I recently wrote about goal emissions for the world, how that to avoid catastrophic climate change we must reduce our emissons to about one ton per capita per year of carbon dioxide from household sources--that is, the sources you and I can control.
Is this achievable? Yep.
- Buy electrical power from other sources preferring in order: wind, geothermal, solar, hydroelectric, landfill gas or natural gas, waste burning, bagasse. Don't even think about nuclear or coal.
- Use cool drinks and fans not airconditioning, jumpers and hot drinks not heating, hang washing out to dry, change to CFLs, and pull plugs out on appliances not in use
- Don't fly in aircraft at all.
- Bye-bye cars: for a journey under 5km, walk. Under 15km, bike. Over that, public transport.
- Consume mainly fresh fruit and vegies, grains and legumes, avoid processed containerised food
- reduce meat consumption to under 12kg/year (0.25kg/week)
- For consumer goods, borrow rather than buy, secondhand rather than new
- If available, use coppiced wood for heating/cooking, otherwise use that wind powered electricity, or if that's not available, use natural gas
- Plant trees--don't pay someone else, plant them where you can watch them and know they'll be cared for.
An individual person who:
- Works five days a week, and takes the train 15km/10 miles each way four of those days, cycling on the fifth
- takes the bus to friends or hobby once a week, 15km/10 miles each way, and cycles another time
- Once a month takes the train 250km/150 miles round-trip for a weekend away, or once a year goes 3,000km/2,000 miles round on a continental holiday
- Walks or cycles to the shops, not more than 10km/6 mile round-trip (they only have to carry 5kg/10lbs of food, see below)
- Uses 10kWh/day of wind-generated electricity (using guidelines #1 and #2 above)
- Consumes and uses each week, making sure that it's always at least one of organic or local (made in the same state): 3kg/6.6lbs of fresh fruit and vegetables, flour and rolled oats; 1kg/2.2lbs biscuits, rice, muesli, milk and bread; no processed or containerised food; 0.5kg/1lb margarine, coffee, yoghurt or icecream; 0.15kg/5oz spirits, detergent, soap, etc; 0.1kg/3oz pork or fish; 0.2kg/7oz lamb, cheese or butter; and 0.1kg/4oz beef...giving them about 2,500kcal and 70g protein daily, enough for lots of walking and cycling
- Uses 100lt/26.5 gallons water daily (water-saving tips here)
- Buys one CD, one new book and two magazines a month
- Buys one heavy clothing item like a quilt or woolen jacket each season
- Buys one bit of light clothing like slacks, shirt or packet of underwear or bra each month
- Buys in each season something like a handtool, blender, new pot or pan
- Plants one tree in each season and cares for it (4 trees a year)
- Has 1m2/1 yard square of garden space, or ten foot-round containers, in which they grow vegetables year round
- Wastes about 10% of their food (average is 25%) and composts it
- Avoids unrecyclable packaging as much as possible--not hard with the food and consumer goods purchases above--making only 0.1kg/0.2lbs of rubbish weekly (about one desk-side wastepaper basket of loose plastic)
- Recycles all they can, about 1.5kg/3.3lbs a week of tins, bottles and carboard and paper--likely with the purchases above
This person will cause a net 947kg CO2 in emissions (about 1.5t without the tree-planting). They will cycle 30km/20 miles twice a week (for work and hobby), and ride or walk 10km/6 miles once a week (for shopping). They'll spend about one hour a week tending their little garden patch and trees they plant. With that exercise, their relatively low-meat and low processed food diet they'll probably be in good health. They'll impress friends and potential spouses with their health and gifts of fresh fruit and vegetables, and money saved from this lifestyle. They will have an overall good quality of life in material terms.
"But I can't because..."
In the developed West, the average person can do this. For every person who is 100km from work and won't cycle, there'll be another one who is just 3km from work and can walk, not even having those public transport emissions. Some will need more meat because they're menstruating or recovering from surgery, but others will be vegan. Some won't have any yard at all to garden in, or even a balcony for container plants, but others will have relatives living in the country who'll be delighted for them to plant trees in some disused paddock. Individuals may be able have less emissions in one area but more in another, walking to work but eating more meat, using less electricity but buying more books, and so on and so forth. So this represents an average. Just because you find one area difficult doesn't mean you have to forget the other areas.
Doing these emissions-reducing things, living the one-tonne-carbon lifestyle, is not something everyone can do, because we don't have the public transport or renewable energy generation capacity. It's a bit like becoming rich--anyone can do it, but not everyone can do it. The difference between this lifestyle and becoming rich is that as we put in the public transport and renewable energy infrastructure, everyone will be able to live like this, whereas it'll never be the case that everyone can be rich. As the public transport becomes used more, and more people sign up for wind energy and so on, the infrastructure will be built. This is why even though the lifestyle suggested here you could live tomorrow, in the Goal Emissions article I allowed a decade for everyone to change to this lifestyle. That also allows ten years while you say, "but I can't because...."