COP26 travel blog: sustainable fightback should start in our homes

Sustainable Scotland contributor Shaun Milne travelled around Scotland before the start of COP26 interviewing some of those who are already taking action to help make Scotland a more sustainable place. In his fourth update, Shaun is in Edinburgh hearing about what we can do in our own homes to help the planet.

Grahame Case. Picture: submitted

Home for me is and always will be Edinburgh. It’s been nearly three decades since I last lived here but each time I pass through these streets or stay over the memories come flooding back, good and the bad.

Growing up in the city’s Wester Hailes estate I was lucky to be part of a happy family but like so many others, there were challenges - paying the gas and electric bills among them.

Trying to find 50ps for the analogue meter and later the switch to power cards, which meant that you had to have more cash in your pocket, was often the source of frustration.

Maybe that’s why issues of fuel poverty and making where we live more sustainable and attractive interests me, something I never really thought about until COP26 inspired this journey.

But how we live soon becomes the topic of conversation with Jamie Brogan, Head of Climate Partnerships at the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute.

“When you see examples of what other countries have done, it shows you what is possible,” he says.

“There was a company in Paris that was told to knock down a tower block.

“They said nah, we’re not going to knock it down because it wasn’t going to be very energy efficient, we’re going to put balconies on it and then grow green things in them and then it will provide cooling in the summer and insulation in the winter.”

Whether or not the high-rise blocks where I grew up will ever see this, I have some doubts. But it’s a brilliant notion and it is just such thinking that gives hope for where we could go as a society – something he thinks will be driven by individuals.

“I do think a lot of it comes down to people’s choices, and that’s kind of what gives you hope, particularly as you go down the generations.” he said, “If you are trying to appeal to a younger market, they won’t do business with a company that doesn’t have the right credentials and so they will drive that change.”

“A lot of people are looking at what they see as the unicorns like carbon capture, storage and hydrogen and stuff like that – I certainly wouldn’t start there.

“There’s a huge amount we can do just by improving the energy efficiency of our homes by upgrading our appliances, by changing our sources of energy and heat, this isn’t a technical challenge, the technology to make huge inroads into our carbon emissions exist now.

“It’s the systemic challenges, the unlocking of investment, the mobilisation of capital and the changing of behaviours - those are the things we should be working on now.

“Is that one thing, I don’t know, but what I am saying is don’t be distracted by these long-term potential things, there is so much we can do right now that can make a hell of a difference. “

Grahame Case, vlogger behind the YouTube Channel the Joy of EV6, does his fair share to make a difference. He’s just picking up his second EV car, a new Kia, when we meet to talk about how he has greened his life.

He made the life change to sustainable living in 2018, explaining: “I’ve got two young kids who are now eight and six and I wanted to leave the planet in at least a better state than I found it in, so I took steps to decarbonise my transport and the house.

“The first thing was LED lights and I found out about smart meters, so I called up my energy provider and they were able to get one installed within the week.

“It then set me off on a wonderful journey that has then ended up with me having an electric car, solar panels, a home battery and an air source heat pump.”

“Smart meters can save you money, you don’t have to do all the expensive things that I have done.

“But it’s also very important for the grid because it’s going to have a look at the data as well and tell when there is going to be peak usage and make the grid smarter and cleaner. As a result, they can tailor what they need for the grid rather than providing carbon intensive power that is not needed.”

Smart meters are not just an upgrade on the analogue meters of old, but will also help to establish a modern smart energy system. This new system will not just enable us to use renewable energy more reliably, but could also enable the rollout of other green tech in the future.

For Verity Tuckwood, owner of The Green House eco cottage in Ettrickbridge in the Borders, it is the chance to influence others that helps motivate her and husband Mark.

Their self-catering structure has a sedum roof, solar panels, forced air heat pumps and a wall down the middle retaining and sharing heat for the whole structure. It is a brilliant way to educate and convert guests to the sustainable cause.

She explains: “The guests who left this morning were a great example of maybe slightly changing opinions or getting them to try new things because they were saying they’d never tried some of the eco cleaning products before and actually they were really good.

“If they go away and they change one thing about their lifestyle, then I’m happy.

“And if everyone does that, if all our guests just went away and said ooh, oh, I didn’t know you could recycle that until I stayed there, then great we’ve changed another small habit for the better.

“Moving to an area like this you appreciate the environment and you are aware of it an awful lot more when you live rurally.

“You are much more aware of the seasons, aware of the climate, of nature around you so with a climate emergency, you understand more of where that fits in and how it is affecting things and how you can do your bit to help.”

Which, if home really is where the heart is, might be a lesson for us all.

Join the energy revolution. Search: “Get a smart meter”.