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Why ‘sticky’ groups may be the cause of our energy woes



Chris Farrell highlights the easy mistakes we – the trusting public – can make when buying into a group acceptance, when scandalous acts are all too often hidden from view in the name of straightjacketed policies.

As children at school we soon learn to make friends. Friends give us strength; help build our confidence, influence our choice in new friends, and share our values (and our sweets!).  Subconsciously we all act in this predefined way, unaware that from the very beginning of our lives we stick to one of the oldest means of survival; being in the gang.

Sticking together in large or small groups is at the centre of our lives: family, friends, marriages, clubs, you name it. ‘Sticky’ is what we are. It gives us both a physical structure, and a framework of beliefs and values on which to make life choices. Group structures bring us closer to our comfort zone, and the bigger the group, the stickier it becomes.

Small groups, those of our own families and friends, are central to our lives, but it is often the big groups in our society that dominate. Some are in fact so sticky that it becomes seemingly impossible to separate one from another, and us from the group. And to join the biggest groups can impact your whole existence, a permanent and sometimes invisible bond that often redefines our beliefs and our choices, which can be both a blessing and a curse.

When I pick up today’s paper it seems that stickiness is everywhere: government, police, religion, soaps, football, the NHS. Our world is full of groups, often ones you didn’t join or sign up to, and ones you can’t join but you’re in anyway.

These ultra-big, all-powerful groups are the underlying framework of our systems based society, and, as I wrote in my previous piece about the human nature of presenting subjective ideas as objective truth, these sticky organisations can often overpower our sense of individual reasoning and rational decision making in favour of supporting the status quo.

It seems to me there must be a point at which groups become self-serving; where the group itself sees its own existence above that of the role it was established for. Do we just accept this? Is this how revolutions begin?

To my mind, public office in the UK has become one of these sticky groups, where often self-serving interests play out behind impenetrable walls of bureaucracy that stifle the ordinary man. Regulatory authorities and policymakers of energy and government carbon savings statements would certainly be included.

Recently, when at a meeting of a well-intentioned energy action group, the attending government spokesperson for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) recognised that the UK government is falsely claiming carbon savings, by overstating the efficiency of energy labelled products – products that are subsequently downgraded in UK building regulations. The spokesperson also acknowledged that in the UK it would be possible to significantly improve the efficiency of energy products such as heating and hot water boilers, to make affordable and measurable reductions in fuel poverty.

Following this, the spokesperson from DECC stated that the UK is aligned to the energy-using products (EUP) eco-design labelling scheme and therefore cannot set arbitrary levels of efficiency that go beyond those set by Europe. This is why, I suspect, the UK saw 24,000 additional winter deaths last year, virtually twice the amount of Germany or Finland. Are we as a group so constrained by regulations and government bureaucracies, that we are happy to see people die in their homes?

Our typical £100,000-a-year civil servant should know better than to think it’s acceptable to block energy efficiency measures by supporting false efficiencies of energy labelled products.  However it seems that pension, pay and the desire to ‘support the institution’ prevents this from happening.

We as individuals need to break out of this sticky mentality and challenge the largest groups in our society. This would allow new, creative ideas and solutions to the energy problem to be freely adopted and explored, to the benefit the UK’s citizens.

Chris Farrell is the managing director of Zenex Energy, a British company founded in 2003 specialising in innovative energy saving products for both the domestic and commercial markets. This post originally featured on his blog, The Green Entrepreneur.

Further reading:

Applying ‘Victor’s razor’ to UK energy policy

Why supporting innovation is vital for UK energy policy in 2013

We need a credible green innovation growth strategy

Time for a change in energy policy

Britons want government to tackle climate change and grow economy