Brrrrr it’s cold in here!

12th October 2012 by

Today British Gas announced price increases of 6% on gas and electricity bills, coming in to effect next month.  And then a few hours later npower said their prices would go up by 9% too. This follows SSE’s recent announcement of a 9% price hike starting this Monday. Similar increases are expected from the rest of the Big Six energy companies, and all of this comes on top of an average 18% increase since the summer of 2011. What this means is that the average household is now paying at least £100 more to heat their homes than last winter.

So why does this make me angry? Surely as an environmentalist I think it’s a good thing that heat and light which is produced by fossil fuels should be more expensive? Then people will use less of it to save money and in so doing reduce their contribution to climate change? Sadly, no.

One in four households in the UK lives in fuel poverty (spending more than 10% of total income on heating), and that number rises to one in three in much of Scotland and Wales. This means people don’t have enough disposable income to heat their homes to a warm temperature and pay for other essentials, leading to an all too common choice between whether to ‘heat or eat’. The effect of living in cold homes is well documented, and it hits children, the disabled and older people the hardest. The effect on physical and mental health for these vulnerable groups is horrifying and well documented - at least 65 people a day die in the UK in winter as a result of illnesses due to cold homes.

I don’t want these people to use less energy, I want them to use more. A lot more. Enough for them to be warm and healthy. Without worrying about bankrupting themselves and destroying the planet in the process.

So how do we do this? I’m glad you asked. The main cost involved in heating your home is gas – a rapidly declining and increasingly expensive fossil fuel – as this image from Greenpeace shows.

Despite what you might have read, support for developing renewable energy is a tiny fraction of the average energy bill and less than half the cost of the Big Six profits. In fact the Government’s own Committee on Climate Change found that energy bill increases between 2004 and 2010 were 63% due to gas price rises and less than 7% due to support for low carbon technologies.

So reducing the need for gas and moving towards renewable alternatives can provide short and long term solutions to tackling fuel poverty and keeping people warm whilst reducing our impact on the environment. It’s time to get energy efficient people!

Renovate for energy efficiency. If you own your home the Energy Saving Trust has lots of information for you. For us renters, there’s still loads of improvements which will make a difference at a low cost. You could pop to your local charity shop for thick curtains to keep in the heat, make heat reflectors from cardboard boxes and tinfoil to slot behind your radiators,  and support your local hardware shop by splashing out twenty quid on a letter box cover, plus door and window draught excluders. Whilst you’re at it you could check with an older neighbour if they need any of this stuff too. You could ask your landlord to make improvements to the insulation of your home too and there are lots of schemes to give them financial support to do so. Finally you can make like Otesha and provide a communal winter box full of jumpers and scarves for scantily clad guests to put on when they feel a bit chilly rather than turning up the heating!

Stop supporting the companies who dictate high prices and a continuing reliance on fossil fuels. Friends of the Earth’s Clean British Energy campaign encourages you to switch your supplier to a greener option. It’s really simple, the costs are similar and you’ll send a clear message that you’re opting out of the system that demands more fossil fuels.

Join Otesha in signing the Energy Bill Revolution petition which calls for upcoming carbon tax increases to go straight into providing jobs making homes more energy efficient – saving money, cutting carbon and creating green and decent jobs – rather than disappearing into the Treasury pot.

Finally you can support Otesha’s Green Jobs programme! We are way ahead of the curve on this issue. We founded the East London Green Jobs Alliance and push for green and decent jobs for unemployed young people, including in the sectors improving the energy efficiency of existing homes and building super efficient new homes. Even better, for a short time all donations to the Green Jobs programme up to £10 will be doubled!

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