The Most Effective Actions Households Can Take to Curb Climate Change

According to an article in the Environment Magazine (which I got to from Research Digest blog):

From a householder’s perspective, a desire to reduce carbon emissions, even combined with knowledge that doing so has net financial and environmental benefits, is insufficient to yield effective action unless that person knows which actions will produce the benefits. 

It goes on to say:

When people are faced with a laundry list of advice, they may feel confused and overwhelmed, and consequently take no action, or they may carry out one or two actions— probably the easiest to remember and perform. However, the behaviors that are easiest to remember and perform, for example, turning out lights when leaving rooms, tend to have minimal impact on climate change. 

That seems right to me; I chase around our house turning off (energy efficient) lights, when really I ought to be trying to take energy improving actions (like putting in the energy efficient bulbs). 

They say:

Curtailment actions must be repeated continuously over time to achieve their optimal effect, whereas efficiency-boosting actions, taken infrequently or only once, have lasting effects with little need for continuing attention and effort. 

The authors say that in terms of policy just providing information isn’t likely to lead us to switch the way we behave. 

Actions like upgrading home insulation and furnace and air-conditioning efficiency can yield major savings,  but many households lack the funds needed to make the investments. Renters cannot install such upgrades, and buyers of existing or newly built homes usually cannot choose the efficiency of heating and air-conditioning equipment and insulation. Even when people can afford major efficiency improvements, many may be inhibited by the logistical difficulties of arranging and scheduling the multiple contractors that may be needed to install space-conditioning equipment, insulation, and storm windows and doors. Even low- or no-cost actions compete for people’s limited time and attention. 

So while education and information they say are important what’s needed are financial incentives to go along side these.  Which is where we get to the annoucement today from the government, a good bit of which is about how:

Help is now available for households to make savings of up to £300 a year (around a quarter) on their energy bills. Every household qualifies for at least 50% off loft and cavity wall insulation and a range of other energy saving devices such as low energy lightbulbs, real time displays and energy saverplugs are also available; 11 million lower income and pensioner households qualify for these free of charge. 

And should you be interested here’s the BPS precis of the sorts of things we could do which would make the most impact on our use of carbon:

  • For individuals/households, the most effective low cost/short-term green behaviour in relation to transportation is to share car journeys or “carpool”; in relation to the home, it’s to replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs.
  • For longer-term benefits, with a higher financial cost, the most effective action in relation to transport is to buy low-rolling resistance tyres. The next most effective action is to buy a more fuel-efficient car. The latter action is complicated by the issue of whether one’s current car is still useable. If it is, then the energy cost of producing the new car counts against any gains.
  • Finally, for home-owners (as opposed to tenants who can’t really do these things), the most effective low-cost/short-term action is to weather strip the house, while the most effective, but more costly, longer-term action is to buy a more efficient heating system.

About Andrew Brown

I live in Lewisham, South East London, and spent 9 years as a Labour councillor in the borough between 1997 and 2006.
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