I'll be getting this book... Some very very very good and practical ideas: You can SAVE money being environmentally friendly! Future perfect September 27, 2005 Governments and business won't lead the way, but good citizens can make a difference, writes Tim Flannery. If everyone who has the means to do so takes concerted action to rid atmospheric carbon emissions from their lives, I believe we can stabilise and then save the cryosphere - those parts of the world, such as the poles, where water is frozen. We could save about nine out of 10 species under threat, limit the extent of extreme weather so that losses of life and investments are a fraction of those predicted and reduce, almost to zero, the possibility of any great disasters occurring this century. But for that to happen, individuals, industry and governments need to act now. A delay of even a decade is too much. It is my firm belief that all the efforts of government and industry will come to naught unless the good citizen and consumer takes the initiative. There is no need to wait for government to act. You can do it yourself. You can, in a few months rather than the 50 years allowed by some governments, easily attain the 70 per cent reduction in emissions required to stabilise the Earth's climate. All it takes are a few changes to your personal life, none of which requires serious sacrifice. Understanding how you use electricity is the most powerful tool in your armoury, for that allows you to make effective decisions about reducing your emissions of carbon dioxide. To begin, read your electricity bill carefully. Is it higher than it was at the same time last year? If so, why? A phone call or email inquiry to your power supplier may help clarify this. While you are at it, ask about a green power option (where the provider guarantees to source a percentage of power from renewables). The green power option can cost as little as a dollar a week yet is highly effective in reducing emissions. If your provider does not offer a suitable green option, call a competitor. Changing your power supplier is usually a matter of a single phone call, involving no interruption of supply or inconvenience in billing. If, however, a power monopoly still reigns in your area, you need to lobby the authorities to create a free market. It is possible, in switching to green power, to reduce your household emissions to zero. If you wish to take more decisive action, the best place for most people to start is with hot water. In the developed world, roughly a third of carbon dioxide emissions results from domestic power, and a third of a typical domestic power bill is spent on heating water. This is crazy, since the sun will heat your water free if you have the right device. An initial outlay is required, but such are the benefits that it is well worth taking out a loan to do so, for in sunny climates the payback period is two or three years, and as the devices usually carry a 10-year guarantee, that means at least seven to eight years of free hot water. If you wish to reduce your impact further, start with the greatest consumers of power, which for most people are air-conditioning, heating and refrigeration. If you are thinking of installing any such items, seek out the most energy-efficient model. A good rule of thumb is to choose the smallest device to suit your average needs, and consider alternatives: it may be cheaper to install insulation rather than buy and run a larger heater or cooler. It can be difficult to get children to turn off appliances when they are finished with them. One way to teach them is to examine the power bill with them and set a target for reduction. When it's met, give the kids the savings. I became so outraged at the irresponsibility of coal burners that I decided to generate my own electricity, which has proved to be one of the most satisfying things I've ever done. For the average householder, solar panels are the best way. Twelve 80-watt panels is the number I granted myself, and the amount of power this generates in Australia is sufficient to run the house. To survive on this quantum, however, our family is vigilant about energy use, and we cook with gas. And I'm fitter than before because I use hand tools rather than the electrical variety to make and fix things. Solar panels have a 25-year guarantee (and often last for 40 years). With the cost of electricity rising, and because I'll be enjoying the free power they provide well into retirement, I view them as a form of superannuation. The town of Schoenau in Germany offers a different example of direct action. Some of its residents were so alarmed by the Chernobyl disaster that they decided to do something to reduce their country's dependence on nuclear power. It started with a group of 10 parents who gave prizes for energy savings. This proved so successful that it soon bloomed into a citizens' group determined to wrest control of the town's monopoly power supplier, KWR. They put together their own study, then raised 2 million marks to build their own green power scheme. Eventually they raised more than 6.5 million marks - enough to buy the power supply, grid and all, from KWR - and today the town not only runs its own power supply but a successful consulting business which advises on how to "green" the grid right across the country. Each year Schoenau's power supply becomes greener, and even the town's big power users, such as a plastics recycling factory, are happy with the result. It is not feasible right now for most of us to do away with burning fossil fuels for transport, but we can greatly reduce their use. Walking wherever possible is highly effective, as is taking public transport. Hybrid-fuel vehicles are twice as fuel-efficient as a standard, similar-sized car, and trading in your four-wheel-drive or wagon for a medium-sized hybrid-fuel car cuts your personal transport emissions by 70 per cent in one fell swoop. For those who cannot or do not wish to drive a hybrid, a good rule is to buy the smallest vehicle capable of doing the job you most often require. You can always rent for the rare occasions you need something larger. A few years from now, if you have invested in solar power, you should be able to buy a compressed-air vehicle. Then, you can truly thumb your nose at all of those power and petrol bills. Despite the way it often feels, employees wield considerable influence in the workplace. If you want to see your workplace become more greenhouse-aware, ask your employer to have an energy audit done. Remember, if you can cut your emissions by 70 per cent, so can the business you work for. By doing so, in the medium term the business will save both money and the environment. And because society so desperately needs advocates - people who can act and serve as witnesses to what can be done and should be done - by taking such public actions you will be achieving results way beyond their local impact. As you read through this list of actions to combat climate change, you might be sceptical that such steps can have such a huge impact. Not only is our global climate approaching a tipping point, but our economy is as well, for the energy sector is about to experience what the internet brought to the media - an age wherein previously discrete products are in competition with each other, and with the individual. If enough of us buy green power, solar panels, solar hot water systems and hybrid vehicles, their cost will plummet. This will encourage the sale of yet more panels and wind generators, and soon the bulk of domestic power will be generated by renewable technologies. This will place enough pressure on industry that, when combined with the pressure from the Kyoto Protocol, it will compel energy-hungry enterprises to maximise efficiency and turn to clean power generation. This will make renewables even more affordable. As a result, the developing world - including China and India - will be able to afford clean power rather than filthy coal. With a little help from you, right now, the developing giants of Asia might even avoid the full carbon catastrophe in which we, in the industrialised world, find ourselves so deeply mired. Much could go wrong with this linked lifeline to climate safety. It may be that the big power users will infiltrate governments further and stymie the renewables sector; or maybe we will act too slowly, and nations such as China and India will have already invested in fossil-fuel generation before the price of renewables comes down. Or perhaps the rate of climate change will be discovered to be too great and we will have to draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. As these challenges suggest, we are the generation fated to live in the most interesting of times, for we are now the weather makers, and the future of biodiversity and civilisation hangs on our actions. I have done my best to fashion a manual on the use of Earth's thermostat. Now it's over to you. This is an edited extract, updated by the author, from The Weather Makers: The History and Future Impact of Climate Change, by Tim Flannery (Text Publishing, $32.95).