As countless reports & news broadcast keep reminding us day after day; the threat from the climate crisis is increasingly part of our everyday lives – and it’s going to get worse. This is confirmed again by the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Efforts aren’t enough as you can see:
Decades of inaction by governments & corporations alike will bring episodes of extreme weather events & a temperature rise of at least 1.5°C. This will affect us all Berliners.
Hearing this continuously is honestly pretty demoralizing, but if you are reading those lines, you probably want to do your part too.
Where to start though?
There are some many aspects involved & it’s difficult to sort priorities & possible changes to do right here, right now. It often leaves us clueless on practical steps available in our immediate area: Berlin. What follows is a list of recommendations, resources & local solutions to global problems.
Disclaimer: please read this post with the best of intentions in mind. I’m not shaming or blaming. We are all on a journey towards a destination. There is enough climate-related anxiety as it is.
Changing food-related habits
Harvesting plants, raising animals, processing, packaging & shipping food across the world leaves a big mark. The world’s food system is responsible for about one-quarter of the planet-warming greenhouse gases that humans generate each year.
It’s one of the easiest changes to make because only your choice is involved. It’s also one of the hardest choices because we are what we eat. There is no pressure to go vegan. Giving up meat and/or dairy on most days already makes a big impact.
Berlin is well-know for being at the forefront of plant-based diets/lifestyles in Germany. There is a plethora of stores, restaurants & cafes catering to vegans & vegetarian people.
Adding vegan & veggie dishes to your repertoire
Dining out is easy though, changing diet at home is tougher. Start by learning a set of 5 easy recipes that you like and can do often. If you need help, consider those resources
- Facebook group Berlin Vegan: Take part to events & find help to go vegan.
- Vegan cooking classes in Berlin: Going vegan requires to learn new techniques, spices & ingredients to make it tasty. Especially in Germany, where fresh food products lack taste. Going to a course can help kick start your efforts.
- Vegan eats Berlin: nice people share their experiences about vegan food in Berlin!
- More vegan & vegetarian cooking classes in Berlin
Lower your impact when going grocery shopping
Sourcing your groceries in a low-impactful way is equally hard in the land of cheap-at-all-cost Lidl/Aldi. German people don’t like to spend much money on food, resulting lower quality products with greater impact on the environment. Look I get it, you may not have the means to go all-in on the from-farmer-to-consumer-organic model (I still shop at Lidl regularly). Here are some ways you can save money & avoid waste.
- Consider joining Foodsharing: A food giveaway platform that allows individuals, supermarkets, bakeries, restaurants, farmers, retailers, clubs, etc. to offer and pick up food for free. Not only can you collect food from businesses, but you can also organize exchanges with people in your area. This spares a lot of waste & related emissions.
- Consider using TooGoodToGo: This app allows supermarkets, bakeries & restaurants to list unsold items towards the end of the day. They are then sold through a big discount via the app. Super intuitive & super easy.
- Consider shopping at surplus online shops: those shops buy “rejected” food products from distributors because of overproduction, misprints or wrong packaging, wrong seasonality, short or partly exceeded best before date. They then sell it at a discount online.
If you are ready to spend more in exchange for better social-environmental outcomes, you also have the following options:
- Consider zero-packaging/zero-waste supermarkets: Bring your jars, bags & containers & shop local seasonal products.
- Consider local farmers markets too.
- Consider weekly/bi-weekly crate of veggies/fruits from a local farm: Direct-to-consumer, fresh from the farm in Berlin or Brandenburg. You know it’s seasonal, and it doesn’t travel half of the world. It’s also less packaging because it doesn’t need to survive weeks on a boat. That’s a challenge too because you need to be able to handle new ingredients & recipes.
- Consider zero-waste groceries delivery services: Tante Emma & Alpakas fit zero-waste shopping in your busy lifestyle and brings your groceries at home for a little premium.
Change the way you buy clothes
After food, changing the way is probably the other easiest choice with the biggest impact. The fashion industry is polluting… a lot. It accounts for 10% of global emissions, continues to waste a lot of water, destroy ecosystems, etc… The list goes on.
Apart from the obvious advice to buy less, you can consider investing in better quality clothing, which will last longer. Also prefer natural material & avoid blends to better recyclability. That comes at a cost obviously. For those who cannot afford that, you can still get quality pieces by turning to second-hand.
- Humana: Berliners are blessed with several locations where quality pieces are sold at a reasonable price. Even if sometimes, Humana tends to lean a little too much on the “vintage” side of things in my opinion (aka overpriced stuff), there is a pretty good selection.
- Online second-hand platforms are also very helpful for the most brand-oriented of us: Momox Fashion, Vinted, Rebelle, Schpok. I have recently bought a jacket there that initially cost 400€ for a mere 80€.
- Facebook marketplace is also your friend.
Don’t own a car
If you live in Berlin, you seriously don’t need to own a car. Public transportation & biking are usually better options. The only reasons to really need a car would be to get away on the week-end or move heavy stuff around. You have plenty of English-friendly options for that right from an app:
- Rent a car for the weekend or to move heavy stuff for a day: GetAround
- Rent a small van to move heavy stuff for a day: Miles
Depending on who you ask, Berlin might or might not be a bike-friendly city. Compared to Copenhagen, probably not. Compared to any city in North-America, it sure is. Biking around is often the faster way to get around & the cheapest too.
Here is a full guide on where to find a good bike & how to maintain it on the cheap.
Forget about light bulbs? (the lie about carbon footprint)
Sure, I could continue this list with the usual tips we’ve been served for so many years (less plastic bags, LED light bulbs, wash at 30°C, recycling). Those tips are important. Truth is (apart from food, transportation & fashion), the sum of our individual choices is dwarfed² by systemic forces Berliners are confronted with.
Even if you were to lead an extremely low-impact lifestyle, the bulk of your emissions are out of your control. Those emissions are occurring based on the political & economical parameters currently enforced in Germany & Berlin.
To put it in another way, the majority if your co2 emissions are burned “on your behalf” for all the things this country needs to do & build to run (infrastructure, public services, food production, energy grid & generation, public building, etc) as this MIT study shows.
Your carbon footprint is a lie because most of it is down to regulation, governments & the goodwill of lobbies. Some examples.
- A greener energy policy redistributes the co2 savings to everybody.
- A heavy investment in public transportation (in and between cities) prevents the use of cars & planes.
- A bike-friendly infrastructure leads to more people using bikes for their commute, reducing the amount of cars on roads.
- Stricter insulation standards in new building reduces the need for heating & cooling.
- You get the idea.
The whole concept of carbon footprint should not be a distraction from the real issues³. Real change comes through other means, which brings us to the next point.
Become an activist
If reaching climate goals is a co-effort between individuals, gouvernements & companies, the right legal framework should be in place. Unfortunately, interests are often not shared across the board, which leads to slow & lukewarm measures.
If you want to reduce your emissions, you also have to change the system you are a part of.
You have to vote, sign petitions, go demonstrate, take part to sit-ins. Here again, no one is a super hero and you can contribute in your own style & capacity. Here are some resources to get started.
- Go vote, it makes a difference: Local elections renew local councils every 5 years. As a Berlin resident, you have a right to vote, regardless of your citizenship. In 2021, the Greens got 18.9 percent & SPD 21,4%, spearheading a majority with a relatively forward-thinking agenda. The Greens took control of several Bezirke, with for example the effect of improving the biking infrastructure.
- Take part to demonstrations: They keep the attention of media on climate issues. There is strength in numbers.
- Go volunteer: there are plenty of organizations working in favor of local solutions to climate change. That could as simple as preserving Berlin parks or protecting certain species that contribute to a resilient system in the city. No everybody has to be at Extinction Rebellion! Find a volunteering opportunity here & organizations here.
- Finance the organizations that will lobby in favor of regulation at Berlin level or European level, like Oxfam, Greenpeace or FinanceWatch.
What about offsetting?
Is offsetting one of the solutions to reduce our carbon footprint? Yes & No.
- No, because planting a lot of trees & sucking co2 from air distracts from the real issue which is to start reducing emissions, instead of taking it as a license to keep polluting. That’s how any big oil company claim they will be neutral by 2050.
- No, because most co2 offsetting projects have actually failed to deliver (study from EU commission).
- Yes, because at this point, we need to start actively removing co2 to mitigate climate change. Just mitigate, not cancel. It takes decades for offsetting projects to work.
- Planting a lot of trees is sometimes counterproductive and it’s hard to do right. It’s best to fight to protect the current ecosystems we have.
I personally chose to donate money to MossyEarth, which is less focused on offsetting but more on restoring ecosystems & making them more resilient.. They are really dedicated to transparency too.
My course of action so far & my struggles as an adopted Berliner
A lot of things get in the way of action at a personal level. It’s true for me as well. I’m not particularly virtuous on the matter, even if it gets better. This is my experience a foreigner in Germany, dealing with those issues.
- About my diet: Changing diet is sometime renouncing to component of my culture itself. As a french man, I should know. We put a lot of emphasis on food. Simple example is cheese. Giving up on cheese seems like a crime against my homeland. Will they take my passport away? It would feel like doing away with the memories & the heritage that have shaped my very being. Nevertheless, I do not eat beef anymore, rarely eat pork or chicken. I almost only eat goat cheese. If I visit my family, I tend to be a bit relaxed on those rules because it’s usually a festive occasion.
- About transportation: Visiting my family is carbon-intensive: Taking the train from Berlin would require a 20h journey, through Paris (changing stations in Paris).I have kids: I’d probably jump off the train long before we arrive, driven mad by them. Flying to France is currently the best option for now. When we bought a cargo bike to move our kids around, we sold the car. We now rent a car for the occasional trip. Still cheaper than owning a car.
- About fashion: I am conflicted about this one. I have gotten very good results with second-hand fashion online, but since I shop by piece (and how it fits me) independent of the brand, it tends to occur more shipping & time waste.
- About activism: I’d like to give my time to a cause but I have 3 kids, so time is scarce. I have taken part to 2 demos for climate, but not recently. I have voted in favor of officials with a climate-friendly policy. Through posts like what you are reading now, I’m spreading awareness and inspiring action hopefully.
- About the little things: no waste hygiene products, cloth diapers, plastic reduction, etc. We do that too.
Am I doing enough? Probably not, but it’s the beginning of a journey. Feel free to add more local solutions in the comment section.
²You should still do those, even if they don’t account to as much as you would expect. This is because small gestures & things lead to more awareness around you with friends, colleagues & family. While it’s starting small, it can eventually move them into being more politically active or even just sign a petition. It still counts.
³ Incidentally, the term was invented by BP in an effort to shift the conversation away from polluting industries and put the shame/blame onto individual choices as consumers.
we must remember that the environment is much more complex than simply cO2. Veganism is not a remedy for what we are putting the environment through. Without even mentioning the water required for many plant-based dietary substitutes (at a time when the world is heating and water poverty is spreading rapidly across the globe), if we all transitioned to vegan diets, we would need all of the crops we raise to be incredibly high yield to meet calorie demand for cities like Berlin, and beyond.
This means, increasingly leaning towards genetically modified crops, it will inevitably lead to bottle-necking, where the most profitable crops will be favoured, seasonal foods and less popular, or more intensive, low-margin foods will disappear off the shelves completely, and the amount of pesiticides and fertilisers running into our water systems will proliferate exponentially, ruining not only our water supplies, but marine environments too. That’s not to mention the fact that much food waste is eaten by livestock, meaning we will have a surplus of unusable food waste and of course surplus livestock (I’ve yet to see a convincing plan for what to do with the billions of livestock we have, most of which have no place in natural ecosystems).
I am a vegetarian myself, I do agree that people should try and do their bit, whether from environmental, or ethical grounds, and that means to me finding a way to assimilate better eating or shopping practices into your life, setting it a seat at the table, so to speak, but not in such a way that you end up causing problems elsewhere.
The message I prefer to spread is about waste! Stop wasting. Wasteman. Most of the food that reaches outlets goes wasted, completely unused, whether unsold by the supermarket or restaurant, or going rotten in your fridge, or uneaten on the plate.
Do what you like with the above, but maybe try to think about adding a little line about waste. Don’t buy more food until you have eaten what food you have. When I have eaten all the meals I wanted and had planned, when I finish the cheese, or the eggs, or whatever, I don’t just go straight out and buy more, I eat pasta and pesto for two days, then pasta and olive oil with a spare onion and some garlic, or I have avocado salad for breakfast, or whatever.
It’s not until you run out of your favourite things that you finally get round to eating that cauliflower, or those carrots slumped at the back of fridge, do it. If your veg is turning bad, boil it all up, add some gemusebruhe and pepper, blend it up, and you have a soup. Remember this post that you’ve written telling people to eat more ethically every single time you throw away a bit of unused food and remember that if we can cut out the waste, we cut down production, and that is a more realistic, more sustainable way to encourage better eating practices than trying to shame people out of eating meat.