Sunday, April 09, 2006

An easy way to help save the planet and save money too ...

If we want a secure future for our grandchildren we urgently need to reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere. In the past most of the debate about this has been about global warming, and the scientific evidence that global warming may be extremely damaging is growing steadily stronger.

However, there may be an even worse problem associated with the release of carbon into that atmosphere - acidification of the oceans. Some evidence suggests that about 50% of the increased carbon released into the atmosphere in the past century has been absorbed by the sea. So, you ask, is that good news is because it takes some of the carbon out of the global warming equation?

Unfortunately not, because this carbon appears to be forming enough acid to shift the pH balance of the oceans. This is extremely bad news for any marine animal with either a skeleton or a shell, and anything which eats those animals. If the seawater is more acidic, it becomes harder for fish to extract the calcium they need for their bones and for shellfish to get the calcium they need for their shells. It would not take a very large increase in the acidity of the oceans to exterminate, directly or indirectly, a huge proportion of the living creatures in the sea. This in turn could have significant impacts on the chemical composition of the air, and for life on land.

So what can we do about it ? The first thing is to seek an international agreement which all the major powers actually sign up to, including the USA, India, and China. Since Kyoto didn't get a single vote in the US Senate back when Bill Clinton was president it is obvious that we will have a major selling job to get the US on board - and the problem is not just with the Bush administration. As usual we have had a lot of rhetoric from Tony Blair on this, some of it even sensible: I hope he turns words into action and uses his position as probably the most respected foreign leader in the USA to push for american support for practical action.

Coming to what countries can do to check carbon emission, one part of the answer is to increase the share of energy we get from sources such as nuclear power which do not use fossil fuels. I am strongly in favour of nuclear power as part of a balanced energy policy, but this on its own will not be enough. I am also in favour of rational policies for more renewable energy, provided this is applied with common sense (e.g. not covering all the most beautiful skylines in Cumbria with windmills.) But we still need to do more.

Another part of the picture must be energy conservation, and there are things we can all do to help this. Some measures to conserve energy are cheaper and easier to implement than others. One of the easiest is to use low energy light-bulbs.

These really are a win-win - although they cost a little more, you get the money back very quickly in reduced electricity bills and because they last much longer - about 10,000 hours of life. Similarly there is a triple benefit to the environment - less elecricity generation, a net saving in energy and pollution in manufacturing and distribution becasue the fact that they last longer means fewer bulbs are needed, and there is less waste generation for the same reasons.

A few years ago, some people did not like low energy bulbs because they tended not to produce as much light and took longer to switch on. However, the technology has advanced enormously in the past couple of years: today I bought a couple of 23 watt bulbs which are supposed to generate as much light as a standard 120 watt bulb, and they do seem to live up to this billing.

Energy saving bulbs are also becoming available in a wider range of form and socket. It is now possible to get low-energy spotlight bulbs and halogen bulbs, and to get lights for bayonet cap, screw cap and small screw cap fittings. Homebase and B&Q have particularly good selections, but most good hardware shops and supermarkets do now stock them.

Low energy bulbs to tend to be larger and require a slightly bigger lightshade than the standard models. So next time you are asked by a home improvement store for feedback on their products, if you are stuck for something to say, why not suggest a wider selection of larger lampshades with room to take a low-energy bulb.

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