Some of the easiest carbon savings that could be made are to be found in our houses. Britain's houses are famously inefficient, belching heat (and therefore carbon) into the sky. Though the government believes it can tax people into reducing their consumption of vehicle fuels, cigarettes and tobacco, it does not hold the same view of domestic energy.
Instead, it asks the major energy suppliers (companies like British Gas, Eon, RWE, EdF, Scottish & Southern etc.) to help it reduce domestic energy consumption, in a scheme called the Energy Efficiency Commitment (EEC). That is asking the wolves to guard the sheep. Does it really think the energy suppliers are going to do their best to get their customers to use less of their products?
British Gas are now demonstrating just how enthusiastic they are for this policy. They are advertising in the London Underground (and probably elsewhere), supposedly to encourage people to save energy. Yet this advert could not be more mealy-mouthes. As far as I can discover, this advert is not also available online (best not to leave too much evidence), so the following is the transcribed text from the advert:
Tube £4. Cappuccino and croissant £2.80. Sandwich, drink and crisps £4.98. Afternoon muffin £1.72. Evening paper 50p. Bottle of newsagents wine £6. Rented DVD £3. Thai takeaway X 2 £23. Total £46.00
That's also how much it could cost every year leaving your TV and all accessories attached to it on standby all the time. Switch off at the button or plug and you could save £46 per year.
Sorry it only takes a day to spend it.
Message: don't bother walking to the TV to turn it and all the other equipment off, because even if you did it consistently for a year, you would only save enough money to pay for what you consume in a day.
At least it's honest in its contempt. Most of the energy suppliers are faining enthusiasm at the same time as doing no more than the relatively little they are obliged to do. And why should they? They are the least appropriate vehicles for delivering this objective.
Improving the energy-efficiency of a house requires detailed assessment of its current condition and of the most suitable improvements, which will vary from property to property. The utilities deliver a mass product as efficiently as they can, which means with as little involvement with the customer as they can. They have neither the skills nor the incentives to carry out the detailed work of home improvement.
The job would be done much more effectively by specialist companies and local tradesmen. But they have no opportunity under the EEC to carry out work to improve people's houses, as only the giant energy suppliers can benefit under the scheme. So, by picking the worst of champions for the energy-efficiency cause, the government has made sure we all lose - the suppliers who have to manage work for which they are not suited, the vast majority of households who will not be selected for improvement under the EEC, and smaller businesses who could probably deliver far greater improvements to the housing stock, if the EEC were replaced with a machanism that was broader both in terms of the businesses that could supply under its auspices and in terms of the range of properties that were eligible for upgrade under the scheme.
In an ideal world, that mechanism would simply be the valuation of the carbon in domestic energy on a par with carbon from other sources - in other words, taxation of domestic energy at levels equivalent to the use of fossil fuels in other circumstances. But if the government can't see through the illusion of fuel poverty that has so far driven them to tax vehicle fuel far more heavily than heating fuel (another category of pickinglosers in its own right), then at least a mechanism that did not rely on the poachers to turn gatekeepers would be an improvement.