Donnachadh McCarthy: The Home Ecologist

'How can people on low incomes reduce their carbon footprint and save money?'
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The Independent Online

Some people dismiss eco-concerns as the preserve of the rich middle-classes. Having been a councillor in Peckham and spoken to groups all over the UK about climate change, I can vouch for the fact that there are millions of people with low incomes who are as passionate about saving the planet as Zac Goldsmith.

The other neglected fact is that the rich have a far higher carbon footprint than the poor. I have eco-audited wealthy families whose carbon footprint was, criminally, more than 100 tonnes, while one family living on more modest means emitted only 1.6 tonnes.

However, even those on low incomes who annually emit about 3 tonnes per person, are emitting the equivalent of about 30 carbon-virtuous Bangladeshis. So how can people on low incomes reduce their carbon footprints further and save money? Let us take heating first. Three simple rules will help: only heat the room you are in; set the temperature no higher than 19C (every degree above this will cost another 10 per cent); ensure your home is draught-proofed and insulated.

Those on almost any type of social security benefit can get loft and wall insulation for free. This even applies to those living in private rented accommodation, with your landlord's permission. Check out www.freeinsulation.co.uk.

Slash lighting bills by only lighting the room you are in. Energy–saving bulbs save an amazing £60 over their lifetime. Pensioners and those on benefits can get free energy saving bulbs from www.lightbulbs4free.com. Turning off all other electrical equipment at the wall when you are finished with them will also save money.

The RAC estimates it costs more than £5,000 to run the average family car for a year. If you just use your car for the weekly shop and to occasionally visit relatives, you could save money by getting rid of it and getting the supermarket or organic box scheme to deliver instead and hire a car to visit relatives. For elderly people, using the free travel-pass rather than the car helps the environment and your pocket. For those who are fit, or want to get fit, using a cycle instead of the car for journeys of under 5 miles (which make up more than half of all journeys) will also save money. Bristol is even setting up a free bike scheme for low-income families.

Shopping for second-hand household goods or buying clothes from charity shops, e-Bay or the brilliant Freecycle website all saves money. And by reducing your consumption of meals with meat to less than once a week and using the savings to buy local and organic produce at a farmers market, you become healthier at no extra cost.

There are hundreds of other ways people on modest incomes can and are doing their bit. So no more of this patronising dismissal of caring about the climate crisis being the preserve of the chattering classes. We are all in this together and together we can all do positive things.

Donnachadh McCarthy works as an eco-auditor and is the author of "Easy Eco-auditing". www.3acorns.co.uk

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