Katherine Martinko is an expert in sustainable living. She holds a degree in English Literature and History from the University of Toronto.
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It has been fashionable of late to claim that personal actions and changes that reduce demand for carbon dioxide-producing products and services are a distraction. Instead, they say we should be dealing with government regulation and the supply side—the corporations that make fossil fuels and other sources of carbon.
But as Treehugger’s Sami Grover put it so well, “The systems change versus behavior change debate is getting really old.” We need to deal with both the supply and the demand. I tried to make the case in my book, “Living the 1.5 Degree Lifestyle,” that we should all be trying to reduce demand, to live a low-carbon life to keep global heating below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) but concluded that there were other benefits: “These changes can be healthy and fun: more exercise, more walking and cycling, more taking advantage of activities in our own backyards.”
Now, a new study—titled “Demand-side solutions to climate change mitigation consistent with high levels of well-being“—concurs, expressing that trying to live a low-carbon lifestyle is good for you. Lead authors Felix Creutzig and Leila Niamir first demonstrate that “demand-side mitigation strategies” in the buildings, transport, food, and industry sectors could provide emissions reductions of between 40% and 80%, depending on the sector.
These are big reductions, but Creutzig and Niamir propose big changes through a mix of carbon avoidance, shifts to low carbon alternatives, and efficiency improvements.
In the building sector, avoiding carbon emissions does not just come from building efficiency, but also from sufficiency—through smaller dwellings, shared facilities, and changes in building typology that favor multi-family buildings, which we have been saying for years.
Sometimes they are confused, pitching 3D printing of buildings to reduce waste, even though the few 3D printed buildings built so far are made with concrete, which they also say we should use less of.
Sometimes they just get it wrong and don’t understand the studies that they are reading. One sentence—”Other options include designing passive houses that use thermal mass and smart controllers to avoid demand for space-conditioning services”—seemed muddled, so I followed the reference to the study, “Advances Toward a Net-Zero Global Building Sector,” which is written by Passivhaus experts who never link Passive House to thermal mass; the authors are confusing ’70s style passive design with the dreadfully named “Passive House.” The linked study also never mentions smart controllers because, as I have noted before, in a Passive House, a smart controller would be bored stupid.
One can complain that they don't get everything right, but this is a sprawling, generalist study that is looking at many aspects of our lives and relies on dozens of contributors.
In the urban design sector, there is a sophisticated list of measures including compact cities, and a circular, shared economy: "Shared spaces and facilitates: energy co-ops, group purchasing, libraries, repair cafes, food production and consumption; food sharing."
For mobility and accessibility, they call for more working from home, walking, and cycling instead of driving. The authors write: "Pooled shared mobility with high occupancy and micro-mobility with high lifetime of vehicle stock; convenient rail-based public transit; supported by urban design and transit-oriented development resulting in reduced travel distances; logistic optimization in last-mile freight."
For food and nutrition, they look at animal-free protein with "food-based dietary guidelines; food labels; educational campaigns; subsidies/taxes; voluntary sustainability standards" and also address overconsumption and food waste.
With products and materials (industry), the authors call for materials efficient services, lifespan extension, and to reuse and recycle. Materials efficient services involve "avoided material demand through dematerialization, the sharing economy, materials-efficient designs, and yield improvements in manufacturing," while lifespan extension involves "designing products so that their lifetime can be extended through repair, refurbishing, and remanufacturing."
They also want to reduce flying with a big carbon tax, improve trains, and reduce demand for shipping by "shifting supply chains, lower demand for consumption goods, and slow steaming of ships would reduce shipping demand substantially."
Creutzig, Niamir, et al.
This is where it gets interesting. It is all charted out here in 19 different categories, with much more detail in the supplementary information. (A bigger version can be seen here.)
Creutzig, Niamir, et al.
The supplementary information has an explanation for every single square on that chart. It is all fascinating, and their conclusions are inescapable:
It all reminds me of that great old Joel Pett cartoon—”What if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?”—with all those benefits of livable cities, clean air, and healthy children. It doesn’t take a massive study to conclude that eating a healthier diet, walking more, and having cleaner air is going to generally be a good thing, but it’s nice to have.
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