Rhubarb-Rhubarb and Custard

First, the custard. Then, the rhubarb-rhubarb:

Direct action historically has been a major way that we’ve got change. I mean, you can look at, historically, through the Suffragettes, through the miners’ strikes, through all of the major changes. Yes, some of it is about putting yourselves in the way, as we have done, as Plane Stupid has done, putting ourselves on runways, directly reducing carbon emissions. And some of it is about debunking the lies and spin that some people have the opportunity to put across to the rest of the world. Yes, we are using the media. But Peter Mandelson is using the media. He’s not elected. He’s not working in the interest of the people and the planet. He doesn’t have science behind him. Ninety per cent of scientists now agree that climate change is a very real threat, that it’s already occurring, that it’s man-made, and that our last chance is going to run out within the next ten years. So I ask you: what else are we supposed to do when democracy is failing people in this country? You have to resort to any means necessary, as long as it’s peaceful, and as long as it doesn’t harm other human beings.

The only difference that custard-thrower Leila Deen can identify between herself and custard-recipient Peter Mandelson, UK Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (and, yes, he’s an unelected peer), is that she has science behind her and he does not. She has nothing else to cling to. By her own words: Just like Mandelson, her actions are undemocratic. Just like Mandelson, she lies and spins. And just like Mandelson, she has the opportunity to put those lies and spin out to the rest of the world. She also demonstrates perfectly why, just like Mandelson (and who wouldn’t quite like to throw custard in his face?), her organisation is deeply unpopular with the electorate.

Her problem is that the only way she can make it sound like she has science on her side is by twisting that science beyond recognition. Ninety per cent of scientists now agree what? Ten years? These are just random numbers plucked from the ether. What sort of consensus is it when ecotastrophists can’t even agree on what 90 per cent of scientists are saying? Hansen says four years, Lucas says eight, the Green New Deal Group gives us 100 months.

Given that Deen has no more science on her side than her nemesis, all that does separate them is that she’s not happy about the building of a single new runway. That runway might or might not increase aviation emissions and will have virtually no impact on UK Climate Change Act targets when aviation accounts for only six per cent of UK emissions. So she has to make up stuff about that, too:

[…rhubarb rhubarb…] the vast majority of people are against the third runway […rhubarb rhubarb…] a runway that will cause catastrophic climate change and ruin any chance that we have of stopping our carbon emissions […rhubarb rhubarb…] if we build a third runway, all other industries will have to reduce their carbon emissions to zero […rhubarb rhubarb…]

We have nothing against direct action per se. But what sort of direct action is it when the activists target those who are pushing in the same direction as themselves? And let’s not forget that the government quite likes the fact that a few silly protestors are lending some street cred to its own agenda. We recently quoted Secretary of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change Ed Miliband on the runway protests:

When you think about all the big historic movements, from the suffragettes, to anti-apartheid, to sexual equality in the 1960s, all the big political movements had popular mobilization. Maybe it’s an odd thing for someone in government to say, but I just think there’s a real opportunity and a need here.

The custard slinging came before Mandelson spoke at the UK’s Low Carbon Summit. Here’s a video of the event’s ‘highlights’, published on 10 Downing Street’s Youtube channel:

The media focused their attention on the custard-chucking, at the expense of criticising what was being said inside the summit. Take, for example, the words of Mandelson himself:

So the point we want to start at today is this… This transition to low carbon is an environmental and economic imperative and an opportunity for us. It is also inevitable. There is no high carbon future for us.

Here we see familiar lines in action. There are imperatives, and a low carbon economy is inevitable. That is to say that democracy has no say in determining what is or isn’t an imperative, or what the Government’s priorities ought to be. But as we have pointed out before, environmentalism has never been tested democratically in the UK. All the parties absorbed its ‘imperatives’ into their manifestos in a process that has never been challenged or really even debated. Mandelson has no authority to say that there exist environmental or economic imperatives – he isn’t an elected politician; he is held widely in contempt, being seen at best as a joke or a symptom of New Labour’s intransigence and corruption; and he does not have facts on his side.

He continues:

The huge industrial revolution that is unfolding in converting our economy to low carbon is going to present huge business and employment opportunities as well as enabling us to meet our climate change targets and reduce our energy consumption

We’d like to know from Mandelson precisely where this ‘industrial revolution’ is supposed to be unfolding, and where these opportunities actually are. During the last quarter of 2008, nearly a quarter of a million people lost their jobs in the UK. Unemployment is currently just shy of two million.

There is no unfolding revolution. A revolution implies spontaneity, dynamism and popular support to shake off an old order or system. Instead, this ‘revolution’ requires regulatory laws, massive subsidies, and the creation of targets and goals – the precise opposite of a revolution. The French revolution was not achieved by setting goals for the number of aristocratic heads it intended to remove from aristocratic shoulders by a given date. It just happened. The industrial revolution did not happen because people set targets for miles of train track laid over the next ten years, it produced its own momentum and possibilities, which were, in turn, demanded. Nobody is demanding green politics. It is being foisted on us from above.

Ed Miliband pipes in:

There’s been a huge growth in the green sector and it’s already a three-trillion-dollar industry set to grow by fifty per cent. Now the question isn’t is that industry going to happen; it is going to happen. The question is, can Britain take advantage of that? That’s what our strategy is designed to do. It covers a whole range of areas from waste to recycling to renewable to all… err… a whole range of sectors. Increasing numbers of people will be working in these areas and we want Britain to be a world leader.

Again, we see the ugly leitmotif of today’s bland politics – inevitability. ‘It is going to happen’.

Of course there has been a growth in the Green sector. It has been heavily subsidised. For instance, a report from the think tank Policy Exchange estimated that the (now abandoned) biofuel subsidy (that required diesel sold to be 5% bio-diesel) cost the UK over £500 million a year. The report cited by Miliband and Mandelson (more about that report later) says that the renewable and low carbon energy sector grew by ~6% in the year 2007/8. It also says that the size of the biomass market was £5billion. Well, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what drove the biomass sector’s growth.

The other side of this sector’s growth is regulation. For example, In 2002, the UK’s Renewables Obligation order instructed electricity suppliers to source an increasing percentage of their fuel from renewable sources. In 2002 this figure was 3%. By 2008, it was 9%. Failing to meet this target means paying a price per unit of electricity generated, which is then redistributed to suppliers according to how they met the target. A 2004 report by energy watchdog Ofgem said that the Renewables Obligation scheme was ‘providing additional financial support of at least £485 million to the renewables industry this year alone.’

This ‘revolution’ is presented by the Government as something which ‘is happening’, rather than something which was caused by the Government. The worldwide growth in the renewable energy sector is manufactured, much less by spontaneous innovation opening up new opportunities than, as with Britain, new environmental laws and massive subsidies.

Premier Gordon Brown is top act of the night:

So let us set a challenge to our scientists to lead the world in this great human endeavour to create a clean environment for future generations. Let us each set a challenge to business. Let us compete to lead the world in new low carbon products. Let us set a challenge to our planners to build homes and buildings and business and then eco-towns and eco-cities around the vision of a low carbon environment. And let us set a challenge to our schools. Let us teach young people. Inspire them that a low carbon future is not only the best future we can have, but the best future they can have as young people too. And let me tell you, our low carbon future, to create the low carbon economy we need is now a national endeavour that gives us purpose for years to come.

None of Brown’s aspirations are shared by the public. They are his, and the political establishment’s aspirations. Very few people want to live in an eco-home in an eco-town or eco-city. Very few people want their children indoctrinated by eco-dogma. Brown pretends that he wants us to share his eco-centric eco-vision, but Mandelson and Miliband have already revealed that it is inevitable, and that we don’t have a choice. We are to be eco-proles, whether we like it or not.

This ‘let us…’ rhetoric in intended to be statesmanlike, imploring us to be part of some moment of change. But the moment of change has long since passed, and Brown’s vision is a hollow attempt to rescue it. After decades of decline in manufacturing output, and chronic underinvestment in housing and energy, it is a bit rich, and a bit late, for Brown to be telling us that we need eco-homes and eco-industry powered by eco-energy. We needed homes and industry as the conditions for the current economic climate were forming. His government, and previous ones, didn’t see the need then, and the need now owes less to the fact that the climate is changing, and much, much more to the fact that individuals in the Government want to use the climate change issue to generate moral authority for themselves, especially on the world stage. They can’t do that unless the UK is seen to be green, with green laws, green economy, green industry, and green people. Hence, over the last year, the UK has seen a raft of measures hurried through so that the UK contingent can arrive at the UN Climate Conference in Denmark later this year dressed as planet-saving super-heroes, not as a ship of foolish Chicken Littles, struggling to sustain their political legitimacy.

The Low Carbon Summit was, like the web page announcing it, hosted by RBS. Yes, that’s the same RBS that made a loss of £10 billion last year.

The Low Carbon Economy Summit is the only event this year to focus on the business opportunities in moving to a low carbon economy. Uniquely the Low Carbon Summit will explore what further action needs to be taken by government and business to create an environment which supports and promotes investment in low carbon solutions such as renewable power generation and carbon capture and storage as well as emissions trading.

This partnership knows far more about generating crises than stopping them. But then again, crises, real or imagined, are the bread and butter of politicians who otherwise fail to explain to the public what their ‘vision’ actually is. It isn’t until crunch time that Brown, Miliband and Mandelson unveil their ‘revolutionary’ ideas. The language about the inevitabilities and imperatives of environmental catastrophe are attempts to explain failures as success, decline as progress, and inactivity as activity. Politicians stand on their heads to complain that the world is upside down, and that all the trends actually show improvement.

Journalists, too, struggle to explain what’s going on in the world without the prospect of the catastrophe signposting right from wrong. A Guardian article on the event demonstrates its writers’ inability to subject the Government’s climate policies to any scrutiny:

In an interview with the Guardian, Ed Miliband, the climate change secretary, said there was a global race towards creating a low-carbon economy and that Britain must not get left behind. He set out the key elements required – from energy efficiency to a smart electricity grid – ahead of today’s low-carbon summit in London, with representatives from industry, unions and the environment movement.

Much is made of the alleged influence on the public mind of the odd hour of television here and there that does stand against climate orthodoxy. But the media’s failure to subject the terms of the climate debate to scrutiny has had a much more significant effect on the Government’s mind. It seems that they can do no wrong – and consequently can have their many failures overlooked – while they are being green. The only criticism they can expect from Guardian hacks is not being green enough, never mind what kind of outcome it will produce, or what kind of society it will create. There is very little question of the policies, only the echoes of mantras about ‘imperatives’, and ‘inevitability’. One of the lines in the Guardian, also picked up elsewhere was the headline that…

New jobs will be created in low-carbon industries for 400,000 people – from lagging lofts to nuclear power – the government will announce today.

This figure comes from a report by consulting firm, Innovas, commissioned by the Government. What the report said was not that ‘new jobs will be created’, and the Guardian omits the caveats attached to the report.

If the UK environmental employment baseline level grows in line with projected annual growth rates, then, potentially, an additional 400,000 jobs could be created over the next eight years ‐ representing a 45% increase on today’s level. This is a rough estimate based on the growth in market value, where employment levels are calculated on a pro rata basis. Some of this growth in employment might be due to displacement activity, as green goods and services become more acceptable than the alternatives, such as a shift from manufacturing traditional doors/windows to heat and energy efficient ones, or from carbon‐based fuels such as coal to renewable energies such as wind. However the majority of the growth in employment, particularly in the Renewable Energy industries, would represent additional economic growth to 2015.

The figure of 400,000 new jobs becomes even more dubious when it transpires that Innovas estimates that employees in the low carbon and environmental goods and services (LCEGS) sector number 881,000 people in the UK. There are roughly 30 million working people in the UK. That means 2.6% of the workforce are employed by the LCEGS. This sector has (according to Innovas) a market value of £106 billion. It seems hard to believe that such a large number of employment opportunities has been opened up by demand for green products. Yet the report projects, nonetheless:

The LCEGS sector, including supply chain, currently employs some 881,000 people in the UK, and this is forecast to increase to 1,289,000, or around 400,000 in the next eight years.

On what basis, though? The statistical summary accompanying the report claims that there are 6361 UK companies, employing 106,826 people in the ‘Alternative Fuel Vehicle’ sector. This turns out to mean ‘Alternative fuels (main Stream) for vehicles only’, and ambiguously, ‘other fuels and vehicles’. Does this lump together people who work on developing green cars and green fuel? According to www.autoindustry.co.uk, 210,000 people worked in manufacturing automobiles in 2005. Even assuming that there are still 210,000 people working in the UK’s ailing motor industry (which seems unlikely), can we really assume that half of these positions are in the LCEGS sector?

The report’s statistical summary goes on to say that 154,992 people work in ‘Alternative fuels’, 70,538 in the LCEGS ‘water and waste water’ sector, and 22,563 in the LCEGS ‘energy management’ sector. This gives us a total of 442,813 people in these LCEGS sectors. But according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), only 177,000 people worked in the energy and water sector at all. If we now include people that work in the LCEGS ‘hydro’, ‘wave and tidal’, biomass, wind, geothermal, photovoltaic, and ‘additional energy sources’ sectors, there are 626,557 people working in LCEGS energy sectors according to Innovas – many more people than the ONS claim.

It is plausible that the ONS and Innovas categorise jobs and businesses in different ways. But to claim that a greater number of people work in the LCEGS energy and water sector than work in the energy and water sector, when just a small percentage of Britain’s energy comes from renewable and alternative sources is just daft. We simply don’t believe it.

According to Eurostat, the UK produced 14,813,000 tons of oil equivalent (TOE) energy using renewables, against a total of 183,946,000 TOE. That process seems to have involved 533,455 people, according to Innovas’ statistics. If the UK’s total energy production was as efficient in terms of labour, it would have needed 6,624,378 people, or 22% of the workforce engaged in the production of energy. Perhaps this is what Brown and his fellows have in mind, when they are talking about the creation of hundreds of thousands of new jobs:

(image leaked from the UK government’s secret Low Carbon Industrial Strategy document)

Stupid custards.

Only Happy When It Rains

Bizarrely, this week’s episode of Laurence Llewelyn Bowen’s BBC Radio 4 series Laurence Llewelyn Bowen’s History of Home, in which celebrity interior designer and big, flouncy ponce Laurence Llewelyn Bowen explores the history of our homes from the 1920s to the present day, opens with a montage of calls to arms from Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth: ‘this is really not a political issue so much as a moral issue’ and ‘within the decade there will be no more snows of Kilimanjaro’, and so on. Cue Laurence Llewelyn Bowen:

By the turn of the 21st Century, we were having to face a few of Al Gore’s inconvenient truths about global warming, not least the news that our homes contribute heavily to the problem. In Britain, CO2 emissions from the housing sector have risen by 5% in the last ten years alone, so that our homes now account for 27% of the UK’s carbon footprint.

The latest installment looks at the eco-home. First stop: the Hockerton Housing Project near Nottingham, a terrace of five houses that use only 10% of the energy of the average British home. They are neither plugged nor plumbed in, but they are right-on. They have grass roofs, reed-beds instead of sewers, windmills and solar panels instead of sub-stations, and various different kinds of compost heap.

LLB: Let’s go to the bathroom. Because that’s always a slight point of sensitivity as far as people are concerned, because they always associate green living with a nose-dive in personal hygiene, which I think is deeply unfair.

Resident: It is.

LLB: This is exactly as you’d expect from a family bathroom.

Resident: It is. But it’s actually a cunningly disguised, ultra-low water-use toilet, and it does the job […] It starts to flush everything down the pipe and out into a tank, which then leads into a reed bed. It’s a wonderful habitat for the plants and the animals; it saves us loads of money because we don’t pay water rates. The other thing that isn’t obvious in the bathroom really is the water is actually collected from the rain, and everything we use in terms of water, we have to collect, look after [and] treat […] And when it’s raining, you’re moderately happy and you’re filling your water tank. And you’re very connected with that. You become in control of what you’re doing.

What the resident meant to say, of course, is that when you are entirely dependent on enough sun, rain and wind falling on your your own little patch of the planet, you relinquish all ‘control of what you’re doing’ to Mother Nature. Which is all well and good if you like to spend your time composting your nail clippings and wondering whether to water your vegetables or wash your hair. But given that the vast majority of us have other things to do, it’s hardly a model for future society.

The eco-village was built and is now lived in by some nice, middle-class folk who have a lot of time on their hands and who don’t really want to be part of modern civilisation. They have even symbolised their aspirations to some sort of pre-industrial utopia with a stone circle they built in their communal back-garden.

Were it just about a bunch of well-meaning eccentrics pottering about in quiet corners of the English countryside, that would be the end of it, but the trouble is that, whether we like it or not, eco-living is going mainstream. The programme tells us that the UK government’s aim is for all new houses to be ‘zero-carbon’ by 2016. To that end, it has produced the Code for Sustainable Homes, a national standard of sustainability for new build housing, and plans for ten new ‘eco-towns‘.

Barratt Homes is one of the construction giants looking for a piece of the action, by drawing on green technologies developed by the likes of ZEDfactory, who can pack fifty Rural Zed self-build eco-houses into a hectare. Barratt chief executive officer Mark Clare explains that all houses of the future will store rainwater for use in the toilet and washing machine, have dedicated spaces for bicycles, and, er…

We also are designing these homes so that there are warm areas in the house at the top, where you can actually dry your clothes, so you shouldn’t need a tumble drier.

Like you shouldn’t need a car, because all the public transport will be ‘integrated’. And like you shouldn’t need to go anywhere anyway, because, well, why would you need to? But it’s a thin line between shouldn’t and mustn’t, and it remains far from clear on which side of that line the eco-proles will be forced to sit. As Andrew Orlowski reported last week on The Register, a report by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) suggests that the lifestyle police will be paying very close attention:

If the proposals in the report What Makes An Eco Town? are implemented few aspects of life will go unrecorded.

CABE says the strict monitoring is needed to ensure the carbon footprint of the eco-town dwellers remains at one-third of the British average, which is the requirement for what’s called “one-planet living”, the quango says.

Examples of monitoring include “the ecological footprint of the diet of 100 randomly selected residents”, and the number of shops selling local produce. Waste disposal and transportion habits will also be scrutinized.

The Carbon Cult also wants to choose what you food you eat, and will carefully pre-select only the most righteous retailers. Veggies will be pleased to read that the report recommends “actively seeking retailers on site who will commit to supporting residents in reducing the ecological footprint of their food consumption, in particular providing a wide variety of healthy, low meat and dairy options.

Certainly, eco-towns are about more than making just the architecture eco-friendly. Mark Clare says his houses can lead to a 60% reduction in carbon footprint. Which is plainly not enough for Caroline Flint, Minister of State for Housing and Planning, and her zero-carbon aspirations. Lifestyle changes are also essential.

MC: The house will enable the home-owner to reduce their carbon footprint by well over 60%. If they do all of the other things – including transport – then they can get up to 80% reduction. So, now we really are talking about something close to zero-carbon living.

We are certainly not the first to criticise the government’s eco-towns policies. At one end of the spectrum, the Guardian’s architecture critic Jonathan Glancey isn’t impressed. And at the other, neither are those nice, well-meaning middle-class types – like the parents of plucky British tennis under-achiever Tim Henman – who find themselves in the flight-path of one of the proposed developments. But the fact is that most people aren’t going to be negatively affected by eco-towns. Like most people wouldn’t have been negatively affected by new towns period. And as we keep saying, most people remain unconvinced by Environmentalism, and few vote for it. So why the re-branding? One advantage is that the shrill voices of Environmentalism would find it harder to mount a challenge if it is billed under the government’s commitment to reducing CO2. Who could possibly object to ethical ‘eco-homes’?

That said, some shrill voices can’t be drowned out just like that. One of our pet favorite loony Environmentalist organisations, the Optimal Population Trust (OPT), rightly points out that eco-towns will make but a dent in the UK’s need for new housing. Where they go wrong – completely, entirely and utterly wrong – is in thinking that what we really need is no new houses at all.

the Government should minimise future demand for housing by developing a clear “green” strategy to achieve a sustainable level of population for the UK. England is by some measures the world’s fourth most densely populated country, with overcrowding affecting quality of life and damaging the habitat of other species.

Intriguingly, they add:

Population growth is by far the biggest factor in the predicted increase in demand for housing, accounting for at least 59 per cent

They don’t mention what they think accounts for the other 41% of the demand. Presumably, it has something to do with the trend for solitary living. We should be living together as long as we don’t sleep together, or something.

When it comes down to it, eco-towns are a response to neither ecological nor housing imperatives. And yet, once good, old-fashioned ‘towns’ are re-labelled as ‘eco-towns’, they are bestowed with a loftier purpose, which gives governments – not to mention the likes of Barratt’s Homes – licence to start getting away with anything. And they do. Yet Llewelyn Bowen still doesn’t see any reason to criticise them. He concludes:

I can’t help thinking though that this is a life that lots of people would cherish – it’s simpler, it’s safer, it’s greener, and that all important sense of community […] It’s basically ‘Get happy’.

But, no matter how much his history of the eco-home uncritically extols their virtues, you can bet that prancing dandies like Llewelyn Bowen won’t be making eco-slums their home. Nor will well-intentioned, disillusioned, middle-class folk with time on their hands. Eco-slums will be the last resort of those who don’t have any choice in the matter.

Who Are the Real Climate Criminals?

If there’s one thing that’s supposed to annoy us British about Americans, it’s their environmentally unfriendly ways. And not just George Bush and his Exxon-funded cronies. It’s the whole lot of them – as highlighted by the recent ABC News poll where “global warming” scored a big, fat zero (see page 6) in the US public’s list of priorities.

Contrast with London’s Mayoral candidates all battling to save the planet. The “central pledge” of New Labour’s Ken Livingstone to his electorate includes: “London will tackle the great environmental problems, above all climate change, to ensure that our success is sustainable.” And the whole thing is only one sentence long. Boris Johnson (Conservative) pledges “a ban on bottled water, a ban on internal flights, recycling, green procurement and sustainability”. Both claim to be against Heathrow’s third runway on environmental grounds. And there’s still somehow room for a Green Party candidate. Politics: available in any colour, as long as it’s… well… Green.

But is our superciliousness towards the green credentials of the USA really justified? Are we really that different here in the UK? Not according to an Ipsos Mori poll last year, which indicated that more than half of us are not convinced that the science of climate change is robust enough to justify a Green revolution. Despite the vast sums of cash available to the environmental PR machine to keep the looming ecopalypse at the front of our minds, nobody’s really that interested, it seems.

Funnily enough, environmentalists like to blame their failure to capture the public’s imagination on oil-funded “deniers” (whose budget is a fraction of Greenpeace’s alone). Or they’ll blame the selfishness of the public itself, who need to be hectored into making “ethical” consumer choices… and taking fewer baths.

But is there another reason for our complacency? Could it be that we have a better nose for eco-friendly bullshit than Livingstone’s “London will tackle the great environmental problems, above all climate change, to ensure that our success is sustainable”, or Boris’s “a ban on bottled water, a ban on internal flights, recycling, green procurement and sustainability” give us credit for? Both look like nothing more than attempts to convince us that they’re taking armageddon seriously, rather than serious attempts to make the world a better place.

So why, given the public’s lack of interest, isn’t there a candidate with the balls to stand up and challenge Environmentalism? Where is the candidate who thinks a third runway is a good thing? It’s not as if Londoners don’t want to use airports. Or who thinks there aren’t enough roads? Or that a new desalination plant is a better idea than saving water by hectoring Londoners with “if it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down”?

Perhaps it’s because green policies can’t actually do any harm. We might be ambivalent, but we’re hardly going to vote against saving the planet. Which is perhaps why everyone from the BNP through to Socialist Worker are striking a green pose. Environmentalism is attractive to unimaginative politicians precisely because it’s seen as inoffensive and uncontroversial.

Except that it is offensive. And it should be controversial. Just ask Gareth Corkhill, the father of four who was fined a week’s wages by Copeland Borough Council and slapped with a criminal record for overflowing his wheelie bin by 4 inches. (And environmentalism is supposed to be ‘progressive’!). Once authorities get it into their heads that human concerns can take second place to a higher purpose – saving Mother Nature, Gaia, or whatever you want to call her – no reason exists for them to imagine that they owe the public anything, or are even accountable.

Environmentalism isn’t the left-wing conspiracy that those whom it accuses of being a right-wing conspiracy are wont to accuse it of being. It’s just very convenient, that’s all. Public servants can become policemen; they can suddenly make life more difficult in the name of saving the planet. Eco-Proles can be farmed out to Eco-Homes in Eco-Towns that lack flushing toilets and where the only water you are allowed to use is that which falls on your land. And to complain is to have the blood of future generations on your hands, or to be a bin-abusing ‘carbon criminal’. Environmentalism turns the purpose of government and public service on its head.

Environmentalism is all very convenient – for everybody except real, live human beings. So who’s more in tune with their electorate on environmental matters? Copeland Borough Council? Boris? Ken? Or George Bush Jr?

What Else Won't the Greens do for us?

Back in February, we reported on the new plans for ‘eco-towns’ in the UK, to make up part of the housing shortage. We suggested that it was unlikely that even the eco-town-planners would actually go as far as to replace the sewage system with water-free composting toilets…

It is not clear whether the Government intends that eco-homes in eco-towns will feature eco-toilets. It seems unlikely. Yet the principle remains – the ethic driving these developments is not that humans deserve a pleasant space to live in, but that their basic functions and needs are grudgingly catered for in such a way as to remind them that everything they do contributes to destroying the planet. 

We may have been wrong. According to a Guardian story today, there may be no option for the eco-proles to be connected to the sewers.

By capturing rainwater and reusing waste water, eco-towns will also have to be “water-neutral”, which means there should be no overall increase in water demand as a result of the development. 

The Government’s view of human needs is very clear. As a human being, you are entitled to no more water than falls on the land you occupy. That’s your lot.

The Guardian chooses not to focus on this aspect of the developments, however. The title of the piece is, “New eco-towns to make it hard going for cars with 15mph limit”.

Half of all households in eco-towns will have to live without a car and those that have one will find their speed limited to 15mph, according to standards for the wave of new towns unveiled yesterday. In, a series of anti-car measures announced by Hazel Blears, the secretary of state for communities, large parts of the towns of up to 20,000 homes each will be car-free. Homes will instead be built no farther than 400 metres from a bus or tram stop, and car-sharing schemes will replace car ownership. 

Anti-car and ‘sustainable’ (i.e. rationed, and insufficient) water provision reminded us of the following sketch from Monty Python.

All right… all right… but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order… what have the Romans done for us 

With roads and water infrastructure out of the question for Britain’s new eco-slums, you have to wonder about the legitimacy of a government which doesn’t sufficiently provide for the public. Eco-proles will be stuffed into these developments so that the Government can tick its “sustainability” targets, and satisfy the mean-spirited and authoritarian demands of the environmental movement. The concept of “sustainability” is used here by the Government as a means to regulate lifestyle, but also to wash its hands of the responsibility of providing adequate public goods. No one will be asking what else Environmentalism did for them, because the entire point of Environmentalism is to provide less and less opportunity for life to be about more than existing.

The irony is that it is highly unlikely that these new estates will be populated by the middle class eco-evangelists, but by the working poor – the ones hardest hit by the housing shortage. It’s one thing to make the lifestyle choice to switch from the electricity supply grid, and to disconnect yourself from the water main and sewage system, and to get around by bicycle and bus. More power to the elbows of people who want to experiment with different ways of life, if that’s what really floats their boats. But it’s another thing entirely to lock an entire generation into a lifestyle with such low horizons. This is a political act that serves to control people, limit their possibilities, inconvenience them, diminish their expectations, and force a lifestyle upon them. It will create a class of people who cannot take a bath, or even a shower without checking that there has been sufficient rainfall. It will prevent people who may find themselves in need of a car from taking work which is not near a bus or train stop. What if someone living in an eco-town has a relative who suddenly falls ill and needs regular care, making a car a necessity? What if someone is relocated by their employer, making public transport an impractical solution? Or, dammit, what if someone actually enjoys having a bath, or having days out in the car? Who the hell is the government to decide that these are aspirations beyond what is reasonable?

As we have said before, the politics that has given rise to the eco-slum has never been tested in the UK. Nobody has ever voted for the concept of “sustainability”, yet increasingly, people are being asked to live with the consequences of sustainababble.

Eco-Slums for Eco-Proles

You and Yours (a daily consumer affairs magazine on BBC Radio 4) ran a feature on Britain’s planned “eco-towns”, last Monday (yes, we’re a bit behind at the moment). [podcast available here]

The uk needs more homes. We also need to reduce our carbon emmssions, and the way the Government has brought these two aspirations together is with the ‘eco-town’ – allegedly brand new environmentally-friendly settlements of up to twenty-thousand homes. Next month, ministers hope to announce ten places in Britain which will become ‘eco towns’. But already groups are capaigning against these proposals saying they will ruin the countryside.

The feature began with a group of school children being given a tour of an eco-house.

TOM WALLIS: Okay. We’re in the bathroom now. And as you remember, this is the eco-house, so everything in this house is good for the environment. Okay. So you’ll be able to see that this toilet is totally different to the toilets you’ve got at home. That’s because it uses no water at all. This is actually a compost toilet.


JESSICA ROSE: Tom Wallis is giving a group of school children a tour around Leicester’s eco-house. It’s been built by an environmental charity and it’s packed full of green technology to give visitors ideas about how to make their homes more environmentally-friendly.

TOM WALLIS: So this toilet doesn’t use any water at all. Actually, when you go to the toilet here, it’s all stored at the bottom. And every so often you have to give it a little stir. And then, once in a while, you have to take it outside and bury it in the garden. And that’ll turn into really good compost for feeding your flowers.

The children were the only rational beings to participate in the feature. Their disgust at the idea of composting toilets is entirely sensible. We too should turn our noses up at the idea that “houses of the future” will not be connected to sewers. The story continues:

JESSICA ROSE: But the government want to go further than one eco-home. It wants to build ten new green towns called ‘eco-towns’. In the forward to its eco-towns prospectus, the then housing minister, Yvette Cooper says this:

“To help families across the country find affordable, quality housing we need to build far more houses. But we also need new measures to protect the environment. … As housing accounts for 27 per cent of carbon emissions, we need to … work towards zero carbon housing and development. … Now we want local areas to come forward with ideas on how to put these principles and ambitions into practice – with a new generation of eco-towns.”

It is not clear whether the Government intends that eco-homes in eco-towns will feature eco-toilets. It seems unlikely. Yet the principle remains – the ethic driving these developments is not that humans deserve a pleasant space to live in, but that their basic functions and needs are grudgingly catered for in such a way as to remind them that everything they do contributes to destroying the planet.

The feature itself was about wranglings over whether developers had been re-submitting rejected planning proposals in greenfield sites, after giving them a Green wash. This is, in the view of campaigners, a bad thing. Environmental concerns have always served as a pretext for NIMBYs who are terrified of new developments ruining their afternoon walks, lowering their house prices, or generally lowering the tone of an area. Instead of appearing mean-spirited, objections to the provision of housing to people who need it can be framed instead in terms of a greater good. It is not surprising then, that the proposals are being objected to on the basis that they’re not genuinely Green. ie, they don’t really ‘mean it’.

But of course housing developers are in the business of developing housing estates. But it is telling that houses are no longer seen as a good thing, because, err, they are places for people to live. Now we need ‘ethical’ houses, and ‘ethical’ builders. Ethical – ‘as if people mattered’? Clearly they don’t.

JESSICA ROSE: Back at the eco-house in Leicester, the school tour is ending. The Government’s expecting to announce its shortlist of eco towns in February, and it hope they’ll be built by 2020. So these children could be buying their first homes in Britains new towns. But there’s still an aweful lot of controversy to come before that happens.

So what is it these children are being asked to look forward to? This story epitomises the inability to create positive ideas about the future. All that can be promised is crappy little houses for crappy little people, which are all about ‘reducing impact’, not the possibility of exciting new towns and cities offering new opportunities and way of life. What is being created are eco-slums, where only the basic needs of the inhabitants are met. They may even have to throw their own shit out of the window, just as in the old slums. Gardyloo? Not in our back yard.

The Treachery of Speeches

Surrealist politics from UK Conservative Party leader David Cameron:

The issue we’re discussing today, and the subject of the policy document we’re publishing, is decentralised energy – again an issue on which Greenpeace has a distinguished campaigning track record. 

But decentralised energy is just one component of a much bigger issue: man-made climate change and our response to it.

And our plans for a decentralised energy revolution in our country are just one component of our vision for Britain’s future.

So before outlining the plans we’re publishing today, I’d like to place them in the context of the big picture: our vision for the country, and the fight against climate change…

Decentralised energy provides a clear example of how this virtuous circle can work.

By enabling people to generate their own electricity, we are literally giving them more power over their own lives.

This really is power to the people.

Once people start generating their own electricity, they will become far more conscious of the way in which they use it – they will become more responsible about energy use and their own environmental impact.

And the overall effect of these changes will be to make Britain greener – to help reduce our carbon emissions and thereby contribute to a safer country and a safer world…

Our plans will help create a mass market for micro-generation.

The current framework inhibits innovation.

Today, anyone wanting government help to install micro-generators has to grapple with pages of regulations.

We need clear and simple rules to make it easier for households to generate electricity.

Supermarkets and other commercial enterprises with premises could also become generators and suppliers.

Schools, hospitals and community groups too.

This is not a pipe dream: it is tomorrow’s world.

Speaking of pipe dreams,

Magritte’s apparent contradiction in “The Treachery of Images” is not a contradiction if we take the view that the image is just an image, not the object it represents. Magritte’s pictures depicted ‘juxtaposed’ objects and statements in reality-defying configurations to reveal the superior reality of forgotten or repressed thoughts, unconstrained by the tyranny of false reason and morality. Cameron’s approach to policy making is little different, albeit unintentional. Indeed, it is not a pipe dream, because Cameron was not smoking a pipe as he uttered the words. He delivered the speech (we must assume) sober, sane, and after having thought about it. That makes it much, much worse. He was, nonetheless, as high as a bat on something which caused him to believe that the reality which governs power generation, distribution and use is somehow negotiable. As even George Monbiot observes, “Small Is Useless“:

Last year, the environmental architect Bill Dunster, who designed the famous BedZed zero-carbon development outside London, published a brochure claiming that “up to half of your annual electric needs can be met by a near silent micro wind turbine”. The turbine he specified has a diameter of 1.75 metres. A few months later Building for a Future magazine, which supports renewable energy, published an analysis of micro wind machines. At 4 metres per second – a high average wind speed for most parts of the UK – a 1.75 metre turbine produces about 5% of a household’s annual electricity. To provide the 50% Bill Dunster advertises, you would need a machine 4 metres in diameter. The lateral thrust it exerted would rip your house to bits. 

Micro-generation cannot produce the energy demands of even the most basic of contemporary lifestyles, let alone feed electricity into the grid. Cameron is running with this policy because he is more interested in demonstrating that he’s in tune with the anxieties that people suffer in today’s chaotic world than in developing an energy policy fit for the 21st century. In this way, he is more like an artist seeking to prove that he has captured an understanding of contemporary experience than he is a politician. And he’s not even any good at that. Because people are actually far more discriminating and sophisticated than Cameron, his new friends Greenpeace, and for that matter everyone else on the green bandwagon, give them credit for. Which is why they end up trying to make environmentalism cool rather than persuading us with careful argument. A case in point (and continuing with the pipes theme) is Greenpeace’s viral marketing campaign that they like to think will convince ‘lads’ (UK vernacular for young men whose thoughts are dominated by beer, football, scantily-clad women, and disregard for seriousness) to reduce their CO2 emissions:

Greenpeace and Cameron may not wish to claim that the sun shines out of their back pipes, but that doesn’t stop them speaking out of them. In fact, Cameron is the arse through which Greenpeace speak.