Monday, January 29, 2007

New Years Resolutions

Well, it's been yet another week of climate change headlines with the IPCC preparing to release their latest report reminding us of the seriousness and urgency of the climate change threats, while the great and the good of the WEF have been meeting in snowy Davos and discussing the need for global action to reduce carbon emissions and improve the prospects for skiiing at future summits. Let's hope the news that glaciers are now shrinking three times faster than in the 1980's will encourage them to get their finger out.

Shivering around the table in our ice-house, struggling to believe it's been the second warmest January on record, it's nice to be able to tell the washingqueen that our efforts are part of an emerging global plan.

We're almost a year into our household carbon reduction programme and by the end of this week will have a reliable baseline from which to plot our way into a lower carbon future. After a year of painful monitoring of our gas and electricity consumption, car and public transport usage and other carbon emitting habits, our year end carbon accounting will be followed by the announcement of our 1st annual carbon footprint.

And while the washingqueen may hope that is the end of it, it is really only the beginning. The future is not about measuring your carbon footprint but about reducing it, year on year on year. So, when the numbers come we'll be having a summit of our own with a view to making some New Year resolutions and an action plan to improve the state of the little planet that is our household. I fear the washingqueen may prefer to kick me into orbit.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Thermostat wars

With the new year came a new conflict. As winter cold and rain seeped in through our limestone walls and poorly insulated windows and doors, Carbonlite and I went to war over the central heating thermostat. Snatched stealth visits to the downstairs loo (home of the thermostat panel) soon turned from amusement to obsession. As the Carboncopies ran to school at the start of term, our carefree Christmas household emissions were curtailed and the radiators were already cooling. With a new year’s resolution of cutting our emissions, I took the recommended action and put on an extra jumper. But at my computer next to the kitchen, a gale blew under the door, feet turning to ice in double socks. I soldiered on, ignoring the onset of grumpiness, having just found out that our household heating emissions for last year came to four and a half tonnes of carbon dioxide, emitting more harmful gases than the family car. I made coffee, and warmed my hands on a half empty kettle. But thoughts of a warm living room kept creeping in and for a moment I imagined myself snaffling elevensies with my bum against a hot radiator. All of a sudden I felt as ungreen as an American President. I nipped into the loo and quickly flicked the thermostat switch before guilt set in. A light came on, and a ready brek glow spread through me at the thought of being warm once more. I returned to my desk and typed away with renewed energy. Carbonlite came down for lunch and entered the downstairs toilet. I listened through the door but heard nothing. Perhaps he hadn’t noticed my indiscretion? Perhaps he’d turned a blind eye to the tiny light? Perhaps the house would be warm enough for cheese on toast in comfort? Then behind my desk the radiator seemed to visibly sag. Carbonlite had flicked the switch.

We arranged for a man with a green plan to come and advise us. He told us energy efficiency measures could save two tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, and offered a range of practical ideas for sealing keyholes and blocking doors, insulating attics and double glazing windows. But our listed building status and original sash windows scuppered this, so the man with the plan revised the plan and recommended secondary double glazing at a cost of five hundred pounds per window. Although aware that radical insulation action could save us a few hundred pounds a year, we had no ready cash for windows. So Carbonlite took budget emergency action on the bedroom sashes, sealing crumbling paintwork and bolting down wood. While this kept us warm at night, it also trapped the condensation and each morning our windows resembled a winter wonderland as condensation clung to the panes, melting onto the wood and rotting woodwork. Carbonlite handed out cloths and instructions on wiping them down.

I raised the cloth to the glass and swept it across the misty pane. My arm became covered with a strange substance, which clung to my wrist and fingers like spiders web. In a panic, I pulled and ripped, and it wrapped itself around my other hand. On closer inspection I realised it was cling film. This explained why I had nothing to wrap the sandwiches in, but not why a window cleaning session had turned into a scene from a low budget science fiction movie. Suspecting a DIY insulation technique I questioned Carbonlite. “It’s home made double glazing,” he replied. “Don’t look at me like that, it’s a recognised technique. Well it is environmental circles anyway.” Carbonlite’s mother came to visit and gave us her motherly wisdom. “Heat one room and close all the doors. You’d think you were all born in barns.” Now I had almost no time to work as I spent all day closing doors and wiping down windows. But I was still cold. I considered lighting a fire in the chimney next to my workstation, but remembered we’d instructed the builders not to line the chimney to save money and while I wanted my home to be warm, I didn’t want to set it on fire. “The most effective insulation is to turn the heating off and wear outdoor clothes inside,” said Carbonlite, now walking around in two fleeces and a cagoule. “I bet Tony Blair doesn’t make Cherie turn the heating off during the day,” I shouted from the loo. “Perhaps you should have married him then,” Carbonlite called back from the kitchen. Suddenly feeling cross, I flicked the thermostat to ‘on,’ piled up the recycling crates in front of the panel to hide the light, flushed the loo and closed the door behind me. It might only be minutes before Carbonlite discovered my environmental recklessness, but at least until then I’d have warm toes.