Carbon footprint – it’s our consumption that matters most

Dick SearleYou may have noticed that there now tends to be less rather than more talk of carbon footprinting. Part of the reason may involve the usual squabbles over statistics, method and application – all expected when it comes to applying a relatively new science.

However, the truth of the matter is that the data itself presents an inconvenient story, offering politicians very little wriggle room at all.

Our Energy and Climate Change Select Committee MPs certainly thought so when last month they urged the Government to think again about the UK’s record in this matter. Their research showed that the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions – including our consumption of imported goods have risen by some 20% over the period 1990 to 2009. The official line would rather argue that the UK has dropped its emissions by 20%; thanks to ‘territorial’ based reporting on improvements in the infrastructure; transport, power generation and so forth.

However, the consumption-based figure – is the true answer. And moreover it feels in complete accord with the facts of the last twenty years; our rising population and the credit and consumption boom only recently stalled with the credit crunch.

Select committee chairman Tim Yeo correctly made the point that the UK now gets through more consumer goods than ever before, and that we can hardly blame China for that country’s enviromental performance when much of that pollution is created making products for us and other high-consumption economies.

Once again – conscious or unconscious – we can see the aversion in the political world to looking fairly and squarely at consumer behaviour and including it in the mix. More than ever we need joined up and holistic thinking in order to get the real figures up on the board and then deal with consequences and possible remedies.

One of these days our politicians will have to face their own market place and deliver the message to their voters/consumer that ‘less is more’. Call it austerity? Not quite – but the parallels with our current political wranglings in Europe are very interesting.

Thanks again

Dick Searle