5 climate myths that need to die

February 18, 2020 · 4 min read

1. Eating local has a big impact on your carbon footprint.

Unless you live in a very remote place like Iceland, transport has very little impact on the life cycle emissions of goods you buy.

What you can do to reduce your carbon footprint: reduce meat and other animal products in your diet.

2. Avoiding single use plastics is good for the climate.

Single use plastic is a big problem for oceans. In terms of climate change however, it’s a different story. Plastic bags have a significantly lower climate impact than cotton bags. It’s hard for most people to separate climate action from other environmental concerns like biodiversity and wildlife protection.

Where you can have a bigger climate impact: Similar to transport, focus on what you buy and less on how it’s wrapped. A lot of greenwashing happens around packaging; don’t fall for it. A steak wrapped in paper instead of plastic is still a steak. Eating less meat or buying second hand clothes or refurbished electronics has a bigger impact on your carbon footprint than omitting plastics.

3. Having a green electricity contract makes your electricity emission-free.

green electricity contracts title

In a lot of countries, electricity retailers sell “green electricity contracts”. As a buyer, you might think that buying “green electricity” means that you will only get electricity from renewables like solar and wind. This is unfortunately not the case. No matter your retailer’s electricity contract, you will always receive the same electricity from the grid. Most renewable electricity production is variable - the wind doesn’t always blow, the sun doesn’t always shine - so the electricity you get can vary in CO2 intensity. Read more about it in our blog post.

What to do instead: Reduce your electricity consumption and focus on using electricity at the right time. You can check out our tool electricityMap to see the carbon intensity of your electricity in real time.

4. Streaming is bad for the climate.

Yes, global electricity needs for data centres are on the rise, in part driven by video services. But streaming a 30min video has an impact of 0.2kg CO2eq, which is only a fraction of an average person’s daily electricity use. For context, it’s roughly equivalent to the footprint of the butter on the popcorn you’d buy if you went to the cinema instead.

Should you stop streaming video? No, stream responsibly and focus your energy on the food you eat, flying less and not wasting electricity elswhere. This will have a much higher impact on your carbon footprint than streaming.

5. Electric Vehicles have zero emissions.

ElectricyMixesClimateChange

It’s true that electric vehicles (EV) have on average lower lifecycle emissions than comparable diesel or petrol cars. However, contrary to some manufacturer’s marketing, that doesn’t mean that they are “zero emission” cars. Apart from the production, the electricity they are charged with accounts for the lion share of an EV’s carbon footprint. In countries like Poland or Australia, which run primarily on coal power, the emissions from charging your EV can be substantial.

What you can do: If you have to buy a new car, go electric. More critically, you should try to charge your car when the carbon intensity of the grid is low. You can check electricityMap to see the carbon intensity of your country’s grid in real time. electricityMap also predict the carbon footprint of the grid for the next 24h - enabling EVs who use its predictions to reduce their carbon footprint.

Understand and reduce

There are lots of things you can do to lower your personal carbon emissions. However, it’s important to focus on the things you can control and that have the highest impact. An important way to start is by educating yourself on the impact of your everyday choices. We built North, an automatic carbon footprint calculator, for that purpose. Give it a try!


Written by Olivier Baumann
Founder @ Tomorrow, Former Head of Design
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