To tackle the environmental crisis, it is essential for us to take action in both our student and professional lives. Moreover, it is important that we engage in individual changes towards an eco-friendlier way of life. College students and recent graduates belong to a part of the world’s population that has the highest impacts on the planet, but also the strongest means of action. Need proof? We, a handful of college students, managed to mobilize 30,000 students and carry their voices to more than a hundred economical and political leaders.
While individual actions alone are not enough, they have a significant impact on solving the environmental issues: this section will show you how.
On this page, you will find rubrics that offer information on ways to act around different subjects: food, finance, housing, transportation, fashion... There are many ways to act. But above all, it is important to understand the specific environmental issues we are facing: you will therefore also find a section explaining those issues.
Let us change the way we eat, the way we shop for food, and the way we cook in order to lower our carbon footprint.
30% of global greenhouse gas emissions are due to transportation: let us rethink our ways of going to work, our ways of traveling, etc.
We can reduce the carbon footprint of our housing by improving thermal insulation and finding solutions to decrease the energy used by our household appliances.
Let us place the world of finance at the heart of the "real economy" thanks to our savings, and thereby contribute to financing the ecological transition.
Let us rethink our relation to the digital world, whose environmental impacts are often little-known and underestimated.
To launch an effective energy transition as quickly as possible, let us take the time to understand its complexity and interdependence with numerous other sectors.
The fashion industry is the second-most polluting industry in the world, after the oil industry. Let us become aware of the practices of the brands that we choose, find alternatives to buying, and recycle our clothing.
The study of human behavior in the face of environmental challenges is an emerging subject whose importance is obvious, although the literature covering the subject remains scant.
The ecological transition cannot limit itself to individual actions; all stakeholders need to participate. Collective action is essential to build their awareness, mobilize them, and change the way things are done.
One of the first things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint and your impact on biodiversity is to change your eating habits, such as reducing your consumption of meat as well as processed and overpackaged food, which sometimes travels long distances. Reducing meat consumption to once or twice a week, consuming organic, local, bulk and seasonal products when possible, or even growing a permaculture vegetable garden, would already significantly reduce your carbon footprint! Here are some links to learn more about the different impacts of food consumption, to help you transition to more conscious habits.
Better quality, less waste, less pollution: towards a healthier, more coherent and more environmentally friendly diet
Some figures on meat consumption in the world
Local food: features and benefits of buying local (short-circuit retail)
Some readings for an alternative agriculture:
Reduce the proportion of ready-made/frozen meals and animal proteins, and take advantage of the savings to increase the proportion of organic AND local products in your average basket (vegetarian recipes)
Grow your own vegetable garden.
Mobility is a major stake of the ecological transition: according to the European Energy Agency, transportation accounts for 25% of total CO2 emissions. Rethinking our mobility has a direct impact on our comfort, from our holidays (tourism accounts for 8% of global emissions, and air traffic for 4% of our carbon footprint) to our daily commute (cars account for 14% of our total carbon footprint). Here are a few tips in order to better understand the stakes of mobility and take a step towards energy sobriety.
To fully understand the impact of transport on climate change, see this 2018 report by the Partnership on Sustainable, Low Carbon Transport (Slocat)
An overview of the contribution of aviation to climate change, by the European NGO Transport & Environment
Comparing CO2 emissions for a similar journey by plane, train, car or bicycle: an article by the Energy Saving Trust
Favor active mobility like walking or cycling. Some countries or cities grant subsidies for the purchase of an electric bike, as highlighted in this 2016 European Parliament Briefing.
Otherwise, prefer shared mobility: public transport, short-distance carpooling, organised hitchhiking… And if all else fails, think of carbon compensation.
It is also possible to make your vehicle available to others when you are not using it in order to maximize its utilisation rate. However, many of these so-called "sharing economy" alternatives can create "rebound effects" that make their overall impact on greenhouse gas emissions uncertain. For example, having the possibility to rent out a car when not using it may encourage the purchase of new vehicles; having the possibility to take passengers to reduce the cost of travel may increase car use, etc...
Housing is a very energy-intensive sector today, and therefore a major emitter of greenhouse gases: it accounts for 39% of energy consumption in the US on 1+2 scopes (Carbon4), and 60% of these emissions are related to heating. Many houses have extremely poor energy efficiency: more than 40% of French homes consume more than 230 kWh per m² - that is more than 200 euros per month in energy bills! To reduce the environmental impact of this sector, thermal renovation of existing buildings and carbon-neutrality in the construction of new ones must be carried out as soon as possible. To achieve this, public investment is crucial and relevant: savings made could compensate for the sums invested in less than 10 years.
Find out more about the problems of home heat loss and what can be done.
Understand the carbon impact of the construction and building sector and the margins for progress in a national low-carbon strategy
Buying/renting a well insulated apartment
Develop good habits
Check the origin of your electricity and invest in resilient self-consumption solutions offered by many electricity suppliers such as Green Energy, Co-op Energy, Ecotricity, Good Energy, ... (UK) or other suppliers (US).
Promote biodiversity by installing a nest box, plant box, water trough, etc. on the edge of your window or balcony to attract fauna and flora that can shelter, drink, etc.
To hope to stay below 2°C global warming, 80% of our fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground. Banks have a central role in achieving these objectives by directing their financing towards clean energy. However, since COP21 and the signing of the Paris Agreement, their support for fossil energy projects has increased. As a saver, you can choose to invest your money better: finance sustainable projects with your savings rather than let the banks use it in this way.
Despite the climate emergency, banks continue to finance fossil fuels. This report summarizes the best and worst U.S. banks on fossil fuel finance, while the full report and interactive website sums up the current policies of the major world banks, giving them an individual grade. Consider the following case study from France: The fair Finance website offers a quick and clear comparative analysis of top 10 French banks on 10 topics, especially regarding climate change. The initiative originated from french associations Les Amis de la Terre and Oxfam France who explain how French banks kept on investing massively in fossil fuels since the Paris agreements. "Out of 10 euros spent on energy, 7 euros go to climate change energy, compared to only 2 euros for renewable energy. [...] despite the recognition by States and financial actors of the urgent need to act to limit the rise in global temperature, these supports increased by 7% between 2016 and 2018".
For most students, savings are limited to regular savings accounts such as the ISA. To invest your money more responsibly, you can consider other types of ethical savings accounts offered by some banks such as the equivalent of the LSSD in France (Inclusive and Sustainable Development). For the past year, any money received on this type of savings account was supposed to fund sustainable projects.
However, as far as we know, there is no robust reporting or indicators to check the use of our investments. In fact, the lack of rigorous reporting on what it means to be “green” or "financing the ecological transition" is one of the main difficulties encountered in trying to align savings choices with environmental commitments. In addition, private banks have difficulties getting familiar with this aspect of savings, lagging behind growing demand. In France, only 28% of wealth management advisors and private bank advisors spontaneously mention responsible investment opportunities to their customers. In short, there is no easy solution at the moment, so we must take the initiative.
Several types of action are possible:
Other types of collective action:
Despite the sector's undeniable role in economic and social development and energy efficiency, the environmental impacts of digital technology are often underestimated. 3.7% of global greenhouse gas emissions originate from digital technologies and its energy consumption is increasing by 4% each year. The amount of energy required to store the mass of information circulating worldwide in servers is staggering. In addition to this, digital technology reflects the rebound effect: efficiency gains are absorbed by the exponential increase in the amount of information exchanged.
It is not a matter of banishing digital technology from our lifestyles, but rather of favoring a more reasoned and sufficiency-driven use. The Shift Project refers to "digital sufficiency" as "prioritizing the allocation of resources as a function of uses, in order to conform to the planet’s physical boundaries, while preserving the most valuable societal contributions of digital technologies.”
The fashion industry may not be as visible in the media as the food industry, but it does pollute a lot: it is responsible for 3 to 10% of CO2 emissions in the world, and it is the second most polluting industry (after the oil industry)!
It takes about 2,000 litres of water to produce a pair of jeans. To consume better, let's have a look at the issues related to the fashion industry and get to know the causes and types of pollution.
Destination zero: seven years of detoxing the clothing industry is a Greenpeace report that comes back to the Detox campaign that they launched to challenge fashion industry companies. It shows the progress of some global clothing brands in detoxing from hazardous chemicals, addresses major challenges, and maps out the next steps to achieve towards a more sustainable fashion industry.
As the energy transformation sector stands behind all the other sectors of activity in our society, most changes to energy consumption can only be made collectively. Today, it is vital to reduce our consumption while changing these energy sources, in order to mitigate climate change while protecting against possible disruptions in the supply of energy. Models of energy sobriety must take root in our daily lives. Moreover, to launch an effective energy transition as soon as possible, the most useful thing to do as a citizen is to spend time understanding the complexity of the problem: indeed, the energy transition depends on many other sectors.
To better understand this sector of activity: Sustainable energy - Without hot air! by David JC MacKay
Vaclav Smil explores in a conference technological transitions of past, present and future that are critical for understanding how to shift to a low carbon future.
In parallel, here is a plan to understand the subject, with links to learn about each part:
"Our house is burning [...] we will not be able to say that we did not know," said Jacques Chirac during the Johannesburg Summit in 2002. We are aware of the environmental degradation caused by our activities, and yet we are collectively unable to implement the necessary lifestyle changes. The humanities and social sciences have taken an interest in recent decades in understanding why we struggle to address these issues and act accordingly. The below proposes some links to introduce these newly-emerging topics.
A general source on this topic: Don't even think about it by George Marshall
🧠 Human memory is not designed to properly perceive changes in the environment
From generation to generation, we grow up in a world where nature is increasingly degraded. Can this explain a certain insensitivity to the destruction of biodiversity and the alarming findings on climate change?
🌱 Our "above-ground" way of life and the perception of environmental changes
Our way of life, with increasing urbanization, is becoming increasingly distant from other living bodies and the resources that allow us to survive. This gradually disconnects us from the natural or man-made ecosystems that we need. Moreover, the relocation of production/pollution sites hides the realities underlying our technology. Consequently, our ability to see the damage we cause is diminished, especially since environmental degradation is progressive and progresses imperceptibly. This is somewhat paradoxical, since on the one hand we are measuring an ever-increasing amount of data on the changes to our environment, and on the other hand, this evolution is detached from our daily experience.
This questioning is a modern variation of the ancient theme of nature-culture duality. Some modern authors have sought to develop this idea of man's distance from nature and its consequences.
😰 Eco-anxiety: the consequences of the alarming findings of scientists and a degraded future
Scientific research is very limited on this subject. "Eco-anxiety" has recently been introduced into the DSM-5 list of mental illnesses by the American Psychiatric Association. Here are some articles to clarify this notion.
🔎 Eco-psychology or the study of the relationship between man and his environment
Coming from the United States, this discipline uses the tools of psychology to analyze the links between Man and the living environment in the broadest sense. In particular, it attempts to analyse human behavior in the light of the ecological crisis and proposes solutions to change it. The term eco-psychology was invented in 1992 by Theodore Roszak in his book The Voice of the Earth, subtitled An Exploration of Ecopsychology. This field of study is still emerging and its contours are still poorly defined.
Daily life actions are essential to reduce our ecological footprint, but are insufficient to reduce it to a level that is sustainable for ecosystems and climate stability. Our range of actions is limited by the societal framework at the root of the ecological crisis; transforming it represents an effort rarely seen in history, and that is why we need collective mobilization.
Most of the movements are young, dynamic, and lively. Everyone can find their place in a collective according to their interests, their free time and their affinities with the other members of the collective.
You can of course create your collective/association/movement...like the collective Wake-up Call on the Environment was created last year! Make sure that nothing similar already exists and that there is real added value in doing so. In this perspective, we can only recommend that you talk about the subject around you before going headlong into creating a new group; the opinions and remarks of your relatives but also those of people from more distant circles (not necessarily eco-convinced) are really valuable to have good ideas.