The reason most people cite as preventing them from going ‘green’ is cost. Politicians seem petrified of the public backlash from really tackling climate change because they fear it will cost too much.
However, a modelling exercise conducted for the ‘New Scientist’ magazine shows that the fears are completely unfounded. Based on a 50% cut in emissions by 2050 the model shows that the rises in most people’s purchases will be barely noticeable.
The following increases were shown.
- Electricity – 15% increase, approx. £60 on the average yearly UK bill.
- Communications – 0%
- Electronics – 2%, a £1000 laptop would cost £20 more.
- Tobacco – 2%, barring new taxes the cost of a packet of cigarettes would rise by 10p.
- Cars – 1%, a new £20,000 Toyota Prius would cost an extra £240
- Food – 1%, the average weekly bill in the UK would rise by less than £1.
- Alcohol – 2%, the cost of a pint of beer would rise by 6p.
- Clothing – 1%, a £500 men’s suit would rise by £5.
- Household goods – 2%, the price of a washing machine would rise by £5-10.
Other similar studies have been done in the US show that the rises would be less than 5% for a 50% cut by 2050, confirming the results found by the ‘New Scientist’ survey. Even cutting emissions by 80% has little more effect on consumer goods in most areas.
Most of the price hikes are as a consequence of increases in the cost of energy, simply because gas and coal sources will have to be replaced by more expensive renewable sources. Understandably people assume that large rises in energy costs have a massive knock on effect in the cost of production but actually electricity and other forms of energy make up only a small fraction of the retail price of most goods. Raw materials, labour and taxes are far more important.
There is however one major exception. Air travel. This is expected to rise by 140% unless a low carbon jet fuel can be found. This would mean a trip from London to New York would rise from £350 to £840. Many people would see this as fair given that Airlines have had it easy for so long with regards to environmental restrictions.
Natural gas and petrol are also expected to rise by 160% and 32% respectively and so to avoid large rises in the cost of domestic heating and road haulage the Cambridge researchers had to build in two major policies in to the model. Firstly, governments would provide grants and other incentives to help switch all domestic heating and cooking to electricity and secondly, invest in the infrastructure to ensure that electric cars almost completely replace petroleum fuelled vehicles. Both are policies discussed in recent government strategy documents.
All in all this shows that it is possible for us to change and adapt to a low carbon world, without it costing the earth.