Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Book review: Climate change begins at home

Climate change begins at home: the two-way street of global warming, Dave Reay, MacMillan, Hampshire, 2005, 203.

It is all together to easy to lament over governments that won’t sign Kyoto (despite even its limited usefulness), or berate industry for profligacy in energy usage. Yet, there are things that even the simple home own can do to reduce the future environmental burden on our children. Reay’s book examines some of the changes we can make with imagination and humour, using the Carbone family as an example of an energy guzzling US family who change their thinking and practice, becoming a green example to us all. The book is fairly US focussed in its emphasis on getting rid of the SUV (which is becoming all too common here now), carpooling, walking (the US appears to have less friendly walking space than here) and taking public transport.

Some of the fixes are quite simple, others not so. Governments need to continue to fund public transport infrastructure (p32), but we then need to use it. Saving on a 30km round trip in the car can cut 7kg of greenhouse emissions (p33). Perhaps a tax such as that introduced in London would be appropriate for at least Melbourne and Sydney. Getting rid of the 4WD drive for something smaller helps, for although diesel engines can be more greenhouse (though currently less pollutant) friendly, 4WDs pump out more emissions. If you want a status symbol to show off how rich you are, buy a hybrid car like a Prius (p39). It gets better mileage, emits less greenhouse gases, and isn’t pretentious or too hard to park. (Besides Christian readers, our status is in Christ, not in our cars). Cutting down on air travel is also a big saver, and as a scientist it was a little painful to have it suggested that some of the conferences I could attend (if I ever get to an overseas one!) could be virtual ones (p53).

Home tips are also simple. Switch it off if its not in use, especially appliances with those standby lights on (p74). Changing your clothes and not your thermostat is another suggestion for those with air conditioning and central heating (p60), with a 1ÂșC change meaning a third of a tonne less greenhouse gases per year! Moreover, if the fridge is looking a little old and tired, fixing the seals and cleaning the dust off the coils can save another 200kg per year. Energy efficient bulbs may cost more, but swapping 12 ordinary bulbs for them can cut almost a tonne of greenhouse gas per year. Photovoltaic cells are a little harder (p76). Government cashback deals end next year, and there are no council laws stopping development stealing your sunlight. Here, pressure on government at all levels is needed. Other things may be harder still. Where did your fresh fruit come from, how far has it travelled and how much greenhouse gas has it attracted (p81f)?

In addition to all of these little hints, Reay is not backward about the future impacts of climate change if you needed more incentive than saving some dollars or a salved conscious (or being a good steward of God’s creation!) He considers that some of this at least can be avoided and the magic figure of 60% emission cuts needed to avoid real damage, if individuals act together (p175). Maybe he is right; lets hope so. What seems clear to me if that if being a bit anal about switching things off and whether or not I need to go back to the shops again for one item I might need for a fancy meal can help care for the planet God gave us, then for Christ’s sake start lets start doing it.

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