Sunday, April 25, 2010

national carbon calculator

When not being a freeroving performance poet or a raging nuisance to carbon-criminals, the estimable Danny Chivers is a proper pencil-chewing carbon footprinter. He wades through impenetrably dull technical reports and unpicks their reliability so we can have an informed guess as to our carbon impact.

That is certainly essential work, but kinnell, I'm glad it's not me having to do it. But anyway, with his wealth of knowledge, he's produced a National Carbon Calculator for the Guardian's site.

Rather like the BBC's Climate Challenge game that lets you run the country while trying to have climate-responsive policies (staying in power and hitting the targets isn't at all easy), only with the workings laid bare, the calculator lets you alter national behaviour and infrastructure and see if things will work out. This lets you test ideas, whether they're your own or those advocated by others.

Danny talks about some of the trickiness in making it, and gives the breakdown of figures in full, so if you're that way inclined you can you can test the rigorousness.

The thing that becomes swiftly, screamingly obvious is that we cannot meet ever-increasing demand. We have to cut consumption.

As boosting economic growth is the top priority of the main political parties, it's not surprising that none of them manage to hit the target of a minimum 80% cut. You know, the one the government is legally bound by.

Having already got the main parties environment people to have a face to face debate, the Guardian got them to directly address the issue of carbon cuts in light of the calculator.

LibDem Simon Hughes tells us that his party want 'a 90% cut by 2050'. Yet using the calculator they only deliver 50%. He pins the difference - almost half the cuts we need to make - on burning fossil fuels with Carbon Capture and Storage technology (which doesn't exist and, the government says, might never), and then manages to do what scientists in the field can't do and pin a precise figure on carbon savings for changes in land use. Wriggle wriggle squirm squirm, look over there everyone, shiny things!

For Labour, Ed Miliband proclaims the glory of electric cars and the wonders of nuclear power, even though these don't make a massive amount of difference. As I've said before, to replace all our outgoing nukes and have a huge (read: hugely expensive) building programme that doubles our nuclear capacity would only give an 8% carbon cut by 2034. A pound spent on nuclear is a pound not spent on technology that delivers swifter, greater cuts.

But these two spinweasels are nothing compared to the Conservatives' Greg Clark, who says how important it is not to have regulation and obligation on this - or any other - issue, and how we mustn't do anything to obstruct what the profit-driven growth-maximising private sector wants to do. He then goes on about watermelons.

The simple fact - so obvious that it is a form of self-deceit to ignore it, as all the main parties do - is that we cannot have infinite economic growth from the finite resource base of a single planet. Even if carbon emissions didn't force our hand, other limits will be hit soon enough, as the looming threat of peak oil makes clear.

Sustainability is pretty much the opposite of economic growth. Certainly, for our industrial culture, it's an either/or choice. This pretence by government and media (why is economic growth always 'good news'?) that there can be some compatibility is like running toward the cliff telling ourselves that the meadow stretches on forever, but if it really is a cliff then carbon capture will grow us some wings. Time to stop running and turn the fuck around.

The thing the Carbon Calculator doesn't have is the cost of any of the actions, either financial or political. As the BBC Climate Challenge game shows, taking action that will seriously reduce emissions will be costly on both fronts.

The politicians surely know about the clash of values, and they choose power over long-term responsibility. And in a way it's understandable - getting yourself kicked out of power renders you as unable to effect change as doing nothing in the first place. However, it leaves us paddleless, and actually denying the need for proper paddles, as we accelerate up shit creek.

Rather than pretending there's nothing wrong and avoiding doing what's necessary, the task is surely to make it become politically aceptable. The only chance of really addressing climate change is to shift fundamental values so that we live within our means, that we take responsibility, that we don't externalise the cost of our luxury on to those yet to come.

That starts with wresting power from the tiny enclosed space of the ballot box, as Danny himself says.

Try out the National Carbon Calculator, see how effective your ideas would be.

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