Sunday, 8 July 2018

Three steps to Carbon Free Me (part 1)


Recently I posted a comment to my cousin's post about the heatwave:

Ok, so no comments on the elephant in the room here. It’s not just us, much of the world is in the grip of a heatwave right now. 33 people have died in Quebec. We need to start addressing the underlying causes - talking about it is a good start. And it will help us if we understand this will get worse. In a few decades, this will be a normal summer. Sorry I bang on about it all the time.

Citing this Guardian article:

And she replied:

I think people (including myself) don't know what to say because it's such a big issue that we feel quite helpless about it... I don't think the majority are in denial that climate change is a real danger. It's more just that it feels so far out of our control that it's hard to think about it.. "10 things you can do now to reduce your impact on climate change" type articles would probably get more people on board

Sigh, I can really see her point. So, this is my first shot at an article like that.


I think, to be able to respond at a personal level is to be clear about what the plan is. If we don't know what we're aiming for we won't know what to do and wouldn't even know how successful we've been. So, the goal here is very, very simple. It's not about plastic or planting trees, or a million things you can do that make a small difference. it's about relatively easy things you can do that will make literally a huge difference, like 30% to 60% of the whole way, for you.

The plan, globally, is to cut down on the emissions of CO2. To Zero. You may have heard talk of a low-carbon economy. A low-carbon economy will still be a disaster. Globally we have to cut down to nothing and then beyond. We have roughly 50 years to do this and in developing countries we have 30 years.

The positive news is that can cut out the majority of this or a substantial fraction of 30% to 60% pretty quickly. Cutting out 30% jumps us into the 2030s; cutting out 60% jumps us into the 2040s and we can feasibly do this in a fraction of the time. And the great thing about that is that the sooner we make these steps, the more breathing room we'll have along with other benefits. The principle here is "Every Big Helps".

This is a plan for domestic emissions.

Domestic emissions fall into 3, roughly similar sections: Electricity, Heating and Transport.

I obtained these values from some simple searching on the internet with phrases like "average electricity UK per year" etc. I'll update with proper links later, but for now, I found this CO2 calculator web page handy.

The total is: 7084Kg, 7 Tonnes for an average household! Wow! But a few decades ago in the UK it was 10 tonnes, and even a decade ago it was noticeably higher, so we've progressed. Let's deal with this from the easiest to the hardest. But before that...


We can't divorce politics from choices about energy. This should be obvious. Energy gives us (quite literally) power. Globally, 80% of that power currently comes from the fossil fuel industry. To put it another way, 80% of global power resides with the fossil fuel industry, an industry that has spent decades covering up the fact that their product is adding a blanket of heat to the world. To decarbonise means deliberately taking power away from them.

Here's an example, of how much power they have. The Church of England has a mission statement that says we have to look after the earth. It's called Stewardship. It means we think it's wrong to wreck God's creation, because God thinks his creation (which includes us) is good.

However, the Anglican church also has over £100 million pounds of investments in the fossil fuel industry and some sectors of that church have realised that's in conflict with the mission statement (really?). One of the most promising Christian movements to resolve this is Bright Now, which campaigns for churches to divest from fossil fuels.

So, in February 2014, in the Church's global get-together (the General Synod), they tabled a motion to promise a debate on divestment for the following year's Synod and in the meantime, they'd divest from the Alberta Tar Sands investments, the worst fossil fuels in the world, an industry so bad that the eminent ex-Nasa climate scientist, James Hansen said if the pipelines go ahead it's game over for the climate. So, the CofE divested from the worst of worst in 2015. Good on them - that's the way to show leadership, and I'm sure it had nothing to do with the crash in oil prices in 2014, making tar sands completely uneconomical.

Then I found out in early 2015 that the debate on divestment was being replaced by a debate on engagement with the fossil fuel industry, i.e. a commitment to the fossil fuel industry - with a wagging investment finger. How did this happen? Well, I found out directly from one of the key members of the Ethical Investment Advisory Group, Richard Burridge at a fringe meeting at that 2015 Synod in York. He explained that after the resolution in 2014, Rex Tillerson personally phoned them up to propose an alternative arrangement. And then the resolution was dropped. What this means is Rex Tillerson although not a member of the CofE, has more power over it than the Synod itself. Then after the meeting, in conversation, Richard Burridge started singing from the fossil fuel industry hymn sheet, explaining why divestment itself was bad for everyone and why developing countries needed fossil fuels. It's not, as Katherine Hayhoe explains.

Never underestimate the deviousness of the fossil fuel industry.


This blog ignores efficiency. That's because people concentrate on that so much I figure you probably know about some efficiency issues: LCD TVs, LED lights, that kind of thing. But also, because I want to focus on the key issue: efficiency by itself won't lead us to our zero-carbon future; we have to actively switch our energy sources. Also, I want to concentrate on the stuff that makes a huge difference: a huge difference is a big psychological boost as well as a practical action.


Step 1: Electricity Provider

By far the easiest way to cut down on your emissions is to choose a renewable energy company for your electricity. All it involves is switching supplier. It requires no investment and because renewable energy is getting cheaper thanks to economy of scale, these suppliers are relatively and increasingly competitive. The three main 100% renewable electricity suppliers in the UK are:

  1. Ecotricity - run by the visionary Dale Vince. They have their own (onshore) wind and solar farms. They also source renewable energy from overseas to meet demand.
  2. Good Energy - a well-established 100% renewable energy supplier and they're great for feed-in-tariff support.
  3. Cooperative Energy - their green pioneer electricity tariff is now 100% renewable. They have their own wind and solar farms.
There are other pop-up renewable companies such as bulb, but until you know where they get their renewable energy from I wouldn't recommend them, though they may be perfectly fine.

For an average household this will remove 23% of your emissions in one go. This takes you to November 2025 (if we lowered emissions steadily - in reality it'll take us a bit further than that, because it will be a curve).

Step 2: Heating and Cooking

The next easiest thing to do is to replace as many heating and cooking devices with electrical ones as the opportunity arises. For example, if you have the money, replace a gas fire with an electric fire. It won't be as warm, since they're limited to 2KW, but if you can tolerate it; then that's a way to go.

Also replace gas cookers with ceramic or induction electric cookers.

This is different to most of the advice you'll see, because they'll be comparing the CO2 emissions of an average electricity supplier with gas, but we are comparing renewable energy heating and cooking with gas. It will be more expensive, since electricity per KWh is more expensive than gas; so this requires an initial outlay, and an ongoing cost. We haven't found a massive increase in our electricity bills as a result.

Also, when I get figures for this, I'll update it in this blog post. Until then I'll assume that - based on these two items alone, you can save maybe 50% of gas emissions: 1565Kg of CO2, nearly as much as for electricity itself.

This would take 45% of the way, to the year: 2032.

Step 3: Transport

The next 'easiest' thing to do is to switch to electric vehicles as soon as you get a chance. An EV, running from a renewable electricity supply will save 100% of your transport emissions. Switching to electric transport involves a cost outlay, but the costs of running an EV are less than for a fossil fuel car, so it will pay back in the long term. There are many ways you can partially or fully achieve this and they're all based on the observation that most of our journeys are short.

  1. Buy an electric bicycle! Most EBs can suffice for journeys up to 45Km, enough for a visit to a friend, maybe a journey to work and back. They're limited to 15Km/h. Of course if you can handle a normal bicycle, then you'll get fitter too (but it won't save emissions, if you already have renewable electricity). Let's assume this deals with 30% of your journeys.
  2. If you have two cars, make one of them a second-hand EV and use it as the run-around: for shopping and shorter journeys. Second-hand EVs are increasingly available via auto-trader or ebay from about £5500 upwards. Most of them are first generation Nissan Leafs, some will be Zoes and BMW i3s; a few will be MiEv's (with a more limited range). These cars can carry a family on a journey 20 miles out and back, or 40 miles if you can charge it at your destination or will carry you on a 50 to 70 mile journey in total. Perhaps this will handle 70% of your journeys.
  3. If you're prepared to adapt your lifestyle, replace your car with an EV (100% of your journeys).
    1. For first generation EVs (like the 2016 Zoe we own), practical journeys will be in the 60 to 120 mile range (with one en-route re-charge) or 240 miles if you can charge at either end. We bought a second-user EV for £7500, but essentially it was new, so similar bargains may be possible. In essence, the vast majority of your journeys will fit these rules.
    2. For second generation EVs practical journeys will be in the range of 150 to 200+ miles either way. These vehicles start at £19K for the Zoe (with a leased battery); £20K for a Smart EQ; £25K or so for a new Leaf; about £34K for an i3; or similar for a Tesla model 3 (available from 2019), going up to £60K to £115K for a Tesla model S, Roadster or X.
With option 1, that saves: 700Kg of CO2 per year (assuming you use it consistently).

With option 2, it's 1623Kg of CO2 per year (assuming you use it consistently).

With option 3, you save 2319Kg of CO2 per year.

This takes us to a maximum potential of 78% of your emissions cut, ie. from 7084Kg to 1565Kg. It's equivalent to living in the year 2042. In other words, it gives us another 25 years to plan to eliminate the other 22%


This guide gives you actual figures. Things you can attain; that tell you roughly how far along the path to decarbonisation you've done. You can quote it in years so you know what year you're really living in. For me, that's a way to bring practical hope to the challenge.

Don't burn yourself out. It took us about 3 or 4 years to get as far as we have (which is about 2042), but we bought Solar Panels in the meantime and started on a mortgage. It might take you a bit longer, or you might have the resources to make major shifts now (the renewable energy shift is the easiest). Whatever you do, take a positive angle and encourage others to do the same :-)

Here's to a happy Carbon Free You!