Azara Blog: Lots of green stories in the news

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Date published: 2005/05/19

Lots of "green" stories in the news today. On the wind front the BBC says:

Wind power must be made to work in the UK in order to combat climate change, a report by the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) has said.

The report maintains it is possible to meet the government's target to have renewables provide 10% of the UK's electricity by 2010.

If wind farms take off, it claims, that figure may rise to 20% by 2020.
The report's authors accept wind farms will alter the British landscape, but probably not as much as climate change would.

"Climate change will have a devastating impact unless urgent action is taken to boost the contribution of renewables, alongside energy efficiency measures," said SDC chairman, Jonathon Porritt.
According to the report, wind is a prime candidate. The UK has the best and most geographically diverse wind resources in Europe, it says, more than enough to meet current renewable energy targets.

In addition, it is only modestly more expensive than "conventional" energy sources. Indeed, the report claims that as fossil fuel prices increase and wind turbines become cheaper to build, wind power may even become one of the cheapest forms of electricity over the next 15 years.
However the Renewable Energy Foundation (REF) is dismayed at the report, believing too much focus on wind is a mistake.

"The report leads us to infer that wind turbines will avert climate change, but that is untrue," John Constable, head of policy at the REF, told the BBC News website. "They have something to offer but the question is whether we need to place as much reliance on what is actually a very high impact and costly means of emissions reduction.

"The UK's role globally is to offer a compelling economical example to the developing world. We want China and India to look at us and say: 'That was smart. They reduced their emissions and they stayed rich'. And wind farms are not going to do that."

Mr Constable believes the UK needs to take a broader approach to renewable energy by simultaneously investing in several sources.

"We need a broad basket approach to renewables - and we need to ensure that investment is spread across the entire package," he said. "So that includes tidal and biomass, which at the moment are getting no look-in because the cheapest ticket to the subsidy stream is wind."

Another problem with wind farms is that while many people support the idea of them, they do not want them in their local area.

The report says that although there is national support for wind farms, there is much local resistance. People feel they will spoil the landscape and there are also concerns they may kill birds.

The SDC is a pointless quango and this report seems to be particularly pointless, it's not as if it says anything that isn't widely known already. People near proposed windfarms often object to the proposals for the same reason people often object to other proposals: they are NIMBYs and they are not properly compensated for their financial loss. Buy out the houses of people who do not want the windfarm at over market value, and give a fraction of the income from the windfarm to the local government, and you will soon enough find people are not so opposed. In any case, as is pointed out above, wind is not the silver bullet that the SDC and others pretend it is.

Meanwhile on the nappy front, the BBC says:

Whether parents use disposable or cloth nappies makes little difference to the environment, a report has concluded. The Environment Agency studied the impact of three types of nappy from their manufacture to their disposal.

Disposable nappies, bought by 95% of parents, led to 400,000 tonnes of waste dumped mainly at landfill sites.

But re-usable nappies impacted on the environment in other ways, such as by the water and energy used for washing and drying them, it found.

The agency says it is the most independent and thorough study yet carried out in the UK.

It compared the environmental impact of disposable, home-laundered flat cloth nappies and commercially-laundered cloth nappies delivered to the home.

The study was supported by surveys of more than 2,000 parents who were questioned on factors such as the number of daily nappy changes and the size of washing machine loads.

Tricia Henton, director of Environmental Protection at the Environment Agency said: "Although there is no substantial difference between the environmental impacts of the three systems studied, it does show where each system can be improved."

She said parents using reusable nappies can improve their impact on the environment by looking at how they wash them, such as using a bigger load at a lower temperature.

The study found most people washed nappies at 60C.

Ms Henton added that it was hoped manufacturers would use the study to improve the environmental performance of their products and the quantities going into landfill.

Well one study is not definitive and no doubt someone could quibble with the assumptions behind the sums, but this is really not that surprising a result. The chattering classes and so-called environmentalists have, over the last few years, demonised parents who use disposable nappies, but this is because they are against the consumer society in general and like to attack "soft" targets. A good rule of thumb is to ignore any advice from the chattering classes.

Meanwhile 4x4s seem to be always in the news, because the chattering classes also hate those, for the same reasons. The BBC says:

Anti-4x4 fever is on the rise across Europe and in the USA, where 4x4s are more commonly referred to as SUVs - Sports Utility Vehicles.

Campaigners claim that 4x4s - big box-shaped vehicles that have four-wheel drive and look like a cross between a car and a minibus - produce more environment-degrading carbon emissions than the average family saloon.

And they argue that while 4x4s might come in handy in the countryside, where rural drivers have to negotiate messy, muddy, hilly terrain, they have no place in cities where they pose a potential threat to pedestrians, cyclists and drivers of smaller and humbler automobiles.

The UK-based campaign group Alliance Against Urban 4x4s wants to make driving them as socially unacceptable as drink-driving, and holds protests outside schools.

It is campaigning for higher road taxes and an increased congestion charge in London for what it calls the "bad guys" who drive 4x4s, and for a ban on 4x4 advertising in the mainstream media.

Even London Mayor Ken Livingstone has described parents who drive these big, bad cars - also known as Chelsea Tractors - to the school gates as "complete idiots". And they damage community spirit by making cities unwelcoming, says Sian Berry of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s.
The 4x4s might choke out more CO2 than other cars, but this needs to be put in perspective.

According to a report in the Daily Telegraph this week, household appliances produce more carbon emissions than a 4x4. One cycle of a kitchen dishwasher reportedly releases around 756g of CO2, more than double that produced by a short spin in a Range Rover Turbo Diesel, which releases 299g per kilometre.

An hour's use of a petrol lawnmower releases more than 1,000g of CO2, while a holiday for a family of four to Disneyworld in Florida, with all the travelling and consumption involved, releases a whopping 2,415,000g of CO2.
So why has this vehicle more than any other, and more than dishwashers, lawnmowers and buses, become a focus for anti-pollution campaigning?

Austin Williams, a writer on motoring matters, says some people dislike 4x4s simply because they are an expression of conspicuous consumption. "The crusade to make everyone drive smaller cars is premised on high moral contempt for what is deemed to be 'unnecessary' and 'irresponsible' consumption," he says.

Yes the control freaks are out in full force. The idea that 4x4s are ok in rural areas but not in cities is a joke. Most roads in cities are worse than those in rural areas these days, because of all the so-called traffic calming. And most cities are near rural areas, so are you going to firebomb a citizen of Cambridge who owns a 4x4, but not a citizen of one of the many nearby rural villages who decides to drive a 4x4 into Cambridge? As usual, just ignore the control freaks (including Ken Livingstone), they are clueless.

Meanwhile, the most important environmental story of the day is about the Amazon, far away from the control freaks of the UK. The BBC says:

The Amazon rainforest is being destroyed at near record levels, according to new figures released by the Brazilian government.

The environment ministry said 26,000 sq km of forest were chopped down in the 12 months prior to August 2004.

The figure is the second highest on record, 6% higher than the previous 12 months.

Deforestation was worst in the state of Mato Grosso where vast swathes of land have been cleared to grow crops.

The loss of 26,000 sq km means almost a fifth of the entire Amazon has now been chopped down.

On this occasion, just under half of the deforestation occurred in Mato Grosso, where trees have been replaced with soya fields.

Last year exports of soya, mostly to China and Europe, propelled Brazil to a record trade surplus.

Europe long ago chopped down most of its forests, for exactly the same economic reasons as Brazil is doing so now, so it carries little moral weight on the matter. But if Europe wants to stop this deforestation of the Amazon then Europe, and the rest of the rich world, is going to have to massively compensate Brazil in return, preferably through an inverse carbon tax. If the Amazon were wiped out it is not clear that would be the end of the world, but it does not look like a good scenario.

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