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News > CEL Conference 2004

Presentation by Trewin Restorick:

Living a Carbon Cool Lifestyle

A couple of weeks ago I downloaded the Government's leaflet explaining what I should do if faced by a terrorist attack. It was a work of art in stating the blindingly obvious. Did you know for instance that in case of such an emergency you should dial 999?

The Government obviously felt that terrorism is such a major threat that producing this leaflet and the associated publicity was essential for the future well-being of this country. The leaflet left me feeling perplexed. I knew that the Government's Chief Scientific advisor had put the threat of climate change at the same level as terrorism and that the Prime Minister himself had highlighted it as one of the main issues that he will be addressing as the UK take on the Chairmanship of the European Commission and G8. Where then was the leaflet through the door urging me to turn the tv standby switch off or to use the car less? Did the Government feel that this information was more mundane and pointless than that contained in the terrorism leaflet?

I wonder if there has ever been such a disconnection between a political and scientific consensus that urgent action is required to address the problems of climate change and a complete lack of any effort to involve and inform the public about the steps that they could take to address the issue.

Clearly running scared of evoking another fuel protest or accusations of promoting a nanny state there has been a veil of silence about the actions that we could all take to reduce our carbon emissions. Instead, the Prime Minister has called on the public to give him a mandate for change. When the Government decides to lead from the rear the only option for concerned citizens is to lead by example.

It is in this spirit that I give to you my climate change equivalent of the terrorism leaflet. Obviously in order to build synergy with the New Labour leaflet, I paid an advertising agency a small fortune for a title. They have come up with the Cool Carbon Code for Concerned Citizens which is obviously rubbish – but when you have paid that much money its best not to argue. OK so what is in the code for being carbon cool? Well as my leaflet so lucidly explains there are five codes.

To best explain the first part of the code I want you to imagine a small, cold church on a Sunday. The organist starts the first hymn and there is complete silence. Gradually a few people start to sing loudly and off key. Once they have started the majority of the congregation join in with just a few at the back miming. Society works in much the same way as this congregation. You always need a few brave souls to start making a noise to give others the confidence to join in. If living a low carbon lifestyle is to be the norm we need these leaders within society. As the oft quoted and indeed misquoted Margaret Mead so brilliantly stated ‘Don't doubt that a small group of people can change the world often it is the only thing that can' – or something like that anyway. So the first part of the code is Be a Singer.

To continue with the quasi religious theme of the presentation, the second part of the code is the ‘Thou Shalt Theory'. Frankly nothing puts people off doing something more than a do-gooding busy body telling them what they should or shouldn't be doing. Prime code breaker in this area is John Prescott. Mr Prescott was responsible for telling people to use their car less on the very day he and his wife drove 50 yards in one of his two Jags because he didn't want her to muck her hair up – critics were divided as to whether she had left it too late in the first place.

All our evidence at Global Action Plan is that people only make long-term changes in their behaviour if they have a chance to consider and discuss the reasons and implications for the change with friends, family, neighbours or work colleagues, rather than somebody telling them what they should be doing. Our EcoTeams programme has been run in a number of countries throughout the world. Groups of 6-8 people come together to discuss environmental issues and to decide amongst themselves what actions they can take. On average EcoTeams are able to reduce their waste by about 40% and their energy use by around 10%. The second part of the Code therefore is: Discuss the changes that you can practically make with friends, family, neighbours or colleagues.

The third part of the code is avoid Eco-babble. For some bizarre reason the environmental world has created a language that is exclusive and confusing. I dread to think how many conferences I have been to where we have spent hours trying to define sustainability. Outside the environmental world sustainability is like a verbal trap-door you just have to mention it and the interest of the person that you are talking to disappears in an instant. Its use probably explains why I never get invited to parties anymore. Another great example of confusing environmental words is Bio-diversity. A recent poll found that 5% of people thought it was a washing powder. So the third code is: Keep the language simple.

The penultimate part of the code is to walk the talk yourself. Any efforts to evangelise on a cool carbon lifestyle will immediately come unstuck if there is a whiff of hypocrisy in your own personal lifestyle. As I said before, deciding on what actions you should take are best considered after discussion with those immediately round you and I am in grave danger of breaking the second rule of the code if I start telling you what you should be doing. So instead here are a few ideas for you to consider.

Each household in the UK produces on average 7 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. The carbon dioxide is caused by the burning of fossil fuels that enable us to create the energy we use to heat and power our homes, to fuel our transport and to produce and deliver the goods that we buy. As you can see this is just about every aspect of our life and being truly carbon cool requires a bit of an overall lifestyle makeover. Although not the sort regularly seen on tv.

As in any makeover the changes range from the mundane to the significant. Let us start by looking at the relatively mundane. You can't get much more mundane than those pesky little stand-by lights found on televisions and computers. Whilst these lights are left on energy and money is still being guzzled. Indeed it has been calculated that if everybody turned their machines off rather than leave them on stand-by it would save sufficient energy to power a town the size of Basingstoke .

It is not just inside your home that simple actions can make a difference. Take the humble apple. Just think how much fuel is used to transport these to our supermarkets from New Zealand or South Africa. It has been calculated that buying a locally produced apple would save on average 1,784 food miles per apple. Have you checked your car tyre pressures recently? Having tyres at the right pressure saves an average of 75kg of carbon dioxide per annum.

If these are the mundane what are the more challenging? Insulating your loft and remainder of the house is not how everybody would wish to spare their leisure hours, but it will knock a considerable amount off your carbon use and your domestic energy bills – which incidentally are set to increase rapidly in the coming years.

What about the thorny issue of the car? Well over half the journeys we make by car are under three miles. These are the most polluting as the car engine is not working at full efficiency. Seeking to reduce the number of these journeys by using public transport, a bike, car sharing or even better planning will significantly reduce your emissions.

And the hardest issue of all – well it has to be air travel. Our love of cheap flights is a significant cause of carbon growth. Personally I feel it impossible to criticise people for this – I know the lure and I have fallen for its temptation on many occasions. What I cannot accept, however, is the unfair taxation system that makes it possible for these flights to be so cheap whilst the cost of train travel – for instance - soars. So probably the hardest area of walking the talk is having the confidence and desire to lobby government at a national and international level to remove anomalies such as not having VAT on air fuel.

And now to the final fifth part of the code. Measure it. Climate Change is such a large abstract issue that it is all too easy to feel that your simple steps will not make a difference. Measuring your carbon savings will give you a feeling that you are achieving something. These measurements could be simply recording your weekly use of gas and electricity or you could visit our web-site at to get an overall measurement of your carbon use or even participate in our EcoTeam programme which has recording as an integral part of the project.

So there you have it my five point code for a carbon cool lifestyle. I offer it up to you and the Government as being something as important as the way we are responding to the threat of world terrorism and I hope that one day a Government of any hue or colour will be brave enough to promote it and be willing to create policies to protect any parts of society that will undoubtedly be adversely hit by a low carbon society. For the sake of future generations I feel it is a challenge that we must face.

Thank you and good luck.


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