Friday, 24 July 2009

Is money saving expert Martin Lewis an environmental scourge?

I emailed Mr Lewis to ask him to stop recommending cheap flights on his website offering him to take him off my list of key people irresponsible enough to cause global warming. He responded on his blog. This is my response to his assessment:

Dear Mr Lewis,

A whopping 3,000,000 people receive your weekly newsletter. Let's try to estimate the take up on your cheap flight offers (correct me if you have better data, this is just a back of the envelope calculation). If 10% are using your newsletter tips to board one flight a year to a European destination, the annual carbon footprint of that (see footnote 1) is 210,000 tonnes. In order to make your recommendations you are using, like many other businesses, a subsidy from Nature to the tune of £7,350,000 (see footnote 2). That's not a negligible amount.

To illustrate the size of the estimated carbon emissions generated through your newsletter, it is equivalent to insulating just short of 350,000 homes a year with cavity wall insulation. A large town’s effort to become energy efficient is canceled out by your readers. As you know, the government subsidizes the cost of cavity wall insulation and in this case, it costs the taxpayer a little over £86,000,000 to insulate these homes. Of course, there are other reasons outside of CO2 cuts why insulation is subsidized but I simply want to highlight some of the taxpayer and environmental costs caused by people taking advantage of cheap flight offers.

Another estimate is that the carbon footprint generated through your newsletter is equivalent to the annual carbon footprint of more than 27,500 Brits (see footnote 3). I understand you don't want to offset your readers flights and hope that they will be wise enough to offset through the savings you’ve helped them achieve. The reality however is different as I will demonstrate, most of your readers will not offset.

I find these carbon emission estimates quite alarming, disturbing and unacceptable. You may well have the most polluting newsletter in the world.

Most of the time you'd expect polluters to be involved in big business but you're not, you're involved in ethical business which makes your particular case unique in the UK. I cannot understand how you have managed to take an ethical standpoint fighting the consumer’s side for years and failed to give some serious consideration to the considerable environmental impact your newsletter has had.

I have reviewed the points you made in your blog extensively and the content of the transport section of your site and tried to the very best of my ability to understand your values, beliefs and motivations. I’ve come to the conclusion that cheap flights actually do have their rightful place on your site so I don't think you should stop trying to save people money on them altogether.

What bothers me is the fact that you are not just providing advice on cheap flights; you are actively encouraging people to take advantage of cheap flight offers. In respect of flights, you may well be defending the less well off but I want to vividly attract your attention to the fact that you are simultaneously delivering a poison pill to your readers children, grand-children, great-grand children and right at this moment in time, to the poorest citizens of the developing world, the ones who live on less than $2 a day and who are damned if they can’t extract their food supply from the soil. A few consecutive droughts and they’re dead. Surely you must be sensitive, perhaps sad when you contemplate the dreadful consequences of your cheap flight recommendations? I'd like you to do something about it.

As an eager recipient of your newsletter, I can’t help but notice every time I get it that you’ve insured through the positioning of the text, the font, size and design that I absolutely cannot miss the flight bargains you want to attract my attention to since whenever they are available they're right at the top.

It seems that your website is severely lacking in a responsible environmental policy. I have a suggestion for you, something deadly simple that you can do that may affect the site’s income, but I’m sure it won’t break the piggy bank and since you’re a person of ethical standing, I expect that you are willing to make an effort and if it comes to it, pay the price when it comes to ethical matters. My suggestion is this:

You could stop attracting your visitor’s attention to cheap flights on your homepage and stop putting them at the top of your newsletter. If you do that, you'll stop people who aren't actively looking for cheap flights to take advantage of the information and you will be discouraging what might be termed as opportunistic flying. If people want to save money on their flights, they can still use all the tools on the website but at least the people using your tools will be ones who have already decided to go on holiday, not the ones you've incentivised to go on holiday.

I have surveyed 32 of your newsletters from the past few months and found that at the top of each of these newsletters, cheap flights are recommended 50% of the time. I suspect that matches the timing of the offers from the airlines rather than an ethical concern you may have about incentivising too many people to board planes too often.

I was concerned in your response by your hopes about voluntary carbon emission offsets and your assumptions about people’s ability to make responsible decisions when it comes to flying so I did some more research.

The WORLDWIDE voluntary carbon offset market is worth a paltry £55 million a year according to Wikipedia. Humans emit 32 billion tonnes of CO2 a year, 10% of that is said to be due to the airline industry (this includes CO2 and other greenhouse gases that are quite difficult to quantify) so the annual emissions from airlines is 3.2 billion tonnes. The voluntary carbon offset market would need to be worth £112 billion a year to offset airline emissions. This means that only 0.05% of the emissions from airlines are actually being offset. In the case of the estimated £7 million you expect to be offset, the reality is that probably only £3600 of that actually does get offset! If you had to foot the bill for the environmental cost of your recommendations, I suspect it would cause you to have to take your own online advice about solving your debt problems!

Your hope that people will fly more cheaply but not necessarily more often is not realistic. With bargain basement flights so easily available, there’s nothing stopping people from flying for any and whatever occasion they fancy. If I’m looking for a romantic week-end with my wife, nothing stops me from nipping into Rome on Saturday and coming back on Sunday. Going to Rome beats going to a local posh restaurant. But how is the person making the flight decision expected to know that the carbon footprint of going to Rome is probably 70 times higher than going to the restaurant and that it represents 23% of an individual’s ANNUAL sustainable carbon footprint allocation? Most of the time, people won’t know or ignore it. One other problem is that we are not yet affected by the consequences of climate change in the UK. If people could see the problem, they'd probably act but since it's going to take another few decades before things start getting seriously ugly, they are still sheltered from the damage they are causing. When they finally wake up to it and want to do something about it, it will be too late. Once temperatures exceed two degrees, that's it, we're finished, we will have runaway global warming and it will be impossible to stop it.

We only have a five year window, maybe less to start making some drastic changes to our lifestyles. This is URGENT.

You hope that people will use your site responsibly. How can you expect a poorly informed public to make responsible decisions? You quoted yourself a survey showing 53% of your visitors don’t think or aren’t sure there’s a problem with global warming. If they don’t think it’s a problem and they can fly cheaply, why should they fly responsibly?

I’ve searched for more information on consumer attitudes to flying and understanding of global warming and found the following: according to an HSBC survey from 2007, only 19% of UK consumers state that they are making a significant effort to reduce climate change through how they live their daily lives. Only 6% believe that we can stop climate change. 56% agree to the fact that many leading experts still question if human activity is contributing to climate change. Further, according to a British Air Travel Association survey, only 12% state that they are very concerned about the effects of air travel. According to that same survey, only 3% state that they no longer travel by air due to their concerns. (Source) And you expect people to fly responsibly?

You also highlighted that people are being educated by the media in environmental matters but there is an awful lot of misinformation about our problem in the media which could well explain why so many doubt global warming is occurring and we are the cause. In An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore highlighted that “a study reviewed a sample of 928 articles in the scientific, peer reviewed press. Out of those 928 articles, none were in disagreement as to the fact that global warming was a serious problem and that mankind was the cause. Another study of the articles in the popular press found that out of 636 articles, 53% were in doubt as to the cause of global warming.” Not a week goes by where I open a paper and read another inaccurate and flawed analysis on global warming. They are so frequent that I’ve given up black listing journalists where you're listed because there’d be just too many for me to keep count of. People are as informed as they are misinformed by the media, which is exactly what needs to be done to foster doubt and inaction.

I'll make one final point about government (I apologize for taking so long). I don't think it is your job to cut down carbon emissions, it should be the government's. However the government, as you probably know has contradictory policies on global warming action plans. These contradictions have enraged some of the more knowledgeable commentators such as George Monbiot (see footnote 4).

How can the government announce it wants to cut down emissions by 90% by 2030 and not restrain the growth of the aviation industry? Aviation accounts for 13.4% of the country's emissions and is forecast to grow to 30% by 2030. This is just another reason why you should be concerned about your cheap flight recommendations. As far as government goes, I'm afraid we the individuals are going to have to show the way so that the government follows. I wouldn't place too much hope on the government doing too much to restrict the amount of flying we do be that through taxes or allocating flying limits, that is if past policy so far can serve as a guide to future policy expectations. Mr Monbiot's views on this in footnote 4 are worthwhile reading. And I also refer you to a Daily Politics poll that shows that despite only 3% of the population giving up flying altogether, it appears that they support taxation of airlines for the pollution they are responsible for. The poll shows that 52% of respondents support David Cameron’s plan to increase taxes on air travel and would be happy to fly less in order to reduce carbon emissions. (Source)

I’ve pointed out to you that you rely on an estimated subsidy from Nature to the tune of £7 million to provide the recommendations you do. You’re almost on benefits Mr Lewis. I find it annoying that the host of economic benefits provided by your service are somewhat canceled out by taxpayer funded efforts to reduce carbon emissions. To me that seems counterproductive and reminiscent of the expression coined by sustainable architect Macdonough of "intergenerational tyranny". It can be paraphrased as an attitude of "it's not my problem, it's the next generation's". Implicitly, you are "passing the buck" to the next generation.

I agree that flying has tremendous benefits and that it has indeed democratized society, but in a world where it is vital that we make some choices on the areas in which to cut our carbon emissions, reducing our amount of flying is simply a no-brainer. Better have a less democratic society than total chaos a few decades from now don’t you think? Unfortunately, when it comes to environmental decisions, we are often faced with a "least bad" set of alternatives and we are already handicapped by the pollution of previous generations.

Your free subsidy would not be a problem if carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere were not 30% higher than they were prior to the industrial revolution and human population had not grown exponentially to the current level of 7 billion people. The world is over populated and this is resulting in a strain on the Planet’s ability to cope with the environmental impact. Right now, our consumption is already 22% above what the Planet can cope with. This is alarming. We have to reduce our carbon emissions by 90% in the developing world by 2030 otherwise the science tells us global temperatures will rise above 2 degrees and mankind may well become extinct as a consequence. The greatest UK scientist, Stephen Hawkins said the following about runaway global warming: "We don’t know where the global warming will stop but the worst-case scenario is that Earth would become like its sister planet, Venus, with a temperature of 250 degrees centigrade, and raining sulfuric acid. The human race could not survive in those conditions."

In the UK, to switch to a sustainable lifestyle, we have to reduce the average carbon emissions per individual from 12.5 tonnes to 3 tonnes. By encouraging people to fly, you are encouraging them to live an unsustainable lifestyle and tragically, they don't know better. The average lifestyle in the UK is already four times more carbon intensive than what is considered to be sustainable. Flying less is the only difficult lifestyle adjustment we are required to complete. Are you going to help with that or are you going to be a hindrance?

Leonardo da Vinci once said that he who does not punish evil commands it to be done. This is a philosophy you seem to apply across your website at the exception of your cheap flight recommendations. I sincerely hope Mr Lewis that you reflect on your views, find the strength to change your mind and do your bit to pass on the gift that was passed on to you to future generations: life.

Footnotes:

(1) Assuming CO2 emissions of 700 kilos per passenger per flight, the equivalent of a London to Rome trip.

(2) Based on the current price per tonne of carbon using Atmosfair's prices of roughly £35 (read the carbon offset section of my website to see why I recommend them)

(3) Based on Chris Goodall's, how to live a low carbon life's book estimate of 12.5 tonnes of CO2 emissions per person per year.

(4) More info here: http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2009/07/06/subsidising-the-climate-crash/
http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2009/05/22/crash-landing/
http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2009/04/14/cross-your-fingers-and-carry-on/

Sources:

http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/Home-improvements/Home-insulation-glazing/Cavity-wall-insulation

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_offsets

http://www.lowcarbonlife.net/downloads/Edinburgh%20presentations.pdf

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/revenge-of-the-rainforest-1638524.html

www.atmosfair.de

The Planet documentary

Chris Goodall, How To Live a low carbon life, p218

The 11th Hour


LATEST UPDATE:

Had I managed to convince Martin Lewis to stop advertising cheap flights on his newsletter, it would have saved me and my team from having to visit 60-90,000 homes. The only change made on the money saving expert site was: "We hope this helps you fly cheaper, but not necessarily more often. Remember the environment" on the flight checker tool. My wife thought that was a result. I note it's at the bottom of the flight checker tool in small characters. If you're not looking for it, you won't notice it. This campaign has been a waste of time. Mr Lewis's lack of understanding is symptomatic of our society's story and attitude. Unless we see a problem, we don't know it's there. By the time we see the global warming problem, it will be too late. We are where we are now because of our lack of mindfulness and we will get where we are going because of that. It is best summarized by the quote from the film La Haine:

"It's the story of a man falling from a skyscraper. As he passes each floor he repeats to himself: up to now all is well, up to now all is well. But it's not how you fall that matters, it's how you land."

We will not realize what we've done until we land. Once a 200,000 year journey ends, by the end of the century, there will be no new beginning for us. Hope is now but hope is already gone.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

AWARD FOR THE DODGIEST ENERGY SUPPLIER

And the winner is.... EDF

Every time I see an advert from a major Blue Chip trying to shmooze me on their green credential I put on my suspicion cloak.

Look at Shell and BP, both companies were trying to advertise their green credentials, both companies are amongst the world's biggest polluters and now both have moved out of their green investments and to add insult to injury, they're getting involved in extraction of oil in the Canadian Tar Sands, extraction that is the most polluting form of oil extraction on Earth. Liars.

The problem with being green is that you want to believe polluters when they make their promises to pollute less but almost everytime that those promises are made, it's purely based on financial reasons and because of that, the promises aren't credible. No one in the corporate world will try going green out of ideology but they will sell it to the general public that way. It's no wonder authors like Chris Goodall note that the British general public is cynical about the "going green" thing. When you're being lied to and deceived by corporate interests all the time you start thinking twice on who you really want to trust.

I must say that I am impressed by M&S efforts, the Coop and Tesco's. Not all blue chips are out to lie to their customers. But one certainly is: EDF AND WE ARE ADDING THEIR CEO TO OUR KEY PEOPLE IRRESPONSIBLE ENOUGH TO CAUSE GLOBAL WARMING LIST.

You've no doubt seen their schmoozy patriotic, we can do it, we did it before advert on being green for one day and polluters the rest of the year. Well... Read our section on Green Electricity to see what we think about the Big 6 energy suppliers: http://www.ecochanges.co.uk/individual_footprint/green_energy/green_electricity.html

The point of the matter is that these companies are phenomenal polluters and that we should not trust them to supply us our energy. If it were not for the government imposing renewable energy sourcing on them, they would gladly pollute the Earth until it was no more. Their save today, save tomorrow website is laughable. I could do a better website than that and I have, for less than a hundred quid and they've got millions.

But what really gets me is the fact that they are HUGE POLLUTERS marketing themselves as a "WE CARE ABOUT THE PLANET" company. GREENWASH!!!
Check their energy mix here: http://www.electricityinfo.org/
33.5% of the electricity we use in the UK comes from coal according to a coal industry website, 35.2% according to the above website. Note that the proportion of energy coming from coal from EDF is 49% (Source), 16% above average. Out of the Big 6, only Scottish Power uses more coal than EDF do as a proportion of their energy mix. THEY ARE THE SECOND MOST POLLUTING ENERGY SUPPLIER IN THE UNITED KINGDOM AND THEY'VE GOT THE NERVE TO ADVERTISE THEMSELVES AS CARING ABOUT GREEN ISSUES. THEY'RE LIARS AND HYPOCRITS.

What's more they don't even invest in renewables, it's all well and good them advertising that they're going to do it but the point is right now, they're not. Check the amount they invest in renewables per customer here.

They are currently being sued and rightly so by Ecotricity for misuse of the green flag (Source). And I'll add that they are a French company with considerable investment in nuclear. Nothing wrong with that, it might have been a good source of energy to use in the 70s, better than coal at least but not today, not with wind energy cheap and able to serve the almost 90% of the UK's needs. Yet EDF, alongside E.ON have bought plots to build Nuclear power plant and are lobbying the Government to persuade them that Wind Energy is unreliable (Source 1, Source 2, Source 3, Source 4). Now Nuclear is both uneconomical and highly polluting. It's not because it doesn't create CO2 that it qualifies as clean. Nuclear waste lasts 200,000 years and if you read George Monbiot's book Heat prepare yourself for a heart attack when you find out where that Nuclear Waste has ended up in the past.

A letter sent to me by my local MP on the lib-dems energy plans emphasized that Nuclear had so far cost us well over 50 billion pounds and that the costs of course will keep adding up for the next 200,000 years because you have to pay to insure that the waste is properly looked after. That's why no private company in their right mind is willing to purchase a nuclear power plant without government subsidies and guarantees that they won't have to pay for the costs of disposal. Who ends up paying for it? US MUGS!

That's my bit about Nuclear power but going back to EDF, the real reason for this post is the outrageous article I received in a Greenpeace newsletter with this morning mail. The article reproduced from Greenpeace's website :

16/04/09

Paris, France — Electricit√© de France (EDF) has been spying on Greenpeace since 2004 according to a report this morning on the French news website Mediapart, which cites evidence from official investigation files. According to the files EDF was also seeking intelligence on Greenpeace activities in the United Kingdom, Belgium and Spain, where it has substantial business interests.

On March 31, Greenpeace France discovered that its former campaign director's computer was hacked in 2006, and that the organisation had been targeted by the private investigation company Kargus Consultants under instruction from EDF. It is possible that the whole of the Greenpeace network was penetrated.

At least two contracts were signed between EDF and Kargus, in 2004 and 2007, for the provision of 'operational support for the ongoing strategic surveillance of environmental organisations and their activities and practices'. This 'operational support' suggests regular reports from Kargus to EDF on Greenpeace's activities. Kargus used various surveillance techniques and may even have infiltrated Greenpeace. In 2004, Kargus invoiced EDF for more than EUR 13,000 per month.

Regarding the 2007 contract it appears that EDF was aware of the use of illegal hacking.

"How can we trust a public company that devotes resources to spying on its critics?" asks Pascal Husting, Director of Greenpeace France. "How many contracts are we talking about here anyway? Are other agencies monitoring the activities of other environmental organisations?"

Following today's revelations, Greenpeace is calling for the suspension of EDF CEO, Mr. Gadonneix, and demands that the Government establishes an independent assessment of the nuclear industry as well as an open and democratic debate on nuclear power in France.

"The role of nuclear power in France, and its international business interests need to be thoroughly investigated," said Dr Rianne Teule, Greenpeace International Nuclear Campaigner. "Globally we need energy resources that maintain energy security and protect the climate, not ones that create more security issues and detract from the real solutions to climate change."

Greenpeace France, which is party to the case against EDF, will this afternoon present its evidence to the investigating judge.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The Carbon Standard

"Tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes." Candide, Voltaire


I'm pretty convinced that basing a currency on gold as a standard is pretty meaningless when you have a global economy that has grown beyond available reserves of gold. In 17 years, gold is gone, what are we going to do then, rely on existing reserves? Sure enough there is no cap on how far the price of gold can go but there is an issue with the fact that the higher the price of gold, the more difficult it is to share wealth. This insures the powerful who have gold stay in power and creates circumstances ripe for war and civil rebellion. Maybe this is a poor point but I don't like the idea of gold being used as a standard to govern commercial exchanges. The only reason why we use gold is that it is scarce, durable, easily divisible and that we universally agree on its' value.

Money is essentially an abstraction. It is just an idea. But unfortunately, it is also more than that. Essentially, money is what we think has value. It should not be an impediment to human potential and to human development. Yet money always gets in the way. Because money is scarce, we are constrained to purchase less goods than what we might want. Because of this constraint, we tend to be price takers meaning that all things equal, it is natural for us to prefer the cheapest priced goods. Worst, in order to create more value in the economy, we need to renew goods frequently so that people stay employed. This creates more wealth and more disposable income to produce more crap we will eventually end up throwing away.

In our society, the cheapest priced goods are systematically the ones with the highest carbon footprint. To produce cheap, you have to use the freebies from the Earth. What freebies do we have? Take coal for example; coal is abundant, there's at least 150 years of reserves available and it's easy to mine. This makes coal cheap and as a form of energy, it makes it very desirable. In the UK, 33.5% of our electricity comes from coal. This is a disgrace: we're a so called developed economy yet we rely on the most polluting form of energy to meet our needs. For every kilowatt of energy produced from coal, almost a kilo of carbon is emitted. The tragedy is that both nuclear and gas only produce a fraction of the emissions of coal but we chose coal because it's CHEAP. Our society, because of scarcity, has produced an abundance of absurdities and because the environment is not valued, it has lead to its over exploitation and to a tipping point where we risk losing everything we have.

Allow me to bring this point home to you. Suppose a friend of yours spent
£300,000 on a house and then knocked it all down piece by piece until it eventually fell apart. You ask him why he did that and he answers: I wanted to see what it would look like torn apart.
"How are you going to pay your mortgage back?"
"I don't know, I'll worry about it later."

The same friend now plants a large trunk in the ground in the middle of the rubble. Climbing at the top of it, he attaches himself to the trunk in such a way that no one can take him away from it. You stand at the bottom of the trunk and ask your friend "but why have you done that?" To which your friend replies: "I've decided to go on a diet. I'm not going to eat for 10 days."
"Are you suicidal?" you ask. No, the friend replies, I'm too fat.
A little cold in the middle of the night, your friend puts a plastic bag on his head and accidentally suffocates himself to death.

The following morning, you discover your friend dead with a plastic bag around his head and you conclude he was suicidal. A medium comes along and assures you your friend is communicating with her from the grave, he wants to let you know that he had no idea that depriving himself from air would result in his death. What would you say then? Like me, I suppose you would argue your friend was deeply and profoundly disturbed.

Unwittingly, at this point you would have the same point of view as an environmentalist observing the Western way of life. The Western way of life is a collective aberration where we exploit resources to extinction with no consideration for future generations, we pollute without restraint, we pay no attention to the future consequences of draughts, water shortage and climate change and we gradually eliminate our oxygen and food supplies. We're exclusively focused on the short-term and we couldn't care less about long-term planning. As a culture, we've had the arrogance to imagine we were able to transcend the basic limitations of organic existence: the fact that we need food, air and an environment to survive. Like the friend who thought a plastic bag would warm him up and forgot it would suffocate him, we've forgotten that we were organic creatures at the top of the food chain. We take the kind deeds of Nature for granted and since they are not novel, we assign no value to them but we assign value to everything that's of our own making at the expense of Nature. As a result, we must conclude that Western culture is deeply and profoundly insane.

When an economist tried to price the value of Nature's services some years ago, he found that they were roughly equal to twice the global GDP. When your firm discloses its annual turnover, remember that if it weren't for Nature, this turnover wouldn't even exist, never mind the small profit margin. Yet we assign no value whatsoever to Nature's resources, we reproduce with no consideration as to whether the Planet can sustain our astronomic population and we promote our waste and energy intensive way of life abroad as the best model to follow. The worst possible name you could be called in this day and age is communist. If you doubt for one minute the supremacy of capitalism, you're labelled as an idealist and dreamer. And the cynics argue that the only thing that is going to get us to realize the extent of our collective stupidity is a disaster of biblical proportion. Supreme relativists, they are.

When we consider the biggest threat to the sustainability of Nature's services, the first word that comes to mind is carbon. Carbon, as it was put in a pro pollution advert in America is life. They were very right and because carbon is the currency on which all life depends, carbon is far more valuable than Gold.

Let me explain how the Gold-backed currency is in fact an illusion. Prior to the Second World War, most of the World's stockpile of Gold was owned by European nations. As they fought one another, most of the Gold was spent on warfare and transferred to the United States. At the end of the Second World War, the US was effectively the wealthiest nation on Earth in terms of Gold. All the State's Gold was detained in the legendary Fort Knox. In the 70s, the US debased its currency meaning it was no longer indexed on Gold. Since the Second World War, the US has become the most indebted Nation in the World and that was before the credit crunch. Since the era of Eisenower (1953), not a single independent auditor has been allowed to verify the Gold Reserves in Fort Knox (Source). Even if there was still gold left in the most secure facility in the world does it even belong to the US? The fact that no one has been allowed to check the Gold in Fort Knox for more than 50 years speaks volume. What speaks even more volumes is that when France and Switzerland, concerned about the cost of the Vietnam war, attempted to redeem their dollar holdings for gold, the US bought an end to the Gold standard. Since the 70s, the dollar is effectively a currency based on paper. The fact the US is the biggest military power in the world, the fact that it supposedly has $137 billion in gold reserves and that petrol is only quoted in dollars (Saddam wanted it quoted in Euros, but they made sure that didn't happen) has been enough to insure the dollar was the strongest currency in the world and 35 years of unparalleled growth.

You now understand that the strongest and most emblematic currency in the world is defacto worthless yet if you check its current value against other currencies, you will be surprised by the fact that there has not been any kind of major run on the dollar for the past 50 years. So long as no one officially knows that there is no Gold in Fort Knox, the deception can continue. This deception has not in any way prevented the US from becoming the richest country in the world. This lends credit to my assertion that money is just an idea, although keeping it that way requires a lot of political engineering.

It is thus not so far fetched to propose that currencies be based on thin air. Since the dollar is just paper, what's to stop us from assigning an imaginary value to it? So long as everyone agrees on it, trade can continue.

What I propose next is a little complicated and it assumes no manipulations which is unlikely but let's assume for a minute we can get a grip over politician's trickery. The Carbon Standard would be based on the carbon levels necessary to keep temperatures below two degrees ie less than 400ppm. Each tonne of carbon could be assigned a nominal value and the currency would be based on that.

Ever heard the expression money rules the world? What if money was an illusion, what rules the world then? Whatever we want it to be. Now let me sell you on the Carbon Standard.

Carbon is easily dividable, durable (it lasts more than 1000 years in the atmosphere) and it is scarce. Those who argue that carbon is not scarce need to understand there are two kinds of carbon: there's the carbon that keeps us alive, the carbon that has enabled us to evolve to where we are now, the carbon that allows a natural greenhouse effect and then there's the excess carbon, the additional 30% we've added to the atmosphere since pre- industrial levels. This carbon comes directly from stored sunlight. Over the past 60 million years, plants and vegetation on earth have been absorbing sunlight. As time has passed, this vegetation has died and thanks to some wonderful natural processes that happened over millions of years, we now have reserves of coal, gas and oil. This is all stored sunlight and this is precisely what our economies rely on worldwide to function. If we continue burning it just because it's free and still abundant, we're going to kill ourselves. Stored sunlight is carbon; the climate and the planet are only stable and facilitating life because there is just the right mix of carbon in the atmosphere and just the right ecosystems in place to regenerate the Planet. There is an active Yin and Yang process on this Planet that is just stable enough to enable life.

Since the Natural imperative is survival of the species and since we've been gifted by Nature with intelligence, we should use this to our advantage. Intelligence, and for that matter common sense dictate that we should do what we can to sustain life. How?

The Carbon Standard is a currency that we would use to overturn the negative effects from excessive carbon emissions to curb their growth.

If goods are priced in terms of carbon value as well as economic value, the environmental cost of production is reflected in the price. The outcome is a non-subsidized price that assigns a value to what we take away from Nature and what we add to it. This is the best way to insure that, through market forces, the price of every product accurately takes into account its environmental cost. Note that this is going a step further than the normal function we assign to currency which is exchange. In the process of exchanging we assume that the only thing that matters is the value of the good produced. In the Carbon Standard, that's taken into account but another dimension that is taken into account is the goods' ability to preserve or destroy life through the amount of carbon emissions it generates. And we know that above 400ppm, there's a 75% chance of irreversible climate change. This is the clever bit so pay attention: 400ppm is the scarcity target assigned to carbon, once reached, carbon is defacto no longer acceptable: you can either have goods and services that produce zero carbon or goods and services that produce carbon but that offset the production. AND THIS IS HOW YOU SWITCH TO A ZERO CARBON ECONOMY WITHOUT ANY AGGRAVATION, because carbon is automatically priced in everything. You don't need it traded on an exchange, you don't need all the wasted money on corporate lobbying, you don't need the bureaucracy of permits, you don't need the full weight of the legislation, carbon is plainly and simply priced in everything.

Implementing this should result in products with a high environmental impact being highly priced in comparison to products with a low environmental impact or both being priced the same or a narrow price gap between them.
As Chris Goodall notes: in a modern economy in which competition is working actively, no company can chose to make decisions that raise its cost compared to its peers. But Paul Hawken adds that competition should not be based between a company trashing the environment and one trying to save it. Since one is subsidized by Nature's freebies and the other isn't, the competition just isn't fair. In fact, I am surprised that, to my knowledge, no polluter has been sued under the unfair competition legislation by a company supplying the same product at a higher cost because it took into account its environmental impact. Maybe environmentally friendly companies have a duty of care towards nature to sue the competitors who are trashing it.

Note that the whole point of pricing carbon into everything is to provide a price incentive for carbon intensive products and services to be priced out of the market in favour of products with low environmental footprints, much the same as in the carbon permits system. If carbon intensive products aren't priced out of the market through the first incentive, you need a second incentive of the type "rob Paul to pay Peter". You add in a tax penalty for carbon intensive products and you use the proceeds to subsidize products environmentally friendly products. The final outcome is a shift from a dirty to a clean economy where polluters either go broke or adapt.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Key people irresponsible enough to cause global warming

Martin Lewis:
Mr Lewis has responded to his listing here and he's made some good points so I've decided to edit both the title of this article because the wording was too harsh and changed the bit on Mr Lewis below.
In his weekly newsletter, money saving expert Martin Lewis regularly advises his eager public on money saving deals. Among these is at the top of his list: dirt cheap flights. By recommending the UK's 2 most environmentally damaging business models of Ryanair and Easyjet as well as cheap long haul flights to destinations as far fetched as Australia, Mr Lewis is inadvertently encouraging millions of people to get on-board flights that collectively will generate tens of thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gases resulting in global warming killing millions of citizens from the developing world. I don't understand how an intelligent man can do that, live with it and manage to justify it. I think he really should reconsider whether saving money on flying or even helping people get on board cheap flights is in line with his ethical beliefs about helping consumers and yes, I think that if possible all of us should avoid flying in all circumstances but family emergencies. He may be helping his readers in the short-term but in the long-term, their flying will result in further global warming with dire consequences for everyone including their kids.
Following on the points he made which were interesting, I have posted a response looking at why the carbon footprint of flying is a problem and why I think that Mr Lewis is inadvertently creating huge carbon emissions through his weekly newsletter. Unfortunately, he's sticked to his position on the matter, choosing to ignore the environmental impact of his newsletter. When one intelligent man is in control of as large a carbon footprint as he is and refuses to do anything about it, the scale of the environmental problem we all have to face is spelled out in capital letters: BIG, VERY BIG.

Michael O'Leary, Ryanair boss:
“We will take [passengers] off British Airways and the other old carriers who are flying gas-guzzling, ancient aircraft and pack them into fuel-efficient planes. So Ryanair will be saving the environment – not that we care much. [...] I listen to all this drivel about turning down the central heating, going back to candles, returning to the Dark Ages. You do that if you want to. But none of it will make any difference. It just panders to your middle-class, middle-aged angst and guilt.” Michael O'Leary

The problem with freedom of enterprise is when guys like Michael pop up on the scene and think it's okay to trash the biosphere, create global warming, indirectly kill people in the developing world over a period of decades and centuries and get away with it whilst all the while lying to the cameras and the press missleading the general public who don't know any better into thinking that everything's okay and that what Ryanair's doing is perfectly alright. The problem of the legal system as it is is that it does not punish white collar crime. Hitler killed 6 million jews. But he didn't do it directly, he got other people to do it for him. Yet it is internationally recognized that he was responsible for it. What of crimes that indirectly kill hundreds of millions and billions of people, more so than have ever been killed by any dictator in history. If I sell you a shower gel and it corrodes your skin and gives you a fatal cancer, you've got a right to sue me for manslaughter haven't you? What if someone can't eat because of a drought that is not natural but caused by global warming, what if there are millions of others like him? Who can you blame then but the people who caused unnecessary and intentional pollution for profit?
It is a disgusting world we live in where a man like O'Leary is not prosecuted for crime against humanity and gets praise in the media for his successful business. It is not the people flying his planes I blame, it is him for trying to book a profit at all costs, for opening new lines all the time, for denying the existence of global warming to suit his needs, for advertising to create the need for people to get on board his flights, for pricing them so cheaply that no one even considers less polluting alternative. There is a whole system that is rotten that enables this man to get away with what he does. We have a government incapable of understanding that the propaganda of freedom of enterprise is killing our world and killing our people.
For the record, I have flown Ryanair but that was before I knew the environmental impact of flying. They can price their flights as dirt cheap as they like, I'd rather be shot dead than board one of their planes. We hope you get prosecuted O'Leary and spend your last days in jail.

Jeremy Clarkson
This well loved petrol head is part of the cultural propaganda that is threatening mankind and he should be stopped. He's a dinosaur from an older generation when there weren't 7 billion people on the Planet and there was no global warming living in a world where all of that is a reality but he's somehow not capable of appreciating that for those who can afford the big cylinders he loves so much, he is encouraging consumerism. I don't dislike the guy but he's a gauge of our ill advised addiction to fossil fuel. We love to dream ourselves in big cylinders, we love the freedom and sensation but we're not capable of realizing this love is going to screw the very ones we love and care for the most: our kids.

Ray Krock, founder of McDonalds
It would not hurt McDonalds' business in the slightest to switch all its burgers to vegetarian alternatives using organic vegetables. McDonald's isn't in the hamburger business, it's in the real estate business. If they can produce cheap beef, there's nothing stopping them from producing cheap vegetables. Their service comes at the cost of things like foot and mouth and potentially a destructive virus the likes of which we have never seen. I can't see how animal who develop antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria won't eventually be responsible for a virus that we can't treat with existing vaccinations. Beef, accounting for 30% of the food we eat is responsible for 78% of the emissions from the cattle sector. McDonalds is in the beef business, they need to find a way out of it.

George Bush
Everyone knows how that idiot made it to this list.

Ruppert Murdoch
Now apparently, Mr Murdoch was convinced by his son to make an effort to green up his media empire. Despite his efforts, I still can't stand him. He is a conservative who's had a lifelong flawed philosophy about what the French call "capitalism sauvage" which maybe translated literally as wildcat capitalism. His view is that business are perfectly able to look after themselves and that government should not intervene. Credit crunch is all I'll say.

I don't really mind him or his business (although if Fox were consciously trying to turn their public into cavemen they'd put on the exact same programming as they are now) but I especially don't like the concept of the Sun. Using paper to print pictures and not text at a time when deforestation accounts for 25% of mankind's emissions is outrageous. They can argue the paper is recycled but that's besides the point. Paper pulp can only be recycled 5-6 times, after that it has to rot in landfill. And if they claim it's sourced from sustainable forests, that's not acceptable either. Like Mcdonough said, you can't call something better just because it's less bad. What is called sustainable is in fact a monocrop Eucalyptus forest where there cannot be any biodiversity because the leaves are toxic to any other wildlife, the crops can be sprayed with pesticides to grow faster and they pump up a huge amount of underground fossil water most often in countries where water is already scarce. I contacted the FSC to ask if they considered Eucalyptus forests to be sustainable and their reply was neither yes or no, more along the lines of: if the rainforest isn't being chopped down, the world's a better place. Yeah right...
I also note Murdoch was opposed to the election of Barrack Obama because he thought his socialist policies would damage business so he's evidently one of these free market libertarians who think the State shouldn't regulate. Businesses are accountable for trashing the Planet to a huge degree and if not regulated they will trash it eagerly and faster. A business will do anything to maintain a linear profitibility even if it involves ultimately the demise of the business. Businesses in our culture are short term entities and they need to be regulated for their own good so that they can last long-term. What are they going to do when we run out of all our natural resources in one hundred years?
Further, I note that it's not just the Sun printing nonsense, it's the entire country's press industry. It's no good printing words if they are a total waste of time and most of the stuff printed in the press is just that. I have in mind in particular a distastful article about female orgies in London printed in the Independent over the week-end and I'm sure that if I were to collect a sample of papers on any given day, more than 50% of the content could enter the useless, irrelevant or paper wasting category.
In my view the worst are the Guardian. They have a very activist section on the environment yet one week-end copy is roughly the same weight as an encyclopedia Britannica. Who needs that much information? Why is it that every paper is now selling a sports section, culture, holiday etc... If the public wants to read about sports, let them buy a paper on sports. If they want to read about holidays, let them buy a magazine on that. Stop being a one stop shop for everything you're trashing our trees you imbeciles.
And if you want to continue with your business models, that's fine so long as you're not using paper. Start using infinitely recyclable synthetic paper. Go to the business ideas section of ecochange.co.uk for some info on a company supplying that.

Vincent de Rivaz, EDF’s chief executive officer, the entire board, their PR and marketing people

The law needs to change to make excessive CO2 emissions a crime against humanity. The first person who should be prosecuted for that is Vincent de Rivaz. Some companies are hypocrits, opportunists and liars and in my view EDF as a group is worst than Ryanair's boss O'Leary. At least Ryanair doesn't try to pretend they're green. EDF are right up there with the countries biggest polluters and yet they have the nerve to advertise themselves as green. We are so furious with their latest advertising campaign that we've dedicated an entire post to their lies. If you are a client of EDF, you are assisting climate criminals. Switch to Ecotricity now to save your soul!


I do realize that some people are going to be disappointed not to find more names of corporations and people who are turning our world into an oven but I can assure them that we will be adding to this list as time goes on and if you have any suggestions as to who else should make it to the list, feel free to comment and we will be delighted to investigate your suggestions.