All 3 entries tagged Climate Change

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September 08, 2007

Biofuels: for life, not for climate change

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A year and a half ago, in an attempt to salvage some credibility for my embattled employer the RPA, I evangelised about the wonders of biofuels. It seems like I got a bit carried away.

Western governments are loving biofuels – oilseed rape, ethanol and the like – and have made them a key weapon in their battle against climate change by setting some ambitious targets for their use (the European Union wants 10% of transport fuel to be bio by 2020).

In recent months, however, it’s become apparent that they’re not all they’re cracked up to be. Several scientific studies have reported some flaws and unpleasant side-effects:
- biofuel growth will reduce the amount of land used for food crops so prices will rise, creating “agflation”;
- the orang-utan is facing extinction because farmers in Borneo are destroying rainforests to plant palm trees, the oil of which is in great demand;
- the energy output of a field of biofuel crops isn’t that great;
- the actual effect biofuels will have on combating climate change is pretty negligible. In theory, they’re carbon-neutral – burning them only releases carbon dioxide that was already in the atmosphere before the plants were grown. But in practice there are further emissions involved in the production process. And most green fuel for vehicles consists of 85% or more fossil fuels anyway. (see above link)

Governments have seen the “carbon-neutral” and “renewable” labels, thought it meant the same as “zero-carbon”, and championed biofuels as a panacea to global warming without thinking about how it would work and how the agriculture sector would be affected.

Which is not to say biofuels are totally evil; it’s just that our leaders have managed to conflate global warming with the oil running out. The fact that they’re renewable is good – it’s an area that deserves support to develop. But we shouldn’t chuck targets and public money at producing biofuels until the technology makes them viable.

July 03, 2007

Jeep Cherokee: the terrorists' choice

Apart from the fact that no one was killed, one positive thing to come out of Saturday’s car crash/inferno medley at Glasgow Airport was some bad publicity for the environmentally-unfriendly Jeep Cherokee.

Walking down the street on Sunday I glimpsed one of said gas-guzzlers and despite it not guzzling gas at quite the rate the one on the news was, I actually shuddered. You don’t get many Mercedes in this part of South London but I imagine it would elicit a similar reaction.

But by the same reckoning, it was bad publicity for doctors. Homeopaths are having a field day.

May 15, 2007

The philosophical minefield that is pick–n–mix do–goodery

One of the greatest fallacies of our time is when people assume that someone who campaigns on a certain progressive issue, e.g. trade justice, automatically supports another salient cause, e.g. action on climate change. So when a do-gooder does something which undermines a good cause to which he doesn’t actually subscribe, ignorant wags label him a hypocrite.

Back in 2005 around the Live 8/Make Poverty History campaign, I remember Coldplay frontman and trade justice campaigner Chris Martin being lambasted for driving a gas-guzzling, globe-warming 4×4. Sure, anyone who drives a Chelsea Tractor is a twat anyway, but it doesn’t make Martin a hypocrite, or undermine his developing world credentials.

In March, Ryanair CEO Michael “I’m surprised he’s not called Ryan because he’s the type of guy who’d name his company after himself, the cock” O’Leary had a go at the supposed hypocrisy of “hairy environmentalists [who] go to the health store to buy their organic strawberries flown in from South Africa”, implying that they didn’t care about the greenhouse effect of food miles. But surely there’s no logical problem in caring about the type of food you eat and not caring about climate change, is there? Again, importing food from the other side of the world is ridiculous (by the way, Sainsburys are selling Peruvian asparagus – now, at the height of the British season! For fuck’s sake) but there’s no hypocrisy involved.

It’s the same flawed logic that assumes that just because one takes their tea with milk and one sugar, one takes their coffee in the same fashion, when in fact I take it like Malcolm X: black and bitter.

To be fair, it’s an easy mistake to make. Why, just the other day I bought myself a Green & Blacks fair trade version of a Magnum and was appalled by the excess packaging – each one comes in a wrapper inside a box. What a bunch of hypocrites, I began to think before realising that, having identified the fallacy prior to this moment, it was me who was being the hypocrite. It may even be argued that, by definition, people promoting third world development do not care about climate change, on the basis that economic growth in developing countries will necessarily involve increased carbon emissions.

I think this is the underlying reason for waste-of-space-fathering rock legend Bob Geldof’s latest rant about Al Gore’s climate change-themed concert, Live Earth. By calling for debt relief and fair trade laws for Africa, Geldof clearly doesn’t care about global warming and in turn doesn’t care for this sham of a benefit gig. I imagine it’s only because he’s such a charitable man that he’s not being protective, legally-speaking, over his “Live [Blank]” brand. Geldof was doing so well until he went and accused Gore of not having any clear objectives for his concert. I can’t recall Geldof having any of his own two years ago for Live 8. So he is a hypocrite.

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