Category: Climate Change (Page 1 of 5)

King’s Energy: Grant funded – ‘Mapping the Food Waste-Energy-Water-Emissions Nexus at Commercial Kitchens’

This guest blog comes from Julie Allen, Energy Manager at King’s.

In June 2020, KCL (along with Arizona State University, Dublin City University and City University of Hong Kong) submitted a grant application to GCSO (Global Consortium of Sustainability Outcomes) for a proposal to create a Certification for Sustainable Kitchens – and we got the grant!

In March this year, our interim findings were published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, in a paper entitled ‘Mapping the Food Waste-Energy-Water-Emissions Nexus at Commercial Kitchens: a systems approach for a More Sustainable Food Service Sector.’

I’m a published Author!

To break it down, here is a little background.

I have many years of experience in the commercial catering sector. There are always efforts to address food waste, OR energy consumption, OR water consumption, but never anything to look at the whole life cycle of the food going through a commercial kitchen. So that’s what we did. Our role at King’s was to provide energy consumption data from King’s Kitchen (which is excellently managed!). We also had to manage the expectations of our colleagues in other universities, as there can be a huge difference between theory and practice.

The paper looks at the impact of food on the climate – from the water used to grow the food, the transportation carbon miles, the energy to grow and prepare it, the amount of waste generated (not only from food preparation but also packaging) – and an analysis of a particular meal from field to fork. It’s been a fascinating journey looking at how different countries, organisations and sectors produce and sell food, even down to expectations around metering (we were asked to meter each tap until I explained it would take the whole grant!).

It’s been a fantastic journey, which isn’t over yet – we’ve had an extension until December 2021, so watch this space for further developments!

If you have any further questions or want to get involved with King’s Energy, get in touch.

Climate change, sustainability and narratives

“The truth about stories is that’s all we are.” (Thomas King, 2003)

“Data and factual information are crucial, but not enough to bring down the walls of numbness and indifference, to help us empathise with people outside our tribes. We need emotional connections. But more than that, just as we need sisterhood against patriarchy, we need storyhood against bigotry.” (Elif Shafak, 2020)

Climate change is often constructed as a purely physical phenomenon defined through metrics and targets, and requiring that we all reduce our emissions and limit global temperature rise. While understanding the physical processes of climate change is undeniably crucial, in the 60+ years we’ve been measuring atmospheric CO2 levels inaction has remained the norm, and many people continue to resist caring about an abstract and intangible phenomenon (particularly those who remain largely un-impacted by climate change). Indeed, these framings simplify complex realities by telling only half the story: climate change has both physical realities and cultural meanings and, to better engage people around this issue, we need to reframe it as such.

Climate change is an issue through which a plethora of “values, discourses and imaginaries are being refracted” (Mahony and Hulme, 2016: 395). Not only is it a manifestation of patterns of development and particular socio-environmental relations, but how we respond to the crisis is intimately linked to perceptions, understandings and ideologies. It is a social justice issue, linked to questions of gender, race, inequality, power and health (and the list goes on). It is therefore critical that we ask who creates mainstream knowledge (and by extension, who does not) and “what sorts of realities they aim to engender” (Castree, 2005: xxi). As with many crises, the climate crisis is destabilising the status quo and creating space for transformation and we must harness it as an entry point to understand and address this host of implications.

These ideas have long been echoed by activists, communities and social scientists around the world. Climate researcher Mike Hulme (2020: 311) argues that climate change “governance […] emerges best when rooted in larger and thicker stories about human [experiences].” Indeed, stories have the power to convey culture, history, values and emotions, and forge connections between people. Through storytelling, we have an opportunity to engage in wider and deeper conversations, to make sense of and reconcile differences, and to “[search] out meaning in a conflicted and contradictory world” (Cronon, 1992: 1375). Stories can also “counterpoint […] totalising, ‘grand’ narratives” (Cameron, 2012a: 580) and “re-situate hegemonic habits of mind” (Magrane, 2018: 167). In this sense, stories offer agency. Finally, as put by climate activist Alice Aedy, “storytelling can […] paint a picture of a better world [and] we have to visualise the world that we’re moving towards.”

Let us use this ‘wicked problem’ as an opportunity to question how we relate to each other and how we relate to the natural world, to consider which stories we choose to tell, as well as to recognise the stories of others and what we can learn from them.

Building upon these ideas, we will be sharing  ‘Sustainability Stories’, highlighting the work and passion of individuals from across the King’s community. If you are passionate about any aspect of sustainability and would like to share your story, get in touch with us.

King’s Energy: A guide to eco-friendly energy suppliers in the UK

This guest blog comes from Mason Cole, MA Politics and Contemporary History student and Sustainability Champion Assistant (SCA), supporting the King’s Energy Team.

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can both switch to cheaper, fairer and more environmentally-friendly energy and support your community in doing so, check out the Citizens UK Fair Energy Campaign, as well as how student group King’s 4 Change is supporting the campaign at King’s

If you’ve kept up with our blog you will know we have devoted a lot of time to making switching energy providers as easy as possible for you. Of course, we would also prefer energy efficiency to be at the forefront of your mind when switching. As such, we’ve selected a few companies to review so you don’t have to!

How do I know if a company is eco-friendly?

Unfortunately, greenwashing is rife, so it can be difficult to make sure you’re not just falling for a marketing ploy when you think you’ve found the perfect company. Here are some things to look out for:

  • Carbon Offsetting – Many companies which call themselves “green” simply offset the carbon they produce, for example by planting trees. We have criticised this in the past but if done alongside other measures it can also be a positive.
  • Energy Source – Companies are obliged to tell you where their energy comes from. As much as possible, look for tariffs that offer renewable energy.
  • Tariff – As mentioned, the energy source often depends on the tariffs offered. Make sure to check these to see which best fit your needs in terms of usage, cost and of course, efficiency.
Octopus Energy

Octopus has a wide range of tariffs which can be confusing for those who haven’t read our blog! However, if you choose the “Super-Green” tariff then they will provide you with 100% renewable energy in addition to carbon offsetting. To help with costs they will also reward you and a friend with £50 when you switch.

Green Energy UK

Green Energy UK are the only UK energy company to offer 100% “Green” gas as well as 100% renewable energy so in that sense they are the best pick. However, they are on average 38% more expensive than other suppliers so get a quote before you make the decision to switch.

Outfox the Market

Outfox the Market is the cheapest supplier of renewable energy. They offer 100% renewable energy, from wind power, but because they are less established than their competitors they are also lower-rated by customers. Make sure to read reviews online before deciding in this case.

Bulb

One of the more-established eco-friendly energy companies in the UK, Bulb offer 100% renewable energy, from hydro, solar and wind power, as well as 100%  carbon neutral gas. They are also, on average, 17% cheaper than the “Big Six.”

Ecotricity

Ecotricity is the UK’s vegan energy supplier, offering 100% renewable energy. They are approved by the Vegan Society and support anti-fracking campaigns as well as Extinction Rebellion, so if you are passionate about helping environmental causes then they could be the right provider for you. However, they are relatively expensive so again make sure to get a quote before deciding.

So there you have it, these are the 5 we selected to look at this week. If you know of another environmentally-friendly supplier, let us know in the comments below!

As always, if you have any further questions or want to get involved with King’s Energy, get in touch!

King’s Energy: Changing your energy supplier – What do you need to consider?

This guest blog comes from Mason Cole, MA Politics and Contemporary History student and Sustainability Champion Assistant (SCA), supporting the King’s Energy Team.

If you’ve stayed tuned to our blog over the past few weeks, you will have seen that changing supplier is much easier than people think! It’s approaching that time when you will be signing leases and moving into your homes for the next academic year, so let’s take some energy-related weight off of your shoulders.

How do I change supplier?

Changing supplier is easy. All you will need is your postcode, your last energy bill and about 10 minutes of your time. We recommend using a price comparison website such as U Switch or MoneySuperMarket to make sure you have the full range of options and filters available to you. Once you have chosen a new tariff, the new company will communicate with your old one to ensure that you don’t miss out on any energy and to make the changeover as smooth as possible. This usually takes up to 21 days.

What should I consider?

Cost – This goes without saying. Most people switch because they can save money, and sometimes it can be hundreds of pounds per year, so always keep your options open.

Customer reviews – What better way to know what people actually think of a company than to read their reviews? People like you or I have been in this position before and are well placed to advise us of their switching experience.

Exit penalty – If you are on a fixed contract there may be a penalty for breaking this early. However, the fee is usually waived if you switch a month or so before the end. In any case, it’s better to check with your existing company to see how this might apply.

Energy source – Of course! Here at King’s Energy, we believe we all have a responsibility to safeguard our planet by using renewable energy as much as possible. With most price comparison sites you can have this as a filter for simplicity, but you can also ask any energy company for the source of their energy. It should be noted that renewable energy suppliers are not always as expensive as you would think, so it is always worth checking.

Greenwashing – Renewable energy is becoming more fashionable but unfortunately, some companies want the benefits without the necessary investment. Be careful of “greenwashing,” where companies may claim to be environmentally motivated, but their energy doesn’t match these claims. Most genuine renewable energy companies have REGO (Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin) certificates.

Summary

At King’s Energy of course we want you to save money, but we also want to encourage everyone to do their part for the planet by considering renewable sources of energy. The most sustainable energy companies in the UK are GEUK, Ecotricity and Octopus UK. Need more information? No problem, stay tuned to our blogs for more details on which energy companies you should consider when you switch.

As always, if you have any further questions or want to get involved with King’s Energy, get in touch!

Mental health and sustainability – what’s the link?

Trigger warning – this blog discusses mental health and suicide.  

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week (10-16th May 2021) and we’d like to use this opportunity to discuss some of the ways mental health and sustainability intersect.

#1 SDG 3 – Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all 

 One of Sustainable Development Goal Three’s (SDG 3) targets is to “reduce by one-third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being”. Awareness of the importance of addressing mental health has increased in recent years, and rightly so: depression represents one of the leading causes of disability, suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst 15-29-year-olds, and people with severe mental health conditions are at risk of premature death due to preventable physical conditions (WHO, 2021). Additionally, individuals with mental health conditions may face stigma, discrimination and human rights violations. 

While SDG 3 focuses explicitly on mental health, achieving this target requires progress across all 17 SDGs. Mental health and wellbeing are intricately linked to challenges such as poverty, inequality, work, education, gender, infrastructure, air pollution, access to quality green spaces, peace etc.  Not only do these factors increase the risk of poor mental health, but they also impact the accessibility and quality of mental health services. 

One example is emergency contexts, including natural disasters, conflict and forced migrationduring which many individuals will face temporary distress. In the longer term, the prevalence of common mental disorders generally doubles in a humanitarian crisis due to increased poverty, lack of security, separation from family, community and home, and trauma. Overall, it has been estimated that 1 in 5 people living in an area affected by conflict will have a common mental health condition. Finally, it is important to note that climate change is expected to exacerbate many of these issues, thus causing greater and wider distress, which leads us to our next topic… 

#2 Climate change and mental health 

When you think about climate change, mental health might not be the first thing that comes to mind. We often discuss climate change on a global scale, in terms of physical processes and tangible, measurable impacts. However, it both, directly and indirectly, impacts individuals’ and communities’ mental health and psychological well-being. 

Indeed, climate change and its associated impacts (rising sea levels, changing temperatures, extreme weather patterns, wildfires, droughts, food and water insecurity, etc.) put at risk a  range of phenomena that people and communities value and rely on in their daily lives, both material and non-material, from homes, landscapes and ecosystems to cultural traditions, livelihoods, identities and social cohesion… From forced displacement to gradual changes in an environment, feelings of loss – loss of place, loss of identity, decreased sense of self – can arise. And, as mentioned above, these impacts are more acutely felt in communities and populations where climate change intersects with pre-existing health conditions, socioeconomic inequities and unequal power dynamics. 

#3 The rise of eco-anxiety  

 As with many crises, the climate crisis is causing (justifiably) strong emotional responses, in people and communities around the world. Amongst inspiration and hope for change, feelings of anger, hopelessness, guilt and fear are common and natural. 

Eco-anxiety refers to the stress caused by “watching the slow and seemingly irrevocable impacts of climate change unfold” or the “feelings of helplessness, anger, […] panic and guilt toward the climate and ecological crisis”. Force of Nature has been studying the occurrence of eco-anxiety amongst youth globally. They found that amongst 500 respondents, over 70% had experienced feelings of hopelessness in the face of climate change. 

Circling back to this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week’s theme of Nature, it is important to recognize the interconnectedness between the health of our minds, bodies and planet. Indeed, sustainability refers not only to environmental sustainability but also to social sustainability.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed by the immensity of the climate crisis, be kind to yourself, and connect with your loved ones and your community. However, if symptoms of anxiety are interfering with your ability to function well and feel good,  we encourage you to seek professional help. Here are some ways you can find support at King’s: KCLSU’s wellbeing eventsPositive PeersCounselling and Mental Health supportBlack Students TalkOut-of-hours counselling. You can also find resources here and here

Some further reading on the topic

Tackling social inequalities to reduce mental health problems: How everyone can flourish equally

Mental Health and our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance 

The case for systems thinking about climate change and mental health 

Caring for the environment helps to care for your mental health 

Mental health and the environment 

Mental health and wellbeing in the Sustainable Development Goals 

The Lancet Commission on global mental health and sustainable development 

This Must Be the Place: Underrepresentation of Identity and Meaning in Climate Change DecisionMaking

Place identity and climate change adaptation: a synthesis and framework for understanding

“From this place and of this place:” Climate change, sense of place, and health in Nunatsiavut, Canada

Examining relationships between climate change and mental health in the Circumpolar North 

 

King’s Energy: LED light bulbs – What are they and why is King’s switching to them?

This guest blog comes from Mason Cole, MA Politics and Contemporary History student and Sustainability Champion Assistant (SCA), supporting the King’s Energy Team.

 

The LED, or Light Emitting Diode, is a relatively new form of lighting that works through an electrical current passing through a microchip, illuminating the diode, and the result is visible light. To prevent performance issues, the heat LEDs produce is absorbed into a heat sink. No doubt you will have heard plenty about LEDs, not least through our previous blog posts, but why is it so important that we change all King’s lighting to LED?

The advantages of LEDs

First, in terms of practicality, LEDs produce light up to 90% more efficiently than incandescent bulbs. LEDs are ‘directional’ sources, meaning they concentrate light in a specific direction, unlike incandescent bulbs which emit both light and heat in all directions.

Next, the lifetime of an LED gives it a huge advantage over its market counterparts. Where the lifetime of a CFL or incandescent bulb is adjudged to be when it is “burnt out,” LEDs do not burn out. Instead, they experience something called “lumen depreciation,” whereby their brightness dims slowly over time. Therefore, their lifetime is a prediction of when they will be 30% less bright than when you purchased them.

Now to the technical part, but don’t worry I’ll keep it simple for now. LEDs are much brighter than the other options on the market. Some LEDs can reach 90+ in the Colour Rendering Index (more on that later). In addition, you can also choose which colour you would like and sometimes you can even change colour!

Last but not least, LEDs are much more energy-efficient than any alternative on the market. Not only do they last 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs, meaning you can minimise both production and waste, they also use 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs. They are more expensive initially, but they pay for themselves many times over in savings over their lifetime. It’s no wonder then that King’s are trying to modernise our light sources by switching to LED across all facilities.

CRI & Colour Temperature

If you are considering investing in LEDs, you may come across the acronym CRI (Colour Rendering Index) and hear about colour temperature. First, the CRI refers to the quality of the light. It is judged out of 100, with 100 representing sunlight. Think of it this way, if you have a light with about 70 CRI it may simply reflect off your lecturer’s bald head. If you had a light of 90+, you’d be able to see every liver spot and mole – scary stuff!

Now, in lighting, when we talk about colour temperature we do not mean if a light is hot or not. Instead, we refer to the colour of the light, measured in Kelvins. Usually, you can get LEDs that range from 3000K (warm, yellowish light) to 6000K (cool, white light) but you can also get RGB (Red-Green-Blue) where you can change colours at will!

What is King’s doing?

Here at King’s we’ve set some ambitious energy targets and switching to LED is one way we can become more energy efficient. We’ve already begun the switch, but there’s still a long way to go, and here’s where we could use your help. If you notice any old incandescent bulbs anywhere around campus please reach out to let us know. You never know when one may have slipped through the net.

As always, if you have any further questions or want to get involved with King’s Energy, get in touch!

Sustainable Development Goal 7 – Affordable and Clean Energy

This guest blog comes from Mason Cole, MA Politics and Contemporary History student and Sustainability Champion Assistant (SCA), supporting the King’s Energy Team.

In 2015, the United Nations released 17 ‘Sustainable Development Goals‘ (SDGs). These 17 interlinked goals seek to guide us in creating a fairer and more sustainable world for all by 2030. Each goal outlines the current situation, sub-goals and targets, as well as indicators for measurement. We focus here on goal number 7: ‘Affordable and Clean Energy.’

SDG 7 – what is it? 
SDG 7 focuses on ‘ensur[ing] access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all’. The goal’s three ‘outcome targets’ include ‘universal access to modern energy,’ ‘increas[ing] the global percentage of renewable energy’ and ‘doubling the improvement in energy efficiency’ (SDGs, 2021). In other words, we must ensure access to electricity to all, while increasing the share of renewable energy in our global energy usage.

The UN has identified that 789 million people around the world have no access to electricity, which means they are most likely having to use alternative and, often, unsustainable sources to heat their homes and cook their food. It is vital that when these people gain access to electricity, it is sustainably sourced and renewable electricity. International cooperation is required to make this a reality. Indeed, as of 2017, only 17% of total energy consumption was derived from renewable sources, with the energy efficiency improvement rate falling below the UN’s 3% target.

Achieving global goal 7 will have an impact far beyond electricity usage. It is closely related to SDG 13, ‘Climate change mitigation,’ as well as many other goals, including poverty eradication (SDG 1), health (SDG 3), gender equality (SDG 5), transport (SDG 9), sustainable cities (SDG 11), etc.

What has the UK done?
As a result of the coronavirus, this past year has seen some important milestones in the UK’s journey towards increasing renewable energy. In 2020, renewable energy overtook fossil fuels as the largest source of UK electricity. More recently, over Easter weekend, figures suggest that 80% of UK energy consumption came from low-carbon energy sources and there was no coal generation on the grid. 39% of this figure is accounted for by wind power and 21% by solar, marking an improvement from the fossil fuel-heavy consumption of recent years.

While these figures occurred on a Bank Holiday and during lockdowns, these achievements are commendable and demonstrate that positive change is possible.

What has King’s done?
Since 2017, all electricity directly purchased by King’s has come from 100% UK wind energy and since signing a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) in 2019,  20% of our purchased electricity comes from PPA wind farms. In addition to this, we have solar panels at the Cicely Saunders Institute, Great Dover Street Apartments and Champion Hill, as well as a combined heat and power system and a ground source heat pump at Denmark Hill. Also, as you already know from our previous posts (hint, hint), we are in the process of switching all light bulbs to LEDs. Finally, as of the start of 2021, King’s has fully divested from all fossil fuels, nearly two years ahead of schedule.

What can you do?
While individual action is not the silver bullet solution, each of us can play a role in achieving SDG 7. You can switch the bulbs in your house to LEDs when they next need changing in order to reduce consumption and waste. We also recommend checking with your energy provider for the sources of your electricity. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can both switch to cheaper, fairer and more environmentally-friendly energy, check out the Citizens UK Fair Energy Campaign, as well as how student group King’s 4 Change is supporting the campaign at King’s. Finally, in a previous blog post, we outlined some easy and accessible ways to save energy at home and there’s more on the way!

As always, if you have any further questions or want to get involved with King’s Energy, get in touch!

King’s Energy: We tried to reduce our carbon footprint using Giki Zero

This guest blog comes from Rebecca Lindsay, BA Philosophy and Spanish student and Sustainability Champion Assistant (SCA), supporting the King’s Energy Team.

Giki Zero is a relatively new website that allows you to keep track of your carbon consumption and take personalised steps to reduce it. Over the last couple of weeks, the Energy Team have been trying out the various features to really get a feel for its potential. So, does Giki Zero really work?

Upon the first appearance, Giki Zero presents a sleek and intuitive interface. Its bright colours and shapes are appealing, but its practicality even more so. Just sign up (for free!) and answer some brief questions about your lifestyle – diet, commuting, housing, etc. – and you’re away! Immediately you’re presented with a score that reflects your individual impact on the planet:

Higher than 500 is considered “good progress”, whereas anything above 1000 is “true planet saver” status. By adding more data, and committing to more of Giki Zero’s suggested steps, you can increase your score (and flex on your friends). If you live with other people, you can even invite them and work as a team!

You’d be surprised how easy it is to reduce your carbon footprint. There is a range of difficulties to choose from when selecting steps, ranging from “easy peasy” to “hardcore”. Many of them you may already do, such as walking to work or turning the lights off when you leave a room – add these to increase your score!

As you add more information, Giki Zero will suggest more steps suitable to your lifestyle. Since you’re reading this blog right now, why not get involved with King’s Sustainability to tick ‘Join A Local Sustainability Team’ off your list?

Giki also has a mobile app called Giki Badges, which lets you scan your shopping to see its carbon and health impact, so you can take Giki on the go!

Overall, Giki Zero is a very easy and accessible way to monitor your carbon footprint. But don’t just take it from me, here are some testimonies from the rest of the team:

“I found the Giki Zero app to be really useful, with ideas that I hadn’t realised would affect my carbon footprint – like using soap rather than shower gel – but also things that I do as normal that are a ‘good thing’ with regards to my footprint! It’s challenging and fun!”Julie

“What struck me the most about Giki-Zero was just how simple and personalised everything is. My initial Giki score didn’t sound too high but when it was put into context, my carbon footprint was significantly higher than the UK average. We often read a lot about numbers and averages but seeing this in black and white was truly shocking. To help me come to terms with my shock, Giki suggested some relatively easy fixes that I would not have otherwise thought of, such as switching to soap and refusing unnecessary gifts (long overdue!). Beyond this bit of fun, you are also able to further personalise your account with actual figures and it provides competitive challenges and landmarks. All of this makes it fun to save the planet, and perhaps this is how we can actually engage more people to do so.” Mason

“The app has this aesthetically pleasing interface that reminds you of a video game and immediately draws you in. What I appreciated the most about it is that you are not asked to change your lifestyle in a day but you have access to a wide range of suggested steps from “easy peasy” to “hardcore” that you can take to decrease your footprint. You even have the option to team up with members of your household or your friends. It’s simple, fun and I feel it helps me make better choices one step at a time!” Angeliki

Be sure to give Giki Zero a try and let us know your thoughts at energy@kcl.ac.uk!

King’s Energy: The Ethics of Carbon Offsetting – An Interview with Dr Joachim Aufderheide

This guest blog comes from Rebecca Lindsay, BA Philosophy and Spanish student and Sustainability Champion Assistant (SCA), supporting the King’s Energy Team.

Carbon offsetting is the source of much debate in the energy world, being that it’s extremely difficult to ensure you’re offsetting correctly. This week we’ve teamed up with Dr Joachim Aufderheide from the Philosophy department to discuss all things ethics-related when it comes to offsetting our carbon emissions!

First, some background – what is carbon offsetting?

Joachim Aufderheide (JA): Through our carbon emissions, we contribute to global warming, which in turn causes much harm, especially in developing countries. It is morally wrong to harm others and/or destroy their resources. We cannot, however, simply stop emitting greenhouse gases (to which CO2 counts). So, in order to cancel out the harm we do, we can offset our emissions. I cause a certain amount of CO2 to be emitted during a certain period of time. This CO2 will stay in the atmosphere for a very long time. Now, if I cause the same amount of CO2 to be reduced in that timeframe, I have offset my CO2, and thereby have mitigated the harm I do.

How do we do ‘offsetting’ in a meaningful way, with the most impact, while not undermining the emphasis on carbon reduction?

JA: First off, we need to be clear about what ‘reducing’ means. By, for example, planting trees, we create carbon sinks that bind the CO2 we emit. However, this is not a good strategy because when the trees die, the carbon will re-enter the atmosphere. It takes millions of years to move carbon from the atmosphere back into the so-called passive carbon pool, below ground as oil. So, when we offset, we need to support measures to prevent carbon from being taken from the passive carbon pool and transferred into the active one, i.e., the atmosphere. In plain language, we need to support reducing emissions on the one hand and improving renewable energy on the other.

Second, it must be clear that offsetting is a temporary measure: even if we offset our CO2 emissions, emitting at the same rates is not sustainable. The carbon market will become more and more saturated: the easy and cost-effective projects to reduce carbon emissions will have been completed at some point. Then the spotlight shines back on us who have not changed our emissions but chose instead to pay other people to reduce their emissions. So, to avoid the worst harm that we cause through global warming, we should not only offset our emissions but also reduce our emissions.

Third, I think that many of us are committed to reducing our carbon footprint. But many of us don’t know what our footprint is, and what we should do. I wonder whether making the carbon cost clear, for example, by labelling our purchases, would be helpful.

How can we most powerfully make the case for offsetting when it will involve increased spend at a financially difficult time?

JA: It might help to put things into perspective. Compared to previous generations, we are not in financial difficulties. We have become more and more wealthy so that many are sufficiently wealthy now to make ends meet and live reasonably well. While economic development is important, we must not forget the goal: to enable people to live and to live well. If we exploit our planet too much, these goals will become increasingly more difficult to attain.

What kind of monitoring is (or should be) in place to ensure that there are actual carbon reductions in the offsets that we may purchase, and are some areas of offsetting ‘better’ or ‘worse’ for this?

JA: Offsetting presents some problems. First, it is unclear whether we buy genuine offsets. For instance, if a project is funded through offset funds, it would genuinely offset emissions only if it would not have happened otherwise. But this is not always clear. If a country is sufficiently interested in, let’s say, a wind farm to have it built as an offsetting project, then it seems likely that there would have been other ways to realise this project.

Second, and relatedly, some projects are double-counted, both as offsetting emissions and as part of a country’s effort to reduce emissions.

Third, it is not always easy to measure the impact of the project. Buying cleaner and more efficient stoves for communities in the developing world only offset our emissions if they are actually used. But this is not always the case. So, it would be good if projects were not one-off and, at the very least, we should collect data to determine the efficiency of projects. This would allow us to get a more accurate account of how much different projects tend to offset.

Finally, projects that do not require people to change the way they cook or do other daily things might not only be more effective but also less ‘invasive’: if we don’t change our ways, why should they?

What are the risks for developing nations when agreeing to offset UK carbon emissions?

JA: Some offsetting projects mean well, but don’t do good. For instance (monoculture) tree plantations can have bad effects on wildlife, soil and water. Building a dam often comes with complex political questions about access to water further down the river and this can lead to conflicts. Another host of problems surrounds the rights of indigenous people who might live where the projects are to be located.

Where in the world are offsets most valuable and what kinds of activities are most effective?

JA: The utilitarian argument that we can do better for the world by focusing on developing countries is rather strong. It is expensive for us to cut down our carbon emissions. So, instead of that, we should use the money we save to fund projects in developing countries, thereby offsetting more CO2 than if we had merely focused on reducing our emissions. If indeed we invest the money so saved in addressing climate matters, we are not self-indulgent.

How truly ethical are the offsetting schemes with a UN Gold standard?

JA: I am no expert in this, but the Gold Standard takes many factors into consideration that were ignored in the past, and to some extent still are by other offsetting standards. For example, child labour, the indigenous peoples affected, labour rights, the impacts on water. It seeks to benefit the local population as well as cutting down on carbon emissions. However, like all the other standards, the Gold Standard allows the people running the projects to collect their own data. It would be an improvement if there would be independent monitoring.

What valuation should we be using when choosing between offsetting schemes?

JA: As far as I can see, most projects certified by the Gold Standard seem genuinely beneficial.

What pitfalls should we be looking for?

JA: Perhaps the biggest pitfall is complacency. Even if we’re offsetting our emissions, this does not mean we’re home and dry. We must be aware that it is a temporary measure that bridges the way towards a more environmentally conscious use of our resources. We must commit to reducing our carbon emissions, not only the emissions elsewhere in the world.

Should we (King’s) set up our own scheme?

JA: I’m not sure. I’d think we should offset and reduce our emissions. But we as an educational institution should seek to do more about the education that’s necessary to change the behaviour of emitters: individual people, groups, and organisations. It would be amazing if we could set up a scheme with schools on environmental education.

 

Thanks to Dr Aufderheide for answering our questions!

If you would like more information on how we use energy at King’s, or want to get involved, head over to the King’s Sustainability Instagram page or email the energy team at energy@kcl.ac.uk. We’d love to hear from you.

 

Sustainability Month 2021 – Round-Up #3

This blog is the third in a series of four posts on Sustainability Month 2021. 

 

LONDON STUDENT SUSTAINABILITY CONFERENCE 

King’s had the wonderful opportunity to co-host this year’s London Student Sustainability Conference (LSSC) with City University. Over 30 students presented their sustainable research through presentations, posters and performances. 

The diverse range of presentations covered the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and we left the conference feeling inspired by the many students choosing to engage with the complexity of sustainability through their studies.  

Here are some highlights:  

‘Dust Fertilization in Terrestrial Ecosystems: The Sahara to Amazon Basin’ 

Globally, wind-driven dust plays a major role in biogeochemical cycles. Robyn’s presentation discussed the crucial role of Saharan dust in the Amazon Rainforest – it acts as a fertilizer and provides important nutrients that contribute to the ecosystem’s overall productivity. But how will these processes be impacted by changing weather patterns and climate change? (Robyn Lees, BSc Geography).

How to Promote Sustainable and Healthy Food Consumption in University Students? 

Recognizing that our dietary choices sit at the nexus of human, planetary and economic health, this student-led vegetable bag scheme explored how we can promote sustainable and healthy food consumption in university students (Fetch Ur VegLiza Konash, BSc Nutrition and Mia Lewis, BA International Relations).

Climate and Cake: What can you do?  

Climate and Cake is an education program for sustainable living. Its goal is to create a space for and support open discussions on sustainability and offer realistic ways individuals notably, students can act on climate change (Ana Oancea, BA International Development).

If this is something you’d like to get involved in next year, keep an eye out for news on LSSC 2022!  

 

Recordings of the events can now be found on our Kaltura.  

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