|CC BY 2.0 zieak|
As reported over at the BBC, government statistics show the UK is using 10% less electricity than 5 years ago, despite a growing economy.
Meanwhile Business Green reports that German energy demand fell nearly 5% in 2014, dropping to the lowest level since the German reunification. Coal use fell even more dramatically, to 7.9%, as the country's much talked about "energiewende" (energy transition) policies to promote renewables and energy efficiency started to show some real dividends.
And The Guardian reports that Australia saw the biggest drop in carbon emissions in a decade, with analysts crediting the country's carbon tax for incentivizing a broad-based push for lower emissions and more efficiency across a wide range of industry sectors.
All of these examples provide a powerful and timely reminder that our individual actions—whether it's installing LED bulbs, weatherizing your home or biking to work—can have a powerful collective impact when enough people get on board.
They also remind us, however, that individual actions don't happen in a vacuum. In all three cases, these energy and emissions savings—savings which will have a very real benefit on these countries' health and economic outcomes, not to mention climate change—were supported by government initiatives to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency and/or to put a price on more polluting forms of energy. Yet in all three cases, those advances can also be reversed.
Indeed, in two of those cases, there's some evidence they already have. In Australia, for example, the aforementioned carbon tax has now been scrapped by Tony Abbott's government, putting the country's recent astounding progress in clean energy at risk. Similarly, in the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron has been speaking out against onshore wind farms, despite many polls showing a majority of Brits firmly in favor of more wind power. And other ministers have been speaking out against large-scale solar farms, despite the UK solar industry developing some inspiring examples ofbiodiverse, productive solar farms that still produce food and have minimum impact on the environment.
In other words, the lessons here are multiple: Firstly, that individual action works. Secondly, that good policy works. Thirdly, that when the two combine, rapid progress can be made. And fourthly, there will always be those seeking to undermine that progress and reassert the status quo.
So keep biking. Keep insulating. Keep installing solar panels, turning the lights out, or whatever it is you are doing. But also please stay vigilant and keep voting too.