Thursday 26 March 2009

Is the end Nigh?

Prompted by a comment on a previous post, I went to see "The Age of Stupid".

It's a documentary, with a bit of drama, about climate change. The drama shows one of the last remaining humans in 2055 in an enormous tower in the Arctic, which was an archive of almost everything valuable that had ever been produced or found. The man had apparently created and collected the archive himself. It was enormous: the carbon expended in its creation kept me worried throughout the whole film. The documentary showed him selecting excerpts from a series of stories from 2007/8, interspersed with comments about climate change, big business and George Bush. The stories were about a trainee doctor in a Nigerian village next to an oil processing plant; an Indian entrepreneur launching a low cost airline; a couple of refugee Iraqi kids; a retired oil worker who survived Hurricane Katrina; a French mountain guide mourning the shrinking of glaciers; and a British wind farm developer. They were interesting stories presented in a brief and shallow way: the good thing was that unlike the rest of the film they alluded to the issue rather than shouted about it.

Would I recommend it? No. I’m not sure what the point of the film was: it had too many unchallenged sweeping allegations to convince anyone not already convinced about the dangers of climate change. And it did not offer solutions. But it was mildly entertaining (is that patronising enough?), so my rating, to quote the Hitch Hiker’s Guide about Earth would be: Mostly Harmless.

I think the issues around environmental damage are better set out, and in a more balanced way, in a book called Collapse (about how societies fail or succeed) by Jared Diamond; he gave an hour plus talk about the book a couple of years ago which is I think more challenging than the film. The book covers many themes and problems; my main take on it was that our biggest current worry should be over-population rather than carbon usage, and trying to manage birth rates globally would be our best chance of avoiding societal and environmental collapse.

The issues are also set in out in a less balanced way by Michael Crichton (of ER and Jurassic Park fame) in his book State of Fear (criticised by some for mixing science with a thriller and spoiling both aspects). My overriding thought from the book is that the main drive behind the climate change campaign is to increase the powers of the state by frightening people into submission. Although fear of terrorism has now been picked up as the main reason for state expansion and interference, the climate change campaign started before 9/11. And petty though they may seem in the bigger picture, replacing heat generating light bulbs with mercury filled low light bulbs and encouraging fly tipping and poor public health by restricting litter collections are examples of this.

I’ve always been nervous of people who cannot imagine they are wrong. I was a member of Greenpeace for many years (I still have the green umbrella with the “Stop Acid Rain” logo I used in the City, instead of a tightly furled black one) but left when they campaigned to stop Shell from disposing of the Brent Spar platform in what seemed to be a sensible way. They seemed driven by distaste for Big Oil rather than logic. That approach worries me about so much of the “carbon is evil” campaign. One of the telling scenes for me in Age of Stupid was the wind farm entrepreneur driving away from his country home in the middle of a wind farm free area of natural beauty (in his black BMW) saying that the reason people objected to wind farms was that they spoilt the view.

The reason I object to wind farms is not the view: it’s that they are ineffective; they wouldn’t exist in the scale they do if the Government wasn’t over-subsidising them compared with other energy sources.

So what would I do? To coin a phrase from our Prime Minister, it’s a global problem. So although they are full of soundbites and achieve little, we should participate in the various global conferences/agreements. But perhaps we could set an example by mostly communicating by video-link and email? We should be encouraging population control at the same time as trying to improve developing world healthcare. We should encourage the taxation of aircraft fuel to try to offset the real cost of flying. Nationally, we should be investing in nuclear energy and carbon capture coal power stations (if the figures add up for the latter). We should be providing more grants for micro-power generation at home. We should be encouraging refuse collection and not seeing it as a way for Councils to make money: bulk recycling is most efficiently done centrally – but we should make shops be responsible for their own packaging. We should not build a third runway at Heathrow; we can tax aircraft fuel on internal flights even if we cannot on international ones. We should establish a carbon trading system and as a nudge for the consumer and a sop for statists, charge for plastic bags.

But despite all this I suspect the solution to global warming will come from new technology of which we are not yet aware so both nationally and internationally we should support pure as well as applied scientific research.


Troy said...

Most of this climate change propaganda could more strictly be called The Age Of Deceit.
It's a natural solar cycle - we can do little about it.

Sarah said...

You've made alot of points, John; I'm not sure I can respond to all, here goes:
Yes, the film is dramatic, imperfect, telling stories about imperfect people trying to do what they think is right.THe mountain guide drove his little car to work and bemoaned the big road (take note, John- a bigger road increased traffic), the windfarm developer and his big car, the medic who dreamed of living in ease; a car, nice food...
You are either a hessian-knickered hippy on a bike or a fat, evil oil baron, aren't you? (Well, not you, personally!) Green is an option, like the vegetarian choice in a restaurant, pure, uncompromising, and thank goodness when there's a discovery of misjudgement, an area for questioning, because it gives a body a blomming good excuse to bail out and carry on as if the climate change evidence was never published.
Hmm...'green' is not just about putting your bottles in the bottle back, it is about need v want spiritually, physically and mentally; it is about asking how something can cost so little, about asking what it is made of. It is about equality, fear, insecurity; about thinking.

I agree about domestic power generation; totally, I do, honest!
My vision is for a company that sells franchises; mini leasing companies who furnish houses and businesses with the hardware to generate their own power and the means to sell the excess back to the grid. A lease/rental agreement would mean the initial cost of the equipment is spread over a number of years and the benefits show up quicker. Built in to the deal is an on-hand (local) maintainance engineer, possibly workshops on how the technology works. By selling back extra electricity, a householder reduces the rental fee of the equipment.
I like the idea of leasing- that ultimate responsibility for disposal of an item goes back to the producer instead of industry making a mess and public funding clearing up ( e.g. tobacco related diseases; pollution from cars).
I don't think the green issue is a cover up to introduce crippling legislation.
The Govt seem to be doing a fine job without the green issue. I agree that you cannot force people to do things by constantly making up laws;
Positive encouragement is the way forward; how about the good old rag and bone man? where is he? Folk would sell their scrap to him at the back gate. The council could weigh and pay for scrap tins and paper, all clean and separate and that amount reduce the council tax bill. The council could sell on the bulk, saving, surely in processing dirty tins, etc.
Will anyone want to throw away a plastic bag if it's worth 5p? Or if they do, someone else will want to pick it up.
I wouldn't object to a barcode living on my new white appliance, so it is an individual with an almost biometric reading- trace that fridge right back to the ass that dumped it in the woods...
Businesses could have a reduced road tax if they fill their empty wagons, on a return trip, couldn't they deliver recycling? Those are, of course, the businesses still struggling to switch to rail or seabound delivery...
And, I think there are plenty of solutions we cxan generate ourselves as long as we are all talking about climate change;
The point of the film was to get people to act on discussion, be the good guys that turn their horses round and come back to the village under siege. I think it was a film that couldn't fit enough in- it preached to the converted on one level, yet motivated me because I saw others of a similar mind and I felt my efforts to recycle, etc were not wasted. I thought the film was clumsy but the interviews showed human nature in many facets; the green issue is not black and white-
Ha ha
Maybe the end is nigh, but it may be the end of poverty, domination of the vulnerable; the pursuit of power at all costs- that is more terrifying to some than watching the world burn.
So I swish my druid's cloak and skip back to the woods, wishing I'd paid more attention in debating class and could offer that final, convincing, epiphany-making sentence...
...nice that you went to see the film; it was the bit about the road tunnel I wanted you to notice, really, more than anything else.

John Woodman said...

And you too, Sarah, have made too many comments for me to comment on coherently., but I agree with a lot.

I did notice the road - I didn't immediately realise that it was partly a moral criticism of the A1 campaign. I just wondered first, how an 80 year old could cycle so far in the mountains when I struggle to get home from Seahouses, and second just how much pollution their "block the road" cycle ride caused.

Sarah said...

How much pollution the cycle ride caused?
Dark, Mr Woodman, very dark.

occasional northerner said...

All too comlicated for me, but I'll go to Belford this week-end for my bike!

Sarah said...

Oh, it's all about you, you, you!