But is this idyllic life worth it?

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.
Graph cumulative tonnes CO2
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?

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke

* 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.


So who has the solution?

So who does have the solution to climate change? The answer is surprising.

Rather than try to find the person or people to blame and vilify about what we have done and continue to do to exacerbate the problem, might it be more fruitful to look for the group of people who are most able to get us out of the hole?

If we’re thinking about a technological solution, then it could be any one or more of a number of scientists, inventors or entrepreneurs.  How about a solar greenhouse?  Or farming practices that capture carbon dioxide?  Trouble is that the world is a big place with a lot of people in it – and it takes time for new technologies to roll-out, especially on an industrial scale as would need to be the case.
Your Country Needs You
Technology will probably be part of the solution, but probably not quick or comprehensive enough (too little, too late).  So who else?

We could look at who has the power to decide how much of the different greenhouse gases to emit.  Of course, that includes everybody, to a greater or lesser extent.  If you walk over to the light switch and switch it on or off, you are creating or stopping some emissions.  So we can all reduce the emissions for which we are responsible.

But let’s look at those who have the greatest sway on the level of emissions.

It is the way of the world that power is always concentrated among a tiny minority.  By applying the 80-20 rule three times, scientist Kevin Anderson showed that 40-60% of emissions are the responsibility of 1-5% of the global population. These super-rich have the keys to the solution for climate change.

But just who are these super-rich?

Turns out that in western terms, super-rich doesn’t seem that wealthy.  If you earn £30K or more per annum or fly once per year, it’s you.

It’s you.

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke

The Future According to Shell

The long-awaited new scenarios from Shell were published yesterday. For 40 years Shell have foregone the typical Western convention of extrapolated forecasts to predict the future impacts of decisions. Instead they have regularly developed a small number of scenarios, where the most unpredictable elements of the future are varied to depict a few possible futures. The last set were in 2008, where two scenarios were created, Scramble and Blueprints – the distinctive difference between the two being that the latter allowed for unilateral, co-ordinated action to curb greenhouse gas emissions. These scenarios were unusual in that for the first time Shell announced a strong preference for one scenario over another*.

This time, Shell have really pushed the boat out and have ordained to attempt to predict the future to the end of the century. They are are great pains to point out that these forecasts are illustrations to help decision making now, not an augur into the unknowable future. The two scenarios they present are named Mountains and Oceans.

Mountains concerns a future where the concentration of power remains with the traditional few. In this world Shell foresee that economic growth will be constrained. They place relatively speedy introduction of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) in this scenario, due to a desire to maintain the status quo. This combination of lower growth and introduction of CCS means that the CO2 emissions for the Mountains scenario are relatively low, but still far exceed the trajectory needed for a 2 degree future.

It should be noted that the rate of deployment of CCS in this scenario outstrips the rate of deployment of any large-scale change to the energy industry in the past. This point is not evident from the report, but I am reliably informed that it is the case.

The other scenario is Oceans. Here, there is wider political reform, and the balance of power moves to less traditional places. The turbulence caused by this transition means that the strong policies needed to incentivise and bring in CCS and reduce greenhouse gas emissions are delayed.  In Oceans there is strong economic growth given this market freedom, and the overall emissions of this scenario are higher than in Mountains.

The report highlights that the individual components of each scenario are in some cases interchangeable. It would be possible, they say, for the faster introduction of CCS and other technologies and policies to limit greenhouse gas emissions to occur in Oceans as well as Mountains. They therefore also depict what they call a sensitivity with a more green Oceans outlook – which is still way off the 2 degree trajectory.

They also remark that the scenarios are interconnected; that the seeds of the political upheaval in Oceans lie in the stagnation of Mountains, and vice versa.

Shell - cropped

When discussing the sustainability of these projections, they make two very important points about greenhouse gas emissions. Firstly, they state that it is through leadership and policy making, rather than the markets, that the necessary changes to allow the curbing of emissions to happen can be brought through.

They also state that the projections do not include, as they put it, the climate turbulence that would result from their emissions trajectories. They state that this would severely damage the economy, dramatically lower energy demand and reduce emissions, albeit by a negative route.

They describe a possible future where in the 2020s the effects of climate change are so severe that rich and poor alike demand that the root cause of climate change be addressed, namely to dramatically reduce CO2 emissions within a generation.

Remember, this is Shell talking.

Thoughts below as always.

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke
* Blueprints, by the way, in case you were wondering