School holidays and energy consequences – via The Conversation UK


School holiday shakeup brings unintended consequences

By Allison Hui, Lancaster University; Elizabeth Shove, Lancaster University, and Gordon Walker, Lancaster University

Michael Gove’s proposal to allow all schools in England to set their own holidays is part of a bill aimed at removing “unnecessary burdens” and regulations. But removing some burdens could create others. Some potential complications such changes might present for schools and for families have already been discussed, but there are other unintended consequences.

Our particular interest is in energy. The link is not initially obvious, but it is clear that what people do, and when they do it, is important for determining peaks and troughs of energy demand. No one buys gas, electricity or petrol just for the fun of it; they are used for providing power and heat at home, getting to school or to work, and so on. How and when people use these resources, whether they do so at the same time as others, and how they are distributed throughout the year is of direct significance for total energy demand. Changing the length, timing, or coordination of school holidays would have a big impact on the ways in which daily lives are scheduled, and hence on the timing of when energy is used.

Changing travel patterns

For one, travel patterns and the school run could be affected. If families with children at several different schools find that their holidays fall during different periods, the journey to school, with its consequences for fuel use and carbon emissions, might have to be extended to cover more days of the year. Potentially such changes could break up familiar patterns of traffic congestion around the school run, sometimes reducing traffic, or potentially making it worse. Either way, peaks and levels of transport-related energy demand are likely to shift as families adapt to new holiday periods.

Changing where energy is used

Also consider the energy used in heating and running buildings occupied at different times of the day and year. Currently the longest school holiday period is during the summer, when energy demands are lower. During the Christmas break it’s colder, but the energy burden of keeping warm during the day is shifted from the school (or workplace) to the home. In theory, schools could change the timing and duration of holidays so as to reduce the need for energy intensive heating or lighting – for example by making winter and Easter breaks considerably longer and extending the summer term.

Children out of school are generally at home, so this strategy would shift costs from schools to parents. It’s obvious what this would mean for those who pay the bills, but it’s not clear what such a change would mean for total energy consumption. Collective heating systems – as in a school – would more efficiently keep lots of children warm, using less total energy than required to heat and light many private homes through the day. Then again, those homes are already heated for part of the day; extending this by a few more hours (and not heating the country’s schools at all) might entail less energy consumption in total.

Disconnected policies

It would be interesting to see some careful working out of the implications of education policy for energy demand. Somewhat similar calculations have been made in an effort to quantify the energy consequences of putting the clocks back and of thereby shifting patterns of activity into hours of darkness (or light). This is something of an exception. More commonly, little or no attention is paid to the impact that non-energy policies have on the temporal and spatial patterning of daily life, and hence on the energy demands – and carbon emissions – that follow.

One way or another, the proposal to de-synchronise school holidays is sure to have tangible, but unintended and unanticipated consequences for energy demand. And yet despite this there is no systematic attempt to think about how this, or indeed any other, non-energy policy affects the extent and timing of energy demand.

Allison Hui and the DEMAND Centre receives funding from the RCUK Energy Programme and EDF as part of the R&D ECLEER Programme.

Elizabeth Shove and the DEMAND Centre receive funding from the RCUK Energy Programme and EDF as part of the R&D ECLEER Programme

Gordon Walker and the DEMAND Centre receive funding from the RCUK Energy Programme and EDF as part of the R&D ECLEER Programme

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

The Travels of Tea

Tea and scones

Even the most enduring of traditions are made – and not just by you and me. The sigh of hot liquid pouring out of the kettle, the lazy swirls of color enveloping its depths, the weight of a small spoon and its echoes as it fuses flavors. These small movements, their eddies and flows, are embedded seamlessly in everyday lives today, but only by virtue of the circulations and travel of generations.

My first experience drinking tea was anything but a success. A young girl of probably ten, I had been invited by my best friend and her mother to visit the matter-of-factly named ‘Quality Tea Rooms’ for an afternoon of civilized adulthood. Yet, as I soon found out, it’s awfully hard to be a civilized adult when the taste of black tea imprints a sour grimace upon one’s face. Copious amounts of sugar improved the situation, but nonetheless traces of the grimace remained. From that point on, I became a staunchly reluctant tea drinker – even milder herbal teas were reserved for bouts of illness when they might keep the company of an already present grimace. Though I had a more amicable relationship with yum5 chaa4, drinking green teas alongside Cantonese dim2 sum1, even this ritual was an exceptional presence in my daily life.

It was only upon moving to Britain that my relationship with tea began to change. I quickly discovered that the cultural importance of tea was not to be taken lightly. While in North America having a ‘brew’ referred to drinking beer, British colleagues would make a brew (of tea) in the middle of the day, and the biscuits could never be far away. Tea is part of the British infrastructure – shaping the rhythms of days, as well as fitting in alongside the stone houses and their never-quite-sufficient heaters. As they say, ‘when in Rome…’ and having a cuppa slowly insinuated itself into my days.

But it wasn’t until reading Sarah Rose’s popular historical nonfiction For all the tea in China (2010: Viking Penguin) that I fully appreciated the connections between my tea drinking and my research. I have looked at how people’s leisure travel reflects and reproduces patterns of circulation that go back for generations – with hikers visiting places made popular by railways and writers, and Ashtanga yogis retracing the steps of their teachers to the home of their practice.* Yet as Rose shows, historical patterns of travel and trade are also inseparable from the British relationship with tea.

For nearly two hundred years the East India Company sold opium to China and bought tea with the proceeds. China, in turn, bought opium from British traders out of India and paid for the drug with the silver profits from tea.

The opium-for-tea exchange was not merely profitable to England but had become an indispensable element of the economy. Nearly £1 in every £10 sterling collected by the government came from taxes on the import and sale of tea—about a pound per person per year. (p.1-2)

After the First Opium War in the mid-19th Century, strategists in the City of London decided that cultivating tea in India would help to reduce dependence upon China for tea and guard against changes in Chinese policies on opium. While the climate was favorable in India, the British had little with which to start such an enterprise.

If the manufacture of tea in India was to be successful, Britain would need healthy specimens of the finest tea plants, seeds by the thousand, and the centuries-old knowledge of accomplished Chinese tea manufacturers. The task required a plant hunter, a gardener, a thief, a spy. (p.5)

The majority of Rose’s story thus follows the man tasked with what she recognizes would be called corporate espionage today – Robert Fortune. His covert travels into China to find both plants and knowledge led to significant discoveries that have changed how and where tea and tea-drinking circulate. For instance, on his travels Fortune observes poisonous chemicals being added to green tea in order to make its color more vivid, and the unveiling of this revelation “at the Great Exhibition of 1851 marked a turning point: Britons now wanted their tea black and only black” (p.240). The taste for black tea was further supported by the British colonies’ production of sugar: “Britain had a glut of sugar, and tea gave Britain somewhere to dump it” (p.234). The circulation of knowledge about what may not have even been a widespread use of chemical coloring in this way joined up with other already-circulating commodities to make black tea the ‘bog standard’ cuppa today.**

For all the tea in China also tells of cultural negotiations, botanical discoveries, the early trials of Indian tea cultivation, and how the travel of tea across oceans was both thwarted and hastened by the complexities and new developments of sailing ships. It offers an intriguing picture of how important commodities both depend upon and develop people’s everyday rituals, and leads me to wonder which of today’s global commodity flows have the same capacity to strategically shape geopolitical relations and daily lives in the future.


*See my chapter in the forthcoming 2013 edited collection Sustainable practices edited by Elizabeth Shove and Nicola Spurling from Routledge.

**The corresponding lack of knowledge circulation regarding varieties of green tea can be seen in the limited linguistic resources English speakers have for discussing it. While some people may be able to distinguish jasmine or white tea from generic ‘green’ tea, many of the varieties available in even standard dim2 sum1 restaurants in Hong Kong have no English names, or only little-used English translations.

Transferring, moving, forgetting

Spaces from above


“there corresponds to the constitution of a scientific space, as the precondition of any analysis, the necessity of being able to transfer the objects of study into it. Only what can be transported can be treated. What cannot be uprooted remains by definition outside the field of research.” (p20)


“A space exists when one takes into consideration vectors of direction, velocities, and time variables. Thus space is composed of intersections of mobile elements.” (p117)


“These fixations constitute procedures of forgetting.” (p97)

Fragments from Michel de Certeau’s The practice of everyday life, 1984.