Thursday, September 03, 2009

No Future in the Cath Kidston Favela

I have some problems with "10:10", the latest timebound big media campaign. The first one is symbols and aesthetics. They are handing out tags made of aluminium alloy cut out of a retired B737 down at Hurn. This is meant to be recycling, and wonderfully symbolic.

No. A superbly engineered artefact has been reduced to trinkets that will very likely go into landfill. Couldn't they have made the bits into wind turbine blades, or solar stoves, or bicycle frames if you must, or even just wiggly tin roofing? Or something, at least? Instead, it's a poster example of what Bill McKibben calls "downcycling". And, of course, it's the wrong bloody problem anyway; we could shut down aviation tomorrow and not meet the 10:10 goal, but lose fast international travel anywhere but a smallish chunk of Western Europe.

Another example; the climate campers apparently held a course on running a 12v power supply for a sound system, driven by someone pedalling. FAIL. If the only possible source of power is pedalling a bloody bike, wouldn't it be better to keep the bike and the calories for transport? Would a stereo be a high priority then? Wouldn't it be better to use the wind, the water, or the fire with a Sterling engine? In context, solar PV would be way out of the question. (I was pretty impressed by the edit your own sousveillance vids one, though.)

Not so sure about content, either. The Guardian is of course a biased source here; but they only found one person who wanted to build anything. An architect, of course. The front page coverage made me want to give up and buy a huge car; here's blonde Daisy, 16 and mugging for 14, suggesting we "grow veg on the balcony". Darling. Couldn't they have found Keisha-Tigrette from Tottenham who wants to KILL OIL IN THE EAR? I think they probably couldn't, and we'll get to that later.

As with most British media green pushes, there's little sign of any interest in anything physical or lasting. Not an inch of rockwool. Everything is about changing your behaviour, and specifically micro-behaviour - what you buy, or turning off lights, not how you work or where you live or how society works. Worse, it's a demand for entirely free-floating behavioural change - nobody seems to be suggesting any way of monitoring or measuring the change, or any incentives. This isn't going to work. And, again, it's all consumer guff.

The problem with consumer guff is that it's a limited way of approaching the problem. It's arguable whether or not investment is the defining value in the macro-economy - it's pretty clear that it's crucial to the climate/energy position. It is defined by the stuff we build. And further, without any mechanism to keep up to it, nothing is more evanescent than promises to do better. It doesn't even take backsliding to break them; what if you lose your job, and have to move somewhere where you need to commute 40 miles to work? Alas poor 10% saved by being nicer.

It's tough, however, to suck insulation out of the walls; this is one of the reasons I'm keen on retrofits as an alternative to winter fuel payments. The Tories can't take them away once they're done.

My third problem is this: where is the optimism? Everyone's talking about demog-friendly nostalgia for rationing that the demographic in question doesn't remember. That's not a sacrifice; woodbines, box at the Empire, sixpence, yadda yadda. Nobody is saying: Let's do BETTER this time. Let's build something BIGGER and SHINY and DRAMATIC and FANTASTIC and OUTRAGEOUS that doesn't just meet a 10% target but SMASHES it.

Where is the future in all this? What kind of a future is it? How are we meant to be full of confidence and aggression without it?

Actually there are some other options, chiefly RAGE and HATRED. No sign of them, either; but identifying an enemy is the oldest motivator in the book. There's no sign of a stinking mob hunting British Gas fatcats or an army of Rosie the Riveters basting Vladimir Putin like a turkey with their sealant guns. Why the hell not? We have enemies - why not make the most of them. I bet Keisha would be delighted to have King Abdullah and the CEO of Exxon burned in effigy, or perhaps just burned...after the block gets superinsulated.

Unfortunately, we're relying on self-righteousness as the driving emotion; not optimism (shorthand: lust), not greed, not rage, not hatred. Mind you, it is clearly an infinitely renewable resource, just like stupidity.

And while I'm on the point, where are the workers in this? Who's monitoring what exactly the council, or the diddly-dee semi-privatised thingy organisation, does when they refurbish the estate? Does anyone care about the "fuel poor" if they can't offer them a cash handout just before the elections?

There is, actually, a powerful response to some of this. That is: 10:10 looks a bit like a vacuous PR stunt because it's a PR stunt. The aim is to influence the deliberatiwoos in Copenhagen. Superistical. Das ist gut so. But this done, treaty signed, etc, we've got to go implement. With the North Sea gas running down, we've got to do that quicksmart anyway.

So, you ask, where are my positive proposals? The D-word? Well, I'm interested to hear what anyone else thinks about a campaign for an answer to climate and energy issues that points forward, that leans left, and that isn't based on whose-kid-are-you media bullshit. I'm planning to squirt sealant into every corner of my own place before this winter, too.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, looks like we're in the same place here. Me, I think that it's a planning issue more than anything else. I've just got my solar hot water on-stream (ta for the two grand subsidy, HMG) and the next toys will be a 20W PV panel, some random 12v batteries, then a 500w hub motor and an old mountain bike frame to wedge it in. Stuff that I learn will get told to the local Transition group and to my kids. But this is hobby stuff which will entertain me and might help my family in 20 years time. Replacing Drax with a Severn Barrage it aint.

Some of the answers to this problem - but not all of them - are in treehugger. The key bit is to say "this is new, sexy, and cheap" and never "this is green". And can I have a decent shopping bag with "Insert sanctimonious slogan here" on it?


Charlie Stross said...

Here's your campaign, in a nutshell: kill coal.

Coal provides about fifty percent of the energy consumed by the USA. It's somewhat higher here, IIRC (though I can't find figures via ten minutes on google). Worldwide, coal is still the backbone of baseload electricity generation.

If we can kill coal it follows that we cut our carbon emissions by upwards of fifty percent. Which dwarfs everything else we can do.

The question then becomes one of how we replace coal as a source of baseload power. There's more than one way to do it: nuclear, hydro, geothermal, tidal. (Solar and wind don't cut it -- they're unpredictable, unlike tidal power. Gas and oil ... they're not coal, but they're not much better.)

The point is, if we're clear on the target it gives us something to work towards. Banning coal-fired power stations worldwide by 2050? That's a worthwhile goal.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone done anything systematic on refitting existing hydro for pump storage? I suspect that there might be some mileage in that. The other potential biggie is utilities renting the storage capacity in recharging electric vehicles to balance demand.

So - we need to re-direct all the deep greenies who are not already doing this (hint: very few in the UK now - note focus on Kingsnorth, Drax and Ratcliffe, the last-mentioned powering this very computer) away from nuclear and towards coal. Slap a big uncertain security budget on top of any new coal that's not got 100% C capture, and the economics of new nukes, wind + hydro, and tidal look far better in prospect.

Factlet #1 - Ratcliffe has a big new apparently clever fence around it now. It wasn't there last year.

Factlet #2 - Someone's already costed covering Dogger Bank in turbines. With wind if you spend enough money, you eventually reach a point where it's windy somewhere.


silburnl said...

Spot on WRT your last point about the PR-stuntiness of this. It's obvious to me that this is all about using the 10:10 pledge as their proof-of-relevance in order get traction with the political/policy boys.

I'm all for killing coal like Charlie@2. "By their enemies shall ye know them" and in a rational world having an industry that kills tens of thousands per year as your enemy should make your campaign a walk in the park. Of course we live in a world where Wilberforce had to work for decades to get the slave trade banned, which doesn't do much for my optimism.


Danny said...

Nice post. A bit harsh about cycle-powered generation (you can do some great stuff with it on a small scale and no-one's pretending it's going to be a major future power source), but I totally agree with your general point here.

My attempt at making a similar point, in video form, can be seen here if you're interested:

And, indeed, some thoughts on nuclear power as a climate solution, also in a video stylee, can be seen here:

Just, you know, in case anyone's interested.


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