Friday, August 01, 2008

Feeling the pinch

The tumble drier sounds like an aircraft coming in to land. I’m worried it’s going to cause a house fire if I use it again. I’d buy a new one, but it’s the third appliance to break down this month. They always go bust in three’s don’t they? So no more tumble drying in the carbon household for a while.

And then the gas bill comes in at £550. I express my shock that six months of heating can cost that much.
“Three months,” Carbonlite replies. “And it was summer. We shouldn’t have had the heating on.”
He goes around the house turning the lights off and shouting at people to unplug everything and switch off computers instead of leaving them on standby.

He reminds me of my father. “It’s like Blackpool illuminations round here” my dad used to say every time someone turned on a light. He used to compost things too, and make soup from anything past it’s sell-by date that was lying around in the fridge. In fact my dad had us on a cabbage soup diet long before it became a fashion fad. I used to think he was just miserable, but now I have a new respect. He saved energy, discouraged waste, and kept the bills down. If my dad had ever got a £550 gas bill, he’d probably have had an angina attack down by the compost heap while drinking a beaker of cabbage soup.

I stare at the bill and try to think of an excuse. “It’s been a rainy summer” sounds a bit pathetic. “Gordon Brown is to blame with his 40% price hikes,” is convenient but not strictly true. I’m still trying find a way to wriggle out of it when I pull up at the petrol station and find it costs £75 to fill my car up with unleaded. When did that happen?
On the way home, I imagine cutting the bottom out of my vehicle and pushing my legs through, powering the vehicle along from Carnforth like the crew from the whacky races. I am angry that my car costs so much to fill. But then, I reason, a litre of petrol is no more than I’d pay for a cup of coffee. Coffee is a renewable source, you just drink it, grow some more beans and hey presto. But our fossil fuels can’t be renewed. They’re highly precious, having taken millions of years to produce, and masses of effort to extract. They’re a dwindling resource and we’re terrified of them running out, and yet we waste them on trips to Carnforth that we could cycle without breaking a sweat.

I think back to my green resolutions two years ago and the excruciatingly slow progress I’ve made. I cycle sometimes, but not often enough. I put the fire on when a jumper would do. I hang out the washing only when it’s sunny. This “eco worrier” needs that financial pressure to make her worry harder. As a family it hurts when we’re out of pocket with the gas and petrol bills. But as a mother of future generations, the price of carrying on as we are is far more alarming in the end. When our homes are flooded and our fossil fuels run out, we’ll dream of tough bills and petrol at £1.20 a litre.

I pick the Carboncopies up from scouts. They run in and switch on the lights.
“Hey, it’s like Blackpool illuminations round here, turn them off.” I say.
“What’s Blackpool laminations?” asks the youngest Carboncopy.
“Grandad’s favourite place,” I reply, thinking fondly of my elderly eco relative, who turns out to have been way ahead of his time.