Individual Actions, Collective Results

By Corey Pembleton

It wasn’t until long ago that I doubted the importance of individual action on our collective fight against a rapidly changing climate. In the face of such massive national and international carbon emissions, I considered what difference my ‘little’ impact would even have?

Our actions have a massive collective impact on the planet

The answer is, our individual actions have a massive collective impact on the planet. In many instances, the small changes we can make daily are the ones that can collectively have the largest impact on the planet; such as the ways we commute to work, or being in Canada, the ways we heat and cool our homes.

Looking at the national data closer, we can see how the small aspects of our everyday lives are what collectively add up to large national emissions levels. On a national scale, our carbon footprint is rapidly increasing. Since 1990 there has been a 20% increase in total greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, with the largest sectoral emitters being the oil and gas sector (26% of the total) and the transportation sector (23% of the total). The other main emissions sources are from buildings, agriculture, emissions & trade-exposed industries, and waste sectors.

Opposed to thinking that the main contributors to our very large climate emissions comes from big industry only, it becomes clear that it is the cumulative impact that small actions have: how we get around, what we consume, and how and where we live. The impacts of these individual actions become especially apparent when combined at the municipal and provincial levels.

Waterloo Region’s collective action on climate change

Canadian municipalities have begun tackling emissions at the grassroots level, including Waterloo Region through the ClimateActionWR plan, which collectively measures the emissions reductions at the individual, regional and provincial levels.

Small daily changes mean collective results

Through the ClimateActionWR plan, I can see how my individual actions help to contribute to regional goals, which in turn scale up at the national level by millions of Canadians contributing in whatever way they can. A decrease in my carbon footprint is possible due to a series of small decisions that add up to something bigger.

I intentionally restricted where I would move to be nearer the core (closer to cycle paths and transit in winter), and take the bus or train whenever I go into Toronto or Montreal (16 car trips to Toronto = 1 tonne Co2!). As fairly transient person in my late 20s, this is how I can mitigate my own footprint, which differs from person to person, family to family and must be feasible, practical, and beneficial.

Building emissions: an easy target for homeowners

As the third largest source of emissions in the country after the oil and gas and transportation sectors, heating and cooling our buildings is the next largest emitter – making it an easy target for where emissions can be cut.

For Canadians homeowners, a great way to reduce your carbon footprint is through making home efficiency upgrades (even on heritage homes). Take a look at our new dashboard to see the impact when individual actions are considered as the collective results of a community working together.

We’ll examine how this works in more detail in a subsequent blog post about how individual home improvements bring big changes to our national emissions outputs.

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