I love a clever ad. A recent full-page print advert by BP said: “It’s time to go on a low-carbon diet”. Just so it’s clear to the non-dieters among us, BP was drawing a parallel between its technology for producing clean power and that modern-day diet fad – the Atkins low carbohydrate diet. Well this, together with an email from an old colleague, prompted me to re-visit a subject that is at long last beginning to get some of the attention it deserves.
Some years ago I wrote an editorial entitled: “Waste not, want not”, if my memory serves me correctly. It talked about the role of energy storage and outlined the amount of electricity that was being wasted by people leaving household appliances such as TVs on standby and how much new generating capacity could be avoided if people could change their behaviour patterns.
My colleague’s email suggested that many more need to hear this message and we should try again. He passed on to me some articles that had been printed in The Independent newspaper which again highlighted the same issues we had discussed five years ago: “… gadgets apparently turned off, but with their standby lights illuminated, are a little recognised but significant contributor to global warming…Each year [in the UK] they waste enough electricity to power a city the size of Birmingham for a year…” one of the articles said. For those of you unfamiliar with the UK, Birmingham is a major city in the west Midlands, about 160 km northwest of London with a population of about one million people.
Unfortunately, there is probably little I, or anyone else, can say that can change human behaviour. If I’m honest, I am sometimes guilty of the practice myself – and I am one of the more informed.
It seems like a tough one to tackle but help is on the way. Manufacturers selling electrical goods in the UK now have to ensure that their appliances meet energy efficiency standards. The European Union’s eco-design directive came into force on July 6, applying standards to household equipment from boilers and ‘white items’ to commercial electrical equipment and component parts.
According to research by the European Commission, if these standards are followed, by 2010 the emission of about 180m tonnes of carbon dioxide could be avoided. This is a significant quantity. It is believed that cutting waste from equipment could meet a quarter of Britain’s annual emission target.
Nonetheless, as with any new directive there will be those who feel hard-done-by. The CECEC, the UK association body for domestic appliance manufacturers, predicts that the directive will reduce consumer choice because costs will rise. “Prices will skyrocket and valid products will be withdrawn from the market,” it said.
There will also be those that argue that such directives are inadequate. Environmental lobby group, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) said it could endanger wider efforts to develop an EU integrated product policy.
At the moment, the standards are voluntary but may be become mandatory in the future. Yet you have to wonder about government commitment to tackling what is clearly an issue that should be addressed. If they are serious, why not make the standards mandatory now? Yes, prices of household items may go up in the near term but market forces always drive them back down.
The fact is, people find it hard to change habits and sometimes the decision has to be taken out of our hands. In the same way that you can now only buy cars that run on unleaded petrol (or diesel); surely being only able to buy energy saving appliances would not be a problem.
Nevertheless, a word of caution. I am not completely in favour of removing choice. In a recent issue of the Financial Times, I came across another suggestion for combating global warming – go vegetarian. Alan Cavert, a British physicist calculated that the animals we eat emit 21 per cent of all the carbon dioxide attributed to human activity. “Worldwide reduction of meat production in the pursuit of the targets set in the Kyoto Treaty seems to carry fewer political unknowns than cutting consumption of fossil fuels,” he said in the July issue of Physics World. There would be no adverse effect on health, he added.
An interesting thought Mr Cavert but speak for yourself. Less meat, more veg? This for me is a lot less palatable than a “low carbon diet”. I think I will try a little harder to switch off appliances at the mains.
Publisher & Editorial Director