COP21: 5 ways Canadians can help reduce climate change

Governments around the world are expected to start implementing policies to reach the goals set out in a historic agreement to limit climate change. But there are things individuals can do to help reduce their own carbon footprint.

Some changes can be made immediately, while others may take some saving for long-term investments

Transportation accounts for 25 per cent of Canada's emissions, according to the David Suzuki Foundation. People should consider if they can take alternative transit, like cycling, walking or public transportation, to help reduce this amount, climatologist Gordon McBean says. (The Canadian Press)

Nearly 200 countries have signed on to a historic agreement to limit climate change after years of negotiations.

Despite the best intentions of the new pact and subsequent, expected government policies, some experts say citizens need to make changes in their day-to-day lives, too, to help reduce the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

As governments determine what steps they'll take to reach the goals of the agreement, here are some of the things Canadians can try to reduce their carbon footprints, now and in the future:

1. Mindset

Perhaps the most important thing Canadians can do is to support policy on all levels — municipal, provincial or territorial, and federal — as governments take action to curb emissions, says Gordon McBean, a professor at Western University in London, Ont., and a research chair at the Toronto-based Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction.

"If the politicians do not feel that the Canadians are behind them, then they will, of course, take less action," says McBean.

In Canada, government has been slow to implement climate change policy because of the perception that "it wasn't at the forefront of the public's mind," says Simon Donner, an associate professor of climatology at the University of British Columbia.

He suggests people write to their government representatives, like their local MPs or city council members, about what action they want to see happen or even just as a show of support.

"The more that your representatives hear about this, the more likely it is that ... policies will be put in place," says Donner.

2. Transportation

One of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions from individuals rather than corporations is from people's use of transportation, McBean says. Transportation accounts for 25 per cent of the country's emissions, according to the David Suzuki Foundation.

In terms of bang for your emissions buck, the biggest impact in terms of your food shopping is eating less red meat.- Simon Donner, associate professor of climatology

People should re-evaluate how frequently they drive and look at alternative modes of transportation, like taking public transit, walking or riding a bike when possible.

"Get out and enjoy the environment," he says.

When planning a vacation, the David Suzuki Foundation suggests considering a staycation, or taking a train or bus to avoid flying. Air travel "accounts for four to nine per cent of the total climate change impact of human activity," according to the foundation.

People should plan to accept hybrid and electric vehicles on the road and in their garage in the future, says Corinne Le Querea professor and director of the Norwich, England-based Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. Similar to many of the bigger changes people can make, the cars may cost more up front, she says, but would likely save the buyer money over time.

3. Housing

There are small and big changes that can be made at home, too, says McBean.

People can heat their homes a little less during the winter and cool their homes less in the summer, he says. Other quick fixes to increase a home's efficiency, according to the David Suzuki Foundation, include:

  • Using compact fluorescent or LED light bulbs.
  • Checking for cracks in walls, doors and windows and sealing them to prevent heat loss.

In the long-run, paying to better insulate a home can lower the need to heat or cool it. That could mean buying new windows or window coverings, according to a Canadian government list of how citizens can help reduce climate change, or increasing insulation in an attic, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

4. Shopping

There are important decisions to be made when shopping as well.

Foods at the grocery store have produced different amounts of greenhouse gas emissions depending on where and how it was produced, and what type of food it is, says Donner.

"In terms of bang for your emissions buck, the biggest impact in terms of your food shopping is eating less red meat," he says. It takes a lot more energy to raise one kilogram of red meat than the same amount of chicken, pork, grain or vegetables, he says.

Buying locally also makes a difference, says Donner, as the food doesn't have to travel as far.

5. Energy use

Perhaps the simplest change to make to reduce energy use at home, says Donner, is to unplug devices — like phones or tablets — once they're fully charged. These gadgets tend to draw energy even when they're not being used, he says.

Some other suggestions for quick ways to reduce energy use from the David Suzuki Foundation include:

  • Hang-dry clothes.
  • Walk instead of watching TV or spending time on the computer.
  • Create a charging station for all electronics with a powerbar, and only turn it on when something needs to be charged.

One bigger, more expensive change up-front could be investing in energy efficient appliances when buying a new fridge, dishwasher or other household appliance.

People can also invest in renewable energy, says David Miller, president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund Canada. Homeowners, for example, can pay to install solar panels on their roof.


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