The events in Copenhagen have made me do some thinking about what individuals are going to have to do to have an impact on climate change. I can identify roughly 4 broad categories.

  • Vote/protest/express opinions. Many of the things that need to be done can only be done by politicians and business leaders, and we can tell them what we think in order to get them to do those things.
  • Exercise consumer choice. We can choose different products or services based on their attributes. For example, we can buy local produce to reduce the “food miles”; buy products that have less energy inputs.
  • Direct contribution in cash or in kind. For example, we can pay to offset air travel; buy “green” electricity; plant trees; install solar panels.
  • Reduce energy consumption. For example, we can use less electricity and gas; go by train or tram instead of car; holiday locally instead of by aeroplane. Things like insulating your house should produce an effect in this category.

The interesting thing if you go through the list is that the first 3 don’t reduce emissions. They pass the buck to someone else.

  • International treaties and an Emission Trading Scheme do not reduce emissions: they aim to change behaviour over time but the actual reductions have to come from somewhere else: industry or consumer behaviour.
  • Consumers can only choose from products on offer using available information, and at present those choices and that information are very limited. In time actions by politicians are intended to change the mix of products and prices so that consumers are guided towards lower emission products, but I do not expect that consumers will ever have much discretion in this area.
  • Yes, you can help a bit by doing these things but they do not reduce emissions. They actually encourage a “business as usual” approach, where we individually produce the same level of emissions and expect someone else to do the reducing. [Maybe if you personally plant a tree that does help, but not if you pay other people to plant trees.]
  • Reducing personal energy usage is the key. This is what we all have to do and this is the ONLY way we can individually contribute. The disappointing thing to me is that politicians and greenies and scientists and everyone else simply fail to get this key point: we have to use less energy.

So how can we do that? The starting point is knowing what we use now, and then having the tools to achieve change. If we can do it with water we can do it with energy too. With that in mind, I intend to conduct a mini-survey on energy usage amonst people I know. There are 3 kinds of energy we all use: electricity, gas and liquid fuel (petrol, diesel). I shall start with electricity.