Sunday, 21 December 2008

Teach your granny to text

My son discovered a fantastic book in Sainsbury's - Teach your Granny to Text from the marvellous We Are What We Do is a child's guide to changing the World. It's an indication of how well the book is pitched at its target audience that my eight year old homed in on it and insisted on buying it from his own money - a fairly rare occurrence.

It's not just an eco handbook - it also covers bullying, animal rights and other topics in keeping with We Are What We Do's central mission of changing the world for the better. It's funky, accessible and full of tear outs, make and do projects and stuff to get kids involved. After all, you're never too young to start.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Top Gear Goes Green

The petrol heads at Top Gear are finally taking green cars seriously. James May positively drooled over the striking goods looks of the Tesla, the first electric car that looks properly desirable, even though it proved less than reliable on the track. It left the Elise for dead in a drag race and delivered a creditable lap time with the Stig, but broke down twice. And the 16 hour charging time is bound to be an inconvenience on a long journey.

The Honda Clarity, on the other hand, is a genuine breakthrough in automotive engineering. Powered by a hydrogen fuel cell it is effectively its own generator, and takes no longer to refuel - with compressed hydrogen - than a regular petrol car. And it looks - well, just like a normal saloon car, really. It may not be as fast or as sexy as the Tesla, but that's not the point. It actually looks like Honda might just have designed a regular car neither kills the planet nor requires us to make compromises.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Now I'm the fun police

I used to enjoy seeing all the Christmas lights on people's houses - when our son was very young he would be so excited by them and I would adjust my route to take us past the households that really made an effort. Now I just shake my head and fret about the wasted energy. This year I agonised over whether to put up our single row of icicle lights on the front of our house. In the end, we've put them up but used a timer so that they light briefly, at the right time of day to welcome us home. Our Christmas tree has its lights on a timer, too. Even so, I feel guilty about the energy we're using.

There are houses in our town that really go overboard with their Christmas lights, collecting money for charity from the people that come to see them. It's a kind gesture that gives pleasure, but perhaps its time to find another way to help. With energy so expensive, they could probably raise more for charity by just donating the amount they would have spent on powering the lights. On one level our lives would be a little poorer for not having the displays, but it's time for new thinking.

Our son is eight now, and pretty well informed on environmental issues. I'm sure I could explain to him that our Christmas lights are no longer a good idea and he'd understand. But it would make me feel like I'm stealing some of the fun from his childhood. And I don't think I can do that until I can find another kind of fun to put in its place.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

David Kennedy at Green Monday

David Kennedy - the chief executive of the independent committee on climate change - addressed Green Monday last night. Yesterday, his committee has unveiled a new report on carbon budgets, designed to support the commitments of the new Climate Change Act. The report recommends that the UK should unilaterally aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions - not just CO2 - by 34% by 2020 (compared to 1990 levels). In the event of a global deal on greenhouse gas reduction being reached, this would increase to 42%.

This follows on from the release of an interim report on October 8th which called for an 80% reduction in all greenhouse gases by 2050, to include shipping and aviation.

David believes we can meet these ambitious targets, without adversely affecting quality of life, largely through better energy efficiency and energy management. In terms of power generation there are two scenarios. The first is primarily via renewables; the second through fewer renewables but increased nuclear power. Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is not an option during the 15 year timescale, because of time to market. This raises the question of whether we should continue to invest in coal fired power plants during the intervening period. The committee’s recommendation is yes, as long as the plants are designed for CCS to be retrofitted.

In order to achieve these targets, both corporate change and culture change are required. We need to change our behaviour, make more considered purchasing decisions and do things more efficiently. The anticipated cost is between 0.5 and 0.8% of GDP - around one third of the recent cost of bailing out the UK banking system. It’s not a large amount and, as the Stern review pointed out, the cost of doing nothing is much,much more.