We’d rather have a new iPhone than 40 rolls of insulation


Let’s be brutally honest: energy transition may sound dynamic and be vital in view of climate change if the human race is going to survive on our planet, but when you get right down to it, it’s not really sexy. In our pampered society we like spending our hard-earned euros to boost the economy. And of course buying the latest Apple or Samsung smartphone is more fun than buying the latest hybrid boiler.

We talk a lot about having to move away from fossil fuels and gradually becoming more sustainable. But how do we move away from fossil fuels? Some firmly-held but not necessarily well-founded statements we often hear include:  ‘Groningen (natural gas) must be closed down’ and  ‘Everyone should be able to buy solar panels at a low price’. ‘Wind energy is brilliant’ (but not in my backyard).

If we think about things a bit more deeply we realise that it’s not that simple. The electricity grid is nowhere near large enough to heat everyone’s home using electricity.  Of course there is a future for solar panels once they are easier to use and less expensive. They are trendy now as you can get them in different colours. But are we going to sit in the cold if there’s no sun or wind? Certainly not!

Inge O'brien
Inge O'brien

Secretly we don’t really want to give up (convenient) gas. Living in our homes with access to gas, we need to make changes to our homes to give the environment a helping hand and achieve the climate targets (you know, Paris, CO2-neutral in 2050).  It’s still far too easy to set our smart meter so that our big house is nice and warm when we get home from work. And we just love cooking with gas on the 90-cm cooker that we splashed out on a while ago.  And don’t get me started on the wellness bathroom with the amazing rain shower. But doing a bit more in your own home? It’s still too soon for that. Better insulation? Too much hassle! And a hybrid boiler? Where are you going to put it? Does it take up a lot of space? And how much mess will it make in the home? And of course the most important question: what will it cost? As gas prices are so low at the moment, it doesn’t make financial sense. Let’s just wait a bit, you can only spend that money once, and after all we do want at least two holidays this year in our new SUV, and buy the latest gadgets.

There’s a lot of talk about energy and sustainability at global, European and national level. Platforms and forums abound. That’s something to cheer about. The more we talk about it, the better. It will undoubtedly lead to more action. But we need a shift in attitudes among people in their own homes.  It’s still seen as something quite remote. All these alarm bells. Do we really need to be so concerned? Of course, but because we don’t really see it in our own street, we just know about what we see on the TV news when the main story is about yet another hurricane or flood. After watching the news we usually switch our smart TV to Netflix. A lot of people really haven’t got the point, don’t realise that all is not well with the world. It’s naturally a shame that we can’t go to the Caribbean on holiday, but as for getting really worried about the environment? Nah!

In the past, in the 1980s, the slogan was ‘a better environment starts with yourself’, and I think that could well make a return. Because results will only be achieved by a shift in attitudes among people in their own homes. We all point to each other, at a personal, industrial, national and international level: If they don’t do anything, then neither will we. Now the new government has put up energy taxes. No, that’s not popular, but if we don’t do anything ourselves then the government has to incentivise us through higher taxes. As a country we are lagging behind in Europe. It’s high time for things to change, and I wonder who will be the environmental guru for our times?


Author: Inge O'Brien (Communications Advisor GasTerra)