Wednesday, March 19, 2008

I'm sorry, but...

... this from our national broadcaster: Space planes 'to meet big demand'

Only without a peep about the stuff that pops out the back end of these rich-tourist efforts? Meanwhile, main news, our supermarket heads are all getting hybrids. That'll sort it.


In case I have missed something, I have been moved to ask:

Dear Mr. Amos,

I know there's a boldy-going, boundary-pushing aspect to man's evolution that needs to be acknowledged in all things innovative, and commerce often funds science. But in light of our being told we need to deal with emissions pronto to stabilise the only world we currently have to live on, just what are the consequences of these things, not just in terms of what they punt out, but the messages they send (ie: rich OK in space 5-up on a rocket... poor mustn't go to Majorca 200-up on EasyJet). What next, a promo for a Prius by Al Gore and Leonardo from space, with a BBC crew to broadcast? It does seem that some 'pioneers' of commercial space profit-making are getting, if you will excuse the pun, a rather easy, unchallenged, easy ride. Yes these things exist, are legally permitted to, if not encouraged. And are waaaay cool. But would not some questions be appropriate to put things in some context in light of the messages we the public are be served up daily on thrift and reduction in emissions? Any facts to clarify?

The author has already kindly, and promptly, replied, in a fair manner:

There are several issues here; and they are very reasonable questions which should be asked (However, I set out to write a technical article, not a socio-political one). Robert Laine addresses some of them in his lecture which you can view online if you click the webcast link in the right-hand navigation. For what it is worth, the rocket industry calls LOX-CH4 a "green propellant". But by green they are speaking relative to their usual propellants. It requires a lot of energy to first make hydrogen and then keep it chilled to the liquid state. Methane by comparison is much easier to handle. There are some special purpose fuels, too, which are pretty unpleasant. These are the so-called hypergolic fuels such as hydrazine which you will have heard about concerning the recent US spy satellite that was shot down. Nasty stuff.

However I do still have concerns, and especially do not feel that it is any longer adequate that media, especially one as major as the BBC, divorce one area of reporting from another. It is hard to imagine a piece on plastic that addresses only the facts without some tilt towards it's impact on the environment. Hence I have written back:

Thank you for taking the time to reply. Plus the info and link.

I appreciate your 'patch', but we are sadly moving into a new era where what one does in one area can (and maybe should) have a bearing what is going down elsewhere, especially as it is related. Take it from me! I am a creator of 'things' (engineer, designer and writer). But where once I simply worked on the basis of '
can this be done?' and embark on making it so, my environmental involvements now bring a terrible curse to the inventive soul; so I now find myself often constrained by having to ask: 'should it be done?'. And it's hard, when you have a good, new idea, to find that it may actually impose an environmental burden in its manufacture and use that goes beyond ego or paying the rent. But if (and as one who subscribes currently to 'Probably man-worsened climate change, so just in case maybe we should do what we can now') there is a global issue being faced that needs addressing by all, and quick, some of the old rules and boundaries might need to be re-assessed.

And there are a lot in the mix here, from governments to corporations to the media to the individual. And more than a few are complicit in bearing messages that, depending on the messenger, can be mixed at best. So, as a consumer I do find an eyebrow gets cranked when I see a piece in, say, the Guardian, moaning about air travel or 4x4s, yet right next door is an ad for a Range Rover or weekend break in the Maldives. The BBC is lucky in that it does not have such commercial pressures to weigh, but I do confess to getting cranky when I see the Breakfast News crew trotting out something on plastic bags as if it were the return of Satan, and then cutting to some guy on an Arctic ice flow saying it's all to save global warming that he and the guys flew up there.

So, on the one side I, like any red-blooded male (or like-minded laydee) love to hear of the latest gizmo, not just because I might want one but just to appreciate all that it took to think it up and make it. And what's not to like about space travel? If we are screwed down here, maybe we do need to keep on looking to the stars as the next venue we can reach out to... and then pollute with our messy footprints.

I guess I just find that such as Sir. B et al get a lot of promo for what is a) pretty elitist and b) pretty hard to justify (unless the 'tourists' swap their Kodak moment for a bit of weightless experimenting while up there (and I don't mean the 60 mile high club), especially when the main motivation seems to be money. The bio 7'one out of 4'7 was another, but that PR kinda backfired I feel, especially when folk started trying to assess how many acres of nuts it would take to get across the Atlantic. That's when these things do not help, as they weaken the cases for more moderate advocacies by bringing opposing extremes to the fore.

No problem with innovation, especially of the 'green' variety, but the enviROI has to be brought front and centre. All I now care about is that what we put in place for the future makes my kids' chances of a livable planet better than currently advised... mainly by such as the BBC. Can't have it all ways anymore. Or at least, not if we are facing 'the biggest threat.. yadayada...' The Corporation does have a duty more than most news media, but why do I feel that even if proof positive of man-made adverse climate change was released, if Macca did an OJ the entire building would clear the airwaves scrambling to bring live footage from the nearest helicopter to bring us his progress, if maybe tsk-tsk'in that he was in an SUV?

Interesting point on the energy costs of getting H2 into a tank. All we tend to hear are paeans to the glass of water that falls from Arnie's Hummer or Sir Stuart Rose's BMW 7-series. I love the notion behind it all, but again remain interested more in whether it is credible as a resource to actually reduce emissions, or is more a rich person's toy dressed up as green.

Anyway, I appreciate the feedback. But maybe you can see some merit in my point about the role national broadcaster can and should play in keeping messages consistent and audience sensitive in the face of such a major issue as this.

Addendum -

BBC - Robots fly into Antarctic skies - A a step in the right direction? But what's the betting a bunch of film crews will be flying up there to report on it?

No comments: