Julia Stephenson: All I want for Christmas is a wind turbine

You wouldn't believe the hoops I am being made to jump through to make my flat carbon neutral
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The Independent Online

Sir Nicolas Stern's alarming report has galvanised the media into a frenzy of debate by saying what environmentalists have been saying for years - that if we don't all take drastic action right now to cut back on our carbon emissions global disaster lies ahead.What surprises me is that given the consensus of opinion that the climate is changing, with global devastation likely in our lifetime, nothing much is being done to alleviate it.

Yes there is endless talk from our politicians about the need to do something. And yet, when people do try and take action to cut their carbon emissions they are penalised. A year ago I applied for three wind turbines, solar panels, and rainwater harvesting on my flat in central London. You wouldn't believe the hoops I am still being made to jump through in my freakish bid to make my flat carbon neutral.

You'd think I was trying to get planning permission for a brothel or set up an arms factory using child labour, rather than benefit the planet. It took countless meetings, telephone calls, and employing David Cameron's green architect - all masterminded by my eco-coach, Donnachadh McCarthy - to get the council to give us the go-ahead.

And despite fine words from Tony Blair about the importance of all doing our bit, the Government offers barely any assistance for those of us trying to reduce our carbon footprint. The grants available for green home improvements have already run out for this year, which will hardly encourage home owners.

But don't let me put you off! There is so much you can do that is inexpensive, doesn't involve jobsworth councils and hideous bureaucracy.

If turbines and solar panels are not for you, you'll still make a huge impact by buying your electricity from a renewable energy company that uses zero-carbon energy sources, such as wind or hydro power. I did this last year and it was no hassle. I sent them my current meter reading and they did all the rest.

If you have a gas-guzzling, elderly boiler, think about replacing it with a condensing model. I recently replaced mine, cutting my emissions by around 40 per cent.

Transport is responsible for 14 per cent of our carbon output. But why, if the Government is as serious about cutting emissions as it purports to be, are trains so much more expensive than planes? I recently took a return train trip to Zurich, which cost £400; I could have flown on a low-cost airline for £100. Why do airlines get tax breaks but the beleaguered train system none?

Last year I sold my car - which was a huge relief as I hate driving and the mountains of admin car ownership entails - and reduced my transport emissions by 40 per cent. For some people a car is essential but it makes a huge difference what model you drive. You can check your current emissions at www.carfueldata.com . If I had to drive again I'd choose a Toyota Prius or the electrically powered G-Whiz, although the latter will only significantly cut your emissions if you plug it into a renewable energy provider.

We can reduce our carbon footprint hugely by good housekeeping, such as turning off our appliances religiously at the mains, not just at home, but at work too. Office buildings near me leave lights blazing and computers whirring all night. Why?

Insulate the roof and windows, lag the loft, turn down the thermostat (a happy side effect: the cold will stimulate your metabolism thereby burning calories), use energy-efficient bulbs and buy local seasonal food. Given the choice between organic foreign food and local non-organic I go for local every time. Why would I want organic blueberries from Chile when there are delicious apples for sale in my greengrocer which are grown 30 miles away?

Reducing our waste will also significantly reduce our carbon emissions. Although recycling is currently seen as the Holy Grail of eco-living it's only the last resort. Re-using and reducing is far more important.

Take a plastic bottle of water shipped most probably half way round the world. It's melted down only to be re-created into another plastic container, similarly used once, and so the extravagant gas guzzling nonsense goes on. A huge amount of energy is used to collect recyclables, sort them, transport them, and destroy them just so they can be made into the exactly same products again.

You can save energy and avoid dubiously "pure" mineral water by installing a water filter in your kitchen. You'll never need to buy water or recycle the bottle it came in ever again.

Although the UK is responsible for only 2 per cent of the world's emissions, we can't insist developing countries cut their emissions unless we lead by example. The vital thing is not to become dispirited by the enormous size of the problem. Taking action, even on the small personal level, is invigorating and inspires those around you to do their bit too.

As Edmund Burke wrote, "Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little." As I write, people are already dying and tens of millions of people will follow unless we all do something now. What are we waiting for?

j.stephenson@independent.co.uk

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