Anyone who’s watched David Attenborough’s latest documentary, A Life on Our Planet, knows that climate change is scary. It will cause crops to die, animals to lose their habitats and millions of people will have to leave their homes. To beat it we need something scarier than climate change: witches. Witches are unarguably spooky: they are the number one adult Hallowe’en costume. Luckily they also do some pretty environmentally friendly things.
1. Pointed hats and cloaks
Witches are rarely seen without their signature pointed hats. They’re also often portrayed wearing lots of shawls and long, black cloaks. Wearing warm clothes, like a thick jumper or a witch’s cloak, and turning down the thermostat is one of the best small household changes to save energy.
This makes such a difference because heating is the biggest usage of energy in the home. The environmental cost of air conditioners is well-known, but even in warm, humid areas heating a home uses more energy over a year than cooling it. Witches get around this by wrapping up warm.
Lots of forms of modern transport are very bad for the environment, but witches have a way around this. Unlike planes, which emit huge amounts of CO2 per flight, it doesn’t appear that brooms are very polluting. It’s not clear how they stay in the air, but they certainly don’t seem to emit any greenhouse gases.
A broom is also the witch’s only mode of transport and replaces cars and trains, which are largely powered by fossil fuels and contribute a large proportion of global emissions. Until the rest of us learn how to make household cleaning equipment hover off the ground, we’ll have to stick to reducing our transport use and swapping to greener transport options like cycling or electric cars and trains.
3. Eye of newt and toe of frog
Witches put some pretty weird things in their cauldrons including newts’ eyes, frogs’ toes and lizards’ legs. While I wouldn’t recommend maiming local wildlife, using the whole animal when cooking is a good way to reduce its carbon footprint because less of it is going to waste.
The way that we currently eat is bad for the environment and 9% of the US’s emissions come from raising animals for food. Like witches, people could eat more unusual sources of meat which have much lower emissions, like insects. Although many cultures already do this, eating crickets isn’t to everyone’s tastes. Instead, an increasing number of people are reducing the amount of meat and dairy in their diets.
Witches famously cook using a cauldron over an open fire, rather than an electric oven or a gas stove. Energy production is responsible for 47% of global emissions. Although wood is not a clean energy, unlike fossil fuels like coal, oil or gas, wood is a renewable source because more trees can be planted.
Throughout a tree’s life, it is removing CO2 from the atmosphere which is then released when the wood is burnt. If a tree is planted for every one burned, then its CO2 emissions are cancelled out. Burning wood is probably not the solution to climate change though because it releases other greenhouse gases that trees do not absorb. It also produces a lot of smoke, which causes smog in cities.
Witches are very old-fashioned with how they light their houses. They generally burn candles instead of using electric light bulbs. The production of electricity used to power light bulbs releases CO2 (unless it comes from a green source like solar panels or wind turbines).
The production of shop-bought candles probably also uses electricity and candles are also quite dangerous, as they pose a fire hazard. To improve your house’s energy consumption, it’s better to buy LED light bulbs, which use 90% less energy than older incandescent ones.
Lots of magic spells involve natural ingredients, so witches tend to live around nature to gather these. As well as looking pretty, nature is also a great way to combat climate change. Planting large forests of trees is a good way to offset CO2 emissions, but all plants absorb CO2, including crops that we grow for food. Some of the most space-efficient crops for the CO2 they absorb are cauliflower, tomatoes and lemons.
Although physics claims that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, witches are able to create something from nothing. The world lacks resources like food and water and there is starvation around the world. Climate change is likely to make this worse by causing droughts and food shortages in some places. Witches never lack for anything because they are able to create anything that they want.
The ability to conjure things also cuts down on the costs and emissions from transportation. The non-magic method of transporting goods with the lowest emissions is to ship them over sea because a massive amount can be moved at the same time. The least efficient way is to send them by plane.
8. Living in the woods
Some things that witches do are bad for the environment. Like the witch in Hansel and Gretel, some witches live alone in the woods. Living in remote areas produces more carbon emissions than living in a city. Populations that live closer together are more efficient than those that live more spread out, so city-living is more efficient than living in the suburbs or the countryside.
In cities, public transport is more accessible so fewer people need to drive. A bus produces fewer emissions than each of the passengers driving their own car. Heating apartment buildings, which are more common in cities, is also more efficient than individual houses because heat will flow between the apartments rather than escaping outside.
9. Black cats
Witches are often accompanied by a familiar, like a black cat or a cloud of bats. Cats and other pets consume a lot of resources and a lot of food, which is bad for the environment. Cats that are allowed to hunt outside also damage the local environment by reducing biodiversity. They hunt small animals in the nearby area and kill millions of songbirds every year.
Owning a pet also helps the environment as it makes people less likely to fly on holiday because they need to care for their pet so stay at home. Keeping pets that need walking regularly, like dogs, also improves their owner’s health, reducing their need for healthcare which is a big contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
Even if you don’t live exactly like a witch, the ways that witches’ actions impact the environment can teach us mere mortals how to make environmentally-conscious choices ourselves.