Don't ignore the home front

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The Independent Online

We tend to assume that the battle against global warming will be won only when the world's big polluters - the airlines, the energy companies, the car industry, for instance - are brought into line. This is largely true. But it is less often pointed out that if people simply switched off their televisions properly each evening, it would be a great help. Government figures released yesterday demonstrate how profligate energy use in our own homes damages the environment.

We tend to assume that the battle against global warming will be won only when the world's big polluters - the airlines, the energy companies, the car industry, for instance - are brought into line. This is largely true. But it is less often pointed out that if people simply switched off their televisions properly each evening, it would be a great help. Government figures released yesterday demonstrate how profligate energy use in our own homes damages the environment.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has estimated UK household electrical devices are responsible for 1 million tonnes of carbon being released into the atmosphere. This figure was reached by calculating the amount of fossil fuels burnt in power stations to generate the electricity these machines consume. Much of this energy use is waste. The TV standby button is a case in point. Millions of us go to bed leaving that red light on, allowing the TV to suck up energy all night. The same is true for countless video recorders, washing machines, cordless phones that are left on when not in use. If individuals are happy to pay higher electricity bills, that is a matter for them. But our society's runaway consumption of energy has a terrible impact on the global environment. Seen in this light, wastage becomes morally indefensible.

Part of the solution lies with the producers. The European Union is framing legislation that would force electrical manufacturers to make their products less wasteful. But there is a case for going further and imposing a ban on any product that is impossible to turn off (without physically pulling the plug out of the wall). There should also be a greater emphasis on this aspect of energy conservation from politicians. Tony Blair makes much of his green credentials, but has rarely spoken about the small things each of us can do in our own homes.

It is not just a case of turning things off. We can use energy-efficient light bulbs. Our windows could be double-glazed. Those tempted to write this sort of thing off as tokenism should consider that private households are responsible for around 30 per cent of UK energy use. Each home produces about 6 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. This is more than the typical car. From recycling to installing cavity wall insulation to low-flush toilets, there are many ways in which any home can be made more environmentally friendly. Homeowners could even install solar panels or a windmill. There are government grants available for such initiatives, but they are poorly publicised.

Too often, people regard global warming as something that is divorced from their everyday lives. It is not. We can all do something about it - without even leaving the house.

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