When climate change is the subject, mitigation is usually considered to be responsibility of governments. International cooperation is seen as the best way forward in order to achieve results in a global scale, and people observe results from international conferences as indicators of success or failure in dealing with the problem. Yet, even if climate change does depend on governmental action to be tackled, it also depends on individual daily decisions that can be changed and promote different results that will matter to climate change mitigation to a substantial extent. This is called reducing one’s carbon footprint, or reducing the amount of emissions that result from individual choices in different activities.
There are numerous ways to reduce one’s carbon footprint: basically, any change in daily choices that sustain less carbon emissions in a period of time, preferably for good, is valid. Some decisions, however, have broader impact than others, due to the weight of emissions resulting from some activities in total emissions. Climate change is a global issue; but due to countries’ emissions different profiles, changing specific activities will have also broader local impacts, in addition to promoting climate change mitigation.
Brazilian emissions profile has changed in recent decades. Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) have long been the main source of carbon emissions in Brazil, mainly due to deforestation. Between 1990 and 2012, share of LULUCF emissions in total Brazilian emissions was reduced (Observatório do Clima, 2014). The main reason was successful tackling of deforestation in the second half of the 2000s, due to legal and institutional changes: levels went down from around 27,000km2/year to 7,500km2/year, later stabilizing around 5,000km2/year (Viola and Basso, 2014; Viola and Basso, 2015). The relevance of Brazilian emissions from agriculture, livestock farming and energy systems became clearer. And updated the importance of individual decisions in climate change mitigation: they might have lower impact in deforestation than they have in food or energy systems, due to the more indirect connection with the first compared to the more direct connection with the latter.
Diets have great impact in carbon emissions. Food systems answer for between 19 and 29% total global emissions (Vermeulen et al, 2012). Some general rules are always valid: diets rich in processed food produce more emissions than diets rich in raw food, because food processing is highly intense in resources (water, energy, etc.); animal products diets – meat and dairy especially, due to the emissions resulting from the digestive process of ruminants – result in more emissions than vegetarian or vegan diets. Feed production and processing answers for 45% of total emissions of the sector, and enteric fermentation of ruminants, for 39% (FAO, 2013). Reducing beef intake can decrease carbon emissions sharply: while high meat eaters produce around 7.19kgCO2e/day, low meat eaters produce 4.67kgCO2e/day, vegetarians produce 3.81kgCO2e/day and vegans 2.89 kgCO2e/day (Scarborough et al, 2014). Organic and seasonal farming reduce the use of fertilizers in agricultural production, contributing extensively to climate change mitigation. Opting for local crops reduce emissions from food transportation (Weber and Matthews, 2008).
Energy systems have the greatest impact in global carbon emissions. In this sector, emissions could be broadly divided in two: electricity and transport. In many countries, such as Brazil, decision regarding electricity production, including amounts and sources, is concentrated in the hands of the government. We do have different sources supplying electricity, participating in the bids promoted by the government, but the consumer cannot choose from which their electricity will come from . And distribution is also concentrated in few providers. In other places, were competition exists in power distribution, this option might be given: in California, for example, consumers can choose between providers that mix different electricity sources, some of them offering 100% renewable electricity to consumers. Even if choosing the source of electricity is not always possible, reducing the amount of electricity consumed is always at hand: opting for efficient appliances, designing buildings to make good use of natural light, calibrating heating and cooling, taking shorter showers are always great options to reduce electricity demand.
In the case of transport, driving less is key. Using public transportation and/or cycling have the greatest impact on carbon emissions, as well as in urban congestions and the concentration of carbon monoxide and particulate matter, greatest sources of urban pollution that causes health problems and deaths of thousands of people every year. If driving is mandatory, carpooling – sharing your ride with other people – is a good alternative. Other options that are becoming more common are flexible office hours and home office, which allow employees to optimize and even reduce their commuting.
These are only some examples, a lot more can be done. Refusing unnecessary consumption, such as luxury goods or disposable packaging, as well as recycling and reusing items whenever possible are great practices. Reducing business trips and opting for videoconferences reduce flying and have a substantial impact on emissions. At the end, the key message that needs to be understood is that a transition to a low carbon reality is not only about international agreements and national commitments. It is about changing one’s daily living, making different choices that are in tandem with this new reality. Climate change is the pivotal issue in this beginning of the 21st Century. Changing daily habits might be challenging, but it does not need to be a synonym of sacrifice. Instead, it should be seen as an adaptation to a fuller planet, in which resources need to be divided more equality between more people. Benefits will be great, not only to human (and other species) perpetuation, but also to our evolution.
 It is different in the case of free consumers, created by law nr. 9648 of 1998, which can choose their power provider. Residential consumers, however, do not qualify as free consumers.
Food and Agriculture Organization (2013): Tackling climate change through livestock – a global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities. Available at: <http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3437e/i3437e.pdf>, access 27 Jun 2016.
Observatório do Clima (2014): Análise da evolução das emissões de GEE no Brasil, 1990-2012, documento síntese. Available at <http://www.observatoriodoclima.eco.br/analise-das-emissoes-brasileiras/>, access 27 Jun 2016.
Scarborough, Peter et al (2014): ‘Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK’. Climatic change, v. 125, p. 179-192.
Vermeulen, Sonja et al (2012): ‘Climate change and food systems’. Annual Review of Environmental Resources, v. 37, p. 195-222.
Viola, Eduardo and Basso, Larissa (2014): ‘Amazonian policy and politics, 2003-13: deforestation, hydropower and biofuels’. NOREF Report. Available at <http://www.peacebuilding.no/Themes/Emerging-powers/Publications/Amazonian-policy-and-politics-2003-13-deforestation-hydropower-and-biofuels>, access 27 Jun 2016.
Viola, Eduardo and Basso, Larissa (2015): ‘Brazilian Energy-Climate Policy and Politics towards Low Carbon Development’. Global Society, v. 29, issue 3, p. 427-446.
Weber, Christopher and Matthews, H. Scott (2008): ‘Food miles and the relative climate impacts of food choices in the United States’. Environmental Science & Technology, v. 42, p. 3508-3513.
Larissa Basso is a PhD Candidate at the Institute of International Relations of University of Brasília and member of the International System at the Anthropocene and Climate Change Research Network (firstname.lastname@example.org).