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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 May 2007, 08:33 GMT 09:33 UK
8am: Shower. Save the water. Save the planet
By Robert Greenall
BBC News Magazine

Light switch
Craggers use natural light

Would you switch everything off and rely on natural light to save the planet? It's the only answer for the families going to extreme measures to cut emissions.

Most families get up in the morning, switch on the lights and start their ablutions. The Robinsons do not.

The Robinsons get up, leave the lights off and open the curtains a crack so some light gets in but little heat escapes.

This is the world of "carbon rationing".

The term may fill some people with horror - conjuring up images of wartime austerity measures and queues for bread and sugar.

For others it may suggest green fundamentalists forcing us to swap our central heating for woolly jumpers and run our cars on chicken dung.


opening curtains

Don't turn on lights in morning - open curtain slightly to allow light in but stop heat escaping.

woman on bike

Cycle or walk to work or school. An electric bike has low emissions - and makes the journey easier.

adjusting the thermostat

Keep thermostat for heating and water on low. When showering, collect water for shaving in a jug.

switching the tv off

Cut out or cut down watching television during week. Never leave it on standby.

switching lights off

Evenings, stay in kitchen to avoid switching on other lights. Use energy-saving bulbs.

1 of 5

A recent poll suggested only 28% of Britons thought the idea of setting mandatory limits on individuals' carbon emissions - raised by Environment Secretary David Miliband - was socially acceptable, even though most feel lifestyle changes are needed to reduce the impact of climate change.

But the term does not trouble Peter Robinson, and dozens like him around the country who have signed up to voluntary groups whose aim is to substantially reduce the CO2 their members are releasing into the atmosphere.

These Carbon Rationing Action Groups advise their members, known as Craggers, on how to minimise energy use.

The Robinsons have eagerly set about finding ways to cut their personal energy use, many of which have also proved financially beneficial.

Peter Robinson
It's not draconian, you're not leading the life of a monk
Peter Robinson

"It's only when you stop and start looking that you realise that you do waste a lot of energy, not out of spite or just being lazy or anything, it's just your normal lifestyle," Peter says.

"Our lifestyles were very energy-rich whereas now... there are things you can do in your life that don't stop you having a really nice time... but you can still make really substantial savings.

"It's not draconian, you're not leading the life of a monk, it's just stuff that's really easy to do."

The 36-year-old school administrator may not think it is draconian but there are some who would raise an eyebrow at the prospect of using only the upstairs bathroom during the hours of darkness and relying on ambient light from streetlamps.

Use jug to collect hot water in shower for shaving
Open curtains a fraction instead of switching on light
Walk or cycle to school/work

But Peter has been an enthusiastic "cragger" since joining his local Crag, in Worcester last year.

Though he, his wife Sarah, and children Jacob and Molly, have been actively trying to reduce their carbon footprint for some time, he believes being members has helped to focus their minds on the task in hand.

"Being involved in the Crag... has really made a difference - monitoring how you produce your carbon... is what really has driven me and enabled us to look at what we do, how we live our lives, make those savings," he says.

It is easy to see the Robinsons as driven. They do not watch television, but for reasons that have nothing to do with the environment. Their children are allowed to watch DVDs at the weekend but the brightness control has to come down.

Developing habits is the key, Peter says. He described how he once visited a prison with a group of psychology students.

Currently at least 23 groups throughout the UK
Each group sets individual targets, but most going for 4.5 metric tons per person for 2006/7
In some Crags, a financial penalty for those who exceed limit
Aim is to reduce personal footprints by about 10% a year, to achieve a 90% cut by 2030

"One thing you notice there is that each time any of the prison staff went through a door they would close it and lock it, it becomes second nature. And when I started going round at home turning lights out it reminded me of that routine."

Most of the family's savings have come from using less heat (turning it off altogether from April to October and restricting its use at other times), less light and turning off electronic equipment at the wall. Peter has also pledged not to fly this year.

He says they reduced their personal carbon emissions from 12.7 metric tons in 2005 to 10.9 in 2006, well below the national average. He is hoping savings this year will have knocked another 10% off their emissions by December.

Financial penalties

Frustratingly for him, his local Crag has not offered any guidance or reduction targets. But in nearby Hereford one of the first groups to be set up recently finished its carbon "accounting" for the year April 2006 to April 2007.

It set a limit of 4.5 tons per person. Some Crags have elected to impose financial penalties for those who exceed the limit, but Hereford decided not to.

Carpenter Steve Ball, 36, who joined Hereford Crag last year, found a combination of his car use and a flight to Slovenia had pushed him well over the limit to more than seven tons.

Peter Robinson puts in energy-saving lightbulb
Craggers do not like energy-hungry tungsten bulbs

But although he had never previously calculated his footprint, he believes changes he has made have already cut deeply into his emissions - for instance, converting his car to run on a biodiesel mix and resisting regular calls by friends to fly off to Tallinn or Prague.

Like Peter, Steve has taken small steps across the board - like using a small motorbike for some journeys or insulating his converted loft.

He plans to insulate his floor as well, but his dream is to build afresh.

"Renovation is quite a hard thing to do, to make an old house efficient energy-wise, but I'm looking into building a new house," he says.

Both Peter and Steve have made massive changes and are prepared to go further. But they both seem wary of the Crags' ultimate aim - to reduce personal carbon emissions by 90% by 2030, which the movement says is necessary to avoid dangerous and potentially runaway climate change.

"We would struggle as a family to get 90% cuts," Peter says.

"If it's do-able, then great idea," says Steve. "We can strive for it, but whether or not it's realistically possible I don't know."

One thing is sure. If anyone can do it, it's the Craggers.

Below is a selection of your comments.

What an incredible idea! I'd love to start something like this in the States. My husband and I have been independently trying to do some of these same things, but it would be so much easier with group support.
Sara Eiser, Lancaster, PA USA

Hat's off to all these families. Like them I hardly use my heating, never leave things on standby and conserve water, but living on my own it's a lot easier for me.

On the subject of rationing, I think we should be looking at graded charging for gas and electricity. Each household would have a per person target and energy use up to that target would be charged at an economy rate. Usage over the target would be charged at a premium rate, say 25% extra, and high usage would be charged at a punitive rate, say 100% extra.
Jonny, Nottingham, UK

Why should the millions of hardworking people care about the future of the planet. We get little or no luxury in our short lives while the rich squander all the beautiful and natural resources of the planet and always have done. Stuff them and their future generations. Until the rich start being responsible and doing their bit why should the rest of us.
Joe, Cardiff

I think those are wonderful ideas that should be supported by everyone, regardless of their personal viewpoint on global warming or the environment. It only makes sense to conserve our resources instead of wasting them apathetically.
Nathan, San Diego, CA, USA

I'm all for saving money and if this save the environment that ok, but this is just silly. We emit so little co2 compared with nature that it makes so little difference. Time to stand up smell the roses.
Anthony Brittain, Leeds

In Melbourne we have had water restrictions in place for as long as I've lived here. It sounds like hard work to limit the length of your showers or divert grey water from your washing machine to water the garden. After living here for three years, I don't even notice the restrictions anymore. I imagine that measures put in place to limit carbon emissions would be exactly the same: it would take a small adjustment period before it was simply second nature.
Reid, Melbourne, Australia

I think this article a somewhat condescending tone towards Craggers, when they should be applauded for their noble actions. Trying to make a difference in a world full of greed and overconsumption is not something to be mocked for. You should question your own definition of "normalacy" before judging others against it.
Mary, Seattle USA

I think it's great what the Craggers are doing, and everyone should follow suit. It's not asking for a lot and I think it's time we all actually did our bit to save energy wherever we can instead of just talking about it. We all need to stop being selfish or hypocritical about enviromental issues because it affects all of us.
Krissi, South Africa

It's all well and good, switching your light's off, lowering the temperature of your thermostat - this all makes sence, but "staying in the kitchen", so you don't have to use lights in another room - only open your curtains a little bit to let light in but no heat out? Come on people, if you want to live like that, sell the house - and go buy a tent - or better still, give your house to some poor people - that way you will feel even more superior that you are helping the world. Rubbish - total rubbish.
mark amory, brighouse

It's not just about the carbon footprint. I'm convinced energy (oil, natural gas) itself is going to be in short supply in a decade or two. We have to reduce our consumption and start saving energy.
Jan van Tonder, Vienna, Austria

The difference they are making will have no effect on the carbon footprint of the world until China and America do something about their output. All they are doing is making their lives miserable so they can have social one upmanship on the rest of society, I imagine them all to be like the modern parents in Viz.
James Fendek, Dudley

Instead of pressurising private individuals to ration carbon emissions, what about the blatant waste of electricity used in all-night street and road lighting? Local authorities and the Highways agency take note. An ideal target area for massive carbon emission savings and would also help reduce our concil tax bills as well! And why do we need street lighting whilst we are asleep? The French switch off street lighting at midnight.
Jake Toczyski, Worksop

I've always done all this! I thought it was just me being a skinflint. Now I have the excuse of being Green.
Judith, Farnborough, Hampshire

Man made global warming is not a threat - watch Channel 4s "Great Global Warming Swindle". This time 30 years ago we were being told the earth was going to freeze over because of us and now this. And surely they fact the hottest temperature ever recorder was over 100 years ago tells us something. The earth naturally heats and cools. Nothing to do with us.
Steven, belfast

I'm highly carbon-footprint conscious and already practicing many ideas said in the article. Some are very easy to do and need very little initial investment, like switching to CFL bulbs, no heaters from April-August, using a jug to hold hot water while shaving, sparing use of electrical appliances, etc. To start with, it only needs your willingness and after sometime it becomes habitual. The community, Craggers is something I didn't know earler, will definitely join one in my town. Being low on Carbon is a matter of self-judgement and reason, whether or not you want to leave this planet in a reasonably good shape for your children, if not better than what you got from your parents.
Manikanda, UK

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