I am a green. I do not want too many greenfields and green gaps between settlements built over in England. I like to be able to breathe clean air,swim in a clean sea, and gaze into clear water in streams and rivers. I understand the need to curb our appetite for burning too much energy, and to find cleaner and better ways of travelling, making things and heating and fuelling our homes.
My latest car is 50% more fuel efficient than the one I drove six years ago. I have put in a condenser boiler at home. If we ever get hot days – and we didn’t last summer – I open the windows rather than ordering an air conditioning unit. In the endless cold days of this spring I usually reach for another jumper rather than turn up the heating. I try to do more things on web and phone to cut down the travel. I turn the lights off when I am not using the room.
When I work in my public sector office, many of these sensible approaches to energy is possible. The lights stay on all day and night in the corridors, whether people are there or not, whether it is bright outside or not. I cannot open the windows if it is hot or to change the air. I cannot control the heat that flows in winter or the cooler air that circulates in summer. The system carries on burning energy whether I am using the room or not. Across Whitehall lights blaze and heating systems belt out the warmth regardless of use. Control systems are rudimentary or not personalised.
The public debate seems to be dominated by people who hate the car and ascribe a disproportionate part of the problem to people who drive, only surpassed by their hatred of air travel. They favour trains and buses, as if they in some miraculous way produced no dirty emissions and were carbon free. They ignore the role of the domestic heating boiler, the electricity to power domestic appliances and the huge amounts of energy used by government and other office based activities.
It is time we had some sanity in the debate, based on realism about the relative importance of the different ways we use energy.
When I last drove into London I kept a record of my fuel use. I travelled 31.1 miles on the M4 at a good average speed, consuming just half a gallon of diesel – or 61.1 miles per gallon. I then had to travel 8.1 miles on main road within London. These roads have been messed up with lane closures, perverse traffic light programming, road works and many other obstacles. My mpg halved to 32.4 so I used a quarter of a gallon to go just 8.1 miles. On a busier day it could have halved again.
It shows just how important having uncongested roads are for curbing wasteful use of fuel and limiting emissions. I was , however, probably using less energy in the car than if I had stayed at home with my heating full on – I turned the heating off whilst I was away.
It is the second half of April, yet many people still have their heating systems blasting out the heat because it has been so cold outside, with frosts at night, even snow and hail. We need a programme of adjusting our heating and ventilation systems to the new reality of dear and scarce energy. It is high time the public sector showed some leadership by seeking to improve its own control over and use of energy. At the moment its use is wanton. We feel it in our tax bills.