Are you a good person doing nothing? What is the cost of our inaction?

George Richards, JRP Solutions I am astounded that so many people are still so blasé, irresponsible and ignorant about the cost to the environment of their behaviour.

Posted on 08 November 2018.


There are various claims on the quotation ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing’, but whoever said it, it’s really pertinent here when it seems that there are still so so many people who are hastening the advent of climate disaster just by doing nothing!

We have been clearly told in the recent IPCC’s report on Climate Change that we have just 12 years in which to address mankind’s relentless march towards a 20C temperature rise.

The impacts upon human, plant and animal life can only be considered dire and will be irreversible. For years we have witnessed the extinction of entire species, the destruction of coral reefs, retreating ice caps, droughts and extreme weather events. Do we really want a future where thousands of people die from the heat, increased food shortages caused by reduced crop yields and entire communities and islands being submerged by rising seas? Shortages of unpolluted fresh water and food scarcity will encourage mass migration and result in social unrest and conflict on a scale never before seen.

It took the disturbing images of a grieving whale on the BBC’s Blue Planet to grab people’s attention to the problem of plastic pollution in our seas but what will it take for us to tackle the even bigger and graver issue of Global Warming?

We can all blame governments, the oil companies, big businesses, developing economies if we chose to or, as one rather orange leader has chosen to, deny global warming is even happening or, if it is, it’s got nothing to do with human activity despite his country being responsible for almost 15% of the World’s GHG emissions.

But the reality is that we are all responsible for the state of our planet and we all have to take responsibility to do what we can to minimise our impact upon it. So what does that mean in our day to day lives?

It means thinking about our everyday activities and choices and making changes. The factories in China, a country that emits over 25% of the World’s GHG emissions, and other developing economies are manufacturing the products that we as consumers are demanding and in so doing are emitting huge volumes of carbon and consuming massive amounts of precious resources. We have to challenge ourselves to define our needs as opposed to our wants particularly as Christmas promotions begin and we feel obliged to spend ridiculous amounts of money on gifts that most people neither want or need. According to YouGov figures, approximately £77bn was spent in the UK in 2016 alone.

We need to tackle consumerism and find a new way to measure the success of a nation that doesn’t rely on making and consuming more stuff!

I visited my local supermarket recently and was shocked to discover that even at the peak of our harvest I struggled to find apples grown here in the UK. Instead they had apples from France, Chile and New Zealand! I walked out in disgust and went instead to a local greengrocers who sold locally grown produce – a much better choice and one that I should have made in the first place. Should we continue to expect non-seasonal fruit and vegetables to be on the supermarket shelves all year round?

Our consumption of red meat and dairy products is another important contributing factor resulting in further deforestation reducing the planet’s ability to absorb CO2 as well as higher methane emissions which is an even more damaging GHG than CO2.

Travel is another area where we can make better choices displacing car miles (average 25g of CO2 per kilometre per passenger*) with rail miles (6g of CO2 per kilometre per passenger*) for longer journeys and walking or cycling for those shorter trips to the shop, work or school. Admittedly it can be less convenient but quite apart from the environmental benefits it has cost and health benefits too and can also improve productivity.

At an average of 17.5g of CO2 per kilometre per passenger for short haul flights*, air travel produces by far the largest amount of GHG emissions per passenger kilometre of any mode of transport so we really need to reconsider taking those European weekend breaks and long haul holidays no matter how well deserved we think they are.

Vehicle electrification will certainly make a positive impact upon CO2 emissions (with an increasing proportion of the electricity mix being renewable) but it also raises other issues including the sustainability of battery technology itself and how the electricity needed to charge the batteries will be generated.

However, all this personal responsibility doesn’t mean that Governments and businesses don’t have an equally important role to play.

As energy professionals we all encounter far too many organisations that are unwilling to invest the necessary time and resources to reduce their energy consumption even when there is a strong business case for doing so. Put simply, energy is currently not prioritised by many Boards and won’t be until energy efficiency becomes a license to operate either through strong legislation and/or higher energy costs.

ESOS Phase 2 provided BEIS with the perfect opportunity to encourage more organisations to implement identified improvement opportunities particularly where those improvements had an attractive return on investment. But they didn’t.

Non onerous and largely toothless legislation such as ESOS can, and is, blatantly ignored by some organisations with big brands including EBay and Gumtree among those recently prosecuted by the Environment Agency for non-compliance.

It is clear from the IPCC’s report that urgent action is needed by Governments, businesses and individuals if we are to limit Global Warming to 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels and avoid the inevitable cataclysmic consequences.