19th September 2018
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Breaking habits

As part of the drive to cut carbon emission throughout the country, Shetland now has its very own “Carbon Reduction Officer”. Malachy Tallack meets Harriet Bolt to find out how islanders can contribute to the fight against global warming.

Anyone paying attention to their local paper recently will have noticed a true sign of the times: Shetland today has no less than four people working with the express aim of reducing the islands’ carbon footprint. Three of these are “Community Powerdown Officers”, employed by local groups in Unst, Northmavine and Fair Isle. The fourth has a much broader role, covering the whole of Shetland.

Employed through the amenity trust, Harriet Bolt has just begun what it likely to be a seriously challenging job, that of Shetland’s Carbon Reduction Officer. It is a two year post, and the goal in that time is to cut the islands’ Co2 emissions by 28,000 tonnes. To give some perspective on this figure, it has been estimated that the average car produces 3.6 tonnes of carbon annually, so a cut of 28,000 tonnes in Shetland is the equivalent of taking 10,555 cars off the road. Put another way, the average carbon footprint for an individual in Britain is said to be 10 tonnes per year, so this could potentially represent a 10 per cent reduction in Shetland’s overall footprint in just two years. That would be an impressive achievement.

Funding for this new post has come from the Scottish government, who have committed themselves to the very ambitious aim of cutting the country’s emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. It is a nationwide target, but the effort to achieve it will very much be locally-focussed, as Harriet herself explains:

“As part of the government’s efforts, they’ve set up this Climate Challenge Fund that communities can apply to. The main aims really are increasing education and awareness, and helping people form meaningful initiatives. What we’re looking at are things that are actually appropriate for Shetland people. I think our own target is very do-able, but it will require a lot of interaction with everyone.

“I’ll obviously be working with the Community Powerdown Officers, but there’s also Community Energy Scotland, meeting with the council about recycling and other issues; then just engaging with individuals and businesses. I’ll be finding new partners to work with all the time.”

Although Harriet is only just beginning her job, many of the ideas and schemes that are to be implemented have already been sketched out as part of the funding application process. Some of these are already underway, or are almost ready to begin.

“There’s a few schemes we’ve got at the moment; there’s a bag pack scheme – it’s almost like the recycling schemes for cans and glass. People put their old plastic bags in and the shops re-use them. They did a trial in Walls and that saved 6,000 bags a quarter. So we’ve just sent letters out to rural community shops and we’ll hopefully roll it out in Lerwick as well.

“The big initiatives for individuals and householders are that we’ve got over 4,000 energy efficient light-bulbs to give away for free, and we’ve also got about 200 energy smart-meters – you plug them into your mains and they tell you how much electricity you’re using, in real time, so you can switch a light on and it will tell you how much extra you’re using. You can also work out your individual appliance efficiency.

“Apart from those, I’m working with education at the moment so I’m hoping to go into schools to give them information about what we’re doing and about the issues of climate change. We’re also doing some strategic work as well, working with businesses, helping them to write individual carbon reduction plans that are specific to each company – the service sector as well, like the NHS.

“These are things that are Shetland-appropriate. Some of the schemes are running all over Scotland, but I’ll be looking at how to make them work here.”

Harriet will already be familiar to many Shetlanders as part of the team who were studying killer whale activity around the islands last year. The time she spent with the group played a big part in her decision to go for this new job.

“I’ve always been interested in environmental issues, and having studied science at university I’ve been very aware of climate change. So there were two reasons really: my interest in environmental issues and my interest in Shetland – I came up here and fell in love with it. And Shetland is so vulnerable to the effects of climate change; it’s just something that’s so important to this area.”

One of the biggest threats in the fight to cut carbon emissions is always going to be public apathy. Many people fail to recognise how their own actions can make a difference, and therefore choose not to make the necessary changes to the way they live. Part of Harriet’s job will be to remind us that even small changes can potentially make a big difference. And she is optimistic that, in Shetland, the message will fall on sympathetic ears.

“One of the things that really attracts me to Shetland is that people really are interested in the environment – they’re very proud of it. I‘ve seen that in the way people interacted with the killer whale project, and I definitely think this job is something that people will be interested in, especially because carbon reduction is financial savings as well, and everyone is interested in that.

“I think the time period is quite difficult. I think we’ll get the 28,000 tonnes by them, but I’ll be working really hard to get some self-sustaining initiatives going because it will be a real shame if everything just finishes in two years time. So that’s why working with the businesses will be really important, because if we get them carbon reduction plans and show them the financial savings it’s making them hopefully they’ll just carry on doing that.

“The response so far has been pretty good. People are certainly getting aware of the project, and I hope they’re seeing that it can benefit them as well as the environment. I’ve heard lots of people talking about it, from the press coverage of the Powerdown roles as well as this one. People are certainly interested in what we’re doing, even if they’re not aware of the individual schemes yet. So if I can do the legwork and the research and make these initiatives really easy for people, and make it appropriate for them, I think most people will want to get on board.

“It’s just about stopping to think isn’t it? It’s just breaking the habits that develop. Most of them are really easy things to do.”