If ordinary folk around the UK and the West spent a lot more time at home and with family and friends and less time buying crap and travelling, the climate crisis would be largely solved. I’ve made the change and am loving it. How does that lifestyle play out in the numbers? Is changing to my idyllic life worth all the effort? And how guilty should I feel about having thrice sprogged?
I’m talking greenhouse gas emissions here, the driver of man-made climate change, not money – my outgoings are drastically lower than they were, but that’s another story.
According to carbonfootprint.com (I got a similar total using the simpler calculator on the WWF site, but with less of a breakdown), my annual emissions break-down as 0.85 tonnes of CO2 on gas & electricity; 0.87 tonnes on petrol; 0.19 tonnes on the train; 1 tonne on owning a car; and 1.28 tonnes on “other” (including having a bank account – 0.4 tonnes and eating animal produce – 0.5 tonnes). Total is 4.2 tonnes per annum, against the UK average of 9.8 tonnes. I would be interested in what yours looks like – you need your annual gas & electric figures plus your annual mileage – settle down with a cup of tea and work through the site, doesn’t take very long.
But what about the elephant in the room – my kids. At the moment, they each cause about 0.44 tonnes per annum in addition to the above. But that will change as they become adults. What would my emissions look like if I took complete responsibility for all of their emissions, because Rowan and I took the decision to procreate?
So I did a few simple calculations, and came up with the following graph of my cumulative emissions. This doesn’t include me using Ecotricity* to buy the electricity off the grid (51% of their electricity is generated from renewables). Is does assume that emissions are coming down in general, and doesn’t include the emissions of grandchildren. I reason that these effects probably offset one another.
What does it tell me?
First is that the most important thing I can do over the next few years to reduce my own emissions is to impress on my kids the need to look after their world – it will save about 100 tonnes if they act as I do rather than the average in the UK.
Secondly, I can feel a little less wracked with guilt about the children because if they do adopt a lifestyle like mine my and their emissions combined will total less than that of an average single UK resident of my age. And if you include the average UK resident having an average number of average children, then our emissions will be less than half of theirs.
Then there is the question of carbon offsetting – where you pay someone else to put in place some scheme that reduces emissions to compensate for your own. This could be building more renewable energy stations, for example. I invested in an avoided deforestation scheme, where an area of rainforest that was due for the chop was saved, offsetting 100 tonnes. If you include that, then my overall emissions including the children is less than 100 tonnes in our combined lifetimes, compared with an average in the UK of 380 tonnes. This is controversial, because of double-counting – would the scheme have gone ahead whether or not I invested? And is it a get-out-of-jail card for everyone – is there enough capacity that if everyone offset their carbons we’d be home and dry?
I think that if the top 1-5% of emitters, roughly speaking those who earn £30K or fly once a year or more, adopt a lifestyle more like my own, devastating climate change would be avoided.
Would you like to be part of the solution? How can I help you?
* Ecotricity have recently been able to change their tariffs so they can offer gas & electricity at a rate cheaper than the Big Six. They also invest on average £280 per customer in building new renewable power stations. They can do this because renewables are getting cheaper, whereas fossil fuels are not.