No 723 Posted by fw, April 17, 2013
There was an event in London last night – the launch of Carbon Omissions. It’s a project from the Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC), whose previous work includes Climate Safety and the advertising report Think of me as Evil?. Both of those were engaging and thought provoking, so I have my eye on what they’re up to.
The aim of Carbon Omissions is to highlight the matter of Britain’s carbon measurements. Since we don’t count the carbon emissions of our imports, we can say that emissions have fallen and we have exceeded our Kyoto targets. In reality, we’ve just off-shored our emissions to China and other countries that make things for us. Factor in the total emissions that Britain is responsible for, and they’re still rising. And that means that if we’re to get serious about reducing our atmospheric pollution, we need to talk about consumption.
One hopes that PIRC UK is not going to rely solely on a 3-minute video to win the support of the UK’s civic-minded citizens.
As for Canada, if the Harper Cons bothered to care at all about what most Canadians think about the tar sands and CO2 emissions, his government might do a better job of lying.
Anyway, here’s the video followed by my transcript of the narration. Visit the Carbon Omissions website for more details.
For the past twenty years we’ve been told a lie – three lies in fact. Firstly, the government has told us that we’ve succeeded in cutting UK carbon emissions. Secondly, it’s told us it’s doing everything it can to tackle climate change – there’s no need for any big changes to the way we consume. And thirdly, it’s told us that consuming ever more stuff makes us happier. The problem is that none of it is true.
Firstly, we’ve not cut our emissions. They’re still rising. The government’s figures measure only the carbon dioxide we produce within the UK borders. But we live in a globalized economy and rely heavily on imports to meet consumer demand. Because the UK lost most of its industry since the 1980s many of the goods we buy are now manufactured in countries like China and India. So while officially UK emissions have gone down once you count the imported goods we consume, you find they’ve gone up. In fact, they’ve gone up by 20 percent in the past twenty years. But the government would prefer to bury this.
It would rather pretend that emissions are still coming down, because for a politician to admit otherwise would be to expose the second lie – that they’ve been doing everything they can to tackle climate change. The truth is the government hasn’t done nearly enough, even though it has known the true picture about our rising emissions for years. It’s happy to keep blaming China for increasing its emissions without admitting that our consumption problem is helping to drive them up.
Meanwhile, the government is also reluctant to own up to the third lie – that having more and more stuff actually makes us happier. Study after study has shown that after a certain point simply increasing material wealth does not improve our wellbeing. After thirty years of consumerism psychological research suggests that we are no happier than we were when we started.
It’s time to get honest about our consumption problem. We should start deciding how to make the products we need in a sustainable way without just shifting the blame for pollution on to other countries. And part of that debate has to be about the products we don’t need. As a committee of MPs recently concluded:
“The UK’s consumption cannot continue to rise indefinitely…if it is to make an effective contribution to a global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.” —Energy and Climate Change Committee, 2012.
Most of all, the government needs to own up to our rise in emissions and take responsibility for tackling the environmental impact of what the UK consumes.