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Saturday 4 August 2007

Shattering the green myths [Beej]

Great article in The Times today which suggests that walking to the shops does more damage than driving to the shops. Hehe! Although presumably not in my car or Am's barge. This is something about how much energy from walking you will need to replace by eating (although presumably, but not mentioned, if you ate stuff from the farmers' market not from evil Tesco this would not be the case).

There's also a follow-up with some great anti-green Clarkson-esque trivia:
  • Disposable nappies are not worse than traditional nappies, as the traditional cloth ones need a lot of washing (argument fails if you wash in cold water without detergent!)
  • Paper bags take more energy to store and transport than plastic bags (hmm, we should use more paper bags anyway).
  • Organic milk is less environmentally friendly because less milk is produced by the organically, erm, farmed cow than a regular cow, and therefore methane emissions are prortionally higher (heh!).
  • You undo a year of saving from an energy-saving light bulb if you buy two bags of imported veg (the easy fix is that we accept that we can't eat runner beans all year long and so we don't fly the things in from Kenya... celebrity chefs have a lot to answer for!).

Something to chew on :-)


  1. Heh, that Times article stems from how much beef you need to eat in order to make up the energy to walk to the shops. Of course your energy doesn't come from meat alone, far from it - it's more likely to come from sugars in your diet which are rather a lot more efficiently produced. It's still a fun statistic but then he goes and spoils it all with this:“The troubling fact is that taking a lot of exercise and then eating a bit more food is not good for the global atmosphere. Eating less and driving to save energy would be better.”Which is, of course, complete nonsense because his only maths are done on meat consumption providing the necessary energy. There are some good points in that article such as asking the question over why various things are singled out such as cars and aviation, when no one appears to look at equally important issues such as the environmental cost of farming, importation and meat in particular.It also mentions things I hadn't considered such as the cost of refridgeration of chilled and frozen foods. It's not just the preparation of random frozen food item, but the entire refridgerated transport and then the supermarket and finally your home too. Every step of the way power was being constantly used to keep it cold, all for what? So we can pull out some food stuff at any whimsy from our home freezer? I'm as much a culprit as anyone else and it bothers me really.The train issue keeps coming up too. I just found this article which covers this in some detail including some very interesting figures. It says the best performing electric trains are around 40gr of CO2 per passenger per kilometers. That's pretty good since my very new high-tech diesel car manages 125gr of CO2 per kilometer. Although even that means that if I carried 2 passengers it would be on a par with an electric train, which is fairly tragic. However it also says the most advanced diesel train, the Virgin Voyager, can only manage 112gr of CO2 per k per person. That means my car with one additional passenger is nearly twice as efficient which is shocking, particularly given that only 40% of the UK rail network is electrified and of course the railfare would be much higher than the cost to drive also.You've got to wonder if this whole thing doesn't completely pull the rug from under the governments feet on the whole encouraging of people to get out of their cars and onto the overcrowded, expensive and slow British railway network. Also it raises some hard questions about why the horrendous state of diesel transportation is getting a free ride.You've got to ask why rail is five times more expensive than coach transport and that rail transport would be near on twice as expensive again if you eliminated the tax payer subsidises paid to it while coach transport receives no subsidy and is actually profitable. What exactly *are* the upsides to trains? It's almost like the better thing to do would be to pave over the entire national rail network and run busses up these lines exclusively.Here's an interesting beer mat calculation: 2.2 billion journeys made in 2005/6 year period. Average distance was 41 kilometers. If 40% of the journeys were on the electric network at 40gr/k/p and the rest was 125gr/k/p diesel (we're being very generous and assuming all the rolling stock are best in class) we have 91gr/k/p average CO2. I make the rail network generating 8.2 million tonnes of CO2 per year. It'll be a lot more than that now and with realistic train CO2 figures but let's roll with that. Turns out that aviation in the same period was responsible for 9.8 million tonnes.That puts aviation at 1.86% of the UK's total 527 million tonnes of emissions versus rail's 1.56%. Not a lot in it eh? So why isaviation the bogey man? Well, I guess you could argue that the rail journeys were necessary and that this is preferable to people driving their cars for the same essential journeys.Yet near as I can tell, the best thing you can do for essential journeys is car pool.


  2. A challenge for Lurks factual database following on from the mass of train info....

    I've often wondered when following a bus belching ready made smog whether they really are cleaner/better than 5-10 people driving a modern car (I say 5-10 people cos on the whole apart from in the middle of town in the middle of rush hour there's hardly ever anyone on them - in Swindon anyway). I'd be interested in average occupancy per mile per Co2 ommission.

    And on the subject of buses.... why do they run on a spoke basis in this day and age when most firms/hospitals/shops have moved out of town. So for example if you need to get anywhere you need 2 buses. One to get into town and another to then travel back out to where you want to go. To illustrate - My wife's firm is just moving from above the train/bus station to an out of town, cheap location - with a cunning additional plan of only providing parking for something like 60% of employees that drive. No bus options that wouldn't involve travelling to the old office nr bus station and then getting another bus taking hours extra each day for the majority of employees, who of course, travel from the surrounding towns/villages. No parking options within a 30 minute (2 mile walk with few paths). Nice option for somone like my wife who works from 6am and has to dash to pick up kids from nursery @ 3pm. Ahhh.... perhaps that's the cunning plan - saves on redundancy payments ;-) Of course all out of town offices/hospitals are forced to provide inadequate parking in the hope people will use the non-existant or completely unsatisfactory alternatives.



    Watch from about 6m:30s - but it's all quite good :)


  4. Ecogeek have just responded to this (, debunking it naturally. Some things lurk mentioned, like 75% of our calories come from plants and not meat, and that all you eat doesn't replace the calories you burn though excersie which is why we're all so phat. A point I didn't consider is that if you didn't have a car, you wouldn't go the same distances to the shops, you'd go to a corner shop rather than a supermarket, a huge gain environmentally. It concludes with a good point, that biking is even more efficient than walking, so we should all do that instead!