“Climate Change Begins at Home,” Dave Reay

Caspar Henderson
10 November 2005


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“Climate Change Begins at Home : Life on the Two-Way Street of Global Warming”
by Dave Reay
Palgrave Macmillan | August 2005 | ISBN 1403945780

Recommended by Caspar Henderson: 'Is your dog a climate criminal? It may seem like an odd question (and not just because you may not have a dog). But for Dave Reay it’s a door to a central issue in the challenge of climate change and wiser energy use: what should the world’s wealthiest one billion or so people do in their private and family lives?

There are endless debates around the “right” level of action in a world where many people feel a bewildering mix of urgency and powerlessness (to borrow a phrase from Paul Ginsborg’s new book The Politics of Everyday Life). Dave Reay is not about to wrestle with that particular Gordian knot. The solution, he says, requires both “top-down (government) and bottom up (you and me) action”. And here is some stuff about the bottom-up bit.

So what to do? According to my digested read, his top ten tips are: 1 put on an extra layer of clothing when cold rather than turning up the heating; 2 use public transport and walk more; 3 compost your kitchen waste; 4 fly less, especially short haul; 5 change your driving habits - or better still, get a more efficient car; 6 get efficient household appliances; 7 don’t consume food that’s been flown a long way to reach your table; 8 learn the 3 Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle); 9 improve your ethics at work; and 10 go green at “the final checkout” (an environmentally friendly burial).

This book is discursive and breezily written, and I rank it as a good general introduction to the issues and some of the dilemmas and choices. It’s useful to have alongside the likes of Leo Hickman’s guides to “ethical living ". Reay, a climatologist, is particularly effective in comunicating the science of climate change and what are likely to be its rather scary consequences in the 21st century.

My criticisms are small: nowhere in the index, for example, is there a mention of offset or sequestration. So someone looking for advice on these – as I am when contemplating more climate-busting travel to research whether coral reefs are going extinct – may wish to look elsewhere. (A company named Climate Care is offering the book as part of its “Climate Neutral Christmas” package.)

And while bottom-up is important, top-down sure isn’t going to go away. The politics of climate change – and the energy choices societies make through centralized and sometimes accountable institutions – explored earlier this year in an openDemocracy debate are becoming ever more pressing. I first came across Dave Reay’s work when researching that debate (his first is here ).

A lot has changed in the (almost) six months since we finished commissioning major articles. Recent events include the unrolling of supposedly popular, mass campaigns on climate change such as Stop Climate Chaos in the UK. Campaigners in the US are also gearing up. Arguably, the “left” there are some distance behind their European counterparts, with Bono’s One laying some ground on the poverty-justice-environment issue in what looks like a repackage of Make Poverty History for the US market. Meanwhile, from the “right”, the National Association of Evangelicals looks set to start pitching some fastballs on “creation care” at politicians like James Inhofe. Choices – on nuclear energy and others matters – loom ever closer in Europe, North America and elsewhere.'

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About the author:

Dr Dave Reay is a researcher at Edinburgh University. He studies greenhouse gas emissions in environments ranging from the Southern Ocean to evil-smelling drainage ditches. He has written numerous academic and popular articles about his work and is editor of the climate change website www.ghgonline.org

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