Hopefully it is now widely accepted that we must reduce carbon emissions and waste in order to have any chance of stopping the earth continuing to warm up. If we don’t, it is likely that the damage could be irreversible and the future world we live in is a far harsher place than it is now.
How are we going to be doing this when heating makes up around a third of emissions in the UK and driving vehicles accounts for another fifth. Heating our homes using natural sources, air or ground source heat pumps; hydrogen boilers; building homes to a better air tightness so they need less energy to heat them; these will all help reduce how much fossil fuels we use in the future.
Having user friendly electric cars to replace the current petrol and diesel versions will also help. However, driving range and re-charging point availability will have to be better than it is currently. And if we all change to electric cars, how much load will that put on the electricity grid? Will we then need to burn more fossil fuels to cope with this extra load? Imagine 10,000,000 cars on charge at the same time? There are 39,000,000 cars registered in the UK. I am no engineer, but I thought kinetic energy was created through movement. In that case why do we not have a battery that re-charges properly through the motion of the car itself? And once we are there, we will not need grid generated electricity at all, maybe except for charging cars that have been off the road for a while.
I can guess why these are not available yet. Money. Or more importantly, volume repeat sales. Adoption brings volume and volume makes it affordable, so development cost should not be a barrier. I mean the alternative, continuing to burn diesel and petrol, is not worth thinking about. The government wants to only sell zero-emission cars by 2035 but infrastructure needs to be in place to make this a viable option.
Let’s think about this from a business perspective. Most businesses are there to make a profit for their owners, shareholders, employees etc. And most would like to grow every year, even if it’s a little bit. Imagine developing a battery that re-charges itself and lasts for years. No repeat sales.
Also, let’s think about this from another perspective. Imagine the drop in income to fuel companies if we stopped using petrol and diesel in our cars tomorrow. Most companies like Shell and BP make their profits from the upstream side of the business – that is producing oil and gas. Even so, if we use less fuel, and I’m not just talking about cars, but aeroplanes, ships and lorries, then oil and gas companies will produce less and turnover will drop. This affects profits. Most companies put prices up when profits are under threat…………..
What about plastic? It is a huge issue and not just because of the pollution caused by us throwing away so much. I received a package just before Christmas. It was some earrings I had bought my fiancée. It could have come in a box no bigger than my smartphone. Instead it came in a box the size of an A4 piece of paper and 40mm deep. In that box apart from the earrings were:
A bag to put the earrings in.
A decorative box to put the bag in.
Four plastic bags from small to large. The largest had a message on about re-using it!!!
Two cards with the makers name and message on.
One returns paper and a letter from the manufacturer.
The outer wrapping which went around the box. This had a recycle the box message on it!!!
I don’t know about you, but I find this excessive, so I wrote to the CEO of this large well-known brand and offered my services as a Sustainability Manager, offering to cut not just waste but their costs as well. To their credit, they did get a senior manager in the business to respond quickly. However, their response was bland to say the least and assuring me it was something they were looking in to. There was no job offer which is disappointing, as I am currently looking for work!
If we are to really tackle carbon emissions and help the environment, we need to reduce the waste that we produce, not just use less plastic. We need to start at the source. It is not just about using less. It is about wasting less. How much stuff, food or otherwise, do we waste? If we want to attack any problem in this country, we seem to need to penalise people financially before it has any affect. Do we charge people for the weight and volume of waste they create in order to get the message home? Will this just lead to an increase in fly tipping? We could be creating a bigger problem by trying to attack another.
Back to my earlier point. So, we use less energy, less fuel, less plastic, less cardboard, in fact we use less generally. What does this mean? In the developed world it means that we could be shrinking our immediate economies, if the companies whose turnovers reduce, don’t make up for it by charging more for their remaining services. This means that as nations, we have some decisions to make. Knock % off of the UK’s GDP. What does that mean. For a start, less tax revenues. What does that mean? Less money for the government means we have less money to pay for services – NHS, Armed Forces, Council Services, Education etc. I’ve not even mentioned pensions and benefits.
Are we prepared to accept that we will have to prioritise some services over others? As a for instance, the UK Government is forecast to earn £28.5 billion out of fuel sales, of which £26.4 billion comes from vehicle fuel. And that is just the tariff on the fuel we use. This makes up around 3.5% of total Government income. On top of this, we pay VAT which generates another £9 billion. So, just on forecourt sales, nothing from goods sold in the garages, the government would lose £35 billion. Or 4.36%.
If we cut our use of plastics by 10% and the same with paper and cardboard, these industries generate £40 billion of revenue in the UK. VAT on that will be around £6 billion. We use less fossil fuels for heating and VAT receipts reduce further. We become more conscious about what we waste and use less generally. We could quite easily wipe £50 billion plus from the Governments income. Or anything up to 10%. Remember, this has no adjustment for companies making staff cuts because of falling turnover and profits. Let’s face it, companies need to make money or else they won’t survive so profit is not a bad word. Excessive profits are though! Cutting costs does inevitably means reducing the workforce. More people out of work means the nation must pay more out in benefits and receives less from taxes. Adding to the problem of a reducing GDP.
Now I said that our immediate economies will shrink. If we think properly about this now, we should now be creating green industries that lead the world in the development of green technologies and processes. This will create jobs and revenues to replace the reduction likely to come from us using less. We must be creating long term sustainable employment in green industries as there will be fewer jobs in some manufacturing and service industries if we are using less.
And this is just the UK. Or the developing world in general.
What about developing countries.
In the climate protests, I heard a lot of noise about the governments need to solve the climate emergency but very little about how this was going to be achieved. It’s fine to protest but someone start suggesting a workable solution to the problem and we might start getting somewhere! Part of the reason we are struggling has been mentioned above. Big business is not motivated to sell less.
I will give you an example of another.
In the westernised world, we live in relative comfort. We switch lights on when we want; go to the supermarket when we want, watch TV; play sport; most work if they want to; we have elections and free speech; go on holidays, some several times a year. Do you start getting the picture?
So, answer me this. Why should people in developing countries not aspire to have the same things? There is no reason at all I can think of. They have natural resources, the same as we did and have, and they will want to use them to become richer and to afford the things we have. If we aspire to own a nice house and car, why shouldn’t people all over the world.
And therein lies the problem. For everyone on the planet to eat what and when they want, sleep in security in a nice house, drive a nice car to work, the supermarket or the sports club, the world will probably have run out of resources or become too hot to sustain that life.
What is the answer?
In the westernised world, we need to create less waste, use less energy, drive our cars less. We need to create businesses that are focussed on investigating and finding solutions to some of the world’s problems. And not just because we think we can make loads of money doing it.
As an example, the rainforest is being destroyed at an alarming rate. The people there see it as a resource or as a barrier to food production for their people. Why wouldn’t they want to use it or clear it? How can the world motivate these countries to keep and maintain the rainforest when their governments need revenue to help develop their own countries? How about eco-tourism? Now before you shout hypocrite. What’s the idea of flying in plane loads of tourists to view the rainforest and create bucket loads of carbon emissions and waste at the same time? That is not eco-tourism.
Eco-tourism would be viewing the rainforest through Virtual Reality goggles. No need to get on a plane. No waste creation. Bingo. We create an industry that tours the rainforest using local guides and cameras, beamed around the world. Users around the world pay for the pleasure of touring from their front rooms. In fact, why limit this to just the rainforest? Google Earth states it covers 98% of the Earth. 10 million miles of street views. All we need to do is add in tours of sites of interest and we could tour the entire world from the environment friendly safety of our houses. And for far less than it would cost to fly there. People will argue that they go on holiday to catch some sun, go eating and drinking, do sports etc. It may come down to a choice between going on holiday or our children’s children or their children not having a viable future. Unless we develop electric powered passenger planes and create no waste whilst we are there.
What we need to do takes technological development. It takes determination. It also takes companies, in a variety of industries to work together to find the solution. And almost in a philanthropic way.
We have almost developed a culture where we think it is our right to do what we want. We can’t if we want the world to survive.
That does lead to me re-iterating my final point for this blog. We must accept that if we reduce our carbon emissions, across the world, by what is needed to help with climate change, and we address waste, the world’s economy will shrink. If we are buying less, manufacturers turnovers will reduce, as will merchants and distributors, transport and logistics companies etc. Currently there is no financial incentive for any of the companies in this chain to do anything to help address consumerism destroying the world. In fact, it is the opposite. Profit incentivises people to continue producing more and the workforce generally is striving to improve their standard of living, so cannot help this either. Catch 22.