By Neil Kitching, Geographer and Energy Specialist 

Taking full advantage of the spare time made available to me by lockdown, I have written a book, Carbon Choices. It tells the greatest story on planet Earth. How one group of sociable animals came to emit 40 billion tonnes of an invisible gas each year, changing the chemistry of the atmosphere and the oceans, and steadily destroying the environment and life support systems that we depend on. We have unwittingly driven the world into a climate and biodiversity crisis by the endless extraction of raw materials and our excessive consumption, primarily by wealthier people and countries.

With a focus on Scotland, a small country trying to set a good example for others to follow, this book also looks at international examples of good and bad practice. It reflects personal experiences from trips to Greenland, India, Morocco, Lapland, Botswana and Namibia.

Writing Carbon Choices arose from a frustration that people are still unaware of the basic facts around climate change and its serious implications. Incorporating nature loss into the book is ambitious, but necessary, as nature is integral to climate change and wildlife is fragile. This book was instigated by my alarm that society is still not taking these issues seriously despite the science being increasingly more certain and the warnings becoming more alarming. The announcement of the United Nation’s climate conference in Glasgow in 2020 (rescheduled to November 2021) catalysed me into writing urgently. 

We all know and understand that the use of electricity, driving, flying and heating our homes drives our carbon emissions. But the four ‘hidden’ elephants in the room are our excessive consumerism including fast fashion; our dietary demands including beef and dairy; society’s use of cement and concrete; and the refrigerant gases and energy used for cooling.

Carbon Choices explores the impact of humans – population and consumption – and the reasons why it is so difficult to tackle climate change. Why does our society still choose to subsidise fossil fuel? Why do we destroy nature? Why don’t we act on what the scientists tell us? Knowledge is the first step to action. Although not a science book, the effects of climate change are summarised, including the dangerous tipping points that may change the world forever. 

Perhaps in an ideal world, business would only offer us 'green' choices, but in the meantime how can consumers hope to make sensible choices if manufacturers and retailers do not inform us of the environmental impact of their products? To tackle this, ten building blocks are identified including: sensible economics, regulations, design, innovation, investment, education and behaviour change. 

These ten building blocks are the foundations to help us build a low carbon economy that works in harmony with nature. Without these in place, tackling climate change is at best an uphill battle. Those who try to be ‘green’ find there are obstacles, and we need to clear these. Governments can then set the policy direction and sensible regulations; businesses can respond and provide innovative low carbon products and services; and consumers will have the knowledge to make better carbon choices. 

The book then introduces five common-sense principles which government, business and consumers can use as a guide to make better decisions:

  1. Be fair across current and future generations
  2. Price carbon pollution 
  3. Consume carefully; travel wisely
  4. Embrace efficiency; avoid waste
  5. Nurture nature

By applying these principles to our daily lives – our diets, homes, travel, shopping and leisure activities – we can regenerate nature and improve our society, make us healthier, happier and lead more fulfilled lives.  

Our carbon intensive lifestyles can be divided into three categories. 

  • Emissions that new technology can tackle with little impact on our behaviour such as electric cars and the change from burning coal to renewable sources to generate our electricity. These are the easy emissions to tackle. 
  • Emissions that inevitably result from the physical infrastructure which society has built over decades and from the financial structure of subsidies and taxes which government places on goods and services. For example, building out of town shopping centres inevitably leads to more road traffic whilst subsidies for fossil fuels result in excessive use. In effect the system and the available infrastructure constrain our choices. It takes time, normally decades to change these.  
  • Emissions where our individual choices can make an immediate difference. For example, we can choose what goods we buy, what diet we eat and whether to fly long distances although we are influenced by peer pressure. In these areas, behaviour change and psychology are important. 

The solutions to climate change and nature loss could come from three sources:

  1. A top down, formal process with governments cooperating through the United Nations, setting targets, policies and regulations.
  2. Business pushed by shareholders and investors: influencing their supply chains and consumers.
  3. Community and consumer choice: who we vote for, what we invest in, what we buy and how we influence one another.

The reality is that we need all three to work together but led by government regulations. For example, how can consumers make good choices if products and services do not have a carbon label on them? Governments need to regulate; business needs to apply the regulations and then retailers can offer consumers clearer carbon choices.

The common-sense solutions to our climate and nature crises are summarised as:

  • Reduce our need to travel and electrify remaining travel.
  • Invest in innovative solutions to increase the efficiency of industry, decarbonise our electricity generation and heat production.
  • Consume fewer manufactured goods, and for business to adopt circular economy approaches to what we do consume.
  • Stop deforestation, restore degraded land.
  • Shift to a plant-based diet.

Amidst all the bad news, there are grounds for hope – this popular science book concludes with a green action plan for government, business and individuals to make better Carbon Choices. 

Carbon Choices is available on Amazon and Kindle. One third of all profits will be donated to rewilding projects. Further information, and how to buy, can be found at