CHOICE membership

Effects of climate change on the consumer


#1

Being that we are proudly carbon neutral and that we are now seeing climate change recognised in court cases, I thought it would be a good time to ask the Community what they think the effects of climate change will be on consumer issues and what potentially remedies we can apply to guard against it.

We’d love to hear your thoughts, please leave a comment below.


#2

The biggest thing I can think of is carbon-washing (CO2e - washing like green-washing)…where manufacturers or retailers market/advertise products which claim to be carbon neutral or have climate change benefits, but digging below the surface one finds out what while the product may save carbon in its use, it has significant embodied carbon which negates any use benefits. An example could be say hybrid vehicles where it can take many years to pay off the additional energy used to manufacture the electric drive train from cradle to grave.

In some respects carbon-neutral is the incorrect term as technically anything of organic origin has carbon. Maybe a new term such as CO2-neutral should be implemented.

The other aspect is carbon neutral by using carbon credits to allow a manufacturer.business to continue with its old ways (not implementing processes or procedures to minimise carbon generation). This just transfer the responsibilities to someone else. Maybe carbon credits can be used to claim carbon-neutral status?


#3

I agree with your remarks, @phb! It will become increasingly common for green-washing to occur. Unfortunately, consumer markets and the environmental movement are already rife with green-washing. But I’ll just point out that your example of EVs not being better than how they’re marketed is not quite right.

EVs can pay themselves off (in terms of carbon, or better yet, CO2) within four months depending on the energy source for the car. This could be an even shorter time period if environmentalists realised the safety and sustainability of clean energy from nuclear power.

EVs powered by dirty energy like brown coal can take about five years to pay off. Considering cars last many decades, this is a very good solution - no greenwashing here. Even if you believe the naysayers who argue that the batteries die quickly and you’ll likely need to replace it halfway through the car’s life (which isn’t backed by the evidence), replacing the battery will only add an extra two years of carbon footprint before going neutral.

All of these numbers would be reduced even further once we take into account the amount of CO2 produced by making the fuel, transporting the fuel in fossil-powered trucks, distributing the fuel across the continent, and losses while stored in the fuel tanks under petrol stations. EVs aren’t green-washing; they are the better choice.

Sorry that the conversation went slightly off-topic, but I still feel it’s in the bounds of greenwashing and publicly-held misconceptions. The original “paper” that claimed EVs are worse for the planet due to their higher embodied energy was completely flawed and not based on any science or evidence. Unfortunately, the myth was started and clearly continues to this day.

Edit: I forgot to add citations!


  • “In fact, in every state except Victoria [thanks to brown coal], you’re producing less emission by driving an electric car charged from the grid, than by driving a combustion-powered car.”
  • ABC, 2018

  • lifecycle analysis comparison, with a long list of citations itself
  • HowStuffWorks

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/j.1530-9290.2012.00532.x

  • Comparative Environmental Life Cycle
    Assessment of Conventional and Electric
    Vehicles
  • Yale University, 2012

  • life cycle analysis of new vehicles
  • MIT, 2000

  • a video breakdown from an automotive engineer of this topic

#4

An article regarding the expected effects of climate change on US cities.


#5

I also expect there will be a propensity for all products, services, etc to adopt green credentials.

It’s possible the debate and future needs may also move from CO2 equivalent Green House Gas neutral, to zero carbon, and on to negative carbon.

For consumers the end game may be a planet where we need to undo many of the sins of the Industrial Revolution including current day lifestyles. A return to a natural carbon and environmental balance more in tune with the state of the planet pre the Bronze or Iron Age?

That may leave the consumer in a world with very different values. Perhaps one where Capitalism is possibly put aside. Value may be attributed to an individuals ability to reduce emissions and take back permanently Carbon from the atmosphere and oceans.

More immediately it might depend on whether there is a genuine price put on carbon? With no pricing mechanism the incentive for change can only be a voluntary one propped up by moral values and supportive government policy.

Knowing the genuine GHG footprint of a product or service etc is one way to assist consumers to make good Choices. Choice could campaign for a change that adds that information to all products and services.

Verifying the GHG footprint of any product or service is reliable is another area Choice might like to include in any future product assessments. It is likely an area that will be subject to gaming for financial gain, at the expense of the consumers expectations.

Consumers may also be exposed to significant changes in employment and lifestyle options. There will likely be more diverse supporting services from home delivered meals to the neighbourhood AI empowered lawn mower. Consumers may find that there are many new areas of financial opportunism and poor service that can cause financial loss or conflict.

Consumers and Choice might need to consider a future in which many of the everyday things Choice has a focus on simply disappear because it is more energy efficient to not have them. Eg Housing without kitchens. Smaller houses, less materials, efficiency of cooking at large scale off site factories. No more shopping trips, schooling from home, work from home. Well, for those with the real NBN?

If the value of capital and corporate interests remain as they are today.
The provision of lifestyle services may become the number one consumer issue. Think a lifestyle wholly dependant on all essential services being provided as a one sided contract? All in the interests of reducing the carbon footprint!


#6

That’s an interesting thought @mark_m. What would the changing nature of households look like? Even the house construction itself.


#7

Interesting question. I started writing and it just poured out. Sorry but its a bit disorganised and long.

We need to start having a macro view of the world. Start looking at world’s best practice and start emulating that in everything. Stop waiting for everyone else to do it. Stop looking at cheapest, and start looking at best value for money for the life of what is being looked at.

Town planning and home design needs to undergo a fundamental change. We know that high density cities create micro-climates which exacerbate and multiply the climate change. We need cities and communities to develop differently with lots of green spaces and less closely clustered concrete and glass. Buildings whether a home or an office block need to be solar oriented to maximise the benefits or the sun for heating and minimise cooling. Natural ventilation systems need to be incorporated into buildings. Look at the old low tech styles of housing with big wide verandahs and lifted off the ground for cooling. Look at semi underground or underground housing to insulate buildings from the climate and stop them being burnt down in bushfires (of which there will be more and more). Stop councils opening up land for development in flood zones and natural waterways, even if they have been dry for a long time. The oceans are rising so stop buying/selling land just above (say 5m?) sea level. All homes should have power generation capability (solar, PV panels, winid, etc), and water tanks. Again this will reduce the demands on infrastructure.

Then we need to stop the disposable mentality we have with all goods and appliances. Make repair-ability mandatory. This will reduce the need for raw materials. Make having a repaired item a source of pride, not of scorn and the marketing gurus would have. Take on the Japanese concept of “Kintsugi” (translates to repair with gold) which shows that repaired items can be beautiful.

Stop the current push to have ‘the latest fashion’ constantly being pushed at people. It is not necessary to have a new … (clothes, car, phone, computer, etc) … every season or year. This will also reduce the consumption of raw materials and the use of energy.

Return to home grown food. Everyone should grow some fruit and veg at home. Every bit will reduce how much needs to be transported. Start eating ‘not perfect’ fruit and veg. This will reduce waste that would need to be thrown out. Get rid of lawns - they are great in the UK, but not in our climate. Plant other stuff instead that doesn’t need watering and will hold the moisture in the soil.

Make public transport free. Then people will use it if can get them where they want to go. This will take the strain off fossil fuels, and less vehicles will mean that there is less pollution, etc. Public transport needs to be looked at differently. Stop putting in light rail, There are better and more flexible transport systems out there which provide the same outcomes but cost less to buy, are cheaper to run. and are less disruptive.

Require our politicians to be planning decades ahead of all of our needs instead of only looking to the next election.

So all up, to survive we need a complete rethink of how we live, consume, and move about. This should preferably be done by scientists and not politicians. And then, we need long term plans to implement the recommended changes.

Anything less will be too little and it will be our descendants that suffer the consequences.


#8

I’m glad it poured out because some insightful stuff here :grinning: In regards to green spaces in cities, it’s a huge shortfall in many of our urban areas, both regional and city. We end up with these large asphalt baking trays that are not aesthetically pleasant either.

Reapirability surely has to be a factor. It would be great to see modular design coming though, making it a lot easier to keep the framework of items but update the look or tech as needed without so much waste. You could probably add reusing to this pile - while recycling is great, only a small number of specialty shops support reusing our packaging. It needs to be made a lot easier to bring in our own standardised refillable packaging, but then again, if making more food at a local/homegrown level perhaps this will resolve itself. I’m guessing that cost and supply reliability will be drivers for behavioural change.

I agree with your theory on public transport, or at least it should be extremely low cost and more accessible. When you look at this at a global level, it’s clearly the way forward for other nations. Of course, we have our large land mass and low population that presents a challenge here. Cycling in Australia, especially the big cities, is usually a hostile affair and this needs to be addressed on a wider scale IMO. Part of the issue is the design of our roads, that can often see driver and cyclist put into opposition.

Thanks for the insights so far everyone! I look forward to hearing more.


#9

It isn’t only the emissions from the fuel source that needs to be considered but the whole lifecycle which includes the vehicles manufacture.

If one looks at the lifecycle CO2 on the GreenVehiclesGuide website, which best represents the lifestyle CO2s for vehicles sold in Australia, some of the lifecycle CO2s include:

  • 194g/km (Nissan J11 Qashqai)
  • 166g/km (Mazda CX-3 Petrol)
  • 166g/km (Telsa Model S 75RP to 194g/km (Tesla Model S 70 kWh Dual Motor)
  • 157g/km (Toyota Yaris Petrol)
  • 124g/km (Suzuki Ignis GL Petrol)
  • 109g/km (Citroen Cactus AT6)
  • 95g/km (Hyundai 2019 Ioniq HEV)
  • 84g/km (Toyota Prius Hybrid)

Lifecycle emissions which better represents the CO2s from the vehicle, both its operation and also from it manufacture/fuel production provides a better representation of the true carbon impacts on the vehicles.

Using the above, yes, while the Prius has the lowest lifecycle CO2 based on vehicles sold in Australia and for Australian conditions, Pure EVs and higher lifecycle CO2s than the hybrid and similar to the lowest values for small cars. It is worth noting that the Telsa S sits between a Mazda 3 and a Nissan J11 Qashqai. One can’t say that EV are more carbon/CO2 friendly (or neutral) form of private vehicle to use as the information available indicates otherwise.

BTW Telsa makes the following claims…

CO2 saved compared to what? Not when compared to any vehicle which has lifestyle emissions less than that of a Telsa vehicle…otherwise Telsa owners could save CO2 by buying the other vehicles.

This is the point I was making above.

The same applies when any company/manufacturer makes claims about level of CO2 emission associated with its products and services.


#10

@phb, it may be helpful to consider how these numbers were derived in more detail.

Does the Government sponsored Green Car Guide assume that the EV’s listed are recharged from the current grid (800gm per kWh typical carbon emissions) or a low carbon source?

It is certainly more complex when you consider wind generation and PV systems also have a carbon footprint that needs to be accounted for.

The CO2 emissions for the Tesla vehicles appear much greater than other sources quote when charged from a low carbon source. The Green Guide refers to a ‘Fuel Life Cycle’, and not a Vehicle Life Cycle. It’s not clear that the guide considers the manufacturing cradle to grave footprint of each vehicle?


#11

It indicates it is basedn n the conditions which prevail in Australia. Today, there would be very few EV vehicle owners that only use non-CO2 energy sources for their recharging.

Over time there may be a reduction in the grid CO2s, but the Green Vehicle guide is about vehicles currently sold.

It also appears the Telsa website carbon savings are for tailpipe emissions only…but ignores the lifecycle emissions which is a better measure to compare vehickes of different fuel/energy types.


#12

Accepted many EVs are recharged from coal or even fuel oil if in the NT.

I suspect the better measure here is a reverse of the logic.

How much does a vehicle reduce total carbon CO2 (fuel life cycle plus vehicle life cycle) relative to the previous norm?

How much does the vehicle cost over a defined life on kilometers?

Hence how much does it cost to save each tonne of CO2? IE Reduction per dollar of vehicle cost. Upfront investment and lifetime costs including fuel?

The GreenGuide is too simple a view?

Edit: which perhaps demonstrates the complexity of the topic and why even the current issues or effects on the consumer are not always as simple as they appear.


#13

Much of what you have poured out aligns with broader sustainability principles so it will be useful in many ways not just for the presenting problem of climate change. At the risk of repeating myself GHG is but the first physical limitation hitting us in the face now, there will be many more before the consumption of humanity reaches balance with what the earth can provide.

It would be tempting to just rant (vomit on the keyboard so to speak) but we were asked to focus on consumer impacts and remedies. I doubt that we can solve all the world’s sustainability issues in a few hundred words anyway. I am going to start by having a piggy back on @Meltam.

Dwelling location, design and construction
Councils do need to pull their socks up and be more proactive. We have seen building standards move towards better thermal efficiency etc but still there are new houses built that are not sun oriented. When applying for building approval you are commanded to take note of important events such as floods. When you ask where are the flood studies they don’t exit. In rural areas the RFS must tick off house siting but this is very perfunctory. There is so much room for improvement.

What about existing buildings? Consider all the ‘Black Fridays’ and black other days that happened because 100 years ago villages were built in forests and in the last decade they perished in unstoppable fires. Or the ones built on flood plains because it would take a 100 year flood to get them and these now happen at 20 years. Soon all these houses will be uninsurable%%. It is easy to forget about the Ganges delta drowning a few million because that is way over there. What about when when the horde of refugees is from a few suburbs away?

The throw-away, fashion turnover society
Not putting the appliances, equipment and clothes from last year into landfill may seem a very greeny ideal. It is only an abstract ideal because it is so cheap to do so. It has no practical impact today. This can become quite extreme, like the people who go to outdoor festivals and then get back into their cars abandoning all their camping gear because they can’t be bothered packing it back into the car. It’s less than the price of a 3 star hotel why bother.

The GHG emission consequences of making (and disposing of) that gear and clothing are not part of their price. Maybe they should be.

Require our politicians to be planning decades ahead of all of our needs instead of only looking to the next election
This is the big one. Fix this and you fix them all. But the current democratic electoral system is quite against you. When all you focus upon is avoiding a social media catastrophe in the next 60 days and having a sufficient war chest to be reelected in 2 years you don’t bother looking 10 years on and 30 years on is ridiculous. There is simply no mechanism for payoff for the leader with the long view. He or she will never get elected. We have done this to ourselves and we keep doing it every time we elect shallow, glib and attractive people instead of thinkers. The current political framework enables and encourages this and until we change that we will keep getting the same calibre of leaders.

Anything less will be too little and it will be our descendants that suffer the consequences.
I take this to be a hope and a prayer. I fear it is going to be a bleak prediction.

More later. Must feed beasts.


%% Flood insurance in flood areas is already impossible or hard to come by.


#14

That came up in discussion of the NBN recently. Given the service life of the technologies, we need to be planning for a century or so. Something similar could be said of power infrastructure (the technologies aren’t so long-lived, but we do need to plan for the long term). The Murray-Darling seems to be telling us to plan for at least a thousand years.

That may be the most intractable problem. We’d probably need something like the seventh generation principle enshrined in the Constitution.


#15

Some interesting thoughts here. The seventh generation principle was a very interesting read @n3m0. Imagine even a seven year principle.

I recently heard about some cases in Exmouth where the insurance cost was above $15,000 (due to cyclone risk) on what I would consider a reasonably priced home. Our insurance industry (and the people who rely on them) will surely be in some serious trouble if this approach to pricing becomes more commonplace as climate risks increase.


#16

It may be useful for many of us to understand a little better how insurable risks are shared or costed across the community. The actual process behind any assessment is invisible.

Does Choice have access to an insurance guru? Similar as for finance where there are recognisable independent experts like Noel Whitaker.

In one instance insurance is intended to share the cost of risk across the whole community.

Counter to that, those of us who do not live in flood or cyclone or fire or earth quake zones may not agree that our insurance costs need to keep going up. Typically insurers blame the latest flood, fire etc as one more reason for our premiums to go up.

Some of us may have properties that are better suited to resist the hazards of our locale. How risk and cost is determined is far from transparent. Perhaps some of us pay more than we should. Perhaps the risks are not shared fairly. Who knows?


#17

The obvious problem is that constitutional change is extremely difficult.

The less obvious problem is that it depends on how such a principle is implemented in practice and the resources given to its implementation and enforcement. The environmental Acts of NSW are sprinkled with high sounding general ideals such as ‘ecologically sustainable development’, ‘intergenerational equity’ and ‘the precautionary principle’ but these are routinely ignored. A key skill set for politicians is being able to apply the law how you want to. A key ability for lobbyists is to persuade politicians to do it your way.

Pushing a case up through the courts to test compliance with a broad constitutional principle is costly, risky and time consuming. I bet there would be a lot of money and column-inches available to fight the 7th generational principle getting approved and every time it was used.


#18

As you said:

Nobody says it will be easy to fix.

What passes for democracy in Australia is defined in our Constitution. Fixing the electoral system means changing the Constitution.


#19

I think we have a few on board here at CHOICE @mark_m, like Uta here :slight_smile: You make a good point about the how the cost of insurance is applied, and I think you’ve touched on a disconnect between urban/community planning and the risk factors the environment of a particular area presents to the long-term feasibility of a dwelling.


#20

I believe that giving force to the high principles in existing law would be easier. That can be done incrementally, you can build popular support gradually, as you get more support you re-align more legislation and the supporting regulations, free the captured regulators and the fix the administration. Constitutional change is all or nothing; both parties, a majority of voters and a majority of States are required, the majority fail. The risk is that it will turn out like the republican referendum, a scare campaign and confusion will close off the possibility for a generation.

But we build castles in the sky, there is no will to any of this right now. If climate change is any indication dealing with the other limits to the carrying power of our world will have to wait until the effects are manifest to blind Freddy and the drover’s dog.