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The Climate Change Lifestyle: Experts Identify 3 Personal Habits That Could Help Save the Planet 

Climate Emergency Demonstration in LondonClimate Emergency Demonstration in London
A new proposal to reduce U.K.'s emissions to net zero by 2050 requires individuals to change their behavior on a massive scale. Barcroft Media Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Eat less meat. Ride a bike. Watch your energy bill.

If you’re wondering how to reduce your personal impact on climate change, a U.K. government advisory group has a guidebook for you, buried in a sprawling report released Thursday on how the country can achieve “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

That fresh target meets the requirements of the Paris Agreement, which commits member countries to set their “highest possible ambition” to keep global temperatures from rising by 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and ideally below 1.5 degrees, to prevent the worst effects of climate change. (You don’t need a reminder on what those are, do you?)

Temperatures are already 1 degree above pre-industrial levels, so the report says acting on the recommendations—which cover widespread shifts in business, policy, and consumer behavior—is urgent.

The net zero target, if passed by the U.K. government, would be the most ambitious of any large industrialized economy, and it’s a more ambitious target than U.K.’s existing goal of reducing emissions by 80% (from 1990 levels) by 2050. The new goal has the same price tag as the current one, a result of gains in technology that have made renewable technology cheaper and more efficient, the commission says.

“We can all see that the climate is changing and it needs a serious response,” said John Gummer, also known as Lord Deben, chairman of the Committee on Climate Change. “The Government should accept the recommendations and set about making the changes needed to deliver them without delay.”

1. Watch What You Eat

First on the list of recommendations? Change your diet.

“Net zero” requires a nationwide 20% reduction in consumption of beef, lamb, and dairy, which contribute the most to agriculture-related emissions. Cutting back on animal products doesn’t just mean less emissions from farming, it means reclaiming farmland and marsh and replanting trees.

But don’t just stop at meat: a climate diet also means wasting less food, and adding in hardy grains and legumes, which are a good source of nutrients and more resistant to climate change. (In prescribing a “climate diet,” the advisory group has back-up in the form of a landmark Lancet study released earlier this year that tells consumers to cut back on meat, eggs and dairy.) The side benefit? You’ll be healthier, too.

2. Hit the Road…by Bike

Next: change the way you travel.

That means taking a bike or walking whenever you can. After that, it gets more intensive: the “net zero” plan requires mass adoption of not just public transit, but also electric cars, and the charging infrastructure they require. They also say you’ve got to cut back on flying. Sorry. But again: you’ll be healthier, breathing cleaner air, and you may be less stressed, too.

3. Turn Down the Heat

Finally: adjust your thermostat.

You’re just going to have to wear a sweater. The commission says consumers must lower their energy use for both water and heating, and to do so, will also need smart meters, more efficient pumps, and an overhaul to make homes more efficient and insulated. The benefit: a cheaper energy bill.

All of this is more complicated than just swapping out some plastic straws or swapping in almond milk. In many ways, it requires a fundamental rethink of how we eat, commute, and live; the guidelines preach conservation and restraint in every part of daily life.

Adopt the U.K. Way

Of course, the recommendations are only that: recommendations. They must now be considered by U.K. government, which has lately been hamstrung by Brexit.

But in their sense of urgency, the Climate Change Commission’s comments echo ones made just last month by the Bank of England, which called for immediate action on climate change and, along with more than 30 other central banks, said a warming climate posed fundamental risks to financial stability.

It’s worth listening to the U.K., even if you don’t live there.

Despite the country’s historical role as a manufacturing giant and major carbon dioxide emitter—as Thursday’s report acknowledges—the country has made major strides in reducing its emissions.

In 2018, energy-related CO2 emissions from the U.K. fell for the sixth straight year, to the lowest levels recorded since 1888, according to the International Energy Agency’s Global Energy and CO2 Status Report. That was driven by gains in renewable energy, with renewables now responsible for more than a third of the U.K.’s electricity generation, while coal’s share fell to just 5%. In the U.S. that year, emissions increased by more than 3%.

However, those efforts have largely been due to shifts pushed by government and business, without the public having to make much of a stretch, the commission reports. In fact, many of the changes behind the emission reductions have been “invisible” to consumers.

To reach “net zero,” that must change, the commission says.

“The public will need to be engaged if the transition is to succeed.”