ONE of the best dystopian novels I have read recently is The Denial by journalist Ross Clark. In it he describes a dark, damp, cold, miserable and oppressive future in which we all have individual ‘carbon budgets’ which restrict what we can buy, how much we can heat our homes and how far we can travel.
That brings us to the website of the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), also known as the ‘Nudge Unit’. Among its many other achievements, the BIT were reportedly highly influential in helping the government persuade us to accept the freedom-crushing pandemic lockdowns. They now seem keen to help save the planet from Global Warming or Climate Change or Climate Crisis or Climate Emergency or Global Boiling or whatever it’s called this month. They have been exploring how banks should go about nudging their customers to go green and write: ‘Imagine you have just paid for a full tank at a petrol station. A message flashes up on your phone screen reading: “Did you know this purchase is equivalent to over 200 kg of carbon? You could save over half of that by using more public transport”.’
The BIT website goes on to tell us: ‘This is a service that Cogo, a carbon impact platform, provides for some mobile banking apps, such as NatWest, with the aim to help inform – and change – customer thinking and behaviours. And whilst 8 in 10 in Europe are willing to make changes in their lives to help combat climate change, only 2 in 10 actually know how to act on this aspiration. Given the wealth of data they hold, banks are very well placed to provide timely and personalised advice on sustainability of our purchases.’
The BIT website shows how this wonderful new service can work, nudging us towards more environmentally-friendly choices:
The NatWest website says: ‘CoGo were founded with the aim of changing behaviours to better the world. We have teamed up with them to help you understand the impact their spending has on the planet by calculating a carbon footprint for each transaction they make. The aim is to show you how to make positive changes to both their spending and lifestyle that could lower their carbon footprint and make a real and lasting impact for the biggest issue of our lifetime‘. (Interesting mixture of second and third person. And the Cogo website spells the organisation’s name in lower case but NatWest spell it with a capital G.) In the careers section of the NatWest Group website, we’re given an example of the NatWest carbon footprint app in use:
Cogo’s mission is: ‘Through Cogo, businesses and consumers are connecting to take action on climate change. The positive impact that our platform is enabling is real and measurable and we’ve got the numbers to prove it.’
It’s not just the NatWest Group which is implementing this exciting new technological advance. On its website Cogo proudly informs us: ‘Cogo has partnered with leading banks to transition their customers into a low-carbon economy including: NatWest, RBS, Coutts, Westpac, Commonwealth Bank, ING, Ulster Bank, TSB, Mastercard, Santander, The Cumberland, Kiwibank and OTP Bank.’
Cogo also gives us an idea of the amount by which we apparently need to reduce our personal carbon footprint: ‘The average monthly carbon footprint in the UK is approximately 1,000kgs. To help reduce the impacts of climate change, scientists recommend that by 2030 we should aim to reduce our carbon footprints to around 180kgs (Cogo, 2021)’. That’s a very significant reduction. Should you be inspired to reduce your carbon footprint, the NatWest helpfully provides a ‘Carbon Footprint Tracker’ providing you download their app. According to NatWest, half a million customers are already using the NatWest/Cogo carbon footprint app.
Cogo are just one of several companies developing personal carbon footprint trackers. For example, at last year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, J Michael Evans, President of Alibaba Group, said: ‘We’re developing, through technology, an ability for consumers to measure their own carbon footprint . . . That’s where they’re travelling, how they are travelling, what are they eating, what are they eating, what are they consuming on the platform.’
It doesn’t take much of a leap of imagination to see how these carbon footprint apps can easily be transformed into personal carbon budgets and the dystopian world envisaged in Ross Clark’s satirical novel about oppressive climate change controls can quickly become our new reality.