Posts about green

Green gimmicks or disaster preparedness?

The Guardian has a fairly frightening story today with “climate science maverick” James Lovelock arguing that we shouldn’t even bother with the feel-good green gimmicks — carbon offsetting, recycling, alternative fuels (other than nuclear, which he favors) are a deluded fantasy, he says– because it’s already too late and disaster is inevitable. “Enjoy life while you can,” is his advice. It makes one wonder whether we should be devoting resources, then, to disaster preparation — especially food, Lovelock argues — over carbon taxes and such.

Environmentally incorrect

In the new millennium, we are seeing not only the rise of environmentalism but also of environmental correctness. Like political correctness, we’re bound to see this new green gospel — well worthy in its origins — being taken too far by both zealots and corrupters. The advocates of this good cause had better beware or they will see it hijacked. Consider:

: For sometime, I’ve been wondering when we’d see a scandal over the rush to buy carbon credits, asking who’s auditing these companies. Now the Financial Times’ Fiona Harvey has investigated and found something stinky here. Her impressive package found:

. . . widespread failings in the new markets for greenhouse gases, suggesting some organisations are paying for emissions reductions that do not take place.

Others are meanwhile making big profits from carbon trading for very small expenditure and in some cases for clean-ups that they would have made anyway.

The growing political salience of environmental politics has sparked a “green gold rush”, which has seen a dramatic expansion in the number of businesses offering both companies and individuals the chance to go “carbon neutral”, offsetting their own energy use by buying carbon credits that cancel out their contribution to global warming.

The burgeoning regulated market for carbon credits is expected to more than double in size to about $68.2bn by 2010, with the unregulated voluntary sector rising to $4bn in the same period.

The FT investigation found:

â–  Widespread instances of people and organisations buying worthless credits that do not yield any reductions in carbon emissions.

â–  Industrial companies profiting from doing very little – or from gaining carbon credits on the basis of efficiency gains from which they have already benefited substantially.

â–  Brokers providing services of questionable or no value.

â–  A shortage of verification, making it difficult for buyers to assess the true value of carbon credits.

â–  Companies and individuals being charged over the odds for the private purchase of European Union carbon permits that have plummeted in value because they do not result in emissions cuts.

Francis Sullivan, environment adviser at HSBC, the UK’s biggest bank that went carbon-neutral in 2005, said he found “serious credibility concerns” in the offsetting market after evaluating it for several months.

“The police, the fraud squad and trading standards need to be looking into this. Otherwise people will lose faith in it,” he said.

: Meanwhile, travel is taking on more cooties. I heard an NPR report the other day on Germans who are starting to vacation on their own northern shore rather than spit out more soot.

: And yesterday’s Times of London reports that in a case of enviromental big Brotherism, local governments in the UK are employing spy planes using infrared photography to identify homes that are letting off excess heat, putting up maps of the offenders to shame their neighbors into lowering the heat.

Thermal images of homes have been taken by a light aircraft fitted with military spy technology to record the heat escaping from people’s houses.

Maps identifying individual homes have now been placed on the internet to encourage occupiers to reduce their wastage and carbon emissions by fitting insulation and turning the thermostat down.

Haringey Council, in London, has become the first authority in England to place house-by-house thermal maps on the web, after the example of Aberdeen in Scotland.

Making the information available to the public is intended to raise awareness of how much energy is being used needlessly, putting up bills and contributing to global warming. . . .

Officials from the authority shrugged off suggestions of a Big Brother-style invasion of privacy by prying on people’s properties and then publishing the information.

Again, somebody’s using this to make a quick buck pound:

Robert Wilkes, the owner of, which conducted the thermal surveys, said: “I think it is less intrusive than Google Earth quite honestly.

“It’s not a photograph; it’s merely a measure of heat loss. I think everybody should find it very useful – particularly businesses, schools and hospitals.”

Well, Google maps are not publicizied for the express goal of shaming people. Why not send them a friendly letter? It’s an exercise in environmental correctness.

Will paper kill the papers?

I keep waiting for the Greeniacs to wake up and discover that they’re probably tearing down more trees through reading than they are by planting through companies that promise to make you carbon neutral. When I was in London, I saw the green squad attacking travel editors for recommending trips on planes. Now Roy Greenslade points to a campaign to show how damaging free papers are to the environment. And why stop at free papers, by the way? Why not those thick Sunday numbers, too? And magazines? And mail? And books?

Project Freesheet decries the growth of free newspapers as an ecological no-no. And Jon Hughes of Ecologist Online wants them banned. In the battle of free speech vs. trees, trees win in his book (uh, an electronic, paperless book, that is).

Hughes provides these numbers for London’s freesheets alone:

Look at the ballpark figures behind the 1.5 million daily papers put out by the current four. It takes 12 established trees to make one tonne of newsprint, which is enough to print 14,000 editions of an average-size tabloid. That means a daily usage of newsprint of a little over 107 tonnes. Which, in turn, means the felling of 1,284 trees.

Why stop there? How much newsprint do all the newpapers in the world use? According to this Berkeley site, 37.8 million tons in 2001. At 12 trees per ton, that’s 453 million trees.

Save the trees! Save the planet! Stop reading!

On t-shirts and bumperstickers near you, soon.

(By the way, is anybody auditing these companies to confirm just how many trees they do plant?)

Green police

Robin McKie, science editor of the Observer, is disturbed that the green cause is turning into an opportunity to tell us how to live when it should be the time to tell government how to govern.

Consider emission controls. This is now assumed to be as much an issue of individual responsibility as of international negotiation. Petrol-guzzling 4x4s must be taxed, foreign holidays discouraged, TVs unplugged and lavatories left unflushed. After decades of waiting, the green movement has found the cause of its dreams: a crisis that gives them carte blanche, they believe, to rule our lives.

Hairshirts are being knitted and the self-righteous are gathering. The Observer’s travel desk already gets hate mail merely for highlighting interesting destinations that might seem to encourage carbon-producing air travel. No wonder those poor old deniers cringe.

But it simply does not have to be that way. For a start, air travel accounts for only 2 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions. So I refuse to feel guilty because I have a family holiday in Spain and then write about the threatened glories of the Great Barrier Reef.

Indeed, if one looks at the world’s last great ecological scare, the dwindling of our protective ozone layer, it is intriguing to see how we dealt with a threat that seemed as apocalyptic then as climate change does today. Ozone depletion, caused by CFC chemicals used in fridges and deodorants, was not contained through individual sacrifice. We were not asked to sell our Hotpoint freezers or go smelly to the office. Governments and industries agreed to replace CFCs with safe substitutes. So there was no need for an army of self-appointed greenies to sniff our armpits to check if they were suspiciously non-malodorous. The crisis was contained at an industrial, not a consumer, level, as it should be with greenhouse gases.

Climate change is a bigger, more pernicious problem and will require broader, more intense efforts to cut back on carbon emissions, which, in turn, offers more opportunities for campaigners and politicians to hijack a sound cause to gain control of people’s lives. ‘That is the striking thing about global warming,’ says Myles Allen, of Oxford’s climate dynamics group. ‘It is a Christmas tree on which each of us can hang virtually everything we want.’

Thus, everyone from EU commissioners and Ken Livingstone to parish councils and writers of green-ink letters now uses global warming as an excuse to tell us how to live. Some of this advice, and attempts at lifestyle control, is sound. Some is not. Either way, it is misplaced. The lead must come from government and industry. So far it hasn’t. That is incompetence. Not conspiracy.

As evidence, see a story in the next day’s Guardian about Justin Rowlatt, BBC correspondent who lived an “ethical” life for a year.

The report that the hoodie with the pitbull saw dismayed many diehard green viewers, and resulted in protests because Rowlatt and the team had flown to Jamaica to make a film about carbon off-setting. Hardliners tore Rowlatt to pieces on his blog for selling out and using “a cheap stunt” to illustrate his report. He was taken to task for, among other things, “ill-conceived frivolity” and being “unethical and irresponsible”.

He says: “We knew that flying to Jamaica was provocative and that people will sit at home and think ‘That’s outrageous! He’s on a beach in Jamaica sipping a cocktail!’ But it seems the people who responded to the blog were outraged almost on a personal level and thought that the pollution incurred by my flight was a crime. The level of anger reflects a strain of really militant green people who are almost religious in their devotion to the cause.”