In 2007 some of us tried calculating our carbon emissions. The exercise was immensely confusing, because of all the different units used.
Then we discovered the national CRAG network [which unfortunately no longer exists].
A Carbon Rationing Action Group (CRAG) is a group of people who meet up regularly to account for and reduce their carbon footprint. The group monitors emissions and calculates whether a self-imposed ‘target’ is being hit or missed for a given period. The target differs from group to group, and some go as far as to impose fines on members that exceed their allowance. Groups try to reduce the limit every year. The first CRAG started in 2006, and they spread across the UK and internationally.
The SusRed group started little bit later, and ran for nearly three years. We had up to a dozen people registered over the period, but more typically 6 or 7 people would attend the regular meetings.
From 1 April 2007 to 31 March 2010 we counted our carbon. Here’s how we did it;
- We counted personal travel (including commuting) and home energy, using the very easy CRAG calculator sheet.
- We gave our figures to Alex who kept a simple spreadsheet of totals.
- Our aim in 2007/08 was less than 4,500kgs CO2 each, which we all achieved.
- For 2008/09 each of us set a target that meant we reduced further, but this time we didn’t all have the same absolute level. This way we made sure that new members who may only just be starting to make changes can join with higher allowances.
On a practical level we recorded our direct carbon impacts – so we actually knew what they were. As a consequence we could see how the changes we were making to our behaviours / energy use were having an effect. We could see from what other people were doing what impact specific changes might have. So whether it was joining a car club and getting rid of your car or investing in a new boiler, we were aware of the carbon and lifestyle impacts.
Why did we bother?
- Once you know that your resource intensive life is threatening the lives of future generations the you face a choice. You can pretend it’s not true, or that you’re not really responsible, or you can feel bad about it, or you can change it.
- If you want to change it then you need to be sure that what you are doing is worthwhile, and not counterproductive – the knowledge and expertise that existed within the CRAG network meant you had a much better chance of making the right changes. It’s not just about carbon, but also about local resilience and protecting biodiversity.
- Doing it as part of a group makes it a pleasure not a sacrifice, you learn a lot and you discover that some changes are dead easy.
- Low carbon living and cutting our dependency on fossil fuels makes economic sense, so far from being about self-sacrifice it is in our long term self-interest.
We found that the CRAG was a really helpful thing to do. After three years, our carbon figures had plateaued, and our learning had peaked. Beyond that, for example, significant further energy saving would require spending significant money! As a consequence we let the group come to a halt (although some of us have since made these changes).
The CRAG helped us as individuals to know what out impact was, and how to reduce it. It also allowed us to learn what worked, and what didn’t make much difference. It also meant we could get on and do something that we were telling everybody else they needed to do. Others were also interested in the group, we were the subject of a student Masters dissertation, and several other students got in touch to talk to us about why we were doing it and the experiences we had. We also featured on a Spanish TV program that was looking at community responses to climate change. The experience has also helped us with workshops and other activities at other people’s events.