Do Carbon emissions affect your health?

Every year thousands of Irish were wearing their shamrock with pride for St Patrick's Day. Shamrock that was grown in New Zealand.

Over the past couple of years, inches of newspaper columns have been dedicated to carbon emissions and food miles. There has been a rebirth in awareness about recycling and amongst the upper strata of society, it is increasingly trendy to go organic and domesticated. The Primrose set has even taken to writing books on 'mend-and-make-do', thereby linking the credit crunch to greener living.

Minimising your carbon footprint is a perfect example of the prevention paradox. This refers to the steps individuals are expected to make to benefit the population. Such steps are often not rewarding for the individual - they can sometimes even be a hinderance - but they are good in the long term for the population as a whole. You have to see past the hype and be sensible. I once lived with a girl who 'recycled' her plastic shopping bags. After each weekly shop, she would put her collection of bags in a cupboard just in case she needed them. They never saw the light of day. It's a bit like all those people who drive their family cars to buy organic milk at the local shop. Walk! It may be inconvenient but by doing it you'll reduce emissions from your car and help contribute to a cleaner environment. (Plus you can become trimmer and fitter!)

So what is the impact of carbon emissions from people's lifestyles on public health? Well, the effect of carbon emissions is obvious. Air pollution not only sullies cities but it is associated with respiratory diseases and asthma. Linked to this is noise pollution from traffic. With people increasingly living further out from urban centres due to house prices and desirability, commuting great distances to and from work on motorways is commonplace. Public transport is largely patchy and possibly due to high rents in inner cities, many workplaces are in areas of light industry where walking to work or to nearby amenities is impossible. This problem needs to be tackled by local authorities. Every time a new motorway, high rise office block or waste disposal plant is planned, a health impact assessment should be undertaken to see the impact the project has on the local population.

So is there anything an individual can do that will lead to a healthier greener lifestyle for both individual and the wider population? Doing some or all of the following steps should help:

1. Insolate your house. It's all very well to spend thousands on solar panels and wait years to get your money's worth but the real energy saver is insolating your walls. This will prevent heat loss and make your use of central heating far more efficient. This will help reduce emissions and will be good for your pocket too. You can check with your local council to see if you're eligible for a grant to help with the insolation costs.

2. Precycle as well as recycle. Precycling means thinking ahead before you shop. Buy a 'bag for life' and keep it with you. Use it every time you visit the supermarket. This will prevent you accumulating plastic bags. You could also use a thermal flask for your takeaway coffee. Many coffee shops are happy to fill it for you and this will save on paper cup wastage. Try to pay as many bills online as possible. This will save paper. If you regularly buy magazines or books, you could join or set up a magazine and book exchange with friends, neighbours or work colleagues.

3. Cut down on your driving. For one day, pretend you have no car. Can you get by? What can you do easily without a car? This is a good way to get in your recommended 30 minutes of daily physical exercise. When you do drive, keep to the speed limits. Accelerating from and reducing to 30 mph uses up a lot of fuel. While speeding in higher gears is more fuel efficient, travelling at 70 mph rather than 50 or 60 uses more fuel. Reducing speed will help prevent road accidents, reduce carbon emissions and save you some money.

4. At home, turn off lights when you leave the room and switch the television off rather than stand by. Unplugging electrical equipment at night can not only help reduce your power bill but is a good fire precaution. If you're a mobile user, ask yourself if you really need the latest upgrade. In the UK, the average mobile user changes handsets every 18 months. Surely telecommunications doesn't change that regularly!

5. At work, switch your computer and monitor off when you leave the office. This reduces the machine's emissions by 83%. I know of a study in Bradford that showed savings of thousands of pounds for the company when the employees turned off their computers. This led to more money being available for better facilities for the employees.

6. Support local produce and businesses. You're not only helping to reduce food miles but you are also supporting the local economy, which is good for you financially and socially.

7. Give up smoking. It is detrimental to your health and cigarette butts take 12 years to bio-degrade. Apart from litter, the production of tobacco uses large amounts of fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides. It also leads to deforestation as paper is required for packaging and large areas are cleared for tobacco planting.

8. Don't chew gum. If you must, don't spit it on the ground. Chewing gum is not biodegradable and will just stick to the ground. It is expensive to remove from streets as it requires power washing, use of cryogenics or manual scraping. To prevent wasting taxpayers' money, dispose of it properly by putting it in a piece of paper and binning it.

9. Cook at home more often. This is good for your waistline and you're more likely to eat smaller portions than you do when eating out. Try not to use packaged meals as these can be high in salt and saturated fat. Choose fruit and vegetables that are not packaged to prevent waste (it is also cheaper).

10. Minimise your use of household cleaners. Apart from their contribution to water pollution, they can be harsh on your skin and some may be toxic to inhale. Simple soapy water is suffice to clean most surfaces and bleach with tepid water remains a great killer of germs.