A New Year’s Energy Resolution

It’s that time of new year resolutions again and I wonder how many of us will be thinking about how we can better save energy and cut carbon.

But cutting carbon emissions isn’t just a nice to have, it’s essential for all of us.

I’m not taking any moral high ground here. I have a car; we don’t all have to knit our own muesli. The thing is to recognise that we can change things individually like our habits and expectations but there are things beyond our control, like transport infrastructure and how big companies use energy (because they’re providing the goods and services we ask them for), that we can only address collectively.

And that’s the key point, that’s why this breakthrough project is vital; only by progressing on all fronts can we tackle the challenges, and, importantly, reap the rewards.

What’s the problem?

There’s a lot of discussion right now on the ‘energy trilemma’ that affects us:

  • Energy security: fossil fuels are running out
  • Energy bills: increasing year-on-year
  • Impact of climate change: extremes of weather

The big areas that demand energy and generate carbon emissions and costs are:

  1. Buildings
  2. Transport
  3. Energy generation
  4. Consumption, materials flow, and wasted resources

You can’t tackle these individually; you have to breakthrough and confront them all.

Good news?

I know that can seem daunting, but the good news is that if we think about integrating, not trading off, these projects and ideas, then we’ll see multiple benefits:

  • Comfortable homes: people living healthier lives
  • Quality environment: improving how we see the world and what we aspire to
  • Social fairness: energy prices that do not create fuel poverty
  • Energy security: from sustainable sources

We can’t stop climate change overnight, but we still have the chance to stabilise the system and allow future generations choices.  Currently, we’re not just sawing off the branch we’re sitting on, we’re sawing off the branch they’re sitting on too, and that’s not fair.

How do we get smart?

A smart city isn’t just a digital city; a smart city is a city awash with data that can transform the way we make decisions.  We can use data and be smart – making intelligent decisions both moment by moment and much, much longer term.

Living in a smart city gives everyone the chances to get involved in taking decisions, and it gives everyone the responsibility to change our own decisions and do the right thing. Leeds Data Mill is a great example of this.

Technology is in our lives in ways we couldn’t conceive of a few decades ago. This is not a change we can’t face.  We do change, rapidly.  The trick is to direct that change, to accept and encourage technology where it helps us move in the right, low carbon, direction and to turn away from its seductions if all it is doing is helping us consume more.

Let’s create the new normal

A great man called David Mackay, who was chief scientific advisor to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, wrote “if we all do a little, we achieve a little.  We all need to do a lot”.

Some new year’s resolutions are hard to keep but, together, a Low Carbon Leeds resolution can become a distinct reality… be part of it! lowcarbonleeds@leeds.gov.uk

Dr Alice OwenDr Alice Owen is a lecturer in Business Sustainability and Stakeholder Engagement at the University of Leeds. Her current research work is on how to unlock the potential of small to medium enterprises (SME) and micro-enterprises… or the role of white van man in the grand scheme of reducing carbon.

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