The Choices We Make Are Critical

The world doesn’t need to stop building, driving, or even flying, to move to a renewable energy future.

But we do need to consider how we can do these things in a more energy-efficient way.

In fact, humanity needs to evaluate everything we do, from what we consume to how we behave.

We need to change
  • how we operate our homes and our offices,
  • what we do with our waste,
  • how we travel around and even
  • the food we eat.
We all need to make lifestyle choices.

And we need to start now.
 / ©: © Wild Wonders of Europe / Inaki Relanzon / WWF
The Energy Report 2011 - front cover
© © Wild Wonders of Europe / Inaki Relanzon / WWF

How eating differently can save energy

Geyser in Yellowstone National Park. TER / ©: © Fritz Pölking / WWF
100% renewable energy
© © Fritz Pölking / WWF
We know that a balanced diet is good for our health; in rich countries this means eating more fruit and vegetables and less fat and animal protein. And it can also play a big part in the health of our planet.

Moving to a renewable energy future, using current technologies inevitably involves growing more crops, trees, algae, etc, for energy purposes.

This will put more pressure on land and could lead to conflict, especially in countries with weak governance, unless we use the land we have far more efficiently.

Increasing productivity, reducing excess
Part of the solution lies in increasing substantially the productivity of land used for raising animals and growing fodder while also reducing the excess meat consumption in the developed world.

The amount of food we waste is one  we need to address when it comes to reducing the energy we use.

Think of the fruit and vegetables that are transported thousands of miles by ship, aeroplane and refrigerated trucks that is wasted, or the rainforest that’s been cleared to produce meat that ends up in the bin.

  • A quarter of the world’s population do not have enough food, yet over 40% of the world’s grain harvest is fed to livestock.
  • One-fifth of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions are generated by the meat industry, more than from transport.


What you can do

Eat less meat.
To improve diets in the developing world and avoid land conflict, while ensuring enough land to grow biofuels sustainably, under the scenario people in rich countries need to cut their meat consumption by at least half, while the rest of the world will eat a quarter more.

These changes would mean that world diets would become more balanced and equitable.

Eat more seasonal produce and food with low environmental impact. Seasonal produce tends to be consumed close in the region where it is produced which reduces the distance that food needs to travel (and hence saves energy and demand for biofuels).

Local is not always the best option however - fruit and vegetables grown in natural sunlight in the tropics and then transported may use less energy overall than those grown in heated greenhouses in colder climates.

We also need to consider food’s wider environmental and social impacts – food that is certified “sustainable” will help ensure good production methods while also providing essential livelihoods for people in developing countries.

  • Only buy and cook the food you need. Think ahead and plan your meals carefully. Use leftovers, and if you can’t, make sure you compost them instead of throwing them away.
  • Talk to your supermarket and other food suppliers. Ask them what they are doing to supply more sustainable food and reduce waste, and how they are helping shoppers to make more sustainable choices.
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Reduce, reuse, recycle

What could a multinational car manufacturer possibly want with your pair of worn out old jeans? Just ask Ford....

The interior of their latest Focus model is made using recycled cotton from old jeans and T-shirts. The simple innovation reduces the need for virgin cotton – saving water, fertiliser and land.

Changing the way we make products, and reducing what we waste, is an essential part of a renewable energy future. Advances in technology mean a lot of the goods we produce are made more efficiently. However, any benefits have been swamped by the massive levels of consumption in richer countries, and growing levels in the developing world. As consumers, we should all be consciously trying to buy less, recycle what we don’t need, and support products that use less energy.

  • The UK alone produces more than 434 million tons of waste every year.
  • We use one million tons of paper every day across the world.

What you can do

  • Choose products with less packaging. Huge amounts of raw materials and energy go into producing unnecessary packaging. Less packaging could reduce what you buy – and immediately throw away – by about 10%.
  • Buy recycled – and recycle! Making products from recycled materials uses less energy than when they are made from raw materials. Look out for recycled products when you’re shopping. And remember to recycle everything you can’t reuse. Check with your local council or environmental authority to find out what and where you can recycle.
  • Consume less. Do you really need to buy another one? Reuse containers, building materials and clothes; use rechargeable batteries. Repair things when they break instead of replacing them.
  • Visit topten.info This site allows you to search for the best appliances based on energy efficiency, impact on the environment, health and quality. Check it out before you buy a new item.
The Energy Report is not a prescription, it is a vision. It is there to stimulate debate...

What do you think of the findings and vision in The Energy Report?

Improving the way we travel

All over the world, people today travel more often than ever before, whether commuting between home and work or school, shopping, or going on holiday. In developing economies, people will be travelling more often in the future too.

The overall distance that people will travel is predicted to rise by half in richer nations, and to treble in the rest of the world.

But this unprecedented level of “personal mobility” will come at a huge cost. It will require a big increase in energy use.

  • In Europe, mobility is the fastest-growing source of energy use – it’s the only area where carbon emissions are consistently growing in most countries.
  • The average commuter now spends 29 working days each year travelling to work – over a working life that could add up to more than five years of travel.

What you can do

  • Work from home.
    Thanks to a wide range of communications technology, working from home is easy in many types of jobs. It saves on travel costs and can do wonders for employees’ work-life balance.
  • Think about how you travel.
    If you’re travelling a short distance, consider walking or cycling. If you’re going to work or an event with other people, arrange to go in one car. And if you’re going on holiday, why not take the train instead of flying?
  • Use public transport.
    Taking the bus instead of your car on a local journey will help reduce emissions, congestion and energy use.
  • If you need a car, make it an energy-efficient model.
    Smaller cars with smaller engines are usually more energy efficient than larger models – you’ll also save money on many fronts. Choose an electric or hybrid car if you can.

 

 / ©: WWF
The Challenges Ahead. Energy Report 2011.
© WWF

Taking to the skies

Air travel is on the increase the world over. In developing countries, it’s expected to triple by 2050.
While cars and trains can be electrified, we don’t yet have the technology to fly electric jets – they have to run on liquid fuels. That means the more we fly, the more biofuels we’ll need to grow.

We need to change our attitudes to flying – for both personal and business reasons. Doing so would reduce the need for biofuels in the future; it will also substantially reduce carbon emissions today.
  • Aviation has the fastest-growing carbon emissions of any industry sector.
  • Growth in international tourism is also expected to triple in next 20 years, according to World Tourism Organisation forecasts.

What you can do

  • Holiday at home.
    Explore your own country by coach or train, rather than taking long- or short- haul flights.
  • Use video conferencing.
    As well as saving money and energy, audio and video-conferencing meetings can be far more productive. They also improve work-life balance for staff, who’ll spend less time travelling away from home.
  • Swap planes for the train.
    Rail travel offers a less energy-intensive – and more relaxing – alternative to flying "shorter distances"


Energy innovation

We can meet the world’s energy needs in 2050 using technologies that already exist – while further innovations will make the task considerably easier.

But we need to step up support for the inventors, engineers and entrepreneurs who’ll develop them.

Over the next decade, we need to double global investment in research and development into energy efficiency and renewable energy.
When you travel to your holiday destination by plane you are contributing to significant emissions ... / ©: Ron Layters / Flickr.com
When you travel to your holiday destination by plane you are contributing to significant emissions of climate change causing carbon dioxide. CC
© Ron Layters / Flickr.com

5 areas that will make a crucial difference:

1. Electric transport
The future of motoring is electric – all cars and vans will need to run on renewable electricity by 2050. High-speed electric trains will increasingly replace air travel.

2. Smart grids
“Smart” electricity grids carry data on energy usage, meaning they can manage supply and demand. They can also accommodate a much larger proportion of electricity from variable and small-scale renewable sources.

3. Storage
From batteries to flywheels to compressed air, better ways to store electricity will help us make the most out of variable power sources like wind and solar.

4. Hydrogen
The ultimate renewable fuel: the raw material is water, and water vapour is the only emission. It’s easy to produce hydrogen, but storing and transporting it remains a major challenge.

5. Biofuels from algae
Algae can be grown in vats of saltwater or wastewater on land not suitable for agriculture, so it doesn’t compete with food crops, other water uses or nature.

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