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Monday, May 14, 2007

Never enough!

Occasionally I see or hear someone who says, I've cut back as much as I can. For most of these people cutting back means new light bulbs and perhaps caulking their windows and considering a more efficient car 5 years from now when they need to purchase again. This article from BBC shows the extremes some people will go and what cutting back really means.

I'm not saying everyone can or should go this far but a detailed look at how austerely some people can live is important to show the "I've already cut back" crowd that there is lots of room for more improvement.

Would you switch everything off and rely on natural light to save the planet?

It's the only answer for the families going to extreme measures to cut emissions.

Most families get up in the morning, switch on the lights and start their ablutions. The Robinsons do not.

The Robinsons get up, leave the lights off and open the curtains a crack so some light gets in but little heat escapes.
This is the world of "carbon rationing".

The term may fill some people with horror - conjuring up images of wartime austerity measures and queues for bread and sugar.
For others it may suggest green fundamentalists forcing us to swap our central heating for woolly jumpers and run our cars on chicken dung.

A recent poll suggested only 28% of Britons thought the idea of setting mandatory limits on individuals' carbon emissions - raised by Environment Secretary David Milliband - was socially acceptable, even though most feel lifestyle changes are needed to reduce the impact of climate change.

But the term does not trouble Peter Robinson, and dozens like him around the country who have signed up to voluntary groups whose aim is to substantially reduce the CO2 their members are releasing into the atmosphere.

These Carbon Rationing Action Groups advise their members, known as Craggers, on how to minimise energy use.
The Robinsons have eagerly set about finding ways to cut their personal energy use, many of which have also proved financially beneficial.

"It's only when you stop and start looking that you realise that you do waste a lot of energy, not out of spite or just being lazy or anything, it's just your normal lifestyle," Peter says.

Use jug to collect hot water in shower for shaving
Open curtains a fraction instead of switching on light
Walk or cycle to school/work

"Our lifestyles were very energy-rich whereas now... there are things you can do in your life that don't stop you having a really nice time... but you can still make really substantial savings.

"It's not draconian, you're not leading the life of a monk, it's just stuff that's really easy to do."

The 36-year-old school administrator may not think it is draconian but there are some who would raise an eyebrow at the prospect of using only the upstairs bathroom during the hours of darkness and relying on ambient light from streetlamps.

But Peter has been an enthusiastic "cragger" since joining his local Crag, in Worcester last year.

Though he, his wife Sarah, and children Jacob and Molly, have been actively trying to reduce their carbon footprint for some time, he believes being members has helped to focus their minds on the task in hand.

"Being involved in the Crag... has really made a difference - monitoring how you produce your carbon... is what really has driven me and enabled us to look at what we do, how we live our lives, make those savings," he says.

Currently at least 23 groups throughout the UK
Each group sets individual targets, but most going for 4.5 metric tons per person for 2006/7
In some Crags, a financial penalty for those who exceed limit
Aim is to reduce personal footprints by about 10% a year, to achieve a 90% cut by 2030

It is easy to see the Robinsons as driven. They do not watch television, but for reasons that have nothing to do with the environment. Their children are allowed to watch DVDs at the weekend but the brightness control has to come down.

Developing habits is the key, Peter says. He described how he once visited a prison with a group of psychology students.

"One thing you notice there is that each time any of the prison staff went through a door they would close it and lock it, it becomes second nature. And when I started going round at home turning lights out it reminded me of that routine."

Most of the family's savings have come from using less heat (turning it off altogether from April to October and restricting its use at other times), less light and turning off electronic equipment at the wall. Peter has also pledged not to fly this year.
He says they reduced their personal carbon emissions from 12.7 metric tons in 2005 to 10.9 in 2006, well below the national average.

He is hoping savings this year will have knocked another 10% off their emissions by December.

Financial penalties

Frustratingly for him, his local Crag has not offered any guidance or reduction targets. But in nearby Hereford one of the first groups to be set up recently finished its carbon "accounting" for the year April 2006 to April 2007.

It set a limit of 4.5 tons per person. Some Crags have elected to impose financial penalties for those who exceed the limit, but Hereford decided not to.

Carpenter Steve Ball, 36, who joined Hereford Crag last year, found a combination of his car use and a flight to Slovenia had pushed him well over the limit to more than seven tons.

But although he had never previously calculated his footprint, he believes changes he has made have already cut deeply into his emissions - for instance, converting his car to run on a biodiesel mix and resisting regular calls by friends to fly off to Tallinn or Prague.

Like Peter, Steve has taken small steps across the board - like using a small motorbike for some journeys or insulating his converted loft.

He plans to insulate his floor as well, but his dream is to build afresh.

"Renovation is quite a hard thing to do, to make an old house efficient energy-wise, but I'm looking into building a new house," he says.

Both Peter and Steve have made massive changes and are prepared to go further. But they both seem wary of the Crags' ultimate aim - to reduce personal carbon emissions by 90% by 2030, which the movement says is necessary to avoid dangerous and potentially runaway climate change.

"We would struggle as a family to get 90% cuts," Peter says.
"If it's do-able, then great idea," says Steve. "We can strive for it, but whether or not it's realistically possible I don't know."

One thing is sure. If anyone can do it, it's the Craggers.

While it is lacking on total details of their austerity, it's amazing that people would join a private organization that will finacially fine them for not reducing enough. So when you think to yourself I've done my share, I've cut back enough, you'll know better. Don't even look at it as just working to lower Green House Gases, look at it as training yourself in the realities that Peak Oil will force upon us. Those who learn how to live this way will be better readied, mentaly, physically and finacially for any number of possible lifestyle changes or emergencies.

Once again I will recomend to anyone who is unsure of the real impact of global warming and or Peak Oil to pick up the book, The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunst, there is a link to it on the side bar. I've found it worth reading more than one time so I bought it, but when discussing lowering our impact I would be remiss if I failed to say it was a best seller, so you might find it somewhere else used or certainly at your local library.Recommend this Post

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