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Climate change is ‘not a high priority for most politicians’

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Chris Mullin was the Labour MP for Sunderland South from 1987 to 2010. While in parliament, he served on a number of committees, including a distinguished stint as chair of the home affairs select committee, and was a junior minister in the departments of environment, international development and the Foreign Office.

He is the author of the novel A Very British Coup (1982) and two other titles, as well as an expose on the Birmingham bombings entitled Error of Judgement.

He is, however, most likely to be remembered as the diarist of the New Labour regime through his excellent memoirs A Walk-on PartA View from the Foothills and Decline and Fall, spanning his time in the commons from the death of John Smith in 1994 to the defeat of Gordon Brown in 2010.

The diaries reveal Mullins’ concern as early as the mid-90s about the effects of global warming, and this a recurring theme throughout the volumes. Charlie Wood caught up with him recently to further explore his views on the subject, and to discuss the politics of climate change.

In A Walk-On Part: Diaries 1994-1999 you commented on possible evidence of global warming, following the detachment of a large section of the Antarctic ice cap (16/03/95). How have your views on global warming and climate change evolved over the last 18 years?

I make no claim to expertise, but my views on global warming have, if anything, hardened over the years.

During your 23 years in parliament, how did attitudes towards climate science and environmental protection change amongst your colleagues?

Although the previous government took a relatively enlightened position on climate change at Kyoto and at Copenhagen, the truth is that the issue is not a particularly high priority for most politicians or indeed their constituents who are concerned with more immediate day to day issues, not least the economy.

The newly developing countries like China, India and Vietnam are falling over themselves to make the same mistakes as we have

Renewable forms of energy have been championed over the past decade, including in the UK, but shale gas has recently come to the fore, particularly in the US. Do you think the UK government will encourage a ‘dash to gas’ at the expense of further development of renewables?

We appear to be embarking on a new dash for gas and there is indeed a danger that this will reduce interest in renewables, although rising gas prices should help sustain interest.

What we badly need to do is encourage investment in renewables in order to create jobs, otherwise all the economic benefits of going green will go to countries like Germany and Denmark which are much more advanced than us.

Do you think the government should include a decarbonisation target in the energy bill, and what are the consequences of not doing so?

Yes, I favour a decarbonisation target, provided it is realistic.

You have spent a considerable amount of time in Asia. Could you comment on attitudes towards climate change and environmentalism in places such as Vietnam and Cambodia? And, to your knowledge, in China?

Sadly, the newly developing countries like China, India and Vietnam are falling over themselves to make the same mistakes as we have.

It is, for example, crazy for a country of more than one billion people to go for mass car ownership. The only sliver of hope is that the Chinese are having to live in the mess they are creating and they are beginning to notice that they have a problem.

I note that Chinese leaders are, for the first time, beginning to speak publicly about pollution and the environment and the latest five year plan prioritises the environment.  No doubt too little too late, but a hopeful sign, nonetheless.

Why do you think politicians often seem reluctant to implement green measures?

Politicians and industrialists are reluctant to sign up to measures that would reduce carbon emissions as long as they are convinced that it would make our industry less competitive than it already is. That’s why it can only be done by international agreement.

UK governments of whatever party will only sign up to stricter climate measures as part of international agreement

The difficulty – as we saw at Copenhagen – is that the main polluters (China and the US in particular) are reluctant to commit to measures that they believe will place them at a competitive disadvantage. Developing countries such as China and India tend to see talk of targets and emission restrictions as a plot by the west to limit their growth.

Blue & Green Tomorrow recently labelled George Osborne as one of the four horsemen of the climate apocalypse, because of his seemingly ideological objections to renewable energy and his growth-at-any-cost outlook. What are your thoughts on Osborne’s environmental credentials?

With a handful of exceptions such as Zac Goldsmith, there is little or no interest in environmental issues in the Conservative Party and this is reflected in the policy of the government.

All that husky hugging that went on when they were in opposition was just part of a campaign to convince the electorate of the existence of a new merciful, compassionate Tory party and this was swiftly junked since they took office. The other parties talk the talk, but faced with tough choices usually err on the side of caution.

Research from Australian scientists recently concluded that consensus among politicians and subsequent swift action was needed in order to limit the effects of climate change. Why then are governments still seemingly stalling to agree on the issue?

As I say, I suspect that UK governments of whatever party will only sign up to stricter measures as part of international agreement.

You wrote A Very British Coup in 1982, which led to an award winning TV series starring the late great Ray MacNally. In 2012 the book was remade as ‘Secret State’, starring Gabriel Byrne. Both the book and series are about power and its abuse. Through your writing are you suggesting we still need a person of integrity, such as a Harry Perkins or Tom Dawkins, to run the country?

Harry Perkins or Tom Dawkins for prime minister? A pleasant fantasy, but alas, a little unrealistic.

How do you spend your days now you’re not around Whitehall?

A small industry has developed around my three volumes of diaries and I spend a lot of time servicing that.  The political meeting is not dead. It has simply transferred to the literary festival. I also chair the north east committee of the Heritage Lottery Fund. I write and review books occasionally for newspapers and lecture at Newcastle and other universities.

In the long run I propose to fade away growing vegetables in Northumberland.

Charlie Wood is a 30-year-old recent graduate of English literature at Leeds Metropolitan University, from Fleetwood, Lancashire, and West Cork, Ireland. He intends to pursue a career in politics and writing.

Further reading:

Politicians failing to limit climate change, say scientists

Are capitalism and conservation incompatible?

Coalition’s green fatigue is a ‘betrayal of conservatism itself’

Zac Goldsmith: the green hope in a sea of blue

MP claims investors could ‘lose interest’ in UK if energy uncertainty continues

Economy

How Going Green Can Save A Company Money

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going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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