You want to reduce your carbon footprint, but it’s a daunting prospect. Let’s face it: society is just not set up to make it an easy job.
Perhaps you need a car to drive to work because there isn’t good public transport, or you want to cut down on eating meat, but live somewhere where there aren’t many good vegetarian food options around.
Part of being climate conscious is raising your voice to urge decision-makers to invest in green policies that ensure making the sustainable choice is easier. At the same time, it’s also important that we look at the parts of our lives where we can make changes too.
It's part of a lifelong commitment to an environmental education. It might not always be easy but it can make it a difference.
Many of the authors of the books listed below have been there themselves — they were obsessed with fast fashion or convenient plastic-covered products. If they can find ways to take steps to make their lifestyles more sustainable, you can too.
For people living in wealthier countries, trying to cut carbon emissions is especially important because there is a huge global disparity in which nations emit the most greenhouse gases.
The average carbon footprint for a person in the United States is 16 tons per year, whereas the global average is closer to 4 tons. Meanwhile, research from Oxfam in 2020 revealed that the average person in the UK will have a greater carbon footprint in the first two weeks of the year than someone living in one of seven African countries will have for the whole year.
That inequality means that people in lower-income countries, who did the least to contribute to climate change, will suffer the most from its consequences.
With the latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) signalling that the climate crisis is now at “code red”, there’s never been a better time to start making a change.
1. The Sustainable-ish Living Guide by Jen Gale
This guide aims to provide “practical inspiration for small easy steps” to start living a more sustainable lifestyle.
British author Jen Gale’s ethos is to try and encourage people to feel like they can make changes that can make a difference, and not to feel too overwhelmed by the scale of the challenge to even start.
Gale’s book and blog began when she and her family embarked on a “make do and mend year” and strived to buy nothing new for 12 months in reaction to over-consumption and waste. She’s relaxed the rules a bit since then — but her guide and blog posts are packed full of information about how to cut out single-use plastic and reduce waste while raising kids.
2. Consumed: The Need For Collective Change: Colonialism, Climate Change & Consumerism by Aja Barber
Sustainable fashion consultant and writer Aja Barber uses her Instagram, where she has 227,000 followers, to cut through the noise about all things ethical fashion.
When she’s not calling out major fast fashion brands for launching disingenuous “sustainable” lines while still carrying on with business as usual, she’s teaching her followers about genuinely eco-friendly alternatives.
Her book is due to be published in September 2021 but is available for pre-order now. Barber, who is American but based in the UK, has described the book as “my story of how I found my way out of the cycle of overconsumption which not only made me feel pretty bad but also further funded a corrupt and unethical system.”
“There's a strong case within these pages for why and how you should too,” she adds.
The book is divided into two halves — “learning” and “unlearning” — and delves into the history of the textile industry, exploring problematic areas such as racism in fashion and the exploitation of producers. It promises to be informative read if you’re keen to reassess your buying habits and lower your environmental impact.
3. The Sustainable Travel Handbook by Lonely Planet
This handbook, published in 2020 from the makers of the trusty Lonely Planet travel guides, is perfect for anyone who is planning a trip and is keen not to generate excessive carbon emissions or damage nature in the process.
Compiled by a sustainable travel experts the guide is full of advice about how to reduce your carbon emissions while travelling. It also has tips on how to find accommodation powered by renewable energy, watch wildlife responsibly, and contribute to conservation or environmental initiatives through tourism.
The book is accompanied by a blog which also provides plenty of tips for zero-waste travel and has lots of lists of top sustainable accommodation, transport, and destination options.
4. Afro-Vegan: Farm-fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors Remixed by Bryant Terry
Bryant Terry is an award-winning chef, educator, and food justice activist based in the Bay Area of San Francisco, who has written several brilliant vegan and vegetarian food recipe books that will inspire anyone thinking about cutting down on meat, or switching fully to a plant-based diet.
Afro-Vegan, published in 2014, brings the flavours of southern, African, and Caribbean cooking to a vegan diet. Offering “innovative, plant-based global cuisine that is fresh, healthy, and forges a new direction in vegan cooking,” it was named one of the best vegetarian books of all time by Bon Appetit magazine.
Terry has a long history of advocating for a better, fairer food system so reading his work will be informative for those interested in food activism too. In 2002 he founded b-healthy (Build Healthy Eating and Lifestyles to Help Youth), an initiative in New York City designed to empower young people to fight for a more sustainable food system.
5. How to Break-up with Fast Fashion: A Guilt Free Guide to Changing the Way You Shop — For Good by Lauren Bravo
When British journalist Lauren Bravo called time on her love affair with fast fashion, she said it was in search of a “slower, saner way of dressing.”
The result is another book for this list that skewers the fashion industry for its contribution to environmental degradation. Bravo’s guide comes with lots of helpful advice about how to repair, reuse, or give away your old clothes so they can have a new lease of life — so you can stop contributing to the mountains of clothing waste sent to landfills.
Other tips include advice on how to find second-hand gems and insight into what sustainable brands are doing. Bravo writes that “ethical fashion” might have previously evoked images of “porridgey smock dresses” but those days are now truly long gone. “Conscious fashion has come a long way,” she writes. For Bravo, the world is running out of excuses.
6. A Zero Waste Life: In 30 Days by Dr Anita Vandyke
This straightforward 30-day guide promises to help you “reduce your family’s waste by 80%.” Written by Australian author Anita Vandyke, who incidentally is a qualified rocket scientist, the book is the result of her efforts to drastically cut down on single-use plastics and waste during her first year of motherhood.
It might sound like a tall order during a busy period of time like that, but as her book insists, her advice is not intended to “add to the guilt we already feel” during early parenthood. Instead, it argues that minimizing and cutting down on waste can make life easier as well as being better for the planet.
If you’re looking for a place to start — A Zero Waste Life in 30 Days is accompanied by Vandyke’s popular Instagram account, which is full of helpful advice. She has also created several YouTube videos about how to go plastic-free for a month.
7. How To Go Vegan: The Why, the How, and Everything You Need to Make Going Vegan Easy by Veganuary
Perhaps you’ve purchased some books of delicious vegan recipes and you’re fired up and ready to go — but found there are some more practical obstacles to going vegan, like eating at a friend’s house, that you’ve discovered on the way. What do you do then?
Well, this short guide from the campaigners that run the annual “Veganuary” challenge — a campaign to get people to go vegan for the month of January — has the answer. It includes recipes but it also includes advice on all the other elements of transitioning to a vegan diet, like reading food labels, answering questions from friends and family, and eating out, that you may have found tricky to navigate.
8. Live Sustainably Now: A Low-Carbon Vision of the Good Life by Karl Coplan
In Live Sustainably Now, published 2019, environmental law professor Karl Coplan compiles all his learnings from a decade of trying to cut down his own carbon footprint.
His aim was to cut his carbon footprint to about four tons per year, which would be about 40% of the average American’s.
Coplan lives in the suburbs of New York, where, one reviewer points out, “cars rule and individual homes can gobble large amounts of energy” but he succeeds at making his house and transport more energy efficient. Some of his tactics seem a little out-there, such as commuting to work by cycling to the Hudson River, crossing it by kayak, then cycling again on the other side, but he writes that he enjoys the challenge.
After all, the point of the book is to reveal the possibility that a good life does not have to mean a fossil fuel-guzzling life. He argues that there does not have to “be a trade-off between the ethical obligation to maintain a sustainable carbon footprint and the belief that life should be fulfilling and fun.”
With his academic environmental credentials plus years of real-life experience, this book promises some fascinating insight for anyone who wants to take the next step on their low-carbon lifestyle journey.
You can join the Global Citizen Live campaign to defeat poverty and defend the planet by taking action here, and become part of a movement powered by citizens around the world who are taking action together with governments, corporations, and philanthropists to make change.