Thursday, November 15, 2007

Greenhouse gas levels rising faster than predicted

This from the WBCSD reports that "Greenhouse emissions are rising faster than the worst-case IPCC scenarios".

"This paper suggests that there exists evidence that the IPCC process may have led to an underestimation of the risk of greater warming and that the impacts of climate change are occurring more rapidly than previously projected"

The report is from an independent Australian research group, who I've not come across before, but it's made me quite depressed.

A slightly more comprehensive report from

Dishing the dirt


Re: One contended for next year must be poor old BOSCH - claiming its dishwashers use less water than hand washing.

Just a question really, though it does lead to often competing aspects of 'green'. I can kind of see the water argument, though with a missus like mine to do the glasses, then the plates and then the pots we're talking at least 3 bowls' worth. I wonder how many litres a cycle actually takes?

Though this was not a factor and BOSCH and its agency can live with their choices of claim accordingly, does anyone know what the received opinion is on energy use? It was my understanding that in many circumstances a machine could be better in terms of overall enviROI.

In our climate I would trade water 'use' for energy in order of priority, at least in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

These are the kind of choices we the consumer are going to be faced with, and it would be good to know that those who would tell us, commercial or public service, for sale or for information, are talking from a common hymn book... which itself can be relied upon.

Facts, darn facts and... oh, fact!

In light of, well, everything really: The facts in the way of a good story

Blondin would be proud!

Thing is, some can be so good at balancing, and arguing about how well they are doing it, they can forget to move along - BBC's unnecessary balancing act?

And while it can be fun engaging in witty banter with the hecklers, there is a slight danger the main audience gets bored and looks elsewhere for their 'entertainment'.

Ignoring the glorious irony of so many worthy sorts whizzing about the globe to bring to us the perils of, amongst other things, whizzing about the globe (I know, it's your job, but there do seem to be some a lot more equal than oth... whose jobs require it more than those they take to task. Two? In this period? Why Bali and Valencia? Are not the majority of movers and shakers not more concentrated in, say, New York? And can combine the two more effectively? How many of 'you' will be there?), this does of course require some serious consideration, as the opinions and actions of the UK public can be markedly influenced by what the national broadcaster chooses to share. And be held to account for sharing. There are other media outlets and blogs to this, which others do read.

This is the CiF, so one knows where many are coming from, and often how they choose to view debate, especially when it comes to those less blessed with the rectitude of thought their sources of information provide.

Many do not come from the same place. And I'd love to run this sentence by the readers of the News of the World, whose ABC readership also is exposed to Aunty but might be seen to be at the other end of a scale to this mighty organ: 'We must also be smarter in the way we interpret the often vociferous views expressed by the public on climate change in our vibrant inter-active space. While welcoming a diversity of voices, we must make sure that we do not conflate self-selecting audience responses with a broad audience opinion.' Um, ok.

Many might not know much (or care) about Voltaire, but could still feel uneasy with 'I might not agree with what you have to say, but as it's silly you are obviously a [enter ist/inger/zi or other pejorative here] or just woefully misinformed, and hence unworthy of being heard 'cos we know what's right and good for you.

I'd suggest there is an argument therefore for letting all sides prevail (appreciating this is about extent), and allow the people to decide based on the merits (or not) of what they have to say (speaking personally, a classic Newsnight 'twofer' with each corner served by a grotesque extreme serves no one well). Looking here there is an uneasy sense that there are those who feel any questioning of anything with a green tag comes under the category of 'heretic' and must be excised.

Meanwhile, I really prefer things moved on a bit from getting proved right or wrong on the basis of absolutes, and some stopped worrying so much about vindication and shared more positive actions (all a bit 'ban the...' at the mo') that can be engaged with here and now, with consensus.

If, as I believe, man-worsened climate change ('man-made' being a tag I see a lot and puts me off as it has yet been shown to be true - and every sunspot, Mars-warming story chips away at such a stance. Cue the scientists: 'but you are ignorant!!!' As are most of us... that's the point. You win an audience over by understanding, not despising them) is a distinct possibility, I am much more keen on sensible, pragmatic, high enviROI + things (so I do ask more of an offshore wind farm than 'it's got to be done to save the polar bears') that can be shown to work that will engage and persuade all around to get on board.

Popping out endless apocalyptic scenarios that often give the 'deniers' plenty of comeback ammo seems counterproductive (especially when shown to be factually tenuous or in support of other lobbies), as are endless jollies that seem more about ratings and green 'in-crowd' exclusion zones rather than anything with much hope of touching the lives, hopes and aspirations of the vast working majority.

Even if it is not actually meant (and I really don't think... hope... it is. Any more than I can get my head around some Texas oil baron having no concern for their grandkids if they KNOW they are wrong), here can lie the seeds of a sense of swindle, where agenda, target and dogmatism can conflate (weeee...) with feeling the buzz of being in a driving seat, and put one out of touch with your audience. Ignore the needs, and desires, of the masses at your peril.

Inform us. Educate us and, if it can be done properly and well, persuade us. But please do not be tempted to talk down to us or, worse, select what we need to know 'for our own good'. Tricky in a sound-bite driven culture, but that's the balance you need to find.

BBC - Climate sceptics

Alas, poor world, what treasure hast thou lost!

William Shakespeare (Venus and Adonis)

That's a quote from the end of an interesting article from 2004 by Paul Thompson which suggests that we are approaching, as he sees it, a society facing oil depletion that will be unable to cope, and ultimately the twilight of the modern world. (And he doesn't even mention climate change!)

He breaks down the way he sees humanity (or at least, its remnants) surviving in an oil depleted world into four key successive phases, which he describes as 'Awareness', 'Transition' (from ordered to anarchic), 'Scavengery' and 'Self-Sufficiency', and details what he sees as the way societies change across this entire time period.

It made my eyebrows twitch in quite a few places but has certainly provided me with a lot of food for thought. Well worth a read if you can find the time.

Now whether this is the sort of thing that simply creates more noise, or is genuinely worthy of further consideration is left up to you, the reader. Does it provide interesting insights and information; or does it simply create more confusing noise? (Which is what happens when humans are presented with a surfeit of information.) Because, at a certain point, an overload of information does indeed become noise.

How do you tell the difference? Don't ask me, my head's spinning, but, to paraphrase one of the philosophers, (I forget which), wisdom is the ability to tell the difference between information and noise, and to know when you know enough to act. (It was something like that)

So you tell me. Is the guy a mentally deranged nutter, describing a set of ridiculous fantasy scenarios; or is he an extremely prescient forecaster of what may happen come the end of the fossil fuel driven industrial and technological revolution?

A few more 'facts' on plastic bags

At least the Indy has followed up on its story/campaign: Have Your Say: A ban on plastic bags?

Adds a bit. Though 'Have Your Says' from the BBC to the Indy, are getting a bad press (well, if they were not about the press. A bad blog, let's say) for trying to pass off what the editors liek the look of as 'representative'.

Q - Can you clear up the definitions of degradable and biodegradable? My understanding is that degradable is not compostableie, those bags break down into tiny pieces of plastic that will remain in the environment whereas biodegradable (as in BioBags) can compost and break down completely with no harmful effects to the environment.

A- Absolutely right; the only advantage of degradable bags is they pose less of a litter nuisance once they break down. Biodegradable plastic bags are only better for the environment if they are properly composted – something that isn't widely happening at the moment. As a rule, I take cotton bags on my shopping trips rather than accept free plastic bags. Every couple of months I leave the cotton bags at home and take the plastic bags, which I then use as free bin bags.

My Q - (in light of those raised here previously): So... no harmful effects to the environment. Hmmn. So does that mean there is no greenhouse gas consequence? Why do I sense a cherry pick here? And what about the total lack of official coordination and comms on what goes where? If I put my Somerfield's in with my Morrisons to recycle I do belive that's not helping.

Q - Is it better to use the plastic bags as bin bags, or is there a more environmentally sound way of dealing with rubbish?

A- Reusing bags over and over is of course the most environmentally friendly option and the fact that you do that most of the time is the most important thing. You also need to contain your residual waste somehow and I really don't think it makes a lot of difference if you reuse carrier bags or buy suitable bin liners. But do look out for those with recycled content and don't use bigger or thicker bin liners than you reasonably need.

My Q/Opinion: How can it not make a lot of difference reusing something vs. buying new ones that need to be made? That doesn't make sense!

Q - Where can I buy small black bin bags? I throw out so little that three-quarters of a standard bin bag is waste plastic, but I can't store what little waste I do throw out until the bag is full, because of smells.

A - Maybe smaller pedal-bin liners are what you need? However, some local councils now collect food waste separately which might be an answer to the odour problem. Alternatively, if you can compost your biodegradable waste like vegetable peelings, tea bags and egg shells, you can deal with most of the materials that cause smells in way that's very good for the environment.

My Opinion - Bless

Q - I work for a small children's clothes company. We use good quality polythene bags costing 4p each. I would like to change these to biodegradable bags or paper carrier bags. Can you suggest a source for them at a reasonable cost? Also, which of these is actually least harmful, bearing in mind the use of wood for paper versus land clearance for vast fields of corn for cornstarch?

A - With regard to which bags are least harmful, you need to think about what happens to the bag after you give it to the customer as well as how it's sourced. See my earlier comments regarding biodegradable bags, but also paper bags need to be recycled in order to avoid causing potentially more damage than the plastic alternatives. For information about suppliers you could try

My A - And don't forget WRAP is a not-for-profit company!

Q - I was completely fed up with the number of plastic bags foisted on me, particularly as an internet shopper. So, together with a friend, I decided to take action. That was when we found it – a really clever type of shopping bag. The bags clip inside supermarket trolleys, helping to organise shopping and speed up checkout time. And so was born: a company specialising in utilitarian bags designed specifically for the supermarket.

A - There is a huge range of alternatives to disposable carrier bags, from organic fair trade cotton to supermarket's own Bags for Life.

My A - Nice ads! I wonder who has an 'in with who' between the Indy and the local PR agency.

Q- Thank you for your timely piece on the curse of the plastic bag. I am old enough to remember when supermarkets charged for carrier bags. I cannot believe they are so reluctant to reintroduce the charge.

A- I can also (just) remember those days! The truth is there's no such thing as a free carrier bag; nowadays we just pay for them in the cost of the goods. That is really unfair to consumers trying to reduce carrier bag use – they are subsidising others who are more wasteful.

My A/Opinion - As mentioned on the BBC 'story' this morning, one has to wonder how so much is ending up with the retailers and customers to resolve. I'm fascinated how all these good folk think it's great to be charged. Hope they feel the same as everything ends up with an overt green charge that may or may not help the enviROI and may or may not actually go where one would hope to effect the best changes.

If you want to see green living, go to 'old' Europe

Let's start with the small things. As many cross-Channel shoppers will know, plastic bags are simply not supplied at many Continental hypermarkets any more. You either buy big biodegradable bags from the check-out or bring your own bag or trolley.

I really am keen to get an answer to whether biodegradable bags do or do not create greenhouse gasses. It just seems... pertinent.

Nothing to lose but your plastic bags

Interesting Ms. JSP has opened by highlighting one oft ignored fact: it seems the bags are all that's important; not the fact that most spend all their times wanting to get stuff to stick in 'em. Which I would imagine has a footprint all of its own. A bigger one. Seems it's not the content that matters, but the presentation. And apt metaphor for this 'image is all' era.

A slight whiff of balance... But again : 'Biodegradable plastic is one option, recycled paper another.'

And is only me who sees a slight irony in this: '... picked up at the Ravello Festival in Italy, a market in Faversham, from the launch of Architecture week in London last summer, and at the British pavilion during the Venice Biennale. Much as I rate Ms. JSP, I can't help but wonder how her jaunting (unless it is in a VW Bluemotion at 3000cb/m) equates to the few thousand bags she'll rack up at Tescos.

Guardian - Throwing away a throwaway culture

I have a technical question to which I hope there is a simple answer that some expert(s) can provide me with.

I have just read a factual explanation of the issues (from one of the many, and well-funded, quangos that exist to help us in these matters), and both biodegradable and compostable options were mentioned. However this seemed to be restricted to the processes of composting as it relates to the soil only.

Are there no greenhouse gas consequences to these processes? And if so are they so negligible as to be irrelevant? I see that plastic photodegrades to some nasties. Do these include greenhouse gasses? And does this happen out of sunlight?

I simply ask as I have been working on the assumption that atmospheric CO2/methane is the main priority to reduce, and I'm trying to get my head around how some of the options proposed are actually any better on this, more immediate, basis.

I know it is much more complex, and while reuse must obviously be better in the long run (and seems to work in other countries), I am also aware that the provision of facilities here to enable effective recycling (especially without contamination) is less than it could be. With a suspicion that shunting the issue away from where it could be into a public/retailer responsibility might suit some very well.

Reduction of the things that go in the bags is of course not ... yet ... high on the agenda in the run-up to Xmas and with economies to support and grow, but one rather wonders where next those with zeal and passion for the key things to ban may turn next. Pets? Skiing trips (before the snow runs out)? Ads in newspapers for same? Plastic wrappers for newspapers that run ads for same? Cosmetics? (Now there's a totally unnecessary item - (though my wife may disagree). Or fashion items (at least the ones in the 51 other weeks to the token 'recycle' issue). Beer? How many litres of tap water to make a pint? At least it comes in glasses at the pub and not in plastic bottles.... hey.... there's a thought!

I saw a chap on the TV this morning who was positively salivating at all he could ban, or at least levy and/or fine. Not quite the sort I fancy getting their heads around saving the planet for my kids, especially when I had a sense that he rather saw the money primarily being used to fund more schemes like his, and clones of him to 'run' them.

I do see merit in proper reduction and 'paying for wasting' generating funds to be directed in genuine, effective enviROI+ directions, but this all has a rather worrying scent, at least as dished out by a media that loves an 'issue', and wins with ratings no matter how it plays out.

And while I agree a contact lens is another awful symbol of our disposable society, I rather wish the energies that might yet get devoted to eradicating these might first be directed at slightly bigger tasks of a more immediate concern.

Guardian - Q&A: Plastic bags

Telegraph - Bin those plastic bags - Interesting responses, covering paper, better priorities, etc

ADDENDUM - I made a request via the Institute of Packaging to ask for feedback to help my understanding. I have already had answers that are prompt, helpful, varied and/or interesting. And now have some work on my plate to prepare my next blog!!!! Watch this space.

One paper. One day. One nation. One wonders...

These were from the Indy yesterday:

The best defence against claims of spin - the process of government

Mark Steel: You can't go round telling people you've been sacked - what happens to those within who try and change it

The cost of cheap food – and hot air - and what happens to the planet when those left in charge a left free to continue with their tasks

I congratulate the Indy and its writers fro highlighting this, but wonder how many days (hours) after passing from our tables and screens these further insanities will be recalled.

They don't make it any easier

See those two packs on the left?

Both choccy drinks, but made by what I had thought were major competitors, Mars and Cadbury Schweppes.

I wonder why they feel the need to look so like each other, in shape terms at least? Is that what choccy drinks are 'meant' to look like?

I so miss the old Maltesers version, which presented so many useful possibilities.