Cut Energy Use
Why am I doing this? Well, I'm an Energy Auditor, Consultant and Engineer, and my job is reducing non-renewable energy usage for businesses, communities and regions.
First, why do we care? There's a couple of reasons for this.
Firstly, the humanitarian: in 2021, according to Forbes, the EU spent $296m per day on Russian fossil fuels. [https://tinyurl.com/bdd6687f]
That's more gas from Russia than from anyone else (about 40%), more solid fuels from Russia than from anyone else (nearly half),
more crude oil from Russia than from anyone else (about a quarter).
When you account for domestic production, that means we (Europe) import about a quarter of all of our energy usage from Russia. [https://tinyurl.com/y6vdte66]
The inclusion or exclusion of the UK (post-brexit) doesn't materially alter those figures.
The "rents" (essentially profit) from exporting oil and gas amount to nearly 40% of the total Russian federal budget, or 14% of the entire GDP. [https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20211115-climate-change-can-russia-leave-fossil-fuels-behind]
Where did Russia get all the money for tanks and cruise missiles and precision strikes on Ukrainian cities?
Well a lot of it came from us, propping up the faltering Russian economy for decades by buying their fossil fuels.
And cutting back supply didn't really help actually. Supply-and-demand is a pretty basic response mechanism.
Supply dropped, demand went up, and in early 2022, Russia doubled its monthly revenues exporting fossils. [https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/27/russia-doubles-fossil-fuel-revenues-since-invasion-of-ukraine-began]
The only way to really hurt oil and gas economies is to stop using oil and gas. That's the long and the short of it.
Accounting tricks don't work, and sanctions will be a bit toothless while we still need, in abundance, what they are selling us.
Let's remember here, that these revenues represent hundreds of millions of metric tonnes of CO2 emissions. Hundreds of millions. [https://www.statista.com/statistics/1241828/ghg-emission-european-union-eu-by-country/]
Anyone who isn't convinced by the reality of the climate crisis, I encourage you to read the IPCC special report, or Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells, or look out your window at the storms and fires. It's not in the future. It's now.
This is the second reason to cut our usage, because the climate crisis is not like a dictator who we may one day defeat.
It's not a question of whether we can win, but how much of our collective home we can save from the ravages of fires, floods, hurricanes, plastic, chemical pollution, and the chain-reaction impact of biodiversity collapse.
We lose 200 species a day.
Let's rephrase that: as early as 2010, the UN Environment Programme estimated that we humans are extincting 200 species of animals every day, or a thousand times the background rate. The biodiversity crisis and the climate crisis are horrifically closely linked, with each driving the other (and us driving both).
There's a lot of facets to the climate crisis, but the biggest one is energy (followed by agriculture). [https://ourworldindata.org/emissions-by-sector]
So what do we mean when we say energy? Most people think of electricity, but that's actually only a small part of the puzzle.
The system is insanely complex [https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/indicators/overview-of-the-european-energy-system-3/assessment] so we'll have to simplify a bit.
A rule of thumb for most European countries is that we use about 20% of energy for electricity production, 40% for transport and 40% for heating.
It varies a lot country-to-country, but electricity is not really the problem, as its the smaller share and the only bit we're sort of doing okay decarbonising.
Transport is much harder, and heating is harder again for a lot of countries.
The third reason to cut our usage is the cost to us as individuals and businesses. They. Have. Soared.
You may be paying four times as much per unit for energy as you did a year ago. That's enough to put some businesses under entirely.
I won't smugly note that if we had a renewable electricity system and electrified heating and transport we wouldn't give a fuck about gas or oil prices,
and our operating costs would be a tiny fraction of what they are.
Okay that was a little smug, but it doesn't really help us.
I put the cost issue last because everyone puts it first.
When can we act? Honestly, it's a bit late for this winter. There's things we can do, but when a client calls me asking if we can prepare their facility for the winter of high prices my answer is "sure, just call me six months ago".
I'm being flippant, but for buildings the time for assessment, system design, the necessary planning permissions, regulations and grid supply changes, procurement, testing, commissioning etc. of equipment is quite lengthy, not to mention any attempts to obtain grant aid for projects.
For transport, you can make changes much more immediately at an individual level- by taking public transport or jumping on your bike.
Many people can't or won't though, and solutions like electric cars are facing huge supply issues, largely I believe due to semiconductor supplies.
What we can do it to stop fucking around and get started. It will help us a little for this winter, but it won't save us.
What it will do is help us a lot for next winter, when the gas reserves that we've been storing up all year this year are gone, and we're really staring down the barrel.
So, what to do straightaway? It's a how-long-is-a-piece-of-string question, because every individual is different and every facility, community and region is different.
Some things we should all do:
-Plan and measure (upload meter readings, keep records, make little graphs).
-Work on the obvious (if I could make people do one thing it would be to close the doors in buildings. This is so laughably obvious I honestly despair at businesses who leave their doors open as though this will magically bring customers and wilfully run oil-fired heating systems to heat up the mainstreet).
-Make it a priority. It's now necessary for our pockets as well as the survival of the human race, so we can finally act.
-Engage with professionals where possible. Every euro/pound/dollar/generic-currency-unit spent in the planning phase saves many multiples down the line, it's like early childhood education.
-Focus on the routine. Fixing something you do every day is much more effective than something occasional. Need to make a one-off trip across the country to visit a relative? Of course, go for it. Have the option of working from home 4 days a week and not-commuting? That's where you can make a big impact.
-Lower the Temperature. We've gotten used to 21C+ inside buildings. Wear a jumper. People shouldn't be able to wear t-shirts in December, even indoors. It makes a huge difference.
-Look out for inefficiencies. There's no reason to have a single bulb that's non-LED in your building in 2022 (be a bit more careful with outdoor fittings, because of insect life). Only boil the water you need. Don't waste stuff.
-Make dedicated plans for removing fossil-fuel using equipment. Not everyone can get rid of their petrol car or oil boiler this year or even next year, but plan now for how you will get rid of them, what the replacement will be and how you will finance it. Green tech is cheaper in the long run but has an investment cost. Look for grants. Put aside savings.
-Don't expect miracles. A solar PV system on your roof is not going to take you off the grid. It takes time, planning and hard work to make significant change.
-Don't virtue signal. Don't greenwash. We don't need this. Nobody needs this.
-Educate yourself and others. We don't need to re-invent the wheel here.
Energy runs our lives. It gets us from A-B. It heats our homes, makes our goods, helps grow our food, pumps our water and waste.
Energy is, in a very real sense, the lifeblood of society.
Reducing it is hard. Nobody is saying it's not hard.
But staying with fossil fuels leads to only one path- a burning world in which dictators use force to via for the remaining limited resources available as the biosphere crumbles around us and people at every level of society suffer very rapid decline of quality of life, followed by mass displacement, terror and chaos as the scrabble to survive kicks in.
For me, it's worth the effort.
This is what happened before then.
The white stuff fell and muffled the streets for a while before it turned to grey slush.
And then the big freeze happened, in the coldest winter I could remember.
There were seven of us burning with potential in that frigid three tier house across the river.
Surviving usually by congregating in the poverty kitchen with the ancient open oven, providing heat of sorts.
Bubble wrap on the windows and frost on the walls.
We all got on OK though, the rent was low and no-one marked the milk in this student garret.
There was a fair degree of bed swapping too but on those nights alone, I slept in my clothes with a bonus layer of coats.
On the coldest weekend in January, we all decided to decamp to our respective parents, for the warmth of it.
Except for Nick, the would-be genius art student whose mission had been to stay stoned for three years of studentship. It was year two now and he was doing pretty well so far, nodding out in the attic skunk room of this Victorian pile.
So we decided to go and left Nick behind as guardian.
I went too on the Friday night, reluctant but hoping relationships would thaw with the folks back home perhaps.
It turned out that things were still frosty - the dad still not forgiving me for quitting the building trade in the name of art. His world view was that the sole life path was to leave school, get a job and work until it was time to keel over.
Which would be exactly his own journey ending with a heart attack some years later at the age of 63.
Before that and not for the last time, the mother asked, ‘What is it exactly that you are doing now?’
At least the house was warm but after an awkward couple of days, I left early on the Sunday with some hard feelings but without regret. And thinking rightly, that it would be the last time I would visit the place I grew up in, which was no longer my home.
And some hours later, arriving back at the cold house to find that those drugs had taken the toll that drugs do, that Nick had finally crashed, smashed up our ice palace and all the furniture. Which was now piled up in the middle of that oven ready kitchen.
I said, ‘What the fuck have you done Nick?’
‘I got cold’, he said. ‘Got a match to light my bonfire?’
This is how I remember it:
When I was a student at Swansea University in the 1990s, one of my courses was a green politics course, run by Clive Ponting. The lecture material was his notes on his book, 'A Green History of the World' - a bleak view of how we got to where we got and where we were going to end up (not in a good place.) As an idealistic student I'd read the book, walked the walk, got endlessly frustrated at the then disbelief that climate change actually existed, made my small contributions to save the planet, talked and talked and talked and got hideously depressed by the fact that we were doomed and nobody cared, or did care but understood that everybody was essentially powerless.
Then Mr Ponting gave us a light at the end of the tunnel of doom we were all travelling in, during his lectures. He told us the final two hour lecture of the year would be a message of hope. It would be a lesson in what was being done, how we were going to save ourselves. I looked forward to this with all my being. My boyfriend at the time and I turned up to that final lecture ready to be hopeful. To lay our arms at the door of a cause and to do something. We turned up knowing we'd be saved from feeling there was no hope, no future.
As we approached the lecture theatre we could see a board propped up outside.
'Lecture cancelled due to lack of material.'
He made his point, and it was brutal.
Quite possibly, we cried. Undoubtedly we went to the student union bar and drowned what remained of our hope.
Fast forward 30 years.
Pretty much everything we were told during those lectures has come true. My boyfriend worked for a better future and has stuck to his convictions and helped to change the world; I became a teacher. We are still friends, went to each other's weddings, catch up every year or two. When we were together we used to get mind-boggled at the very idea of the internet - the world has changed immeasurably since then.
For the worse.
I don't know what became of Clive Ponting - I will google him right after this.
We are overwhelmed now in information, and most of it bad. As a teacher I am faced by students' lassitude on a daily basis. I try my best to live a good life but by moving to the country we are now car-dependent - buses, what buses? - and although we have made our house as eco friendly as we can it's not enough. I try to stay upbeat for my children but feel constantly overwhelmed. There's a sense of helplessness - just as I felt when I was a student. The problems are too big, too far reaching, just too overwhelming.
(There is a message of hope coming, I promise. I'm not a Clive.)
I don't know what the answer is. As individuals we look around and see the world spinning and everybody singing to their own tunes and doing their own thing and being wasteful and using lights when they don't need them and buying plastic bottles and switching off the news because it is easier not to know and mostly, people are just trying to survive, especially at the moment. We are going to be forced to cut our energy use this winter, whilst large corporations and the rich carry on exactly as they were, thank you very much. So as individuals we look around and feel overwhelmed and think, well, everyone else is doing it, I might as well join them - which then feeds into itself and the whole
again, as Matt Johnson said.
I am still an optimist. I will nurture my children, grow my veg and keep my bees and support the politicians who get it. I live in Scotland and the country is investing in renewables - that all feels very hopeful. I'll switch off my lights and use the wood pellet boiler sparingly. I'll try not to be overwhelmed and I'll cut as much energy use as I can.
I'm not going to be a Clive Ponting and leave this with a note of hopelessness. I think there is hope.
The student I was had a poster on her wall with the slogan Think Global, Act Local. I think that's never been truer than it is today.
Make whatever changes you can make, right now
Support anyone in power who works for the future, not the present
Eat seasonally and support local shops
We can all use less power. Switch it off
Help those in need
Plant things wherever you can
Find the good news stories
Join with others - togetherness is the way forward, not the trend towards isolation
Re energise if you're feeling overwhelmed.
I could add to this list indefinitely but my hour is nearly up. There is much we can - and must - do.
If there is any message it's this, that you and I are alive, and while we are alive, there IS hope. I have made a conscious decision to stay hopeful, just as Clive made a conscious decision to take the hope away. We are alive. We are alive. Find and cherish the beauty, and do whatever small things you can.
Heading into Winter is a difficult time to stay positive, I know. But brighter days are coming. It's been an avalanche of bad news but this MUST be balanced out by an upswing eventually. It must be. Life is a balance. The sun will rise again.
There is hope.
I have just checked on Clive whilst writing this - he died in 2020. I hope he found some hope. Going to go and read about him now.
Happy Monday, whoever and wherever you are and may your week have some brightness in it, however dark it may seem. Hold on.