Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

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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We have just had a rather interesting budget from the LibCons, so I thought I would indulge myself with a little lucubration on economics.

Not long ago, the fiasco at Copenhagen highlighted a few cracks in the global community. All is not accord and conviviality amongst nations. The main problems appear to be distrust and vested interests, which have lead to a ‘them and us’ attitude for both individual nations and blocks of nations. No nation wants to give away too much without reaping at least as much benefit from it as everyone else, because otherwise their people might slip down the global wealth rankings and not be best pleased with their leaders.

This is sadly resonant of the Tragedy of the Commons, as are the recent attitudes of Canada et al regarding the arctic. Without a system of rewards and punishments, there is very little incentive for nations to conserve resources for the future. Indeed, the only incentives are to exploit now or hoard for later, depending on which will give the greatest economic advantage for the particular circumstances of the nation. Conservation and fair distribution are just not politically sensible in a world dominated by consumer-capitalist economic systems.

The budget today nodded towards a green economy, but no more than that. I think it is safe to say that the ensuing period of austerity and deficit reduction will banish any attempts at wholesale economic overhaul. So consumer-capitalists we will stay for the forseeable future.

Stuck with the current global economic system, we need rewards and punishments to tip the balance towards acting responsibly for the world as a whole, which means we need global environmental treaties. Such treaties appear to be focusing on emissions at the moment – caps of CO2 per country and technology transfer to allow this to happen – but this is treating the symptom rather than the cause. Emissions treaties are highly desirable in controlling climate change, with the fairest system possibly being a per capita global cap with sliding-scale reductions for wealth, but they will not be successful in addressing the tragedy of the commons. For this we need wider controls on consumption of resources.

It is very difficult to control consumption without changing the consumer-capitalist system we operate, or becoming unacceptably draconian. However, what can be done is to make rampant consumption unattractive. The easiest way to do this is to make it desirable to use renewable energy, to recycle waste and conserve natural habitats. There are many mechanisms for achieving this, but they ultimately boil down to economic necessity: keep your forests to make money, use fossil fuel to lose money.  

This will work very well if all the nations sign up to the necessary treaties, which is unlikely to happen without a lot more trust and cooperation. This leaves the option of unilateral action, such as border taxation. Is the EU strong enough to impose its vision of necessary action on the rest of the world? Can we tax carbon-intensive goods as they enter the EU? Probably not, but it is probably immaterial as the resulting conflict could be more damaging to the world than inaction. The climate is becoming less stable and resources dwindling, so any action that heightens international tension is probably a bad idea.

Is it possible to overcome the political impasse by private means? Can corporations lead where politicians fear to tread? Well, there is already the technical capability to convert the world to use 100% renewable energy, which is a start. This capability is also improving all the time due to scientific advances, but is it practicably possible or economically viable?

Some recent rough calculations suggest that wind energy is cheaper than nuclear power for the UK and that 2500km2 of solar panels could supply the UK with all its energy needs. The latter would be rather ridiculous as there are much more efficient ways to generate transport fuels and electricity in the UK, which brings us to the idea of a supergrid. This could distribute renewable energy across Europe and beyond, making the most of local power sources and evening out local gaps in production.  This makes renewable energy very attractive with incentives such as FIT or ROC, but without subsidies renewables cannot currently compete with fossil energy. Partially this is due to various subsidies (largely indirect) that fossil energy enjoys and partially due to the infrastructure, but as with all finite resources this will change.

The supply of oil and many important minerals is rapidly diminishing. The simple economics of supply and demand mean that these commodities will become more expensive. There will therefore become a time when it is cheaper to use renewable energy and recyclate than virgin minerals. The only problem with this is that resource consumption will probably increase as a proportion of reserves, so that volumes of sales remain high and revenue streams are maintained. This will keep sustainable practices on the fringes or requiring subsidies until the mineral resources become extremely scarce, at which point there will be insufficient time to build the necessary infrastructure to avoid production loss. This is turn will probably lead to civil dissatisfaction and international tension.

The nations or trading blocks that have promoted renewable energy, recycling and conservation will at that time be better able to continue production as they will have the infrastructure and social practice already in place. They will have far greater energy security and civil stability than those nations that build economic growth on mineral exploitation and do not invest in a sustainable society.

The greatest aim currently should be for international treaties to reduce resource exploitation, minimise climate changes and ready the world community for a sustainable future. However, this is currently unlikely to happen sufficiently robustly or soon enough to avoid damaging resource depletion. The private sector within the EU will not be able to change the block into a sustainable community without economic advantage or subsidies implemented by government. It may not be possible for the EU to impose tax burdens or other trade tariffs on resource-intensive imports, but this should not deter us from pursuing a sustainable European community within 50 years or so. This may reduce our competitive advantage in the short term, but it will lead to safe, equitable and comparatively comfortable future for all within our community. It can be done, but only with political will from our national and EU parliaments.

Unfortunately, that puts the burden back onto you and I. Only if we push our politicians to act, show them that we are brave enough to take some pain now so we can build a viable future, will they be able to lead us through such difficult changes.

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The most adulated people throughout human history have been the Alpha Males and Alpha Females. This is a direct continuation from our more hairy past and is generally the situation for most mammals. He (or she) who shouts the loudest, grabs the most and consumes the fastest is the best. Or so it has been until now, but for humans at least this is about to change.

Why? Well, throughout history there has always been a world surplus of resources. Even if there was local scarcity of food, for instance, there was always the ability to get more from elsewhere or grow more after the next rains. There was no boundary condition to prevent getting more stuff. This meant that he who could produce the most resources would accumulate the most wealth, which in turn would trickle down to the community around him. The equation is easy:

More resources in = more produce out = more wealth = happy!

This made him everyone’s favourite and the best mating potential in the tribe. The lack of a boundary condition meant that this equation was always valid (if managed right, at least).

In the impending Age of Change this will no longer be the situation: for the first time in history it will soon be impossible to find enough stuff on the globe as a whole. There will be a barrier to accumulation, a boundary condition. The equation will no longer be absolute and will often look more like:

More resources in = imbalance and scarcity = impoverishment = sad!

This makes the Alpha Male in question a very controversial figure amongst his immediate tribe and could lead to his complete downfall. He will have become a very dangerous choice of mate.

This may sound like a fairly fine flight of fancy, but how does it correspond to the real world? Throughout history and around the world people have starved whilst others prospered – why will things change now?

The answer again is the boundary condition. Even in a situation where some are starving, the successful Alphas have always procured a proportion of their wealth from outside the community and some of that wealth has trickled into it. This has kept the system stable enough for the Alpha to remain comfortably at the top. If the situation arises that the Alpha cannot procure wealth from outside their community, they will have to either hoard their produce or take from their immediate surrounds. This will lead to serious social instability and potential fall of the Alpha.

The real problem with the whole Alpha thing is not that they are successful or charismatic or strong, but that their attitude sucks. Alphas have been bred, both socially and genetically, to want to be Alphas. They want to consume, to accumulate, to be the best and they want to be seen to be doing so.

Zetas, on the other hand, do not have the attitude. They are still leaders, still strong and charismatic, if not more so than Alphas, but they have a much deeper understanding of what is important in life and how to live it. They rate enjoyment over ownership, contentment over wealth and understanding over material success. They are, in the broadest meaning of the word and not necessarily in any religious or New Age way, spiritual. They are wise.

It is this different attitude that we need as the world runs out of resources and we enter the Age of Change. We need to be led by Zetas, not Alphas. This is nothing particularly new, as many of history’s greatest figures have been Zetas rather than Alphas, but the reason and degree to which we need them has changed.

Why Zeta?

The worlds resources will run out, so we all need to start understanding the difference between ‘want’ and ‘need’, as in ‘I need clothes to keep me warm’ -v- ‘I want that Prada handbag to go with my Jimmy Choo shoes’. We have far more than we need, which does not make us content. The consumer society is based on buying, tiring and buying more. There is a quick burst of happiness when we buy something new, followed by the disappointing boredom of ownership and the stress of having to buy more to get high again.

Wealthy societies that are based on consumerism, such as the UK, have higher depression rates and lower contentment than poor societies based on spirituality (again in its broadest sense). This we desperately need to change and the only way to do so is to change the way we live, to become less consumerist and more spiritual. We need to wean ourselves of our addiction to quick shopping highs and learn how to enjoy the deep, long lasting buzz from actually doing things for ourselves and those around us; of having little and enjoying a lot.

This is already important, if only to improve our standard of living, but as the Age of Change comes upon us it will become essential to survival. A bit of depression over having only 50 pairs of shoes and a large overdraft will soon turn into an inability to provide the basic essentials for living and a complete failure to cope.

Zetas can show us how to chill out and make the most of life’s adventure. They can show us how to enjoy the world for what we have around us, rather than aspire constantly to what we think certain celebrities have around them. Zetas can lead us to live better lives: better for us and better for the planet as a whole.

So why will the Zetas become top dogs? It will be because they will survive serenely, they will know how to make the most of what is around them and will still manage to find true contentment. The Age of Change will not reduce their lifestyle as it will many others, because the shortage of material wealth will not reduce their wisdom or spirituality. They will continue to have enough, of everything.

They will also help others to survive, they will help whole communities find their way from consumption to understanding, spirituality and ‘enough’. That will make them top dogs.

A deeper discussion of the philosophy of Zeta will have to wait until the next post.

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The world is changing. It has, of course, changed continuously throughout history, what with wars and plagues and so forth, and endless social schisms of which the recent New Age movement is but one link in a long chain, but this time something different is happening. It’s not just the use of convoluted sentences, either.

The history of Man has been marked by a slow, continuous push in the same direction: gaining a better standard of living and increasing consumption. Although there have been regional reversals, the overall direction for mankind has been forward. Now we have almost reached our zenith and for the first time in history we are about to go into a decline.

That statement may sound a little bold and perhaps over-confident, but let’s think things through a little.

In the developed nations we consume far more than the Earth can replace. This is balanced out a bit by the poor nations consuming far less, but as a whole planet we get though about 30% more than can be replaced. This figure is increasing as the poor slowly become richer.

We are working our way through all the known deposits of metals, oil, trace elements etc, so that within 30 years many will be gone, even without the increased consumption of the poor. There are undoubtedly more deposits out there that haven’t been found yet, but they are likely to be found deeper in the earth, be located in more remote corners of the globe or be less pure. Getting them and refining them will therefore take more effort, consume more resources and cost more.

The easy wins will therefore peter out in a couple of decades, possibly leaving a lack of raw materials as they go. Some things will become scarce, such as rare metals essential for electronics, whilst dwindling fuel stocks will make energy frequently unaffordable. Life in general will become more expensive, our ability to travel for work or pleasure will diminish and our standard of living will drop. We will effectively become poor. This will affect the rich nations most violently at first, since it is they that currently benefit from all these riches, but it will not take long for the developing nations to join the downward plunge as well. It is likely that some people will get angry about life getting tougher, which may lead to an increase in nationalism, xenophobia and protectionist policies. This in turn could lead to friction and even war.

Climate change may or may not be real, but if it is the attendant flooding and droughts will only increase the pressure for conflict. Disasters cost money and create huge tensions throughout the afflicted region and beyond. Darfur is one example of just this: a local denigration of natural resources leading to regional conflict and global tensions. In the global community in which we now live, the consequences of such future conflicts will not be confined to the afflicted areas but will affect the entire world economy. Blame, protectionism and desperation can be volatile ingredients; they are set to become far more common.

If you are not convinced by all the conceptual blather above, we can follow another train of thought to the same destination. The capitalist model, which most of the developed nations follow, relies on continued economic growth to work successfully. Hence the horror of recession, which is usually nothing worse than a time when growth stops or declines very, very slightly.

But this need for constant growth is a bit like pyramid selling – it can not go on for ever and will have to collapse one day. Why? Well, wealth has to come from something tangible – something grown, mined or made. The recent Credit Crunch has shown that bankers passing IOUs between themselves does not actually create anything, other than fat bankers and a global overdraft. The pyramid has to keep expanding by the constant input of stuff: stuff mined, manufactured or grown. It is, I hope, self evident that this cannot carry on for ever – we will at some point run out of new stuff to feed into the pyramid. So at some point we will run out of things to drive growth and like a car running out of fuel as it powers up a hill, the world economy will not only stop growing but will go into swift reversal. Consumer capitalism will collapse and we will be left with tougher lives, poverty, protectionism, xenophobia and war.

So how can we avoid all this unpleasantness? Well, the only way I can see (and I admit I am not particularly bright) is for us to change the way we live – not only that, but we must change the way we want to live. It is up to everyday people to drive this change, because our current economic system is a bit like being drunk. Let me explain: the first effect of getting drunk is wanting to get more drunk and never stop being drunk. Capitalism is designed to create massive wealth within a few organisations, with those organisations having the continued expansion of wealth as their core purpose.  The get capitalist and want to never stop being capitalist. The only problem is that to do this they have to make sure that as may people of the world are also capitalists, or else they won’t buy into it (pun intended – sorry). So it is for us comparatively poor people who are not drunk with capitalism to effect the change – put the world economy in rehab – which we can do by changing the way we live, spend & vote. It is tricky to get the hang of, as we have been conditioned for decades to support the current system – feed the pyramid – but with a change of mindset we can be free (sorry, can’t seem to quit the dire puns today!).

It is time we evolved away from our gorilla past and into a more enlightened era. If we can do this, the benefits on both an individual and global scale will be immense.

My next blog will chat about what this means – the end of the Alpha Male and the rise of Zeta!

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