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While my Gaia gently weeps

I am always looking for new and exciting ways to increase the size of my carbon footprint. For example, I actively seek to buy products that originate in far-flung corners of the world, such as New Zealand, China, Chile, California or Japan. I resolutely boycott all modes of transport that do not involve the burning of fossil fuels and, during the bleak British midwinter, I loll around the house in a T-shirt and shorts with the central heating thermostat set to ‘Nuclear Meltdown’ level.

But I still feel that I could be doing more and, indeed, I would be doing more if only I had the kind of information that would help me to make proper, ethical choices. Well, my long wait is finally over. The dark pall of ignorance that has hung over me like the emission cloud of a coal-fired power station is about to be blown away by the sweet, zesty breezes of eco-enlightenment:

Shoppers will be able to tell how much damage their purchases do to the environment, under a government plan unveiled yesterday…

Consumers have little way of judging the environmental impact of goods and services, often relying on the miles such products have travelled from their country of origin.

Praise be! For the first time in a very, very long time the British government has actually done something useful and beneficial. From now on, my conscience will be at peace knowing that not a morsel of food will pass my lips unless it has previously been schlepped from the other side of the world in a huge, smokey, belching diesel-powered container vessel. Not a stick of furniture will adorn my home unless it has been hewn from the arboreal habitat of an exotic, endangered species. Not a stitch of clothing will I wear on my back unless it has been made in a factory that operates on full power for 24 hours a day, seven days a week and whose unscrupulous and profit-hungry owners dispose of their toxic effluents by pumping them into the nearest nature reserve.

I firmly believe that individuals can make a difference and, thanks to this wonderful labelling system, I will be better equipped than ever to do my bit for the environment.

57 comments to While my Gaia gently weeps

  • Doin’my part. I drive a 1957 Chevrolet station wagon with a big V-8 engine and a 4-bbl carb. It gets 12-15 mpg, and I drive it upwards of 80 miles a day.

    Unfortunately, I can’t yet afford a private jet like the algoreans.

  • Bruce Hoult

    While I appreciate the sentiment, I really don’t want to stop flying .

  • Bruce Hoult

    While I appreciate the sentiment, I really don’t want to stop flying gliders.

  • Irony requires a more delicate touch, I’m afraid.

  • Gengee

    This post may change my life.
    I may now have to learn to drive so I can support two cars. As I look out the window at the FPSO, flaring away, I will dream of the helicopter, and two aeroplanes it takes to get me home from work and be happy that I too amd doing my bit for Gaia.

    Later

    Gengee

  • Good, impartial, rational labelling is fine as it enables informed choice, but I suspect it is only a step towards some tax, quota, carbon-credit or other…

  • MarkE

    How much energy is consumed in collecting, collating and publishing this data? Is the carbon footprint of this data collection included in the figure for the product it relates to? Does this include a proportion of the carbon footprint of the statistician doing the calculating? How much enery could be saved if that statistician (presumably a numerate individual) was employed doing something useful instead?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Irony requires a more delicate touch, I’m afraid.

    Wrong, it hit the mark good and hard, Bryan.

  • Irony my arse. The poor fool thinks we are joking!

  • Nick M

    Let’s assume that many British consumers are taken in by this and stop buying stuff from far away. That should mean that demand will fall for such exotica as air-freighted tuna* and that therefore the cost should fall. So… by this reasoning Thaddeus, not only will you be empowered to make “unethical” life-style decisions it sjould actually be cheaper for you as well!

    Except, TimC is probably right and this is a step towards a tax. I can see a mighty convergence of interests here.

    *I have a great love of the flesh of the tunny-fish. I am awestruck that I can buy it and have it lovingly seared and on my plate within 24hrs of it having been innocently swimming in the warm Indian Ocean. Hats off to the fishermen, the airfreight guys and Asda. The whole only eat what’s local and seasonal schtick makes me wanna puke. Yes, we indeed will have no bananas Mr Millipede! You utter Bertie Blunt!

  • Bryan Appleyard links to here under the title Sniggering at Greens.

    I’ve bookmarked his page, and printed a copy for my Global Warming file. Role on 2020 for the wisdom of hindsight.

    Best regards

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Appleyard can be quite good on green stuff sometimes; he had a decent piece on the nonsense people say about SUVs.

  • Never mind Bruce Hoult, you need fossil fuels to launch the gliders and to get to where you fly them from. Anyway if my latest project works out you will be able to launch with a couple of fossil fuel burning microturbines.

    Funny how you keep running in to the same people on the net.

  • Another winner, Thaddeus. This has had me chuckling all morning.

  • Thaddeus, Thaddeus, Thaddeus (to quote Margaret Pomeranz). How dare you insult my beloved container ships by describing them as smokey, and belching. Huge and diesel powered I will concede, however. In truth, though, if they were smokey and belching they would never be able to deliver stuff at competitive prices.

  • Errol

    Good, impartial, rational labelling is fine as it enables informed choice, but I suspect it is only a step towards some tax, quota, carbon-credit or other…

    Wouldn’t it be amusing if this highlighted how much less of a carbon footprint e.g. NZ butter in the UK has than European butter (I’m fairly sure that is one of the good examples from NZ’s POV). Currently the fact that considerably less energy is used making food where the environment suits it and shipping it to eg Europe is not reflected in the price (due to tariffs, subsidies and quotas).

  • RAB

    Heavens to Mergatroid!
    We’re Dangerous!!
    Thanks Brian !
    I always wanted to be dangerous.

  • Giant, diesel-powered container ships are way too eco-friendly. Nick M has it right; for freshness, globalisation and carbon footprint, jet freight is the way to go.

  • *I have a great love of the flesh of the tunny-fish. I am awestruck that I can buy it and have it lovingly seared and on my plate within 24hrs of it having been innocently swimming in the warm Indian Ocean.

    What is really impressive is that if it is really good tuna it may well have made a stop in Tokyo on its way there. Virtually all top quality tuna caught anywhere in the world is sold (and more importantly priced) at the Tsukiji market in Tokyo. The expertise of the tuna-experts there is considerably more valuable than the cost of flying the tuna. If you order tuna in a fancy restaurant in New York, it is entirely possible that the fish was flown from Boston to New York via Tokyo. It happens all the time.

  • Brendan Halfweeg

    And I was here thinking that all I needed to do was judege price versus quality. I feel so ashamed!

  • J

    I am awestruck that I can buy it and have it lovingly seared and on my plate within 24hrs of it having been innocently swimming in the warm Indian Ocean.

    What?! You eat fish 24 hours old? Geez, you might as well freeze it in that case…

    The number of miles is of no matter. What _would_ be nice to see on all food is a ‘killed on’ or ‘harvested on’ date.

    Jon

  • Geez, you might as well freeze it in that case…

    Pretty much any fish that you have not caught yourself (or in a few cases that you have purchased in the port where it has been landed) will have been frozen. Get used to it.

    BTW, I wonder if large tuna are allowed to exclude essential travel to and from Tokyo when they calculate their carbon footprints.

  • Brendan Halfweeg

    That should mean that demand will fall for such exotica as air-freighted tuna* and that therefore the cost should fall. So… by this reasoning Thaddeus, not only will you be empowered to make “unethical” life-style decisions it sjould actually be cheaper for you as well!

    If demand for tuna from far off places decreases, and supply stays the same, price will drop, but so will supply eventually, and price is likely to rise in the long term through loss of economies of scale in tuna.

  • I read about this on the BBC website. Apparently for potatoes the energy used in cooking is vastly more than the energy used in growing and transporting, wherever in the world they come from. Also these carbon footprint numbers are based on very broad averages, they won’t reflect the carbon footprint of the actual item you buy. Its all pretty meaningless.

    Well, actually no. It is meaningfull, but just not in the obvious way. Its meaningfull if you want to be able to boast to your friends about how much you are doing for the environment.

  • Winger

    Don’t worry about carbon footprints decreasing. The market for aerial freighters is increasing. I know this from personal, everyday experience.

    Despite the fact that the instinctive, self-proclaimed ‘nannies’ of the world don’t like it and that politicians and ‘communists’ of every stripe are desperate for new taxes so they can ‘share’ in our prosperity, technology will continue to provide faster, better, more efficient means to ends.

  • Jacob

    Also these carbon footprint numbers are based on very broad averages, they won’t reflect the carbon footprint of the actual item you buy. Its all pretty meaningless.

    Of course it’s meaningless, from your perspective.
    But think of the vast army of carbon footprint experts and calculators. They get paid huge dinero (out of your money). It isn’t meaningless from their point of view.
    Also, as these footprint calculations are bogus, they are free to slap big footprints on anyone they dislike. Think of the power it gives them! And of course – footprint taxation is the next inevitable step.

  • I have always had the suspicion that much of the opposition to air-transported vegetables on ‘ecological grounds’ is actually dismay at the notion that people in the Third World (in particular Africans) are producing consistent high quality products and successfully selling in in Europe and the UK.

    The First World protectionists hate it and the NGO’s prefer Africans dependent on the hand-outs they intermediate rather than lifting themselves out of poverty with anything so boorish as capitalist trade.

  • Nick M

    Perry,

    That’s what I always suspected.

    I heard a couple of years ago that if you went to a supermarket in Kenya then the odds were that rather than local produce you’d find Italian tinned tomatoes – subsidised at our expense and then dumped on the African market.

    It goes both ways.

  • Ham

    I am unresolved on the issue. For me, there are two outstanding questions. Firstly, ‘does damaging the environment constitute doing active harm to others without their consent?’ I am leaning heavily towards a ‘yes’ on this. Secondly, ‘are humans causing damage to the environment by burning fossil fuels?’ I have no knowledge of environmental science, so I also have to lean towards ‘yes,’ because, if challenged by a scientist in the field, I would have no response other than, ‘cos I don’t want it to be true?’/’I can show you one or two pages on the internet that argue against it.’ Of course, it is an act of faith for me. The dilemma is one of placing my faith in the right place. I don’t really know that the Holocaust happened, but most people say that it did and there is a decent body of evidence to agree with them. Why is one a dangerous idiot for tentatively entertaining it as true?

    I’m not looking for a fight, and I’m certainly not a green. But I don’t feel convinced by rational weight of the sceptic case at this time.

  • Midwesterner

    Ham,

    I was more abivalent about it until I saw data that suggested very strongly that aerosols from airliner traffic were contributing to global cooling. This was exactly opposite to the ‘conventional wisdom’ that said airliner traffic is one of the biggest causes of global warming. The only time we significantly grounded airliner traffic to any degree we had way far and away the warmest subsequent months on record.

    I think it is ‘science’ being established by whoever chest thumps the loudest. We obey those chest thumpers, we may make things much worse, not better. I think caution is in order.

    I don’t doubt we effect global climate. I just don’t think anybody has better than guess work as to what that effect really is. There is too much politics involved.

  • Jacob

    ‘are humans causing damage to the environment by burning fossil fuels?’

    Humans are causing damage to the environment by living in it. We’d better drop dead, so the environment can return to it’s primordial state.

  • Andrew K

    Ho ho ho. How originally boorish. Were it not for an infinite amount of Jeremy Clarksons having done this kind of tedium to death already it might raise an avalanche of tittering.

  • Winger

    Jacob,
    LOL! Isn’t that really what the ‘greens’ want? I’ve never been able to understand why they think that we everyday, ordinary people/humans aren’t part of the ‘environment’. It’s not the ‘environment’ vs the ‘inhabitants, you know.

    Midwesterner,
    I came in on the end of a program on the History Channel the other day on which they were discussing the “New Age is Coming!” alarmists of the 60′s/70′s.

    The more things change…

  • Medieval war period… melting martian ice caps. That will do for starters.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Ham,

    Try reading The Ultimate Resource, it’s old, but it’s still good. Then follow it up with the Skeptical Environmentalist. Then go read your way through the archives at Climate Audit and CO2Science. If still unsure, come back to us and we’ll fill in any gaps.

    Bear in mind that they’re still biased, just the other way from the way you’re used to.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Perry,

    Have you seen the latest stuff about Briffa chopping off the end of his graphs to hide the ‘divergence problem’, and all the stuff they’re digging up on dodginess in the ‘corrections’ applied to instrumental temperature record?

    See Climate Audit, ’bout May 15th/19th. Incredible stuff.

  • Ham

    Midwesterner, I remember reading a little about global dimming. It’s certainly interesting. I’m not clear how it disproves anthropogenic global warming, though. If anything, it would be hiding the worst effects from us.

    Perry, I’ve read a little about those too. I’m not a scientist, but the existence of those phenomena do not, to me, constitute a refutation of anthropogenic global warming. Surely it is still possible that humans are causing serious damage to the Earth’s atmosphere now even if a natural period of solar-induced warming occurred a few hundred years ago. How does it attack the empirical evidence being observed right now? From a lay person’s perspective, the more modest rise in temperatures then combined with the Martian warming suggests that the greater rises we see now may even be a combination of the sun and the human. I don’t know.

    The interesting question to me is this: Not believing what you are told is an admirable quality – and a necessary one in this age – but (assuming for the sake of argument that it is true) at what point to you accept anthropogenic global warming? How much agreement and evidence does there have to be? And is there a greater threshold for this theory to have to pass than other points of knowledge you have? And if so, why?

  • Ham

    I should say one more thing. I have met people involved in low-level campaigning for the Green Party and they are much less informed and, most disturbingly, much less curious about the science than most of what I read on this blog. I am entirely with anyone who rebels against the ‘green movement’ and the sorry little shuffles that the government makes in its direction. But I, nonetheless, find it hard to convince myself that the science is wrong.

  • Midwesterner

    Ham, back when I was much younger (never mind when), the big concern was the coming anthropogenic ice age.

    I remember reading a little about global dimming. It’s certainly interesting. I’m not clear how it disproves anthropogenic global warming, though. If anything, it would be hiding the worst effects from us.

    Nothing is proven or disproven. And it very well may be hiding the full effects of anthropogenic global warming. But it could just has well be hiding (counteracting) the full effects of naturally occuring global and solar system wide warming. I think the odds are at best split and the alleged ‘science’ isn’t science at all.

    My ears and my mind are open to thoughtful speculation and analysis, which sure isn’t to be found among the Greens. (Algoreans?)

  • Ham

    That is very true, Midw, and we shouldn’t fall into the same illogical trap.

    On the issue of the ice-age-scare, why did that go away? As far as I know, it was because it was a conjecture to begin with and that a scientific consensus was soon reached in opposing it.

    The global warming case is undoubtedly gaining political momentum because of its attractiveness to anti-capitalists, and we can more or less ignore those arguments without question. It does still leave us with the distinct possibility of catastrophic environmental damage.

    Hypothetically, say that climate change was happening and that it was caused by human action. What would be the correct response from those concerted with political liberty? I worry that capitalists – I am one – are basing their argument on the science being wrong and not on the environmentalist political theory being wrong. It leaves us with little recourse if the sciences was, somehow, found to be conclusive.

  • Midwesterner

    I’m reminded of an episode of Simon and Simon where the older brother was trying to demonstrate how well trained his dog was. When he noticed that the dog was beginning to sit down, he quickly commanded the dog to “sit!” Of course, it ‘worked’.

    My recollection of why the iceage scare went away is that the planet wouldn’t cooperate by getting colder, but insisted on getting warmer.

    As the planet continues to get warmer, the anthropogenic camp, just like Simon instructing his dog, quickly says “We going to cause global warming!” And of course, it ‘works’.

    As for the rest of your concern, most people agree the planet is getting warmer. The question is “should we do anything about it?”

    My opinion at present is that the environment is way too hideously complicated for us to be able to initiate cause to achieve a particular effect. While we may be able to swing gross enough averages, we will almost certainly be unable to do it without seriously altering rainfall patterns, etc. If there is any national security based action to be taken, it should be in the direction of bringing about the stockpiling of basic survival staples to last long enough for the food production and distribution system to adapt. We should probably be doing this anyway in case of nuclear fallout contamination of major components of our food producing system by terrorists attacking us or each other.

    Needless to say, I have little confidence the government would get this right either. But I think it does fall within the purvue of national defense against a common enemy. But like everything in this subject area, I’m listening and open to debate.

  • Chris Harper

    Not a stick of furniture will adorn my home unless it has been hewn from the arboreal habitat of an exotic, endangered species.

    Sorry Thad, but if a habitat is truly endangered it probably is best not to wipe it out, or put further pressure on it.

    Just because the Green movement has been captured by the watermelons, eco-nuts and juicy fruits doesn’t mean that there are NO problems. Claiming otherwise just plays into their hands and gives them ammo to use against those who try to take a more rational approach.

    However much sympathy I may have with your general attitude I cannot but deride you over this specific issue.

  • I think Jacob’s comment is well worth a reprise:

    Humans are causing damage to the environment by living in it. We’d better drop dead, so the environment can return to it’s primordial state.

    Best regards

  • Nick M

    Mid is right.

    I have worn many hats in my time. One of them was as an astrophysical fluid dynamicist. The atmosphere is a rather complicated fluid-dynamical system. In fact it’s a stormingly difficult one.

    The British Army has reduced the whole world of botany to “plants suitable for cover” and “plants not suitable for cover”. Similarly AFD generally reduces chemistry to three elements, Hydrogen, Helium and “metals”. Why? Because it’s a good enough approximation and it makes life a whole hell of a lot easier. In climate science such a simplification is not possible. You also have interaction between liquid and gaseous (including particulates and aerosols) media. And to top it all, you then have this pesky thing called “life” getting in the middle. Have you ever tinkered with the logistic growth equation (a very simple model for biological populations)? It rapidly becomes very chaotic. I use that word in the technical sense.

    So, what we have here is an absolute bugger’s muddle of interactions, involving some highly non-linear elements, including extremely non-isotropic, non-homogenous media* and thrown into the physics we also have chemistry (shudder) and biology (fits).

    The idea that a collection of folk who struggle to tell me if it will rain in Bolton next Thursday know not only how this system works but also how it’s going wrong and what we have to do to prevent this happening is utterly beyond belief.

    We’ll blight our landscapes with a few windmills (I actually think they look quite jolly myself – useless, but jolly) and we’ll tax aviation to buggery and when it’s all seen as a scam we may never trust science again for a very long time. Think on that “climatologists”, the next time you select data-sets to support a grant application. You might just be writing the suicide note for the greatest endeavour our species has ever embarked upon.

    Oh, and as a former astrophysicist, I of course, suspect that solar activity or cosmic rays might be responsible for global warming. I firmly believe that more funding should be allocated to studying this. Of course I do. I shared an office with a woman for three years who was a helioseismologist. Jobs for the boys (and girls)! Is it not just possible that the climatologists have got on a similar bandwagon? I only ask because 15 years ago, when I embarked upon my personal scientific journey, the future was chaos, low-dimensional physics, cryophysics and climatology was a complete dead-end. Under Dubya hasn’t federal funding for “climate science” gone from 200 million to 8 billion bucks?

    Follow the money.

    And BTW, I always maintained the highest levels of integrity as a scientist. The fact that I’m aware of potential abuses doesn’t alter that. Foremost in that is that I never pretended that anything I did made the slightest difference to Joe Publlc. Because Godelian cosmology or the transition from deflagration to detonation in type Ia supernovae do not affect the price of fish.

    *You think Ohm’s law is V=IR? Only in a LIH medium is it that simple. If you move beyond that, it’s monstrous.

  • Jacob

    The question of man caused global warming, as I see it is as follows:
    - Man burns fossil fuels and releases CO2 into the atmosphere, the concentration of CO2 has gone from 280 ppm ( 0.028%) to 380 ppm (0.038%).
    - CO2 is a grenhouse gas, and causes some warming.
    These are facts. (almost undisputed).

    The question is HOW MUCH warming.

    The answer – as far as measurable facts are concerned, i.e. the warming so far: 2/3 of a degree C. No big deal.

    As to the future – there are several possible answers; we (science) don’t know which is true:

    1. A minuscule amount, that is indiscernible in the general natural climate variation (like what happened so far).
    2. A small (but discernible) amount – a couple of degrees or so. This is what the (worthless) climate models show. This is what the IPCC report says.
    This warming has positive and negative effects, and the negative ones are small, we can easily adapt.
    3.Catastrophic warming. For this to happen a warming runaway feedback loop has to take hold. Of this there is absolutely no scientific indication.

    So the alarmist view, of a catastrophic warming is based on nothing, NOTHING AT ALL, except irrational fear. The alarmists themselves concede this point: there is no scientific indication of a warming feedback loop. It is just a vague possibility, it is in theory possible, but there is absolutely no indication that it is happening.

    Would it be desirable to reduce CO2 emissions? Yes. (Would it be desirable to eliminate poverty? Yes.) Is it possible? No. (in both cases).

  • MarkE

    I might be more willing to accept anthropogenic climate change when I start to see serious discussion of solutions to a changing climate instead of prophylactic measures that might reduce our output of carbon, which might reduce the concentration of atmospheric carbon, which might reverse, stop or slow climate change, but will fit an anti capitalist agenda.

    I periodically ask about such measures as developing better flood defences suitable for those countries that are likely to suffer most, or crops that are better suited to a warmer climate, possibly including GM*. My contributions to such sites as the BBC’s “Have Your Say” are seldom published, yet I am a well brought up boy who seldom uses strong language and tries not to make personal attacks. I tend to look on this as evidence that those responsible do not want to discuss solution, just promote their own agendas. The proposal by Gore that climate change denial be made a crime equivalent to holocaust denial served only to reinforce this opinion for me.

    None the less, I cannot persuade myself that gratuitously causing pollution could be deemed virtuous and I avoid doing it (I also pay my oown fuel bills, so that may be a consideration). Doesn’t stop me claiming to pollute more than I do to wind up the greens though.

    *I read recently that the Italians were developing GM tomatoes capable of growing with less water in case of ACC causing droughts, and they had to do it in Texas, GM research being banned in the EU. Wish I could remember where I saw it.

    [and what was Italian cooking like before the introduction of pasta in the 13th century, and the tomato in the 17th?]

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Ho ho ho. How originally boorish. Were it not for an infinite amount of Jeremy Clarksons having done this kind of tedium to death already it might raise an avalanche of tittering.

    So what? There is nothing tedious about it. I guess people like the author of that snide remark just cannot take the pressure of having their boilerplate flat-earth views set up for ridicule.

    Expect more of this “tedium”.

  • MarkE

    Interesting article here:

  • Midwesterner

    A money quote from the article MarkE linked.

    This is how the global warming debate generally progresses, with the two sides invoking ‘the science’ rather like divisions of Christians invoking the Bible.

    But there is another way to approach this question, which is to look at the political circumstances in which climatic science is produced, a process that also has its own laws and patterns. It is strange, at a time when the social construction of science is an established idea (Thomas Kuhn’s 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in which he describes science’s progress through ‘paradigms’, is on every undergraduate’s reading list) that nobody thinks to look at the social construction of global warming theories. Global warming science is being produced in highly febrile times; and history tells us that the more the political temperature rises, the more science’s view of nature is distorted.

  • RAB

    The planet’s indifference to the passions and trials of human life becomes the worldview we ourselves assume.

    Thanks to MarkE and Mid for the link. What a cracking article.
    It stitches together various trains of thought that I have had lately.
    One being this God and Gaia nonsense.
    If there is a God He/She is doing a piss poor job as 99% of all species of all life that has ever existed on this planet is already extinct.
    Fuck up or favoritism?
    Neither. Just cold hard rock that’s hurtling through the universe without a thought in its head-
    And us clinging on to it as best we can.
    In the face of the facts, we should be rowdy and raucus!
    Do not go gently into that goodnight!
    Cos the planet doesn’t care a bugger either way!

  • nemo paradise

    The funniest part of the Gaia hypothesis is its weird assumption that humans and their actions — including technology — are not by definition an integral part of the organism and its processes, as well as its progress.

    Ultimately, Gaia should evolve into a machine, with little or no distinction between so-called “organic” components and synthetic parts. The “Gaiasts” want the earth to be a giant fern. Not happening.

  • Peter

    Will we also see the carbon footprint of government/council “services”. If so, no doubt this will lead to more over paid cosultants to work it all out,

  • Peter

    Will we also see the carbon footprint of government/council “services”. If so, no doubt this will lead to more over paid cosultants to work it all out,

  • Omigod! You’ve been called ‘boorish’!
    That must be the evidence on global warming we’ve all been waiting for!
    Case proven!

  • Jason

    EXACTLY!!!! I hope this starts a movement!