by Grace Remmington, CAS Policy Officer (Energy team).
This column was first published in the Herald on 15 September 2021.
It’s Climate Change Week. And I don’t know about you but when I read newspaper headlines about the climate challenge, I feel overwhelmed, anxious, and unsure of what part I’m meant to play in it all.
I’ve recently started working in energy policy here at Citizens Advice Scotland, which has made me more aware of my own carbon footprint, and what I can do to help on the way to Net Zero.
So what is Net Zero? I think this kind of jargon can often be a barrier that deters us from making any changes. Essentially, Net Zero is the point where we are no longer adding more carbon into the atmosphere than we are taking away. The Scottish Government has committed to reaching Net Zero by 2045, and our recent research showed that 68% of people in Scotland support this goal. However, many people – myself included – aren’t sure what their own journey to Net Zero should look like. Where do we even start?
However, the experience of COVID-19 has shown us all that we are capable of far greater behavioural change than any of us imagined. The way people changed their habits over the last 18 months makes me hopeful that we might see the same pulling together in the face of the climate crisis.
Of course, the burden to act must sit primarily with governments and big business. But I am also aware that most of us will need to change some of our behaviour too. Not everyone is able to make significant changes. Those on low incomes are likely to already consume less, or a disability or mental health issue may make it harder to act. But those who are able, particularly those on a higher income, should consider what actions we are each able (and can afford) to make.
So what changes am I making? Well, I’ve made a list, which I’m going to share with you.
Firstly, I am making sure that I understand my personal carbon footprint. This has helped me track where I am doing well (always good to know) and where I can make improvements. There are several calculators which can help us to understand our carbon footprint, such as footprint.wwf.org.uk/#/ or carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx. For me, it’s about trying to make a couple of manageable changes, such as cutting out meat or not flying when visiting my family.
Secondly, I’ve been looking at ways to save water and energy at home. This is one of the easiest ways to change our behaviour. We all know about turning off lights and not leaving appliances on standby – only filling the kettle with what you need is a recent change for me! Since I've been working from home, I've also taken the time to really understand my heating system; I've adjusted the programmer and thermostat, and I'm considering investing in some smart radiator valves to avoid over-heating rooms I don't use during the working day.
I’m also looking into installing a smart meter to give me more control over the energy use in my home. All energy suppliers are required to offer their customers a smart meter by June 2025 – so have a look to see if your supplier is already offering them.
Heating our homes contributes 31% of our household carbon footprints, according to the Energy Saving Trust, so I’ve been learning how to make my home more energy efficient (which again will help to lower my bills). This is something that has previously felt overwhelming to me, especially as a renter. However, there are several sources of funding available to help to make your home more efficient. Home Energy Scotland can provide advice and support, as can your local Citizens Advice Bureau.
The third thing on my list is to change how I travel. Right, I have to admit it here – I use my car far more than I should, and this has worsened since the pandemic. Living in a small town means I have fewer options: the cost and availability of public transport is an issue. But wherever we live, we are all probably guilty of too many car journeys to the local shop.
One option, which I am considering, is purchasing an electric vehicle. The cost has definitely been off-putting to me, but check out the Home Energy Scotland website for guidance on possible funding. Oh, and I plan to cut down on those unnecessary flights.
The next step on my list I’ve called ‘Taking Action’. By this I don’t just mean my own behavioural changes but actually getting involved in campaigning for the climate!
My local community has started quite a few different climate-related action groups – from one that was set up to raise awareness of climate change to another that is campaigning for a zero-waste town. These grassroots groups are springing up all over the place, and it’s worth seeing what exists in your area and getting involved.
I spend a lot of time at work talking about energy but I was unsure about how to take action for a green workplace. Zero Waste Scotland offer free training to give people the skills necessary to improve the environmental performance of their workplace.
So that’s my Net Zero list. It contains actions that I am able and willing to take. You could make your own. But the final point I want to stress is the importance of making small changes first.
As I say, I often feel overwhelmed at the challenge of it all, but starting with the first small step is what it’s all about. If we’re going to meet Net Zero, we don’t need a few people making huge, perfect changes, but everyone who can making smaller, and less perfect, ones.