carbon footprint

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Tools for carefully estimating carbon footprints have tended to be difficult to use and clunky in appearance. Two recently introduced calculators make real improvements and allow individuals and companies to carry out effective analysis of carbon emissions.

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Image source: Taiga Company.

Image source: Taiga Company.

1) If you buy just one new appliance in 2010, make it a really efficient fridge-freezer. The improvements in the energy use of the best fridge-freezers have been really impressive in the last few years. If you have an old refrigerator, it may be responsible for as much as a sixth of your electricity bill. A good new machine might use less than a half as much power, particularly if it is not too large. A second benefit is that by choosing to buy a really efficient refrigerator you will be sending a clear signal to the manufacturers that energy consumption matters. An impressive new web site – www.energytariff.co.uk – allows you to compare the electricity used by almost all the appliances currently in UK shops. You can make well-informed choices from your computer.

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Go green, go vegan

Lord Stern says the meat industry damages the environment. Image source: VirtualTourist.com

Lord Stern says the meat industry damages the environment. Image source: VirtualTourist.com

Clearly irritated that his argument in an interview in the Times had been boiled down to a ‘go veggie to save the planet’ headline, Nicholas Stern has issued a clarifying statement:

I think that once people understand the great risks that climate change poses, they will naturally want to choose products and services that cause little or no emissions of greenhouse gases, which means ‘low-carbon consumption’. This will apply across the board, including electricity, heating, transport and food. A diet that relies heavily on meat production results in higher emissions than a typical vegetarian diet. Different individuals will make different choices. However, the debate about climate change should not be dumbed down to a single slogan, such as ‘give up meat to save the planet’.

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Wittingly or unwittingly, many manufacturers make it difficult to compare the electricity consumption of home appliances such as TVs and refrigerators. Although many appliances have been through standard EU tests and then been awarded a letter grade for energy efficiency, these grades are increasingly unhelpful in distinguishing between the excellent and the merely satisfactory. As in British school exams, an A grade doesn’t mean much because it covers such as wide range of performance.

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10:10 campaign bracelets coming out of the machine that is recycling them from an old 747.

10:10 campaign bracelets coming out of the machine that is recycling them from an old 747.

10:10, a campaign to get individuals and organisations to reduce their emissions by 10% in 2010 is launched today, 1 September. The idea is simple and has proved surprisingly easy to communicate so far. Of course it has helped that the human tornado Franny Armstrong has been pushing it.

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An important recent paper looked at the links between economic prosperity and carbon footprint.[1] It compared the average emissions per head in 73 different countries at all different stages in development. Unsurprisingly, it showed that richer countries have much higher greenhouse gas outputs. The interesting and somewhat depressing finding is that a country with 10% higher GDP per head than another will generally have emissions about 8% higher. The correlation is strong – very few countries diverge much from the norm for their level of income.

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Copyright: SyB - Fotolia.com
Copyright: SyB – Fotolia.com.

We didn’t make much progress reducing emissions when times were good. Will the looming depression makes things worse or better? The discussion of this issue, at least in the UK, tends to be superficial. The only question asked seems to be ‘will people buy less eco-bling when times are hard?’

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Yes, do lag your loft

For once, the government has got its climate change policies right. The idea of a windfall tax on energy suppliers has widespread support. One hundred or so Labour MPs have come out in favour. Caroline Lucas, the newly elected leader of the Greens, has advocated such a policy and many Conservatives express private approval. The trade unions were infuriated by Alistair Darling’s refusal to back the proposal. Rather than backing a windfall tax, it looks like he favours plans that oblige the utilities to improve the energy efficiency of customers’ homes.

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The US drags its feet in climate negotiations. A few hours after being harassed into signing the Bali accord, the White House started to distance itself from the hazy targets agreed by the rest of the developed world. But some American companies lead the world in environmental policies. The best businesses disclose more about their manufacturing processes and their carbon footprint than almost any European or Asian companies. One of the best examples is Patagonia, a highly-regarded maker of specialist outdoor clothing. To jaded European eyes, its environmental plans look almost embarrassingly earnest and idealistic. The admissions of its own weaknesses are delivered with a humility that we rarely see on this side of the Atlantic. What UK business would voluntarily describe the production processes of one of its key products as ‘not sustainable’? Or admit that a complex chemical in the water repellent used in its outer garments (and those of all its competitors) is highly persistent and building up in the environment?

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