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Restart Podcast Ep. 69: Exploring our consumption emissions with Professor John Barrett

Power plant in Hangzhou, China

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We hear a lot about carbon emissions in the news and they are a major culprit in the climate crisis. Sometimes, it can be difficult to track where these emissions are coming from. Manufacturers are rarely thorough or honest in accounting for their output. As individuals, it can be frustrating to not have control over this. 

In celebration of Repair Day 2021, we held a webinar alongside the European Right to Repair campaign on consumption emissions. We explored what consumption emissions are, how to minimise them, and how repair helps. In this episode, you will hear a Q&A facilitated by Ugo Vallauri and Chloé Mikolajczak. We were lucky enough to be joined by Professor John Barrett from the University of Leeds to answer these questions and give a short presentation on the topic. 

What are consumption emissions?

Most simply, consumption emissions are emissions released during the production of the things that we buy. As opposed to our territorial emissions which are those produced in the UK. Barrett explains to us exactly why accounting for them is so essential in reducing the harm that we are doing to our planet. According to him, consumption emissions are “widely neglected” when considering solutions to reducing our environmental impact. Part of the reason is that they are not as visible as territorial emissions. It is more difficult for the government to claim victory in reducing them and therefore less appealing. In reality, once we do account for our consumption emissions, our national impact is almost doubled. 

We also ask specifically about “Scope 3” emissions in reporting by big companies, a category that is often the most forgotten. Scope 3 emissions encompass many things but mainly the “downstream” impacts of a company’s activities, like a product being manufactured. Barrett says that it is crucial that companies become better acquainted with these impacts and account for them. He also stresses that the best way to minimise these emissions is to lower production rates in the first place. 

Taking actual accountability

When we talk about minimising our carbon emissions, a common rebuttal is that our efforts as the UK are pointless unless countries like China lower their emissions too. However, Barrett helps us refute that claim by explaining the various falsehoods and the part that we have to play in these very figures. A significant part of industry in China is down to demand from consumers in places like the UK – making us accountable. 

“If we don’t take responsibility for all our consumer products, we are saying that we deserve a greater percentage of the global remaining carbon pie. That to me is clearly linked to the discussion on justice and the right to develop. And the right for countries to access carbon where it is needed to enable that development.”

Barrett also pushes for accountability in managing our carbon output in consideration of the rest of the globe. The UK has the funds and resources to do better. Therefore, we must take this action on behalf of those who cannot. 

How repair can help

We briefly discuss solutions for emissions reduction like carbon offsetting. However, Barrett believes that efforts like this are nowhere near enough to what is needed. 

“Clearly the best way to reduce the impact of the product from the consumer element is actually not to buy it because then we know that there’s zero impact associated with it”

He points out that one of the very best ways to minimise consumption emissions is to not buy products in the first place. This does not mean that we should stop buying smartphones altogether. Rather, that if we repair instead of buying new ones so often we can minimise our individual impact. In order to make this an option for everyone, we need policy measures that make repair as accessible and simple as possible. 

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[Photo courtesy of Ted McGrath with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]

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