Saturday, April 29, 2006

A nice analogy is a joy to read... and share

I'm not usually one for jumping into the fray of escalating email exchanges, but I caught the tail end of yet another academo/journalistic spat about climate warming - A Tart Counterpoint To Ibbitson's Irrelevance - and without comment on who said what to whom, why and who has had the latest laugh, would just like to share what has been called a parable, but I'd say is simply a neat analogy for the whole 'who do we believe?' brigade who use the ongoing confusion as an excuse for inaction:

[You are] flying on holiday and the plane is ½ hour out over the Atlantic. Of 150 aerospace engineers on board, 90 say that there's been a fuel leak and the plane has 40 minutes of flying time left. It's time to turn around. The other 60 say that there's no conclusive evidence of a leak and [you] should not turn around because it would inconvenience the CEOs in business class. Who [do you] listen to? The answer seems clear: You listen to the journalist who tells [you that you] should really do something about the in-flight service.

The conclusion is also worth sharing: '[The] debate is about risk, not certainty. [We] might choose to listen when more than half the experts are warning of a problem that threatens our entire species'.


PC = Petrified of Consequences?

I had a call from one of the organisers of the MAD show yesterday. It was rather flattering, and encouraging for, that they sought my advice and a few useful leads on something. Though considering the topic maybe I am not so sure!

Seems that, as part of the show, they are setting up a debate on a theme of something like 'can we spend our way out of the environmental mess we're in?', I believe meaning Fairtrady, Ethical shopping, to which my immediate reply was 'of course not, as just about any consumerist activity we partake in can only add to the environmental consequence if what we are really trying to sort out is global warming as a priority'. Which would have put me on track for what they were looking for, which was someone to argue against the motion... except they needed someone famous.

But we did go on to have a great discussion on who may be suitable, and it proved very tricky, if not impossible, to think of anyone. Because, like me, those up for a bit of 'head above the parapet' debate don't really live lifestyles that would sustain the position, unless it was accepted by fellow debaters it was more from a philosophical standpoint -  guys like Bjorn Lomborg and David Bellamy. Best I could come up with is that guy (Ethical Man) from Newsnight's wife , but she turns out to be on a par with our household commitment-wise, or Swampy of road protest fame, though he's probably a local councillor by now, en route to a seminar on global warming in Bali. 

What was equally interesting was the number, and composition, of those lining up in support of the motion, to which I had to add myself, selfishly, because is in the business of advocating buying environmentally... if we must trade and buy at all, which in any consumer society on a planet of ever-expanding population we are fated to do.

But there were a few surprises in there, and in discussion with MAD it did strike us how few, even from the more activist end, are seeing merit in being confrontational any more, or at least taking a high contrast stance. In a way it's sad. The fear of being ridiculed or lambasted has already bleached the colour from most debate, but PC-considerations, now backed by draconian powers of legislative muscle in support, have rendered it all pretty much blank. 


Maybe that's why we're drowning in so much talk with so little do. Because unless the talk gives clear direction its hard to take action, so everyone just keeps on waffling.


Learn from history

I just learned about something from history that I though was inspiring, by stumbling across the fact that the other day was 'Arbour Day' in the US.

No biggie, but it does serve to remind us that our forbears were aware of environmental issues and prepared to do as much as they could to improve things through concerted public engagement and action.

Nanny State. Nanny Do.

Yesterday I was walking the boys to school (no eco-upmanship meant
here. It was lovely morning, we don't live too far away and I like
the exercise), with part of the trip taking me past the local council
offices. And I noticed one the 'officers' waiting at the bus stop
outside, I presumed to go to 'head office' at Hereford.

How laudable is that? By contrast, the same day my Mum's Health
Visitor dropped by... in her car.

Contradictions abound. On the one hand, are we prepared to accept
someone we pay essentially spending half a day traveling for work on
our behalf by taking public transport, or would we prefer them to
make the most of the day and their services to us by rushing around
in the most efficient (if not eco) mode of transport?

Sadly, the environment is usually something 'we' advocate as far as
we can, but often without wishing the requirements of actually making
a difference to our lifestyles impede the most efficient and/or
effective (will I be taken to task for these words?) ways of working.
In all the critiques of government policy, this is something to bear
in mind.

The biggest obstacle to making much difference environmentally is the
human condition, dominated by the need to compete. This, combined
with now instantaneous global communication and access, means that
you can't do much in your local sphere that sets you at a
disadvantage for fear of someone else not too far (or very far away)
gaining the upper hand and putting you out of business - be you a one
person band, a multinational or a country.

I could tell every ad client I am hoping to acquire that to meet with
them will take all day (and who pays for my time traveling?), but I
don't think I'll get many, or make much. Equally it is obviously
necessary to do something about air travel. But it can't be
unilateral. And the UK can do all it wants with emissions, but if
China doesn't...

I have not set myself up to say how this can be tackled at a macro
level (because I can’t see how other than by advocating some drastic
solutions which would be career suicide even to ponder out loud in
this PC-age), choosing instead to hide behind commentary and, to be
immodest and a tad more noble, a certain amount of small tangible
doing via

But there are those who do claim to be up to the task, and I don't
envy them. Especially as, so far, they seem to be making a pig’s ear
of it. I can accept the failings if they are honest, but just too
many are down to greed, self-interest, ego, vanity... (and a lot of
other less than complimentary words).

I really live for the big picture, blue sky statesperson who means
what they say, says what they mean, and can actually get the ball
rolling with something tangible.

Stand and deliver

It's all getting a bit hectic here, with the dust still not yet settled from the Ideal Home show, we are looking at Internet World early next month, and the MAD show at the start of the next.

And while our stands are considerably smaller and the display 'dressing' now well established and safely ready to be wheeled out, the amount of work still seems to pile on.

One is pretty much my own doing, because for Internet World I asked for a speaking slot as a condition of commitment, and now the consequences have come home to roost. Not just doing the thing, and hence preparing for it, but also having to get it all ready - about now - for inclusion in the various programme packs.

And while I have it all pretty much sorted out, getting into PowerPoint now as I hope it will be on the day is proving a bit of a challenge. For a start , things are moving so fast there are things i included originally that are already redundant, and new stuff that really begs to be included. Plus my Mac doesn't seem to want to cooperate too well with Emma's PC on this, and as she is the one who knows who the programme works, she's going to need to transcribe my notes into pretty, clickable screen shots. And she's away 'til Tuesday on well-earned leave.

Equally the commitment to MAD is accelerating a bit beyond turning up and looking pretty for a few days. For a start we have decided to take the opportunity to recoup a bit of the investment by selling some stuff on behalf of a few partners, and the logistics of that is a whole new ball game. 

Damned if you do. Damned if you don't.

Having penned my initial feelings about Tesco's announcement of a £100 million fund to cut carbon emissions and increase energy efficiency, it has been interesting to see how it has been received. And on balance, so far it has panned out quite predictably.

The general mood across the 'green lobby' (the composition of which I am a little unsure, but seems, unsurprisingly, to be mainly those activist organisations with well-developed access to the media. It is important, as ‘they’ do seem to be allowed to speak for ‘us’) seems to have been cool, though in many ways not as cool as I'd imagined.

But some pols are happy. With, for instance Liberal Democrat spokesman on the environment, Chris Huhne MP, making a fair point that the amount committed by the supermarket was double the £50 million the Government had allocated to micro generation in its budget. 

I am currently ambivalent. For sure, 'every little bit helps', and £100m out of profits of £2billion is not that much when you look at what else gets 'invested’ in.

There is also the small matter of the balance between what helps them out (wind turbines do, eventually, reduce power consumption... and costs) and what is of any tangible end benefit to me as a shopper (though as a person living in the same county as several, reducing environmental impact is always a plus).
I just wonder how much impact we are going to see on what we get presented on the shelves, and spend our one in eight pounds on with every visit to the supermarket.