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Jane Bickerstaffe: Is the public ‘carbon capable’?

April 20, 2011 Comments Off Print Print

Heating our homes uses nine times more carbon than packaging. But, asks Incpen director Jane Bickerstaffe, does the public understand that

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It comes as no surprise to Incpen that, according to a new study*, most people don’t understand the climate change impacts of their own behaviour and lifestyle.

How could they when, instead of setting out the real issues,  politicians and the media constantly tell them that carrier bags and packaging are bad for the environment, and recycling is really important for saving the world?

Any media coverage of domestic energy consumption or vehicle fuel is almost invariably related just to cost, and accompanied by indignation that suppliers have put up prices again.

Most people are broadly aware that climate change is an issue, and that the causes are both natural processes and human activities, but their understanding of how their own behaviour and life style decisions contribute to it is scanty at best.

How can people make informed decisions, and effective changes in behaviour and lifestyle, unless they know the relative impacts of different behaviours and which things to change?

Incpen’s own research showed that when asked what things they could do to help the environment, most people set ‘recycling bottles and cans and cleaning up litter’ at the top of the list, well above ‘using less energy’ – a ranking almost exactly opposite to reality.

Producing the food and many thousands of goods UK households buy each year consumes 110 GigaJoules of energy  – and producing the packaging that avoids them being wasted just 7GJ per household per year.  It doesn’t need a brain skilled in rocket science to see that reducing packaging and inevitably increasing product waste is not sensible carbon management.

Heating and hot water for our homes uses an astronomical 63GJ/hh/pa  and there is some awareness of that, but how many people know that it takes nearly double the energy (13GJ/hh/pa) to chill/freeze and cook food at home than to package it (7GJ/hh/pa)?

Jane Bickerstaffe is director of the Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment

Source: Whitmarsh, L., Seyfang, G. & O’Neill, S. (2011) Public engagement with carbon and climate change: To what extent is the public ‘carbon capable’? Global Environmental Change. 21:56-65

Do you agree with Jane? Do you understand carbon? Can the public be expected to? Leave your thoughts below.

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