Low carbon holiday adventure – mini journal

The Blue Mermaid

In my end of year review, I commented that ‘a sail passenger ship is very appealing for a more adventurous holiday’. So when the opportunity for adventure finally arrived, I seized it with both hands.

Sail Cargo London have been supplying me with olive oil from Portugal, sea salt from France and the occasional Tres Hombres chocolate bar from the Dominican Republic during my year of living on One Tonne of Carbon per Year. All delivered to the UK by sustainable sail-powered cargo shipping. This year I have continued to order online (adding red wine for good measure!) and saw this advertised at the bottom of the email.

Sail with us!
As last year we are offering the chance to be part of the journey. A bit different this year, as the charters are for the entire journey into St Kats. This will mean two (possibly three) nights on board the barge.

We have a couple of spaces left on the beautiful Blue Mermaid, leaving Ramsgate on 16th August.

Helping to sail the ship and cargo handling – it’s a great chance to be involved and get closer to the spirit and soul of the sail cargo story. The cost of the charters is £150 per person. This includes all meals on board.
E-mail info@raybelcharters.com for more details

There was a tense few days, waiting to hear if I was going on the Blue Mermaid voyage. And then once I heard there was a place onboard, I needed to do a PCR covid test too. And then my bags were packed! Toute suite.

The Blue Mermaid Voyage

A Thames sailing barge is a type of commercial sailing boat once common on the River Thames in London. The flat-bottomed barges are perfectly adapted to the Thames Estuary, with its shallow waters and narrow tributary rivers. The Blue Mermaid is one of the larger sailing barges which is also seaworthy and can transport people and cargo around the coast and across seas.

In 1900 there were around 4,000 such barges registered to carry cargo up and down the London river and the surrounding coasts, using just the wind and the tide. In 1940, sixteen Thames Sailing Barges took part in the Little Ships of Dunkirk which sailed from Ramsgate in England to Dunkirk (Dunkerque) in northern France, as part of Operation Dynamo, helping to rescue more than 336,000 British, French, and other Allied soldiers who were trapped on the beaches. Others sailing barges were used to transport essential goods around the coast in WW2. Many of the boats were destroyed or damaged during this time. The original Blue Mermaid was built, in 1930, but sank after hitting a magnetic mine in 1941. 

Thames sailing barges have since been re-purposed in many ways; I often see sailing barges used as houseboats on the Regent’s Canal, near where I live. Others like the Raybel are being lovingly restored and brought back into use as sustainable net carbon zero sail cargo and passenger transportation.

Commissioning in 2019, Blue Mermaid is a faithful replica of the original Blue Mermaid. Delivering our current work with youth groups and their staff, she extends it by carrying cargo and trainees who gain sea time learning traditional seamanship skills. Sailing without an engine, she does this with very low carbon emissions.

Yours truly pulling a Thames sailing barge at Ramsgate Harbour

The Sea-Change Sailing Trust, who owns the Blue Mermaid, provides residential opportunities for young people and vulnerable adults to learn and develop in a unique environment. By living and working together aboard a traditional sailing vessel they participate in a wide range of life skills and are encouraged to take increasing responsibility for their contribution and group decisions’.

The Blue Mermaid is also designed to be a working cargo ship. Original cargoes varied enormously; timber, bricks and hay were stacked on the deck, while cement and grain was carried loose in the hold. Richard Titchener and Hilary Halajko from the Sea-Change Sailing Trust have the ambition to make the Blue Mermaid a commercially viable Thames cargo sailing barge alongside training young people in seamanship skills.

Our 3-4 day trip will take us from the coastal port of Ramsgate in Kent, where it will be loaded with a small amount of sail cargo like coffee, chocolate, almonds, olive oil brought from South America and Portugal by the sail-powered cargo ship De Gallant. We will then voyage around the coast, past Margate to the Thames Estuary, up the River Thames , finally docking at St Katherine’s Docks right by Tower Bridge in central London.

The Blue Mermaid has no engine and navigates these waters entirely by wind and tides, guided by the immense skill and detailed knowledge of its captain and crew. There are five experienced crew members, two members from Raybel Charters and five passengers on this pilot trip, combining sail cargo with sail passengers. The passengers have the opportunity to be involved in sailing the barge – setting and bringing down sails, manoeuevering buoys, winding winches etc – as well as helping with cargo loading and unloading.

Holiday journal

In this mini holiday journal I have slightly changed the format; including the financial cost of the holiday alongside the carbon cost. Before the trip I bought a

  • PCR test – £129 (no idea of the carbon cost of this? but the financial cost!!!)
  • 2nd hand sleeping bag – 0g / £4.99
  • 2nd hand bound paper and leather journal – 0g / £4.99
  • Sea-Band acupressure nausea relief ( I actually didn’t experience any sea sickness but these were useful and effective for 2 of my fellow passengers) – ?g /£8.59
  • Cost of 3-4 day Blue Mermaid voyage, including 3 nights sleeping in a berth and all meals – £150

Monday 16th August 2021

  • Organic UK grown quinoa porridge with fresh mint from my garden, sprinkling of dried cranberries and pine nuts – 250g
  • Green tea – 22g
  • Pedalme cycling taxi from my home to London Victoria station – 5 miles x 36g= 180g / £22.75 (Underground train would be a lot cheaper at £2.40 but I wanted to do the trip by cycling taxi. Underground slightly more carbon 5 miles x 68g = 340g)
  • Oatmilk latte – 288g /£2.75
  • Slow train London Victoria to Ramsgate – 68 miles x 80g = 5.44Kg / £11.30
  • Bus Ramsgate station to Ramsgate Harbour – 2 miles x 46g = 92g / £1.30
  • Small portion of Fish & Chips on the beach – 1Kg /£4.95
  • 2 pots of tea with milk – 300g /£4.40
  • Brewdog can of Hazy Jane beer 330 ml – 360g / a gift
  • Pasta with tomato sauce and sprinkling of parmesan (Italian restaurant) – 500g / £8.50

Note: The slow train from London to Ramsgate takes us through Charles Dickens country; Rochester, Chatham and Broadstairs. These are the Kent landscapes which weave through his novels. Something in my heart leaps when I see the sea. Today in Ramsgate the salty water is a smooth, silken, silty turquoise green. I drop my bags at the harbour with Louis from Raybel Charters and go and explore. The beach is close by, so I eat my fish and chips, surrounded by eager seagulls, whilst watching children splashing in the shallows. And then I continue walking along the coast. with its chalk cliffs carved out with smugglers caves, seaweed lapping against the rocks. When I reach Dumpton Beach (more beautiful than it sounds, with liquorice allsorts beach huts) I want to stop at the cafe for a cup of tea. But the tides are turning and I need to get back to Ramsgate before I am cut off. Back at the harbour, I watch the crew, alongside friends and colleagues, loading the cargo onto the Blue Mermaid, And meet some of my fellow passengers, which include an artist, a nanny and two guys from Haeckels natural seaweed skincare.

I go early for an evening meal at a local Italian restaurant, overlooking the harbour. And then when back on the sailing barge, I lay down on the deck and look up at the sky. As night draws in; a bright star appears. Louis says it is the Vega star. I absorb the magic of that moment.

Later we have a quick lesson in how the onboard toilet works…the short story – a lot of pumping going on there…and we all retire to our berths for an early rise next morning, getting ready to sail.

Tuesday 17th August

  • Cinnamon bun – 75g
  • Slice of bread with almond butter – 75g
  • Handful of blueberries – 50g
  • 2 x filter coffee with hemp milk – 87g
  • 2 x black chai – 22g
  • 1 builders tea with cow’s milk – 71g
  • Olive bread and salads – 400g
  • Classic yogi tea – 22g
  • Toast with brie and tomato – 500g
  • Spicy vegetarian chilli with rice – 500g

*Cost of all food onboard included in charter

Note: After a morning lesson in how the sailing barge operates, a tug pulls us out of Ramsgate harbour and then we are quickly out sailing on the open sea. I sit behind the Skipper Richard, at the helm, keeping out of the way; when he asks me quietly if I would like to take the ship’s wheel. So I am steering the ship along the coast, a bit wobbly at first as I begin to tune in to the wind, the tides and the instructions. It is quite physically demanding, and requires immense focus. But so exhilarating too! We hug the coast at first, past Botany Bay and a wonderful view of Margate. And then we sail further out as we move towards the mouth of the Thames Estuary. We are going into a head wind so the tides will be very important to aid our progress. There is a lot of tacking as we move back and forward against the headwind.

We pass Thanet Earth, a large industrial agriculture and plant factory on the Isle of Thanet. It is the largest greenhouse complex in the UK, covering 90 hectares, or 220 acres (0.89 km2) of land. It produces approximately 400 million tomatoes, 24 million peppers and 30 million cucumbers a year. Tomatoes are harvested every day of the week, 52 weeks a year. Hot-housed tomatoes? That’s tomatoes at 4.6Kg carbon per kilo!

But I digress. We pass a wind farm. It has an eerie beauty in the slow winds of the Thames estuary. I hear a lot of discussions taking place about winds and tides. It looks like the tide will not be in our favour until the next morning. So we decide to anchor just outside the bright lights of Southend-on-Sea. I am out like a light.

Wednesday 18th August

  • Porridge, apple, cinnamon, nuts and seeds – 250g
  • 2 x filter coffee with milk – 300g
  • Black chai – 22g
  • Pasta and salads – 500g
  • Pear – 10g
  • Builders tea with milk – 71g
  • Vegetable curry, rice and mango chutney – 500g

Note: The crew and Skipper and some of the passengers rise early in the morning at 2 am, hoping to catch the tide to reach St Katherine’s docks that day. I do not join them. Sleeping on blissfully in my berth, despite the clanking up on deck. When I finally emerge outside with warming porridge, we see seals on the banks of The Ovens at Lower Hope, East Tilbury. Wonderful to see wildlife on the Thames. Later on, a flock of cormorants passes overhead. We also start to feel the company of more and more container ships and aggregate dredgers heading up the Thames. The Elbsun, Allegro, Astella, Mazarine and Transfennica. We are beginning to see the supply chains that feed London. With their billowing plumes of noxious pollution, it ain’t pretty, the back room of the city.

We pass Tilbury Docks, where container ships are offloading their cargos. I am surprised to see them still belching out toxic pollution, even when docked. Is this for refrigeration? The so-called cold chain? And then we pass under the Queen Elizabeth bridge / Dartford Crossing, teaming with lorries and vans on the next stage of the fossil fuel supply chain. This is where my fellow passengers Charlie and Buckles from Haeckles get out their drone; juxtaposing the slow, smooth. emission free elegance of the Blue Mermaid with the toxic business-as-usual fossil fuel cargo option.

Tilbury Grain terminal can still accept cargo delivery from Thames sailing barges. But Richard tells me that many of the docks and wharfs along the river Thames have been converted to container shipping or turned into luxury flats.

We miss the tide and decide to temporarily anchor at Old Man’s Head in Erith, moored between a landfill site on one side of the river and a metal scrapheap on the other. A few slow moving wind turbines add to the slightly surreal quality of this no man’s land. The sun comes out and whilst the crew catches up with their sleep below deck, I stretch out and sunbathe in this unlikely holiday destination!

We continue further up the Thames, past the controversial Belvedere incinerator to an even more unlikely mooring, tied to a buoy right under the final approach flight path of City Airport. The thundering echo of the planes landing between the high rise residential buildings, located either side of the airport, is truly shocking. How can having an airport bang in the middle of a city where people live be acceptable?

That evening, Olly, one of the crew, entertains us below deck with his lute, and soulful folk songs. And then we enjoy a final communal dinner together by lamplight – curry, rice and marmalade (mango chutney). Under the atmospheric ambience of lamplight, the crew take the opportunity to spook us with some seafaring ghost stories! Tomorrow morning we will make the final leg of our journey, towed by a tug for the last 7-8 miles. Port of London regulations mean we can’t sail those last miles.

Thursday 19th August

  • Oat porridge with dried fruit, nuts and seeds – 250g
  • 2 x filter coffee with milk – 300g
  • Small piece of lemon drizzle cake – 75g
  • 2 slices of melon – 120g
  • Orzo pasta with tomato and basil – 300g
  • 4 mile journey with pedalme transporting Columbian coffee beans to an Islington restaurant – I do add additional weight. I won’t disclose how much:) – combining cycling cargo with passenger transportation. This would be an interesting calculation? – ? / free
Arriving at St Katherine’s docks, central London – photo by Joy Vick

Note: I am getting too comfortable in my berth and sleeping bag! and sleep through some of the early morning tug arrangements. But pop my head up above board, just in time to see us move through the Thames Barrier. And then we are quickly moving fast past wharfs and docks which were once the lifeblood of the city. Most of these are now offices or luxury flats. Closed to sail cargo ships. Shortsighted selling off of our riverside assets IMO: Often now used as empty property gold bricks for investment purposes, for the global wealthy. Luckily St Katherine’s docks still values sail cargo ships and we have been given a prime position in the Marina. From where we are able to chat to the interested general public about the history and future potential of sail cargo / passenger ships.

I stay on to help with offloading the cargo onto pedalme cycling logistics. Share a last lunch with some of the remaining crew. And then hop on a cycle, loaded with Columbian coffee beans, transported all the way from South America by sail cargo. These sacks of coffee are destined for a restaurant in Islington, just down the road from where I live. Sail cargo /passenger to cycling cargo /passenger journey completed.


SS Bedale Passing Gibraltar Signed SS Bedale, built 1879 by John Readhead & Co of South Shields.

During the trip, I got a chance to chat with Joy, Gareth and Vanessa of London /Kent sail cargo, who are together restoring the Raybel Thames sailing barge and organised the voyage via Raybel Charters. They have discovered a close connection between their ancestors and the sailing barges. It is almost as if the ancestors are calling upon us not to lose these invaluable and vital skills – the ability to harness the energy of wind and tide. My ancestors, the Readheads, specialised in building cargo/passenger ships of 10 to 15,000 tons deadweight. This painting shows one of their sailing ships with an engine. I wonder if they ever built sailing ships with no engines? Or even a Thames sailing barge?

The International Sail Cargo Alliance and International Windship Association are working together to create a global network of sail cargo shipping. As Capt. Jorne of Ecoclipper puts it – “Ten years ago, everybody thought it was crazy to transport goods in sailing ships. Now it is a rising trend, for companies, to watch their entire production chain for sustainability. Soon, customers will demand clean transport…”

You need to know someone who owns a boat

On the Sunday, after my return, I am at the Farmers Market, selecting from the abundant seasonal tomato selection on offer at Nigel’s Lettuces and Lovages stall. A lady interjects, saying sorry for jumping the queue. Oh don’t worry I say, I’m in a Sunday laid back mood. Time doesn’t matter. She sounds surprised and enquires how I managed to be so laid back. Oh I’ve been sailing this week. Sounds lovely she says “but you need to know someone who owns a boat”. Er, no, I reply, I just buy sail cargo from London Sail Cargo. Check it out and hop onboard.

Thank you to Richard, Hilary, Olly, Shiner, Chris, Vanessa, Louis, Megan, Buckles, Charlie and Isabela for a wonderful holiday.

Responding to Professor Kevin Anderson’s blog on ‘Allocating a carbon budget to individuals’

In his blog Allocating a carbon budget to individuals, Professor Kevin Anderson writes that he believes it would be possible to produce a carbon budget per person for people in the UK which he calls A Personal Annual Carbon Budget. But, he wonders whether such a carbon budget should be divided between: 

1) all people in the UK (from infant to adult); 2) just among adults (at what age?); 3) per UK household; or 4) is there another more appropriate division?

Kevin thinks to estimate A Personal Carbon Budget for Life would be far more complicated and require some very clear assumptions to be made; for example:

Should a 98-year-old get the same remaining carbon for life budget as a ten-year-old?
Should a 16-year-old in 2021 get the same budget as a 16-year-old in 2037?

A 1-year-old child in 2021, would have a ‘large’ remaining budget (very likely to live to 2040)
A 50-year-old adult in 2021 would have a ‘moderate’ remaining budget (likely to live to 2040)
A 98-year-old adult in 2021 would have a small remaining budget (unlikely to live to 2040)

He concludes

In my view, of the two options, a declining annual carbon budget per adult, and based on an emissions pathway that matches the UK’s fair carbon budget for 1.5-2°C (at chosen probabilities/chances of success), would make more sense than a ‘for life’.

Here is my response:

Firstly, just to clarify, I am specifically looking at a personal carbon budget for life to keep within 1.5C. For me 2C is not acceptable. 2C has been called a ‘death sentence‘ for Africa. Consequently I believe the 2040 date to reach net carbon zero is far too late. So my approach will be very different. My response implies reaching net carbon zero as quickly as possible; that we must adopt the quickest feasible path to zero

And just a reminder that 72% of global Greenhouse Gas emissions are related to household consumption. whilst the rest stem from Government and investments. Household / personal carbon budgets are a major part of the climate jigsaw.

A personal carbon budget for life is likely to include

  1. Personal and household carbon investments (eg. a heat pump, home insulation, a bicycle, device for internet use, home maintenance etc)
  2. Lifestyle carbon footprints (eg. food, heating, clothing, shopping, travel etc)

My first question to Kevin would be how would a A Personal Annual Carbon Budget capture both personal /household carbon investments and lifestyle carbon footprints?

Let’s look at the current situation

At the moment we have a free-for-all. Whoever has spare cash is blowing through our shared global carbon budget with wild abandon. And meanwhile we are not preparing the infrastructure needed to make a good life on net carbon zero. We could easily blast through our 1.5C carbon budget on mindless consumerism and still not have prepared for a net carbon zero world. Without an established Personal Carbon Budget for Life there is little incentive to use our carbon budget wisely. And prioritise de-carbonised heating, cooling and hot water investments. The status quo is not working.

Why are citizens not living within sustainable personal carbon budgets?

There has been a failure by the climate community to commit to a lifetime per person carbon budget. I covered this in my End of Year Review

It has been difficult to pin down our lifetime individual remaining carbon budget to remain below 1.5C. Partly because there is some disagreement in the scientific literature; between 16-75 tonnes depending on historic emissions, climate justice and equity considerations.

This failure to be decisive means global citizens are being kept in the dark about the personal carbon budget restraints. And therefore cannot plan appropriately.

Citizens need to be told about their personal responsibilities within personal lifetime carbon budgets, They also need help to become carbon literate, so they can navigate choices with awareness, wisdom and knowledge. We need to establish clear, effective advice, education and support; to prepare citizens for their own pathway to net carbon zero.

Should younger people receive a bigger share of the carbon budget?

If we are looking at a 2040 date to reach net carbon zero, age might be seen as more relevant. But if we are looking at 2030 net carbon zero or even earlier then age differences don’t take up quite the same importance. Its more about how citizens use their lifetime carbon budget. What is their agency?

This is how it might work:

Homeowners would be required (in law) to de-carbonise their homes. This upfront carbon investment would be taken off all homeowners Personal Carbon Budget for Life.

A deep retrofit of a house is around 10 tonnes. But much less for smaller flats. Multiple home owners might have a problem to de-carbonise their homes on the personal lifetime budget, unless they had already previously completed decarbonisation/ retrofit. They may wish to sell second homes.

If household income (and/ orsavings) falls below a certain amount then Government financial help is available to do so.

If you are a landlord it would still be the law that you have to de-carbonise your properties but I assume this comes under the capital formation budget? Council housing is decarbonised out of the Government carbon budget

Older people currently own much of the housing stock (they have more agency to decarbonise the Uk housing stock quickly). Older people tend to have more disposable cash which they could spend on much needed net zero carbon home investments. The danger is that older people could just blow their lifetime carbon budget on cruises, long haul holidays, cars and needless shopping. This is why it is imperative that homeowners must be required to retrofit their homes in law.

Younger people don’t own so much of the housing stock and tend to be less wealthy, so generally they have less agency to decarbonise homes. However young people have far more personal investment in the future. And may therefore use their lifetime carbon budgets more wisely?

To conclude

I believe all people in the UK (from infant to adult) should have the same carbon lifetime carbon budget. But the onus is on homeowners and the wealthy to use that carbon budget to de-carbonise their homes.

Communication: Clarity and simplicity versus complexity and accuracy

Climate communication is most often top down (macro); data, graphs, large unwieldy remote numbers which doesn’t resonate with a normal person’s everyday life. And more often than not in language which is completely inaccessible to most people. The layers of complexity (and bureaucracy) reminds me of this passage in Charles Dicken’s Bleak House:

‘Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, over the course of time, become so complicated, that no man alive knows what it means. The parties to it understand it least; but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises. Innumerable children have been born into the cause; innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable old people have died out of it.’

This is why I came up with this number crunch, to put it into a human sized perspective. And communicate clearly and decisively.

Scientists may feel that they need to come up with the perfect individual lifetime carbon budget (with lots of caveats) but this will not help communicate clearly with the public and politicians. Better to settle on an average number and then find the best way to communicate to a broad audience.

Most people aren’t thinking from a personal carbon budget approach right now. This needs to change. Politicians haven’t even told voters there is such a thing as a remaining lifetime carbon budget. Citizens have the right to know so they can prepare and begin to map their own pathway to net carbon zero.

 “Scientists now need to go beyond simply documenting environmental decline, and instead find the most effective ways to catalyse action,” – Prof Tom Oliver, University of Reading.

End of year review

Stepping through the portal

On September 1st 2019, I stepped through a portal into a net zero carbon world. I wanted to immerse myself in what this new dawn of civilisation might look and feel like. For a whole year, I attempted to live as closely as possible within the net carbon zero individual carbon budget of around one tonne of carbon per year. This resulting ­­blog ­is my ‘rough guide’ to living the net carbon ze­­­ro lifestyle, so we can keep below the threshold of 1.5 degree global warming.

Although completely unintended, this was also the story of my life during one of the most unusual years in modern times, told through the lens of my everyday carbon consumption (recorded in a daily journal). This included being arrested alongside three priests at the Extinction Rebellion October Rebellion. Witnessing a climate and ecological emergency unfolding before our eyes, as Australia burned. Living through the chaos of an unprecedented global pandemic, rapidly spread by the aviation industry. Adjusting to the postponement of the London Mayoral election, in which I was standing as an Independent London Mayoral candidate. Breathing the cleanest air I have ever experienced in London. And the silencing of motor traffic and aviation noise pollution so we could finally hear the full beauty of London birdsong. And sadly the death of my adopted father from covid related heart damage. I did not record every detail of my life, that is for other diarists to do. But I hope through my consumption and the accompanying notes, the story is told.

I always made it clear that I am not a scientist. And this project was never set up to be an exact science. It is called a rapid imperfect prototype for a reason! For instance for simplicity and clarity versus accuracy and complexity, I used one tonne of carbon per person per year as a simple, clear way of understanding net carbon zero (which scientifically is nearer to 0.7 metric tonnes). However I tried to keep the project as fact based as I could within the available information.

Lifestyle carbon footprint is defined as the Green House Gas emissions directly emitted and indirectly induced from household consumption (excluding those induced by government consumption and capital formation). This does not mean that Government and Capital Formation budgets are not also incredibly important. But these are the areas that often receive the most attention. During the project, I was surprised to find out that 72% of global Greenhouse Gas emissions are related to household consumption. whilst the rest stem from Government and investments. In the UK,  75% of Greenhouse Gas Emissions are related to household consumption. In Finland it is 66%. Addressing household emissions is an essential and often forgotten part of the pathway to true net carbon zero.  

True net carbon zero

At first I found it a bit difficult to get my head around what net carbon zero really is? It is a strange terminology for the layperson. But this is my way of explaining it: True net carbon zero describes a lifestyle which does not produce carbon beyond which Earth’s natural systems can sequester. In simpler terms this means that natural ecosystems like peatlands or biodiverse natural forests have the ability to absorb small quantities of carbon. The types of ecosystems that do this are as complex and diverse as the landscapes on the planet. There is also evidence that re-wilding increases this carbon sequestration. And that improving the biodiversity and health of soils and ecosystems where food is produced also improves carbon removal. Putting in a mono-culture of trees (offsets) or industrially produced vegan food will not produce this effect.

So there are two sides to the true net carbon zero equation: What carbon we (humans) emit when we consume food, transport, shopping, heating etc and what carbon can be absorbed (carbon dioxide by natural ecosystems). This is where we discover that the pivot is finely tuned; how do we hit the sweet spot to live in balance within our planet?

It may seem like an obvious point; but the more Earth’s natural eco systems are destroyed, the less carbon can be removed from the atmosphere. The less carbon can be removed from the atmosphere, the more our true net carbon zero budgets are reduced meaning our personal carbon budgets are reduced. In real terms this means we have less ability to create a more comfortable net zero lifestyle with more choices and room for manoeuvre.

Often scientists, politicians, economists, corporations and the media use ‘net carbon zero’ to smokescreen some other very fanciful ideas about man-made carbon capture technologies and carbon offsets. Relying on the never-never of negative emission technologies and offsets to get us out of a very deep hole is an extremely risky societal decision. Currently they don’t exist at any useful scale and the actual availability, feasibility, effectiveness and costs of these technologies and offsets are unproven. As this Simpsonized image illustrates, carbon capture is used as an excuse to carry on flying, driving and burning fossil fuels.

True net carbon means living within the limits of natural eco systems. We must value nature’s gift

A Climate Emergency is Unfolding ­Before Our Eyes

During the project, I recorded some of the extreme climate related events in my daily journal. The Australian wildfires last winter were particularly disturbing. But quite frankly there were too many to mention. Not only wildfires; flooding, storms, extreme heat events, sea ice met and sea level rise were unfolding in real time; but tipping points, thresholds, cascades, feedbacks within complex systems were also surprising us. This headline took my breath away:

Global warming could exceed the key threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2024 – far sooner than scientists had predicted a major United Nations (UN) update on climate change indicators said on Wednesday (Sept 9 2020).

The ticking Carbon Clock in Times Square in New York shows us how we are squandering our 1.5C carbon budget on a second by second basis. We are currently running down the climate budget for greed and pointless car journeys. flights to nowhere, buying stuff we don’t really need

At our current emission rates, we will hit 1.5C in just over seven years Alarmingly we are currently on track to 3C. 2C has been called a ‘death sentence for Africa’.

Lifestyle Carbon Budgets

Individual lifestyle carbon budgets have been more or less ignored by the mainstream climate community. The well worn mantra is ‘system change not individual change’. If you point out the obvious truth that we need to do both it does seem to penetrate somewhat. But I do wonder how so many intelligent people got caught in this false dichotomy? A few notable Climate Scientists like Professor Kevin Anderson and Peter Kalmus demonstrably connect their own lifestyles to climate leadership. But my impression is that most Climate Scientists feel more comfortable speaking in top down (macro) terms than breaking down the carbon budgets into manageable, accessible bite sized personal targets, which are easily understood by the public. They prefer to hide behind graphs and data. And use inaccessible and frankly rather bizarre terminology. Perhaps this is a coping mechanism?

The most common question asked of climate scientists by the public is ‘What can I do?’ But this is often dismissed as unimportant. One Climate Scientist came back with the answer: ‘Darn your socks?’ Not a very helpful answer in the face of an existential crisis. So unfortunately global citizens remain largely in the dark about their carbon budgets.

In February 2019 I stumbled on this new 1.5C Lifestyles report posted on twitter. It started me off on this journey because it specifically focuses on ‘targets and options for reducing lifestyle carbon footprints’: I believe this is an essential part of the jigsaw. And something that all global citizens must be aware of. The report states ‘If the world is to keep climate change at manageable levels before the middle of the century, changes in lifestyles are not only inevitable, but would need to be radical, and start immediately.’

Two important questions I kept coming back to whilst on the project

What is the remaining lifetime individual per person carbon budget? And what is the most appropriate date for reducing lifestyle carbon footprints to reach net carbon zero?

Target dates to keep below 1.5C vary considerably. The starkest chasm is the twenty five year divide between Extinction Rebellion net carbon zero target date of 2025 and the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) target date of 2050. Why is there such a vast discrepancy? One obvious reason is that ‘leaders are happy to set targets for decades ahead but flinch when immediate action is required’. Steve Westlake @steviedubyu puts it slightly differently ‘An attachment to luxury, political expediency, a yearning for consensus, a deferral to power, deference to elitism’

Greta Thunberg has also highlighted the ‘creative carbon accounting’ that keeps carbon off the books, thus enabling far off net carbon zero targets. The UK is particulary ‘efficient’ at outsourcing emissions to other countries by getting them to produce what we ultimately consume, meaning our carbon reductions look far rosier than they really are. We are big consumers of imported consumables from places like China. But those emissions go on China’s books not ours. We also do not include aviation and shipping.

Then there are the fantasy carbon offsets (out of sight and hard to track). Imaginary carbon capture technologies which don’t exist at any useful scale. This all works to keep business-as-usual lifestyles stretched out for as long as possible by stealing carbon budgets from children, future generations and the global South. It really is as bad as fairytales get.

The Extinction Rebellion 2025 target date mobilises at speed and scale. This level of ambition is the very least we can do. Not the lowest common denominator agreements of the failed COP (United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties) but the very highest in human endeavour to stop the destruction of our planet and our fellow inhabitants.

It has been difficult to pin down our lifetime individual remaining carbon budget to remain below 1.5C. Partly because there is some disagreement in the scientific literature; between 16-75 tonnes depending on historic emissions, climate justice and equity considerations.

The average quality of the 16-75 tonnes is 30 tonnes. Lloyd Alter of treehugger.com fact checked the 30 tonnes and did the maths: 30 tonnes individual lifetime carbon budget left for a 66% chance of staying under 1.5C

So here is the number crunch I keep coming back to

“We need to reduce emissions as much as possible, as fast as possible, starting immediately. Everything else is noise.” -Jonathan Koomey @jgkoomey

I have found that permanently stopping air travel, not driving cars, cutting home energy use, food waste and shopping does not have to lead to any reduction in quality of life. Living the net carbon zero lifestyle is about mindfully minimising consumption within healthy planetary boundaries. Indigenous people often have this wisdom as part of their culture. It is an essential part of their survival instinct. But we have grown so far apart from this innate wisdom that reconnecting with it requires a lot of maths, number crunching and abstract calculations. I tried to avoid too much mind numbing (and mind narrowing) data and graphs. But we need just enough to get things into perspective. To understand what fits? And then once again hopefully we can reconnect with our innate survival instinct. Because the mother of all climate storms is coming faster than expected… 

Everyone needs a handbook

My project was bookended by two books by Mike Berners-Lee. The first book ‘How Bad are Bananas? The carbon footprint of Everything’ published in 2010 was my main source of information for the project. Yes it was a bit out of date but it was the best available information to hand. The second updated, expanded version was published a few days after my project finished. It completely overrides some of my guesstimated carbon values. Yes I got some of the stuff very wrong! I underestimated and over estimated. My favourite parmesan cheese is the most carbon intensive cheese available (luckily there are less carbon intensive options) ; an egg has risen from 300g to 340g (deforestation in the Amazon to grow soya then shipped over to feed UK chickens) Not good. Zoom is better than I thought. UK intercity trains per mile carbon footprint has now halved from 160g per mile to 80g per mile; but still a long way to go to become a net zero carbon choice for longer trips. Someone could write a PhD on all the differences in carbon footprints over the decade. But it is not going to be me!

Despite low energy bulbs, more renewables, lower emission vehicles and ‘efficient’ gas boilers, Mike Berners-Lee reports that our UK average carbon footprint has only dropped from 15 tonnes CO2e per year to 13 tonnes CO2e between 2010 and 2020. This clearly shows we need carbon literacy to go mainstream ASAP.

 ‘If we’re serious about really addressing climate change, we need to become energy and carbon literate, and get to grips with the implications not only of our choices but also the bigger infrastructures which underpin the things we consume.’ – Mike Berners-Lee

The Seasons

One of the reasons i wanted to complete a whole year living on net carbon zero was to assess how the seasons affected my lifestyle. It turns out that living with little gas heating (too carbon intensive for net carbon zero) was not great! Not a complete surprise but living through it made me prioritise decarbonised heating bigtime. I also needed a far broader and nutritious diet in the winter. Vegan didn’t cut it; although I was still eating a largely locally produced, organic, seasonal and plant based.

In Summer I really needed a holiday; to get out of the city. Train was still too carbon intensive for longer trips, it needs to come down to 22g per mile rather than 80g CO2e per mile currently. A 90 seater completely full, electric buses look like a good low carbon alternative at 6g per mile. A sail passenger ship is very appealing for a more adventurous holiday. If we created the right safe cycling infrastructure and accessible car-free destinations, I would be very happy to go camping with an electric assist cycle.

Carbon freebies

Quite early on in the project, I identified things I could do which wouldn’t emit any carbon. I called them carbon freebies. I made many of these carbon freebies central to my lifestyle. This is just a brief list of some of the low carbon and carbon freebies that might be available to us on net carbon zero, if we make more space and time for them in our local communities. And accessible by cycle and walking

  • Walking 0g per mile
  • Cycling 3g per mile
  • Growing your own food
  • Gardening
  • Buying seasonal locally produced food
  • Cooking from fresh
  • Idling
  • Foraging
  • Pre-used 2nd hand vintage
  • Upcycling
  • Swapping
  • Sharing
  • Socialising
  • Meditation
  • Enjoying nature
  • Repairing
  • Restoring
  • Repurposing
  • Resourcefulness
  • Writing and reciting poetry
  • Making acoustic music
  • Dancing
  • Yoga
  • Imagination
  • Local Sport

Inequality and agency

“There is nothing inevitable about over-consumption… we can resist the expectation to consume.” – Stuart Capstick @StuartBCapstick

The richest global 10 percent account for over half (52 percent) of the emissions. The richest one percent were responsible for 15 percent of emissions.

You only have to be earning £27,000 per year to be in top richest global 10% and £110,000 per year to be in the top 1%.

Conversely the richest top 10% are most responsible but also have the most agency to cut emissions.

Larry Edwards @RadReduction version of the Oxfam wineglass

‘Somehow, in all the campaigns to inspire climate action, the onus on well-off people to take the lead on sustainable consumption has been lost. Let’s face it: Rich people are influencers (though you don’t have to be rich to be an influencer). And those same rich or merely affluent are blowing through the world’s carbon budget — the maximum amount of cumulative emissions that can be added to the atmosphere to hit the Paris agreement’s 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming goal.’

But we are nearly all in the top 20% global wealthy in the UK. We have normalised overconsumption. That hyper-normalisation of hyper-consumption has eaten away at our core human values. And what makes us happy. This means the pathway to net carbon zero is also a cultural metamorphosis.

Rishi Sunak, the current UK Chancellor, has said our economy more than any other is based on consumption. And he wants the wealthy and those who have saved money in the pandemic to go out and buy stuff to kickstart the economy. Now is the time to focus on decarbonising our homes, not encourage pointless consumerism. Leadership at this critical time in history is understanding that we need to use our remaining (and fast diminishing) carbon budget to set up the conditions to live a good life on the net carbon zero lifestyle. We cannot afford to blow our carbon budget on Keynesian ideology.

What do I as a politician prioritise?

Whilst I was living the net carbon zero lifestyle, I was also writing my manifesto for the London Mayoral election (I was and am standing as an Independent candidate. It was postponed for a year when the pandemic struck). My experience of living on the net carbon zero lifestyle has informed my policies. These policies are pretty comprehensive but still much more work to do.

Transport is a major contributor to emissions in the UK. Solving the car problem with these alternatives will be vital.

Net carbon zero shopping list

Whilst I was living on the net carbon zero lifestyle, I was also internally devising a carbon budget for my remaining lifetime carbon budget of 30 tonnes.What did I believe were the most important carbon investments for a good life on the net carbon zero lifestyle? Everyone’s lifestyle is slightly different but here is my basic outline of a shopping list (work in progress)

  • Bicycle – 0.24 tonne
  • Solar PV 4kW domestic array – 5 tonnes
  • Typical deep UK house retrofits (50-80% Energy consumption reductions) using not too bad ‘standard materials’ – 10t CO2e
  • Secondary glazing, double glazing – ?
  • Heat pump or other appropriate electric heating, cooling and hot water system – From 1 tonne
  • Induction cooker – ?
  • Induction hob – 36.13 Kg

The profit motive has failed

The profit motive has not lead to rapid decarbonisation and climate action. It has merely distracted us with gimmicks, cheat devices and gadgets often masked as ‘innovation’. These gimmicks are marketed because they are seen as ‘sexy’ by investors. Much of what passes as ‘green technology’ is really the ‘hope of the company’ presented in futuristic, sci-fi visuals to lure hedge funders and other investors to join the ‘pyramid’. We have seen companies heavily hyping and marketing driverless cars and then quietly withdrawing when it is obvious this can’t be delivered. We have witnessed cheat devices put into diesel cars to claim they are lower carbon emissions. We have installed ‘efficient’ gas boilers only to find out they are too carbon intensive for net carbon zero. The important question is not is it lower carbon but is it low enough to fit within net carbon zero lifestyle budgets? We have wasted so much time, energy, money and carbon with this profit driven approach. Putting in electrified heating and hot water may not seem ‘sexy’ to Dominic Cummings and his mates. But living with heating and hot water is non-negotiable for most people in the UK. And we can’t hit net zero carbon without electrifying our homes.

Human interactions matter

I lived half of my project year before the global pandemic, and half after the pandemic had struck. The most difficult thing over the whole year has been lockdown and social distancing. Socialising by spending half an hour in a cafe or eating together with family and friends is part of my joie de vivre. I even like chatting with people in the street; strangers or casual acquaintances. But the masks and fear of contamination have made human interaction less open and enjoyable. I have learnt that I can live a low carbon lifestyle far far more easily than I can be removed from human contact.

What’s next?

And have I continued to live on the net carbon zero lifestyle since I finished? Yes! Not perfect. But in the ballpark. In 2021 I will additionally be investing some of my lifetime carbon budget on a home retrofit to make an even more satisfying life and stop my reliance on gas heating, hot water and cooking.

I am also standing as an Independent London Mayoral candidate to advocate policy that I believe will facilitate a good life on net carbon zero, whilst walking the talk. I hope to raise the profile of lifestyle carbon footprints wherever I can. I have already done some webinars and talks online. And hope to reach an even wider audience in 2021.

I still have it in mind to create a carbon calculated cook book. I am trying out some recipes as I write. Collaborating with other people would be good. Cooking, eating and sharing food….perfect:)

And my challenge to you, dear reader? Try living on the net carbon zero lifestyle for just a day (or longer if you are even more adventurous) with Mike Berners-Lee new book ‘How Bad are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything’ as your guide. Enjoy:)

The mother of all spring cleans; getting down to the nitty gritty of living within planetary boundaries

What’s the difference between a deep spring clean when you get right into the corners (the nitty gritty) and a tick box superficial clean? Well a lot really. The superficial clean doesn’t want the hassle of finding the unexpected and happy to sweep the dust under the carpets.

The superficial clean doesn’t want to find the inconvenient or irksome. Or to get its hands dirty. It just wants the job over and done with so it can return to normal life with a somewhat cleaner conscience. Boxes ticked. Smoothed over

I know this because I am not a natural cleaner. On a day to day basis. But every now and then I just want to get stuck in, really reach the back of the cupboards or under the bed, in the darkest corners where the deepest problems lie.

So why am I rambling about Spring cleaning? Because (only today) it occurred to me that when I set out to live on net carbon zero for a year, I was doing a very deep clean. The Mother of all Spring cleans. To get down to the nitty gritty of living within planetary boundaries

September 9th 2020

Global warming could exceed the key threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2024 – far sooner than scientists had predicted, a major United Nations (UN) update on climate change indicators said on Wednesday (Sept 9)

Vindication – tragically – of Extinction Rebellion target date for net carbon zero by 2025. We are in a real time climate emergency. Even at current 1.1C degrees we are seeing irreversible or potential tipping points. At the moment the Western part of the United Stated is burning up with unprecedented wildfires.

New Edition (Updated and expanded) of Mike Berners-Lee ‘How Bad are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything’ – September 3rd 2020

This wonderful updated and expanded book has been published much sooner than I anticipated. And it is a must read. Certainly the book of the year, if not the decade. It will change many of my guesstimated calculations. But that doesn’t matter. The clarity and intelligence of the writing is a delight. Navigating many of the more controversial debates with skill and wisdom. Giving us new information on data and zoom, updated figures on public transport. Watching television is covered in far more detail and may be a shock! A pizza gets discussed in detail. An egg has unfortunately risen from 300g to 340g…..But laundry at 30C has gone down from 600g to 330g as a result of a cleaner electric grid. As long as you dry it on the line….

I have not yet read it cover to cover but every page so far is a gem.

Monday 31st August

Note: This is the last day of my journal. I will be sad to finish. But really this is just the beginning. Now to put what I have learnt into action…

I wanted to get an in depth feel for what a net carbon zero lifestyle might look like. In order to do this, I felt it was necessary to model it as part of my daily life.

Why is the real life context so important? Because the real world is an unknown. This project changed a lot of my assumptions. It proved to me that assumptions can be dangerously off the mark Especially when clichés become embedded in climate culture. Real life is a bit different.  

If an intervention is a ‘seed’ then the context is the ‘soil’. Alongside the importance of what you do (intervention) and how you do it (implementation), the context that you do it also matters. It is the interaction between these three elements that makes for success.

Of course my life is just one context. It may mirror a lot of what other people do but to gain an ever wider understanding, it would be helpful if citizens from all walks of life trialed the net carbon zero lifestyle. Just for one day. Or a week if you are feeling a bit more adventurous.

‘Practical wisdom’ comes from just getting stuck in: “No guilt, just roll up those sleeves and do all you can” says Climate Scientist and Activist Peter Kalmus.

2 x bananas – 160g

2 x green tea – 42g

Cycle 8 miles – 24g

Curried egg sandwich – 450g

Vegetable crisps – 300g

2 x local seasonal apples – 20g

Fig cake with almonds – 350g

Sage tea – 21g

Butterbean soup – 350g

2 hours TV – 180g

Time online approximately 5 hours

Data and servers – 5 x 50 = 250g

Device laptop  – 5 x ?

Fridge – 64g

Average water use – 38g

Sunday 30th August

2 x seasonal local apples – 20g

Cycle 1 mile – 3g

1 punnet of local seasonal raspberries – 150g

2 x Matcha tea – 42g

Cycling taxi pedalme 7 miles – 7 x 36g + 252g

Note: Uphill cycle! Very impressive even with electric assist.

Cappuccino (cows milk) – 350g

Vegan carribean platter and sides – 700g

1 x apple picked in my son’s allotment – 0g

1 x fig picked in my son’s allotment – 0g

Note: On a hill in North London sits a piece of paradise. These allotments are both beautiful, creative and abundant with fruit and vegetables.

Walk 6 miles – 0g

Note: A long downhill walk through some very car dominated roads. It is incredibly polluted. And my mind boggles at the carbon emitted just on one Sunday of short car trips. But only one road was dangerous to cross so more accessible than I imagined. I kept to main roads to keep it direct and not to get lost. Finally in Finsbury Park an opportunity to dance to some wonderful drumming Completely unexpected. I must dance more outside in London.

1 mile bus – 150g

Note: The last mile felt a bit too much. specially after the dancing!

Vegetable crisps – 300g

yoghurt lassi – 300g

2 hours TV – 180g

Time online approximately 5 hours

Data and servers – 5 x 50 = 250g

Device laptop  – 5 x ?

Fridge – 64g

Average water use – 38g

Saturday 29th August

Load of laundry – 600g

Note: windy day so maybe savings on carbon to be made today. Wind turbine generated energy rather than coal and gas? Dried on the line as always.

Matcha tea – 21g

2 x fried bread with 2 eggs – 750g

Cycle ride 4 miles – 12g

Feta, spinach pastry – 300g

Latte with oatmilk – 50g

Swim in lido -?

Shower 3 minutes – 90g

2 x local seasonal apples – 20g

Japanese tea – 21g

Broccoli, chilli, garlic, anchovy wholewheat pasta – 600g

Washing up with electric kettle rather than gas boiler – ?

Time online approximately 5 hours

Data and servers – 5 x 50 = 250g

Device laptop  – 5 x ?

Fridge – 64g

Average water use – 38g