Sunday, 9 December 2007

The things done in the name of being green

The Metro newspaper, one of London’s freebies, has a special section on its website on the subject of Green Hysteria Climate Watch, which, interestingly enough, never publishes a single article that does not fit the accepted we-are-about-to-die-by-drought-or-flooding-or-whatever because of the wicked Americans and their supporters who will not sign up to Kyoto.

For instance we have seen little reference among all the hysterical hype about what might or might not happen in the next fifty years and how we must all go back to the Stone Age in order to preserve Mother Earth to the following:
U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels decreased by 1.3 percent in 2006, from 5,955 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (MMTCO2) in 2005 to 5,877 MMTCO2 in 2006, according to preliminary estimates released today by the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The economy, as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP), grew by 3.3 percent and energy demand fell by 0.9 percent indicating that energy intensity (energy use per unit of GDP) fell by 4.2 percent. Carbon dioxide intensity (CO2 emission per unit of GDP) fell by 4.5 percent.
This compares rather well with the non-reduction among all the Kyoto signatories.

Nor do we hear a great deal about the ever higher carbon emissions from large developing countries because it is not THEIR FAULT. Got that? Actually, we never hear about Russia’s carbon emissions and that country did sign the rapidly expiring Kyoto Treaty.

The website does mention the “10,000 experts for Bali summit” but you have to read a long way down to see any mention of all the journalists as well and that the jamboree “is expected to create about 50,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases”. Never mind, somebody, somewhere is going to plant “4,500 hectares (11,000 acres) of trees … to offset the emissions from the talks”. I am sure those overworked and exploited peasants in Third World countries will be thrilled to bits.

Actually, they have the figures wrong. The Sunday Times has calculated the event a little more precisely and came up with 15,000 people (though that includes journalists as well) and 100,000 tonnes of CO2.

It would appear that the expected numbers were an understatement as more and more organizations deem it necessary to send representatives (or, perhaps, the entire organizations) to this beautiful island with its delightful climate incredibly important conference.

That, rather conveniently, would fit with another part of the website, Saints and Sinners of the greenie pantheon. Friday’s saint was Kevin Rudd, who is sort of promising or threatening to reverse John Howard’s policy of having nothing to do with the Kyoto Treaty by saying that perhaps Australia will sign up to it.

Sinners are just about everybody who does not go along with the demands of the UNDP (that would be the programme that continues to pour money into North Korea without bothering to find out what happens to it). It seems to me that given the realities of the Bali Conference, outlined, among others, by the estimable Claudia Rossett, the Metro should put the entire conference and all its delegates, hangers-on, global bureaucrats, NGOs and media members among the Sinners.

Sadly, it is not possible to find the most entertaining of Friday’s articles on the site. Perhaps, they will be there on Monday after all the copies of the Metro and other London freebies have been swept up to add to the enormous pile of rubbish taken out of London underground and London buses every evening.

One of them, by John Higginson was entitled “Beams of fright warn of calamity”. It is all about the Eden Project in association with the Metro projecting frightful warnings on Tate Modern and Battersea Power Station to tell us that
It is estimated sea levels will increase by 10 cm (4 in) every ten years. Experts say this will affect us all and mean a 0.5 m rise by 2050. It is thought even a small increase will raise the risk of serious flooding along the Thames Estuary.
Setting aside the question of who actually estimates, says and thinks all these things and on what evidence, one cannot help wondering how illuminating huge buildings quite unnecessarily and thus wasting a great deal of electricity would help the world.

In any case, most people going by Tate Modern and seeing illumination on its huge walls will assume that it is yet another “work of art” that Nicholas Serota, Director of the Tate Galleries is so fond of.

Incidentally, Tate Modern has just been given £50 million by the government in an exceptional grant, to make it into the “world’s best gallery of modern art”. A lost cause, I fear, as anyone who has looked at its collection of twentieth century art can testify. Forget Tate Modern – lovely building, pathetic art – go to the Courtauld or the Estorick in Islington.

The other article is about David Cameron speaking at Greenpeace and proposing various new ideas about saving the earth. His immediate proposal was to become energy efficient like Greenpeace’s London offices. Of course, we do not know whether that energy efficiency amounts to anything much more than what most householders try to achieve anyway, because they do not like paying huge bills.

David Cameron said:
Imagine a country where each community is able to meet its own energy requirements instead of relying on a few huge power stations.
Well, we did have a country like that once. It was in the Middle Ages and very few of us would like to go back to those living standards. My suspicion is that energy efficient or otherwise, Greenpeace gets its electricity from a huge power station.

An interesting organization, Greenpeace. A lovely website, in fact, several websites, as befits an international organization and each of them tells us that
Greenpeace exists because this fragile Earth deserves a voice. It needs solutions. It needs change. It needs action.
OK, stop laghing at the back there. Just how fragile is Earth? It’s been through some traumatic experiences and survived. And anyway, did that fragile Earth ask Greenpeace to be its voice? Was there an election or competitive submissions from different organizations? Not on your life.

Actually, Greenpeace is not as mushy as all that. It is a tough organization with a good ability to publicize itself, often at the expense of other environmentalists. It is a wealthy outfit with many donations but they seem very reluctant to publish their accounts on the website. Any website.

They insist that they take no money from governments or any corporate donors only from individuals. There must be an awful lot of very rich donors who are ready to part with their cash.

Actually, nothing is as straightforward as it seems. For instance, Public Interest, an organization set up in the United States in 2002, to watch the non-profit organizations and how they deal with the money given to them, has shown itself to be a little dissatisfied.

Back in 2003 it filed a complaint with the IRS, pointing to a report in which it accused Greenpeace of using money donated to it under tax exemption rules for activity that definitely cannot be exempt.
Examples of taxpayer subsidized activities undertaken by Greenpeace include:

Blockading a naval base in protest of the Iraq war,
Boarding an oil tanker for a banner hanging,
Breaking into the central control building of a nuclear power station,
Padlocking the gates of a government research facility.

Because Greenpeace receives significant donations from large entities such as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Turner Foundation, the report also calls into question the accountability of these donors.

"Foundations that make tax-exempt contributions are responsible for verifying that their funds are used appropriately," Hardiman said. "In the case of contributions to Greenpeace, either the foundations have no idea how their money is being spent, or they are knowingly allowing their funds to be laundered for illegal advocacy and civil disobedience."
Apart from anything else one must point out that the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Turner Foundation are not individual donors. They are, in fact, corporate donors.

Here is a list of all those “individual” donors:
Despite its groovy, incense-fueled image, Greenpeace relies on multi-billion-dollar foundations to pay its bills. Many of these, ironically, were launched by spectacularly wealthy capitalists, the very bogeymen against whom Greenpeace ceaselessly rails. Among Greenpeace Fund, Inc.'s underwriters, PIW identifies the following:

John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
The John Merck Fund
Charles Stewart Mott Foundation
The David and Lucile Packard Foundation
Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Inc.
Turner Foundation, Inc.
In 1999 Canada revoked Greenpeace’s tax-exempt status, arguing that it was inappropriate.

All of this may or may not be important. All we are asking is that Greenpeace should make its accounts available on the website, so we can all judge where the money is coming from.

Anyhow, David Cameron trotted off to Greenpeace in London to propose his party’s energy policies:
Decentralised energy provides a clear example of how this virtuous circle can work.

By enabling people to generate their own electricity, we are literally giving them more power over their own lives.

This really is power to the people.

Once people start generating their own electricity, they will become far more conscious of the way in which they use it - they will become more responsible about energy use and their own environmental impact.

And the overall effect of these changes will be to make Britain greener - to help reduce our carbon emissions and thereby contribute to a safer country and a safer world.
Well, all right, politicians have to come up with stuff like that, and it goes on for pages, but anything concrete there?
From controversies over low cost airlines, to the endless green lifestyle newspaper supplements, the emphasis can often feel like an accusatory: "what are you going to do about it?"

And solutions are often perceived to involve higher costs, more tax or some form of personal sacrifice.

While of course it's important that everyone feels empowered to be part of the solution to climate change, I think we need to shift the burden of emphasis from "what are you going to do about it" to "what are we going to do about it?"

We are all in this together and we need to challenge the idea that fighting climate change is nothing more than a burden on consumers.

We need to shift the public debate away from a simplistic focus on the individual and towards a vision of dynamic industrial change, challenging the whole hydro-carbon dependency of our economy.

We need an emphasis on research, innovation, new markets and entrepreneurial solutions. We need to champion the potential of UK plc to compete aggressively in the new low carbon economy.
At least he has recognized that people are not impressed by the greenies who talk the talk but rarely walk the walk, preferring some high-powered car to ride in or a private jet to fly in. Furthermore, shifting the debate away from individuals and the taxes they might have to pay, this is another way of trying to prevent the hoi polloi from pointing to the hypocrisy of the greenie establishment. (See Bali conference above)

We should also welcome his emphasis on research and development rather though it is not entirely clear whether he knows what the words mean since quoting the Stern Report is not precisely the most scientific way forward.

His central idea is energy being produced by local small providers, presumably through various alternative methods. Sounds about as useful as that Chinese idea of the fifties of having a miniature steel foundry in every backyard.

On a more practical level he has suggested that
stores such as Tesco and Asda should make their premises energy efficient and generate excess power which could be sold back to the grid. Under Conservative climate change proposals, there would also be moves to make it easier for home owners to install equipment such as solar panels and wind turbines.
The greatest difficulty there is expense. It is not quite clear whether Mr Cameron is suggesting subsidies or targeted cuts in local taxes. Surely, not the latter. After all, he would not want to overrule local councils.

Let’s face it, if Mr Cameron really wanted to make Britain self-sufficient in energy, he would talk about nuclear power stations. Like the old-fashioned greenie that he is, the goes up in smoke (so to speak) as soon as the “n” word is mentioned.

Another one of Mr Cameron’s proposals has caused some perplexity in One London’s offices. The Metro reported it in the following words:
All homes should have meters which measure how much electricity they are using, he said. Similar systems worked well in countries such as Germany and Holland, the Tory leader added.
What on earth does he mean? Every home has a meter already. If there is gas and electricity, there are two meters. Does he not know? Who deals with such matters in his household?

My attempts to con the speech came up with this possible explanation of what that paragraph is about:
In the Netherlands, for instance, in little more than a decade, combined heat and power (CHP) became the single largest supplier of the country's energy needs.I want to see a similar revolution happen in Britain.

I do not take a view of which energy sources should be used - I simply want to see them operate on a level playing field.

I want Britain to adopt micro-generation: small providers, including homes and businesses, producing energy for their own use, using a variety of methods from combined heat and power, to wind to solar photovoltaic power.

The policy paper we're publishing today sets out how it can done.

A new system of 'feed-in tariffs', by which people are paid for the energy they produce, will stimulate diversity and decentralisation of our power supply, as well as incentivise energy-saving.

In Germany, a feed-in tariff system has seen a far faster growth in renewable energy and the creation of over 250,000 jobs in the wind energy sector alone.

There is absolutely no reason why that can't happen here.
I am not sure the creation of heavily subsidized jobs in the wind energy sector is necessarily the solution to whatever energy problems we face at the moment. Furthermore, I need to hear a great deal more about those micro-generators before I disconnect my present gas and electricity supplies. Among other matters I want to know more about what trials have been made, where, on what scale and what the results were, beyond those 250,000 jobs.

Generators might make sense for those sky-scrapers in New York, though not many of them have gone down that way, as Mr Cameron would know if he actually read what happened during that famous black-out. But individual households making their own energy?

Eventually, I found that reference to the meters:
Consumers will be able to monitor how much electricity they are using by installing smart meters that make information readily accessible.
This is not precisely what the Metro implied but it is still muddled. Smart meters are not quite what Mr Cameron thinks they are.

Wikipedia defines them:
A Smart meter generally refers to a type of advanced meter (usually an electrical meter) that identifies consumption in more detail than a conventional meter; and optionally, but generally, communicates that information via some network back to the local utility for monitoring and billing purposes (telemetering).
This article in the Guardian goes into greater detail:
The government and energy supply industry yesterday began a £20m trial to encourage households to curb their use of gas and electricity and reduce Britain's emissions of greenhouse gases.

Some 15,000 homes will be equipped with so-called smart meters, allowing consumers and suppliers to track energy use, cutting out the need for meter readings and estimated bills. Another 8,000 homes will be given stand-alone display units, which show consumers how much electricity they are using and what it is costing but which do not pass on information to the energy supplier. Another 17,000 will get advice on how to economise.
In other words, the savings will come largely from this being a more efficient (possibly) way of reading electricity meters. Gas seems not to be involved. This is not the same as saving electricity or the planet though it would probably cut energy bills.

As for people being able to see how the electricity is used and where they might be able to cut down, this could be rather a problem. In the first place, the people who are likely to act in that way beyond the first exciting week of novelty are the people who spend some time thinking these matters through now. Those who do not, probably will not.

The other problem is that it may not be such a good idea to tell people how little electricity goes on certain aspects of their lives. The recent fuss about computer monitors and computers being left on sleep mode will become impossible in the future once everybody can check how insignificant the amounts of electricity used by computers or monitors on sleep mode.

Beware of giving people too much power.