Sunday, October 21, 2007

U.K.: CRAGS make a personal commitment to reduce carbon footprint

Groups’ Aim: The Greening of Britain - New York Times

October 21, 2007

Groups’ Aim: The Greening of Britain

LONDON — Jacqueline Sheedy has turned the former coal barge where she lives into a shrine to energy efficiency: she reads by candlelight in midwinter, converts the waste from her toilet into fertilizer, and hauls fresh water home on a trailer attached to her bicycle.

Now Ms. Sheedy has set herself a new goal: to stop burning coal for heat and instead use wood from renewable sources.

“I’m scared of the cold this winter,” said Ms. Sheedy, 42, who earns her living teaching urban gardeners to grow food. “But it’s going to be difficult for everyone else to cut their carbon footprints, so I should also keep on setting myself personal challenges.”

Ms. Sheedy is in a CRAG, or a Carbon Rationing Action Group, based in Islington, in North London, whose members have pledged to live low-carbon lives.

Like-minded groups are slowly springing up across Britain, with about 160 people active in some 20 CRAGs. While that is not a large number, the craggers, as they are known, are an example of how the phenomenon of low-carbon living is spreading in Britain, where politicians, companies and communities are competing to be the greenest.

Craggers calculate their personal emissions from things like natural gas and electricity bills, car emissions and airplane travel. The Islington CRAG has imposed a yearly limit of nearly 9,000 pounds of carbon emissions on each member.

As an example of the constraints that imposes, a round-trip flight between London and Hong Kong would burn up more than half that allowance, generating 4,800 pounds of carbon emissions, according to an online calculator available through the British Airways Web site.

The group holds its members to account by imposing fines on those who fail to keep their emissions under the yearly limit. Those who emit progressively less each year can earn money from more profligate members, who pay into the system.

The members say they are willing to make personal sacrifices, from turning down the heat to giving up driving to work, to prove that emissions cuts are feasible without expensive new technologies.

“The public perception is that you’ve got to be rich to be green,” said Andy Ross, 39, an engineer in Glasgow, who helped to found one of the first CRAGs last year. “But it’s not the amount of money you’ve got to spend on fancy micro-renewable energy kits,” he said. “It’s identifying the size of your footprint and adjusting your lifestyle accordingly.”

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