Your world. Your verdict: the small but beautiful ways that can help the fight to save the planet
Last week, following the launch of an all-party inquiry into climate change, we invited Independent readers to send in suggestions for saving the planet. The response was huge. Today we publish a summary of the most popular ideas which, if put into practice, would be potent weapons in the fight against global warming
Monday 03 April 2006
Change a light bulb - and help save the planet. When it comes to the big question of how the world responds to the threat of climate change, it is clear that it is the small, everyday things that can really matter.
This is a major theme to have emerged in the phenomenal response to The Independent's appeal to readers for their views on how to tackle global warming, given the seeming inability of politicians, in Britain at least, to find ways of reducing carbon emissions.
But among the hundreds of letters and e-mails there are also demands for bigger, more fundamental changes - encouraging people to work from home, reducing packaging on consumer goods, enforced recycling and banning four-wheel drives from cities.
Fundamentally, there is also an underlying message common to ideas both big and small: that people desperately want politicians to take action to make these things come about. It is based in the knowledge that this must be a collective issue and that for every one of us who voluntarily makes those big and small adjustments in our lifestyles, there are many millions more who need to be told, encouraged and, if necessary, forced to make the moves needed to preserve the future for their children - and those of everybody else.
Heidi Siggers wrote: "We have replaced all the light bulbs in our two-bedroomed house with low-energy bulbs. We now use the same amount of watts for the whole house as we did with one 60-watt bulb before ... Why not make the eco-bulbs compulsory? As this Government seems so keen on banning things, why not ban something worthwhile?" All the contributions from our readers are being forwarded to the All-Party Climate Change Group, led by the Labour MP Colin Challen, who has argued that radical initiatives, free of narrow party political concerns, may have to be taken.
It is a call taken up by Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth: "We have long campaigned on all these issues. But it is vital that the Government introduces a legislative framework to reduce carbon emissions. It is wonderful that people see the connections between small actions and the bigger picture of saving the planet. But such people are still in the minority and the Government urgently has to make it easier for everyone else to help save the planet.''
The contributions from Independent readers range from the micro-issue of the light bulbs in our homes to the macro-economics of the world and a realisation that the driving force behind climate change is simply the pursuit of economic growth. Richard Houlden wrote: "We cannot continue to allow individuals and corporations driven by personal short-term gain to continue to perpetuate the myth of economic growth as a global panacea."
In between these two poles, our readers argue that a series of straightforward changes are needed, all of which require legislation and public money in one form or another.
Clearly, transport of all kinds is a major issue. "The best transport solutions are to walk and cycle where we can, and giving proper funding to make public transport really usable and convenient for people," said Dr Andrew Boswell from Norwich, a theme taken up by many readers. There were many calls to ban the use of "gas-guzzling" four-wheel drive cars in cities, They "epitomise the greedy, self-indulgent, oil-driven Western world,'' said Hugh Mitchell.
What one reader called the "madness" of cheap flights is also seen as an unnecessary luxury: "Charge the actual environmental cost of flights to the end user,'' wrote Valerie Fitch from Maidenhead.
Also important is way we build new homes without sufficient consideration of energy use. "They should all have solar panels; much, much better insulation; condensing boilers, etc. These items wouldn't be so expensive if they were mass produced," said Maggie Postle from Dorset. For many readers, the home is the key - banning patio heaters, wearing more clothes and fitting triple glazing, were all enthusiastically endorsed.
And once we have our eco-friendly homes, we should be encouraged to spent more time working from them, to reduce car travel and transport congestion, say readers. "The technology exists, but it will need a new breed of managers who do not measure productivity by presenteeism," wrote Richard Curtis, from Newport Pagnell.
Proposals for change
Fit new buildings with solar panels or wind turbines
* PRO: Would reduce reliance on fossil fuels and provide renewable source of energy. Solar panels are benign and getting better at converting sunlight into electrical power.
* Against: Wind turbines would pose planning problems as well raising concerns over health and safety. Larger turbines already opposed on grounds of unsightliness and interference to birds. Solar and wind power may not be substitute for fossil fuels.
Label products according to their effect on climate:
* Pro: Would raise awareness among consumers about environmental impact of products. Could lead to companies competing in terms of being environmentally friendly.
* Against: Difficult to judge product's true impact on environment.
Force passengers to pay environmental cost of flying:
* Pro: Would have an impact on one of biggest sources of carbon dioxide emissions.
* Against: True environmental cost of flying difficult to assess and would be difficult to reach a consensus.
Public transport should be made cheaper:
* Pro: Minimises pollution in urban areas.
* Against: Trains are infrequent in certain areas.
Make energy- efficient light bulbs compulsory:
* Pro: Compact florescent light bulbs use up to 67 per cent less energy than traditional bulbs, and last 10 times longer. Incandescent bulbs waste 90 per cent of their energy as heat.
* Against: Currently CFLs cost between £5 and £8 each, compared with less than £1 for an ordinary incandescent bulb
Encourage people to work from home:
* Pro: Companies could reduce road congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, and help revive rural communities.
* Against: Companies would have to stump up to install computers and home offices for workers. Health and safety standards could be hard to enforce, and employees used to might find home-working an isolating experience.
Use the law to encourage recycling:
* Pro: Britain produces some 28.2 tonnes of household waste every year. Of this 87 per cent is incinerated or dumped in landfills, yet most household waste is suitable for either composting or recycling.
* Against: Collecting, sorting and recycling waste not cheap - councils with high recycling rates spend up to three times as much on waste collection as other local authorities.
Ban 4x4 cars from cities
* Pro: Would reduce harmful emissions and would make roads safer for other motorists and pedestrians.
* Against: Motorists are still buying them - 187,000 4x4s were sold in Britain last year.
Reduce packaging on products
* Pros: Would drastically reduce the amount of waste we produce.
* Against: Recyclable wrapping can be more expensive, with costs passed on to buyers.
Ban patio heaters
* Pro: There are 750,000 in Britain producing 380,000 tons of greenhouse gases every year.
* Against: Ban would be difficult to police.
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