Sunday, 19 May 2013


This week 400ppm of carbon dioxide was recorded in the atmosphere in Hawaii. That is 400 parts of carbon dioxide per million parts of air. It doesn’t sound much, but it’s a lot. In case you missed it...
It is a very, very big deal. It is a whole 50ppm more than the target to stabilise the climate at only 2 degrees temperature rise. We have left that target way behind now. There is no going back. We have already committed ourselves, and all the living creatures on the planet to go past a 2 degree rise in average global temperatures.

So it is Sunday today. Are you still going to stand in front of the telly and iron a basket of clothes? Are you still going to fill up the car with petrol, ready to run the kids to school? Are you still going to boil enough water for 4 cups of tea when you only want 1 cup?

Doing all these things, purely because you always have done these things, is continuing with business as usual. Buying an energy efficient kettle or a smaller car just won’t cut it. We don’t need to save 10% here or there by being more efficient. We need to save 75%, by cleaning out the kettle and then only ever using 1 cup of water to make 1 cup of tea. And if there is no excess water, there will be no excess lime scale. We need to save 100% of the energy by choosing not to ever iron our clothes again. You will be surprised by how few people will notice, and virtually no one will say anything. We need to save 100% by walking or cycling, not for leisure, but to replace the journeys we would otherwise make in the car. This may need us to re-organise routines, plan out safe routes or buy all weather gear, but is it impossible?

If 400ppm does not motivate you, then watch the absolutely brilliant film ‘Chasing Ice’ and see the effects that ‘business as usual’ has had on the glaciers over the last few years.

I have spent more than 10 years working to reduce energy consumption, in various different roles. It clearly hasn’t worked. It has actually been documented that energy efficiency doesn’t work. For example, we build houses that are insulated better to make them more energy efficient. It is true that the new houses use less energy than an older house of the same size. But on average there are fewer people living in each house, so there are more houses. The result is that overall energy consumption continues to increase.

The same can be seen with TV’s. They may be more efficient for the equivalent size, however we have bigger TVs and more of them. And so on with fridges getting bigger, electric lighting providing brighter rooms, washing machines used more frequently, and the addition of electronic devices that didn’t even exist 10 – 20 years ago. Shops follow the same rules. They have significantly grown in size and number and have increased use of lighting, heating and cooling, compared to the traditional grocer’s shop of 50 years ago. All efficiency savings with cars is dwarfed by the increase in the number of cars and the amount of journeys driven.

The way to reduce our energy consumption and carbon emissions is by changing our lifestyles. This means questioning why we do the things we do, not just doing them because we always have. 100 years ago ironing was necessary. Washing clothes in soap, left materials feeling rough and hard, and ironing would help to soften them. This really isn’t the case now, ironing is purely aesthetic. It is a luxury that we can no longer afford, along with many others.

There is a triple win from doing these things, that is we win in at least 3 ways for each of them. Let’s start with boiling the kettle. Just boiling one cup of water for one cup of tea, is far quicker than waiting for 3 or 4 cups to boil, so saves time. Less lime scale accumulates as there is less water boiled, and the water doesn’t remain in the kettle and get boiled again and again, so the water is fresher. And of course the biggest win, it saves energy, which reduces energy bills and cuts the carbon emissions. It is actually a bigger win than this because the peak loads in the electricity generating system tend to occur when everyone puts the kettle on, either when they get in from work on a cold winters evening or when the adverts come on in a football match or the X factor final. Large gas or coal power stations will be kept idling ready to meet that sudden peak in demand. If we can reduce that demand by just boiling 1 cup of water for 1 cup of tea, then this will reduce the stress on the electricity grid and save even more energy. It’s not rocket science, but it could have a significant impact if we all got it right, and it is so easy to do.

With the help of my eldest son and a good friend a few years back, we produced a rather homemade advert to explain why you should stop ironing, which you can watch here.

Benefits of walking and cycling include improving fitness, reducing congestion so that other traffic flows freely and more efficiently, and directly reducing the miles driven and the amount of fuel used, which saves money and carbon emissions. There are other benefits too, which could even include reducing oil wars, if everyone does their bit.

Simone deHoogh says that there is so little that we can change in a day or a week, but so much that we can achieve in a year. These words are very appropriate because tiny little changes in our habits or our mindset make little difference over a week, but over a year the accumulation of small actions can have a far bigger impact.

400ppm is scary. Nobody can deny that the prospect of climate change is really scary. It is way beyond our control. But business as usual is only going to make things worse. Any changes we can make now will help. We don’t know what the future holds, but we do know that what we do now can make a difference.
Do something. Even if it seems small, such as not over-filling the kettle, or sharing lifts with a colleague, or unplugging all the TV paraphernalia before bed, or ditching the hands free phone for a traditional phone, or tucking the curtains behind the radiator at night, or not chatting with the front door wide open, or switching the heating off when you leave the house, or having a quicker shower, or asking to work from home, or not leaving the TV on in the background, or hanging washing outside to dry, or finding out about your local transition group.

Make the little changes and the bigger changes will follow.


  1. Oh Judy, it does seem so overwhelming. However, I just stood up and turned the heating off, and put on an extra jumper. It is good to come to this site and find someone so passionate about trying to make things better... thanks.

  2. I share your feelings Jo, I really do, and it can be hard to face them and not despair. It's great that you did something positive, by turning the heating off, and also by spreading the word on your own blog. Doing things works, it helps give us focus, it gets us further along the road to lower carbon emissions, and others may follow your lead. It doesn't matter if you know someone who is far greener than you. The aim is not for a gold medal, but a healthier planet and each action individuals like you or me take helps. Some changes are really hard for me, but others are a blessing - like being free from ironing. So start with the easy things, like turning the heating off an hour earlier in the evenings and getting a warm snuggily throw for the sofa, to wrap round you instead. We can share ideas and help each other along the way :)

  3. We have a power board for our TV and all it's attachments with a remote. I have just taught my 4 year old how to use the remote to fully turn off the TV when he walks away. That wasn't hard. I don't know why I didn't do it sooner.

    I have a wood fire to heat our house. I think I will put a big pot of water on top to heat for our hot chocolates through the day. And it will keep the air moist too. Not so bad for my allergy sensitive sinuses.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post,
    Jen in Oz

    1. That's great Jen, and good to enlist the help of the kids while they are young! Just watch the pot of water doesn't make the room too moist or you may get extra condensation on the cold surfaces, such as windows.