There’s overwhelming public acknowledgement that action has to be taken on climate change. But only a minority want to make changes to our lifestyle. Andrew Warren, chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation provided his views in the February issue of Energy in Buildings & Industry.
How Far Are You Prepared To Go?
No argument. The overwhelming majority of UK citizens are convinced that radical steps need to be taken to combat the threat of climate change. Certainly by Government. And, just as much, by individuals. The question remains: just how ready is each of us to undertake radical steps in our own lives?
Every recent opinion survey endorses acknowledgement of the threat. To take just one recent opinion poll (far from an outlier) was published in the i, the fastest growing newspaper.
This poll revealed overwhelming support for radical change to end the UK’s net carbon emissions by the end of this decade. Some 70% of those questioned by pollsters BMG said they supported the target of net-zero emissions by 2030, with only 7% opposing it. The UK is currently legally committed to reach net-zero emissions, but by 2050.
Support for swift action over the next 10 years was high across all age ranges, social groups and parts of the country, countering any perceptions of a generational or urban/rural split on the climate emergency.
The survey found high levels of concern over the threat which unchecked climate change poses to everyday life for people in the UK, with 67% saying they expected it to have a negative impact, against just 12% who still hoped it might be positive. Plus 21% who thought it might not make any great difference( or who frankly didn’t know).
Given that response, we might logically assume the vast majority should be prepared to take all the steps we can in our own lives to ameliorate this threat. But are they?
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) is the nation’s official watchdog. It warns what needs to be done to minimise the problem. It has becoming increasingly agitated at the failure of so many of us to address what we are doing about the place where we are most likely to be making the greatest contribution to emitting the greenhouse gases that cause climate change: specifically, our homes.
Residential sector insulation down 90 per cent
Firstly, we certainly should be doing more to insulate the fabric of our homes; the Committee has revealed that installations of residential sector insultation have fallen by 90% within the past five years. The numbers of homes having energy efficient glazing installed has fallen back too. Even though we continue to occupy some of the draughtiest homes in western Europe.
The average home could certainly cut consumption by half with ease- and end up a lot more comfortable.
But our heating itself remains very fossil fuel dependent. The UK is one of only three European countries where the majority of homes rely upon natural gas as the main heating source. The CCC has long argued for transferring heating away from gas to electric.
Right now gas boilers are to be found in 72% of British homes. In contrast, 11% use district or communal heating, just 8% have an electric heat pump.
The trade body Eurogas, transparently an interested party, has also carried out extensive opinion polling (by Savanta ComRes) across Europe. Helpfully they have broken down responses received country by country.
UK opinions are in many cases very similar to other Europeans, certainly regarding the severity of the threat of climate change. We are amongst the highest in acknowledging the responsibility that falls upon individuals to “do their bit”- 69% think we should all be doing so.
But we Brits put changing our heating system very low down on the list of actions we are willing to consider . Whereas 46% reckon they could be using less energy (still lower than most other Europeans), only 14% of us would ever consider changing boilers – although 34% did concede that heating systems needed to alter.
Whilst this reaction could be ascribed to inertia, there is overt resistance to doing anything that would increase monthly fuel bills. Some 60% say they would refuse to co-operate with any changes unless their overall bills actually went down considerably (by far the highest percentage in western Europe). And we evince the greatest hostility to change if any upfront capital expense was required.
What should we read into these two sets of opinion polls? The lessons I would draw are salutary.
Yes, there is an unequivocal acknowledgment of warnings expressed by climatologists. Yes, climate change is a major and serious threat, which must require significant lifestyle changes to combat.
Some -possibly 1 in 5 – are prepared to embrace such changes, even to make personal sacrifices to assist. But the vast majority of us have yet to do more than respond intellectually. We might well be prepared (prompted by some judicious incentives and/or regulatory requirements)to reduce the amount of energy we burn, particularly if we can be more comfortable in consequence. But we are simply not yet prepared to endure any disruption to our present heating arrangements, particularly if we end up out of pocket even a bit.
All of which might argue for making rather more of a push into greening the gas network, probably via hydrogen, than hitherto. As well as ensuring that there are some effective incentives and regulations introduced to ensure that we reduce the overall amount of fuel that running the network requires.
Otherwise in the words of St Augustine, it is “Lord, make me chaste. But not yet.”