A wonderful and very timely blog from Astrid who graduated with us this summer.
The suddenness of several hot summers made even Northern UK sometimes feel like Tuscany.
Protests block not only London’s and the worlds’ bridges and streets, backed up by rocket science. They bring the reality of climate change to my doorstep. And while this may not be evident at first sight, it affects my practice of Yoga which is deeply intertwined with how I walk through life. At the latest, when my two Yoga teachers from Leeds joined Extinction Rebellion and
went off to protest on London’s streets.
They do this because our resource use exceeds the amount we have available to sustain the beauty and abundant resources of our planet. 24% of global annual greenhouse gas emissions come from how we produce our food, and that other 14% come from moving us and goods around the planet, among others, on around 15 of the largest cargo ships. Every year, these ships cause the same greenhouse gas emissions as all cars worldwide.Such numbers, as scary as they can be, help us understanding which are the right tools to cope
with this challenge; collectively and as individuals. In face of finite resources they help us transforming towards a world of using less, sharing more and becoming more aware of our actions.
At the same time, the Yamas from the 8 limbs of Patanjali are guidelines which help us interacting
with the world around us. They support us in living a simple life full of meaning and purpose.
‘Asteya’ suggests to change our understanding of what we possess, by appreciating what we
have, and asking whether and when we need more. ‘All wealth will come’ by practicing to not
want more than we really need. Another way to practice Asteya is to share what we have, or let
others use it, as if our possessions belong to everybody. By having less, we create more space –
room for positive change.
Climate change asks us to make such changes — quickly. It requires to as much as we can, to
stand in solidarity with the future of our planet. And, we are in a fantastic situation that unanimous
science gives answers when we need to find out what makes a change, in our own life and
For me personally, climate science became one resource for implementing the Yamas which
underpin my Yoga practice on and beyond the mat. The choices I do every day to sustain myself
in terms of food, living and transport become a micro-cosmos of economic thinking beyond
growth – towards a sharing economy, and degrowth. And sometimes it seems to me as if Patanjali
had secretly been able to anticipate which challenges we would face centuries after he shared the
Yamas. So, where to start?
We can do this
1. We are, in the first place, social beings. Sharing our views and concerns in non-offensive
ways, brings them to the people and places that are close and important to us.
Psychologists showed that what we do influences others’ behaviors and risk perceptions. This
includes how we vote, what we eat and how much electricity we use. Risks become risks
because we perceive them as a threat to a number of people we can imagine – the size of our
When we start adopting new (sustainable) behaviors they thus spill over to others around us. And
change comes through individuals and their peers. Starting off where we are gives us the power
to first be local, and then go beyond the boundaries of our friends and families, to build
democratic momentum. Worldwide movements like Extinction Rebellion, just to name the most
prominent one, started off with a few hundred individuals who deeply expressed care about the
future of our planet, Fridays for Future with one Swedish teenager. Supporting a social movement
makes what we deem important, visible; and calls for structural change beyond what we are able
to achieve as individuals.
Individual action effectively accompanies such change, because it affects market demands. So if
you wanna go for it, the steps below may help you to get going further.
2. Think twice about what you need. Even the canvas bag, the biodegradable cup (which may
end up in landfill), and the Yoga mat made from old wetsuits require production energy, costs, and
of course, is shipped in fossil-fuel run vessels.
3. Give yourself time by taking trains, or traveling less. Flying is the single largest action
contributing to our Westerners personal carbon footprints. It effectively hinders cities like Leeds to
reach their climate targets, by e.g., expanding the airport. Taking a flight from London to Glasgow
emits around 230 kg of greenhouse gas emissions, a train around 40 – that saves 83%.
4. For local travels, use anything but cars whenever possible – with innumerable advantages
such as better health, less pollution, preventing more greenhouse gas emissions, and lower risk of
5. While only few of us fly, everyone eats. Replace red by white meat, or, where possible, plant-
based proteins, such as pulses, beans, tofu. When meat is produced, less than 10% of calories
grown on a hectare of land end up in the human stomach – the rest is lost in energy needed to
feed, grow and process an animal. Eating plant-based proteins means using resources more
6. Replace high-fat dairy products by plant-based products. The first have a carbon footprint
sometimes as high or higher than meat (averaging many single studies on carbon footprints of
food indicated that greenhouse gas emissions of e.g. cheese are as high as: 8.86 kg, of 1l of milk:
1.29 kg, 1l of soy milk: .75 kg). Scientists from the University of Oxford have looked at this on
population levels – and describe replacing meat and dairy as the ‘single biggest way’ to reduce
7. Buy seasonal (even when produce is imported e.g. from Spain). Fruits and veggies grown
outside, even if imported from e.g., the EU, are substantially less energy intensive than those
grown in a (heated) greenhouse in the UK.
8. Buy less processed foods. Cooking, freezing, preserving, and then transporting foods in a
cooled truck takes much more energy than fresh food.
9. Warm water use is the single largest contributor to emissions from energy use. Its a good start
to replace lightbulbs, but it saves even more energy (and money) to make heating more efficient
(e.g., in and around Leeds, see these Yorkshire water tips, get the free water saving support
package, for insulting pipes and walls, and tracking shower time). Replace baths by showers,
and reduce shower time.
10. Finance drives the world around us -using services of a green(er) bank prevents that our
money is used for subsidizing fossil fuels.
And maybe most importantly: Enjoy the change and time you gain by avoiding shops,
supermarkets, airport security checks, or garages. Use this time to make space, to meditate, to
go for more democracy than less as my colleague Julia Steinberger from Leeds coined it, to join a
zero-emission sail cargo trip, or walk rather than drive tonight, to stand in solidarity.
Astrid loves Yoga and science. She studies the science of science communication, including
carbon footprints of food, and how we perceive extreme weather. She also researches simple
decision rules that help individuals to better understand their impact on climate, and the above
are examples for those. Since recently, she explores how to create space for positive change, by
practicing and learning about the beauty of Yoga, at the Yoga Space in Leeds. For questions and comments