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Doing Our Bit

I'm back from Copenhagen with sunburn on the top of my head and something that is either a ferocious head-cold or mild flu. (Scratch flu: I've had flu — it was like being hit by a bus. This is more like being run over by a bicycle ridden by a morbidly obese clown.) Either way, it's no fun and you should therefore make allowances for diminished cognitive horsepower in the remainder of this article.

While I was away, my newspaper of choice launched the publicity stunt 10:10 Campaign, with the goal of getting everyone in the UK (alright: all bien pensant Guardian readers, like me) to cut their carbon emissions by 10% in 2010.

I find this sort of thing just as annoying as Brendan O'Neill (Wearing thermals won't save the planet), and for exactly the same reasons he espouses (to be fair, in the pages of The Guardian): "... reveals something profound about environmentalism: it is not really a campaign to find solutions to the practical problem of climate change, but rather has become a semi-religious, almost medieval demonisation of human behaviour as dirty and destructive. This is really a priestly, ideological effort to lower people's horizons and expectations, rather than a focused attempt to create a less polluted planet."

However, holding my nose and mucking in, I have to admit that I don't like to be part of the problem if I can avoid it. It's like turning off light bulbs when you leave the room: not just because it saves the polar bears, but because it saves the electricity bill. So with a somewhat utilitarian approach, I turned to the Gruaniad's helpful advice ("How to reduce your carbon emissions by 10%) and started checking boxes to see whether I could be doing something more.

(Click the link below to follow the Fisking.)

(NB: as a Grauniad-reading Chomsky-worshipping Volvo-driving Liberal-Democrat-Voting high-density-urban-living ABC1 media professional who is married to a vegan, I want to be clear that I am a huge fan of Robert Fisk's invaluable work over the years and in no way intend to endorse the rantings of the foaming wingnuts who verbed the eminent journalist's name. If only their coinage wasn't so handy ...)

It is of course precisely because I'm a GR CW VD LDV HDUL ABC1 MP that I have difficulty swallowing the 10:10 manifesto's high-minded advice. To synopsize: if it's easy, I'm already doing it; if it's difficult it's either illegal, impossible to do without destroying my livelihood, or it's trivial (fitting an aerator to the shower head: sticking a brick in the toilet cistern).

The Guardian's advice on reducing your carbon footprint is itemized here. I'm going to cut-and-paste, and walk through them (as they apply to my lifestyle).

(Figures in bold are savings in tonnes of CO2 per year.)

Natural Gas

(Note: It's quite difficult for me to mess with my gas consumption, because I live in an apartment that is (a) 182 years old and (b) part of a grade one listed building in a city centre. )

— Major improvement in your home's insulation 0.4

Status: can't do this. I can add loft insulation above one bedroom (this is on the to-do list); the rest of the apartment has either false ceilings or literally no roof space above it. (Tackling the false ceilings is in principle possible ... at huge expense, i.e. moving out, obtaining planning consent to restore the dwelling to its original Georgian condition, and then turning the builders loose. Energy cost of doing this? It's like calling in an artillery strike on a mouse.)

— New boiler if yours is more than 10 years old 0.3

This is on the to-do list, with the proviso that what really needs fixing is the thermostats on the in-room radiators (all seventeen of them — it's a big and ramshackle flat, and any fixes will be correspondingly expensive and ramshackle).

— Cavity wall insulation 0.3

Physically impossible — the walls are 1-3 feet of solid stone. They really believed in over-engineering in those days!

(NB: The mean age of the British housing stock is 75 years. Mine isn't terribly ancient by UK standards. Raising 200-500 year old dwellings to modern energy standards is challenging.)

— Double glazing if you don't have it 0.2

Illegal, or prohibitively expensive. (See "grade one listed building". Note that this isn't unusual — 10-15% of Edinburgh's housing stock is listed. I didn't know it was listed when I bought it, but those are the breaks — the council did it on the quiet in 1972 and forgot to tell anyone, including the previous owner, until it turned up in the land registry search during the conveyancing.) I'm legally required to maintain the original exterior look and feel of the building, on pain of an unlimited fine or up to 12 months in prison.

However, all but four of the (counts) ten window casements have working wooden interior shutters. I suppose I could add foam draft excluders to them. (It might be possible to fit approved cellular double-glazing units in each of the un-shuttered sash segments, but as there are 48 of them (each averaging about one square foot) it hardly seems worth it.)

— Solar hot water 0.2

See "grade one listed building".

— Increase loft insulation, seal doors and skirting boards, etc 0.2

This is indeed on the to-do list.

— Better controls for boiler, hot water tank and radiators 0.2

On the to-do list. However: the central heating in this flat is a thing of beauty (if you're a jobbing plumber charging by the hour) or a many-tentacled Lovecraftian horror (if you're someone else).

— Buy a wood-burning stove 0.2

Illegal in Edinburgh.

— Reduce your thermostat temp by 1 degree 0.2

Already done, compared to most folks — I don't like the heat.

— Heat one less room 0.1

Already done.

— Slow-flow showers, not baths 0.1

Mostly done — I only run a bath when I want to soak.


— Install 2 kilowatt solar PV panels 0.4

See "grade one listed building".

— Buy a new A++ refrigerator if yours is more than 4 years old, and only use a small-screen TV 0.1

Fridge: already sorted. TV: 32", but mostly switched off (and I picked an LCD set specifically to reduce power draw).

— Use LED or fluorescent lights where you currently have halogen lights installed 0.1

In progress: we're at 80% fluorescent, but the bathroom is socketed for halogens. (LED replacements are on the way. Much cheaper than ripping out the ceiling!)

— Buy an automated system to turn off appliances when not in use; get a meter that shows actual energy use and use it to monitor your household 0.1

Going to look into this.

— Only use your washing machine and dishwasher when full to capacity and at lowest temperature 0.1

Already doing this.

— Never use the tumble dryer 0.1

Can't. (We're in a top floor apartment with no yard, and the airing closet is tiny and at permanent maximum utilization.)

— Get rid of the freezer if you can, and replace your small appliances with "eco" varieties 0.1

Never owned a freezer.


(Disclaimer: the Swedish Tank turned fourteen years old last month. I'd like to replace it, but it keeps rattling on reliably. And see below.)

— Cut your annual mileage in half 0.7

Already overshot the target. (Between us we drive up to 4000 miles a year, never solo occupancy, never without a load. The national average milage is 12,000 miles a year, most of it solo occupancy.)

— Sell the second car 0.7

Second car? In Edinburgh? (Hollow laughter ...)

— Buy a new car with emissions in car tax bands A or B, then scrap the old one 0.5

Er, no. If we drove the average annual distance, then yes: after five years or so we'd be ahead on carbon. But we're low milage users, and the 10-15% of the average car's lifetime carbon emissions that are incurred in manufacturing the vehicle would be a much higher proportion of our milage.

— Join a car club or set up an effective local car-sharing scheme 0.4

Considered it: verdict n/a. There is a local car club, but their vehicles are all compact hatchbacks and they specialise in hourly rental. Our needs are for a high-capacity multi-occupant vehicle for infrequent long trips. Ditching the car and renting instead is something we've considered — but rental companies don't guarantee availability or model, and our milage is just too high to make it practical. (It's cheaper to keep the old tank running.)

— Share car to work 0.3

If I drove to work, I'd do this. But I walk to work. Ten metres, down the hall. (Or else I fly.)

— Go on a day's eco-driving course, fit low-resistance tyres and check air pressure every month 0.2

I already practice eco-driving, but low-resistance tyres bear investigation as/when I need to replace a set. Which has happened once in seven years. (See "low milage" above.)

— Don't ever use a car for shopping. Buy online 0.1

I shop for groceries on foot, thanks. (See "Urban Living ..." above.)

— Work from home one day a week rather than commuting by car 0.1

I work from home all the time.

Consumer Electronics

(Yes, I'm taking liberties with the order of The Gruanaid's piece. Bear with me, I'll get to the punch line eventually ...)

— Buy secondhand mobile phones and ensure that three of your electronic devices are recycled 0.3

At this point my shiny! acquisition gland kicks up a huge stink and digs its heels in. Sorry, but this is serious quality of life territory. (Hint: we're on his-and-her iPhones. ABC1 media luvvies, right?)

— Keep your electronic devices (eg phones, TVs, computers, DVD players, games machines) one year longer than you would have 0.2

I'm getting there slowly. (The end of the gigahertz wars have been good for my patience; I used to churn annually, now I'm backing off to a 2-year cycle for most stuff.) And I'm trying to buy smaller gizmos.

— Switch from a desktop computer to a laptop at home, and recycle the desktop 0.1

I've done this. $SPOUSE will give up her Adobe Creative Suite workstation when I drag it from her cold, dead hands.

What the Guardian missed: If you switch your shiny 3G smartphone to GSM when you're not actively using a data connection, the standby battery drain will drop by 70-90%. Fact! (3G is a power hog.)


— Go vegan three days a week 0.5

$SPOUSE is a full-time vegan; I'm an omnivore but omit meat 2-3 days a week.

— Change to an almost entirely vegetarian diet, using mostly unprocessed wholefoods such as grains, seeds and nuts 0.5

Blech. (I like grains seeds and nuts, but there's a point where I need a juicy medium-rare steak. About once a month.)

— Never buy processed food or ready meals 0.2

What is the Opportunity Cost of eating only home-prepared (or chef-prepared) meals? (Nevertheless, I'm not big on ready meals anyway.)

— Buy more carefully and never throw food away 0.2

Throwing away food makes the Baby Jesus cry. Fact. (Besides, you paid for it. Didn't you?)

— Grow all your own fruit and vegetables for July, August, September 0.1

In an Edinburgh tenement? I hear the waiting list for a council allotment is somewhere north of a decade ...


— Buy 50% secondhand clothes 0.3

If I could find secondhand clothes I liked, maybe. Alas, I can't.

— Reduce purchases by a more than a quarter compared to last year (eg buy four new T-shirts not the UK average of seven) 0.2

I tend only to buy clothes when a previous outfit begins to wear thin/fade badly/is eaten by moths. Clothes are a non-discretionary purchase item for me, not a voluntary one. ($WIFE is different, but mostly makes her own.) Can't realistically reduce clothing consumption any further without enthusiastically practicing public naturism.

— Buy only manmade fibres 0.2

WHAT? (Have you ever worn a nylon tee-shirt?) Dude, where's my food pill? And my television-phone? Some things about Star Trek are much better as science-fiction than in real life. I don't want to call the 10:10 program a hair-shirt lifestyle, but this is almost descending into self-parody.

— Focus on new fabrics made from bamboo, hemp or other cotton substitutes 0.1

When they start making tee-shirts, jeans, socks, and underpants out of them and they've got an acceptable feel, I'll be waiting.

Water, sewage and waste disposal

— Install a 'grey water' recycling system to take water from your washing machine into your lavatory 0.1

Can't. (See "grade one listed building". Even altering the partition walls between rooms potentially involves filing for listed building consent.)

— Use showers, not baths. Install a flow-reducing aerator for the shower head 0.1

Already doing the shower thing. Aerator ... maybe, when the shower is next overhauled.

— Regularly use soap, a basin of water and a sponge instead of a shower 0.1

(Rolls eyes. Does a response of "I turn the shower off while I soap up" will appease them?)

— Buy ultra-low water use cisterns, new water-saving dishwasher, washing machine. Recycle old ones 0.1

Next time I replace the plumbing. Otherwise ... what's the carbon footprint of the kiln process for firing a bunch of new ceramic cisterns and toilet bowls? Or melting the metal to make the dishwasher and washing machine?

— Install - and carefully monitor - a water meter. Put bricks in all the loos to reduce water. Carefully recycle all waste, compost all organic matter 0.1

Can't. (Well, the brick's a runner. Recycling — we want to, but the Council refuses to provide recycling pick-ups on this street.)

— Install a composting toilet 0.1

Can't. (See "grade one listed building". Also see: "top floor apartment".)

Public transport

— Cycle everywhere 0.3

What's wrong with walking? (I used to cycle. Edinburgh is crinkle-cut and mountainous, I am 45 and hypertensive, and I'd have to carry the bike up three flights of stairs at the end of every journey. Case dismissed.)

— Always use coaches instead of the train 0.1

Sorry, but no. (Edinburgh is a long way from everywhere but Glasgow; taking a coach to Leeds to visit relatives would add 4 hours to a 3 hour trip by train. I'm a little creaky; adding four hours in a coach seat to each leg of a journey is, well, asking for medical bills. <socialised_medicine_snark>Even if I don't pay them.</socialised_medicine_snark>.)

— Work from home two days a week instead of taking public transport to work 0.1

(Rolls eyes: this one again.)


— Only buy newspapers, magazines, books, toilet paper and copier paper made from recycled materials 0.1

Already doing that with TP and copier paper. Don't buy newspapers. Books ... who knows?

— Block direct mail, choose electronic bills and statements, buy secondhand books and share papers 0.1

Mostly doing this, except that buy secondhand books dings my Hate!Hate!Hate! button. Thanks guys, but you do realize that the author gets no royalties whatsoever on second-hand sales? Thanks for telling people to boycott my business! (If you'd said "buy ebooks instead" I'd have little to argue with.)

And now we get to the turd in the punchbowl of Charlie's carbon footprint ...

Air Travel

Yes, I fly a lot. Not for "platinum card elite frequent flier" values of a lot, but enough that I have a frequent flyer card. Cards. (And on my next flight, the SkyTeam card will bump up a level.)

And I don't think I can reasonably cut down on my flying.

I fly on business, to SF conventions and to meetings with my editors, none of whom are less than 400 miles away. (For conventions less than 400 miles, on the same land mass, I drive — and usually ride-share with 1-2 passengers.)

Here's what The Gaiardun says about flying and your average Briton:

— Never fly 1.2

— Restrict yourself to one short-haul return flight a year on a carrier with a fuel-efficient fleet 0.3

Here's my projected work-related flight plan for 2010:

* Return flight, Edinburgh to Boston, USA (February, Boskone)

* Return flight, Edinburgh to Tokyo, Japan (April, HAL-Con)

* Return flight, Edinburgh to Boston, USA (July, Readercon)

* Return flight, Edinburgh to Melbourne, Australia (September, Worldcon)

* Return flight, Melbourne, Australia to somewhere-in-New-Zealand (September, NZ national SF con)

* Return flight, Edinburgh to Tel Aviv, Israel (Sept-Oct, ICON SF Festival)

* Return flight, Edinburgh to Antwerp, Belgium (October, Beneluxcon)

On top of this you can add 1-2 return visits to London to see my UK publishers and/or do book signings. There might also be a publisher-arranged signing tour of part of the USA — involving at least six, and probably ten or more flight sectors.

The fact of the matter is, I have an elephantine-sized carbon footprint due to one activity — flying. Everything else I can do is either done, on the near-term to-do list, or not practical.

Nor would my cutting out these flights help much. Four of them are guest of honour slots; if I decline the invite, some other lucky author gets to rack up the air miles. I could drop the Australia trip, but it's a non-recurring one-off; I've been to AUS once before (a few years ago) and I doubt I'll be going back. If I drop the visits to Boston, I don't get to have my annual face time with my agent and editors — and more importantly, the folks in Sales and Marketing who sell my books. Trying to quantify the value of that sort of face-time is difficult. But I'm pretty sure that without it, my career trajectory would be veering in a downward direction. (Maybe I ought to move to New York, but as Americans have on average about three times the carbon footprint of us Europeans, I'm not sure that would be a net win.)

As it is, I've pretty much abandoned flying purely for pleasure. My trips are often dual-purpose insofar as I'll take time off after the business stuff to go exploring, but I'm not big on lying on a beach or clubbing: if you catch me on a tour bus, it's because I'm taking background notes for a book. I have actually had two non-work vacations in the past five years ... but it's not easy when you can't walk past a specialist bookstore without your signing hand twitching for your pen pocket.

What I can do is aim to travel to Australia on a shiny new Airbus A380 superjumbo, which should burn 17% less fuel per passenger-mile than other wide-body long-haul airliners (unless the airline kits it out with 50% of the deck space given over to first-class and business class seating — something which, however, would fly in the face of current trends).

$SPOUSE plus self agreed last week to cut two other flights from our 2010 itinerary. And I can aim to minimize my flight sector distance. For visits to the USA, for example, there's a horrible shitty Boeing 757 that Continental fly from Edinburgh to Newark. The shortest route to destinations on the east coast is the Continental shuttle and then a knees-around-ears hop to the final stop. It's more expensive — and a lot less comfortable — than one of KLM or Aer Lingus or Lufthansa's A330 wide-bodies, and forces me to clear US immigration in fucking Newark, but it's the most direct route. The carrier options add a thousand mile detour (to get to their intercontinental hubs). So I guess I'm stuck with Continental (unless Delta resurrect their service to JFK). Which is still about a 20% carbon saving compared with the non masochist-friendly carriers, so I'll grit my teeth and do it.

I can't cut my carbon footprint much in 2010 compared to 2009 — if anything, it's going to rise steeply, due to just one flight. (This year saw two return flights to Boston, one to Montreal, and sundry extra short-haul flights to European destinations.) But the Australia trip is a one-off, and I can cut the fuel burn by 17% by carefully choosing my airline.

I'll be onto the rooftop solar power just as soon as the government legalises it and someone figures out a way to get more than six hours of daylight during winter in Scotland (north of every city in North America except Anchorage, Alaska); as for the rest ... nylon tee-shirts and a composting toilet on the fourth floor (with no elevator!) will just have to wait until I feel the urge to flagelate myself into a senseless bloody pile of puritanical ecstacy. (Don't wait up.)




Nice post. Heard a talk at the Long Now Foundation where the speaker claimed that it would be a good thing for the climate if we banned the construction of new cars, due to the fact that the energy used to construct existing cars has already been amortized. Kind of out there, but interesting.

I'm interested to see if the churn rate of new car purchases begins to drop off due to the recession (obviously, that's already happening, but I'm talking long term) and climate concerns.

There are a ton of people who buy a new car every 4 or 5 years whether they need one or not. The dealers make it very easy to change out one car payment for another by settling your old loan and tacking the difference onto the new one.


Hi Charles,

Amazon.de starts selling Saturn Childs for german folks. Eager to get this novel.



The problem with this campaign is that the most effective and reasonable options are not suitable for individual action, and indeed this merely illustrates that climate change as a whole is best tackled collectively rather than individually. Think locally, act globally.

For example, the list is missing:

Switch to nuclear power for your electricity generation
Build a high speed rail line from Edinburgh to London
Invent sufficient incremental battery improvements to deliver a fully electric car with a 500 mile range
Persuade (probably by financial means) the Chinese and Indian governments to build carbon-reduction technologies into their dash for infrastructure

These are the things that will make a difference, not changing your light bulbs or insulating your loft. But you can't do them yourself.


Ben: I'm waiting for the Volvo to die, or become uneconomical to maintain. At that point I plan to replace it with a 2-4 year old Volvo -- either a low-engine-size diesel (yes, they're available now and they do north of 50 miles per US gallon) or a hybrid (the V70 hybrid is, however, not due until 2012, so that might be the car after next, circa 2020).

As a general policy, I try to pay cash on the barrel for big-ticket items. It focusses the mind (and helps avoid getting into debt).


Mike Scott @3:


I'm very jealous of the rail systems outside of the US.

I'd really love to believe that my next car will be an EV (expecting I'll be able to keep my current car until at least 2016)

Safe/fairly clean nuclear power sounds feasible enough to be worth investigating. Likewise, solar seems to be getting better/cheaper all the time.

Unfortunately, Home Depot won't sell me a kit for any of this stuff.


I guess the best way to save energy here would be to convince the landlord of our dorm to actually measure and charge for electricity use for each of the several hundred students. The way it is it actually makes financial sense for me to keep using a freezer that's just one year younger than me. Then again, I make up for it by not having a TV and using an EEE PC as my primary computer.

As for:

> Never buy processed food or ready meals

I'm 100% sure that buying canned beans uses *much* less energy than cooking them yourself. Same for a lot of other food. That's because the energy efficiency of cooking something for long periods of time is not limited by the heat capacity of water, but by the loss of energy - and that is much smaller when you cook a ton of beans under high pressure for 20 minutes instead of 2 cups of beans for 1-2 hours.

This is true for most kinds of canned food, though beans are a rather extreme case. The actual limit is probably the energy requirement for making/recycling tin cans ...


The Grauniad could make great strides to advance the ecological goals it espouses in this article by shuttering its printing plants and closing down its paper distribution network and instead going 100% electronic on-line, possibly trading on its name to garner paid subscriptions.

Not going to happen, is it? Instead they will burn hundreds of tonnes of fuel oil moving dead trees from the paper mill to the printing plant to the newsagents to the home and office to the recycling bins to the pulping plants and back to the paper mill in an endless loop today, tomorrow and on into the forseeable future.


I'm pretty convinced people will only truly (deeply?) change their behaviours when given clear financial incentives. For example, if electricity cost enough that leaving your PC on overnight for a month added up to $100, no discussion of carbon would be necessary.
Similarly with most of the rest of the list (hot water, insulation, etc) - showing that you can get a positive return on a solar hot water system after 15 years or so is a fairly weak argument. Energy is just too cheap to really impact people's habits.
Unfortunately, taxing energy to the point where behaviours shift is difficult/impossible. Maybe if one cut income taxes in half, and made it up on energy taxes...?


You're restricted from taking a lot of these measures by where you live, but I can't see this continuing for too long - the political pressure is bound to mount on the Council to arrange recycling in the New Town or on the Government to allow photovoltaics on listed buildings, for example.

You can have a wood-burning stove in a smoke control area by the way - it just has to be a model certified by DEFRA for such use. Although I don't suppose you'd relish the prospect of humping the wood up your stairs.

It'll be interesting to see if this campaign continues - a 10% cut in a year might not make a lot of difference but 10% every year, compounded...


Viv: the answer is a carbon tax, not an energy tax.

(Here, have this hair shirt: one previous owner, lightly used, sorry I didn't wash it -- that would consume energy!)


There's continual talk about the council allowing double or triple-glazed wooden sash windows in listed buildings. Probably it's just a matter of time. I can't say for sure that they haven't decided to do so already.

My place is only grade B listed. The same problem exists, but at a lower level - I believe it would be easy to get permission if I was getting suitable windows put in.

A friend's announced he intends to get a V70 now that they've put the 1.6td engine in it. I think they get nearly 60 to the gallon, and will probably be available second-hand when the current truck dies.


The processing of bamboo into fibre is not even slightly environmentally-friendly. It feels really nice though.


Rooftop Solar just isnt a very reasonable technology for european power generation. Never mind that they are currently insanely expensive, no matter what the price point moves to, sky-high population density, low annual solar influx, and power demand patterns that dont track well with the amount of sunshine we get means that any solar panel you stick to your roof would be doing much more good tacked onto a massive installation in saharan desert sending power north via HVDC lines. Which moves this back into the realm of "collective action is needed".

Figuring out a non-carbon intensive way to do commercial flying would actually be a really big climate win, but its also headachey. Pluto engines are not a good idea for passenger flight *cough* and a battery dense enough to power a plane seems.. unlikely. So we are looking at synfuels.


Given that this is aimed at Grauniad readers, and that food is our biggest problem carbon-wide, shouldn't it also mention "Reject imported wine and fancy foreign lagers and drink hand-pulled real ales and traditional cider instead".


One may hope the council sets up on-street recycling in my area soon; if so, I'll certainly use it.

Ditto the allowing rooftop solar cells instead of the mandatory slate-with-lead-flashing -- however, I'm utterly unconvinced about the applicability of solar to Edinburgh tenements. As I noted, we only get 6-7 hours of daylight in the depths of December, at the precise time when we most need lots of energy for heating. Not only that: this flat nestles beneath a rooftop shared with five other dwellings on the same stairwell. Who gets their share of the light? By long-standing law and custom, the person with the roof gets to carry out repairs (and bill the other occupants for their share -- these are freehold apartments, not an American-style condominium). Even in summer, that's one rooftop covered in solar panels to support six households -- or one.


Sheesh, I remember Trevanyan writing about indes-fuckin-tructable Volvos, that's why they're all dented. They live too long, and the owners beat 'em up.

Apart from that. Admire the general sentiment of the post, especially when you describe taking it so personally.

Couple of points.

First, I love the architecture (that survived the Victorians) in the UK, mostly, but I'd give it all up in an instant for simple comfort and functionality, with a bit of aesthetic resonance obviously. I'm tired of old farts (let's not name names here) with no training or professional experience in architecture adding to the debate about housing or architecture when they live in the best piece of UK real-estate evah, pay no tax when making biscuits and pay no council tax because they own a tin-mine in Cornwall, telling us which buildings to keep and which to save.

Second, and I may be in a minority in this, but it seems the planet is destined to use nuclear power as a main source of electricity, because the oil will eventually run out.

I suppose it will be within our lifetimes, but even if it isn't, the resources are finite. Let's carry on digging and burning until it's all gone, then we'll.....er. Think of other things presumably.

And that's even if the US, India and China accept that there is a problem with the environment.

Best Scenario: Benign AI dictatorship.
worst Scenario: We 'see' what happens.

And thanks for the Long Now mention ben, it really could make a difference if people thought in longer timescales than just their own lives.



I enjoyed that... I'm in a similar situation, except that my 150yr old tenement flat is rented (What with a good proportion of us under-40s being effectively forced to rent by average house prices which have gotten to an insane multiple of average earnings) so I can't even make the limited changes to it which might otherwise be possible.

Always had a schizophrenic attitude towards these things. Perhaps best illustrated by my insistence on using trains and coaches, rather than a plane, to make my way to a Grand Prix last year....

I'll happily go without a car, have done so for all my life, but frankly have better things to do with my life than growing my own vegetables, for all the difference it will make to anything.

As an aside, I very much recommend David MacKay's "Sustainable Energy Without The Hot Air" for a rational, hard-headed analysis of what will make a difference, and what won't


Jacques: s/the oil will eventually run out/the cheap oil will eventually run out/

We're always going to have oil -- either carbon-neutral synthetic oil, or biofuel. But sooner or later it's going to get a wee bit too expensive to burn the stuff that comes out of the ground (either because it costs a lot to pump it, or because we're pricing our carbon emissions properly).


And, at the risk of descending into advertising (I have no pecuniary interest in them) can I recommend switching electricity supply to Ecotricity, which unlike the "green tariffs" of many electricity providers, appears to be serious about building renewable energy infrastructure...


I can't possibly tell you how much this pisses me off. Well ok, the Guardian pisses me off on a daily basis so no wonder, but still: almost all of these things are only possible if you are a high-middle class white collar worker with highly negotiable work contract.

If I could have worked from home I would have, you IDIOTS. As it was, I couldn't even listen to my iPod on the job, let alone ask to work from home.

If I could have afforded solar panels I'd have installed them, but unlike Italy, where you have a 50% contribution on the price, in the UK you have to sleep in front of the relevant office to get the 200 or so grant they give out. I couldn't have shelled out 4,000 euros even back when I had a job.

Newsflash: upwards of two million people have no job in the UK right now. What do you think Guardian readers who try to make ends meet on 60 pounds a week will feel regarding replacing fridge and boiler and having their windows double-glazed, the loft insulated and the cavity filled?


Anna: that falls into the same category as the Torygraph feature article I found myself reading a couple of years ago that explained how it is impossible to live in London on less than £60,000 a year. (Why, you wouldn't even be able to send dear little Tarquin and Clarissa to the right schools! Much less valet the Range Rover every month.)

These features are designed to be "aspirational", to dangle certain models of behaviour before consumers in need of a social-class-defining lifestyle: the huntin' shootin' fishin' country club lifestyle of the Telegraph reader, or the Prius-driving holier-than-thou lifestyle of the Guardian reader.

In other words: get sarcastic, not angry.


I'll note that used books generate exactly the same royalty as new books, $X per physical copy, where $X is your royalty per book.

If, on the other hand, you're complaining that you don't get $X per unique reader, could I ask your opinion on public libraries, or shoving a book at a friend and saying 'Hey, read this.'? Because I've shared your Laundry books with a few friends who are now fans, but I could stop doing that if it offends you.

(Personally, I think the proper answer here involves somehow inventing a system for author compensation that takes into account the increasingly shared nature of stories, without requiring spec work or patronage. No idea what form that would take, sadly.)


Jon R: PLR gives me a kickback per copy loaned from a UK library. It works out at little enough that each library copy needs around 50-100 readers to match the royalty from one hardcover sale. Yes, I got the initial sale; but a subsequent conversion rate of 2% is not ideal.

(Let me clarify: I get to see my library loan statistics, and if 100% of those loans were replaced by hardcover sales (yes, unrealistic) I'd be a major national bestseller. Instead I get around £700 a year, which is nice, but ... PLR is capped: J. K. Rowling and Terry Pratchett get the maximum of £4500 each. Which is to say, you can't live on it.)

I don't mind you lending books out. I don't mind you buying second hand books. I know full well that all books are sold and resold.

What I don't like is the implication that the ecologically correct should only buy second-hand books.

Because if everybody did that, there would be no new books.


(Personally I'd like to wrap copyright up in a compulsory licensing system based on a bandwidth tax, disbursed via a PLR-like mechanism direct to content creators (as established by anonymously monitoring network traffic) -- combined with a blanket indemnity against prosecution for copyright violation to folks paying their tax. In other words: we accept copyright exists, and agree to ignore it and provide a different mechanism for paying creators. But that's another blog posting ...)


You live in Edinburgh, in a dense traditional neighborhood. These are, by their nature, energy-efficient to begin with--they predate the widespread use of petroleum. The advice is targeted towards people who live in post-1950s low-density areas, which are a huge problem.

Long-haul transport is going to have to be completely redesigned for sustainability--not just air, but land and water as well. Perhaps the age of transportation innovations is not over after all.


@13: google for Desertec.

As for rooftop solar: it seems like it is becoming a status symbol to have those panels on your roof in Germany, as well as an investment. (Even for so those who hope for massive inflation.)


ben: Safe/fairly clean nuclear power sounds feasible enough to be worth investigating.

Investigating is the key word here. I'm not sure about feasibilty. The Swedes cannot run nuclear reactors accident-free. The Germans cannot run nuclear reactors accident-free. You'd have to find someone who's really brilliant at engineering and does not cut corners.

The Guardian list: I've seen that lifestyle, without the tech gadgets, when I was a kid... we called it rural poverty then. Wood stove, kitchen garden (chicken and rabbits optional), no freezer, all food processing done at home, home-made or hand-me-down polyester clothes, second-hand schoolbooks, and no replacing broken-down applicances for about a year until the money was found somehow. One wages earner, one car, and mom, grandma and the children doing the neverending slog of housework and getting out of the village only on Sundays for church. And they never threw food away because throwing away food is a sin, and you can eat it just fine when you cut off the mould.

This model of self-sufficiency requires at least half of the family's work force putting in 60 or 80 hour weeks for it. Plus, it needs land, and houses with cellars and largish kitchens. That's one expensive eco-hobby there. Scrapping the car and some other stuff and buying it new will barely be noticed among the other costs.

That's not even saying that the list is worthless, or wrong. But there are serious costs and opportunity costs in it, which add up to more than the sum of their parts and make for a very hairy shirt.


Charlie, I think you're right, but even synthetic/biofuel hydrocarbon burning will have the same effects we see now (from a chemical point of view, won't they?). That can't be a long-term solution. I can't see carbon-neutral synthetic oils as an option, surely it's an oxymoron. As for biofuels, the costs are extreme, from a biomass point of view. I'm looking at the long-term, they're so expensive both environmentally and financially.

Then again, , our addiction to oil will probably guarantee that other non- oil options are ignored. I'm not being a doom-sayer, just looking at all the options, and I'm afraid to say, reliance on oil will be a dead-end. When the sea-oil runs out, how much land will have to be given over to biofuel production? Will we have to think about scaling back consumption?

I know, it's economics and numbers, but I don't think (i.e. have no evidence) that we have the resources to deal with a cessation of non-biofuel/synthetic oil production. What's more, I don't think we have the will to do it. What would it require? International co-operation on an unprecedented scale. I don't see it happening. I'd like to see it, but I don't.

Not dissing anyone, just thinking out loud........
You know you'll have the climate-change deniers here any second don't you? I assume you're capable of dealing :)



Obviously the answer is to burn down Edinburgh, or turn it into an unheated museum - will anyone notice? - and build some more sustainable housing.

Should cons stop inviting guests who have to fly?


Jacques: with carbon dioxide, water, and sufficient electricity (source: irrelevant -- nuclear, solar, pixie dust) you can synthesize methane. From there, longer chain hydrocarbons are doable. Energetically it's lossy, but it works -- and liquid HCs are very convenient energy storage media.

If you're taking the carbon out of the atmosphere, turning it into lHCs, then burning it again, it's carbon-neutral (insofar as it doesn't pull carbon out of the deep geological carbon cycle which is what we've got the problem with).

No need for hydrogen. (In fact, hydrogen is a blue-sky phantom promoted by Big Energy as an excuse to avoid doing anything.)

Anyway, our real problem isn't oil: it's coal. Most of the world's energy inputs come from burning coal -- from the USA (50% of base load) through China and India. Worse: they're mostly burning crappy brown coal that kicks out a lot of polutants. The radiation emissions from many coal fired power stations are substantially worse than those from (modern) civil nuclear reactors.

The climate change deniers have found this to be a very warm kitchen in the past. I can deal. Feel free to stick around for the fun ...


This reads like every other excuse for, 'why I can't change *my* lifestyle because activity X is too important to me', Charlie.

But I suspect you know that already :)

At the end of the day you *could* cut down on your flying but you choose not to. Many thousands of other people are making the same choice every day, for the same reasons. Nobody wants to give up income / lifestyle if they're the only ones doing it (apart from the hairshirt nutbags who get to feed their superiority complex). Cutting carbon effectively means cutting income for many: our economy runs on oil.

The Grade 1 Listed Building issue is just stupid. If the government is really going to get serious about domestic carbon emissions they're going to have to permit modern insulation and double glazing to be fitted. (Indeed, the whole 'We must preserve listed buildings in aspic' aspect drives me up the wall, but fortunately I don't have to deal with it directly.)


Phil: I could cut down on my flying at the expense of jeopardizing my (sole trader) business. (Out of sight, out of mind, as they say. It applies in publishing, too, even though it's the classic example of a business that is usually conducted at a distance.)


Incidentally, isn't solar water heating far more effective than solar power generation as far as emissions reduction goes?


The thing about not upgrading gizmos is counter-productive. *Very* counter-productive.

Exhibit A1: CRT TV or computer monitor. Uses hundreds of watts.

Exhibit A2: LCD TV or computer monitor of similar size. Uses about 1/5 to 1/10 the power. For a 20" you're talking 250W vs 35W.

Exhibit A3: New high end screens (or the ones coming out soon) use LEDs instead of fluorescent backlight. Not only are they more efficient in themselves, but they emit precisely in the wavelengths let through by the RVB filters, whereas a lot of the white fluoresced is stopped and thus wasted. Probably going to save 1/2 the power.

Exhibit B: newer power bricks have tighter efficiency specs.

Exhibit C: where some people will spend their disposable income on a bigger car, others will buy computers to play with in their free time; which is more wasteful?

I also want to point out that while the 3G power drain is a bitch to the battery, in your overall energy budget it's peanuts. We're talking half a watt vs 1W or something in that ballpark.


I found the following article quite interesting.

As I understand it, he's saying that wind power has largely reached price-parity with coal power *now*, but:
Wind power costs are 90% up front, while coal is closer to 50%. Therefore, once you've build your wind plant, it never makes sense to hold back power production (as it is virtually free), so ends up being sold at base-rate. The coal plant can shut down when costs are lower, so they end up getting a higher rate for their power.
Unless the energy market is flexible (or enlightened) enough to accomodate this, it ends up discriminating against the low-carbon source.
(I haven't tried to fact-check the article (or examine regional energy markets), but his reported perspective is as a wind-power financier, which should mean he isn't trying to fool himself.)
I'm curious as to what others know of this.


The solar collectors vs. listed buildings is in the courts all over the place where I live (Bavaria). Basically, churches and communities want to install solar collectors on their large, ancient, listed roofs, and under current law are not allowed to.

Smart money's on them getting solar panels within two years.


Nick Barnes: "Obviously the answer is to burn down Edinburgh, or turn it into an unheated museum - will anyone notice? - and build some more sustainable housing."

Well, maybe not burn it down because of the carbon emissions from that but early replacement would be a very good idea. The CO₂ payback would be surprisingly quick. Somebody I normally find reliable and sensible, though he doesn't cite a source in this case, says that it's only about 2 years:



Can I suggest that the solution to carbon trading is zeppelins, instead of those pesky jets? I mean, who wouldn't want to be cooped up in steerage under a giant gasbag for a couple of days to get across the ocean?

I also keep wondering whether those power generating kites will ever (literally) get off the ground. It seems like a great idea--run a large spinning kite up into the jet stream, tap the power to run a generator, store the resulting energy in some usable form. Of course, there are these little drawbacks, like shutting down civil airspace to power a city with a bunch of giant kites, but what the heck?

"Go fly a kite" should be the power mantra of the future!


"Take COACHES instead of the TRAINN."


The Gruaniad has flipped.
Trains are automatically more energy-efficient than coaches, especially over longer distances.

Tell me about this crap.
I live in a house built in 1893, and I'm STILL trying to finish its' 100-year service overhaul ......


Charlie: aye, there's the rub.

Viv: Cycling a coal fired power station is very damaging to the equipment. They are simply not designed for it (and if they were, they'd be much less efficient).

Wind power receives a whole bunch of hidden subsidies, not least that the power companies have to pay for all the power generation elsewhere to fill in for the times when the wind isn't blowing, which it occasionally doesn't do for weeks. That plant costs both money and carbon emissions. Then there's the cost of power distribution: windy places are not places with high population density & extending the high power electricity grid into those places costs significant amounts. These problems are not insurmountable, but the 'current cost of wind power' almost certainly doesn't include them in its accounting.


> * Return flight, Melbourne, Australia to somewhere-in-New-Zealand (September, NZ national SF con)

Sigh. Its Auckland. The end of the country that is most like Australia and least like Scotland. I live at the other end...

When/as the cheap oil runs out, isn't flying going to be the form of transportation that suffers the most? I'm not sure by how much, but we must be looking at a shift over the next few decades to high-speed-rail and sea transport where rails not practical (ahem, New Zealand). Getting there faster is going to be more expensive, which has all sorts of interesting consequences.


#33: It used to be that CRTs were more efficient than LCDs, by a factor of two or three. Has this changed?

PV roof shingles and tiles are available for people who want to maintain the look of a shingle or tile roof.


Incidentally, I can recommend "Sustainable Energy — without the hot air" by David JC MacKay of Cambridge University (available online for free, or in dead-tree from the usual suspects) if you want to read about what a sustainable non-carbon based economy could look like in the UK. Short answer: it's dosable without impossible levels of hair shirt wearing, but does require changes in how we do things that would require political will to carry through.


I realize your a bit light headed, but I thought I'd point out that the NZ convention is BEFORE WorldCon, not after.
And that it AWESOME you're planning on coming to NZ.


Charlie@4: Think the Volvo will die before used 2012 hybrids are available? Ho ho. I suspect it'll run until you have to kill it with an axe.

Buying a car with cash may well work against you in the US: credit rating agencies score you not on whether you pay cash for your purchases, but whether loans are repaid on time. So, if one is looking to buy a house soon, a record of prompt payment on a car loan may very well reduce the mortgage significantly enough that the car interest (if the loan is short enough) is more than made up by the savings on house interest in a single year.


Au Contraire, the NZ NatCon for 2010, is actually going to be held in Wellington, the capital city - a lot smaller than Auckland, and with a lot more character. And yes, it's before the WorldCon, over 27-29 August. We hope you can still make it! 8)


Some similar problems to yours here in the Mild Mild South-West.
We're in a Grade 2 Georgian townhouse, smack in the middle of scenic Clifton.

Did ditch the car for car-club scheme (one of 'em's parked literally over the road from us) with some mixed results - sometimes the car ain't there/won't start for emergencies - but it took us an order of magnitude down on previous car bills. All else is walking or public transport (a nightmare in Bristol, and buses are obscenely expensive by UK city standards). Get most groceries delivered, much from local organic companies.

Managed to get solar water heating installed seven or so years back (after 2 years of planning permission waiting, one of which was spent with a hole in the roof and an quaint indoor water feature...) and it dropped heating bill by about 60%... which was fine until the solar installing company went bust last month and thus our repair cover is void & we have to find someone who can actually service the damn thing.

For the household (3 adults, one late teen), main footprint is running computers and the annual flights to Peru that Wife-the-shaman has to make to continue training in her field (while Wife-the-artist & I mostly work from home).

We'll get solar for electricity as soon as feasible (plus that planning permission thing), have converted garden to mostly fruit/veg/herbs (and adding a chicken coop & underground rainwater collection tank with filtration setup & greywater irrigation for garden). Luckily, we can afford this (slowly!) which gives a big advantage.

I also add that Wife-the-shaman can highly recommend bamboo socks as very comfy and durable, even in the Amazon rainforest!


Of course, the six hours of sunlight a day in the winter @ 55N is balanced by the ~21 hours of sunlight a day in the summer. Which might work well, what with the AC power demands in your summer hours.

I'm basing my understanding of summer sunlight on Edmonton, Alberta, which is at 53N.


It's late and I'm tired, so I'll sum up my response to Charlie's response (which is a lot like my response, with an irreducible amount of coach travel to work in place of his plane travel) thus:

Balveda at the feast.


@1: Seems like not buying new cars could be more of a problem. It stops people ditching their old inefficient cars for new more efficient or EV/hybrid ones. Look at the cash for clunkers program. A better idea would be to ban the cars that fall below a specific efficiency rating and or putting in some kind of tax on upgrading to a new car that doesn't have better efficacy than your old one (or a incentive to do so such as cash for clunkers but continuously, a reduction on road tax for a period of time or something). That would also give incentives for the car companies to make more efficient cars.

@34: One thing to remember is that coal plants take 30 years to build where as wind/solar is much quicker to assemble and could probably see a return on investment before then (solar is around 7 years, not sure about wind). Don't know how long coal takes to RTOI.

I have problems with a lot of the individual eco reduce your footprint 'solutions'. I think efforts would be spent much better with people demanding large changes that improve things, such as alternate energy, legislation such as banning incandescent bulbs, regulating businesses, proper carbon trading systems, ensuring new buildings are more energy efficient with things like greenroofs and solar or wind power, getting government incentives for things like solar and EVs. Insuring that plastics sold are somehow biodegradable or recyclable and don't create much CO2 when produced, tax or ban ones that aren't.

If putting a brick in the toilet is actually going to help, why not get them to reduce the capacity of toilets (does it help when most of them have a low flush setting anyway? Could we see more water usage in the long run from people who have to reflush?).

Does reducing air travel actually help? The plane will fly with or without you on it. Will it burn less fuel without the weight of 1 puny human and their luggage? The only way it seems like it would help is if enough people skipped a flight that the airline merged it with another. Seems like it would be better to push for maglev trains for inner country travel, probably quicker when you take into account getting checked in and flight delays. Or push for alternative fuel on planes (this is likely happening anyway since it will save airlines money).

People tend to fly because they have legitimate reasons too. They need to for their job, ect... People who don't have reason to fly will tend to do it rarely anyway, go and see relatives or for the occasional holiday.

Why do we get people to put solar panels on their house? Or put them on public things such as on street lights or by the road. It's purely greenwashing so the government can get reelected or people can feel good about themselfs and show off to the neighbors. It would be much better to get people to 'adopt' a solar panel on a solar farm for their house, or the government to adopt enough to power all the street lights. A solar farm can be built in more ideal conditions ensuring it gets better light (or wind). It's going to use less resources to build 1 big solar farm than a large number of smaller solar panels for each individual structure. Maintenance is going to be much better, you don't have to drive around and clean every single street light, people at home don't have to call in the electrician when their inverter blows. Obviously for offgrid its needed but most solar installs won't work off grid since they are more expensive and could be dangerous for workers fixing power. There might be some advantages to reducing load on the grid but thats not eco related.

If your solution requires a large number/majority of people to implement it to see decent gains, then its not going to happen. Most people won't care enough to do so, and many others won't be able to for various reasons.

In the end even with all that there is still China and their massive CO2 emissions (although considering there are 2 billion of them and they make most of the worlds crap, its somewhat understandable).

Much of this seems to reinforce bad habits anyway. Such as someone who turns off the lights (and save money) feeling good about themselfs only to drive to work in a SUV. The best solutions are the ones that make economic sense.


Feorag @14:
"Reject imported wine and fancy foreign lagers and drink hand-pulled real ales and traditional cider instead"

And drink UK wine only?


@48: Yes. The wine growing regions are changing as we speak. So drinking UK wine only might not be such a noble sacrifice after all.


@47: Most of the arguments I've seen for putting PV panels on people's rooftops boil down to the idea/fact that there is an awful, awful lot of unused land space in the form of roofs. Enough to make some people positively salivate.

@Charlie: A lot of those restrictions on building don't really seem to make much sense. How on Earth would the fundamental appearance of the building or it's structure be affected by putting in double-glazed windows or insulation? Of course, 2-3 feet of stone is pretty good insulation already...and not only do I live in the US, I live in a city which is notorious for building over historical buildings as fast as it can.

@45: I seriously, seriously doubt he has an AC system. First: 150+ year old listed building. Second: Edinburgh. Relatively Maritime climate compared to Edmonton, so more average temperatures (warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer). Third: Europe. The concept of the AC seems to be unknown over there, if the scads of stories every summer about people dying of heat in their own houses are to be believed.


Wouldn't the best solution for Edinburgh to supply electricity using renewables, like wind?

Citywide, perhaps it's time to dust off ideas of placing a dome over the city to regulate the temperature?

The idea that cutting energy for its own sake is pointless. The focus should be on efficiency, substitutions to low energy goods and services and the move to non-fossil fuel energy sources.


Flying? My job involves interviewing people the length of New Zealand, a country the same length as the UK. I've managed to keep this to two flights so far this year, the rest has been video-conferencing. I can have a two hour meeting with someone in Auckland that takes precisely two hours out of my day. Flying means I leave house an hour before the flight, 45 mins on the plane, hour into Aucks, two hour meeting, repeat on the return trip and that's a whole day gone.

Videoconferencing is a massive saver of time, as well as carbon.

And when we invite UK speakers over to conferences here, more and more want to use videoconf. This saves us the air fare and them the jetlag (although they might have to be awake at 3 am to give their talk).

But yes, while A380s are most shiny, aircraft themselves aren't going to get more efficient at any rate that's going to help. There's always been a push for low-emissions aircraft, coz there's always been a push for fuel-efficient aircraft and fuel is about a third of the cost of running an airline. Despite that major commercial imperative, jet airliners have only managed to improve fuel efficiency by around 1% per year. Given that the global total of miles flown is going up by 5-6% per year (recessionary blips notwithstanding), then it's clear that more efficient aircraft will have approximately bugger all effect upon aviation emissions.

Only two factors are going to reduce aviation emissions. One is less flying, through more telepresence or increased costs through carbon prices or oil prices. The other is some kind of unforseen step change in aviation technology. It might be biofuels, but it'll have to be second-generation biofuels derived from fibre, not food, plants. First gen won't cut it, despite being proven technology, for the simple reason that to get a 747 across the Atlantic on coconut oil takes about three million coconuts. It might be synthetic fuel, if we've spare electricity from wind/hydro/nukes. It probably won't be hydrogen, coz we'd have to halve the passenger capacity of planes to make up for the bulky liquid hydrogen tanks. It might be nuclear-powered stratocruisers, provided... ah hell, it won't be nuclear-powered stratocruisers, cool though they might be.

Oh, and NZ con is in Wellington, do drop by for a cup of tea. The zero-cost to heat, zero-emission house should be built by then.

(And about those other issues that don't matter a damn compared with flying:
Last time I lived in England with sash windows, I used the clear plastic film inside all the windows that I wasn't going to be opening. And given that I was in Teeside in winter, that was most of them. This is allowed in listed buildings and makes a major difference to heating costs, comfort, and condensation. (http://www.window-insulation-film.co.uk/)

They already make bamboo clothing, it's very comfy. (http://www.bambooclothing.co.uk/category/for+him)

And you're right that there's a natural rate of turnover of capital stock, whether that's cisterns and toilet bowls or blast furnaces. Lowest environmental impact comes from considering both fixed costs of changing and variable costs of not changing. However, to do this kind of analysis requires an info base about what the carbon footprint of a new ceramic cistern is. Developing this kind of info is a rapidly growing new industry.)


You really should read without hot air alex. -industrial civilization uses a lot of power, and while it is theoretically possible to erect enough turbines + pumped storage to meet most demand, the scale of engineering required is completely bonkers and would constitute enviormental vandalism in itself, which effectively means that a policy of relying on wind and other renewables turns into a policy of continuing to burn gas and coal.

This is not a small problem, and even opting for the brute force method of "replace all power stations with nukes and electric mountains" is going to require a concerted effort on a massive scale. For one thing, the world is not educating nearly enough nuclear engineers for that at the moment.


Others have already mentioned the small issue about NZ NatCon's timing. I'd just like to point out that the flights involved may not be to Wellington (although direct is possible from Melbourne), MEL-CHC-surface-AKL-MEL is one option. Emirate's A380s continue on to AKL from SYD, they still use A340s MEL-AKL.

Weather this week has been typical early spring - changable, mild.

I'm now mentally going through my dossing options in Wgtn (prior to heading to Melbourne - I'm in Akl).


10%. Right, yes, that should do it. Planet saved.

This doesn't seem efficient. You have a comparative advantage writing books. Would it not be best to write books and use your earnings to pay someone who is good at reducing carbon emissions?


Francois @42

Paying cash and having no debts works against you in the UK as well. I've managed to avoid paying the banks insane interest rates for most of my life (I have a credit card, which, for six years I paid off in full at each statement - the 'credit limit' stayed frozen at the original -low- level all that time. I missed paying off in full two months in a six month period and got extremely hammered over the interest and the 'credit limit' tripled). We bought a home three years ago (fiscally lousy timing but necessary) and to get a mortgage had to go to a 'sub prime' or second tier lender to get one which is TWO times our annual income with a 35% deposit.

On energy saving which is the reason for the thread I replaced every light in the place with fluorescents - about half are daylight spectrum ones which actually appear brighter then their 'normal' CF equivalents plus LED downlighters in the bathroom I ran an energy audit against the previous lighting. Over the past three years the money saved, (including the cost of the lights) using CF and LED has paid for the insulation of the, effectively uninsulated, loft (30cm) and there's cash over towards either double glazing or replacement boiler.


Just a thought, If you pay for a flight then don't actually get on the plane. Does it count towards your CO2 emissions?


— Use LED or fluorescent lights where you currently have halogen lights installed 0.1

In progress: we're at 80% fluorescent, but the bathroom is socketed for halogens.

This is one of the almost meaningless ones. We have the EU pushing us towards higher efficiency lighting—the usual suspect newspapers are complaining about the banning of 100-watt hot-filament bulbs—and the likelihood is that most people have already done this. I'm not sure that halogen bulbs are so commonplace, even if they beloved of the un-naturally uncluttered school of home design and advertising.

Anyway, I don't want a halogen downlighter so I can display my phlosque. I want to read a book.

But LED replacements for some types of halogen lamp are appearing. More efficient, yes, but will they match the light output and physical size of the halogens they replace?

Anyway, there's a lot in the list which is impractical, and too much which only works if you've never even bothered until now. I wonder how much is in the list just to hit the magical 10%?


Feorag @14:
"Reject imported wine and fancy foreign lagers and drink hand-pulled real ales and traditional cider instead"
Then Soon Lee @48:
And drink UK wine only?

If the climate warms enough they'll probably be able to produce a nice domestic drop.


Michael H @39: on air travel -- only about 30% of the cost relates to fuel prices. If the cost of oil triples, the price of a flight doubles; if the cost of oil goes up by an order of magnitude (we're talking $500-$1000 a barrel here!) flights will still only cost four times as much as they do at present: it'd kill the budget holiday market, but it won't shut down commercial aviation.

(And the cost of oil won't go up by an order of magnitude, even if we have to switch to 100% renewable/biofuel sources.)

Francois: I have a policy of occasionally taking out an interest-free loan for a piece of consumer gadgetry, and repaying it early (to avoid the interest, but more importantly, to level up my credit rating). It seems to work, insofar as I got a mortgage in 2006 as a full-time novelist (ho ho, hee hee).

Rob @45: the flip side is, we mostly don't need air conditioning in summer. (I've got a portable unit for the office; it's switched on maybe 2-3 days a year, for a few hours at a time, and only because I can't work if it's over 22 degrees: I need ice in my environment.) Aircon isn't really a useful facility in Scotland.

H3g3m0n: "coal plants take 30 years to build" -- where do you get that from?!?

Soon Lee @48: the grape buying zone in this hemisphere seems to be moving north -- there are now vineyards as far north as Yorkshire producing almost-passable wine, and they're getting better every year. Meanwhile, the denizens of Bordeaux are apparently extremely worried about warming ...

Alex @50: re. power for Edinburgh, I think we should be dusting off the plans for the "C" and "D" reactors at the Torness complex, just down the road.


Found this list and your public answers were interesting, especially because of the punch line (I'm professionally interested in environmental sociology, and your list nicely shows what decisions about "eco-conscious lifestyles" are on the individual, what hangs on political regulations (grade 1 house, solar panels, ...), what hangs on geographical context (Edinburgh) - and what can't be done on the individual level, but needs serious political involvement (lower carbon emissions from flights massively)).

One minor correction: hemp jeans and bamboo t-shirts are already there (as well as stinging nettel cotton replacement), and at least the later two do feel good.


H3g3m0n @49
No need for a ban - a simple graded purchase/registration carbon tax on cars, based on CO2 emissions would do the trick, especially as fuel prices rise - engines with high CO2 are largely powerful/expensive vehicles anyway, and account for a small percentage of total vehicles on the road (figures unsurprisingly hard to locate, but as a rule-of-thumb example I'd be surprised if BMW don't sell 100 2.0l diesels for every 3.0l petrol, all ranges taken together). Big-engined expensive cars attract hair-shirt ire, but are responsible for a negligible proportion of automotive emissions, compared to empty urban buses or delivery trucks that are only full on one leg of the round trip...

Charlie @1,et al,
I'd be all for the various investments to improve the fuel efficiency of my house, if I wasn't a)in a property market still in a state of downhill plunge, b)wasn't looking to move in the next few years once things slow down because I need more room, and may finally be able to afford cost-to-move and c)was confident the capital investment to bring the house up to spec (probably north of €10k) would be factored into the price I'd get for it on sale - to which I refer you to a) above. Put bluntly, there's no incentive, on a personal economic level, to spend money on any of that work, unless I'm going to be in the property long enough to see return-on-invest, or it gets factored into the price I can get when I sell on (right now it isn't - location is number 1, square footage and a snazzy kitchen are probably number 2 and 3, I suspect it falls near the teens).

Much of this list is aspirational or (grow your own veg/wash in a basin) hairshirt non-starter stuff that will never make it beyond the outlier fringe, as many have pointed out. I remember hearing in conversation once that it's virtually impossible to take something away from Joe Public in a short timescale without offering an alternative that works at least as well or better - not without revolution/war/disaster, at any rate. I know that there's an argument that the latter is coming, if we don't act, but that's "tomorrow", not today. So, the real question is, how can we shift the debate from lazy eco-puritanism to creative solutions akin to the success of flouro/LED lighting? Incentives for eco-entrepreneurship or R&D?


@64 addendum
My automotive example is, of course, based on the European experience. For the US, YMMV (in several respects...)


1, 2, 3...break! Or rant.

My objections are rolled up in the fact they're *proud* of recycling, or more accurately downcycling, a B737 into silly PR trinkets. That's like tearing up paintings to make pizza delivery flyers. And there's the style as well; Daisy, 16, smugging on the front of the Grauniad with her GROW VEG ON THE BALCONY sign. I take it you've worked out how much CO2eq that's going to save?

Here in Victorian N19, I did the CFL swapout last winter; the place actually leaks like a sieve and there are desperate Brazilian shoplifters with more insulation and soundproofing (thank god it's only me with the rapidshare remix habit in here...). I'm actually thinking of going ape with a sealant gun before the winter sets in.

If anyone's up for a committee to weatherise North London...now London Hackerspace has got a building it's a potential base.

I'm concerned about my lappy, which is a power hog under linux; apparently KDE4.2 fixes the bug in knotify4 that causes it to generate hundreds of gratuitous wakeups a second, but if anyone knows how to make the screen brightness controls work...


I'm interested in the energy cost of replacing existing goods vs the projected energy consumption differential to their expected end of life.

I have a CRT HDTV that is essentially used as a DVD display. It's 5 years old and will probably last another 5. At what point does replacing it with an LCD actually provide a net benefit, even assuming that it will be efficiently recycled at end of life?

Similarly a desktop computer tends to have a longer lifespan than a laptop. The video card is about the only component that I would expect to usefully upgrade in the next few years, especially as GPU computing gives me more bang per buck.


There's a new excellent-looking book on this subject just out if anyone's interested: http://www.thamesandhudson.com/en/1/9780500287903.mxs?13bfa0ce3b2936e12abc003aae0ec276&0&0&0


Mike W: It depends if you leave the thing switched on all the time -- or on standby, if it has an inefficient standby mode: lots of CRT tubes don't power down fully in standby and suck a surprising amount of juice. (LCDs: as I understand it, most of the power drain is in running the backlight. If the backlight is off, that's 90% of the power drain saved to start with.)

You can test this with a watt meter. If you're sucking 100 watts when running and 80 in standby, it's a good bet that you need to invest in (a) using the "off" switch or (b) getting an LCD TV with an efficient power-saving mode. And using the "off" switch (rather than a power-hungry standby mode) is probably your best bet, unless you watch DVDs for more than 6 hours a day.

Good point wrt. desktops v. laptops. On the other hand: desktop CPUs tend to be a lot more power hungry. And on the gripping hand, if you drive (for average milage values of "drive"), your choice of computer makes barely any difference at all to your carbon footprint, compared to your choice of vehicle engine size/type. Unless you insist on Cray :)


Flying makes up the bulk of your carbon emissions charlie, and as someone says above, video conferencing can be an effective replacement for that. But some of these cons etc will want something more than that - so what about a hologram? I seem to remember bill gates appearing in hologram form at some conference or other a year ago - hows about a 9 ft charlie stross hologram looming over the conference (actually that might be a little scary :>)


Like you, I read that article and went "already done most of that". I've never had a car, don't have a TV (and hence no related standby appliances), and don't have to fly for work. I gave up doing so for pleasure after travelling Ryanair on the way to the 2006 Eastercon.

Home is seventies-era, so I've been able to do some of the things that you can't. I don't have PV or solar water heating, but given the small size of my roof and the direction it points (not south) I am unsure they are worth the trouble.

Something that is interesting in the UK is npower's "Juice" electricity tarrif, where they undertake to supply as much renewable electricity to the network as a whole as you buy from them; obviously they can't supply you specifically with specifically renewable energy through the network. They might be splitting hairs, buying electricity from renewable suppliers rather than generating it themselves, and counting that, but it's something.

I get the impression from most of the Guardian's greenness articles they they are writing for people who don't use science or arithmetic in their everyday lives, and ehnce can't rationally convince themselves of the problem of climate change. Hence the semi-religious aspect: humans have that built in.


"out of sight, out of mind" is the conventional wisdom, but do we know whether it's true? I haven't met an author for more than a decade, but I don't read any less as a result. Globe-trotting authors are a pretty recent phenomenon, with the increased affordability of inter-continental travel.


Nick Barnes: "I haven't met an author for more than a decade, but I don't read any less as a result"

I think that's not the right way to put it - the question is whether you'd be willing to read^Wbuy more books if their publishers had a habit of inviting authors here and there to do some promoting mojo. Now, what depresses me is that, allegedly, including authors in the marketing campaign does not actually cause a significant boost in sales (which is a crying shame, because I personally enjoy meeting authors and I've bought at least one book of every writer I've seen live). Perhaps the data is faulty, as my sources are limited, but for now I don't see any reason why the experience of these particular publishers should not reflect a more general tendency.

If somebody wants to pat me on the head and say that inviting authors for promotion works just fine elsewhere, please do.


Nick: you're a reader. I'm talking about getting out and meeting (a) the marketing and sales folk who sell my books to the bookstores, and (b) the enthusiastic fans who are willing to travel hundreds if not thousands of miles to see their favourite authors (and who do a pretty good job of selling them to their friends, without being paid).

A different can of worms is the problem with our current copyright system (broken in too many ways to enumerate here) and the need for authors to look to alternative ways of maximizing their revenue ... like public speaking. Not getting into that here, other than to add that I believe Cory Doctorow earns more from speaking engagements than from writing ... and he's a New York Times bestseller. (The threshold for reaching bestseller status is frighteningly lower than most people imagine.)


willdanceforpasties@69: perhaps you can explain how you sign books over a videoconferencing system? Or do all the other face-to-face stuff which is why people like to have real live authors at their conventions, rather than just holding them in Second Life.

Plus, aviation has been falsely painted as the villain here, even though it produces a tiny percentage of our emissions (and that percentage gets smaller all the time, because engine manufacturers are always incrementally improving their products). If we were to use the real carbon contributors in your example, why don't you just pretend to eat rather than eating actual food?


I find most of these conservation calls misguided, for the same reason you do, Charlie.

My wife and I are already below half the per capita emissions level for the US, just because we live in an apartment and drive one car. Which makes most of the improvements they list impossible (can't modify a building I don't own). I could get a more efficient car next time I buy, and probably will -- simply because it's cheaper per mile and there are more options in the US now.

I also find a lot of these calls fail to take into account geography and climate. For instance, it's probably a lot less environmentally friendly for Europeans to use cotton that it is for Americans or Africans -- just because it grows here not there. Likewise, eating locally grown food is a lot easier in a place like Florida, where I used to live, than it is in Connecticut. Connecticut's growing season is about 4 months, for a single crop. Florida has a year-round growing season for 2 or 3 crops. Likewise, growing wheat and corn in Connecticut is not the best best use for our rather limited arable land.


Andrew G: Also note, calls for certain types of conservation are irrelevant in some areas. Take water conservation, for example: here in Scotland, there's no shortage of the stuff. Down south in England it's another matter, especially in the south-east, but? Conserving it up here isn't going to magically teleport it to where it's useful. (For that, we need to build canals or a national water grid.)

As for eating locally grown food, a friend of mine who's heavily into the subject spent a month early this year running the Fife Diet -- i.e. living on only stuff that can be obtained locally (in Fife, just over the river from here). He nearly ended up with some interesting vitamin deficiency diseases before he gave up ...

I think the real lesson here is that preaching the quasi-religious message is no substitute for collective action on a large, probably taxpayer-funded (or tax-break enabled) scale.


I have definitely seen a "distance signer" for exactly this purpose! it was in the news a few months ago, sorry am in a rush so no link. anyway it was made for exactly this, seemed to me to be pretty cool. But as you say, holograms may not be the best for interacting with people, may be just giving speeches - but it would introduce a wow factor.

as for air miles - I was focussing solely on charlies carbon contributions, in which air travel is clearly the lions share. I haven't done the sums but I would think that one flight would pretty much result in the same emissions as all the non flight stuff combined.


@76: I agree with Charlie, except...

I'm a Californian, and we've got this interesting statewide water system that makes all of southern California cities possible. Now there's a fairly major drought up north (where they used to have "too much water") and we've got a statewide water crisis. Mark Twain famously noted that in the west, "Whiskey's for drinking, and water's for fighting over." And it's NOT a joke. Water makes for interesting politics, and I recommend watching "Chinatown" again if you disagree.

That's one of the bigger arguments, I think, for trying to live locally as much as possible, wherever you are in the world. If southeast England needs water, it is (or will be) Scotland's problem, unless you've got more voters and political clout to keep your water up north. Ditto with food supplies.

Oddly enough, a lot of Scots managed to live on the "Fife Diet," at least until technology made it cheap to import food. I know what you mean about the problems with living locally, and I'd note that one of the huge problems is the lack of storage space so that things can be bought when surplus and stored (canned) until needed.

In any case, this doesn't solve the problem of flying for work. I still think a yearly zeppelin cruise is the way to go, but I bet that flying across the Atlantic to land the zeppelin in New Jersey might be a little scary for some.


It is more carbon efficient to send authors to fans than the other way around. Though it'd be interesting for someone to try to build a mixed reality or heavily tele-conferenced con that is happens simultaneously in several cities.

Also that list of "actions" seemed very American to me as it focuses on easy personal actions and totally ignores the need for organized collective action.

If I recall the UK has a fairly sizable off-shore wind potential, but they keep getting blocked by people who think it'll spoil the view.

I don't know how pragmatic the Transition Town people are, but a larger group might have a better chance at lobbying your local government to change the rules so you can at least have double glazed windows. An organized group might also be able to build community geothermal for heating/cooling as the drilling equipment has a large up-front cost. Also I don't know if it's actually necessary in your environment given your pre-automobile neighborhood, or even if it meets your cities historical preservation guidelines by having most of the equipment underground.

On the other hand the local US low-carbon groups seem mostly filled with anti-technology hippies, and I think I'd prefer living in a sealed colony if I get to keep my drug of choice (MMO).


Zeppelin-punk solution for a low carbon footprint:
1. Construct a zeppelin, lifted by hydrogen gas.
2. Fix solar panels to the top of the Gas Envelope
3. Convert the cabin into a small living space
4. Fix moisture intakes onto the bottom of the cabin
5. Fly around and absorb clouds, using the electricity from the solar panels to electrolize (yeah, spelled that all kinds of wrong) the cloud moisture into more hydrogen!


Charlie, have you considered or do you use a carbon offset scheme to counter your flying? From what I have read, the whole offset thing is part-con, part-shellgame, BUT if you have to fly a lot (and I agree you probably do, at leas for now), then at least you can say you are making some effort to mitigate the effect of your air travel. I buy carbon offsets whenever I travel by air, which is considerably more often than I would choose to, except our clients are mostly in Silicon Valley and we are a UK company.


Another thing is heating & cooling technologies, which you have to consider when you're talking about setting the thermostat to save energy. Up here in the New England, most homes have window mounted AC units that cool a single room. Back in Florida, almost every house and apartment had central AC -- which is much more efficient. I used less energy cooling my apartment in Florida during the summer than I do up here in New England -- and I kept the apartment colder in Florida (which was also about 15% hotter outside).

Conversely, up here most houses have rather efficient heating systems even if they are a bit dated. Down in Florida, for the few times you needed heat it was mostly forced air heated by electric power through the AC vents -- much less efficient.


Kevin, I don't do the carbon-offset thing for exactly the reason you raise in your second sentence: it's 90% scam. And for the 10% that aren't ... how am I going to tell if the folks I've handed £50 to plant trees in Vanuatu or somewhere are doing the job, or trousering the dosh and laughing at me?

I want to see some sort of audit and certification scheme. Then I'll consider it.

Andrew G: here in the UK, most houses have central heating -- a natural gas burning boiler that heats water that is then pumped through (thermostat controlled) radiators in each room. Individual rooms can be turned on and off or set to different temperatures. Because of the price of energy here, we tend to be more efficient than in the US -- I've seen those hot-air blowing furnaces and I'm not impressed. (On the other hand, I'll grant you that hot-water central heating is a plumber's dream ticket.)


@82 But there is that 10%. And there ARE accounting schemes. A few seconds research will turn up this (thanks Wikipedia):

"Accounting systems differ on precisely what constitutes a valid offset for voluntary reduction systems and for mandatory reduction systems. However formal standards for quantification exist based on collaboration between emitters, regulators, environmentalists and project developers. These standards include the Voluntary Carbon Standard, Green-e Climate, Chicago Climate Exchange and the CDM Gold Standard, the latter of which expands upon the requirements for the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol."

Virgin Atlantic, for example, uses the Gold Standard methodology. It's good enough for me to spend a few pounds of my hard-earned.


Very interesting stuff.
I'm sat on a ship at an offshore windfarm waiting for the wind to die down so we can continue putting in the foundations! Personally i don't think wind is the way forward for generation as it stops when it's too calm (and uses power then) and stops when it's too windy! Also it's incredibly expensive. What about the carbon footprint of us building the things as well?

By the way i stick to British beers/ciders but the wines at bit expensive at the moment (but tastes good).


I already do the parts of this that I can. I own a condo -- everything inside the walls of my unit -- so I can't do anything to the building or property without getting permission from all owners. At this point, we have a lot of absent owners (mostly with renters in their units) so I can't do that.

The fluorescent bulbs in my bathrooms are 21 years old, although one is starting to blink more when it turns on (too old for electronic ballast). All the other bulbs are newer fluorescents. I have low-flush toilets and if I wanted to take them lower, I wouldn't put a brick in (particles in the pipes), I'd use a water-filled milk jug.

My minivan is 22.5 years old and would have barely qualified for the "Cash for Clunkers" program that just finished. If Dianne Feinstein's version of the bill had passed -- could buy used cars with better performance -- I would have done it, but I can't afford a new van. When the current minivan dies, I'll buy a 4-6 year-old minivan, even though it will probably have a lot more mileage than mine does. I need the van, I'm disabled and we have lousy public transportation for gimps.

Local food? I can't cook most days, I'd just waste it. I do "assemble" -- sandwiches, noodles, etc. -- but I also use frozen meals. (Well, I have neighbors who grow some veggies and they usually bring me a couple tomatoes a week.)



Older apartment buildings in the US - the aged low-rise brick buildings found in many older cities - usually have the same basic kind of central heating system. I remember the radiators in my student apartment in Chicago with a mixture of nostalgia and disgust. (Thermostats? You jest. Temperature controls were a rotating knob which never seemed to work anywhere between ON and OFF.)

I'm sure they're less common here because a greater proportion of the buildings are newer. We seem to compulsively tear everything down and build it up all over again a lot more than our UK or EU cousins.


I'm pretty sure that 1foot+ stone walls are at least as good an insulator as anything else. ISTR working my way through the equations once in a supervision at University and discovering that (in the Mathematician's classic uniform doorless/windowless room) about 40cm of stone was sufficient to keep one side at constant temp +/- 1°c while the other varied over a 1 year time frame from 30°c to 0°c or something like that.

Almost certainly by working from home (I do too) your carbon footprint is miniscule compared to the average grauniad journalist commuting in from Hampstead or Islington, if not some more distant leafy London dormitory town.

And there is of course this very depressing viewpoint - http://www.grist.org/article/2009-08-23-the-fallacy-of-climate-activism/ - which I think can be summed up as "90% of humanity needs to die pronto and the rest live like medieval peasants or we're all DOOMED"


Charlie @62:
The same issue is exercising the minds of not just grapegrowers in New Zealand. Being a predominantly agricultural nation, changes in climate is a hot topic.

Feorag @74:
There's the tele-autograph or Margaret Atwood's Longpen. But I agree, it's just not the same.

Taken to its logical extreme, the best thing we could do to reduce carbon emissions is to kill everyone off. After all, the mere act of respiring produces CO2, and who are these SUV driving jet-setters? Yes, it's the live people.


The apartment I'm renting now (southwest England, ~10 years old, purpose-built low-rise) doesn't have a useful thermostat. The gas boiler has an uncalibrated scale to set the radiator system temperature, and the radiators have a useless scale (frost-prevention, then 1 through MAX). I can set a time schedule for the system to be on or off, but no way to set the desired temperature directly.

Clearly, I'd rectify this omission if I owned, but I don't, and as I'm an expat my employer is paying the utility bill anyhow. But it's still silly. (Of course, it's possible that my unit is the exception that proves the rule, in which case I'd be interested in knowing that.)

Re LEDs -- please do let us know how those work. Are the ones you've bought the same dimensions as the halogens? I've got some LED GU-10s, and they would probably be just fine for a bathroom, but a) they're not quite as bright as the halogens they replaced, and b) they're longer and so won't fit in my kitchen or bathroom GU-10 fixtures.


Charlie, just thought I should mention that there are low energy halogen bulb replacements. They fit in exactly the same sockets (maybe a smiggen longer) and have given me some good service. Gradually replacing as the orginials burn out.

In addition why are wood burners illegal in Edinburgh? I am assuming a similar 'smokeless zone' as they have here in Bristol. This is more a matter of burner selection, as there are certified 'smokeless' wood and multi-fuel burners. However the cost is significant, in large part due to having to either line, or rebuild the brick lining of, the chimney. Having said that the the 'smokeless' burners are also far more efficient in their use of fuel, using a heat exchanger that pre-heats the incoming air before it hits the burner box.

Thanks for the review of thoughts. I am going to be facing a few years of regular Australia/UK flights so I am going to have to do some offset research for something that actually makes a difference, (having said that looking forward to my first flight on the A380 in November).


I am broadly in sympathy with the commentary about the tokenism of much of the specific guidance that has been associated with the 10:10 campaign, but I think there is some virtue in it all the same.

As has been said many times (here and elsewhere), we won't get any traction with the whole AGW issue until we start doing the sort of things that require coordination at regional, national and international levels. Indeed that is basically what all the accusations of tokenism we've been slinging around boil down to. The problem we have as a society is that what our political class see for themselves on this issue is nothing but pain (whether it be intense lobbying from fossil interests, assorted NIMBY campaigns, the massed ranks of the Clarksonista petrolheads, fuel poverty people, Mr Outraged of Holiday-home-in-spain etc etc).

Naturally, being rational creatures who don't want to experience pain, they shy away from putting into effect the sort of substantive measures that we all know are going to have to be done (either sooner in a measured and controlled, risk averse sort of way; or later in a panicked 'all hands on deck, who cares about the risks JFDI' sort of way).

What I believe the 10:10 people are trying to do is to demonstrate to our political class that a constituency for change actually exists amongst relatively mainstream people and to provide some evidence to them that there might actually be some gain that can be reaped (by suitably forward thinking politicos) to help offset the pain that they fear. So yes, in terms of what the 10:10 pledgees are signing up to do it is tokenistic and trivial, but the decimation of our carbon footprint in a year isn't actually what the campaign is trying to achieve. The act of decimation is the proof that the campaign is offering to our politicians that there is a constituency out there who recognise that there is a problem, are willing to engage/make sacrifices in order to try to solve the problem and who will reward those politicians who show leadership in respect of the problem.

The 10:10 people know that 'the personal is political' stuff isn't enough, it's the lever they have chosen in order to try effect/accellerate change at the higher levels where the problem is going to be solved (if indeed it will be solved at all). Personally I am pessimistic as to whether their analysis is correct (in terms of the size/influence of the target constituency they aspire to mobilise) but I can't fault them for trying.

WRT Charlie's Listed Bulding Syndrome - we have a milder dose of that ourselves (late Victorian house in a conservation area) so similar issues arise. Fr'instance when we included a solar thermal panel on the south-facing pitch of our roof in a recent planning application, the conservation officer disallowed it because it would be visible from the street, but very graciously approved one on the garden-side pitch of the roof (ie facing NNE). This sort of nonsense is going to have to change of course, but the wheels of local government planning directives turn exceeeding slow. Meanwhile we'll be appealling that aspect of our application in the hope that we can move things an inch or two in the right direction.

WRT Charlie's single glazed sash-windows issue, there is at least one outfit that offers double-glazed units (or triple, I forget) that are approved for listed buildings - indeed ISTR they have installed into historical buildings regulated by English Heritage (which is a whole extra layer of hoops to jump through). I don't have any of the price details at my fingertips (that's the province of my better half) but I don't recall them as being outrageously more expensive than less rigorous solutions.

Getting a power meter for instant feedback on what you're drawing is definitely worthwhile IMO. I got bought a Wattson by my g/f a couple of birthdays back - it scratched her 'looks nice design-wise' itch and my 'ooh ooh a gadget that measures things and gives me stats' itch. I like playing the 'how low can I go?' game before turning in. My best score to date is 4w, but I can get it down below 20w most nights.

Viv@34: That's Jerome Guillet. He's been doing energy project finance for upwards of a couple of decades now, so he knows his onions. His main schtick these days is financing wind turbine arrays, but he's been around the block a few times on pipeline projects and, as a French technocrat, he can give you a good perspective on civil nuclear too. Also as a denizen of the boring end of investment banking he has had some pointed comments to make about the wilder reaches of his trade. Worth following IMO.

Charlie@62: Two more Concorde-a-like AGRs at Torness? Given where we are, wouldn't going with something like EPR would be a more sensible approach? Of course this also assumes that the SNP get a clue energy-wise before the end of the next electoral cycle and get Areva in to put together a proposal. Maybe they could gin up some Auld Alliance malarky to make it more palatable to the maudlin celt tendency in your neck of the woods.

Martin @64: The problem of payback/ROI for energy saving improvements is being looked at (in the UK at least). One suggestion to address this is to introduce loan instruments which would be tied to (and transfer with) title of property. Seems like a no brainer to me, but then I'm not a conveyancing solicitor...



Experience suggests that I, personally, wouldn't buy more books if their authors were out and about. I might buy the books slightly earlier, but I end up buying them anyway. I used to be one of those irritating readers who turn up at signings with well-thumbed copies.

Possible contradictory anecdote: I am working my way through Adam Roberts' books on the basis of recently moving to Staines and seeing a display in the Waterstones: "local author", etc. But I haven't turned up to any of his signings (and I probably would have given up if I'd started on anything but "Yellow Blue Tibia").

On the other hand, I am definitely more likely to choose books by authors who have an active and interesting web presence. Which is why I picked up 'Halting State' today.

Of course we should have better libraries and a better-funded PLR. My daughter is inhaling the teen fiction section of the Surrey library system, because I can't afford her new-book habit as well as my own. I feel a slight guilt about it because of the weakness of the PLR, and I like your idea for collectively buying off copyright.

On aircraft engineers, there's precious little they can do. They've been squeezing more efficiency out of their engines for decades, driven by powerful commercial interests (more efficient engines means more range and higher carrying capacity, as well as lower fuel bills). There just might be another 20%, but we'll never see jet engines twice as fuel-efficient as today's. So urging people to ride the latest super-efficient jets is just dumb fanboi-ism for new aircraft. To the extent that it offers a salve for the conscience of travellers, it might well be counter-productive advice.

Oh, and Tony Blair is a liar and an idiot.


@ 94
Tony B. Liar is a CHRISTIAN - what did you expect?

As for efficiency & waste ....
Look EVERY cio=ouncil in Britain now operates a waste-collection and recycling site which will accept almost anything, and they will deal with it.
Yet ...
people STILL fly-tip, and dump waste materials on the street and in country lanes...

Until you can cure this sort of stupidity, you are nowhere near winning the "war" on economical use of resources.....


Am I the only person who likes the 10:10 idea? Tell people they need to cut their emissions by 50% and they laugh at you. But 10% over a year is entirely feasible, followed by 1% every year after that with plenty of time to progressively phase in new ideas (or just replace inefficient stuff as it gets old).

Charlie, you could almost argue that your air travel is "work" and somewhat out of your control. But leaving that aside: excluding air travel, can you reduce your carbon footprint by 10% in the next year without the hair shirt? It sounds like you can. I'm keen to try this myself, but my carbon pattern is so different from a the British norm that I've have to work out a starting point (100% renewable electricity already, for instance).

BTW I'll join the queue to buy you a drink when you're in NZ; I'm in Auckland.


Feòrag@74: Aviation is 6% of UK emissions, but the problem here is the rate of growth. That percentage isn't 'getting smaller all the time', it more than doubled since 1990.

Engine manufacturers have been working their balls off since the 1940s to cut the fuel consumption of jet engines (being an ex-metallurgist, I could bore everyone to tears by talking about materials for turbine blades here). Those manufacturers have delivered improvements, but the improvements are tiny (1% per year) compared with the growth in flying.

The real problem is that it's growing, globally, at 6% a year (9% a year for the UK since the 1960s). That fact makes a mockery of efficiency improvements. Emissions from aviation are going up when emissions from every other sector are going down and we have no solution today, other than to fly less.

Here's the canonical report summarising these numbers, chapter 2 has the growth rates:
"Contraction & Convergence: UK carbon emissions and the implications for UK air traffic"


And Charlie@74, I do agree with your distinction between readers and fans: I used to be an active fan - CUSFS secretary, running cons, all that - but then life intervened, and I haven't voted for a Hugo for a very long time. However, I do push books on family and friends, probably more now than I did when I was a fan (maybe because I have more mundane friends - fan friends usually read X before I do). So I can see that fandom is somewhat important to the book industry, and therefore to your career. But how important, and how critical to fandom is the physical presence of authors?

Concretely, what proportion of your sales over the next five years, say, do you think you would lose if you were completely unable to fly? 10%? More? How about if you could only fly twice each year? How much is flying worth to you?

Everyone has the things they are quite willing to give up, and the things they "need", and then the things they find they actually need when the chips are down. Hearing about the things that people "need" often pushes all kinds of buttons. Some people "need" servants, two homes, three cars and a yacht. Many people "need" private schools for their kids. I "need" red wine from South Australia, coffee from Ethiopia, and a new laptop because my last one died yesterday.

Full disclosure: I'm a software consultant, and used to fly nearly 100K miles each year, mostly trans-Atlantic. I cut back on travel ten years ago for family reasons. But when those reasons stopped applying, I looked at the climate question and I didn't go back to flying as much. I fly some, probably more than I should, but I limit it and I've turned down some work because it required long-haul flights.


Greg, cowboy builders fly-tip because commercial users have to pay the council to use the tip. Other people fly-tip because, well:

The lily ponds of Suffolk, and the mill-ponds of the west
Are part of Britain's heritage, the part we love the best.
Our river-banks and sea-shores have a beauty all can share,
Provided there at least one boot,
three treadless tyres
a half-eaten pork pie
some oil drums
an old felt hat
a lorry load of tar blocks

and a broken bedstead there.


How Guardian readers can say 0.1 of metric tons of carbon/year.

I'm assuming a year's worth of Guardians contain about 100 kilos of carbon. Now the actual pulp of the newspaper is carbon neutral; it came from a tree the took it from the air. However, turning that tree into pulp is a fairly energy intensive process which no doubt leaves a carbon footprint. If, however, Guardian readers throw their Guardians in their non-recycled trash so the paper gets buried in a landfill, it will be sequestered. There, in the warm, oxygen-free atmosphere of a landfill, the paper, as archaeologists have discovered excavating old landfills, will remain in a pristine condition for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years. This sequestration of the paper maybe more than enough to cover the carbon emissions involved in its manufacture and distribution with a result that its of net carbon benefit to the world.

Of course, if the Guardian reader recycles his/her paper, then the recycling process, while not as energy intensive as the original manufacture, will add to the carbon footprint. The more times the paper is recycled, the worst the carbon footprint is, and if the paper finally ends up getting burnt, lighting a fire in a natural, wood burning stove, that is the worst of all possible outcomes.

Hmm, maybe we should just tax geologic carbon and let the market sort it out.


Given your well-known dislike of warm weather, but not wishing in any way, shape or form to discourage you from coming to Australia again, I feel I should direct you to this:


I assume your next trip is going to be in the Australian winter? Maybe we'll break this winter's record just for you next year Charlie! In fact we probably will if those damn Guardian readers fail to lower their carbon emissions...


It is noted that Dr Isaac Asimov refused to fly (for personal rather than Green reasons) and he did all right.

a) He lived in the same city as most of the people he needed to FTF with.
b) He lived in the same country as a majority of his fans/readers.
c) He travelled extensively by other means.
d) This was all some years ago.

The queue of people lining up to buy you a beer in NZ is getting longer. But be warned: The big breweries still push as their main product stuff that you would think could not be called "beer" under the Trade Descriptions Act. However the boutique breweries, even the ones bought out by the big boys, can produce a decent brew.



I notice that nobody (except a few greenlanders) seem to have thought that global warming might do more good than harm in the long run. One positive is that after the initial die-off, evolution will run overtime as new habitats are made available.

People will also be forced to adapt and change as their old ways and inherited circumstances are swept away (literally and metaphorically) by climate change. This type of crisis should push us kicking and screaming into the future.

I also like tropical weather.


I appreciate your open-minded approach to looking at all the items on that list. At least 1/3 of them are laughably impractical. Don't shower? Give me a break.

Most of the passive energy-conservation measures on the other hand pay off quite rapidly; a little more governmental tweaking such that the economic incentives for doing them are properly aligned (e.g. paying for insulation for rental properties where the tenants pay the heating bills) and you can make most of them happen all on their own, with a little edumacation.

But my belief is that there is pretty much fuck-all point in the hairshirt measures in a world where gas here in the US still sells for $3/gallon, and (probably more importantly) the Chinese consume more coal than the US, EU, and Japan combined and are increasing coal consumption at 14% annually. I can't vote here, not being a US citizen; my wife votes for the party that claims to want to take the national-scale steps that are required to make a real difference. And I actually do hold out hope that they will succeed, but it's going to take a while. Carbon taxes and infant-industry subsidies for solar and wind are going to be needed for a while, but I am pretty confident that both solar and wind will be cheaper than (US) coal within a decade. Failing that, and once the effects of warming start to show up, a crash nuclear program will work as a backstop. But the next decade is not going to see anything better than stabilization in the US. After that, though, I think a steep drop-off in net carbon output from the US will follow.

What's going to make the real difference in the end is going to be what China & India do. Coal there is cheaper than it is here, for a variety of reasons, which makes the solar/wind tradeoff less advantageous. And you know what, they're 1/3 of the people on the planet, and other than letting them know what the consequences of what they're doing will be, if they want to pursue carbon-driven growth the way we did, that's their right; the fact is, we can afford the mitigation costs a lot more easily than they can, so they have considerably more at risk in this than we do. That's not so much to cop out as just to say, we can skip all the showers we want, but if 2.5 billion Chinese & Indians decide to keep industrializing on coal, we're all going to need a lot more summer clothes.

I count myself as an environmentalist, but I am profoundly allergic to the moralizing environmentalism that is all about feeling superior to other people or trying to bludgeon them back into the Dark Ages. Or the country-landowner preservationism that is a cover for keeping the commoners out of sight. Now sometimes those things happen to align with actions that are really needed, but they are generally a suspect sign when they are offered as a rationale.


The Chinese know they can't keep on building more coal-fired power plants. For one thing, they're having regular riots over pollution and large numbers of premature deaths due to poor air quality: the central committee may be relatively elderly and autocratic, but they breathe the same air as everybody else. And for another thing, some huge proportion of their rail network -- which is groaning at the seams -- is devoted to shipping coal between mines and power stations. They can't continue to grow their coal consumption at 14% per year without huge changes in the way they use it (such as building power stations on top of coal mines, and a large distribution supergrid -- or shitloads of new railways). Hence their strong interest in tech like modular pebble bed reactors.

What we (collective "we" here) need to be doing is to help them -- and help India -- skip the intermediate, high pollution stages in our own development path, rather than burning through them at an accelerated pace. If this means massive tech transfer of nuclear reactor design know-how? So be it. It's not as if either India or China are still trying to figure out how to build the Bomb: they both got there decades ago ...


Robert: I take it you don't spend much time in the tropics, then. Or that you're naturally resistant to malaria, dengue fever, and Ross River virus.


Brad @ 91: I'm in a similar situation -- renting, cannot influence boiler temperature (except by talking to the neighbors and demanding collectively that the landlord change it to "higher" or "lower"), and the "thermostats" are marked "antifrost, 1-5".

Still, after several years in the place I have a very good idea what setting in what weather will create what effect. Mostly it's determining how long until the temperature stays stable, and then, after every change in setting, wait that long before changing the setting again.

I heat only one room, except when I have guests, but I try not to let the other rooms get below 12°C for more than a few hours. (They say you should not heat rooms where you dry the washing because it's wasteful, but with 35% dampness at 12°C, I habitually ignore that.)

BTW, does anyone have info on what gives the better bottom line with energy saver bulbs: switch them on/off twelve times a day for 1 hour light total, or leave them on for a total of 6 hours?


One of the things that gives me some reason for optimism about the current geopolitical line up is that, as best as we can tell given our current state of the art, both China and India are up near the head of the line when it comes to suffering severe AGW impacts in the relatively near term.

What this means is that both polities have some powerful incentives to moderate their emmission trajectories and, as Charlie has noted, you can already see signs that the Chinese know the score (their nuclear dash is impressive in raw numbers, altho' slightly deflated by the fact that even with them planning to commission the equivalent of 5 EPRs per year they'll have only got to 10% penetration by 2030).

The impression I have is that India is a little further back on the learning curve, but fortunately (for certain values of fortune) India are going to get whacked by global warming even faster than China (having your agricultural breadbasket dependant on glacial runoff and 150 million potential climate refugees on your doorstep will do that), so the cluestick is bigger for them and I think there are enough bright people coming through who have seen the writing on the wall.

That doesn't mean that there isn't going to be plenty of grandstanding and diplomatic hardball at Copenhagen and beyond, but the fact that they both need to get a deal gives me reason to hope that something useful can be achieved. I'd be much more pessimistic about the chances of a deal if there was a power at the table with a serious blocking position in the negotiations and who didn't think they had much to lose in the near term.

Of course the US is potentially such a power, but at least their sane governing faction currently has the upper hand (see also, Churchill, do the right thing after they have exhausted all other possibilities etc etc).



The EnergyStar people don't recommend using CFLs where they get switched on and off a lot (in a cupboard under the stairs say or a lavatory) - not because of the energy surge required to switch them on (that's only the equivalent of ~5s of normal use) but because it degrades the bulb faster.

For this sort of brief task lighting I would think that a sensible plan would be to keep the incandescent until it blows and then replace it with an LED (which doesn't degrade with lots of switching and doesn't have the warm-up issues that some CFLs have).

Talking of LEDs, we replaced the halogen spots in our kitchen with LEDs at the beginning of the year (a triplet of LED spots in a standard GU-10 fitting). We have no issues with the quality and quantity of the light produced (and we *definitely* have no problems with the 80% reduction in power draw) but one of the units was defective and started flicking on/off in an irritating fashion until we pulled it. I have no reason to suppose that we were anything but unlucky with that unit but for what it's worth that's been our experience with them.

We'll be rebuilding our kitchen next year (that's what the planning application I mentioned upthread is for) and we'll definitely be using LEDs for the sort of task lighting that currently uses halogens.




> Oddly enough, a lot of Scots managed to live on the "Fife Diet," at least until technology made it cheap to import food.

Oddly enough, a contemporary Scotsman, Adam Smith, described the circumstances in which the Scots lived in those days (before the unification with England). And I came to the conclusion, that the difference between their standard of living and that of todays Burkina Faso were almost indistinguishable.


Luke @ 109: Thank you!


Chris @106 - what an odd rejoinder. I lived in the tropics for many years and enjoyed it immensely. And I'm sicker in the North than I ever was there. Mosquito-borne illness is a problem, but honestly? Not a serious one if one assumes the prosperity to control mosquitoes. The problem isn't the tropics - the problem is that most of the tropics is inhabited by poor people, and they don't have the money for public works.

If richer countries start being tropical, I don't anticipate malaria being a problem there. Dengue, maybe, but dengue doesn't kill most people. (Any more than you're in panic about tick-borne meningitis in the North.) (Well, OK, some people are, but then some people are always in panic about any given thing.)



Stone is a crappy insulator. According to ASHRAE data (the industry authoritative source for data used for designing heating systems), 12" of stone has an R value of 0.96. For comparison, 1" of expanded polystyrene (styrofoam) has an R value of 5.26, and a 12" framed wall packed with fiberglass would have an R value of over 40.

A 12" thick stone wall, however, is a huge thermal mass and will tend to assume an internal temperature that is the day-by-day average outdoor temperature. A stone wall will therefore act as a half-decent insulator in climates with a wild swing between day and night temperatures. In somewhere like Florida, where it's unbearably hot 24x7 in summer, or somewhere like Edmonton (Canada), where it's unbearably cold 24x7 in winter, however, stone isn't a thermally useful building material.


@Charlie - it's possible to get a train from Edinburgh to London instead of flying.
Also, being in a listed building doesn't rule out internal insulation or microgeneration, it just means you have to apply through the planning hoops for permission and guidelines for appearance will be stricter than on other buildings [hough, as you say, solar panels may not be appropriate in your case]. The Edinburgh Heritage Project has been installing energy saving measures in B-listed buildings and has a guide for householders:

@77: there may be "no shortage" of water in Scotland but this isn't a reason to waste it. As soon as the water goes down your drain it has to go on a long cycle through the treatment works, and processing of water uses a lot of energy. Not to mention more chemicals being added to it, and higher water bills.

@107 & @109 modern CFLs (energy efficient lightbulbs) have a "power surge" when you turn them on that is equivalent to 5 seconds of nomal operation. So leaving them on will lead to higher energy usage than switching them off. That said, switching them on and off for less than 15 minutes at a time will decrease their life, so LEDs are a better choice if this is the case.


Noting you're going to be in my part of the world for Worldcon, you do know that the con you mention heading to in NZ (which I assume is this one) in September is actually in late august, the week before the Melbourne worldcon? I won't be able to make the worldcon, but I could make Au Contraire.


@114: Flying versus trains, a particular annoyance of mine.

ISTR that Virgin had an advertising campaign claiming that trains have 90% less carbon emissions than flying. That figure seems quite credible. Why then are train tickets more expensive than flying?

It's not tax. Diesel used for trains doesn't attract our punitive road taxes (well, duh) and train tickets do not attract VAT. The TOCs can obviously reclaim any VAT they pay and don't need to pass it on to the consumer.

I think it's actually poor government policy. All privatisation and franchising did was create a load of monopolies that have no incentive to invest. So you combine greed with short-termism. Contrast with flying where there is a choice of operators on a given route.


This grauniads attitude is the british version of the favela chic that Bruce Sterling is always banging on about. Lets call it blitz chic as it does evoke a blitz like feeling of self-sacrifice and deprivation.

The articles suggestions also illustrates a point that I think Paul Krugman was trying to get across, the technology of everyday living hasn't changed much. Plumbing, food, hygiene etc hasn't got vastly more efficient recently. There is not much research into vastly better hi-tech ways of living. And I don't see much push towards that.

I dream of the day when communication across the Internet is as rewarding as communicating face to face.


George Monbiot made a good point about carbon offsetting in his book on how to combat climate change: apart from anything else, what was growing on the spot you planted your tree and wouldn't it have been better to have left it alone?

The same goes for biofuels as well of course; land to grow biofuel competes directly with land needed to grow food or even pristine jungle, as seen in Indonesia.


To all Guardian readers, fans of George Monbiot etc, have a gander at this;


Just one example; fridays grauniad

p16 10:10 article "Our Land is Dying, Climate Change is Here, it is a reality"
p9 full page BMW advert
p10 half page BMW advert BMW Z4 sports car 30-34mpg which is almost certainly optimistic
p12 same again
p18 Long distance holidays
p40 Spanish holidays by air
On almost every page adverts for expensive/luxury/electronic goods all of which produce a lot of greenhouse gases in manufacture and consume huge amounts of water and other valuable, irreplacable resources. The Guardians green credentials are doubtful, to say the least.


Nick Barnes:
Bravo! It's disconcerting how many Flanders & Swann songs are still topical 40-50 years later.
"A Mini Cooper? Ah yes, I've got one in my boot."


What REALLY gets my goat is ... the emphasis on fartwind-power, rather than WATER.

There USED to be hundreds, if not thousands of WATER-mills in the UK.
If every single one was refurbished, and the water-drop fed through a MODERN turbine, coupled up to the grid (all solid-state controls, no moving parts, easy to do) then the amount of power generated would be quite considerable.
Yet NO-ONE AT ALL seems to be considering this.

Will someone please tell me why this is so?


Greg @121: Those old water wheels generate surprisingly little power, is why. Modern turbines need more head pressure than the couple of metres drop you can get in a typical mill-wheel setup to work well. You certainly could recommission all England's mill wheels and hook them up to a generator, and it would be better than a poke in the eye... but each one will generate less power than a wind turbine.


I'll second the window film suggestion, especially for windows you could live without opening.

A bit of double-sided tape around the perimeter of the window, then apply the film. Some film is heat-shrink, which gets rid of wrinkles and makes the film less noticeable.

Martin Wisse wrote: "apart from anything else, what was growing on the spot you planted your tree and wouldn't it have been better to have left it alone?"

Right. The carbon offset operations should be buying up vacant lots in Detroit, or emptied-out US plains states, and planting trees.

Although, I suppose some carbon offset operations might work by simply buying land and ensuring that whatever trees are on it don't get cleared for agriculture or development.

But it's probably more common for carbon offsets to be produced by clearing the land and then planting some kind of tree that produces a revenue-generating substance.


The thing about blitz chic, as opposed to the Sterling thing, is that it's about *passive endurance*. London can Take It. Also, who are the Germans in this? And who are the Russians (who did most of the fighting) and the Americans (who were the great beneficiaries)?

It's also quite authoritarian and bureaucratic; rationing was far from perfect, widely hated, and hugely complex to administer (Keynes had some interesting criticisms and counter proposals), and it went along with a huge black market - everyone's forgotten the spiv, who used to be a huge motif in British popular culture. And, of course, a key reason for it was to satisfy the Americans that we were suffering enough to warrant an extension on our loans - the very first and biggest IMF screwing in history.

And this was a state that gave itself the power under Defence Regulation 18B to lock anybody up for any reason for as long as it chose, and used this fairly freely on all sorts of people other than fascists.

Jamie Kenny argues that a cultural difference between the Left and the Right in Britain is which bits of WW2 they like to remember - Tories prefer the Battle of Britain (a small elite of romantic, individualistic fighter pilots defending the island and specifically the south-eastern corner of it), lefties the massive collective effort of the Normandy invasion, and everyone forgets the Russians.

What about Attlee chic? There's an example for you of spectacular achievements in seriously difficult times, and a lesson that sometimes what you need is pure political will.


So what we need is Watson-Watt chic, which historically - in the persons of Blackett, Haldane etc - rested on a wide political base. "With our programme of de Havilland artificial trees, we can fly to New York twice a week, and still see the ppm plummet!"

The question is: is geo-engineering the temperature down going to be as fun as moving it up? It's worryingly agricultural-looking as yet. Although there are some inherent probs in agricultural intervention, which James Scott chronicled in _Seeing like a state_, it doesn't always go wrong. The big question is: are we going to get the Green Revolution or the Groundnut Scheme?


I've just returned from sunny Germany (it was sunny). The difference between here and there was pretty stark. Pretty much every house had solar water panels and solar power on the roof. More than a few had all the available area covered in them. Admittedly this is less than optimal here in cloudy UK but the more recent combined solar water and power panels should do better on efficiency. There was a lot of wind turbines there as well and they were far from a blot on the landscape. (And they had urinals in the place we were staying in - civilisation!)

Then I return here and the first thing through the door is a shiny pamphlet from my local MP trumpeting how he defeated a wind turbine plan.

What can I personally do? Well, I already compost most of the biowaste, follow the yellow-mellow protocol, use a woodburner, I'm vegetarian, my wife's part time meat eater. I'm using a small oven rather than the main cooker (400w compared with 3kw - its adding up FAST). I've got veg growing - and I'm on the waiting list for a nearby allotment but guess what? The NIMBYS are out in force because they don't want 'gyppos'.

Theres a limit to what I can do to the house - as it wasn't built with any roof space I would have to either drop ceiling height for additional insulation or lift the roof off. Better double glazing is coming.

Beyond this point we need better power generation. Whether that means tidal or wind or imported solar or even - god forbid - nuclear. Biodiesel from microorganisms (using waste) seems like a good option as well.

I really want to bash my head on the wall when people seriously talk about unplugging mobile phone chargers as making a difference. The media seems to run on wishful thinking at the best of times. Numbers people, numbers!


FrancisT @ 89:
was an nteresting link, in the sense of seeing some of the pathological places the depressed mind can go. Some of it's scary, other bits would be scary if what was suggested was possible. A good example of that last would be the third from last para, which follows a nice anti-tech rant:

"All that being said, we needn’t discard all that we’ve learned, far from it.[12] But we must use our knowledge with great discretion, and lock much of it away as so much nuclear weaponry and waste."

@ all:
An interesting thread on media bias runs through much of this. It's as blatant here in the U.S. So much so, in fact, that I tend to mark my bookmarks to news sites with which way they're biased. Perhaps that's why so many Americans (as opposed to Merkuns) tend to regard Jon Stewart as a trusted new source. I'm a *bit* (perhaps not as much as you might imagine) different in that my first instinct is to go to UK sources when I want the combination of reliable reporting and non-U.S. viewpoints. I'm not naive about it, so the 'bias' conversational thread has influenced how I meta-tag UK news sites. Thanks to all for the relatively high signal/noise ratio here.

An aside, but in the same vein: the types of stories I follow are often ones based on pieces published at a think-tank. Alas, going to primary sources doesn't allow one to escape the biases. It seems to be turtles all the way down. The Cato Institute leans libertarian, The Center for American Progress leans liberal, the Manhattan Institute leans conservative, etc. You do get an increase in civility, which is more than welcome [1].

I know of two think-tanks which I regard as reliable. Well, one is more of an umbrella group that does all sorts of worthwhile things:
and the other is

I'd be interested in hearing of organizations which provide this sort of meta-data on news organizations.

Aside to Charlie: apologies in advance for this (my first post here, at that) appearing in your approval queue due to containing more than one URL. The first was only a convenience for readers, the next two are hopefully useful resources for readers. [1] below is plugging your stuff. Any writer should appreciate that...

[1] Others of like mind are encouraged to read Charlie's 23 Aug post:


Edinburgh tenements generally have high enough ceilings to make a pulley a practical proposition. You know, those lovely old metal-and-wood things which you winch down from the ceiling, hang wet clothes on, then winch up again out of the way. A few hours later you winch it down again, remove the dry clothes and put them away. Hey presto, no more tumble drying bills: your electricity bill will drop noticeably. Get one from Gray's of George Street before it closes next year!


Ben @126 "...What can I personally do?..."

There you hit the nail squarely on the head. Unless you believe that we can personally drive the necessary changes in policy, the only relevant question is what we can do ourselves.

I'd love to see Charlie spearhead a move towards videoconferencing and remote signing. But that's asking him to change the way his whole industry works, so it may take a day or two. And he may have other priorities (such as writing us some books).

The Grauniad is doing its bit: today's price increase will presumably reduce the amount of wood it sells,


Is it something to do with having to run trains half empty for most of the time?

Nick, Clifton, I suspect "The Gas Man Cometh" and "Transport of Delight" are closer to the mark.

And "The Ostrich".


TwistedByKnaves: this may come as a surprise to you, but given a choice between remote signing and no signing, I'll take no signing. A dirty little secret here: most authors don't actually enjoy signing books. Many of us don't actually use pens and paper in our day to day work; I get writers' cramp if called upon to write anything more ellaborate than a name and address on an envelope.

While we understand that folks like to have their favourite authors personally inscribe a chunk of dead tree, and we're happy to sign books face-to-face for a fan, there are few things as soul-deadening as signing a stack of anonymous papers in a box (as one does for a limited, signed edition -- the signature sheets are bound into the volumes later, by the print shop), and most of us wouldn't do it if we weren't paid extra for the job.

"Remote signing" using a digitizer tablet? Nope, not going there unless you pay me (or give me human contact).

As for videoconferencing, I used to do it for work. It doesn't work well, and it requires equipment/facilities at both ends. As it happens I do occasionally do what are effectively videoconference appearances by way of Second Life ... but it really, really isn't the same. (For one thing, you can't go for a beer and a four-hour chat with the other panelists after the time in front of the audience is up.)


Charlie Stross: Your comment made me think of a business idea for 20 years time. Virtual Pubs. Your own cubicle with huge displays on each wall and the table (or just over lays if AR has gotten that good by then), where you can order drinks and get set up tables with other people. The table would be a touch screen computer which you can draw on and pass virtual bits of paper, or arrange virtual salt and pepper pots so you can describe the off side rule.

Also there would be other tables with other groups on in the background for ambiance.

Best of all, you can smoke to your hearts content as well there. You would have the option of stale beer and sweat smells piped in if you wanted to. The jukebox would still only provide a limited selection of 80s metal though, due to copyright issues.


Charlie @130, If they give us lines as a punishment at school, it's hardly surprising that writing the same thing over and over on a stack of paper is less than rewarding.

And I know what you mean about videoconferencing. Happy memories of an 8 hour session with the US and Japan a few years back. Stilted, lagged and no real contact. But the technology has moved a long way, to the point where it can be ALMOST like sitting in the same conference room. http://images.google.co.uk/imgres?imgurl=http://404uxd.com/images/125.jpg&imgrefurl=http://404uxd.com/2008/07/24/halo-experience&usg=__xk7P2kPV5jbMLvDxjm4jrMDeg_M=&h=400&w=570&sz=175&hl=en&start=11&sig2=z8gD4GBxVDqDSIy8IK1afQ&um=1&tbnid=yN0YzA1l2a0F2M:&tbnh=94&tbnw=134&prev=/images%3Fq%3DHALO%2Broom%26hl%3Den%26rlz%3D1C1CHMA_en-GBGB340GB340%26sa%3DX%26um%3D1&ei=LlSnSv6SBIK6jAfR6JjRCA

I'd assume that for remote signings you'd have the fans filing through a video booth at the other end, giving you a chance for a few words, and a remote signer for the book they have in their hands.

Not perfect perhaps, but if the alternative is 90% cuts in emissions from everything other than air travel...? And if we use it, it will get better.

(Disclosure: I work for HP. We use the Dreamworks HALO videoconferencing internally and it does work.)


We're in a similar situation, living in a stone tenement in a conservation area. One thing that was definitely worthwhile was to refurbish the sash windows with good quality draught proofing. It wasn't cheap but the increae in comfort was worth the cost even before the saving in energy costs. Thick curtains are good too.

I'd second Chris's recommendation of a pulley for clothes drying, if your ceilings are high enough.

Otherwise, options are limited.

I suspect I could make more difference by influencing decisions at work. IT uses a surprisingly large amount of energy and many organisations are surprisingly bad at measuring this, let alone reducing it.


Daniel Davies once remarked to me that the London Borough of Camden's behaviour is indistinguishable from the belief that the spirits of the ancestors (this particular tribe refer to them as "heritage") reside in sash windows.


122 & 126

Erm. 1 cubic metre per second through a 1-metre drop (Easy on the Water of Leith, for instance)
1 cubic metre of water is 1 tonne = 100kg
pe=mgh, take g as 10, and in one second....
Gives you 10kw.
Now scale it up, LOTS of times, using STANDARD kit.
You would, actually generate a LOT of power.
Think about a river like the Wharfe, for instance, and al the others in Yorkshire - lots of 1-3 metre drops, and lots of cusecs ......

Solar power in Deutschland and not here.
Because of the deliberately perverse incentives put, a few years back *the Tories, and unchanged under NuLab) to make sure that power-generation was handled by the big boys ("Our friends") and the little-man or woman didn't get a look in.
I THINK they are now changing the rules, but it is down to guvmint incompetence and corruption, not any technical reasons....


I don't need to think about the Wharfe; I've fallen in it more often than I can count. And I once saw my dog go over a weir during a February flood; you could hardly see the weir except as a line of white foam, as the river was going straight over it.


There are several things going on here. Firstly, intelligent involved people like Charlie and us readers get a little bored of being told what to do time after time. Especially when we're doing it already. But meanwhile everyone else is busy getting on with their life, and I hypothesise that repetitive reporting helps get things through to them. Maybe only a few people each time they read about it, but it may help.

But the other big problem is that there are only a few things an individual can do. We need governments and companies, as large supra-individual organisations, to take the lead. For example, new labour could use their brains, avoid runway building and building new coal fired power stations and build a couple of nukes and encourage tidal and wave power generation.

They could also look at building new council houses to passivhaus specs. I read a while ago about someone who had built their new house to such specs for £1100 per square metre floor area, as opposed to the apparently standard house builders cost of £2000 per square metre. So that seems to me to be a win all round, we get nice new cheaper houses which don't cost a lot to run.

I did have a proper authentic report which said that Scotland at least could generate a couple of hundred megawatts of electricity if it re-activated a variety of small scale generation sites, such as ex-mills, and used run of water systems on rivers, and really got into microhydro.

Alex, did your dog survive?


Regarding microhydro, I was in Lyme Regis this summer and the community put a small hydroelectric turbine into the old mill building in the centre of town a couple of years ago. According to their website the river Lim has an average flow of 0.24m^3/s and they have a 4m head to work with which works out the same as the hypothetical example upthread.

They estimate that they will produce 36,000 kWh* per year - for a 10 kW hydro source this is about 35% efficient, which sounds about right.

To put this into context, our electricity draw at home probably averages somewhere around 4-500 W (I have a Wattson at home so I'm pretty familiar with what we use). Assuming my ballpark estimate is correct you'd need to have one of these units for every half dozen houses or so.


[*]I assume it's kWh, the website quotes units of power (kW) rather than energy (kWh) but that doesn't make sense.


Charlie, one thing that might work for you is a fuel cell. Assuming natural gas is coming into your home, you get 60% electricity generating efficiency. Depending on how electricity is generated in the Edinburgh area, this will be better in CO2 terms than what the power plant does. And you get to keep the 40% waste heat...

I was about to suggest an air heat pump -- but, "grade one listed building", external unit. Another idea: floor warming. Should allow you to turn down further the air temperature without feeling (subjectively) colder.

BTW I feel your pain: was in Newcastle last year on a job trip, where they have rather similar building stock. A colleague from Rovaniemi complained that Britain was colder than Lapland...


137: Yes, he did, and I recovered him from the Wharfe a quarter of a mile downriver, having run like a bastard to get to a shallow stretch where I knew I'd have a chance to catch him and waded in...(this last bit was probably less sensible than it seemed at the time)

I didn't tell anyone about it for some years, in fact, until after the dog died.


Martin @139: fuel cells: a definite possibility, but not in the short term (viz. not available at a sane price yet). Floor heating ... not possible: apparently everything below the floor boards is part of the listed building preservation shtick (with the proviso that the central heating pipes and electrical wiring were installed before the preservation order was imposed, so I'd have a reasonable case for repairing/maintaining them).


"there's a horrible shitty Boeing 757 that Continental fly from Edinburgh to Newark." -- You'd have more options flying from London. Maybe you could combine a couple of trips: take the train to London to visit your publishers, then fly to the US. It'd be more tiring, of course.

(If you want help finding a flight on an aircraft you like, drop me a note. I work for ITA; we do flight search software. Our customers have the option of letting you search based on airplane type, but not all of them use it.)


John, flying from London adds four hours and four hundred miles onto any journey I make, because I live in Scotland, which is the next country over. (Taking the train is ... not clever: four and a half hours to the centre of London for about double the cost of a flight, and then I'd have the fun of getting out to the airport on top. Way to add an extra day to the journey!)

Also, if I flew via London I'd have to fly via Griefrow or Crapwick, both of which are consumer hell-holes with nowhere to park your butt and read a book while you're waiting for your flight -- they're optimized to ram you through the shopping mall experience and empty your wallet. Not restful. (And Griefrow has a very special reputation for luggage loss.) Add the highest landing fees in Europe, and the British intercontinental hubs are best avoided like the proverbial plague.


143: Yeah, I know you live in Scotland. I just thought, as long as you have to go to London occasionally, you might take advantage of it to make the flight to the US more bearable.

I didn't realize Heathrow and Gatwick were that bad, though. I've only flown to/through Heathrow three times; it struck me, as, well, an airport—annoying, but ignorable. It's probably one of those things that get more annoying with repetition.


Trust me, they're bad airports. Heathrow peaked at losing 10% of bags on connecting flights when they opened Terminal 5 -- hopefully they've improved a little since then, but there are horror stories ... as for Gatwick, it's just hideous. Like La Guardia, only with a maze of twisty little passages and more shopping (for airport values of shopping, i.e. overpriced designer rubbish and junk food).