We all need to reconsider our energy use and make changes to our lifestyles

How to live a low-carbon life 

Chris Goodall 

London, UK: Earthscan | 2007 | 320pp | ?14.99 (SB) | ISBN 9781844074266 

Reviewed by John Uttin

Up to my forties I had a reasonably clean carbon footprint - I walked to work every day, I had no car, and had never flown. Then I got married. Now with children, my footprint is much dirtier. We have a car, fly to Florida on holiday and consume an excessive amount of hot water, thanks to interminable teenager showers. I feel guilty, even if I convince myself it is beyond my control. Left to politicians, little is going to happen and so, although I know that my single contribution will not do a lot to reduce global warning, I want to do better. 

This book gave me some ideas which I hope to put into practice, although reducing my carbon footprint to 3 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year - the challenge which the author sets his readers - will be difficult. Each part of my current lifestyle is challenged. There are many things, such as turning down the thermostat and fitting low-energy light bulbs, which will be relatively painless and even save me money. There are also many suggested changes, such as getting rid of my family’s favourite electrical appliances like the tumble dryer, changing to a smaller car and cutting out air travel altogether, which will involve lifestyle changes that will hurt. But the challenge of this book is that most westerners will have to change their lifestyle to an extent that goes against the inbred desires of our society and our individual selfish interests. 

The book backs its claims with detailed energy calculations, which I was pleased to see take into account the total effect of energy changes - for example, changing one’s central heating boiler or car immediately may have a negative effect, if one includes the energy costs of the new materials involved. One area which concerns me, however, is the emphasis on highly efficient insulation, without consideration of the increased energy costs of the use of fans and air conditioning to reduce the effect of the trapped heat inside our buildings as temperatures rise. 

Implementing some of the recommendations of this book may only salve consciences, but it provides good advice to the growing number of people who want to do something, but don’t know where to start. Recent successes in recycling show that people can be convinced to do things for no personal benefit. 

Further information on the topics covered in the book are dealt with in the accompanying website.