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:)

Climate Accelerators

The world is “on the highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator”,

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres

I first came across the concept of accelerationism in The Coming Storm, the BBC radio podcast by Gabriel Gatehouse and Lucy Proctor

In episode 8, The Sovereign Individual, Professor Douglas Rushkoff recounts a disturbing meeting with five tech billionaires. They ask him whether to build their billionaire bunkers in Alaska or New Zealand. And how to defend those bunkers. One billionaire asks if ‘shock collars’, essentially enslaving their guards, would be a good idea?

Rushkoff goes on to describe the billionaires’s futurist philosophy of accelerationism as

Push society towards cascading catastrophes because we will be braced and prepared to survive, even if everyone else isn’t

‘Sovereign Individuals’ who can afford billionaire bunkers, will be able to insulate themselves against the consequences of climate catastrophe including resource wars, extreme weather events, sea level rise and political / social unrest.

So why not let rip and speed it up?

Their Transhumanism philosophy / religion /narrative casts them as the tech barons who are on a trajectory to a higher level of being. Reminiscent of ‘geeks will inherit the earth’ except this isn’t a joke.

The futurist vision is of a new intelligent species, into which humanity will evolve and eventually will supplement or supersede it. Transhumanism stresses the evolutionary perspective, including the creation of a super intelligent human species (cyborgs) by way of cognitive enhancement. Artificial intelligence, gene editing and robotics. of course this vision is only available to the chosen few. The ‘intelligent’ elite. So what happens to the 8 billion other human beings? Or other life on this planet?

The problem with seeing opportunity in transhumanism is that, just when we urgently need to face the harsh reality of the social and environmental problems that afflict us, it actually serves to undermine that effort.

Most transhumanist thinkers assume that energy will be plentiful in the coming decades. However, energy consumption at the current rate is already running faster than our ability to roll out renewables. This reality renders many of the technoscientific transhumanist proposals / ideas unviable.

The problem is that the attraction to denialism and accelerationism is not about facts, but about feelings of psycho-social security. It helps us avoid the daunting personal and political consequences of accepting that disaster is very real indeed, and that we can’t rely on others to fix it for us. This security is never absolute. With every drought, every storm, every absence of a bird that used to sing, doubt creeps in, but facing it is difficult. To do so would, for most people, mean to abandon faith in the future and in authority as they know it. This is a disorientating and scary prospect, especially when it doesn’t come with new horizon of meaning and solidarity, a practice of composing fragments.

Natural carbon balance

From an eco-social perspective, the challenge posed by the century of the Great Test is none other than positioning our social and ecological systems and consumption within the limits of the planet. In order to do so, reducing the burden on the biosphere is vital. At this crucial juncture, two paths stretch ahead of us, representing two irreconcilable options. On the one hand, the proposal to escape from human limitations via Transhumanist fantasies and, on the other hand, the acceptance of those limitations and the modifications that they entail.

How are billionaires pushing through accelerating cascading catastrophes?

  • Owning the media and controlling the narrative. Distracting with the superficial and noise: Polarising with endless discussions of ‘culture wars’. Example Elon Musk buying twitter Media barons owning journalism
  • Micro targeting global citizens on social media to sell them stuff they don’t need, undermine their self-esteem or push propaganda to override democracy. Example QAnon Brexit Fast fashion Aviation industry Car industry Cruises, space travel, pushing self-harm content Gendered and racist algorithms
  • Fund universities,, academia, politics, think tanks, charities etc Example Elon Musk funding of Transhumanist agenda at Oxford and Cambridge University.
  • Push energy intensive ‘innovation’ and hyper consumption Example Cryptocurrencies self-driving SUVs Artificial Intelligence / machine learning
  • Venture capitalism creating Ponzi / Pyramid schemes labelled as ‘innovation’ which is really a sci-fi fantasy masquerading as something useful

What part do Universities play?

Elite global Universities aspire to attract the most intelligent students. Essentially creaming off ‘intelligence’. Not only does this mean students are flying around the world in large numbers, racking up a massive carbon footprint. But it normalises high carbon consumption at an aspirational level.

When A-level grades were announced in August 2020, it was clear that the algorithm designed to combat grade inflation had unfairly disadvantaged students who went to state schools in comparison with those who were privately educated. While there was considerable public outcry, few people made the connection between this and the history of eugenics in this country. 

The legacies of eugenics in education are most obvious in the way we continually assess our children. These methods are often based on standardised measures that result in the labelling, ranking and grouping of children. 

They often ignore factors like emotional intelligence, the cultural or socioeconomic backgrounds of the children, or whether a child is an early or late developer or is neurodiverse. This is even before race and gender are considered. All of this has a long history.

This skeletal rendition of “intelligence,” crucially, entitles and empowers Very Smart People to revolutionize society according to their own needs and whims, whether political, social, economic, or even emotional. Lost in this neatly reductive understanding is the degree to which this “intelligence” is not nearly as scientifically valid—nor as essential to the survival of humanity—as its proponents would like us to believe.

Intelligence comes in many forms. However for Eugenics intelligence is narrowed down to reductive tests like IQ

Nothing was more important for eugenicists than intelligence. A means to measure intelligence and identify feeble-mindedness was central to the policies that eugenics promoted. ‘Eugenic intelligence’ explains the definition and classification of feeble-mindedness that resulted in the segregation and incarceration of thousands of people. It outlines the origins of intelligence testing with French psychologists Alfred Binet and Théodore Simon in 1905 and the mass application of intelligence testing that informed the social policies of the early twentieth century. It also explores the belief that feeble-mindedness was the actual cause of undesirable social behaviors; explains the links between race and intelligence; and discusses the critics who rejected the principles behind intelligence testing and disavowed a purely hereditary understanding of intelligence.

The alternative vision for universities

At a time of climate crisis are we intelligent enough to recognise the full range of human intelligence? From emotional intelligence; triarchic intelligence; linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, interpersonal, and intrapersonal intelligence. All these ideas bring us closer to a more holistic understanding of intelligence but we still haven’t fully grappled with indigenous wisdom, of neuro diverse intelligence available to us. And just different ways of perceiving and engaging with the world. And to harness this in a collective intelligence? Can we debunk in time the snobbery or frankly eugenicist approach to intelligence that is causing the human species to stagnate. And leading us down a dead end. Can we accelerate this collective intelligence? I believe we can with a new model of Universities joining up with their local communities to harness practical, embodied intelligence via role play. I set this out in my previous blog Role-play in a climate emergency

Collective intelligence

Systemic physiology is showing that intelligence involves the entire body. Work on embodied cognition has shown that memory, language comprehension, problem-solving and decision-making all depend on the quality of the relationship that mind and body have. (The philosophical chestnut about imagining a person as a ‘brain in a vat’, shorn of guts and muscles and connected only to eyes and finger-tips, simply doesn’t hold water.) And renewed interest in the real, intricate, creative intelligence of musicians, athletes and artisans has blown a hole in the idea that ‘true intelligence’ is to be found only in the conscious, rational world of the intellect.

As the body and the mind come together, rational, analytical thinking is being repositioned not as the absolute epitome of intelligence but as one (albeit very useful) tool in the box. Work on the cognitive unconscious (Kihlstrom, 1987) or the adaptive unconscious (Wilson, 2002) has enabled us to see that there are ‘many ways of knowing’ which include intuitions, physical feelings and sensations, emotions and images, as well as conscious knowledge and reason, and each has both its place and its fallibilities. In creative thinking especially, the intelligent mind needs to be able to ‘play with a full deck’, and not be hamstrung by a conditioned disdain for anything that is not immediately clear and propositional.

Practical intelligence

The goal of real-world intelligence is to coordinate actions that are effective and appropriate to both the concerns and the opportunities of the moment. Getting things done that matter: that’s what matters. From an embodied and an evolutionary perspective, knowing, understanding and thinking are means to that end, not ends in themselves. The pervasive western dualism that separates a rational and abstract mind from a fallible body, and bestows the honorific ‘intelligent’ only on the former, seems, from the embodied perspective, to put the cart (or possibly Descartes) before the horse. The body has functional primacy, even in the most intellectual of contexts.

Guy Claxton is Visiting Professor of Education at King’s College London Department of Education. His book Intelligence in the Flesh: Why Your Mind Needs Your Body Much More Than It Thinks is published by Yale University Press

Role-play in a climate emergency

Role-playing or roleplaying is the changing of one’s behaviour to assume a role, either unconsciously to fill a social role, or consciously to act out an adopted role. While the Oxford English Dictionary offers a definition of role-playing as “the changing of one’s behaviour to fulfill a social role


Children naturally play and act out things as part of learning but also to amuse and entertain. To have fun. Adults also have fun role-playing in all sorts of ways. It can be between partners and amongst friends or in larger affinity groups. Sometimes it is at an even bigger societal level. I was lucky enough to attend the first car-free day in Paris in 2015, leading up to COP25.

A space was opened up in the heart of Paris by Mayor Anne Hidalgo for Parisians to re-imagine their city. For citizens to play. You could see the wonder of people as they walked and cycled down the Champs-Élysées held yoga group sessions and enjoyed picnics. This avenue would normally be dedicated space for eight lanes of roaring fossil fuel cars, ripping right through the centre of the city.

It was a top down and bottom up collaboration. This was role-play for a climate emergency; I wonder if this set the scene for the more meaningful Paris Agreement?

Role-playing can have a very serious edge, For instance preparing for military operations (war games) But given the extreme national security risks of the climate and ecological emergency, I am surprised how little we make use of roleplay. In essence my One Tonne of Carbon per Year project / blog is a kind of role play. A rapid imperfect prototype for a wider, expanded game.

As an offshoot of this Paris car-free day there are now multiple new creative initiatives on the streets of Paris. Do you want to feel less lonely in the city and get to know your neighbours? Lets bring out chairs and tables onto the street and have lunch together. Parisians are re- discovering their joie de vivre by re-claiming their city public space.

I am a big fan of grass roots role play (facilitated, only if necessary, by Government and other organisations); this is drawing on our collective intelligence.and the ability to play. Opening up the imagination to what might be possible, on the ground. Expanding our understanding and dispelling assumptions or lazy, remote top down thinking This is the mosaic effect. But it doesn’t have to be data led or data rich (which can be reductive). It can be about being in the moment and sharing, telling stories visually and in text.


Very recently (October 2022) I relocated to Oxford. My overriding reason to relocate was to be near my granddaughter and enjoy quality playtime. Yes I am a big kid at heart! And whilst I totally understand the life and death stakes of the climate crisis, I don’t want to become a world weary adult who can’t rise to the challenge with creativity and play. Because it really doesn’t make me an effective campaigner. And also being mostly online is not making the most of my other skills.

I’m such a. newbie to Oxford so I’m still observing.. I have the perspective of the outsider. Which to be fair has some value. But I make mistakes; like underestimating what a flood plain really feels like! Wading amongst the flocks of geese in soggy walking boots. But it feels like an adventure. in an Alice in Wonderland / Philip Pullman landscape. And keeps me on my toes (literally) Big feet have some advantages….

Ask and you will receive

Kids are pretty good at asking for what they want. And initiating play. The social barriers for adults can be more tricky. But if you don’t ask you don’t get. And we have become too good at only asking for what we think we can get away with. I am choosing to ask for what I want with love, honesty and integrity

  1. An Oxford University department dedicated to experimenting and researching (through role play) how we as a community, households and individuals can live the net carbon zero personal lifestyle carbon budget of around one tonne per year. A model of integrity, genuine research and community engagement that other Universities across the world can adopt in their own way to suit their particular communities. Not just addressing the low hanging fruit but asking / facing up to and discussing the more difficult or challenging questions raised by living the net carbon zero lifestyle

2. A public information handbook for every citizen based on Mike Berners-Lee ‘How Bad are Bananas? A Carbon footprint of Everything’ so we can help carbon literacy go mainstream

Note: We cannot leave this to tech giants like Google who are already changing their algorithms-to misinform about the carbon emissions of flights

3. A trusted wikipedia style dictionary of carbon emissions of goods, services, transport options etc to inform global citizens, businesses, Government and other organisations. Updated and scrutinised by experts so to give the best information available. International like wikipedia so appropriate to different regions / countries

A radical transformation of society is unquestionable for all those who love their children, grandchildren, care about humanity and the beautiful multiplicity of life on this planet. The stakes are very high but the rewards are absolutely priceless

Climate taboos – stuff people find very difficult to discuss

That the COPs have consistently failed over a 30 year period

Greta called out the COP in a recent interview as a greenwashing ‘scam’ Why on earth do we continue with this charade?

Not only have the COPs failed but their reports have consistently lied to us (global citizens) about how serious the climate crisis is. We had an unprecedented and unpredicted 40C in London this Summer. 40C, as Just Stop Oil say, is only the beginning. Do they really believe we haven’t noticed?

Why do global citizens, climate scientists and the climate community continue to engage with it? COP is a scam. And it is insanity to keep doing the same thing over 30 years and expect a different result.

COP is also clearly not ‘all we have’. I’m seriously fed up with those who keep funnelling us down this dead end. We can make international treaties with countries who get it. We must get out of the COP tunnel vision and expand our options.

Lifestyle carbon budgets

What does net carbon zero really means for us as individuals? – living on around one tonne carbon per year. Probably one of the most taboo subjects, even amongst ‘green’ or environmentally aware global citizens.

Refusing to engage with lifestyle net carbon zero carbon budgets until the elusive ‘system change’, whatever ‘system change’ actually means? It seems a catch all phrase to kick the climate hot potato into the long grass. If you want to use the terminology ‘system change’ then please qualify what you mean. For instance is it car-free cities towns and villages? Is it free public transport? Is it mobilising to decarbonise every home? Please don’t use a catch all cliche; a meaningless phrase. Be specific.

Lifestyle net carbon zero is such a critical, massive subject..,.and yet it is so difficult to discuss it with anyone! It covers every aspect of life. It needs human-based experimentation and research at scale. I have suggested a whole Oxford University department devoted to net carbon zero lifestyles:, involving the whole community in Oxford. This is the kind of attention this subject needs,….and at Universities in every global country or region.

The IPCC report WG3 published in Spring 2022 finally included these lifestyle emissions, after over 30 years of omitting it! Anyone who is not asking why they have omitted these household / personal consumption greenhouse gases (GHG) for so long is perpetuating this climate taboo.

Upfront carbon emissions

Often known as embodied energy or sometimes upfront embodied carbon

This has long been hidden in lifecycle emissions. Avoiding acknowledging the massive upfront carbon footprint of new cars, new buildings and homes. And many other goods like furniture, electrical appliances, computers etc

This is a critical issue in a climate emergency., when we we are perilously near tipping points.. Upfront carbon emissions in the production of unnecessary new stuff could quickly push us over the edge. We must be scrutinising what is absolutely necessary to achieve personal sufficiency and public shared ‘luxury’ .

Binocular vision

Self-deception is one of the most debilitating aspects of the climate and ecological crises. We are all party to it. And intelligence can be used as a way of rationalising the most absurd narratives currently doing the rounds.

One of the most pernicious has been system change not individual change. Who says we need to choose?

Another is that net carbon zero must be a far distant ambition 2060? 2050? When we can all see with our own eyes and feel with our other senses that the unfolding climate crisis is now not in some distant future.

Facing up to the truth is hard. it costs us emotionally. it can upturn long held dreams. It challenges the way we identify. Taking responsibility for what we have done or not done requires courage. There is a process of truth and reconciliation which includes regret, self forgiveness and-self compassion.

Getting to the root of the problem means getting close up and personal. Not distant. Reflecting on our own carbon footprint at the granular level and the lifestyle choices we make is an important part of this journey. And then we can start to understand what might be the alternatives.

And whilst compassion and self-compassion are important parts of the process, we also need to see it from the victim’s point of view too. Because whilst there is no doubt we are and will all be affected by climate change; we are not equally. affected This is where we need to adopt a binocular view; what might be called compassionate detachment – understanding the context of our personal struggles within the bigger global picture. And face up to the truth; that what we do as systems, business, as individuals and households can reverberate across the world: as extreme and devastating weather events which destroys lives and communities. Our choices have consequences.

Cost of living crisis – how to reduce dependency on energy

Putin is using energy as a weapon. Russia’s war on Ukraine is being fought on the battlefields within Ukraine but also there is a wider psychological war being fought in Europe and beyond, to break support for and isolate Ukraine. And ultimately to blackmail Europe into dropping sanctions that have been imposed on Russia. The most immediate and greatest defence against this use of energy as a weapon is to reduce demand for energy.

The escalating rise in energy prices across the world is highlighting industries and business models that are energy and carbon intensive. There is a big overlap between energy literacy and carbon literacy. It is also highlighting our own personal / household energy dependency.

As part of living on One Tonne of carbon per year, I tried every trick in the book to reduce my energy use. For financial reasons (2015-2017) I had already done 2 winters in London without any heating source, so I was already primed. My former experience without or with little heating tells me now is the time to start building and practicing resilience to colder weather, to save energy. And more generally adjusting behaviour to save money (and carbon) Yes this is a double win.

My personal tips from lived experience

1.My first tip is keep the windows open at night as the night time temperature drops at this time of year. This is to help the body acclimatise to lower temperatures. I do it for as long as possible into the autumn; I call it luxury camping! Add blanket or extra duvet if required. The aim is to build up tolerance to cooler temperatures gradually. To avoid the kneejerk temptation to switch on the gas boiler in slightly cooler temperatures, when there is a manageable way to adjust without significant loss of comfort. Close the windows when it can no longer be tolerated. The closed windows will be your first line of adding warmth.

2. As temperatures drop in Autumn you may instinctively adjust your diet to keep warmer. In Summer I mostly eat fruit for breakfast and find porridge too warming. But a bowl of porridge is as the Ready Brek advert correctly pointed out, ‘central heating for kids’. And perfect for reducing the need for external heating. I also instinctively eat more nuts! Do as the squirrels do:) Eating foods that are cooling will not help your resilience against the cold. And may explain why some households have their thermostat set at a tropical 25C for ‘comfort’. Traditional stews and soups (comfort food) will warm and help the body to adjust. 18-19C is the recommended temperature for healthy adults.

3. To ward off a sluggish circulation, I exercise as much outside as possible in Autumn and Winter. Walking, cycling, swimming, running, dancing etc A bit of aerobic exercise generates enough warmth to keep you going. And just being outside when you can will also keep your body acclimatised. The endorphins are a very welcome side effect!

4. Have a thick heritage jumper, woollen socks and beanie ready to go when the temperature drops in the evening. Acting as your second line of defence against the cold.

5. Use Libraries, cafes and pubs or any other social or community space available to share energy use.

6. Alter flow / output on your combi condensing boiler. Instructions can be found here. Different boilers have different types of settings. Mine is an ATAG and I experimented with my plumber with the output and flow settings. Reductions were significant. But you can do it yourself on your own type of boiler with help from this website.

7. I often listen to podcasts under the duvet. Or meditate. There is a lot to think about right now!

8. Turn off every bit of energy you are not using. Sounds obvious but I found I needed to become more aware of this. The fridge needs to stay on. But I don’t have a freezer which doubles the energy use of chilling food.

9. 3-4 minute showers. Baths are energy intensive. Washing up is energy intensive so minimise it. Washing machines used carefully to maximise loads.- 30C and dried on line.

10. To minimise energy use whilst cooking – use low heat settings or keep the flame low. Use a lid on your cooking pot. A pressure cooker reduces cooking times significantly. A slow cooker uses minimal energy over a longer time period. Good for stews etc. Enjoy sharing food and warmth whilst socialising with friends and family. I heat water using an electric kettle before cooking.

11. If you have spare cash, insulate, insulate. insulate. Install solar. Install heatpumps. And if you can downsize. Moving closer to your most important family or friends.

12. Finally, Russia has increased its profits on exported oil by 40%. This profit is funding its war on Ukraine. Car journeys, flights and buying plastic stuff including plastic clothing, packaging and stuff you don’t need come from Russian oil. Your are directly increasing Putin’s profit by buying oil via energy intensive transport and its refined and manufactured products. I cycled in the last oil crisis in 1973 and I still cycle. Its cheap and fun! And of course I don’t fly. One of the most energy intensive things you can do. Additionally avoid buying flowers. food and other goods that are air-freighted. These are highly energy intensive. Out of season hot-housed flowers, fruit and vegetables are also energy intensive. Eat local, seasonal produce whenever possible.

‘The extra demand that you place on the grid is met entirely through additional fossil fuels because the renewables in your country will already be running at full capacity….this is true even in the countries where all electricity comes from renewables or nuclear, because adding to demand reduces the amount of electricity that those countries are able to export, thereby increasing the fossil fuel generation in other nations’ – Mike Berners-Lee

The swimsuit

I love swimming….backstroke at speed, so that I am pumped up, fizzing with blood circulating around my body. No doubt I am flooded with endorphins….:)

And then I like to play, swimming underwater, wrapped in fluid.

Or float, looking up at the open sky. I like the expansiveness of connecting with the limitless sky. it helps me process stuff. And feel part of something much bigger.

Swimming is often described as the closest thing to flying. the feeling of weightlessness and suspension in fluid is both comforting and liberating.

But a swimming pool also teaches children and adults to swim.To become resilient. It acts as a place of recuperation from injury and illness. It helps people keep fit and look after their mental health It is a watering hole for the entire community to enjoy. And I believe a vital resource for a net carbon zero world.

Photograph by David Altheer  © david.altheer@gmail.com 

Whilst living on one tonne of carbon for a year, I recorded swims in my daily journal, but had difficulty in nailing down the carbon footprint. I still haven’t quite got to the bottom of that

In April of this year, I heard that the London Fields Lido had finally fitted a solar array on top of its large roof.

I first approached the manager Rafal about solar in the Summer of 2015. Rafal then commissioned the carbon trust to do a report. It said that solar thermal panels could heat the pool year round, And pay for itself within a few years. It seemed to be a no brainer.

Many things happened in the interim. Loose tiles in the swimming pool meant a serious a renovation project. The managing company wanted new changing rooms which could accomodate transgender and gender fluidity. Solar would have to wait. But now we can accommodate gender fluidity AND solar energy. It is not solar thermal. it doesn’t heat the pool. But does supply the electric energy required by the lido.

And there are plans to completely abandon the gas boiler (the Olympic sized 50m pool is heated throughout the year ) for renewable ground source heating in the next year.


Photograph by David Altheer  © david.altheer@gmail.com 

I haven’t bought a new swimsuit for 15 years. Back in the day, Speedo used better materials, rather than the flimsy things on sale now. My Speedo swimsuit has lasted well. But I have been swimming a lot in the new solar powered London Fields lido. It was time for me to upgrade. I tried initially to buy second hand but they are pretty floppy by the time they get discarded. Not really appropriately secure for speedy swimming.

I want to buy quality if new, so I finally settled on a heavily discounted, recycled fabric, Lisa Marie Fernandez swimsuit from farfetch.com. So I clicked, paid and ordered, blissfully unaware of the supply chain I was now activating.

When I finally got around to tracking the order, I discovered that although the swimsuit was being sold on a UK website, it was being picked up from Miami! This can mean only one thing (in the 5 days expected delivery date). My swimsuit is being sent by airplane.

The clue was probably in the name farfetch.com doh! but I think this kind of air freighted business model operates on many online fashion outlets.

The high carbon footprint of airfreighted food was something I became very aware of on my year living on one tonne. it is often used for perishable food like Kenyan french beans, Peruvian Asparagus , out of season berries.

But for a swimsuit? A swimsuit is not perishable. Bur fast fashion demands fast delivery. And here is the greenwash that farfetch uses to justify its business model:

So I didn’t return the swimsuit on a return flight to Miami. But I am chastened. I will now be buying local. With transparent supply chains .

Many thanks to David of @LovingDalston for taking the photos.

Carbon rationing – the epic struggle

‘In high-consuming countries such as the UK, the time has passed where we have the luxury of choosing between system change or lifestyle change – we now need both.’ – Lewis Akenji lead author of 1.5-Degree Lifestyles: Towards a Fair Consumption Space for All,

Prince Charles has a big problem. His forbears have accumulated and extracted wealth from the whole planet. And he has now inherited this accumulated, camel-sized carbon footprint which he has to somehow get through the eye of the carbon budget needle. He is still choosing to fly by private jet, helicopter, move about in oversized SUVs and owns massive homes, whilst in full knowledge of the climate emergency. Does he see himself as a leader or just a freerider?

His call for ‘system change’ won’t solve his particular accumulated stuff problem. A similar problem exists for all those who are part of the top 1% global wealthy. Calling for system change when you are the system merely detracts from the fact that the world’s richest 1% cause double CO2 emissions of poorest 50%.

Christ said to the rich man, “sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” and then “he (the rich man) went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

But my overriding compassion is for global citizens, who have done little to nothing to contribute to the climate crisis, and yet and even now, at 1.1 degrees celsius above pre-industrial temperatures, are being drowned, burnt alive, starved, gasping for clean water, unable to breathe, boiled alive, destroyed by hurricanes, extreme weather, from climate related disease,

It is absolutely imperative that we, who have contributed most to global warming (wealthy citizens in countries like UK, Canada, Europe, US, Australia, New Zealand etc) start reducing our carbon footprints towards the net carbon zero target of 0.7 tonnes per year as soon as possible.

Aiming for 0.7 tonnes, means you have done everything in your power to try and achieve this ambition. You have deeply engaged with your own carbon footprint and are heading in the right direction. Understanding more clearly what are the further levers of change required; you are able to communicate with other citizens with integrity and insight, from lived experience. Whether you have achieved this target or not is not the most important thing. The process is far more important

The Epic struggle

So many of our epic stories from the Hunger Games to the Pied Piper of Hamelin, have prepared us for this moment in the history of humanity.

“the Pied Piper led the children to the top of Koppelberg Hill, where he took them to a beautiful land, where he made them walk into the Weser as he did with the rats, and they all drowned”. 

Are we going to allow our children to be led by the Pied Piper off the climate edge cliff and into the sea?

“Children are increasingly on the frontlines of the climate crisis, accounting for over 80% of climate-related deaths. Yet again, the adults have failed to protect us.”

How Buckingham Palace in London looks today, and how it might look with sea levels rising from global warming.
Rewild The Royals petition with Chris Packham outside ...

Wild card has offered Prince Charles a way of rewilding his current estate. Wildlife expert Chris Packham led more than 100 children to deliver a petition to Buckingham Palace, calling on the royal family to re-wild their estates. This would be an important step. Because wealth, at this moment in human history, comes with immense responsibilty. The Royal Family owns 1.4% of land in England alone.

The Hunger Games

“it isn’t helpful, I don’t think, to do it in a way that alienates people.” – says Prince Charles

Prince Charles apparently doesn’t like the Insulate Great Britain protests. The ones where ordinary people sit in the road to try and get their voices heard. Does Prince Charles think the Insulate Great Britain protest is just about the UK? And about being popular? Leading up to COP26 this is much more about the whole interconnected world. A world audience: Because if the UK, who is hosting #COP26Glasgow can’t be bothered to insulate its own citizens, what chance do other global citizens have? So just because the gas guzzlers in the UK don’t like it, don’t think the whole world hasn’t clocked what is really going on in the UK

It is ironic that the movie the Hunger Games, closely depicts any major city in the world, where the rich affluent control the games/government and the poor/hungry can only watch from the side lines. Or sit in the road to draw attention to their plight.

The rich have control, the poor look on: Is this the ...

Are we keeping our side of the bargain? Are we mobilising at speed and scale to minimise our greenhouse emissions? By decarboinsing heating and transport and stopping flying? Are we calling for carbon rationing which give a fair share of the remaining carbon budget to all global citizens? Anyone can make a difference But Prince Charles can choose to stand with the people. As his grandfather did in WW2. Not elevate himself above them

Unfortunately Prince Charles had his own ‘let them eat cake’ moment recently saying his classic Aston Martin runs on wine and cheese. Any solution must be able to be scaled up Wine and cheese for your vintage car; how does that scale up? Biomass burning from trees felled on your vast estate; how does that scale up?

Solar on every viable rooftop, insulation, heat pumps, cycling, walking, public transport, trees, rewilding? These all can be scaled up This is what standing with the people means. This is what leadership means. Not elevating yourself above the people.

We are in an epic struggle (together) right now, to stop the most precious things; our children, our fellow creatures, our trees and natural world being sacrificed at the altar of overconsumption, power, status and greed. Where we choose to stand in this struggle will define us. We can’t avoid that.

If Prince Charles thinks he can’t make a difference, this observation may be useful;

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” – Dalai Lama

What do I mean by carbon rationing?

It is strange what humans cling to. Even knowing they are making the problem much much worse. But here is the maths (based on the Paris Agreement)

3-2-1 tonnes per person by 2030-2040-2050. Globally, citizens and society need per-person consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions targets of 2.5 (tCO2e) in 2030, 1.4 by 2040, and 0.7 by 2050 in order to keep global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees.

But remember every person who lives beyond 0.7 tonnes carbon per year, is still adding to cumulative emissions (making it worse) So any person who really gets it, will be heading straight towards the 0.7 tonnes ASAP.

The changing role of the monarchy in a climate and ecological emergency

What is the changing role of the monarchy in a climate + ecological emergency?

  • Not to display great wealth + be a draw for international tourism.
  • To stand with the people as they make this enormous transition to a net carbon zero world. This is a cultural metamorphosis for the Royal Family too


I am not a ‘radical’ but I am highly ambitious. And why would I not be ambitious for our children’s future? For our children to actually have a future. If you are unambitious, maybe it is time to wonder why?

The emissions of the wealthiest 10 percent alone could send us beyond the agreed limit in the next nine years. This would have catastrophic results for some of the most vulnerable people on Earth who are already facing deadly storms, hunger and destitution – Nafkote Dabi, Climate Policy Lead at Oxfam

Invitation to a ‘citizen’s science’ project

In 2020, inspired by my one tonne of carbon per year project, Lloyd Alter and Jean-Christophe Montreux (both living in Canada) began tracking their carbon footprints in an excel spreadsheet.

Many people are living low carbon lifestyles across the world. But tracking it, on a daily basis meant we could start demonstrating and communicating to other global citizens, what the composition of a 1 tonne, 2.5 tonne or 3 tonne lifestyle might look and feel like in different locations. What could we do with our own creative choices and what was really really difficult?

Carbon calculators are good as a first step, but the algorithms are too generalised. Once you get down to the low net carbon zero carbon lifestyle numbers, a far more nuanced and tailored approach is required. Rather than a top down algorithm, you need a bottom up approach. What will you decide to prioritise first? What are the essentials for your good life. And what does the nitty gritty of that look like in different parts of the world, or in different locations and contexts?

In the Summer of 2021, I was invited to an international zoom meeting, to discuss a potential pilot project whereby we would extend this carbon tracking idea by engaging global citizens in different parts of the world in a citizen science project, which would experiment for a month with living the 2030 1.5 degree lifestyle of 2.5 tonnes per year

There were five ‘concerned citizens’ Lloyd Alter (Canada) , Joao Wemans (Portugal) , Kate Power (Germany) , Jean-Christophe Montreux (Canada) and myself (UK) .We quickly agreed on the name 1five.org which was the number of the group and the overriding aim of the project, to keep global warming below 1.5C.

Lloyd Alter publishes his book – Living the 1.5 Degree Lifestyle


For some time now, Lloyd Alter and I have been following each other on twitter. He started writing about my one tonne project on treehugger.com right from its early inception; he wrote this article on July 2019 Get Ready for the 1.5 Degree Lifestyle

Rosalind Readhead, whose earlier manifesto for dealing with climate change was impressive, is going to try to live a one tonne lifestyle, where she tries to live a lifestyle that emits less than a tonne per year. The average Brit emits 11.7 tonnes, the average American 21.

Last Summer Lloyd and I discussed the potential for a book on the subject of living the 1.5 Degree Lifestyle. Although I had been thinking about writing a book based on my One Tonne of Carbon per year blog , Lloyd was in a far better placed to do this. He had the connections and journalistic skills to get this published quickly. He started living on the 2030 target of 2.5 tonnes in January 2020 and tracking his lifestyle carbon footprint via a spreadsheet. He also included the embodied emissions of his owned durable goods, like his extensive collection of Apple products! Going far beyond the daily journal of carbon consumption I had originally devised.

This is all documented in his new book Living the 1.5 Degree Lifestyle which was published on 14th September 2021, just before the pilot project begun. His book lays out some of the foundations of the project. Particularly on amortizing embodied durable carbon in our homes, electrical devices, cars and clothing via a spreadsheet. He really digs deep into the supply chains of carbon footprints. I found his research and explanation of the carbon footprint of the cold chain (refrigeration) in transport very illuminating. This has been omitted from many reports on the subject of the carbon footprint of food miles.

He debunks many of the mantras, clichés and myths that have taken hold within the climate debate, and scrutinises them with in depth research and analysis. Drawing on his broader journalistic work at treehugger.com, his experience as an architect and Adjunct Professor teaching sustainable design at Ryerson University School of Interior Design. He puts the idea of sufficiency front and centre of the debate on net carbon zero lifestyles. Highly recommended.

The pilot project

This graphic shows the lifestyle personal targets on which this project is based.
  • A citizen science project led by people passionate about climate mitigation and involving 15 to 30 participants in several countries.
  • Experimenting with the the 2030 target of 2.5 tonnes per year personal lifestyle carbon budget; tracking our daily carbon footprint & sharing the joys and challenges.
  • A 4-week pilot experiment to start on September 20th 2021
  • A project report will is to be released here in November 2021
  • 1five.org is hosted by Hot or Cool Institute and funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

Excel spreadsheet

There were three main formats discussed at the beginning of the project. Lloyd, Joao and Jean-Christophe were interested in an excel spreadsheet or an app. I was more interested in gathering information for a ‘handbook’ which would be accessible to everyone. But Kate wanted to gather data for a report to accompany the new 1.5C Lifestyle report, so a spreadsheet seemed the most appropriate tool.

The tool was mainly developed by Joao Wemans , Jean-Christophe Montreux and Lloyd. As the 2.5 tonne spreadsheet slowly evolved, it separated out into three main areas.

  • One time action – a cup of tea, a meal, a train journey, a mile by car
  • Routine action – water usage, electricity, gas, data, roaming data, banking, insurance, mortgage
  • Amortized durable goods – embodied carbon spread across a chosen time period. Including homes, fittings and furnishings, electrical appliances,, computing devices, cars, clothing etc

A large data base of carbon footprints was then gathered from multiple sources (which are fully referenced) and connected to the spreadsheet. The daily carbon allowance for the 2.5 tonne per year lifestyle budget is 6.849 Kg per day. Lloyd’s idea was for it to work like a fitbit. Tracking your daily carbon footprint in real time, as well as accounting for the embodied emissions in your owned goods.

One time actions
Routine action
Amortized durable goods

Inclusivity of the experiment

In the middle of September the invitations went out to people we thought would be interested in participating in a pilot. To global citizens in Portugal, Nigeria, Germany, UK, France, Canada and the US. It was explained that this was very new. Very experimental.

We had plenty of interest in the invite. This indicates IMO an appetite for engagement with personal lifestyle carbon budgets. However there were problems with people’s ability to sign the data privacy agreement digitally. And others didn’t have a printer to sign it manually. This gave us a first insight into some of the potential accessibility issues.

So some dropped out because they couldn’t share data or share stories. Unfortunately for others the intro session was overwhelming, asking too much of some citizens for whom this was extremely new. Many people don’t use excel spreadsheets. And glaze over when they see graphs and grids. I confess I am one of them!

I didn’t participate in tracking my own carbon footprint in the excel spreadsheet, partly because i have a 2nd hand acer 2007, tiny laptop computer and I would need to view the software through a magnifying glass! Even with wearing glasses. Some of you might say I should have gone to specsavers:) But I’d also be forever scrolling back and forward. This does raise the question not just of accessibility but of desirability. Do you actually want to do it? Do you want your life to be fitted into little boxes, segmented and gridded. For someone like me who values fluidity and freedom, it is not an appealing format. But I acknowledge that for others it is.

This tech based solution also requires an internet connection and appropriate devices like a laptop or desktop computer. During covid we became aware, even in the relative wealth of the UK, that many people don’t have access to an internet connection or a suitable device. Some families have nothing. And children were sharing their parent’s smartphone to do online schooling, when the schools were closed.

When we chatted with the participants from Nigeria, it became even clearer that only the top 5% wealthiest in Lagos have access to the internet online, and electricity is also very limited. Only available for 60% of the day. and even then this is not something everyone has access to. I would say that an excel spreadsheet format it is really only inclusive of the top global wealthy 20%. Or maybe even top 10%.


Amortization is paying off an amount owed over time by making planned, incremental payments of principal and interest. To amortize a loan means “to kill it off”. In the context of the project it means to pay off an upfront carbon cost by paying small regular amounts across a specified timeframe.

As I have already explained, accounting for the amortized owned durable items was going far beyond what I did in my project. It was certainly an early shock for some of the participants. who had large scale home renovations (some of it to de-carbonise their homes) or new shiny kitchens, bathrooms, owned multiple electronic devices and computer devices, lots of new shoes and clothing, new cars etc After amortizing their owned durable goods they started the pilot project month with a significantly diminished daily carbon budget.

Homes were amortized based on type, year it was built and square footage. So smaller or multi occupancy would score lower on embodied carbon. Is your home well insulated or leaky? Do you have an electrified heat pump, solar? etc

We need to facilitate decarbonisation of homes, so how we separate out unnecessary home improvements from vital decarbonisation,, which is an investment in our national housing infrastructure? And how to we amortize this? Just as a personal example, and to give context, I have invested in secondary glazing in my flat this year. So I am now Energy Performance Level C. How do I amortize this? Meanwhile I have chosen not to update my bathroom so it looks better.

I think amortizing durable goods adds immense value to our understanding and accounting for embodied carbon in personal and household carbon footprints. It starts to mop up those more difficult to spot emissions. To set up a manageable way we can manage to afford essential stuff on a tight net carbon zero lifestyle budget. In my following year I have bought some new trousers, a pair of waterproof shoes, underwear and new trainers. I have stayed in a hotel on holiday, I have bought a new swimsuit. How would I amortize (spread out) these items in a balanced way, to keep within my annual budget?

Developing a carbon instinct

Participants had trouble tracking down their energy, water or insurance bills, required by the routine actions. This was particularly an issue for those in rented accommodation. And I think even when they did track down the bills, it was not necessarily obvious to them why their bills were so high. If you don’t break it down, and gain some insight into what is adding proportionately to your energy bill, it is difficult to take an active role in cutting your energy use.

I approached this very differently in my project, starting from the bottom up, noting the carbon cost of every one off action such as washing up, showering or putting on the gas boiler for heating. In this way I became more and more carbon literate and started to have an instinct of how my energy usage impacted my daily carbon budget. I could also make trade offs between using the washing machine or having two eggs in an omelette! By building a deeper and more extensive knowledge of how my daily carbon actions were impacting on my daily carbon budget, I was becoming an active rather than just a passive participant. We all need to become carbon literate and start building a carbon instinct.

Double counting or even triple counting?

Carbon footprints (like humans) do not fit neatly into little boxes. It is far more complex and nuanced than that. Take a cup of tea. The electric kettle has an embodied durable carbon footprint. Then I will be using the electricity from the grid. And there is also the tea and maybe milk that is added. In this way, Mike Berners-Lee comes up with the carbon footprint CO2e of a cup of

  • Tea with soya milk – 47g
  • Black tea – 22g
  • Tea with cows milk – 71g

These figures for a cup of tea may seem trivial within the 2.5 tonne carbon budget. But the point I am making is not so much about the cup of tea, but about how you combine different databases with the three sections on the spreadsheet. How can you guarantee you are not double or triple accounting?

.Each database might have very different criteria or calculation method. So it would be important to scrutinise each one off action on the databases very carefully to see how this was calculated. Did your cup of tea at home already include embodied carbon or energy use or both? Are you double counting your electricity use? Or is the cup of tea you had in the restaurant inclusive of everything?

Security issues

Quite early on, I had misgivings about tracking in real time. Not only are there data privacy issues, and potential for state or corporate surveillance, but this could be lucrative for corporate data harvesting and criminals. A list of your assets whilst tracking your actions in real time seemed to have some serious ethical issues. Data harvesting is a lucrative revenue stream. The new gold. But combining your amortized assets with tracking in real time has even more serious ethical considerations.

Then something really spooked me. It was briefly mentioned in a zoom meeting that Kate Power (who applied for and negotiated the Gulbenkian funding for the project) was also talking to someone from another funder. I didn’t catch the name of the funder, so at the next available meeting, I asked for more details. It turned out this was the Cisco Foundation. Oh don’t worry says Kate, he looks like a hippy and its completely separate from Cisco.

I didn’t know that much about Cisco then, just that it was a Silicon Valley based company, but even this raised significant concerns. A quick search about the Cisco Foundation showed that they are a legally separate entity to Cisco but all their board of trustees are from Cisco. I wouldn’t call this ‘separate’ from Cisco. It doesn’t look like they could even be bothered to hide the connections:. Even more worrying is that the Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins is on the Board of Directors at Blackrock. Blackrock has major fossil fuel interests. And has been accused of lobbying via think tanks to delay climate action to protect its own interests.

Cisco Foundation board of Trustees

  • Larry Carter, Board Member Emeritus, Cisco Foundation
  • Mary de Wysocki, Senior Director, Corporate Affairs, Cisco
  • Saidah Grayson Dill, Vice President, Legal, and Deputy General Counsel, Cisco
  • Mark Dodds, Senior Vice President, Americas Global Enterprise Segment, Cisco
  • Kristina Johnson, President, The Ohio State University; Board of Directors, Cisco
  • Rob Johnson, Senior Vice President, Global Tax and Customs Administration, Cisco
  • Naveen Menon, President, Cisco Southeast Asia
  • John Morgridge, Board Chair, Cisco Foundation
  • John Rivers, Director, Services Sales, Cisco
  • Alba San Martin, Senior Director, Latin America Partner Organization, Cisco
  • Agostino Santoni, Managing Director, Cisco Italy
  • Tae Yoo, Senior Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Cisco

The Cisco Foundation in April 2021 committed $100 million over ten years to fund climate solutions. We are not currently accepting unsolicited requests for funding climate solutions. Applications are on an invitation-only basis as we launch, but will be opened for general applications starting August 2021.

I wonder who are the ‘lucky’ organisations or think tanks who have been targeted with the Cisco Foundation ‘invitations’? And why?

“Global companies are buying up think-tanks left, right and centre. Large cheques come attached to particular policy recommendations and senior corporate types sit on committees ready to ‘candle-snuff’ dangerous ideas.~

The purchase by companies of ‘particular policy recommendations’ from groups pretending to be independent think-tanks is disgraceful”. – John Blundell former Director General of Think Tank Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA)

On Cisco’s wikipedia page it says: ‘Cisco has been criticized for its involvement in censorship in the People’s Republic of China. According to author Ethan Gutmann, Cisco and other telecommunications equipment providers supplied the Chinese government with surveillance and Internet infrastructure equipment that is used to block Internet websites and track online activities in China.’ Cisco is also accused of implementing security back doors and trojan horse systems.

I had some serious concerns about the security sensitivity of an excel spreadsheet recording your daily activities in real time, but this amplified it bigtime. Why was Kate talking to the Cisco Foundation about the pilot project? Alarm bells ringing!!

Flying whilst living on 2.5 tonnes per year

I was quite surprised when one of the participants decided to fly ‘due to family reasons’ whilst trying to live on 2.5 tonnes. Actually the main problem was that the return cheap flight from Berlin to Rome was 70 Euros and the train was 260 Euros, the financial cost trumped the carbon cost. So ‘forced to choose flight over train’ she writes that the journey emitted 224kg/CO2e (with the daily target being 6.8kg).

The distance between Berlin and Rome is 941 miles. The distance between London and Glasgow is 556 miles. Mike Berners-Lee has the return flight from London to Glasgow at 368Kg. So a return flight Berlin to Rome is surely at least 368Kg or maybe much more? I wonder if the idea to calculate airplane journeys by the hour (put into the spreadsheet database without consulting me) is not taking in the full carbon footprint of a flight? Personally I trust Mike Berners-Lee expertise over an arbitrary ‘flight by hours’ aviation calculator.

Forced to choose flight over train

Flights which use fossil fuel kerosene are not taxed. And often subsidised by Governments too. So this makes the train look very expensive.

‘Not a single country prices its fuels sufficiently to reflect their full environmental costs. How is low-carbon transport ever going to compete if flights and petrol/diesel cars are always the cheapest choice?’ – Flight Free UK

But there is an alternative appearing…for 3€ per day from November 2021, you will be able to travel anywhere in the Austrian public transport system, for as far as you can, with a state-subsidised KlimaTicket. This kind of rail and bus ticket could potentially be extended right across Europe.

Public transport is one of those grey areas between the Personal, Government and Capital formation carbon budgets. I included public transport in my personal carbon budget whilst living on one tonne of carbon per year. The carbon footprint of UK trains (currently at 80g per mile) did definitely curtail my ability to visit family or friends and go on holiday to Devon. And even impacted on my campaigning. Taking the Austrian model as an example, all state or privately owned public transport could mostly shoulder the carbon emissions within their carbon budget, with a small contribution from the citizen’s individual carbon budget. This seems a good solution to maintain quality of life. And allow visits ‘ for family reasons’ by train.

I also tried out travelling by sail this Summer. This has given me the appetite to visit Europe in the not too distance future by sail. And who knows even across the Atlantic?

Flying is an expression of global privilege

The most common argument for flying in a climate emergency, is because migrants need to visit family. This argument is made frequently by the globally wealthy migrants (top 20% but mostly top 10%) within the climate movement. As was the case in this pilot; Kate Power and Jean-Christophe see themselves as migrants. However we must look at this within this context:

  • 80% of the global population has never flown
  • There are many migrants within this 80%
  • It is migrants within the top 20% global wealthy and mostly in the top 10% global wealthy (earning over £27K per year) who have the option to afford flying to visit family.
  • Some people’s lives have evolved because of accessible cheap flights. This is highly problematic.
  • Flying is an expression of global privilege –
  • There will inevitably be far more climate refugees who have been displaced by climate change. It is not sustainable for increasing amounts of migrants to visit family by air

This is graphically illustrated by this image showing the global North compared to the global South. It shows all the countries taking part in the pilot project; Canada, US, Nigeria, Portugal, UK and Germany.

The argument put forward by many people in wealthy countries to continue flying is because migrants need to visit family. Often this is put forward by those who identify as migrants. However these are globally privileged migrants. Flying is an expression of global privilege.

Many more climate migrants will be arriving in countries which were not their original home because their homeland has become inhabitable. This is inevitable even with todays levels of global warming. But this will become an ever greater number of people who have been displaced. It simply is not and cannot be sustainable or feasible to offer aviation travel to all these migrants / refugees on the 2.5 or 0.7 tonne lifestyle carbon budgets.

If you prioritise living close to the family you love, as has happened with many during the covid pandemic, then now is wise time to do this, as we move ever closer to the net carbon zero target of 2.5 tonnes and eventually 0.7 tonnes per year.

Don’t cheat!

View of one of the huge turbines off the coast of Sussex

Cheating is self-defeating or as Greta Thunberg puts it – ‘Nature doesn’t bargain’

So when it was decided (again without consulting me) that we were going to give those participants who were signed up to a renewable energy company a carbon reduction, I was not happy. So let’s listen to the wise words of Mike Berners-Lee in ‘How Bad are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything’ P. 51-52 on A Unit of Electricity.

‘The extra demand that you place on the grid is met entirely through additional fossil fuels because the renewables in your country will already be running at full capacity….this is true even in the countries where all electricity comes from renewables or nuclear, because adding to demand reduces the amount of electricity that those countries are able to export, thereby increasing the fossil fuel generation in other nations’ – Mike Berners-Lee

Different regions have varying levels of renewable energy potential. It is not a level playing field. We will need to share renewable energy across regions and borders. It is not a belief system. It is a strategic overview.

If you give people who have signed up to a renewable energy company a carbon discount on their electricity use, this is essentially offsetting. If people want to support renewables, this is a good thing. They should do it anyway. But not do it to gain carbon savings. Otherwise it is a cheat.

The main goal is to reduce electric /energy demand to meet renewables. Not give some people carbon exemptions for signing up to an energy provider. It would be like asking someone,  are you giving money to plant trees /rewild?  It is a good thing but we can’t allow it to be offset. We need to do it anyway. We need to rewild and sign up to renewable energy providers without offsetting. We simply can’t guarantee outcomes. That the trees won’t burn down or the demand for energy won’t just increase.

Mike Berners-Lee book There is no planet B is really good at explaining why some countries have much more renewable energy potential than others. Poland for instance has lower potential. Unless other countries share their renewable energy with Poland it will become stuck. So if some people hoard the renewables and don’t share, none of us will make it to net carbon zero. We are incredibly interconnected.

In some areas of Canada, like Montreal, where Jean-Christophe lives, there is a plentiful and constant supply of renewables like hydro. Of course it makes it easier to live a low carbon lifestyle (more viable) when you have a consistent supply of renewable energy for electricity. But this could make it easier to increase demand too. And less incentive to reduce demand. Meanwhile other parts of Canada or nearby East coast of the United states are burning fossil fuels to make electricity. Sharing renewable energy is vital.

And from a climate justice point of view, if you give those who can afford the more expensive renewable company, a carbon discount, you are allowing the wealthy to increase their carbon budget. It is simply not climate justice or equitable.

Non-seasonal vegan

Vegan air freighted Kenyan beans
  • There are lots of nuances within a vegan diet:
  • Local seasonal fruit + veg generally good
  • Hothoused out of season – very bad
  • Pesticides, chemical fertiliser etc – very bad
  • Imported air freighted fruit and veg very very bad.

I wasn’t happy that the non-seasonal vegan option in the spreadsheet one time actions did not account for the vast carbon footprints of things like:

  • Airfreighted grapes from South Africa – 18.5Kg CO2e per kilo (grapes transported by Spain by road 1.1Kg per kilo)
  • Asparagus airfreighted from Peru – 18.5 CO2e per kilo (in season in UK 1.1Kg CO2e per kilo)

Carbon rationing

‘In high-consuming countries such as the UK, the time has passed where we have luxury of choosing between system change or lifestyle change – we now need both.’ – Lewis Akenji lead author of 1.5-Degree Lifestyles: Towards a Fair Consumption Space for All,

Lloyd Alter has written this article on this new Study which Shows Why We Need 1.5 Degree Lifestyles and How to Get There on treehugger.com

cover of 1.5 Degree Study
The new 1.5C report introduces carbon rationing

‘Talking about lifestyle changes is a hot-potato issue to policymakers who are afraid to threaten the lifestyles of voters. This report brings a science based approach + shows that without addressing lifestyles we will not be able to address climate change’

“Unsurprisingly, sufficiency is perceived as controversial by the wealthiest consumers as it challenges their carbon-intensive lifestyles,” if the richest 10% of the population practice a bit of sufficiency, there will be enough for everyone.’

They even consider carbon rationing; everyone gets their fair share and can sell what they don’t use.

 I’d be surprised if you have much carbon to sell on 2.5 tonnes per year or 0.7 tonnes. Sounds like wishful thinking.to me. But I will be covering this more in detail shortly in a blog entitled ‘Carbon rationing – the epic struggle’

Carbon footprint wiktionary / wikipedia / dictionary

I had a dream in which I was showing Mike Berners-Lee how an A-Z carbon footprint dictionary would work along the lines of wikipedia. It was almost like a presentation of the idea in dream form! The idea had been evolving slowly in my mind for some time but the dream crystallized it visually and probably told me to wake up and get on with it!

The reason I think a wiktionary / wikipedia format would work as an accessible educational and informative carbon footprint tool are plentiful.

  • International – each country has its own version (like wikipedia)
  • A carbon footprint wiktionary would be far more nuanced than a calculator or database. Which can be misleading and not referenced in an accessible way. This is why I like about @MikeBernersLee book ‘How Bad are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything’ But I want it A-Z
  • The carbon footprint dictionary could be updated regularly like a Dictionary or the Wikipedia pages, BUT it would be overseen by experts in the field. So vested interests don’t interfere. All changes would be referenced so easy to check the research

On page 145 of Mike Berners-Lee ‘How Bad are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything’ A section on the carbon footprint of A New Car has been meddled with. I personally noticed that the figures for embodied carbon of a Range Rover in the headline didn’t gel with what I previously knew. But my friend who is an editor was more perceptive.

In the headline, the Range Rover Sport HSE is given the figure of 25 tonnes CO2e just in manufacture. However the text says ‘A Range Rover or SUV could eat up 10 years of a 5-tonne lifestyle before you even drive it’. 5 x 10 =50 tonnes

Luckily the helpful graph on p.147 confirms the that the embodied emissions of the Range Rover are indeed 49-51 tonnes. Meanwhile the Toyota Prius goes up to 23-25 tonnes in the graph from 12 tonnes, the Ford Focus Titanium goes up to 16-20 tonnes from 8 tonnes. The Citroen C1 is 8-11 tonnes up from 4 tonnes. Someone halved the embodied carbon figures for these new fossil fuel cars.

The only car to escape the ‘tweak’ is the Renault Zoe electric car at 11 tonnes in the headline and the graph.

A book, a carbon calculator, a database can seemingly all be altered. I still think a handbook is very important for all global citizens. But we will need editors who are on the ball! And a recycled paperbook (with every book sold) is only 400g. About the same carbon footprint as one egg.

The good, the bad and the ugly

The Good The Bad The Ugly - PosterSpy

The Good

I think the 1five.org pilot project has some really useful insights. And adds significantly to the debate on carbon rationing and how it might work.

  • It is really good to engage citizens in the lived experiences and challenges of living within the 2.5 tonne personal carbon budget. It is almost like a rite of passage.
  • As a carbon accounting tool, I think the excel spreadsheet has some real potential. And even as a leadership tool. But I would keep it offline. For security reasons.
  • Amortization is a really important and useful addition to accounting for your own personal carbon emissions. And shows us the way forward, accounting for the upfront embodied carbon emissions, in essential products.
  • The excel spreadsheet tool is useful for families or shared households to divide household bills or shared activities.
  • You could do a spreadsheet in a suitable accounting format on recycled paper. Not everything has to be online or done on a computer.

The Bad

  • The database needs to be scrutinized and have integrity. Adding random stuff without due consideration and in depth discussion will devalue the usefulness and validity of the data. Cross reference and ask carbon footprinting experts to confirm. Make sure you are not double or triple accounting. Keep it open to public scrutiny.
  • The Cisco Foundation should not be going anywhere near this. Anyone who is closely connected to Blackrock. This is a complete nono

The Ugly

I will not be the first or the last activist to be co-opted, manipulated and then cut out when your voice becomes an inconvenience. Most activists do what they do as a calling, something in your core, which you can’t ignore. For those who are climbing the greasy pole of status and power, using activists can seem like fair game, as a means to legitimise their project. Whilst I was working on the pilot, I tweeted this to a young activist who had been co-opted and manipulated.

So sorry to hear this. Unfortunately the co-opting of activists is an experience I am also aware of. Watering down or minimising the core integrity of your work for money / political reasons. Misappropriating or undermining your work with a superficial meaningless framing. I hope someone with real integrity and a good heart finds its way to you. I don’t give up on that. We need to make good healthy connections where we can.

It only dawned on me later, that I myself was becoming enmeshed in the murky world of think tanks and their funders. That the ‘citizen’s science’ project which I signed up for with four other global citizens, had by stealth been taken over by a think tank who was in an open conversation with corporate sponsored funders.

Strange decisions were being taken without consulting me. I had no idea where or who was taking these decisions. When I asked to be involved more in the decision making, it was not forthcoming in any meaningful way. I wanted to be actively involved in writing the pilot report. This was being restricted, because the funders wanted ‘the think tank to deliver the project’. My profile at the top of the Team webpage was becoming an exercise in window dressing. I had been disempowered. So I chose to withdraw.


When I started my One Tonne of Carbon per Year project, I did it with the intention of sharing. There is no point in me living a net carbon zero lifestyle in a solo bubble. So I welcome wider engagement. But there is also the danger that vested interests, realising the value of what you are saying and doing, then want to water it down. Or even undermine it.

The integrity of any project is important to me. Maintaining standards, ethical and scientific, are important because they underpin the reality of the challenge. Cheating is ultimately self-defeating.

So here is my contribution to the pilot ‘report’ which would most likely have been edited out:)

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.