Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Viewpoint: Try switching off and saving

Saving energy involves a bit of compromise. Global warming activists are having to hold their noses and look again at nuclear energy, which has the advantage of emitting no greenhouse gasses. Global warming sceptics may point to a drop in worldwide temperatures in recent years, but should concede that rampant energy use is not without environmental consequences.

However there is one principle in this we can all stick with: energy conservation makes sense because it saves money.

Our climate — changed or unchanged — leads to a lot of energy use. Boilers are churning through oil and gas supplies, even to ward off the frosty chills of April, as we saw last week.

Often this use is couched in the environmental debate, which frequently turns Luddite and alarmist. Some people appear to believe that the only way to ward off the imminent death of the planet is to return to the stone age.

They're welcome to it. Given the way most people rapidly embrace technological change —try buying a TV that isn't flat-screen these days; it's not easy — it's safe to assume that we're generally pretty pleased with the luxuries of modern life and don't want to give them up.

Nor should we. In general, the desire for a better life drives humanity to better things. It's not as if we came down from the trees because we dreamed of having a picture phone, but you get the drift.

The desire to improve is a fairly basic human impulse, and that needs energy.

But wasting energy is counterproductive — it means more effort goes into harnessing resources, and that means we're all running to stand still. The desire to save money is also one of those fairly common human impulses, and that's a reason for saving energy that we can all plug in to.

Some — like the current Government — think that means the best way to conserve energy is to tax us into submission. Another 2p a litre is to go on petrol later this year as a so-called `green tax', supposedly a way induce motorists into using less fuel. That might be a limited impact of higher fuel prices, but for many people it just diverts money from other things. Many of their car journeys are necessities — because there are no alternatives.

Instead, the Government should be working on developing cheap alternatives by employing penalties and inducements to industry. Why is that hybrid cars — using petrol and electricity — are widely used in America but virtually unknown here? It's at least in part because industry has made them available to consumers at a price they can afford.

The Belfast Telegraph's Save Energy and Money campaign, running all this week, is about highlighting and using the available alternatives. If you save energy because you want to save the planet, hats off to your altruism. If you do it to cut your bills, the outcome's the same. Save energy and money: it benefits everyone.

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