Climate change is a massive subject, with scientific opinion constantly changing and basic principles as to how we live being challenged: but don’t feel overwhelmed! There are many ways of joining the fight against climate change: the important thing is to have it in mind whenever you make decisions.
You’ll probably have noticed that Cornwall Council and many parish councils have declared a Climate Emergency. You may also have noticed that Lanner Parish Council hasn’t. Why not?
Climate change is happening.
Declaring a “Climate Emergency” is to merely state the obvious. What counts is developing a response to mitigate or adapt to its effects. The concern is that declaring “an emergency” may lead to complacency (“so, we’ve ticked the political box”) or (more likely) there will be a rush to develop policies which may end up having little or no impact on the problem and may have negative consequences. Very often, the correct actions may be counter intuitive.
Climate change is a global issue and unless it is tackled globally there is little or no action that Cornwall can take unilaterally which will have any significance on the future. The best that can be achieved is that, as a community, we build up resilience and resources to tackle the effects of what is to come. That is what the Parish Council seeks to assist. Climate change, sustainability and biodiversity are at the core of all decisions the Council makes: that is evident already in our Neighbourhood Development Plan, Emergency Plan and in our Parish Plan.
To address climate change at a national or international level, the number one issue is to curb and eventually reduce the level of population worldwide, now standing at the highest level in history. If we don’t look to that, climate change or its socio-economic consequences will reduce it anyway through war, famine or disease. So, perhaps we should start by discussing birth control policy and education; how we support families; and considering such matters in our international relations. Our current climate change problems stem from human activity and the more of us there are then the more impact on climate we will have. And if we, as individuals, expect to own a car or fly to our holiday destination then it’s a fair bet that the rest of the world want this too.
We also need to address society’s inherent desire for “growth”. The combination of expanding populations and expanding economic activity complete the equation for increasing levels of pollution in air, water and land as we seek to get more from less.
Cornwall Council can help determine the quantities in that equation locally through strategic planning: particularly through review and revision of the Cornwall Local Plan. In fact, mitigation of the effects of climate change should be at the heart of all their decisions. That is not an easy task, given the targets and policies set by national government: but this is an emergency and so where national dictates work against local efforts to combat climate change then they must be challenged.
If Cornwall Council is to play an effective part in leadership then it must show consistency. Pressing for growth, increasing road capacity, building more and more houses, facilitating more air travel: all these things reduce the perception within the community of sincerity or urgency of purpose.
The consumption of fossil fuels is a major concern not only because of their effect on climate but also because of the need to free ourselves politically and economically from reliance on imported energy. In addition, despite the temporary relief to “Peak Oil” provided by shale gas, fossil fuels are of finite supply. So, moves away from fossil fuels are inherently a good thing.
The likelihood of effective international action taking place is remote: the USA, China, Russia, Brazil, OPEC countries will all place self-interest first. In addition, people have aspirations, and these tend to be to emulate standards of living in the west. Is it possible to change those aspirations in a world which is propelled by economic growth and private wealth?
So, there seems very little we can do at the micro-level to avert some radical changes to our future environment. The value in micro-level planning is in promoting acceptance of a new culture of awareness towards pollution and the environment and to take steps towards mitigating what may become unalterable impacts on our lives.
For Cornwall to take unilateral action to become Carbon Neutral by 2030 seems not only unachievable but possibly also undesirable. Given the low level of average income in the county relative to the rest of the UK, such a policy would make most people relatively even more adrift of the national average. Unless there was a positive national wealth redistribution policy into Cornwall (and other low-income areas) poverty levels are likely to rise and the ability to take physical steps to mitigate climate change effects will be impaired. Carbon Neutral is not Cost Neutral. Given that the effect of Cornwall becoming carbon neutral will have no real impact on climate change, it seems unwise and even masochistic to be so far out of step with national targets on this issue.
How will we know when Cornwall becomes carbon neutral? The methodology of gathering data needs to be transparent and capable of scrutiny by the public. Do we really know where we are now with any degree of accuracy? The methodology is very important. For example, if a tourist visits Cornwall from Germany, to what degree are his carbon emissions attributable to Cornwall versus a tourist coming from Winchester? Similarly, if a Cornishman flies to a destination from Newquay airport are his carbon emissions different if he travels to the same destination from Exeter airport?
First and foremost, though, Cornwall Council must speak for itself. Can and will it become carbon neutral? How will Cormac and other assets be incorporated into calculations (or not)? Cornwall Council can actually control carbon emissions generated by its activities whereas for Cornwall as a whole, it can only have aspirations. Has the effect of carbon neutrality for Cornwall Council been monetarised and its impact on Council Tax increases been calculated? Will it precipitate rises in Council Tax so high as to require a referendum? How would you vote?
Here are some practical things that you can do to help fight climate change and support the natural environment. Do think about what is right for you as well. Replacing something that still has years left in it might have a negative effect. And make sure that, by becoming greener, you don’t create financial worries for yourself. One step at a time.
Any prices quoted are for comparison purposes only. Do check out current actual prices before committing to any transaction.
Most suppliers to the National Grid now provide some green energy and the cost of production between green energy and fossil fuel based is fairly insignificant. For the time being though, “traditional” suppliers can’t afford to write off the capital value of their existing plant but will continue to (increasingly) phase in renewable sources.
Suppliers can offer up to 100% green energy. If they offer a mix of energy (some renewable and the rest from traditional sources), then they have to be up-front about the percentage mix so that you know what you’re getting.
Finding what is the best deal for you can be difficult.
Energy comparison websites often work by getting a commission from specific suppliers wanting to get more prominent positioning in order to get more customers. This means that they may hide certain tariffs, preventing you from easily finding the cheapest electricity.
This becomes even more complicated when you are trying to compare only green energy suppliers as there is currently no online comparison site which deals exclusively with green energy. However, online energy comparison sites should have the option to filter deals so you can only see tariffs with only green electricity.
There are two main types of green tariff:
- green supply tariffs – suppliers who offer this type of tariff will match your energy usage by giving back an equivalent in renewables to the National Grid.
- green funds – with these tariffs, you pay a premium and the supplier donates to support renewable energy projects.
Green supply tariffs can be either fixed tariffs or variable tariffs.
Fixed tariffs mean that you take out a contract with a supplier for a fixed term at a fixed rate per unit of electricity used. But as well as the charge rate, there will also be a standing charge and, in most cases, an exit fee if you want to leave the contract. So what might appear the cheapest at first glance can be more expensive.
Variable tariffs change according to the cost of producing power. This can be very frequent. There is however no exit fee so variable tariffs are often useful to tenants or people who do not plan to stay in one location for too long.
If you need to buy a new lightbulb, consider “grading up” to a more energy-saving type. Try and use the energy-saving bulb where you most use electric light. So, for example, if a bedroom light goes put in one from your kitchen or living room and fit the new bulb in that more used room. Remember to take the old bulb to the shop with you so that you buy one with the correct fitting.
The technology of lightbulbs has changed a lot in recent years, so you need to think before buying as to what level of performance you want from your bulb. There are considerable financial savings to be made from choosing the right bulb for the right location as well as environmental savings.
The standard non-energy saving type of bulb is a halogen bulb. There are two types of energy-saving bulb generally available. These are CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) and LEDs (light emitting diodes).
Light is measured in lumens. The wattage of the bulb measures the power to generate the light. To produce the same amount of light each type of bulb uses a different energy level. So, for example, a 28W standard bulb will produce the same 400 lumen light as a 9W CFL or a 6W LED.
The reason halogen bulbs are so inefficient is because most of the energy used to keep them on is wasted as heat, which is necessary if the metal filament is going to produce light. Using the example above, it will cost about £9.20 to run for a year. The bulb itself will last on average only 2 years.
CFLs are more efficient because they have a gas filled glass tube instead of a metal filament. They do, however, take a short time to “warm up” to emit the same amount of light as a halogen bulb. The 400-lumen bulb will cost about £2.96 to run for a year. This bulb will last about 10 years.
LED bulbs are even more energy efficient. Our 400-lumen light would cost about £1.97 to run for the year. In addition, the bulb has a life of about 25 years.
In the garden:
- Use a watering can instead of a hose
- If your garden needs watering, do so early morning or evening to reduce evaporation
- Use a bucket and sponge instead of a hose to clean your car (or leave it for another week – it’s only going to get dusty!)
- Use any remaining water from your water butt first
In the home:
- Turn off the tap while brushing your teeth
- Keep a jug of water in the fridge so you don’t have to run your tap cold
- Use a bowl for washing up or for rinsing fruit and veg – then use this water for plants
- Have a shower instead of a bath
- Only use your dishwasher or washing machine when you have a full load (this will save money on your energy bills too)
- Only fill the kettle with as much water as you need (this will save energy too)
- Fix leaking taps and toilets
Transport is the biggest contributor to climate change in Cornwall. More specifically: burning fossil fuels to get around.
Electric cars seem to be the way forward. Public transport is of limited use and efficiency in rural areas and more suited to urban or inter-city journeys. According to the last available statistics, the average distance to work is 9.5 miles. Included in that figure are a relatively high percentage of self-employed people who tend to need transport to different locations throughout the day.
If you are thinking about an electric car or van the cost will be a big factor: they don’t come cheap. The lower running costs (tax, insurance and fuel) will probably be factored in to a significant extent into the vehicle’s price. At the present time it is unlikely to be a good economic deal unless you are at the point where you have to get rid of your existing petrol or diesel.
The range over which electric vehicles can travel is improving all the time, as are the number of locations where you can recharge. But some electric vehicles take a long time to charge up and if you can’t park your car at home off-road for overnight charging, then a hybrid version is a better bet.
There is a lot of interest in hydrogen fuel cars. These are very much for the future though as capital outlay is very high and filling points outside the M25 extremely rare. Both the government and oil companies like Shell and BP are very interested though as we get ever near peak oil and with hydrogen you can fill your car in similar style to a present-day petrol station. Probably something for 10 years hence.
Far better, of course, is to walk or cycle to work. Perhaps the biggest deterrent to walking and cycling in rural areas is risk from traffic: partly because there are few pavements but most importantly because of speed. A reduction in speed limits to 40 mph where possible on rural roads would be an encouragement. There is also a need to encourage people to think about using the car only for purposeful journeys: the sheer volume of seemingly aimless cars wandering the countryside is startling at times.
Litter and fly-tipping
Insulation (and ventilation)
First things first: eat to be healthy; eat the best quality you can afford; eat local, eat seasonal and eat less. Then, do start to consider the carbon footprint of your food and how its production affects the climate emergency. You will probably, but not inevitably, find that if you are following those earlier rules then this last consideration will not have a great impact on the decisions you’ve made.
Fertile, healthy soils are vital for our food security. Globally, they store an estimated 9.8 billion tonnes of carbon. If managed well, they can reduce greenhouse gas emissions; but if badly managed, soils turn from a store to a source of emissions.
Soils can also help prevent floods and reduce the impact of droughts; but badly managed soils lose the ability to absorb and filter water, damaging water supplies and increasing flood risk.
So how soils are used is essential to the sustainability of food production and also impacts on carbon emission, biodiversity and the environment generally. The problem comes in that little or no information is available when you buy something to tell you how production methods have maintained or damaged soil quality. The only certainty is an Organic label as maintaining or improving soil quality is key in that designation. To a lesser extent, the Red Tractor symbol will provide assurance that good practice is employed on-farm but high-carbon inputs such as fossil fuel-based fertilisers may have been employed to support high yields.
Min (minimum) or no-till has become popular in recent years. Min and no-till systems minimise soil disturbance (soil disturbance releases carbon) and are claimed to sequester additional carbon over time, as organic matter increases and with it soil carbon levels.
Min till also offers the potential for lower costs of machinery use (lower energy use), less damage to soil structure, less risk of soil erosion, less environmental damage from nitrogen leaching and pesticide run-off from bare (ploughed) land, and environmental benefits such as increased soil fauna and habitats for birds.
However, scientific research on conservation tillage does not support the position that min or no-till be adopted as a guaranteed method of cutting farming’s greenhouse gas emissions. Min or no-till systems generally rely on herbicides to kill crop residues and weeds.
Min or no-till is certainly not the only way to increase soil carbon: the better performance of organic farming in sequestering soil carbon may be because organic systems have between 32% and 84% greater microbial biomass. Despite the use of ploughing on most organic farms, organically-farmed soils have been found to have on average 21% higher levels of soil organic matter than non-organic soils
Meat and dairy production keeps getting a bad press whereas the scientific evidence does not support the extreme claims of those opposed to animal farming which are often laid by those trying to use the climate emergency to promote other agendas and beliefs.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has called for changes to the way we manage land to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It highlights the need for diverse farming systems, which include sustainably managed pasture and livestock, as a way of mitigating climate change. It also says that balanced diets should include meat and dairy produce from animals produced in systems which are resilient and sustainable.
The key, says the IPCC, is not simply what people eat, it’s what kind of system that food is produced in — and when produced in a sustainable system, meat is a valuable part of our diets. From building soil carbon and fertility to increasing species diversity, livestock can have positive effects on the environment, making them an important part of the climate change battle. But it does come back to how meat and dairy is produced, and farmers do need to make changes to make positive changes happen. This can include applying organic fertilisers rather than artificial ones to reduce emissions (nitrous oxide produced by fertiliser used in the livestock sector accounts for about 18% of GHG emissions), or adopting direct drilling techniques to reduce disturbing soils and releasing carbon stored in them into the atmosphere.
The big claim against ruminants is their production of methane gas. Traditional greenhouse gas arguments have (and often still do) focus on gross emissions and not on net emissions: the former make for “better” headlines. Equally important, not all greenhouse gases are equal. While carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide (N2O) are active in our atmosphere for many human generations, methane – a powerful, but short-lived, greenhouse gas – is broken down in about a decade.
Because the size of the UK herd has fallen with increasing efficiencies, the greenhouse warming potential of methane from UK agriculture has fallen to just 20% of its 1996 base and continues to have a negative impact on net emissions of -10.6 MtCO2e*. minus 10.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent)
Cattle and sheep are not the enemy – instead it’s high-yield, high-fodder (maize, soy and cereal) production systems, which are doing damage. Benefits are gained through well-managed grass-based agriculture, by a diverse patchwork of rural businesses, and the restoration and maintenance of rural economies. We can still eat meat and dairy, as part of a diet that includes greater nutritional diversity.
About one third of the world’s food is lost or wasted, with causes differing substantially between developed and developing countries, as well as between regions. Reducing that waste has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve food security significantly. A large part of the waste challenge is around consumer storage and use of food, but there is more the food supply chain can do to cut wastage.
Rather than have your garden decked out or covered with paving slabs, consider setting aside an area to grow your own vegetables. If you haven’t got a garden, or it’s already got a fair bit of decking, it’s fairly easy to grow some salad vegetables and fruits in pots and troughs.
Create a more diverse range of plants which have different flowering times.to attract pollinators.
We need to build fewer houses. The number of houses in the county should reflect its economy, which is not urban-industrial. The Cornwall Local Plan sets out a number of new homes for second homes/tourism; care homes and student accommodation. The Plan aims to build many more new dwellings than natural growth demands: so they are speculative in nature.
Urban growth has a huge impact on carbon emissions In particular, we need to take a more restrictive approach to green field development.
All commercial buildings should be encouraged to have solar panels on roofs, and this should be mandatory for new commercial buildings. At this point in time the provision of new large-scale energy farms is questionable on grounds of economics, connectability to the National Grid, and environmental impact. But the issue should be kept under review.
Planting more trees is very sensible but they need to be the right type of trees in the right type of soil. Wildlife and biodiversity seldom get sufficient weight in decision making.
Ironically, although climate change may precipitate a rise in sea levels it may also add to water shortage. Given Cornwall’s extensive coastline, should Cornwall Council facilitate or invest in desalination plants? Alternatively, do we need another inland reservoir?
Cornwall’s hospitals and emergency services are already stretched beyond capacity and a substantial investment is required to bring them up to a standard where they could reliably cope with health and safety issues flowing from severe climate change. This requires a commitment to both capital and running expenditure increases. It also requires great investment in community care. How will this affect Cornwall Council’s political and budgetary priorities?
The effects of climate change on future coastal development are commendably embedded in decision making but are there plans for community funded coastal defence plans to protect existing property and where and when will these take place? Will they all take place by 2030? To what extent would the private sector be expected to either contribute to communal action or simply look after itself?
There is a lot of misleading information being put out under the “climate change” umbrella which is driven by other agendas and is not based in fact or sound science. This could have a damaging effect on core industries such as agriculture, fishing and tourism as well as the environment and biodiversity which they support. There is a role for Cornwall Council to play as a provider of sound data and tested opinion from which sensible decisions can be made. For example: emissions calculators can show a 100% difference in their results (see https://www.finavia.fi/en/newsroom/2018/what-are-climate-emissions-my-flight-try-out-most-popular-emissions-calculators)