Individuals reducing their energy consumption will do nothing to tackle climate change

Myth #1:

Using less electricity and gas at home through showering less, turning off appliances, replacing light-bulbs, and buying electricity from the “Greenpower” scheme can substantially reduce emissions.

Fact:

Household electricity consumption amounts to around 12 per cent of Australia’s total electricity use. And the amount of electricity that can be saved by changing light-bulbs and having less showers is truly negligible.

Drastic reductions in household electricity use can only be achieved through government-enforced regulations on insulation in buildings and manufacturing standards that create a new wave of fridges and heaters that are energy efficient.

But the real problem is that over 80 per cent of Australia’s electricity comes from burning coal. Changing this will take large-scale investment in renewables (currently only 1 per cent of our electricity).

Myth #2:

We can reduce our contribution to carbon emissions by buying “green” products and shopping less.

Fact:

In the shops we see a ballooning niche market in “eco-friendly” products. “Green” beers, detergents, nappies, chocolates, and even McDonalds coffee are sold in “carbon-neutral” shopping centres. But Australia’s emissions continue to rise unabated.

Consumer activism has to compete with the billion dollar advertising industry. When we’re at the shops we’re isolated individuals choosing between commodities which are marketed as cheap, green or sexy. With rents, mortgages and food prices outstripping wages, paying more for green products is not viable for most people.

Strict environmental regulations are needed to examine the way products are produced. Consumers are not in a position to know what real social and environmental impacts different products have.

Myth #3:

Riding my bike to work is helping to stop climate change.

Fact:

Australia’s cities are designed around car usage. Many people cannot afford to live in the inner city or close to their workplace and are forced to take up accommodation in the outer suburbs. Public transport systems suffer from overcrowding and lack of coverage. To reverse the trends in car usage we need a significant increase in quality well-funded public transport.

Road freight contributes approximately 40 per cent of vehicle emissions. In the 1950s half of domestic freight was transported by rail. Now the figure is 2 per cent. Reversing this trend in another job only governments can achieve.

Government action necessary

As the statistics show, the urgent action needed to slash carbon emissions requires wide-scale government action. This will only happen due to public pressure based on collective, not individual action.

By Jean Parker

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