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How to live a low-carbon life by Chris Goodall 03.04.07


How to live a low carbon life

In the UK the average individual is responsible directly and indirectly for 12 ½ tonnes of carbon dioxide. How do we get that down to 3 tonnes- well reading Chris Goodall’s ‘How to live a low carbon life- the individual’s guide to stopping climate change’ is the best start.

In ’How to live a low-carbon life’, published by Earthscan, Chris Goodall looks at how we generate carbon in our day to day live and what is the most cost effective way to reduce our footprint.

Therein lies the key difference between this book and the many published before arguing why we should reduce our carbon foot print, or advocating one solution over an other for ideological rather than economic reasons. Chris Goodall has a no nonsense financial approach to his arguements, what is the cheapest way to cut carbon emissions, what is practical and what is just wishful thinking?

His background shows through in his style, chair of telecoms software company Dynmark International, he has an MBA from Harvard Business School and is a former director of Which? Ltd, the consumer association. He is also a member of the UK Competition Commission and Utilities Appeal Panel, he is also the Green Party’s Parliamentary Candidate for Oxford West and Abingham.

Based on existing research and some of his own best guess calculation Goodall goes through the list of key areas the individual consumes carbon emitting energy-home heating, cooking and water heating, lights and household appliances, travel, and the food we consume. His empirical approach is a refreshing angle, he looks at the realistic running cost savings of a low energy approach as well as then combining the day to day cost with paying back on the original, unavoidable, start up costs. In addition and very importantly he looks at the price per tonne of carbon dioxide avoided, that is he shows where the most cost effective solution for cutting emissions.

Replacing an boiler that was installed in the 1970s with a condensing boiler, would reduce a family home carbon emissions by 1.35 tonnes, cut bills by £212, and would cost over five years, based on borrowing £1,400 to have it installed, around £83 per tonnes of carbon dioxide avoided, a solar hot water system for a small house on the other hand would save around 0.2 of C02 a year, save around £23, cost £3,000 and cost around £600 per tonne of C02 avoided, a wood-pellet feed wood burning furnace on the other hand would save 4 tonnes of CO2, cost around £2,900 to install and cost less than £80 a tonne of C02 avoided.

His chapters on the energy use of the food industry’s supply chain one of the best energy based arguments for buying local and if possible organic, and his analysis of ‘green energy’, and offsetting also very clear and refreshing.

Chris Goodall is no arm chair theoretician, like many green authors he has come up with the findings of his book through tried and tested life experience, in Goodall’s case making an Oxford town house as carbon neutral as possible without tearing it down and starting again. As these type of houses tend to be more energy inefficient than social housing and apartments the book is a useful case study for urban middle class home owners.

One of the encouraging points Chris Goodall makes is how, as he and his family started to make the first steps to reduce energy consumption in the home, the process developed its own impetuous. By bringing energy consumption front of mind the impact was actually greater than his dry calculations, as careless energy wastage was avoided, and needless energy activities stopped.

At the beginning of the book Chris Goodall argues strongly that companies and governments cannot be expected to take strong action on the climate. His point is the simple one that no single government will take unilateral action on climate change and thus render its companies uncompetitive on a world scale, and loose votes in the process. Similarly no corporation will increase their costs by taking a greener route if this means that they loose market due to higher prices.

For Chris Goodall the responsibility lies clearly on the shoulders of the individual to take up the green challenge, once companies see markets emerging for greener, higher priced, goods then they will move to meet the demand, Governments too will be bolder in policy terms as they see positive advantages in being seen to be Green. Just like the first step towards energy savings at home generates effects larger than the individual action, so one individual’s actions create ripple effects through the community and workplace, setting an example and encouraging others, and ultimately corporations and governments.

There is clear evidence to show that the recent high profile debate on climate change is beginning to have an effect on policy makers, corporations and our culture. Whether it be Marks and Spencer’s A Plan, the Draft Climate Change Bill, or the increasing social unacceptability of 4x4 in town there is definitely a feeling that the Green agenda is spreading is branches. On the other hand is the clear evidence that our energy consumption, far from reducing is actually rising, while ethical consumerism is on the rise it still makes up a minute part of the food market. Consumer hunger for air and road travel and government’s grovelling acquiescence is a clear counter point to all their voluntary industry codes on sustainable this and renewable that.

Individual action and example is a superb start, but it does not replace the necessity to organise pressure both on corporation and government, and to work together to build alternatives to the energy heavy solutions of corporate Britian. The vast array of civil society organisations that bury away with less profile than say a Greenpeace or a Friends of the Earth are also where real change is being effected day after day, the social business networks, the organic allotment clubs, green gyms, housing associations, school pedestrian trains, car sharing schemes, these are providing low cost alternatives and collective solutions to a wide range of people. They are also crucially the bedrock that will ensure that when the media have moved onto the next hot subject that the ethical and green approach will continue.

Chris Goodall’s ‘How to live a low carbon life’ is a very useful practical guide to the cutting first 68% of our individual carbon footprint. It will be sometime before such a clear no nonsense book needs to be re-written - although hopefully Government grants for installing energy saving and generating improvements, the price of selling energy back to the local grid, and the cost of running ‘green’ transport will mean that the figures need to be updated.

Peter Shield

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