In the current geopolitical context of the climate crisis, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by inadequate action by certain governments and companies. Individual action, while it may feel insignificant, is collectively something that can play an important role in combating climate change. It is also something that can empower individuals and help reduce feelings of eco-anxiety and dread towards the crisis. Here are five ways in which a St Andrews student can take individual action towards a more eco-friendly lifestyle.
Banks and Fossil Fuel investments — One of the biggest ways in which students might be inadvertently funding the climate crisis is through your banking. The £100 you get when signing up for a HSBC student account is coming from an investment of nearly 18 billion USD (2021) into the fossil fuel industry, according to Fossil banks’ website. Some of the highest funders of the industry that you may be banking with include: JP Morgan, Barclays, Santander, and Natwest. Though, you can check the impact of your specific bank with bank.green's website. Some more eco-friendly financial options include the student and budget-friendly Monzo, as well as the Co-op and Starling Bank. There's no need to stress about any negative impacts on credit scores, due to the Current Account Switch Service (CASS) in the UK. While you procrastinate the admin task of changing banks, there are several petitions you may wish to sign, demanding these banks to stop funding fossil fuels; and, there is also the option of contacting your bank directly to call for action.
Incorporating plant-based/local food — Realistically, the most effective way for the student body to decrease meat consumption would be if the majority of students were to cut back slightly, rather than asking for large numbers to commit to veganism. Focusing on reducing beef and lamb consumption is a good place to start, as they have the worst environmental impacts. It is important to acknowledge that other products, besides meat and dairy, can be damaging to the environment. Therefore, you can consider omitting products such as the cliché unsustainable avocado, products containing palm oil, coffee, and chocolate. Eating locally and seasonally does help cut carbon emissions, but keep in mind that transport actually only accounts for six per cent of food products’ climate footprint (Moskin et al. 2019). Ultimately, your diet is going to be influenced by various factors, and it is most important to make sure that you are healthily fuelling yourself; but when possible, keep in mind the environmental impacts of different foods.
Voting — During both council and general elections, make sure to look at the climate/environment sections of parties’ manifestos. Importantly though, don’t be naively impressed by fancy statistics and percentages. Research how ambitious these goals are and how these politicians actually aim to achieve them. Equally, consider these politicians’ previous track records. For instance, Micheal Gove, a current Conservative MP, was responsible for the plans to open a new coal mine in Cumbria; in a study detailed in The Guardian, it was revealed that the mine is estimated to produce 400,000 tonnes of GHG emissions a year. Can we trust a government like this to push for adequate climate action at the next election?
Transport — In the University’s Sustainability Report 2021-2022, it is shown that transport is the second largest contributor to our carbon footprint. Aviation is the largest component of this, accounting for 60 per cent of the University’s total travel emissions. For certain purposes, flying is unavoidable, but when possible, train, bus, and other public transport options are much greener. Paying for carbon offsetting is often an option with any major airline, so it is something to consider when booking flights. While this faces criticism in the context of the whole aviation industry, it is an effective way of reducing carbon emissions and holding yourself accountable. Also, when booking any flights, larger commercial flights that are nearly fully booked are the best option, as they will have the lowest carbon emissions per passenger. Travelling within St Andrews, the best options are obviously walking and cycling. Though, bus travel is also great, especially as it is free for under 22s!
Staying Informed — Being aware of the effects, science, and politics of climate change will help individuals make greener choices simply because knowledge on the issue is likely to spark climate action at an individual level. There is lots of information available; podcasts like ‘The Climate Question’ are great, and specific climate sections in newspapers such as The Guardian are useful and also accessible online. Tailor this to your specific interests, such as fast fashion, climate injustice, and renewable energy, and apply this to your new, greener lifestyle. Hopefully these tips have given you different ideas of how you can integrate sustainable actions into your routine. Implementing different sustainable habits can be a healthy coping mechanism to deal with fear and guilt surrounding climate change, ultimately benefiting individuals and the wider environmental issue.
Illustration: Olivia Jones