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Q&A with Michael Gove at the Conservative Environment Network launch: full text

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Conservative instinct” is at the heart of environmental stewardship, the education secretary Michael Gove said in a speech at Westminster last week – the full text of which can be found here. Gove also answered some questions from the floor and his answers are below.

Planning policy and the environment

I think there are two things we need to bear in mind. First, we need to recognise that thanks to breakthroughs in technology, it’s easier to build in a sustainable way… [inaudible]. But I think it is important that we recognise that when communities grow, they should grow organically, and it’s important that communities should have a say in shaping their local neighbourhood plan so that, wherever possible, we build in a way that is sympathetic to that which already exists.

One of those people whom I think captures this best and understands it instinctively is someone who, while he is totally above party politics, is a natural conservative environmentalist. And that’s the Prince of Wales. He’s been very, very keen to ensure that people who live in the countryside can have access to affordable housing.

That means there does need to be building, but wherever possible we should use natural stone, wherever possible we should do it in a way where, as I say, the footprint is as light as possible, and wherever possible we should do it in a way that takes account of the sensitivities and the ambitions of people who already live there. There needn’t be any conflict between making sure that communities are sustainable, and development, and in fact in order to ensure rural communities are sustainable, we do need develop affordable homes.

Peter Ainsworth, former Conservative MP: Why do you think it is that so many Tories think that the environment is a left-wing issue?

I think it’s partly because some aspects of the environmental debate have been captured by people who want to use the genuine dangers that the environment faces as a way of providing a new rationalise for greater state power and centralisation. I think it’s been the case that in the past, there have been people on the left who have been looking for a risk to identify and when they identify that risk, they say the only way to deal with it is more state power and more centralised state power.

I think conservatives whenever they’ve seen the left gathering around a cause which would lead to more centralised state power, have thought, “Oh well, if the left are colonising their territory, perhaps it’s not going to clear up.” And I think that’s been, as I hope you appreciate from what I say, a big mistake.

And I think it’s important that while we argue furiously about the means, and make clear that we believe that some of the means which are being proposed by people… [inaudiable] …that we are absolutely clear about the end, and the ends that you and I believe in are impeccably conservative and I think actually represent what the overwhelming majority of people in this country, indeed across the world, want to see, which is natural beauty respected and observed and enhanced, and investment in making sure that our children grow up in a world which is going to be safer and richer in every sense for them.

That’s what we think about instinctively when we’re thinking about economic policy, [and] when we’re thinking about education policy. It’s what should apply in environmental policy as well. Just as Zac [Goldsmith, Conservative MP] said, in areas that the left have said, “This is our policy” – they might have said it in childcare or education in the past – we’ve been energetic and said, “Actually no, we have practical solutions that meet the needs of the majority now.”

I think we should do that in the environment, and that means being hard-headed but also aware of values that go beyond simply the commercial.

Geoffrey Lean, the Telegraph: The thing you’re perhaps most identified with, rightly or wrongly, is a wish to lessen the teaching of climate change in schools. Could you give us your views?

One of the things that sometimes occurs in coalition politics is that the smaller party understandably seeks to draw attention to itself by saying, “We’re in favour of apple pie, cream and custard, and it’s the meanies in the bigger party that are trying to take it away.” Zac knows, because he was present at the creation, that the School Food Plan was something that I initiated.

Subsequently, for entirely understandable reasons, [people] have said, “Gove doesn’t want our children to have nutritious food.” If I had wanted that, I wouldn’t have asked Henry [Dimbleby] and John [Vincent] to conduct that report and I wouldn’t have engaged in the long and detailed discussions about how we could make it work with that.

In the same way with climate change, I think it’s important that children understand the science that underpins climate change, and that’s why it’s always in the curriculum that we’ve been drawing up, and I think it’s critically important – both in science and in geography – that the impact of changing climate on our physical environment, but also on economic and other facts in our lives, has to be appreciated.

I think it’s important, too, that we recognise that climate change has had an impact on societies in the past as well. I read – I haven’t finished it yet; it’s a fantastic book but very long – a book by a man called Geoffrey Parker, who’s a historian, which deals with climate change during the 17th century. It makes the point that climate change is something which you need to prepare for by having appropriate measures to mitigate, and that’s really important.

But it’s also the case, as we know and as George Osborne pointed out just last week, that man and his activities clearly have an influence on the climate, and in making sure we take appropriate steps to deal with it, we need to be guided by the science and we need to make sure that we’re hard headed but realistic.

Nicholas Watt, the Guardian: Just picking up on your answer to Peter’s question, Michael Liebrich has a very interesting chapter in this book in which he talks about the best way of promoting clean energy and renewables is not through massive regulation or massive subsidies. What I’m interested in is how do you think you can make that case, given that one of your ministerial colleagues gave that sort of view a rather negative view when he talked about getting rid of the “green crap” from energy bills?

I wasn’t in whichever room it may have been when that phrase was allegedly uttered. I’ve learnt that unless you’ve seen the evidence, it’s better not to offer a view about a phenomenon which remains deeply contested, as in who said what to whom at what time.

But one thing that I would say is again, in practical terms, if only more attention had been given to the work that Charles Hendry has done, that Greg [Barker] is doing, and that the team at DECC [the Department of Energy and Climate Change] have carried through. By definition, there are tough practical questions where good people can disagree about what the appropriate solution is.

But my own view is that Greg has very skilfully articulated the point, that human ingenuity being set a test and being invited to demonstrate entrepreneurialism, creativity… [inaudible] …in dealing with it is the best way to foster the sorts of technological breakthroughs that will enable us both to enjoy sustainable growth and to sustain natural beauty.

In almost any area of policy, I think it is far, far better to create structures which unleash human creativity and foster innovation, rather than seeking to level down those to regulators. That’s what I’ve found in education policy; it’s what Greg is proving in the energy policy as well.

Andy Atkins, Friends of the Earth: If you think that this space has been occupied by the left, particularly on climate change, is there anything you could do quickly [and] differently to show that the right and the centre can reoccupy it?

It seems to me unarguable that man has an impact on the climate. It seems to me unarguable that climate change can have a devastating and damaging impact on societies and economies that are even less developed. And therefore it seems to me unarguable that we should seek first to lessen the impact that man might have on the climate, and secondly invest appropriately in measures to mitigate and protect individuals and societies from the impact of climate change.

But beyond that, it’s not that it’s above my pay grade; beyond that it’s about my level of knowledge and technical expertise. I have a bias, which is towards as I said trusting people like Greg who I know are passionate about this issue, but also genuine free marketeers, because that ticks both my boxes. But when it comes to deciding exactly which specific policies one should implement, then I would draw back.

One of the things that Greg and I are doing – I shan’t announce it now – is an initiative which shows how DECC and the DfE [Department for Education] together can make a small but I hope helpful step in dealing with this problem in a practical way, and Greg will say more about that in due course.

Further reading:

Michael Gove’s speech at the Conservative Environment Network launch: full text

Michael Gove: ‘conservative instinct’ helps safeguard the environment

Schwarzenegger, Bloomberg and senior conservatives rally for the environment

Conservatism and conservation: why Tories are born to be green

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

Environment

How Home Automation Can Help You Go Green

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home automation to go green

The holidays are an exciting, nostalgic time: the crispness in the air, the crunch of snow under your boot, the display of ornate holiday lighting up your home like a beacon to outer space, and the sound of Santa’s bell at your local Walmart.

Oh, yeah—and your enormous electric bill.

Extra lights and heating can make for some unexpected budgeting problems, and they also cause your home to emit higher levels of CO2 and other pollutants.

So, it’s not just your wallet that’s hurting—the planet is hurting as well.

You can take the usual steps to save energy and be more eco-conscious as you go about your normal winter routine (e.g., keeping cooler temperatures in the home, keeping lights off in naturally lit rooms, etc.), but these methods can often be exhausting and ultimately ineffective.

So what can you actually do to create a greener home?

Turn to tech.

Technology is making waves in conservation efforts. AI and home automation have grown in popularity over the last couple of years, not only because of their cost saving benefits but also because of their ability to improve a home’s overall energy efficiency.

Use the following guide to identify your home’s inefficiencies and find a solution to your energy woes.

Monitor Your Energy Usage

Many people don’t understand how their homes use energy, so they struggle with conservation. Start by looking at your monthly utility bills. They can show you how much energy your home typically uses and what systems cost you the most.

monitor energy usage

Licensed from Shutterstock – By Piotr Adamowicz

The usual culprits for high costs and energy waste tend to be the water heater and heating and cooling system. Other factors could also impact your home’s efficiency. Your home’s insulation, for example, could be a huge source of wasted heating and cooling—especially if the insulation hasn’t been inspected or replaced in years. You should also check your windows and doors for proper weatherproofing every year.

However, waiting for your monthly bill or checking out your home’s construction issues are time-consuming steps, and they don’t help you immediately understand and tackle the problem. Instead, opt for an easier solution. Some homeowners, for example, use a smart energy monitor such as Sense to track energy use in real time and identify energy hogs.

Use Smart Plugs

Computers, televisions, and lights still consume energy if they’re left on and unused. Computers offer easy cost savings with their built-in timers that allow the devices to use less energy—they typically turn off after a set number of minutes. Televisions sometimes provide the same benefit, although you may have to fiddle with the settings to activate this feature.

A better option—and one that thwarts both the television and the lights—is purchasing smart plugs. The average US home uses more than 900 kilowatts of electricity per month. That can really add up, especially when you realize that people are wasting more than $19 billion every year on household appliances that are always plugged in. Smart plugs like WeMo can help eliminate wasted electricity by letting you control plugged-in items from your smartphone.

Update Your Lighting

Incandescent lightbulbs can consume and waste a lot of energy—35% of CO2 emissions are generated from electric power plants. This can have serious consequences for increased global warming.

To reduce your impact on the environment, you can install more efficient lightbulbs to offset your energy usage. However, many homeowners choose smart lights, like the Philips Hue bulbs, to save money and make their homes more energy efficient.

Smart lights can be controlled from your smartphone, and many smart light options come with monthly energy reporting so you can continue to find ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

Take Control of the Thermostat

Homeowners often leave the thermostat on its default settings, but defaults often result in heating and cooling systems that run longer and harder than they need to.

In fact, almost half the average residential energy use comes from energy-demanding heating and cooling systems. As an alternative to fiddling with outdated systems, eco-conscious homeowners use smart thermostats to save at least 10% on heating and roughly 15% on cooling per year.

Change your home’s story by employing a smart thermostat such as the Nest, ecobee3, or Honeywell Lyric. Smart thermostats automatically adjust your in-home temperature by accounting for a variety of factors, including outdoor humidity and precipitation. A lot of smart thermostats will also adjust your home’s temperature depending on the time of day and whether you’re home.

Stop Wasting Water

The average American household uses about 320 gallons of water per day. About one-third of that goes to maintaining their yards. Using a smart irrigation systems to improve your water usage can save your home up to 8,800 gallons of water per year.

Smart irrigation systems use AI to sync with local weather predictions, which can be really helpful if you have a garden or fruit trees that you use your irrigation system for  water. Smart features help keep your garden and landscaping healthy by making sure you never overwater your plants or deprive them of adequate moisture.

If you’re looking to make your home greener, AI-enabled products could make the transition much easier. Has a favorite tool you use that wasn’t mentioned here? Share in the comments below.

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Environment

Working From Home And How It Reduces Emissions

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Many businesses are changing their operating model to allow their employees to work from home. Aside from the personal convenience and business benefits, working from home is also great for the environment. According to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, if employees with the desire to work from home and compatible jobs that allowed for this were allowed to do so only half the time, the reduction in emissions would be the equivalent of eliminating automobile emissions from the workforce of the entire state of New York. Considering the stakes here, it is vital that we understand how exactly working from home helps us go green and how this can be applied.

Reduction of automobile emissions

Statistics by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show that the transportation sector is responsible for about 14% of the total Global Emissions of greenhouse gases, which is a very significant percentage. If employees work from home, then the need to travel to and from their workplace every other day as well as other business trips are reduced considerably. While this may not eliminate the emissions from the transport sector altogether, it reduces the percentage. As indicated in the example above, a move to work from home by more businesses and industries cuts down automobile emissions to as much as those from an entire state.

Reduction of energy production and consumption

According to Eurostat, electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning accounted for as high as 26% of the Greenhouse gas emissions from the EU in 2014. EPA stats are also close at 25% of the total emissions. This makes energy production the single largest source of emissions. Working from home eliminates the need for large office spaces, which in turn reduces the need for electricity and heating. Similarly, the need for electrical office equipment and supplies, such as printers and computers, is also greatly reduced, which reduces the emissions from energy production in offices. Additionally, most households are now adopting green methods of energy production and implementing better ways of energy usage. The use of smart energy-efficient appliances also goes a long way in reducing the energy production and consumption levels from households. This, in turn, cuts down emissions from energy production from both the home and office fronts.

Reduced need for paper

Paper is also a huge source of emissions, considering that it is a carbon-based product. EPA stats show that carbon (IV) oxide from fossil fuel and industrial processes accounts for 65% of the total greenhouse gas emissions. Working from home is usually an internet-based operation, which means less paper and more cloud-based services. When everything is communicated electronically, the need for office paper is reduced considerably. Moreover, the cutting down of trees for the sake of paper production reduces. All these outcomes help reduce the emissions and individual carbon footprints.

Effective recycling

While businesses make an effort to recycle it is not as effective as homeowners. Consider everything from the water you drink to office supplies and equipment. While working from home, you have greater control over your environment. This means that you can easily implement proper recycling procedures. However, at the office, that control over your personal space and environment is taken away and the effectiveness of recycling techniques is reduced. Working from home is, therefore, a great way to go green and increase the adoption of proper recycling.

Takeaway

Even though the statistics are in favor of working from home to reduce emissions, note that this is dependent on the reduction of emissions from home. If the households are not green, then the emissions are not reduced in the least. For instance, if instead of installing a VPN in the router to keep the home office safe, an employee buys a standalone server and air gaps it, the energy consumption is not reduced but increased. Therefore, it is necessary that employees working from home go green if there is to be any hope of using this method of operation to cut down on the emissions.

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