Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How to meet your 10:10 commitment

If you've signed up to 10:10, here's some guidance on how significant different actions are to the average UK citizen's carbon footprint. Just pick the right combination to add up to 10%.

Action % cut
Install whole-house biomass heating 21.7
Cut out a long haul flight (eg to the US) 13.0*
Insulate the loft from 150mm to 300mm 13.0
Switch to green electricity 13.0
Insulate your cavity walls 8.7
Install wood burner in one room 8.7
Install solar photovoltaic 8.7
Go veggie 8.7
Eat organic almost always 8.7
Upgrade to a condensing boiler 6.6
Upgrade heating controls 6.5
Upgrade to a Prius or similar car 5.7
Install solar hot water 4.3
Install thermostatic radiator valves 4.3
Turn down thermostats and tweak radiators 4.3
Car share for commuting every day 4.3
Cut out a short haul flight 4.3
Cut mileage by 1000m pa 2.9
Change all lightbulbs to CFLs 2.9
Upgrade to an A rated freezer 2.0
Work from home or cycle to work 1 day pw 1.7
Compost all green/food waste 1.7
Switch off appliances properly (ie no standby) 1.6
Upgrade to an A rated dishwasher 1.4
Insulate hot water tank 1.0
Upgrade to an A rated fridge 0.9
Draughtproofing 0.9
Seal gaps on skirting boards 0.9
Put foil behind radiators 0.9
Upgrade to an A rated washing machine 0.5
Lag hot water pipes 0.4
Defrost freezer and dust coils 0.2

The numbers have been extracted and extrapolated from Carbon Detox and How To Live A Low Carbon Life (see right hand side). The assumptions behind them are necessarily crude to keep this table simple.

* The average person doesn't take a long haul flight every year so I've had to scale this down to account for the fact that if you do, your carbon footprint is way above average.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Seen Any Brown Astroturf?

Astroturfing is the cynical creation of artificial grassroots movements to achieve political and/or corporate aims. It is a bigger phenomenon in the US than the UK, but I'm sure we still get plenty of climate change denial astroturfing under the radar.

Take George Monbiot's blog in the Guardian. He goes out of his way to provoke the denialosphere and every online post immediately fills up with denial comments. The commenters obviously aren't your average everyday Grauniad readers and you see that many of them are spotting right-wing dweebs just waiting for Monbiot to makes his move before they shout 'Aha!' and start typing furiously. But spotted in amongst these are a strange brand of faux-naive comments like "I came at this with an open mind, but when I looked at the science I couldn't believe how skronky it was."

Let's be clear - almost no-one who looks at the science with an open mind finds fault with it - because most of it is fact and the rest reasonable interpretation of the evidence collected and analysed and checked over many decades by thousands of people. So what made this anonymous poster think he could see gaps where the great minds of science can't? That word 'skronky' looks like a US spinmeister's creation to me and is at odds with the personal authority he claims.

It appears that the same old tactic of 'don't debate the substance, just spread uncertainty' is alive and well. This was the tactic used by the GW Bush administration and the Global Climate Coalition for many years to avoid the brutal facts their scientific advisors were telling them. Beware of astroturf...

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Friday, September 18, 2009

The last wilderness

(originally posted on the Terra Infirma Blog)

On Tuesday night I was invited to a fundraiser to send a young man, Joe Spedding, on an expedition to the Antarctic as part of the 2041 campaign to maintain the continent as the Earth's only untouched wilderness and draw attention to climate change. 2041 is the year when the international agreement to preserve the Antarctic is up for renewal.

The talk was by Robert Swan, the founder of 2041 and the first man to walk to both poles. The tales of derring do, determination and hardship were at times overwhelming, and Swan got rather brutal first hand experience of two global environmental issues. On his South Pole trek in 84/85, the walkers' faces blistered and peeled far more than had been expected. It was only while they were there that the hole in the ozone layer was discovered. On the walk to the North Pole five years later, they found sea where they expected ice - evidence of climate change - which as a scientific phenomena was only just emerging at that time from academic studies into the public arena. Amongst his myriad other claims to fame, Swan now owns the only private building on Antarctica - an educational building powered entirely by renewables. His life is now dedicated to the global environment.

Joe Spedding saw Swan talk about these experiences when he (Joe!) was just 11 years old. 11 years later and he is fulfilling his dream to travel to Antarctica - the aim of the trip is to train him and others as environmental ambassadors and leaders. As one of my formative environmental experiences was an expedition to the Ecuadorian rainforest in 1993, I'm a sucker for this sort of thing and was happy to make a contribution. Pity I can't go too!

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hell-in-a-handcart Headline of the year...

...must go to the Daily Mail who, in response to some perceived threat of enforced food recycling, thundered:


Blimey, O'Reilly, do they never tire of being indignant?

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Monday, September 14, 2009


It's that time of year to collect and eat the allotment bounty. Problems include:

1. Some things are too big and heavy for some of our workers (see above).

2. What do you do with all this food arriving at once?

Well 1. will sort itself out in time and 2. - well it's the chutney season (below). Plums, tomatoes, onions and apples from the allotment, plus some vinegar, sugar and sultanas from the shop*. Shame is you have to leave it for 3 months before trying... The marrow has gone into a lovely marrow, pea and mint soup.

* I should be honest here! Some of the onions and tomatoes were shop bought - the former to get the quantities right, the latter because the home grown toms were too tasty to put into the chutney so we swapped them.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

OK, now what?

So I've signed up to 10:10. How am I going to cut my carbon footprint by 10%?

Low hanging fruit? I work from home, drive infrequently, cycle, walk and take the train all over, I've insulated the loft, put in triple glazing, installed a solar panel and a wood burning stove, mainly buy second hand books, I switch things off, I'm on a green electricity tariff, I don't window shop, I try to buy local and organic, I recycle as much as I can and compost what I can, I wear my clothes until they wear out, I holiday in the UK and take at most one short flight to N. Ireland every year. So, what am I going to do?

Well first off, I'm going to finish measuring my carbon footprint using the Carbon Detox method - a project abandoned three quarters of the way through. At that point my calculated footprint was 18% lower than the UK average and I was assuming my general shopping was average, which it isn't, so I need to some more research and analysis.

But I guess the only chance I have of making a real difference will be food. More veggie, less meat and dairy (the latter being a tip I hadn't thought of before reading the 10:10 website). More food coming from the allotment, which means I have to do some planting as well as my usual role of occasional maintenance, watering and harvesting.

What are you going to do?

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Beard stroking and tree hugging...

I've just finished my profile of deep ecologist Arne Naess for Green Gurus. What struck me about his philosophy (when I wasn't trying to remember what 'deontology' meant) was the idea that not only are we a part of nature (which many people forget), but that nature is a part of us.

Naess spent a huge amount of his time in a mountain hut, contemplating nature, seeking spiritual enlightenment. This kind of behaviour is normally dismissed as beardy-weirdy tree-hugging, but who hasn't felt spiritually uplifted by an amazing landscape or an astonishing animal? I have felt giddy with excitement at the lip of the Grand Canyon, a whale breaching from the sea in South Africa and even a golden pheasant puffing up its ruff in a mating display in our local pet zoo. Millions tune in to nature programmes on TV (tonight's BBC programme about the undiscovered species in a Papua New Guinea volcanic crater looks like a cracker). So why are we so suspicious of those who immerse themselves in nature?

We spend over 80% of our time inside - some of it watching TV programmes about the outside. As a homeworker, I'm particularly vulnerable to not going out as many days I just don't have to go anywhere. So this summer I decided to get out more. Not having a mountain hut in a Norwegian massif to hand, I make do with my garden. If it ain't raining I try to get out - coffee breaks, mealtimes, anytime I can. Blocking out the traffic, people walking down the street and the sounds of work from the allotments, I watch the birds eating at the feeders, the bees on the sedum and the shapes of the trees billowing in the wind.

And guess what? It does makes me feel happy. Of course, it might just be the vitamin D, but I don't care!

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

A good day to sign up to 10:10

I've just had the big carbon weekend of my year flying over to Belfast to see my parents. Strangely the small turboprop we flew on had one of those EU Energy Labels which have transformed the white goods market and are now seen in the foyers of public buildings. I couldn't believe that it was an 'A' - the whole point of such labels is to transform the market, so achieving an 'A' should be really difficult. If you give existing craft an 'A' then it suggests that this is the best you will ever get and leave no room for technological improvement. Pah!

Anyway, I'm going to sign up for the 10:10 campaign today - the idea is to make a 10% cut in UK carbon emissions by 2010 - ie in the next year. This is a great an idea - an infinitely stronger and immediate call to arms than all those 2020 or 2050 targets which are so wonderfully distant. You can get a 10:10 tag made out of a scrapped airliner to show your commitment. Check it out, then go through the back posts on this blog to give you some extra ideas.

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