When we buy “stuff” we are already in the habit of asking questions and making choices. Do I want this? Do I need this? How much am I prepared to pay for this? So all we need to do is add a couple extra… what will be the effect of buying this on the environment? And what will be the effect of this on the well-being of the people who produced it? Important questions that are dauntingly difficult to answer.

Applying the principles of buying quality items that last longer, looking after them well, sharing where possible, repairing rather than replacing, and recycling at the end of their useable life are good starting points. But answering those extra two questions when it comes to individual products is hard.

Here’s an example. I’m writing this on a brand new laptop. According to the Apple website its lifetime carbon footprint is 220kg CO2. That’s equivalent to driving our car about 1000 miles. 3/4 of that CO2 comes from making it, about 1/6 from the energy to power it, and the rest mostly transport of its components and the finished product. My last laptop became unusable after 10 years, so if this one lasts the same again you could say that it’s like driving an extra 100 miles a year. Doesn’t sound too bad to me. On the other hand we’ve got to stop using/buying some things if we’re going to make a significant reduction in carbon emissions. Taking the “if everybody did that” approach, if the 50 Million UK adults each bought a new laptop every 10 years that’s an extra 11 million tonnes of CO2 released each year, or the total carbon footprint of around 1 million people…. worth saving.

So, like the environmentalist who flies to a conference to talk about the need to reduce carbon emissions from air travel, I’m suffering a bit of cognitive dissonance.

Plenty to discuss here! How are we going to approach this one?

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