Yes, you can make a difference. Society’s collective response to global warming is the combined effect of the actions of each one of us. We must all take responsibility for reducing our greenhouse gas emissions at home, at work and when travelling.

Many of the changes that are needed to reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions can be made individually; in 2011 emissions from the residential and transport end user sectors (excluding international aviation and shipping) accounted for 48% of the UK’s total emissions. If we wait for the necessary changes in lifestyle to be forced upon us by the government, by high fuel costs or by climate-induced disasters we may find that it is more difficult, socially disruptive and costly to make the necessary adjustments. We can and must act now. The recent appearance of several websites devoted to the creation of online petitions, such as Avaaz.org, Change.org and 38 Degrees, suggests one avenue which might be used to make politicians aware of the strength of feeling on these issues.

Very often we take on different roles in our daily lives and we can take action in each of these roles. We can switch from business person to private individual, from producer of goods and services to consumer, from pedestrian to driver, politician to voter. It is worth asking who these other people are that we are expecting to solve global warming for us, since deep down we know that this is our problem and we all occupy the same planet.

Most politicians and some sectors of business and industry have consistently lagged behind or ignored the scientific evidence for global warming and the growing desire for change at grassroots level. Politicians seem to require a certain baseline of support before they act and often require a demonstration that what they offer is possible, so they appear timid and lacking in leadership. Your demonstration of support for taking urgent, significant action to tackle climate change and your individual actions will help to create the groundswell needed for politicians to take action. Similarly, businesses respond to what they believe their customers want; the more we, as consumers, demonstrate support for a low-carbon society, the more businesses will act to help make it a reality.

Although we need political and technical support to underpin the radical changes in society that are required, the easiest way to promote these changes is to begin with ourselves and lead by setting an example to others (much of the technology that is needed is already well known and available to us). It is possible (even likely) that we will each influence those around us and promote substantially more change than our own individual impact. Our own personal changes may seem small but the change that is needed will necessarily be the sum of all of our changes. However, this is not an argument for everyone simultaneously making relatively small changes. These will add up to only an inadequate impact (“if everyone does a little, we’ll achieve a little”). Instead we each need to take meaningful action and encourage others to do the same.