Unless you've been hiding out in the Outer Hebrides for the past few years, you'll have heard about climate change and the effect it's having on the Earth.
In a nutshell, rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, mainly Carbon Dioxide (CO2), resulting from man's activities, are causing the planet to heat up (this used to be called global warming) causing all sorts of unpleasant side effects: melting ice caps, rising sea levels, very bad weather, water shortages, droughts, famine, extinction of species, and worse to come for us if we continue to ignore the warnings.
The big problem is that we've all been living like we had 4 planets to sustain us. In the South East we've been particularly bad apparently.
That's the bad news. The good news is that if we all took some actions, even small ones, they'd add up to something much bigger that would make a difference, and maybe we can stop this thing, before, it gets really really awful.
(For a great explanation of all this, check out Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth – out on DVD now.)
So where to start. Well, first off we each need to work out our own carbon footprint – a measure of our individual impact on the environment, measured in units of CO2 – and then we can work out how to go about reducing it.
As a guide, the carbon footprint of a typical household breaks down like this:
– roughly 1/3 of the CO2 emissions come from the energy used to heat and power your home
– another 1/3 comes from transport, including driving, and especially flights, one of the worst culprits, and
– the final 1/3 comes from food miles ie the emissions resulting from getting food to your table (which is why it's important to get locally grown food as much as possible).
Working out your carbon footprint can be quite complicated; you need your energy bills, to know how many miles you drive, and to work out how far you've flown, or traveling by train or bus, but there are quite a few websites out there that can help – try http: // www.carbonfootprint.com or http://www.climatecare.org . The average for a UK household is about 12.5 tonnes of CO2.
When I worked out my own footprint, I discovered that almost 50% of my total carbon emissions last year came from two short haul flights (to Ibiza and Toulouse – 2 tonnes of CO2), which was quite an eye opener, and is making me think about how many flights I take in future. The next biggest contributor, at about 800 tonnes, was the electricity I use. Luckily I now buy green electricity, from 100% renewable sources like wind, solar and wave power – it doesn't cost any more (go to http://www.goodenergy.com and say I sent you) – so I've done something about that. I also belong to a car club instead of owning a car, so my car usage is quite low.
Once you've worked out your own carbon footprint, you can set about reducing it – the long term target is a minuscule 1 tonne of CO2 per person per year. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Use alternatives to planes wherever possible (check out http://www.Seat61.com )
Avoid short trips in the car
Get low energy lightbulbs
Buy electricity from renewable sources
Turn things off when you're not using them, and don't leave appliances on standby, which can use up to 85% of the energy of the appliance
Cover food when cooking
Boil only the water you need
If everyone upgraded their fridge to an A-rated model, co2 emissions would be cut by the equivalent of 47 million double deckers of gas per year.
There are plenty more things you can do, and they all add up – have a look at my website http://www.nigelsecostore.com for things that can help you live a more eco-friendly and sustainable life.
And once you've got your footprint down as low as possible, you can think about carbon offsetting the rest, but that's another story.