Green ranting, again

A Black Sun Journal post about the UK’s government’s cynical irrationality about diapers (that’s nappies to us) sparked this rant about other “green” things that turn out to be less than ecologically logical.

(I’m not completely convinced about the nappies argument anyway. Disposables may create less carbon-emissions in use but I’m not sure if the carbon-emission sums take into account other ecosystem effects of disposables – such as the source of the materials they are made from, or how long they stay in landfill leaking plastic toxins. I’m just saying that carbon-emissions aren’t the only way to destroy an ecosystem.)

Energy efficient lightbulbs.
These may be energy-efficient but they often can’t really be called “light”bulbs. They oftenn seem to be there just to illuminate their own presence.

So, if you are so tall that you are in danger of bumping your head on the ceiling, it acts as a safety device – at least you’d know there was lightbulb there and avoid it.

As the standard energy-efficient lightbulb gives off approximately 1 candlepower, the user who is hellbent on actually seeing anything has to use a dozen at once.

And, whatever you do, don’t break them or touch a broken one. Another reason why they have to be bright enough to stop tall people cracking their heads on them is that they turn out to be stuffed with mercury.

What exactly are you supposed to do with them when they wear out? Will there be dedicated hazardous waste collections?

Eco-alternatives: No idea about this. Normal flouresecents? I don’t even know if candles would create more light per unit of carbon.

Energy-efficient washing machines

UK washing machines work by taking so long to clean clothes that natural processes of decomposition could easily have kicked in and half the dirt might have biodegraded by itself.

It bet that a two hour wash cycle in the most “energy-efficient” washing machine uses more power overall than a more powerful washing machine that finishes the washing in a few minutes. (Ditto, driers)

Eco-alternatives: Old tech could easily be adapted. There used to be a whole complex washing technology of washboards and wringers and dollies and maidens. No, I don’t know exactly what most of them were but there must be enough bits and pieces in antique shops to work out some ways to adapt them.

Old fashioned twin-tubs took a couple of minutes to ruthlessly swirl the clothes around in the washing half of the combo. The rinsing bit could be done with minimal effort and no electricity at all by directing a hose into the other tub.

Better still, there was some sort of hand-powered eco-washing machine on sale about 15 years ago. it was like a barrel that was meant to be suspended over the bath, connected to a tap by a hose and with a handle that you turned to do the washing.

Road pricing and congestion charges

These seem to operate on the principle that the richer you are, the less ecological trouble your vehicle causes. Blatantly useless except as an income generator for local authorities.

Eco-solution: So simple that it’s embarrassing. Excellent and cheap public transport – trains, trams and buses. What about building Simpsons-style monorails?

My favourite solution: Canals – there is a national network of canals. Canals are already built, ffs. They were built to move goods in large quantities. They are even already full of water. Horses could pull the barges along, as they used to.

New Eco-towns
Where do you start on this? No matter how bloody “energy-efficient” these planned new towns are, they eat up the countryside, damage any residual wilderness, threaten the survival of birds and insects and mammals and plants and add to the volume of energy-using road traffic.

In any case, the whole idea really annoys me because I work in a building that was supposed to be the last word in eco-friendly construction. It was basically assembled from a kit, like a cheap wardrobe. As you might expect, if you’ve ever tried to assemble a cheap wardrobe, within a few months, it was close to decrepit and needs constant incredibly expensive repairs.

(Aspects of its eco-friendliness are so weird that you can’t even imagine what eco-model they were following, anyway. The car park is huge. Turn on the water to wash your hands in the toilet sinks and you get enough hot or cold water to bathe a medium sized dog. There is no way to stop it. I am tempted to buy a large vacuum flask and start taking the excess hot water home. )

Eco-solution: Fix up the existing buildings and build on derelict land before deciding it’s a great idea to spread London across the whole south of England.

Traditional materials like brick, and wood and stone last more than few months before they fall to bits in ugly ways and become fit for landfill. You can reuse them almost indefinitely. There are traditional building methods – like using cob and thatch – that could be used to create genuinely energy-efficient homes.

Traditional construction skills aren’t just disposable. They can’t be replaced by a skill level that would barely put together a stable IKEA table.

Petitions work then?

That magical tiny number of people who can change government policy (see the post about the government bowing to “pressure” to allow the creation of human-animal hybrids) obviously didn’t sign the road-pricing petition. Millions of people took the time and effort to sign it but they weren’t the right people, obviously.

The government just ignored the whole thing, except for adding insult to injury by sending everyone emails with Blair’s name on it to say in effect “Thanks for participating but f*** off. Now I will tell you why you were wrong…” (Well, that’s what the anti-ID petition got)

On a personal note, I would never have signed the no road-pricing petition. I don’t have a vehicle. I am against cars. Well, against cars as much as anyone can reasonably be who sometimes gladly takes advantage of riding in other people’s and who takes the occasional taxi. I do object to breathing in secondhand vehicle emissions all day. I don’t like fearing death from some metallic monster every time I go out of the house. I don’t like living in a world so dependent on oil that any amount of evil seems OK, if it will secure it. And so on.

BUT, I am not so divorced from reality as to think that car journeys are the luxury jaunts of the privileged. Even ignoring the fact that people who live outside a few city centres have basically no alternative but to use a car to earn a living, get food or get their kids to school, I don’t think road pricing will cut urban car journeys by more than a miniscule amount. Bloody hell, people spend hours every day on the M25. Would anyone choose to do that if they had an alternative?

The UK has a rubbish public transport system. I live in a city. It normally takes me about eight times as long to get to work (2 buses) as it does when I have been lucky enough to get a lift. (It takes me an hour and a half to walk, on the days when I can still face the walk after a day’s work. The bus journey takes an hour a best – two at worst.) I could replace part of one bus journey with a train but this wouldn’t cut the time by more than a minute or two and would cost more.

My recent experiences of travelling by train have involved unbelievable expense with appalling service standards. It is cheaper to buy a used car and throw it away than to pay the train fare for 3 or 4 people to get to London from the North of England. (And you could breathe in less germs, have the certainty of getting a seat, smoke if you choose, stop when you choose and not have to listen to incomprehensible welcoming speeches every few minutes nor use toilets that would be considered below par in a hurricane refugees’ camp.)

With regards to the quality of service, last year, I made at least two train journeys that were a net loss to the train company. I.e. the service was so bad that they had to pay for me to use it. Both arrived hours after any possible connections were running and, on each occasion, I had to be taken by taxi for close to 50 miles. And was given a refund 🙂

Basically, there are currently no feasible alternatives to using a car for most journeys.

So this road pricing idea is just going to be another tax. Unlike direct taxation, the ability to pay will be irrelevant. What will affect how much you pay will be how close you live to workplaces, public services, schools and shops. So, also unlike direct taxation, there will be an impact on a wide range of apparently unrelated things like house prices.

So, the rich will be able to carry on driving at will, just getting irritated by the attendant bureaucracy of it. Other people will just get more and more stressed trying to stretch their wages far enough to cover the cost of the journey to earning them.

We all know the alternatives, if there really were any serious concern to cut the number of cars on the road:

  • An efficient and cheap public transport system
  • Encourage working from home
  • Planning decisions to stop cities and services from sprawling out endlessly
  • Stop closing down locally based services like post offices and schools

Too much trouble, hey? Don’t bother then, just get another source of revenue from drivers.


This was going to get ignored but, the BBC having beaten us to it by featuring two Downing Street mass spams in a couple of days, it will have to be said. The government response to e-petitions is to fire off a patronising spam telling you that your concern was noted but Tony is now going to explain patronisingly and irritatingly why you are wrong and the government will pay no attention.

The UK government is experimenting with online petitions. Two had massive numbers of people taking part, to express opposition to road-pricing and/or the national ID card. There were over a million against road pricing and around 800,00 against ID. (You can see where people’s priorities lie…)

Now, clearly the only people who sign one of these are those who care strongly enough an issue to sit at at a PC, find the site, find the right petition and send their name, get an email and reply to it. Which requires knowledge of the whole process, plus the will to go through it. You’d imagine that you could multiply these numbers by at least 50 to get a true idea of the strength of feeling.

It’s like cheap MORI poll for the government. It requires an address and postcode. The government can get plenty of very detailed information about which issues people find important and where they live, which could be very useful in an election campaign.

How sane is then, to reply to everyone with emails that set the teeth on edge? I was shown a copy of the ID mail and it basically said

“Thanks for the e-petition. However, the government is not interested. You obviously don’t understand the issues or you wouldn’t have ventured your opinion. ID will fight crime, let you go to America and will hardly cost you anything. in any case it’s inevitable”

Ok, I admit to some exaggeration in the precis here. But it was way too long and boring to read (Yeah, yeah, people who live in glass houses…)

In fact, yesterdays’ blairspam alerted the Opposition to the fact that the ID was to be used as the basis for a national registry of fingerpints. Funny, you didn’t really mention this before, HM Government.

Today’s news item is the road pricing one. This was worded slightly more cagily – over a million opponents, remember – but the impression I got from the BBC was that the government was saying a slight more appeasing version of exactly the same thing “Tough, it’s inevitable but it will be out of our hands and private companies will run it. Nothing we can do mate”

Here’s my response:
Hi Tony

I welcome your move into the technological world of email spam, Tony. It’s an exciting new contribution to the democratic process.

However, I’m sorry to have to explain to you that there may be some misunderstanding here about the nature of consultation. This is for your own good and it was inevitable that someone would have to do it.

Consultation is not really achieved by hearing contrary views then telling the electorate that they don’t understand the issues and that process x is inevitable and is for our own good really.

It is actually not inevitable that the government carries detailed ID information on those citizens who aren’t engaged in organised crime deeply enough to escape the system.

It’s not inevitable that intrusive technology takes over from competent policework or that the data that we provide the government is dictated by the requirements of the US immigration service or that we even have to stump up our own cash so Big Brother can keep an even closer track of us(probably private sector) These seem a lot like political decisions, Tony.

I will just take this opportunity to explain what a “political decision” is . I have to admit I’m surprised that this is necessary for someone who’s worked his way to the job of Prime Minister, but that’s one of the drawbacks of our tragically underfunded private education sector….

And what a lucky coincidence that the announcement about partial troop withdrawal from Iraq (for once, slightly better than normal war news) was leaked on ID Emailspam day and released on the Road-price Emailspam day.