Friday 19 November 2010

Transition Circles - A Personal Carbon Reduction Review

Welcome to the Transition Circles and Carbon Conversations theme slot. We're starting off with a personal carbon reduction review based on the results of real experiences in TN’s Strangers’ Circle. Mark Watson reports:

Strangers' Beginnings
In June 2009 TN2 was formed as a response to climate change, with the aim of reducing our personal carbon use and emissions to half the national average over the coming year. The Strangers’ Circle emerged as one of TN2’s Transition Circles, made up of those of us living outside of Norwich. We began to meet every month bringing food to each others’ houses, where we would discuss the principle drivers of carbon use (transport, food, home energy, ‘stuff’) and ways we could reduce it.

The meetings were informal, exploratory and intimate. We looked at the real evidence of our energy use, our individual log books and shopping lists. We brought our energy bills to the table to share along with the food for the meeting on home energy. We led quite different lives. Some of us owned our homes, some rented. Some of us had children, others not. We had different financial circumstances. So our responses and actions were also different depending on those circumstances.

Winter 2009/10
When winter arrived last year Charlotte and I decided to forgo the central heating. We heated the water for one hour a day. We used the radiators for drying clothes when they really wouldn’t dry outside. We dressed up warm. We lit fires, but not every day. It was cold. We rent our house. The windows are double-glazed and there is minimal insulation. Our next door neighbours are not there all the time so their house is cold, too, with no heat coming through the walls. We live in a semi-detached rural cottage built in 1884. This is interesting to visitors who walk past in the summer, look up at the numbers built into the brick on the front and say “Eighteen eighty four!” and walk on. But it means that we can’t have cavity wall insulation.

It was an interesting six months (and last winter did go on for six months!) and those monthly Strangers’ Circle meetings were key to maintaining my enthusiasm and momentum. Shared human warmth was both metaphorical and literal.

Where We Are Now
This week we had our first delivery of oil in 19 months. Oil is what fuels our central heating and hot water. We also have a woodburner in the living room. Here are some figures to put things in context:

In October 2008 we ordered 500 litres of oil (at 48p per litre), and in April 2009 another 500 (42p per litre). That was our last order before this week of 500 litres (at 58p per litre, up 16p a litre since last April). The woman on the phone at Total Butler said it was wise to order now as prices looked set to increase further. When we first moved here in January 2003 oil cost around 18p per litre, and we’d order a whole tank (1200 litres) twice a year.

I worked out that we’d reduced our oil use by two-thirds since joining the Strangers' group. What's more, when the cold began this year we noticed it hasn’t bothered us as much.

In large part for me it worked because of the sustained attention over many months on personally reducing carbon emissions within the structure of a group engaged in doing just that.

And for this winter? I’ve been sawing up dead elms from the trees in and around our garden for the woodburner. We’ve arranged with the landlord to get the radiators fixed so we can turn eight out of the ten of them off without their leaking. We’ll live mostly in one of the rooms and have some heating on the coldest days. And hopefully not have to order any more oil at least until April 2012.

Transition Circle Earlham North are meeting on Monday 30 November, Circle Hethersett on Tuesday 1 December and Circle Earlham South on Monday 7 December (see Calendar for details)

Pics: Carbon Conversations and Strangers' Circle; Piping Oil

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