Let’s have some green sanity

I am a green. I do not want them to build over too many greenfields and green gaps between settlements in England. I like to be able to breathe clean air,swim in a clean sea, and gaze into clear water in streams and rivers. I understand the need to curb our appetite for burning too much energy, and to find cleaner and better ways of travelling, making things and heating and fuelling our homes.

My latest car is 50% more fuel efficient than the one I drove six years ago. I have put in a condenser boiler at home. If we ever get hot days – and we didn’t last summer – I open the windows rather than ordering an air conditioning unit. In the endless cold days of this spring I usually reach for another jumper rather than turn up the heating. I try to do more things on web and phone to cut down the travel. I try to turn the lights off when I am not using the room.

When I work in my public sector office, many of these sensible approaches to energy is possible. The lights stay on all day and night in the corridors, whether people are there or not, whether it is bright outside or not. I cannot open the windows if it is hot or to change the air. I cannot control the heat that flows in winter or the cooler air that circulates in summer. The system carries on burning energy whether I am using the room or not. Across Whitehall lights blaze and heating systems belt out the warmth regardless of use. Control systems are rudimentary or not personalised.

The public debate seems to be dominated by people who hate the car and ascribe a disproportionate part of the problem to people who drive, only surpassed by their hatred of air travel. They favour trains and buses, as if they in some miraculous way produced no dirty emissions and were carbon free. They ignore the role of the domestic heating boiler, the electricity to power domestic appliances and the huge amounts of energy used by government and other office based activities.

It is time we had some sanity in the debate, based on realism about the relative importance of the different ways we use energy.

When I last drove into London I kept a record of my fuel use. I travelled 31.1 miles on the M4 at a good average speed, consuming just half a gallon of diesel – or 61.1 miles per gallon. I then had to travel 8.1 miles on main road within London. These roads have been messed up with lane closures, perverse traffic light programming, artificial narrowing, road works and many other obstacles. My mpg halved to 32.4 so I used a quarter of a gallon to go just 8.1 miles. On a busier day it could have halved again.

It shows just how important having uncongested roads are for curbing wasteful use of fuel and limiting emissions. I was , however, probably using less energy in the car than if I had stayed at home with my heating full on – I turned the heating off whilst I was away.

It is the second half of April, yet many people still have their heating systems blasting out the heat because it has been so cold outside, with frosts at night, even snow and hail. We need a programme of adjusting our heating and ventilation systems to the new reality of dear and scarce energy. It is high time the public sector showed some leadership by seeking to improve its own control over and use of energy. At the moment its use is wanton. We feel it in our tax bills.


  1. Dr Dan H.
    April 22, 2008

    Sir, let me introduce a new concept to you: the thermostat.

    What this wondrous piece of technology does is to control temperatures; you increase the temperature in your house to one you like, then turn down the thermostat until it clicks off. Thereafter the thermostat will turn the heating on and off to maintain that temperature.

    This frees you from the onerous duties of manually turning the heating on and off yourself, though it also robs you of the chance to boast virtuously of having "turned down the heating".

    It is, sir, a compromise, but one which many have chosen to take; truly a wonder of 19th Century technology!

    Reply: I make full use of thermostats and modern controls – but it would be long winded to write I adjusted the thermostat! You still need to override if you are going out and do not need the heating on the time settings you otherwise use.

  2. Freeborn John
    April 22, 2008

    The practical steps forward are related to new technology to improve energy efficiency and find alternatives to travel.

    The sector I work in (Internet equipment) reportedly consumes 1/9 of all electricity in the USA. The figure for the UK is presumably not that different. Much Internet equipment runs 24×7 and not only generates heat but is housed in air-conditioned facilities where the cooling equipment consumes 40% of the total electricity. There are initiatives underway to improve the efficiency of future products such that they consume less power and also require less cooling.

    There are also new types of product that vastly improve our ability to work from home or local offices without so much need to travel. It will be practical improvements such as these that solve environmental challenges in ways that simultaneously improve our lives that will be successful and not hair-shirt pleas to abandon the car for buses and trains.

    I have been struck by how US politicians and business leaders see this as the way forward while Greens on this side of the Atlantic sometimes give the impression of a secret yearning for a return to the past.

  3. Bazman
    April 22, 2008

    It's just so easy and cheap to control heating and lighting systems. With large savings for little or no work, as well as making the rooms more comfortable.
    I have central heating on timer/ thermostat with thermostatic radiator valves/good insulation.
    Air conditioning is very expensive and wasteful to run. Think about the running costs of a fridge/freezer in relation to temperature and size.
    The air con top brands are not much more expensive than the so called cheap brands that have little control, poor,efficiency and will be difficult to repair in the future, assuming you have found someone to fit these units in the first place.
    The units I had fitted raise the temprature in the room when there I am in another room. Timers switch the units on and off. Never used when not required.
    I stopped in a hotel where the lighting dropped in the fluorescent lighting dimmed to a very low level when empty and when motion was detected raised the level of light. Simple!
    If these principals and much more, where applied to a office block or all buildings by law the savings would be immense for everyone.

  4. mikestallard
    April 22, 2008

    The daftest and most damaging thing this wretched government has done is to run down the nuclear facility. Well, of course, as every fule know, nuclear energy is the same as the Bomb. (words left out)Did you see the picture of the long haired Blair on the CND march in the 70s? This mob live in a sort of 70s time warp.
    They have allowed the nuclear reactors to run down. They have not encouraged the staff, they have not renewed the know how.
    So, at the moment, we are buying nuclear energy from the French.
    When the final nuclear reactor closes (words left out), we shall be like South Africa with daily cuts of power.
    And then, John, where will your Blog be?

    Reply: That is why some of us have been demanding action to build new power stations for a good long time.

  5. Pascal
    April 23, 2008

    Am I the only one who ever gets an electricity or gas bill ? I have been wary of the costs ever since I left my parents house all those years ago !

    I get really amazed at this type of comments, as if people suddenly discovered some sort of holy grail, and were just busy wasting energy because it did not cost them anything.

    You now try to turn lights off in your house, or the heating when you're not there ? Amazing feat.

    Your new car is 50% more fuel efficient, but how much energy and resources did it take to build your new one ? Did you really save anything in the grand scheme of things? (Mind you, I am not against cars at all and the ones I have are not particularly fuel efficient, but that is my hobby. I figure that the amount of tax I pay per litre of fuel more than compensates for the pollution.)

    That said, I agree that there is a lot of waste by people in government but that is hardly news is it ?

  6. Rose
    April 23, 2008

    One form of green sanity I would like is a clear distinction between pollution and carbon emission. Some would say they are one and the same, but you I think do not.

    Professor Knox of Manchester has an article in the current Journal of Epidemiology based on data from 352 local government areas showing the damage diesel is doing to lungs. He only gives figures for actual deaths, not the many cases of lung damage from repeated attacks of pneumonia and pleurisy which fit and healthy non-smokers living in cities now suffer, but do not die of.

    Your fastidious personal behaviour is to be applauded and I agree about public buildings – they are extremely unhealthy places to be in.

  7. Rose
    April 24, 2008

    I am not anti-private motoring, but it needs to become, like you, Sir, leaner, cleaner, and fitter, if it is to survive. Those little journeys round the corner in the Range Rover to pick up the croissants and the paper, and the 4-times-a-day trip by People Carrier to the nearby school, will need to become less attractive choices. That will sound hateful to your liberal conservative ear, but if necessary car journeys are to become efficient, then unpalatable reforms will eventually have to be faced. The natural human preference will always be for the motor car – as Lord Robertson recently told the UN, 50% of deaths in hospital in the developing world now result from being run over – unless the balance of power between motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists is adjusted, so that those who don't especially want to drive are not obliged to by the lack of safe and attractive alternatives.

    The London Mayor's predilection for taxis is also distasteful to conservatives, but there is sense in this socialist official's selfishness: taxis take you door to door but don't park. Just imagine how much less pollution there would be if roads were strictly for driving along: not only no bicycles (which would be in unobstructed bicycle lanes), but no cars parked and double parked along both sides, and no unnecessarily large lorries and vans unloading … how happy you could be, speeding along in your slender jag, causing so much less pollution, and how many more roads would you really need?

    Huge buses and lorries belching out black smoke should long ago have given way to smaller, quieter, and cleaner alternatives. But these would depend largely on Nuclear electric power, or better still, fusion, which, as you say, have been shelved by the government for all the wrong reasons.

    Reply: Walking is often a better option – one I use in London where facilities are closer together. It is much less than 50% of deaths in hospital result from car crashes – indeed in UK hospitals there are more deaths from hospital acquired infections and related conditions that led to them.

  8. Rose
    April 25, 2008

    Sorry, I didn't make it clear: Lord Robertson was speaking at the UN of what use to be known as the Third World, and meant people who had been run over, not people who had died in car crashes. Here the figures are different, as you say. (3,000 deaths and 40,000 injuries each year on the roads, figures which combine crashes and people being run over.) I notice another carelessness arising from ltd time at the library computer. I should have said (of the bloated private motoring sector) that "…it needs to become more like you, Sir,…".

    When I was in London at the beginning of the week I also noticed, not for the first time, how much less polluted the air was than in our little city of 1/2 a million. It used to be the other way round.

  9. Bazman
    April 27, 2008

    Many of these third world countries have a conservative attitude to death on the roads. In Russia the death toll is about 20,000 a year and in real terms an absolutely frighting way to drive. Only recently you can tell a taxi driver how to drive with financial threats. A bad life can end now or later like in India where God decides when you should overtake. Blow your nose after a day in London. Rose and Ken are right!

  10. Rural Idiot
    April 28, 2008

    "It is the second half of April, yet many people still have their heating systems blasting out the heat because it has been so cold outside, with frosts at night, even snow and hail".

    I agree with your statement but why does the Conservative Party still support the stupid notion of global warming being caused by human activity. I have installed a condensing boiler, have wall insulation and plenty of energy saving bulbs. Why, well it saves me money and conserves resources, end of story.

    What the global warming fanatics fail to realise is that over the past decade the earth's temperature has actually decreased! Look at the latest sunspot activity which correlates to that observed during 1645 to 1715, the Sun was in fact well observed during this time and the lack of sunspots is well documented. This period of solar inactivity also corresponds to a climatic period called the "Little Ice Age". We could be heading that way again and the scientific evidence is far more compelling than that of people like AlGore.

    Climate change is just a ruse by big government to extract more tax from a gullible public.

    Time for a change of party perhaps John to one that is really conservative and I don't have to tell you which one that is, one MP and two excellent peers.

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