30% of the University students come from overseas (University of St Andrews) it struck me that this represents a massive import of carbon into the University, which is trying so hard to lower its carbon footprint. We can cycle, recycle, go vegan and conduct a green lifestyle, but this imported carbon must be factored in if the St Andrews community at large hopes to be carbon neutral in the future, whether this is 2030, 2040 or 2050, depending on whose target you follow (BBC News; Labour Manifesto; EU Commission). What could be implemented quite easily, which the Transition Team is already considering, is to encourage voluntary carbon offsets by students by taking this contribution off their student fees. Carbon neutral international travel is still a long way off and carbon offsets are never a hundred percent effective, but investing in green energy like offshore wind farms and helping to plant millions of trees, whose green photosynthetic leaves pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere naturally, for as little as £20, is definitely a move in the right direction (Fly Green; My Climate). It could also inject to a ‘feel good’ factor into our campus, showing we, as a community, care about our environment, both locally and internationally.
BBC News. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-48596775
EU Commission. https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/strategies/2050_en
Fly Green. https://flygrn.com/offset-carbon?msclkid=e963fc0215be172950b3a1d9afa4042c&utm_source=bing&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=FlyGRN%20EN&utm_term=%2Boffset%20%2Bcarbon&utm_content=Offset%20CO2%20Flight
Guardian, August, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/28/greta-thunberg-arrival-in-new-york-delayed-by-rough-seas
Labour Manfesto, 2019. https://www.wired.co.uk/article/jeremy-corbyn-speech-labour-green-economy-environment-policy
My Climate. https://www.myclimate.org/?msclkid=2fe7b64e191b11f8af09eb95a206d36f
Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Sydney, 2019. https://www.edinburghtattoosydney.com.au/
Transition University of St Andrews. https://www.transitionsta.org/ University of St Andrews. https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/study/support/international-students/
WWF Carbon Calculator. https://footprint.wwf.org.uk/#/