Archive for the ‘Climate change etc’ Category

Hopefully, this will help you live within the planet’s means: work out your impact on the planet & plan your year ahead to reduce that impact to sustainable levels. Want to fly off on holiday? Well, turn your heating down a bit & buy fewer clothes so that you can. Read on and learn how to balance your budget!

To make lifestyle budgeting easy, I have translated all our ecological impacts into carbon emissions; or tried to. There is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding things like resource depletion, toxic emissions, habitat destruction etc. This lifestyle budget is based on so many shaky assumptions, rues of thumb, approximation and downright guesses that it probably all falls out in the wash anyway. Basically, it is a first approximation of a sustainable lifestyle to aim for. Something to work towards.

 All assistance in making it more accurate and inclusive will be most welcome! So far, this is how it works:

Every person on the planet has 3.5 tonnes of CO2 they can produce a year. Anything more is unsustainable, meaning you start to deplete resources and add to climate change. The following figures give you carbon outputs for various activities (emissions + ecological impact), so that you can budget properly: save a bit of carbon here to spend it there. Remember that things like electricity can be shared between everyone in the house – they are not per person, but per household.

 The basic figures for working everything out are given first, then examples about how to use them to plan your year’s activities to be sustainable: balancing your carbon budget.  

All figures are per year per household, unless otherwise stated.


Thing                                                                            Carbon emissions


Background life support                                                                 

Rubbish: recycling                                                                              0

Rubbish: wheelie bin to landfill                                                          5kg per bin

Electricity small house                                                                        1,500kg

Electricity large house                                                                         3,000kg


                           Savings: being careful & turning everything off save 500kg*

                                          Using green tariff divide emissions by 5


                           Extras:    use a tumble drier? Add 640kg


*This means turning the TV & other kit off when not watching/using it, turning lights off when you leave the room, unplug chargers when not in use etc.


Heating with gas small house                                                             600kg

Heating with gas large house                                                              1,600kg

 Heating with oil small house                                                               750kg

Heating with oil large house                                                               2,000kg

Heating with electricity small house                                                   1,500kg

Heating with electricity large house                                                   4,000kg

                           Savings: well insulated and careful divide by 3.5

                                          Using green tariff divide by 5

                                          Turn the thermostat down save 200kg per 1oC

General water use (av person London)                                               17kg per person

Showers, washing & washing-up (including hot water)                     200kg per person


                           Savings: quick, low flow shower (3 minutes) reduce by 100kg

                                          Wash clothes half as often & at 30o reduce by 100kg



Home grown (fairly organic)                                                              0

Veggie (from veg box)                                                                        0.07kg per meal

Veggie (supermarket veg)                                                                   0.1kg per meal

Meaty & cheesy                                                                                  1.5kg per meal

Ready meal/processed food                                                                2kg per meal


Booze (shot of spirit, glass of wine, pint of beer)                               0.2kg each drink

Coffee, tea, soft drinks                                                                       0.3kg per cup

Cordial & tap water                                                                            0



Car small, new & eco (160kg per 1000 miles driven)

                           Seldom used (3000 miles)                                        480kg

                           Often used (12000 miles)                                        2,400kg

                           Hardly out of the car (20000 miles)                         3,2000kg


Car large, old & nasty (640kg per 1000 miles driven)


                           Seldom used (3000 miles)                                        1,920kg

                           Often used (12000 miles)                                        7,680kg

                           Hardly out of the car (20000 miles)                         12,800kg


                           Commuting sums: rough length of journey one way x 480 = miles per year


Public transport (95kg per 1000 miles travelled)


                           Short commute (2 miles)                                          90kg per person a year

                           Medium commute (25 miles)                                   1,125kg per person a year

                           Long commute (75 miles)                                        3,375kg per person a year


Flying short haul                                                                                 100kg per hour flying

Flying long haul                                                                                  70kg per hour flying


NB the driving figures are for the car – if there are multiple occupants, then they will share the carbon between them. Flying & public transport figures are per person.



UK holidays do the transport only (car journey or public transport)


2 week holiday with short haul flight (1000km)                                450kg per holiday

2 week holiday with long haul flight (5000km)                                 1,800kg per holiday


NB the figures for holidays involving flying are per person

For 1 week holiday short haul is 400kg, long haul 1,400kg


Consumerism (buying stuff)

General rule for everything                                                                 0.8kg for every £1 spent


Electronic stuff (TV, mobile, computer etc)                                       1kg for every £1 spent

Clothing                                                                                              0.6kg for every £1 spent

Sofa                                                                                                     300kg each

Toys (general)                                                                                     0.9kg for every £1 spent

Toys (plastic, electronic)                                                                     1.2kn for every £1 spent

Toys (eco)                                                                                           0.2kg for every £1 spent

Appliance                                                                                            680kg each

Car                                                                                                      4,000kg each




Waterskiing, motocross etc                                                                 0.7kg per hour


 [sorry – the formatting of that has gone a bit weird from Word, but I really can’t be arsed to correct it]


Doing your budget

First of all, do not be afraid to use fudge-factors or estimates to extrapolate between the figures given. For instance, using a tumble dryer less will save some of the carbon: half your use & save 320kg.


So, take an example of an average family of four in a decent size house:


Total normal carbon spend per year (assuming they are a bit crap at turning things off etc)

Heating 1600kg

Rubbish (1 wheelie bin a week) 260kg

Electricity 3000kg

Water us (17kg each) 70kg

Washing etc (200kg each) 800kg

Food (1 main meaty meal a day each 4×1.5×365) 2190kg

Booze (1 glass wine a day for parents 2×0.2×365) 145kg

Car (12000 miles, fairly large but fairly new car) 3500kg

Stuff (buy £5000 of stuff a year total) 4000


Total: 16000kg carbon per year (roughly).


So, they want to live more sustainably, which means they need to get down to 3,500kg each: the total needs to come down to 14,000kg. They also want to go on holiday to Spain for 2 weeks. How can they do it?


In all they need to shave off 2,000kg from their normal lifestyles to become sustainable in everyday living, plus save another 1,800kg during the year to ‘pay’ for their holiday (which is 450kg each). So, in total they need to get their everyday living to emit 3,600kg of carbon less over a whole year. Tough call!


The first thing to do is start turning things off: never leave TVs blaring to an empty room, unplug all chargers when not in use, turn lights off when they leave the room, don’t leave stereos or games on standby and generally think about every way to reduce electricity consumption. Do it right and save 500kg. Then switch to a green tariff, like Ovo (about cost neutral to normal electricity suppliers & quite helpful – I use them), which will divide the remaining 2500kg by 5. Total saved on electricity use 2500kg.


Stop using the tumble drier most of the time & buy a drying rack (Brabanita do a good one) save 500kg. Heat the house to 1o lower, wear a jumper some of the time & save 200kg.


Stop buying so much unnecessary tat and start actually doing things with their time instead, save £2000 and 1,600kg.


Well, that takes them to 4,800kg saved over the year, which is more than enough for them to enjoy their holiday to the full! And all with very little effort and probably an improvement in lifestyle, as they will be pulling together as a family and doing more stuff rather than just shopping.


If they go even further and start eating less meat and get a veg box, take shorter showers, wash their clothes less and even use the car less (walking or cycling is very healthy anyway), then they should have enough carbon left over to go skiing. The money they save means that they will be able to afford it too.


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It seems to me that there are three main areas that we can change to reduce our consumption rates and halt the destruction of our planet. These are population, lifestyle and technology. The trident of climate action, if you like.

Population is fairly obvious – the more people there are, the more resources we will need to keep them fed & watered. Driving around in cars, heating homes and buying tonnes of junk a year just makes things a whole lot worse.

Every year more people aspire to the lifestyles we enjoy in the developed world, so a growing world population is only going to lead to trouble. Unfortunately, it will take a long while to halt the growth, even if everyone on the planet agreed today to have only 2 children. The best ways to achieve lower birth rates appear to be education and the empowerment of women, but neither or these is likely to happen particularly quickly over depressingly large areas of the globe.

Lifestyle is a more complex issue, but is largely about re-aligning priorities in the developed nations and helping the developing nations achieve sustainable growth. Lifestyle is more than just cycling to work or becoming vegetarian, it’s about your decisions in every aspect of your life: how you vote, where you invest spare cash, what work you do etc. It is often said that individuals have no power over government and corporations, that the small changes we can make are dwarfed by their excesses. This is true to some degree – the footprint of the Copenhagen COP15 summit was about that of a small UK city – but it misses the point. If even a few more people vote Green Party, for instance, the main parties will site up and listen. A small drop in revenue will make even the most avaricious multinationals take note. This will be news worthy, so the mainstream population will be exposed to new ideas. What is considered ‘normal’ alters, becomes a little greener and more people act responsibly. This creates more momentum in the swing to green, so normality gets greener a little faster.

Another claim is that to live a one-planet lifestyle you have to drop out. I have heard people say that they cannot live sustainable as they do not want to live in a yurt and do want their kids to go to school. This is complete nonsense. Sustainable lifestyle is about gaining things, not loosing them. It’s about thinking how you live, choosing quality of life over buying lots of stuff – focusing on living life, not climbing the property ladder. There is no reason why you could not be fabulous wealthy, send your kids to public school and still live sustainably, if that really is what’s right for you family. After all, Ghandi’s footprint was not huge & he was one of the most influential people the world has ever known.

Technology may also help us out of our worsening mess. Developing super-efficient transport, productive renewable energy systems and almost 100% recycling rates will make a huge difference. Carbon capture and storage could reverse climate change to some degree (probably) and geo-engineering may reduce its impact.

However, problems with engineering our way out of trouble include time, cost and feasibility. It will take a long time to get the fabulous technology up and running, with a lot of it only delaying the problems rather than solving them. It will cost a lot of money and require quite a shift in economic power, so there will be resistance to doing it effectively. It is also not certain that it is possible to achieve in practice, especially if people expect to carry on increasing consumption rates. Technology has often back-fired in the past, so relying on it could quite feasibly make things worse rather than better.

All three areas are vital to securing the future of our planet, but the central prong of the trident is lifestyle. It can be the most powerful and is the only one we can all influence directly as individuals. Companies are run by people, governments voted in by people and all wealth created by people spending or investing their money. We are those people and it is our choices that can change the world.

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No, not that sort of sex you perv – sex as in being male or female (etc). A survey has found that women are less sceptical about climate change than men http://www.springerlink.com/content/llq15510m374583q/fulltext.html.

This concurs with my own experience, which also suggests that men are more vehemently sceptical.  A number of studies into climate denial suggest that it is linked to belief systems, whereby acceptance of an intangible concept creates a requirement to radically change lifestyle or make one ‘traitorous’ to that concept. For instance, if one truly accepts that God exists, how can one carry on a sinful lifestyle and not feel troubled?

The traditional role of man as head of the family, provider of wealth etc still resonates in society today, no matter how out dated this has become in practice. Now, please don’t think I am saying that men are the main movers and shakers in life & women shouldn’t worry their pretty little heads about it! Nothing could be further from the truth – I am talking here about perception. However unfortunate, there are still many echos in society relating to the days when men went to work & women kept home. This is entirely anachronous, but there are still a lot of men who feel that it is their duty to protect their family. In the same way that many chaps would consider it their job to confront burglars at night, so many consider it their ultimate responsibility to ensure their family lives well. Perhaps not true, but it is how many men feel.

So, there is psychological pressure on some men to maintain the high quality of life enjoyed by their family, which for many is far easier to do if they continue their consumption patterns and mode of living. After all, many subscribe to the erroneous idea that living sustainable means returning to medieval poverty and eschewing all mod cons. Now, to justify their continued consumptive lifestyle they have to believe that climate change is not happening, as otherwise they would have to face the fact that they are leading their family not into luxury but into turmoil. So they have to be vehement in their denial, to convince both themselves and as many others as possible that they are doing the right thing. There is, after all, safety in numbers; psychological safety, at least.

Personally, I think it goes further than this in the USA, where there are more climate sceptics than anywhere else. This has to do with the American Dream. The USA more or less founded the current consumer capitalist economic system; it is the home of consumerism & has created a global economy of unparalleled success on the back of it. To say that this is no longer a viable system is bound to rub more people up the wrong way in America than anywhere else. To some, their American identity is intrinsically linked to this consumerism, so saying that it is wrong and is causing the destruction of the planet is to attack their belief in themselves and their country. It is heresy.

This is why climate change & religion have so much in common: the most important drivers are not facts & practicalities, but belief and cultural references.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124008307 is a good article on how people accept or reject scientific information, depending on their belief systems or world views.

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Research shows that knowing about climate change does not lead to action. 45 years of research costing around £100 billion has resulted in only about half the developed world admitting that we have anything whatsoever to do with climate change. The evidence is there for everyone to see, but people chose not to believe it. Even those that accept the evidence often do not act, such as climate scientists flying long-haul for holidays. It seems that there is something more fundamental than knowledge at work here: belief. Climate change and religion appear to have a lot in common. To those that do not ‘believe’, the idea of belief is extremely scary: to fully believe is to recognise that you should give yourself over wholly to the way of life prescribed by that belief, which can mean a radical alteration in lifestyle.

I think religious belief goes even deeper, as accepting that there is a God means accepting that all your core principles need to be reassessed in light of how He would want you to act. The same is true for climate change, albeit without the praying. Now, the truth of both climate change and religion is slightly different from the perceptions of the unbeliever: not all religious people give all their possessions to the poor and go off to become missionaries. This is fairly easy to recognise logically, but the emotion of belief is a very powerful thing. Perhaps it is the danger of losing self respect that is most important, as to truly believe something without acting upon it whole heartedly is incompatible with the ‘I must be perfect’ culture that has arisen lately.

Some may accept the evidence of climate change and accept logically that it is occurring, but many still do not allow it to influence their core belief system and so can carry on life as usual. Others simply deny that it is happening at all and avoid the whole knowledge/belief imbroglio. Hence Zeta – a way to be content with who you are and what the world has to offer, without fear of fashion and the consequences of following your convictions. After all, Zeta is all about following your convictions to get the best out of life – do that and the rest will fall into place, all the barriers and fears to living the best life you can will melt away; although admittedly it requires some bravery and strength of character to be Zeta.

But more about that later.

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I have noticed a surprising number of climate sceptics on things like facebook and Yahoo Answers. Now, the surprise is not that some exist, but that so many are vehemently opposed to any suggestion that there is even the slightest possibility that we are altering the climate. Most don’t even admit that there is any climate alteration in the first place – a flurry of snow anywhere on the globe is, to them, enough to show that Global Warming is a fantasy.

Now, from the general tone, language and references of these violent sceptics it is apparent that most come from the US of A and nearly all of those talk about misinformation and manipulation by liberals and left-wingers in an attempt to take over government & business. They seem to think there is a massive, organised conspiracy to falsify scientific data and rob them of all that is rightly theirs; and since most scientists are long-haired commy weirdos, they are in on it too.

I don’t know if it is fair, but the mental image I get from their posts is of big, burly men in plaid shirts, carrying large knobbly guns and spitting torrents of tobacco. I often hear banjo music too. ooof – shivers down the spine!

Perhaps is has something to do with the capitalist, consumer philosophy that current economic wisdom is based on. This has been pioneered by the US over the last 100 years or so and exported to much of the world with an almost religious zeal. It seems to represent, for some people, the essence of being American and the American Dream.

To accept the ‘green’ message is to accept that classical consumer capitalism is wrong: you cannot live a truly sustainable lifestyle in a system that demands constant expansion and therefore an ever-increasing drain on resources. It is like pyramid selling, which is well documented as making a few people very wealthy before collapsing. So for those people that feel the current economic situation is a core part of their American identity, telling them to plant a few veg in their yard is tantamount to treason or heresy

the Guardianhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/cif-green/2009/mar/09/denial-climate-change-psychologyhas a good article about the psychology of climate denial and why it is still so prevalent, although it doesn’t go into the whole sister-marrying banjo thing.

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