Climate Local Now: How To Live A Low-Emission Lifestyle
by Brianne Briggmann
Imagine you’re looking to take a vacation.
You open Airbnb and scroll through an expanse of homes, everything from gorgeous getaways to bizarre bungalows, searching for the perfect in-budget paradise.
You scroll past the Malibu villa of your dreams. Entertain a passing “that would be nice” thought at the sight of a private island home off the coast of Colombia. There’s an adorable A-frame tiny home well within your budget, but it’s located in Sutton, UK, and flights are out of control right now, so your search continues without any lingering disappointment. After all, there are plenty of options.
This probably isn’t how anyone really looks for a vacation home, but if you’ve never aimlessly scrolled on a filterless Airbnb search, I highly recommend trying it out for sheer entertainment.
But what does any of this have to do with living a low-emissions lifestyle? Are we refining our search with EV charging features? Only considering homes with solar panels?
Both are great options to help lower your vacation’s environmental impact, but the real trick to living a low-emissions lifestyle isn’t any fancy feature. It’s a simple mindset shift: treat your emissions like cash, and live within your budget.
Step One: Measure Your Debt
Unlike a financial budget, your exact emissions budget is difficult to measure. Your emissions budget is equivalent to the amount of resources the Earth can regenerate per person per year.
Global Footprint Network uses the term “Overshoot Day” to describe the date in the calendar year when you use up your allocated resources for that year. The date varies depending on your lifestyle choices: diet, shelter, transportation, consumption habits, etc. You can get an Overshoot Day estimate using their online free footprint calculator.
This tool is extremely helpful in gauging your estimated environmental impact. You don’t need an exact calculator adding up your emissions expenses! Obtaining a rough estimate is a great start to living a low-emissions lifestyle.
Even roughly measuring your debt will help you begin to view emissions with a fiscal mindset. Gone are the days of inconsequential spending! If you use more than you have, you will go into debt.
It’s likely everyone reading this article is in emissions debt. Unless your Overshoot Day is on December 31st — unless you only use the amount of resources the Earth can regenerate to sustain you each year — you are in debt.
But there’s manageable debt and unmanageable debt. An Overshoot Day in September or October is manageable. It’s a responsible loan, and as infrastructure changes encourage a sustainable societal shift, an October Overshoot Day will push back to November or December.
Alternatively, an Overshoot Day in March or April is not manageable. The average Overshoot Day of someone living in the United States is March 13th, and that kind of debt is not responsible, strategic, or sustainable.
So grab a calculator (just Google “footprint calculator”) and tally up your expenses. Don’t fret—even the greatest debts can be settled by following step two.
Step Two: Live Within a Budget
Congratulations, you’ve measured your emissions debt! Now what?
Time to make a budget!
This part seems scary in the beginning, but I promise it gets easier. Just like financial budgets, the hardest part is being honest with yourself and setting boundaries.
It’s important to start small when making lifestyle changes to lower your emissions. Incorporate one solution at a time and cultivate the habit before tackling another solution.
Are you overspending in the transportation category? Substitute one car ride per week with public transport, walking, biking, or telecommuting.
Is your diet putting you in the red? Make one vegetarian meal, or switch out a Sunday steak dinner for chicken.
Heavy spending in your home? Turn the thermostat down one degree in the winter, or use a space heater to warm a smaller area of the house. Wash your clothes in cold water—you won’t notice a difference!
Taking baby steps to reduce your emissions is the easiest and most effective way to lower your debt. When the first baby step becomes second nature, take another one. In no time, you will be managing your emissions spending like a pro.
You wouldn’t plan a vacation at a Malibu villa or a private Colombian island if it were out of budget. Begin thinking about your emissions as expenses and stop living beyond your means and you’ll be on track to a sustainable, low-emissions lifestyle. It’s fun, rewarding, and after all, there are always plenty of options.
Brianne Briggmann is a Mattituck native and SUNY Geneseo alumna with a Bachelors in English and a driving passion for sustainability. Her goal is to use words and writings to inspire change, evoke action, and harvest community in the environmental space.