Green Tau: issue 62

20th January 2023

Imagining life in 2033

By 2033 we should be at least half way to net zero. How will things have changed? What will daily life look like? Imagine a letter from the future …

In many ways life in 2033 is not that different from in 2023. I still live in the same house, with the same husband and even the same – now rather elderly – cat. We have recently replaced the solar panels on our roof and are now not just self sufficient for energy but are regularly put electricity back into the grid. Talking of solar panels, every house in our street now has them, as does the local school and our church – and you have probably guessed, very few buildings now-a-days have gas boilers.

Other changes in our street include more trees, which provide welcome shade during heat waves, and fewer cars. Being an affluent area, most people have hung into their electric cars despite the rising ULEZ charge, but as in most urban areas many more journeys are now made by cycle or public transport. All main roads now have a dedicated cycle track wide enough for cargo and family bikes.  Buses and suburban trains have all been free for the last five years leading to less cars using the roads and, therefore, faster journey times for buses! Suburban trains run on a regular ten minute interval and trains on the mainlines operate on a ‘Taktfahrplan’ similar to the Swiss one, ensuring good connections on all routes. Most people opt for the half price rail card, especially families as children travel free.

Another change you might notice is the number of cargo cycles. They were certainly around in 2023 but the exception rather than the rule. Increases in road tax in 2025 saw a rapid expansion of delivery bikes, and electric ones regularly use the vehicle lane on the main roads where they can move at the same speed as other users – oh yes, I should have pointed out that in London the speed limit is now  20mph on all roads. The NHS has certainly benefited from the upswing in cycling. It has made us fitter and the reduced particulate pollution from tyres and brakes has helped reduce breathing problems. There is talk now of replacing buses with trams. 

You will be pleased to hear that we do still have a national health service. There were some dodgy moments when it looked like the system might collapse, but with the influence of a people’s assembly, the whole health and welfare system is being overhauled. There is a focus on preventative care and long term investment plan – improving the health of children (physical, mental and educational) will have profound benefits for our society but the financial savings may take 20 to 30 years to kick in. 

It has been surprising how much addressing the climate crisis has actually improved people’s wellbeing. All school and institutional meals are now all plant based, and I hope you are not surprised to hear that plant based dishes now occupy at least 50% of all restaurant menus. Vegan cooking is now mainstream although at the time the All Vegan Bake Off series in 2024 seemed radical. The change in our diets has not only improved our health but has changed the appearance of the rural landscape. With fewer livestock, those that are kept have a much higher welfare standard. And you will find that many farms and some of the larger rural homes keep a couple of sheep or pigs as outdoor pets. The UK is now self sufficient in growing wheat, whilst other arable land has been given over to growing a vast number of different fruits and vegetables. It has been a horticultural revolution with drip feed irrigation and small robots and drones making the work less back breaking. Work in this sector is now well paid and popular. Orchards have expanded and now encompass new trees such as olives, walnuts, pistachios and almonds, and are often intercropped with shade loving crops. The amount of trees in the landscape is perhaps the biggest change that you would notice. Not only have we seen orchards expand, but many areas have been rewilded with wide hedgerows, copses and new woodlands. The latest nature report has shown an increase in biodiversity in the UK. It is a revival that has had to be worked at but is now reaping rewards. Nightingales are now often recorded – but not necessarily in Berkeley Square! – and a new generation of children are listening out for the cuckoos in spring. Walks and trips to wildlife hides are increasingly popular as there is now so much more wildlife to see!

The Upper Richmond Road is still our main shopping area but it does look more attractive with more trees and well-stocked planters. If you want a few herbs, it’s a case of pick your own. I was going to say the traffic moves more slowly as back in 2023 the speed limit was 30mph. But now-a-days the traffic moves at a pretty constant 20mph which I’m sure is faster than it was then. I can remember sitting in the Artisan cafe watching the traffic remain stationary as the lights went from red to green and back to red. Traffic lanes are narrower now to make  space for the cycle lanes. Milestone Green has finally been revamped (that’s been at least ten years in the planning) with new seating, a water feature and a large chess board. 

There are a few different shops, such as The Splash – a bike wash coffee shop where customers enjoy a coffee and cake whilst their bike is cleaned, oil and tyres pumped. There’s the now standard repair shop, Repairs are Us, where can get virtual anything domestic repaired, and next to the Fara charity shop, is Tailor Tricks where they readjust any clothes you buy at Fara (or elsewhere) to fit. If you like a skirt but is too long or trousers that are too wide, they speedily make the adjustments. At the other end of the market is the made to measure fashion outlet. Video loops from the latest catwalks plus magazines and fabric swatches all entice you to try something new. Interactive screens show you what you would look like in these garments, and once you have made your choice, the workshop sets to work and within hours your made to measure outfit is ready. 

Of course there are more cycle shops – and cycle accessory shops. The pet shops still thrive as we are increasingly aware of the value of pets for our mental wellbeing. Another growth has been in plant shops as we increasingly enjoy filling our homes with living things – as well as a growth in companies offering plant care services. Sheen also has its own coffee roastery, brewery, two new bakeries and a nut-cheese delicatessen. The local council has made a real effort to promote local businesses with preferential rates for local businesses. 

Packaging has definitely changed. Initially it was the ending of single use plastic cups and boxes in 2023 that stimulated change. As suppliers adapted the packaging they produced, so supermarkets adopted this same packaging for ready meals, salads and pre-packed fruit. A year later reverse vending machines for bottles became obligatory – in supermarkets initially but quickly afterwards in all shops selling bottled goods. This included both glass and reusable plastic bottles, glass jars and reusable yogurt pots. All single use packaging is now either recyclable or compostable. The effect on refuse and recycling services has been marked. With less to throw into dustbins and recycling bins, most weekly collections have been replaced by fortnightly ones – a useful cost saving for councils.

As we have adapted to more extreme weather conditions so we have been adapting our buildings. Awnings that pull out are popular for both shops, houses and flats to provide shade in the summer but there can be problems if these are not safely retracted in advance of strong winds. The met office app usually provides adequate advance warning. Shops tend to have more substantial affairs that also provide protection from the rain. Keeping customers dry is a definite plus for trade!

Overhead there are far fewer airplanes – you might recall from the first covid lock down how surprised we were when the planes stopped and we could hear birds singing. Well that’s what we have now on a daily basis. There is a heavy tax to be paid for air flights (although there is an annual tax allowance that can put towards long haul flights). Air freight is gradually being replaced by rail freight and marine cargo vessels. Some capacity in the system has been freed up as we are no longer shipping oil, gas and coal around the world, and there has also been a sharp decline in the amount of animal feed and meat being shipped. Increasingly popular are cargo ships linking up with educational packages. You can take a ten day crossing over the Atlantic and use the time to engage in a fully immersive language course, learn to play bridge, or do a page to stage theatre production. 

Ten years on things have changed but it is not a totally different world nor a life lacking in comfort. If anything we have a healthier and happier lifestyle. 

Counting on …day 1:020

20th January 2023

Cut food waste! A third of all the world’s food goes to waste and adding up the waste of resources in producing and transporting food that ultimately goes to waste plus the carbon footprint the food that then goes onto rot, accounts for about 8% of global emissions. 

Here in the UK households throw away 4.5 million tonnes of edible food every year.

For more information – 

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200224-how-cutting-your-food-waste-can-help-the-climate

Counting on …. day 1:016

16th January 2023

The things we use around our homes, particularly appliances and electrical equipment, all come with a carbon footprint both in their manufacture and in their use. When we buy new ones we can get information as to how energy efficient they are in use. We can information from the Ethical  Consumer, Which guides etc as to how ethically they have been made ( for example the sourcing of raw materials,  pay and working conditions of employees etc), and about the longevity and repairability of the item. The longer lived an item is the better use it makes of resources.   When considering energy use of items, we may opt for a manual rather than an electric version – eg a hand worked coffee grinder, a hand whisk etc. 

For further thoughts – https://greentau.org/2021/09/10/the-green-tau-issue-16/

Counting on…day 1:014

14th January 2023

How we get from A to B has a significant impact on our carbon footprint. This chart shows the relative carbon footprint of different modes of transport.

For further details see their full report – https://ourworldindata.org/travel-carbon-footprint 

Additional thoughts – https://greentau.org/2021/08/21/green-tau-issue-13/

Counting on … day 1:012

12th January 2023

Over recent months many of us have seen the cost of heating our homes increase. Reducing the carbon footprint of heating our homes wins on two fronts – financial and climate. 

Having installed solar panels, cavity wall and loft insulation, and double glazing, and by dint of wearing more layers and showering less, we are continuing to reduced our gas consumption and energy bills.

Whilst not everyone agrees with their tactics, most now see the wisdom of Insulate Britain’s call that the Government should ensure the proper insulation of the UK’s housing stock. This is also relevant during heat waves when better insulated buildings remain cooler longer.   

Further information https://greentau.org/2021/09/03/green-tau-issue-15/

Counting on … day 1:011

11th January 2023

Swopping from animal to plant based foods can make a considerable reduction to our carbon footprint. According to Exeter Council’s website:-

  • 1 vegetarian day per week (52 days a year) can save nearly 100kgs of CO2 per year.
  • 1 vegetarian week per month (12 weeks a year) can save nearly 153kgs of CO2 per year.
  • 1 vegan day per week (52 days a year) can save nearly 143kgs of CO2 per year.
  • 1 vegan week per month (12 weeks a year) can save nearly 231kgs of CO2 per year.

The BBC has an interesting calculator that compares the footprint of different types of food – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-46459714

Further information – 

Counting on … day 1: 010

10th January 2023

Over the next few days I want to highlight some of the ways in which we can respond as individuals to the ongoing ecological, climate and biodiversity crisis. 

The cause of the climate crisis is the excessive release of carbon dioxide and other green house gases into the atmosphere at a faster rate than the earth’s ability to absorb them. To limit further global temperature increases we need to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions. Calculating our individual carbon footprint does not of itself solve the problem but it does highlight for us areas where we could reduce it. 

There are various carbon footprint calculators available such as 

https://www.carbonindependent.org/

https://footprint.wwf.org.uk/#/

 Counting on … day 281

18th August 2022

When homes are sold they are given an ‘energy performance certificate’  that shows how well the place is insulated and how efficient is its in terms of the energy used. The certificate may also point out where improvements could be made. A second certificate records the ‘environmental impact (CO2) rating’ and measures the carbon footprint for the unit. Both range from A, being the most efficient, to G, least efficient.

Eco Tips: Stuff 

What does sustainability look like in daily life? I thought I would share my experiences.

Previous pages have looked at the use of heating and energy, food and travel for which it is generally easier to calculate one’s carbon footprint and assess the sustainability of alternative choices. Today I am going to reflect on the none food things I buy such as books, clothes, things for the house and garden. These all have a carbon footprint and have more or less sustainable credentials. Here are some of the ways I try to ensure that I use stuff sustainably.

*Not acquiring things that I don’t actually need. It is surprising how often we are tempted  – or encouraged by advertising – to buy things we don’t need. Do I really need it? Do I need to buy it now or could I wait and see if I still need it at a later date? Have I got something similar that will fulfil the same purpose?

* Research – find out what choices are available: which product is most sustainably, how long it will last and, if electrical, its energy efficiency. The internet is useful, as is Ethical Consumer which has both a web site and a magazine. When we needed a new printer, we bought a more expensive Epson model that instead of using disposable cartridges (which hardly last any time at all) has an economical  refill system  – and 8 months later we have yet to need to refill these. 

  • Buying second hand – or more endearingly, preloved – items allows existing resources to be reused  rather than consuming even more fresh resources. I buy clothes and books from charity shops with the plus of funding a worthwhile cause. Sometimes I can also find household items here too – such as a saucepan or a pestle and mortar – but then I do have to be patient as what a charity shop stocks is not predictable! I bought my mobile phone and iPad from Music Magpie – an online second hand site.  When I need a particular book I try web sites such as World of Books and Oxfam – I avoid Abe Books and The Book Depositary being subsidiaries of Amazon. If I buy new books, I use our local independent book shop. 

* Repairing rather than replacing. When something breaks, see if it can be repaired – either at home or via a specialist. Years ago, I bought a Globe Trotter suitcase because of their reputation for quality. When the handle broke, I was able to take it back and have a new one fitted. I frequently darn socks and T shirts, patch up tears, glue broken items in the kitchen, mend punctured tyres, takes shoes to the cobbler,  and buy spare parts from the manufacturer.

  • Up cycling – sometimes rather than buying, I can make what I need from something I already have. Eg pillow cases from worn sheets, plant pots from have cartons, a seed sprouted from a jam jar and a piece of muslin. Old inner tubes become garden ties, and shoe laces are reused as string. Old trousers become shorts, and trouser legs bags for root vegetables.
  • Making do with – enjoying! – what I have: I could buy a food processor but instead I use the knife and the ballon whisk I already have. We have an old kettle whose automatic switch no longer works but since the rest functions, we continue to use it. 

* Lending and borrowing: do I need to buy something if I am only  go to use it occasionally? As well as libraries for books and videos, there are libraries for things. I prefer to rent skis  knowing that they are going to be well used, as opposed to buying skis that would become obsolescent before they wore out.

* If I can, I look for options that will make a positive contribution to someone else: eg choosing a fair trade or organic option, supporting a local producer, buying from a B corp.

  • Packaging – I often make choices dependant on packaging, choosing not to buy something because it comes wrapt in plastic. For example buying a pencil I might choice the pencils sold loose over those pre-packed in plastic.
  • I prefer to spend money on doing rather than having: going to a cafe for a coffee and a cake rather than buying a magazine, going to the theatre rather than buying clothes, buying membership for a nature reserve (eg The Wetlands Centre) rather than cosmetics.

Eco Tips: living sustainably and travel 

What does sustainability look like in daily life? I thought I would share our (me and my husband) experiences.

The single biggest issue that affects the sustainability of travel is the use of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are used directly in the form of petrol and diesel to fuel cars, motor bikes, farm vehicles, lorries … as aviation fuel for planes, diesel for trains where there is no overhead or third rail electrical current,  the low grade petrol or bunker fuel used for ships. In addition fossil fuels are used indirectly where electric powered transport uses electricity non renewable sources. World wide transport contributes around one-fifth of global carbon dioxide emissions. (https://ourworldindata.org/travel-carbon-footprint)

Sustainable travel has to be that which minimises the use of fossil fuels. 

Setting aside the means of transport used to get products from farms and factories to our homes and tables, and leaving aside the transport used by the emergency services etc. I shall focus on the transport solutions we use to get from A to B.

We live in a suburban part of London. We have good range of local shops for food, books, bikes, paper and craft materials, tools and timber, household and homewares. There are also schools, churches,  gym, library, GP, green spaces all within a mile of our house.

  • Our main mode of transport is walking. Cotton bags and rucksacks provide carrying capacity, waterproofs and umbrellas protection against the elements.
  • Second to this would be cycling. This makes the dentist, swimming pool, theatre, cinema, shoes shops and department easily accessible – all within a half hour cycle. (Cycling is a would-be as my recent neck injury requires a year’s restraint from such activities). When I both worked and studied in central London, cycling was quick, reliable and enjoyable. A well maintained bike, panniers or rucksack, waterproof clothing, lights and a helmets are essential.
  • Next comes the bus for short trips, plus the train and the underground network. This gets us all over London. 
  • Trains also provide long distance travel both here in the UK and across Europe, for holidays, visiting friends and families, etc. Starting off in London makes this easier: when we visit places less well served with public transport we do have to rely on family or a taxi to drive the last leg of the journey. Did you know you can go from London to Berlin or the Swiss Alps by train in a day? London to Glasgow or Edinburgh can be an overnight journey.
  • Flying we avoid. Next year we would like to visit North America and are looking to travel with one of the passenger carrying cargo ships. 
  • There are some trips which we do choose to make by car. For example when my husband volunteers on a steam railway in Hampshire, or when transporting a model railway to exhibitions. At other times we use a taxi for my mother who struggles with escalators on the underground. 

A rough calculation of the carbon footprint of the journeys I make annually by bus and train comes to 0.56 tonnes of CO2. If I were to make those journeys by car (even a reasonably fuel efficient one, 52 mpg) it would have produced 1.52 tonnes of CO2. If I had flown that same distance, it would have produced 2.27 tonnes CO2.

What I haven’t calculated is what my carbon footprint would have been if I had made all my local journeys by car rather than on foot. If say I normally walk 4 miles a day but instead make those journeys by car, I would produce a further 0.43 tonnes of CO2.

A further advantage of walking or cycling in terms of sustainability, is the low capital outlay or expenditure of resources. In the case of walking that would be resources used in making a pair of shoes, or for cycling, that of making a bike. Both will be significantly less than is needed to make a car. The resources needed to build a bus or train are considerable but when apportioned across the number of users and the life time of the vehicle, is probably less than the equivalent for a private car (which will often carry a single passenger as well as spending 95% of its life parked on a drive).

If you want to know more about the carbon footprint of cycling, taking into account the cost in resources of building and maintaining the bike and the calories consumed in pedalling, visit: https://www.bikeradar.com/features/long-reads/cycling-environmental-impact/