UK energy demand

Elizabeth Kolbert looked at the Swiss 2,000-Watt Society project in the /New Yorker/ of 7 July. Her interviewees provided estimates of the energy use of the typical Swiss inhabitant. The figures added up to about 5,000 watts. To be clear, this means each person is responsible for about five kilowatts of continuous energy use. This includes home electricity and gas, personal transport, industry, and office. To keep us in the ease and comfort we have got used to we are consuming, directly and indirectly, enough energy to keep two electric kettles boiling continuously, or driving a fuel-efficient car four hours in every day. This article looks at the composition of energy demand in the UK. The figures are then broken down by sector and by fuel. The numbers are used in the introduction to /Ten Technologies to Save the Planet/ (Profile Books, November 2008), where I try to assess whether we are likely to be able to use technology to reduce fossil fuel demand substantially.

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The rise and rise of Climate Care

Drawing: the Indian treadle pump backed by Climate Care

Climate Care, the leading UK carbon offset company, has had an eventful few weeks. A few days after receiving an unexpected visit from climate activists who presented management with a basket of red herrings, the company put out a press release claiming that it would offset 1% of the UK's total carbon emissions next year. In sixty projects around the third world, Climate Care claims that it will reduce emissions in 2008 by 6m tonnes, or ten times as much as it has done this year. It is claiming spectacular growth rates. Continuous critical attention from newspapers and sceptical greens does not appear to have dented Climate Care's prospects one iota.

The core problems with offsetting are two-fold:

  • guaranteeing additionality (ensuring that the investments in carbon reduction wouldn't have happened anyway)
  • verifying the reductions.

Climate Care fails on both of these two important issues. Though Climate Care is getting increasingly tetchy with its critics, the blunt truth is that the company simply doesn't deliver genuine and quantifiable cuts in emissions. Increasingly, it works as an international development agency rather than as a business balancing one person's emissions with a reduction in another's. Climate Care may do a lot of good around the world, but it doesn't cut carbon dioxide emissions in a reliable or auditable way.

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