Notes from the Wychwood CRAG meeting on Monday 17th March
Present: Jamie Andrews, Tim Crisp, Tom Dyson, Kate Griffin, Dorrie Johnson, Lou Johnson, Johannes Lindvall, Tim Lunel, Liz Reason, Janet Sly, Louise Spicer, J-P Stacey, Helen Warren
Why we held the meeting: To look at how things have gone since we decided to measure our carbon emissions; to discuss any problems that have arisen since we started measuring our emissions in February; to discuss how the CRAG should work when we begin in earnest on May 1st (how the system of rewards/penalties should work); to discuss what the emissions targets should be when we begin in earnest; to get updates on the CRAG movement nationally and on other news to do with carbon footprinting.
Update on the national CRAG movement Jamie reported that Oxfam had recently held a competition to find the lowest carbon footprint in the UK. The prize is a trip to the Houses of Parliament to talk to politicians (including Environment Secretary Hilary Benn) about climate change. The three winners were all CRAG members, which has given the movement a lot of very helpful publicity. See the national CRAG forum for the debate about what the winners should tell the politicians.How we’ve been finding things since February Gas and electricity
There have been some teething troubles with recording emissions using the Carbon Account. There was confusion about electricity and gas readings and whether or not to include the last two digits of the readings, since many suppliers tell households to ignore these last two digits for billing purposes. This meant that several people had initially underestimated their readings by a factor of 100! It was suggested that the Carbon Account should warn people when they enter readings which are low enough to suggest such a mistake has been made. It was also suggested that the site include guidelines for entering gas and electricity readings with pictures of different meters.
There was also discussion about how use of “good” energy suppliers should be measured by the CRAG. The Carbon Account currently measures use of “green” energy as producing zero emissions. There was debate about whether this should change, with the following points raised:
Some people may be led to believe that using a green electricity supplier means you can use more electricty than before, rather than continuing to reduce consumption
People who have been paying more money for green energy should be rewarded for their financial sacrifice by having this reflected in their measured carbon footprint
Many supposedly green energy suppliers aren’t as green as they seem. All electricity suppliers are already required by law to produce a certain proportion of energy from renewables, but some are double-dipping by counting this again as “green” energy.
Do we want to stimulate the supply of renewables by helping to increase demand?
We decided to carry on measuring use of energy from green suppliers as zero emissions, but Tom and Jamie pointed out that the Carbon Account still allows you to measure your use of such energy so you can work on reducing it. Cars
Several people expressed surprise at just how much their car use contributes to their carbon footprint. We discussed whether it is better to get rid of an inefficient car and buy a more efficient one or to keep the old one because of the carbon involved in producing new cars.
Tim said that if your car does about 30 miles per gallon, it is better to get rid of it. If you then buy one that does 60 miles per gallon, you will compensate for the carbon used in producing a new one through the increased efficiency of the new engine. He did not advocate scrapping a car that is still usable, but suggested selling old cars and creating a demand for more efficient new cars so that the new car market becomes driven by demand for fuel efficiency. When large sums are involved, it is possible for individual buyers to influence the market. We also discussed the problems involved in recording individual emissions relating to shared cars.
Tom explained the concept of radiative forcing. This is a measure of how certain factors affect the energy balance of the Earth. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calculates that carbon emissions have a much greater impact on climate change if they are made at a high altitude. They currently estimate that carbon emissions from flying should be multiplied by 2.7 to reflect the true contribution to climate change. The Carbon Account has therefore decided to adopt this measure, although it has not yet been adopted by DEFRA. This is why many people who have taken flights recently will suddenly see their carbon emissions increase.
Tom added that the Carbon Account is expected to keep changing in the way it measures people’s emissions, in order to keep up with the latest scientific consensus. He also added that many people who have given up flying may well find that they drive more as a consequence and find that car use is now a higher proportion of their footprint.
Discussion of the system for rewards and penalties
Although CRAGS are intended to model carbon trading for use on a larger scale, there was agreement that nobody would feel comfortable with taking money from others in the group in the event that they achieved their target. Everyone was much happier with the idea of the money going into a central pot, to be spent on carbon-reducing community projects or given to green charities. Kate suggested that “carbon winners” should be rewarded by having a greater say in where the money from the pot goes. Most other people felt this was unfair and that everyone should have an equal vote in where the pot money goes.
Kate also suggested getting corporate sponsorship for the CRAG. She suggested that local businesses could donate prizes for the carbon winners. It would be a good publicity for both the business and the CRAG. There was cautious acceptance of this idea, with the point made that CRAGs will probably be much better known in a year’s time and businesses more ready to help them as a consequence.
We discussed what penalties to impose on people who do not achieve the target. Johannes said that the money was not the issue and people should decide for themselves how much to put into the pot in the event of going over the carbon limit. Janet pointed out that painful financial penalties could discourage people on low incomes from joining CRAGs. Liz suggested work on carbon-reducing community projects as an alternative or supplement to paying money into the pot for people who go over the target. Jamie reminded the group that we should be aiming to have no money whatsoever going into the pot, because we want everybody to hit the target.
Liz suggested that we go with the figure calculated for EU carbon permits, which is currently £15 a ton. Tom said that the Stern report estimates the environmental cost of producing CO2 at 90 dollars per ton, which is about £45. He suggested this as an alternative figure. After some debate, we decided to set the figure at £15 for every ton of carbon the individual goes over the limit.
Discussing a carbon target for the group
We decided to fix a carbon target for the group at our next meeting on May 1st, since we are still in the measurement period. (We also felt that many people absent from this meeting should be allowed the chance to discuss the target at the next one.) We realised that we did not have an accurate average figure for the group, since many members have joined the group but have not yet entered their figures into the Carbon Account. These people are being counted as producing zero emissions, which is bringing the official average down to about 1.7 tons. We calculated that the real average for the group is about four and a half tons - encouragingly, already less than the UK average. We decided to recommend a target of four tons for adoption at the next meeting.
About 30 people turned up and squeezed into a room kindly donated by The Bell Inn, Charlbury. I gave a brief presentation to introduce carbon rationing and CRAGs and then we moved the chairs back and introduced ourselves. The group included at least two low-carbon professionals, a barrister, six web developers, several academics, parents, commuters, home-workers, businesspeople and an intern. Some knew their footprints, others feared what theirs might be; most hadn’t flown for a few years, some described their love miles apologetically.
Following the introductions, the discussions started with an attempt to agree on a fixed annual target, but this quickly became a wider debate about fixed versus proportional targets, whether or not a percentage reduction model could be compatible with trading, and whether or not we should attempt trading at all. Others were concerned that a system which included penalties would send negative signals to potentially sympathetic people in the wider communities, proposing an alternative incentive-only model (there wasn’t time for a full analysis of the economic sustainability of this approach…). It was a frank, friendly and strongly-worded debate, but it was clear that we weren’t going to reach a consensus on the financial details after two hours. Jamie Andrews and Tim Lunel proposed an experimental period during which we all monitor our carbon emissions, with the possible outcome of agreeing a fixed target which would be proportionate to the group’s average output. Everyone agreed, so this is what 25 of us are going to do, starting from February 1st, using the Carbon Account, with follow-up meetings scheduled in six and twelve weeks time. For those that continue, with whatever reward/penalty model is agreed, February 1st will the be start of our accounting year.