Moving on from little steps

By Jenny Martin

As our film on energy use illustrates, some energy saving messages have clearly got through to ordinary members of the public. But do people know which actions will make a huge dent in their carbon emissions, and which will hardly leave a mark?

As our film on energy use illustrates, some energy saving messages have clearly got through to ordinary members of the public. Several of our householders mentioned washing their clothes at 30’C, for example. “The advert says it does just as good a job, and it does” one man from Slough says.

But do people know which actions will make a huge dent in their carbon emissions, and which will hardly leave a mark? According to research in New Scientist this week many people don’t.

When an American research centre asked volunteers about the best way to reduce their carbon emissions, over half chose lower impact behaviours such as turning off lights and driving less. Only 12% mentioned higher impact changes such as switching to a more energy-efficient product or car.

And whilst people were good at judging the impact of low-energy devices, they consistently underestimated the amount of energy used in high energy activities by a factor of almost three.

Similar results have been found in the UK. A report on sustainable tourism by Surrey University found that people underestimated the environmental impact of flying. They believed actions like using low energy light-bulbs and reusing plastic bags made more of a difference than changing their holidays.

This research suggests that while people understand some of the small changes they can make to save energy and reduce emissions, an understanding of many of the bigger, higher impact changes is lacking.

Our Myfuture work, starting in early 2011, will look at this in more detail. We aim create a public debate that goes beyond talking about ‘little steps’ and looks honestly at the nature and scale of lifestyle changes that we’d need to make to meet the UK’s carbon reduction targets.

We’ll also look at inspiring examples where communities, cities or whole countries have managed to make big dents in their carbon emissions by changing the way they live.

Posted by Sylvia Rowley at 8/26/2010 6:56 PM

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