Carbon labelling becomes a reality

The Carbon TrustThe UK’s Carbon Trust has just launched a new carbon labelling scheme for consumer products (their examples on the website include crisps/chips, shampoo and fruit drinks). With luck, Walkers Cheese and Onion crisps will be available mid-April 2007 and Boots’ Botanics and Ingredients shampoos in July. Innocent Smoothies will be described on their website soon.

To qualify for the scheme, a company must go through a carbon auditing scheme and comit to reducing the carbon footprint over the subsequent 2 years. You can read the summary and detailed methodology if interested :-) This is a fraught area and I’m sure that there will be much discussion about the methodologies used – it’s a debate related to becoming carbon neutral – but putting a defined set of principles into practise is a bit step forwards.

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Energy efficient gadgets

Energy Savings Trust logo

I’m attempting to compile a list of resources for finding out about energy efficiency as applied to gadgets, computers etc. I’ve noted that the UK has for a long time had an efficiency ratings scheme for white goods (fridges, washing machines etc.), I think it’s about time we had the same thing for electronics…

Here’s a company making a start – VeryPC market a couple of PCs that don’t use more than a high-powered laptop (40 – 60W).

An article from ZD-Net discussing the factors which affect power usage.

Have a look at some of the interesting devices on display at greatgreengadgets.com. It’s a US-based site so their reference to the government attempts at promoting energy efficiency in regards to electronics – EPEAT and Energy Star – isn’t going to be directly applicable to everyone; but are interesting none-the-less.

Here in the UK, our government is also muttering about “doing something about efficiency”, in the form of conferences and the Energy Savings Trust. This is a start, but hardly provides very much information, compared to the EU-wide Energy Label system for white goods.  This actually provides some info about the energy usage and a graded rating label for direct comparisons – but why don’t we apply the same system to all electrical goods?

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Economic development vs climate change?

Much has been written about the “clash of philosophies” – Developing country economic development vs fight against climate change. Many people complain that we should be “lifting people out of poverty” so they can afford to mitigate the effects of climate change. In opposition, climate change activists reply that this will be disasterous – imagine what the environment would be like if everyone lived like the average American…

Well, I think the answer to this apparent conumdrum is to give us all carbon credits. Each action we take has a carbon cost. We could buy/sell apples internationally if we wanted, but you’d have to balance this against other life-style choices. The principle works at all levels, where-ever there is a defined entity (e.g. company, charity, country). It also works best under an international contract and convergence scheme aimed at normalising atmospheric levels by a certain date. You would simply calculate year-on-year the total number of credits available and divide them up – each year the number would fall and the cost of borrowing more than your allotment would rise (as it does for regular monetary debt now).

In practical terms it’s complex (probably) but I think it couched in the right terms it’s not very different from what people are used to right now – credit cards, food calories and similar concepts.

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Framework for reducing global CO2 emissions

I’ve talked a little previously about how I would like to be able to better regulate how what I buy affects my CO2 emissions (e.g. better packaging info and in tech reviews of gadgets). At the other end, it’s equally vague regarding how countries will decide to do the same. After all, it will only be worth-while me regulating my emissions in the long term if my efforts fit into an International framework.

How to bridge the gap? Well, the New Economics Foundation (NEF) has recently published a fantastic report reviewing the major competing solutions to be the Kyoto replacement. Their main conclusion is that a delayed “Contract and Convergence” method will work best. That is, we all agree to attain (mostly via contraction) a certain level of country-wide emissions that cause global CO2 concentrations to converge on a (lower) set value. To do this, countries will need to measure their CO2 output and consider how best to change in order to reduce it – and that means knowing the CO2 emissions of a whole range of activities.

For all this to happen, I believe that we’re all going to need to do the same thing as individuals. That provides the link between the two ends of the problem.

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Resource-usage labelling

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the packaging on our goods started to define the amount of resources (e.g. CO2 produced) used in the production, transport and selling of itself? Here’s a great example of it’s potential utility. I think it’s at least up there with my call below for reviewers to indicate the energy use and relative efficiency of gadgets.

Read this to find out how much it takes to get a typical litre of bottled water into your fridge.

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Vegetarianism

Well, my girlfriend is vegetarian and I don’t eat a huge amount of meat so we save a fair amount of CO2 that way. It would be interesting to know how much CO2 could be saved by cutting down on our cows and growing biofuel crops instead…

It’s simple energy conservation principles to realise that grass->cow->person is more wasteful of energy than grass->person (where grass = wheat, corn/maize etc. – amazing stuff grass!). For example, Kathy Freston writes:

Animal agriculture takes up an incredible 70% of all agricultural land, and 30% of the total land surface of the planet … when looking at gases besides carbon dioxide–gases like methane and nitrous oxide, enormously effective greenhouse gases with 23 and 296 times the warming power of carbon dioxide, respectively. If carbon dioxide is responsible for about one-half of human-related greenhouse gas warming since the industrial revolution, methane and nitrous oxide are responsible for another one-third. These super-strong gases come primarily from farmed animals’ digestive processes, and from their manure. In fact, while animal agriculture accounts for 9% of our carbon dioxide emissions, it emits 37% of our methane, and a whopping 65% of our nitrous oxide.

Now, we can save a deal of the manure and use it for food/fertiliser but it’s still clear that breeding animals as food is highly energy intensive and bad for the environment.

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Cambridge Energy Forum

I spent a very interesting evening attending talks and general chat organised by the Cambridge Energy Forum. A very interesting set of speakers – Prof. Roger Kemp, Dr. Gail Smith and Simon Harris – talked about sustainable transport, biofuels and new gadgets to log and display vehicle emissions.

Prof Kemp talked about the complexities of determining what is the greenest way to travel.  Key indicators are the “passenger intensity” versus distance balance.  It’s not as simple as plane/car bad, train/bus good.  In some cases, flying can actually use less fuel / passenger km than taking the train.

Dr. Smith talked about the difficulties of supplying sufficient biofuels to successfully replace our usage of mineral oils.  The main problem is that the amount of farmland required to make sufficient fuel-crops would a) be huge, b) increase the cost of food and c) need to be carefully managed to make sure the most suitable crops are grown.  Current “1st generation” biofuels may not actually offer much in the way of CO2 reductions due to the energy required to make them in bulk – after food displacement, land clearance, fertiliser, farm management, transport and processing are all taken into account.

Simon Harris talked about a new device his company is developing.  It aims to be a cheap add-on to vehicles which enables logging and display of emissions data (NOX, CO2 and particulates), a little like a more advanced version of the fuel economy displays you get today.

In general, it was heartening to see so many interested people from the local science/engineering field.  However, it was also discouraging to hear that the complexities of the issues don’t lend themselves well to good policy advice for politicians and the public.  Should I now review my burning of biodiesel in my Fiesta because it’s not necessarily clear how carbon neutral it might actually be?

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