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The benefits of reduced consumption as Britain kicks its coal habit for more than two months

Last week the Drax power station was brought online for regular maintenance. In doing so it contributed some coal-fired energy to the UK's national grid. This is significant as it represented the end of a record 68 days without coal as part of our energy mix. The longest period since the industrial revolution when coal hasn't been used to power the UK, and 4x than the previous record set in June last year.

In part a function of the reduced demand for energy brought on by Covid lockdown (a 20% reduction on the same period last year), it's also a long term trend in line with Government targets to phase out coal altogether by 2024. As recently as 2015 the fossil fuel had contributed more than 50% of the power used by our grid, but this had already dropped to 2% in 2019.

Two months coal-free is still a big achievement though, especially with renewables making up the biggest share of the cleaner mix: 36%, with gas providing 33% and nuclear 21%. The next step from here must be to further accelerate the part played by renewables in this energy portfolio. Something already being called for by the business community and other organisations, as we look to build back better in the post-covid new normal.

But though a shift to renewables is vital for delivering a sustainable future where a climate crisis is averted, lockdown also highlighted another challenge we need to grapple with if we are to fully embrace this possibility. Because a sustainable future isn't just about how we produce our energy it's about how much energy we use in the first place. Alongside the other limited resources we over-exploit and destroy, from the air we breath to the food we consume.

To enjoy a positive and just future that works for all (or at all), we need to question the consumption culture that underpins our resource exploitation, and the fetishisation of growth that positions this as the only viable goal for businesses and national economies.

Whilst recognising the hardship endured by many during lockdown, a 20% reduction in energy use, the cleaner air we experienced, and its significant impact on the wider environment shows what the world could be like if we switched to a model and mindset of 'enough' rather than one of'more' and 'bigger' and (rarely ever) 'better'. Whether it's stuff, food or travel, we need to realise that more rarely makes things collectively better or us individually happier. Especially when that 'more' is a climate crisis accelerator and so future-killer.

A future that work to the benefit of us all rather than just the few is one where we embrace the truth that enough IS enough. That's the big win all of us need to be aiming for.

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