It’s not easy being green

13 Sep


A couple of days ago the Independent published a story headlined Newham: The borough that’s Britain’s greenest – without any effort by its residents. The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research had calculated that the carbon footprint of the average Newham resident was the lowest of any municipality in the UK.

The footprint – defined as the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere as a result of the goods and services used – comes to 10.21 tonnes of CO2 a year. It includes emissions generated by the manufacture and transport of products such as iPhones, even if they have been made abroad.

Newham’s footprint is 18 per cent below the national average of 12.5 tonnes and a third less than the 15.51 tonnes emitted in the area with the highest carbon footprint – the City of London.

Cue champagne corks popping at Building 1000 and much tweeting of this fantastic story by councillors and the 2014 cohort of Labour candidates. Even the council’s official Twitter account got in on the act.

Sadly, these muppets had fallen into the classic social media trap – retweeting a link and a catchy headline without actually reading the story behind it.

Had they done so they would have kept quiet. For the reasons behind Newham’s green status are no cause for celebration:

The research… showed a strong correlation between the amount people earned and their carbon footprint, with each additional £600 in weekly income resulting in an extra tonne of annual C02 emissions.

The carbon footprint is also correlated to car ownership, partly because private vehicles produce more emissions per capita than public transport and also because car ownership “is likely to capture broader aspects of lifestyles”, the report noted.

The report also found that, everything else being equal, the more educated a person the greater their carbon footprint will be, although it could not say why this was.

House-size was the other main determinant of people’s carbon footprint, with emissons per head falling as household size increases and relative energy bills declined.

But if The Independent’s trip to Newham is anything to go by, income is by far the biggest determinant of carbon footprint.

So we emit less carbon because we have lower incomes and are less well-educated; we are more likely to live in crowded households; less likely to own a car; and less likely to own electricity-hungry devices like flat-screen TVs and smartphones.

In short, Newham is green because its people are poor.

Next May Sir Robin Wales, who has led the borough for the best part of 20 years, will be asking residents to give him another 4 years in office. We should be asking him why on god’s green Earth he thinks he deserves it, given this dismal record.

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