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For many people, the pandemic has provided an unexpected opportunity to pause and reflect. For my family, that has meant taking time to assess what is important to us, and trying to work out how to align our lives more closely with those things.

One thing we have decided to do is to look carefully at our lifestyle and try to minimise our impact on the climate. Without an awful lot of work, we established that the single most impactful thing we could do to reduce our family carbon footprint was to ditch the car. Getting ready to take this action, we have been looking for advice and reassurance from others in a similar position to us, but found relatively little online. So, we thought it might be useful to document some of our thoughts and learning as we go through the process, in case it’s helpful to anyone else considering giving up personal car ownership.

About Our Situation

  • We’re a family of four. Two adults and two 6 year old kids (twins).
  • We gave up flying years ago. We rarely eat meat or dairy. We try to generally live a frugal and low impact life.
  • We live in a medium sized town in the UK. It’s hilly and has fairly poor walking and cycling infrastructure.
  • We own a 15 year old petrol estate car. We currently drive between 10 and 15 thousand km a year.
  • We’re confident cyclists and already bike to our jobs some of the time, as well as for leisure and to run errands.

If we lived in London, or another big city, I’m sure we would have made this jump long ago, but right now, the car gives us a huge amount of freedom and convenience. We are not the best planners in the world and often use the car to visit friends or relatives at short notice.

We don’t own lycra, but we’re definitely already the sort of family that use bikes for holidays…

Crunching the Numbers

Finding robust, but simple to use tools for getting a baseline of our current impact, and thus working out where we can make the biggest difference, was also not particularly easy. In fact, it was a huge frustration and different tools and sources give wildly different number… Still, I’ve spent some time doing the best I can and trying to get a sensible understanding of where we are as a family right now. These numbers likely are not spot on, but are a good starting point.

In terms of a bigger picture, from what I can find online, the UK average footprint is between about 4.5 tonnes or 13 tonnes CO2eq per person per year(!)… The global average it seems is around 4.5 tonnes.

According to this carbon calculator tool, our family carbon footprint is about 14.4 tonnes, which if you divide it equally over the four people in our household equates to 3.6 tonnes CO2eq per person per year.

To meet the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement, we should be aiming for 2.3 tonnes CO2 per person per year, by 2030. So, we’re looking to reduce our impact by at least 5.2 tonnes over the next eight years as a family.

I calculated the carbon footprint of our current car using this tool. And it works out at something like 2.7 tonnes of CO2 per year. Switching to a using a car club, and cycling, would save, I think 2 tonnes. It gets complicated if we factor in buying a new e-cargo bike, or replacing the car or many other scenarios. But in summary, it takes a big bite out of our remaining reduction target.

So, What’s the Plan?

Ok. Now that I’ve rationalised to myself why I think this is an important thing to do if we want to reduce our family carbon footprint, the next thing is to figure out the specifics and try to prepare for the consequences of saying goodbye to our car forever…