Green future demands a radical shift in lifestyles for British

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MEAT-FREE menus, battery- operated cars and an end to affordable flights.

These are among the radical visions outlined in a report which says Britain could be carbon neutral within 20 years - but only if major steps are taken to change our lifestyles.

Tumble-dryers would disappear and an "armada" of wind turbines would need to be built around the coast to achieve the goal, says the research by scientists from the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT).

But there is scepticism as to whether any of the scenarios suggested in the report are achievable.

CAT says achieving such a drastic cut in emissions is possible and may be the only way to tackle climate change.

Paul Allen, CAT's development director, said: "What we are saying is that we need a huge programme, a bit like the US space project in the Sixties.

"When that was launched it was known to be a huge target, but the driving force to make it work was there. We think that zerocarbonbritain can do that again - it can give us a positive future.

"It is a political challenge but we had the political willpower to abolish slavery even though lots of people said that would cost the economy too much."

Last month, John Swinney, the Cabinet secretary for sustainable growth, pledged to achieve an 80 per cent reduction in Scotland's emissions by 2050.

In its report, the CAT suggests creating a market for carbon that affects every individual, household and company in the country. People would be given their own carbon credits called Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs) and carry them on smart cards.

Each year the free allocation would decrease as the country moves towards zero carbon, with the effect that the value of the quotas will go up. But every time consumers use fossil fuels, say by filling their cars up with petrol, they would lose these valuable credits, forcing them to choose low carbon alternatives.

Among the major effects would be that electric, battery-operated cars would quickly overtake use of the internal combustion engine. Households would be forced to invest in ways to make their homes energy efficient, and switch from gas to biofuels or renewable electricity.

But there would also be "negative" effects in terms of the lifestyle that people enjoy. Air travel would become far too expensive unless the industry "pulls something out of the hat" and finds a green fuel.

And the diet of the country would have to change to include much more organically-grown, locally-produced vegetables, and less meat.

The result of the new "carbon economics" would be to cut energy use by half, and this new demand would then be met entirely by a green supply.

Tens of thousands of wind turbines would be built, mainly around Britain's shores, to provide 50 per cent of the country's new energy needs. The rest would come from a combination of biofuel "combined heat and power" stations, wave power, hydroelectricity and tidal schemes.

Nuclear power could provide some of the demand at first, but the authors do not suggest building more nuclear power stations because of the cost and targets they provide to terrorists.

But Iain McMillan, the director of CBI Scotland, said: "Being carbon neutral is a very good ambition to have but it doesn't seem achievable in 20 years from a business point of view. There would have to be new mixes of fuel and such a major change in law that it doesn't seem a likely prospect."

Duncan McLaren, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said "The solutions put forward in this report could slash carbon emissions and many of them chime with our own recently published research. However, there would need to be a major step change in political and public thinking if the timescales being suggested were ever to be met.

"Nevertheless, anything is possible with the right amount of political will backed up with enough resources. Whatever path we choose it has to start with new laws that commit this and future governments to making annual cuts in the UK's carbon emissions.

He added: "Without this law politicians will continue to place short term gains ahead of the long term decisions needed to get to grips with climate change.

"The detail of the forthcoming Scottish Climate Bill will reveal whether this Executive is prepared to do all it can to prevent further climate chaos."

Q & A: ALL YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT CARBON EMISSIONS

What does the report mean by zero carbon?

The authors define a zero carbon economy as one in which fossil fuels are not burned, or in which all emissions from fossil fuels are prevented from entering the atmosphere.

What are the government's actual targets?

The UK government has set a target of cutting 60 per cent of carbon emissions by 2050, which is higher than many other countries. But the CAT believes this is not enough.

What would the effect of this carbon market be on the economy?

The authors believe it would give people, and firms, a financial incentive to find greener ways of consuming as that would be the only way to conserve their credits. The result could be an explosion in cheap and freely available environmentally-friendly products from electric cars to local organic food.

What would the possible negative effects of this be?

The "carbon economics" proposed in the report would raise the cost of anything that relies on fossil fuels and does not have a known alternative. Therefore, although petrol cars may be replaced in the long-run by electric vehicles, the same cannot be said for air travel. At the moment there is no viable alternative to aircraft fuel so flying would become prohibitively expensive for most people under the proposal. Likewise, people would also need to eat less meat to save money as producing it uses ten times more energy than organic vegetable agriculture.