The Big Debate: are we really fussed about cutting carbon?

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How keen are we to help protect the planet?

We know that protecting the planet and avoiding major climate change means it’s time for action on all fronts. But how eager are we to do our bit?

The furore around Climategate, the underwhelming outcomes of last December’s Copenhagen climate talks and persistent campaigning by climate sceptics have left some people unsure about how seriously to take climate change. Nonetheless, in a Mori poll in June, 65 per cent of respondents said they’re prepared to reduce their energy use to tackle climate change, and 68 per cent said they would probably or definitely vote in favour of spending taxpayers’ money on British projects designed to tackle climate change.

In our daily lives, we’re at last getting to grips with the basics - switching to low-energy bulbs, turning off lights, washing at lower temperatures and buying low-energy appliances are slowly becoming the norm.

Growing numbers of pioneers are taking climate action to the next level. Schools, offices and villages are setting up carbon-reduction plans. Community groups nominated for this year’s Future Friendly Awards for sustainability include a tenants’ association introducing carbon-reduction measures across its estate, creative recycling projects finding stylish alternatives to landfill and a sophisticated carbon-neutral cycling web tool.

What is stopping us from taking action?

But for many of us there’s still a yawning gap between our level of concern and the action we take. What’s holding us back?

Some people are unclear about where to start. “Carbon footprint” may have become a familiar phrase, but complicated jargon and the whiff of science mean the agenda can seem far removed from day-to-day lifestyle decisions. As one frustrated homeowner commented: “There’s no shop front on the high street where I can find this information.” WWF suggests using its footprint calculator as an easy way to pinpoint where you can make a difference immediately.

Some things we could be doing to cut carbon are a bit dull. Does anyone find loft insulation exciting? Yet, installing 270mm of deep insulation in an uninsulated loft cuts the average home’s carbon emissions by 730kg and heating bills by £145 per year. If everyone in the UK got on with it each year, we’d save about £520m and avoid nearly 3 million tonnes of CO2.

How do I find discounts that could work for me?

Many green moves save money in the long run, but we’re not always ready to make the investment. As Ian Cuthbert, microgeneration advice manager at the Energy Saving Trust (EST) says, we don’t yet think of investing in insulation or other green measures in the way we do a new kitchen or car.

Help is available to meet the cost of eco outlays, but the take-up of grants and other support schemes is patchy. Cuthbert suggests logging your postcode into the EST’s online database to pinpoint which of the hundreds of energy-saving grants and discounts available could work for you.

This year’s introduction of the Feed-in Tariff, providing a guaranteed rate for each unit of electricity generated renewably and exported to the grid, has seen an exponential rise in the number of homeowners generating carbon-neutral energy, with 12,000 new installations since April.

Some companies provide free PV panels to homes with suitable roofs, providing free renewable energy. And the new Green Deal (more of which next week) could help bridge more of the upfront costs of cutting carbon. Let’s hope we can overcome some of our scepticism and give this a whirl.

Are you interested in doing anything positive to make a difference?


Anne, 68, of Sussex: “This summer, we put solar thermal panels and solar PVs [photovoltaic panels] on our roof. We try to live as greenly as possible in other areas, so this is something we’ve wanted to do for ages. When Feed-in Tariffs were introduced, the time seemed right: there are few ways of getting a quicker return on the investment of our retirement nest egg.”

Maggie, 51, of York, lives with her teenage children: “We worry more about the environmental impact of our lifestyles than where energy comes from. We’ve installed roof and cavity-wall insulation. We’re using less energy, so we felt we could afford to switch to a green energy tariff. We take the train rather than fly on holiday.”


Russell, 38, of London: “You hear a lot about carbon, but it’s hard to know what to believe, and it’s such a massive issue I don’t think there’s much we can do about it as individuals. If it really is that important, the Government should be sorting it out.”

Gabriel, 22, of Manchester: “I’m pretty pessimistic about our future in terms of where our energy’s going to come from and the environmental impact it’s having. But I can’t see much action being taken here, and meanwhile places like China and India seem to be creating even more pollution than us. I recycle and stuff, but I don’t think that it’ll achieve much”.

On 17 November, The Independent is hosting a live debate in Manchester to discuss whether we can cut carbon in time. It will be chaired by the environment editor, Michael McCarthy. To reserve your spot, click here.