Why the earth is fighting back -and how we can still save humanity
The Revenge of Gaia: Why the earth is fighting back - and how we can still save humanity. James Lovelock (2006). © Allen Lane.
not recommended as the long-term panacea for our ailing planet, is "the only effective medicine we have now." Onshore wind turbines are "merely ... a gesture to prove [our leaders'] environmental credentials."
This heated debate is fundamentally about numbers. How much energy could each source deliver, at what economic and social cost, and with what risks? But actual numbers are rarely mentioned. In public debates, people just say "Nuclear is a money pit" or "We have a huge amount of wave and wind." The trouble with this sort of language is that it's not sufficient to know that something is huge: we need to know how the one "huge" compares with another "huge," namely our huge energy consumption. To make this comparison, we need numbers, not adjectives.
Where numbers are used, their meaning is often obfuscated by enor-mousness. Numbers are chosen to impress, to score points in arguments, rather than to inform. "Los Angeles residents drive 142 million miles - the distance from Earth to Mars - every single day." "Each year, 27 million acres of tropical rainforest are destroyed." "14 billion pounds of trash are dumped into the sea every year." "British people throw away 2.6 billion slices of bread per year." "The waste paper buried each year in the UK could fill 103448 double-decker buses."
If all the ineffective ideas for solving the energy crisis were laid end to end, they would reach to the moon and back. . . . I digress.
The result of this lack of meaningful numbers and facts? We are inundated with a flood of crazy innumerate codswallop. The BBC doles out advice on how we can do our bit to save the planet - for example "switch off your mobile phone charger when it's not in use;" if anyone objects that mobile phone chargers are not actually our number one form of energy consumption, the mantra "every little helps" is wheeled out. Every little helps? A more realistic mantra is:
if everyone does a little, we'll achieve only a little.
Companies also contribute to the daily codswallop as they tell us how wonderful they are, or how they can help us "do our bit." BP's website, for example, celebrates the reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution they hope to achieve by changing the paint used for painting BP's ships. Does anyone fall for this? Surely everyone will guess that it's not the exterior paint job, it's the stuff inside the tanker that deserves attention, if society's CO2 emissions are to be significantly cut? BP also created a web-based carbon absolution service, "targetneutral. com," which claims that they can "neutralize" all your carbon emissions, and that it "doesn't cost the earth" - indeed, that your CO2 pollution can be cleaned up for just £40 per year. How can this add up? - if the true cost of fixing climate change were £40 per person then the government could fix it with the loose change in the Chancellor's pocket!
Even more reprehensible are companies that exploit the current concern for the environment by offering "water-powered batteries," "biodegrad-
For the benefit of readers who speak American, rather than English, the translation of "every little helps" into American is "every little bit helps."
able mobile phones," "portable arm-mounted wind-turbines," and other pointless tat.
Campaigners also mislead. People who want to promote renewables over nuclear, for example, say "offshore wind power could power all UK homes;" then they say "new nuclear power stations will do little to tackle climate change" because 10 new nuclear stations would "reduce emissions only by about 4%." This argument is misleading because the playing field is switched half-way through, from the "number of homes powered" to "reduction of emissions." The truth is that the amount of electrical power generated by the wonderful windmills that "could power all UK homes" is exactly the same as the amount that would be generated by the 10 nuclear power stations! "Powering all UK homes" accounts for just 4% of UK emissions.
Perhaps the worst offenders in the kingdom of codswallop are the people who really should know better - the media publishers who promote the codswallop - for example, New Scientist with their article about the "water-powered car."*
In a climate where people don't understand the numbers, newspapers, campaigners, companies, and politicians can get away with murder.
We need simple numbers, and we need the numbers to be comprehensible, comparable, and memorable.
With numbers in place, we will be better placed to answer questions such as these:
* See this chapter's notes (p19) for the awful details. (Every chapter has endnotes giving references, sources, and details of arguments. To avoid distracting the reader, I won't include any more footnote marks in the text.)
1. Can a country like Britain conceivably live on its own renewable energy sources?
2. If everyone turns their thermostats one degree closer to the outside temperature, drives a smaller car, and switches off phone chargers when not in use, will an energy crisis be averted?
3. Should the tax on transportation fuels be significantly increased? Should speed-limits on roads be halved?
4. Is someone who advocates windmills over nuclear power stations "an enemy of the people"?
5. If climate change is "a greater threat than terrorism," should governments criminalize "the glorification of travel" and pass laws against "advocating acts of consumption"?
6. Will a switch to "advanced technologies" allow us to eliminate carbon dioxide pollution without changing our lifestyle?
7. Should people be encouraged to eat more vegetarian food?
Two reasons to join áRseNreAce
Figure 1.1. This Greenpeace leaflet arrived with my junk mail in May 2006. Do beloved windmills have the capacity to displace hated cooling towers?
Is the population of the earth six times too big?
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