Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Pass the sprouts

Brussel sproutsHave been comparing the post-Christmas tummy with m’learned colleagues, as well as sharing methods for working it all off.

One chum restricts himself to 10 units of booze this month, another has joined a gym. I have cut down my nights out significantly and will be gyming again once some work deadlines are seen off. No, Dr, honestly.

Golly I didn’t half eat well over the festive season. Some people say we miss the true meaning of Christmas these days, usually so as to remind us about that Jesus fella who was born on 25 December 0000 in a snow-strewn stable in Bethlehem to a blonde and blue-eyed mum while robins and holly looked on. Oh, hang on…

Christmas is, of course, a pagan festival co-opted by the Christians – who have a thing for nicking parties. Even Santa Claus as we know him today owes more to anglo-germanic traditions of the green man than he does to the real St. Nicholas of Myra. We celebrate with trees, the threat of punishment to naughty children and enchantment from mistletoe.

In more primitive times, it was good to have a knees-up around the shortest day of the year, when the world seemed at its bleakest. I wonder if Celtic man would follow the feasting with a vow to lose his new porkage, making a virtue of the lack of thrilling food for the remainder of the winter.

Anyway. This made me think about the Prime Minister’s recent interview with Sky News, where he,
“admitted he would be reluctant to pressure people to stop taking overseas holidays – or indeed to stop flying himself. He explained:

‘I personally think these things are a bit impractical to expect people to do. I think that what we need to do is to look at how you make air travel more energy efficient, how you develop the fuels that will allow us to burn less energy and emit less.’”

Number 10: “Tackling climate change begins at home” – PM, 9 January 2007.

This answer was described as “muddle-headed” by Jonathon Porritt, chair of the Sustainable Development Commission (oddly not capitalised in the BBC News account), and came up again at the Prime Minister’s press briefing:

“Put to him that the Prime Minister therefore believed that the threat of global warming [...] could be dealt with without consumers really affecting their lifestyles, the PMOS [said that we had to] find more effective, energy efficient ways of doing what we do. Hence the investments that were already being made in energy efficient measures and hence our overall energy review, and the emphasis placed on both renewable and cleaner forms of energy such as nuclear. What should not be done was to address climate change by harming the world economy.”

Number 10: Morning press briefing from 9 January 2007.

The argument seems to be that we can’t expect people to give up their fun stuff for the sake of not breaking the weather. And anyway, Science has come up with some pretty neat tricks which will sort things out.

This thinking depends on two very wrong assumptions:
  • That Science will continue to come up with innovations as and when they’re needed
  • That the stuff Science comes up with can be implemented almost immediately
But worse, it assumes that we need not do anything to curb our rapacious behaviour because the boffins are on the case. We must not stop consuming.

People are not merely consumers, as some would have us believe. A “consumer” is just a mouth, and to concentrate on just the part of the process implies, wrongly, that there’s no consequence to stuffing our faces.

The mouth is just the start of the process, which leads through digestion to excretion. I guess in this model digestion could be seen as “value” – measured by the ratio of what it is being eaten to the benefit to the body doing the eating. As a consequence of that equation, the less that’s pooed out the other end the better. It is more elegant that way.

A rich and varied diet means lots of fibre and roughage to help clear out the system, because just eating cakes and sweets and Breakfast 3s from the local greasy spoon ends up clogging up the system until it drops down dead. This ends the consuming process once and for all: a bad thing.

That’s not to say we must never eat cakes, but there needs to be some balance. Ideally, we feast only sparingly, and match the excesses with leaner periods. Say, for example, following Christmas with a diet and the gym.

Likewise, when our lifestyles affect the weather, we do damage to ourselves. If the floods and thunderstorms don’t kill us, they at least damage the economy because of the excessive insurance claims, breaks in supply chains and general ensuring misery. The evidence seems to suggest that we either curb our eating habits voluntarily, or Nature (aka cause and effect) will have to do it for us.

TB’s view of consumption (dyswidt?) seems to be that people can’t be expected to mend their ways. But he’s also campaigning against obesity, and Government policy has targeted drink, drink-driving and smoking with considerable success. So sorry, but that’s bollocks.

There’s an argument that we cannot be forced or coerced into behaving less like walking cancer. But I also know a fair few smokers who are glad of the forthcoming English ban on smoking because it gives them the last resolve to quit. They knew they ought to, they had even given it a go, but the new rules make it easier by removing the temptation.

This is how I feel about air travel – which I haven’t half exploited in the last couple of years. There’s offsetting programmes, and the justification that it’s for work to some degree, but it would a lot easier if the flights weren’t quite so doable, and more of luxury.

Back in the mists of time when this post began, I said I’d stuffed too much recently. This gorging included a sizeable volume of Brussel sprouts, which are rather yummy. (They’re best when they’re cooked to not-too-sulphurous softness, and you can also serve them with bacon. Mmm.)

Though I like them a great deal, they don’t half carry a penalty. The Dr and I have held wars of attrition, attempting to asphyxiate one another. Which is why I’m only allowed sprouts in the festive season. It would be too dangerous any more often.

To finally get to the point, flights are like sprouts. Our actions have consequences, and you ignore the ensuing noxious emissions at your peril.


Rob Stradling said...

There's all kinds of problems with giving up aeroplanes.

* The less well-off amongst us can hardly be expected not to notice that, just as air travel begins to become affordable to us, it's suddenly immoral. If we're going to make flight a luxury again, what about driving? I'm not allowed to fly, but all my neighbours can have two cars each?

* Someone came up with figures suggesting that even if Britain closed all its airports tomorrow, then new power stations in China would have replaced the emissions thus cut within one year. But we all know how tough our government is on China...

* Other figures being chucked around say that the greenhouse emissions of UK air traffic roughly equal those of its cattle. If that's anywhere near true, then surely giving up beef (to which there are sensible alternatives) would be better than giving up flying? No-one's talking about even lowering farming subsidies, let alone eco-taxing beef.

Anonymous said...

Why is everyone banging on about flying as if its the only cause of climate change?

Surely you have to try and reduce all the factors of climate change to make a difference? And by reducing a bit of everything (if you excuse the cheesy cable TV adverts) you would get maximum effect for minimum effort???

I don't get why they just pick on one thing. Why don't they just say, "All you need to do is try and reduce your use of A,B,C etc... And the climate figures will start to fall."

You need to make it clear that we are all responsible for climate change. For all the good intentions of the campaigners it seems to me that this whole plane price rise will only affect the less well off. Its all very well talking about environmental ethics, but surely to restrict poorer peoples travel is just as ethically immoral? You could argue that it is with mass global travel (and the internet) that big issues such as the environment are finally being talked about worldwide. I think that by making the world a much smaller place through communication and travel is the biggest benefit we have over earlier generations.

Seems like common sense to me, rather than going on about planes... seems just like a way of wasting time and not doing anything... its great that there is this sense of doing the right thing, but is this really it? Or is it just about giving the public peace of mind and not really tackling the problem? and if the prices do go up, there’s going to be someone making a fortune out of it...

I agree to an extend that they should stop the really low air flights, at least that’s a good gesture, but whacking up all the prices seems a bit too much like overkill;Yes, it is now twice as expensive to fly anywhere, we've saved the planet!... and the polar bears...

and lay off the sprouts...

Nimbos said...

A bit aside from the climate change thing, but related, is the consumer model for our economy.

I'm sure that Mr B Liar is worried about putting the brakes on flights as growth there is "good for economic growth".

What no-one has ever managed to explain to me is why an economic model basing its health on growth as an idicator is not just plain mad. This is mainly as we are not just talking any old growth, but growth FOREVER. So everything has to get bigger and more expensive for ever and ever and then a bit more.

That has to be a nonsense as the world happens to be a closed system. Once you've eaten all the pies THERE ARE NO MORE PIES. Science isn't going to bake any more.

0tralala said...

Blimey – lots of things to respond to.

First, there’s an argument that it’s not the poor who are being affected by flights. The Civil Aviation Authority’s own figures say that the average household salary of passengers using Stansted Airport is £50,000. Which some – such as Ming Campbell today - say shows that low-cost flights are not necessarily appealing to lower-earning people, but encouraging higher-earning people to fly more frequently.

(The counter-argument is that Stansted serves the south east, so people are going to have higher salaries. Passengers at Manchester Airport, for example, have an average household salary of £38,000).

I’d argue that raising the price of low-cost flying would cut down on the number of non-essential flights, in the same way that the Congestion Charge has successfully cut down on non-essential driving in London. That it is that much less easy makes driving that much less likely.

I'd also argue that if climate change does even a tiny percentage of the dreadful environmental things claimed of it, then it will the poor who suffer most. See New Orleans and Pakistan and the Indian Ocean for recent examples how that happens.

On Rob’s point that it’s no use doing anything if the rest of the world won’t, congestion-charge schemes had been discussed in many of the world’s major cities, but no politician was going to dare pushing something so unpopular with the strong car lobby. But when London brought it in and proved that it could work, other cities have quickly adopted it for themselves.

We can lead by example. And my worry is that for some - not Rob, obviously - criticising the measures is an excuse to do nothing.

Codename Moose says airplanes are just one part of the problem, and there’s plenty of other things that can be done: loft insulation, double glazing, restricting our use of our cars. All these things not only save the polar bears, they’re good for our wallets too. So I’m not really sure what there is to object to, even if we’re the only ones doing it.

Don't disagree with his assertion that we are more aware of our effect on the world because we travel more, too. Don't think it disproves my idea that we should travel responsibly.

Nimbos speaks of how there might be an equation for never-ending growth, and I advise him to read Das Kapital. Mr Marx reckons to balance it if we keep on shooting baddies.

And yes, Science is being spoken of as is a Magic Genie that will solve the problem while we sleep. Hence the capital S.


Rob Stradling said...

All good fun.

I think I write about twice as many words on your bloody blog as I do on my own. It's not easy being a reactive writer...

bkcqnb, an' all...

Anonymous said...

A couple of points...

I'm not sure what you would call a 'non-essential' flight - I think if a family has saved up for a holiday abroad, once a year, they would consider it fairly essential. Whereas I would say that most of the 'non-essential' flights are by travellers whose flight costs are paid by their employers, purely so they can have face-to-face meetings or get from A to B particularly quickly. I think increasing flight costs would impact negatively on holidaymakers but have little effect on those people sticking all their flight costs on expense accounts.

This is why it differs from the congestion charge which is popular (to an extent) because it's a way of penalizing the rich bastards (who else can afford to park in central London?) whilst benefiting the poor sods who use the buses and who have to breathe the rich bastard's exhaust fumes.

I think it's pretty much a given that science is the only solution to this problem - well, aside from the world being taken over by benevolent eco-fascists - and, to be fair, it has a pretty good track record and is full of bright ideas.

Anonymous said...

Only just read your synthesis of sprouts and air travel, Simon. Brilliant! It would have made a good column in that old-fashioned thing called a 'newspaper'. Older readers may remember these.

See, I really do want more of this kind of thinking and less farting (dyswidt?) around with fiction going on among my friends.

Oh look, here comes my eco-friendly hobby horse.