When it comes to choosing energy reduction measures in our homes and businesses, we often start with things that take the least amount of effort. In “the trade” this is called the “low hanging fruit” as it’s the things we can pick off easily, without too much bother. An example of low hanging fruit is pressing the “off” button on the TV or PC Monitor rather than leaving it on standby. It’s easy enough to do, doesn’t cost anything and saves a bit of energy.
Switching off lights is another relatively low hanging piece of fruit, as is using energy saving lightbulbs, inflating car tyres to the correct pressure and turning your thermostat down by one or two degrees. You know the kind of thing.
Now let’s not be mean about this kind of activity. Not only is it well intentioned, it also does result in significant savings provided all of us keep doing it. It also should lead to further activities of a similar nature. So, once we all switch our PC Monitors off when we go out for lunch, we might then start switching off the PC itself. Then, before long we might all turn vegan, move into a wigwam and use cow dung for fuel (it happens, just ask these people). Of course, the real journey to low carbon living is a bit more complicated than that.
Getting serious for a moment, can we be sure that low hanging fruit is any more useful than sticking a plaster over a severed limb? In other words, do low level energy saving or carbon reducing activities lead to the kind of carbon reduction we need, rather than just make people feel better?
The short answer is no. By itself, low hanging fruit is not enough. It won’t reduce our energy demand sufficiently to allow renewable technologies to fill the gap when we stop using fossil fuels. It won’t force us to stop using fossil fuels before it’s too late (which, miserably, is waaay before they run out).
So we need to look a bit higher up the tree. In fact we really need to rip up the tree, strip it bare and eat the leaves as well. That takes effort and money but, keeping this analogy going for a few moments more, if you lived in a forest and you knew all the food in storage was toxic, would you just walk around picking the easy fruits? Or would you work night and day until the last fruits fell so your family wouldn’t starve?
I suppose the trouble with that analogy is that lots of people don’t yet believe the food in storage is toxic. But it is.