HIGH CONSUMPTION LIFESTYLES AND THEIR CONTRIBUTION TO CLIMATE CHANGE
Rising Tide Gathering Workshop notes- October 2001
WHAT IS LIFESTYLE CONSUMPTION?
This workshop defines lifestyle as "products and services consumed as part of an individual’s day to day life and over which he or she has a degree of choice regarding product, quantity and price ". Each person’s lifestyle is therefore developed by themselves in daily negotiation with the wider society and the consumer market.
By this definition. an individual’s lifestyle consumption is composed of:
- House- heating, lighting, appliances
- Transport-cars, buses, flights
- Product consumption- clothes, food, and general household "goods"
SO HOW MUCH DO THESE LIFESTYLE ITEMS CONTRIBUTE TO GREENHOUSE GAS MISSIONS?
A lot. Houses and personal transport alone account for half of all emissions. In 1999 UK energy consumption including electricity was 156 million tonnes of oil equivalent divided approximately three ways-
- one third transport (53 million tonnes of oil equivalent)
- one third domestic (46 million tonnes of oil equivalent)
- one third everything else (industry, agriculture, services, government etc.)
Nearly one half of non-transport energy use was domestic. The transport section broke down approximately half on cars and taxis, 5% buses, trucks 25% non-road 25%. So, in this too, personal lifestyle consumption accounts for nearly exactly half energy use. Domestic water heating alone consumes three times as much energy as the Iron and Steel industry, and 50% more than all the heavy trucks on the road
WHERE DOES IT GO?
HOUSE — AVERAGE 2.8 TONNES CO² PER PERSON
Space Heating 50% Cooking 5%
Lighting and appliance energy 20% Water Heating 25%
There is a huge difference between different houses. A draughty and badly insulated Victorian house can take five times more energy to heat than a new house. A good quality gas boiler will produce a third of the greenhouse gas emissions as water or space heating by electricity.
CARS-AVERAGE 1.6 TONNES CO² PER PERSON
Manufacturing a car produces 5 tonnes of CO². After that, every litre of petrol produces 2.5 kg of CO², on average consumption that’s just under half a kilo of CO² per mile. Someone who commutes 20 miles each way to work will produce over 4 tonnes of CO² from commuting alone.
Flights are ignored in national and international climate change statistics and are therefore ignored in national accounting of greenhouse gas emissions. Jet planes drink fuel, so even though they are a form of public transport, the oil consumption per person per mile is approximately the same as a car with one person in it. However, the greenhouse impact is three times as high per mile because jet planes distribute pollution and water vapour high in the atmosphere. One long haul flight can outweigh all other personal emissions. Typical return flights:
London- Paris return 626 kg CO² London-Sydney 10.8 tonnes CO²
London-New York 4.25 tonnes CO² London-South of Spain 1.4 tonnes CO²
General consumption can be very significant- it encompasses all agricultural emissions, most industry and most transport. The general consumption of average American produces 10 tonnes of CO². The UK average is probably around half this- around 4-5 tonnes per year. The products people consume make a major statement about the kind of person they are (or want to be) and vary enormously from person to person.
Diet is also a factor- home produced vegetables are carbon neutral, average supermarket vegetables have often used up their own weight in fossil fuels. Beef is a particular problem. To produce one pound of beef, a cow has produced half a pound of methane, a very powerful greenhouse gas which is equivalent to 10.5 lbs of CO². The beef eaten by the average American in a year has produced the methane equivalent of 1.4 tons of CO².
SOCIAL JUSTICE ISSUES
The average UK person’s emissions are ten times higher than an Indian who is effectively subsidising our emissions. There are also enormous differences between people’s emissions within the UK depending on
income, size of house, use and size of car. Again the low consumers are subsidising the impacts of the high consumers. However, poor people can also be high consumers of energy. Britain has the worst insulated and oldest housing stock in Europe and as a result 4.5 million households in Britain are defined as "fuel poor"- they cannot buy sufficient energy with 10% of their income to have a warm healthy home. When temperatures fall to 4°C, 95% of rented homes are unable to meet healthy temperatures with all the heating on. In 1999-2000, a mild year, 55,000 people died from cold and damp related illnesses, at least half due to poor housing issues. So high energy consumption creates poverty and bad insulation kills.
DIFFERENT PEOPLE SCENARIOS
In 1995 sexless ageless average UK person produced 9.6 tonnes CO² from all sources
. His/her lifestyle emissions would be:
House and water heating 2.1 tonnes Car 1.6 tonnes
Products and food 4.0 tonnes Lighting and appliances 0.7 tonnes
TOTAL 8.4 tonnes
TYPICAL FAMILY - MR. AND MRS SMITH WITH THEIR TWO KIDS
Mr and Mrs Average live in a 1930’s semi with the usual range of appliances, central heating etc. They have one family car which they drive 10,000 miles per year.
House heating and water 4.7 tonnes CO²
Lighting and appliance energy 3.3 tonnes CO²
Car 5 tonnes (10,000 miles@500g CO²/mile)
Food and product consumption 6 tonnes CO²
Annual flight to Spain for four 4.6 tonnes CO² (4 people @ 1.4 tonnes CO² each)
TOTAL 23.6 tonnes CO² (5.9 tonnes each)
AVERAGE YOUNG ECO-ACTIVIST
The eco-activist, Elf Spirit, lives in a shared Victorian housing collective with 5 other people. The house has poor insulation and single glazing. Everyone shares a fridge and washing machine which are old inefficient models. She buys things second hand whenever possible buys local organic vegetarian food. She has no car, but travels extensively by train and made one trip to San Francisco stopping over in New York.
House heating and water 2 tonnes CO²
Appliance energy 0.5 tonnes CO²
Food and products 0.75 tonnes CO²
Bus and train travel 0.5 tonnes
TOTAL WITHOUT FLIGHT 3.75 tonnes CO²
London-New York-San Francisco return 7.15 tonnes CO²
TOTAL WITH FLIGHT 10.9 tonnes CO²
To avoid climate change, emissions per person need to fall to 2.45 tonnes per person. With existing technology this can only be achieved with the following national lifestyle changes:
1. a renovation of all housing stock to dramatically reduce domestic energy demand to a level which can be met entirely from renewable energy.
2. reductions in general consumption and support for local produce
3. increased public transport and the end of car dependency and commuting
4. less overall travel and commuting and an end to jet flights for international transport
IMMEDIATE PERSONAL CHANGES
1. Calculate your carbon footprint using these websites and the figures above. The best sites in English using metric measurements are:
http://www.bestfootforward.com/carbonlife.htm - Simple-though with subjective questions which are easy to cheat.
http://www.carboncalculator.org - Probably the best UK site — though a little hard to use.
http://www.chooseclimate.org/flying/mf.html - Great site for calculating the emissions of your flights.
2. Taking immediate steps to improve your emissions performance, starting with investments in insulation, draughtproofing and low energy lightbulbs (each one of which can will save up to one tonne of CO² over its lifetime). Turning down the thermostat by just 1°C will save 600 kg of CO² per year for an average house. Try to avoid all unnecessary car use and flights. Transfer your electricity to "green electricity".
3. Campaign to demand action on sub-standard housing by local and national government, improved public transport, the end to internal flights within the UK and Europe.
4. Inform and educate people about their emissions. Build and publicise local action.
George Marshall, October 2001