Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Have a NoFF day

What's a NoFF day? We can all have 'off days', or even naff days. But what about NoFF days? 'NoFF' stands for 'No Fossil Fuels'. The idea is simply for anyone to find out just how dependent we all are on fossil fuels. Not using any is something which sounds easy but you might surprise yourself at how difficult it is. The concept of NoFF days is brilliant for concentrating the mind on our gross dependency on carbon-based fuels.

Hypocrisy and honesty: I have actually had a number of NoFF days, partly as a means of Home: my little tent under Buachaille Etive Mor, Glencoepractising what I preach. On my NoFF days, I used no fossil fuel of any kind, either directly or indirectly. On each day, I was eating some hot food, travelling for several hours and spending the nights in heated accommodation. How did I do this? It wouldn't be most people's idea of fun for I was backpacking alone in the Scottish mountains. I cooked my food on a simple methylated spirit stove (I use just 1 litre over a period of 7 days away from civilisation), travelled on foot and camped in a tiny one-man tent with a good sleeping bag to keep warm in. (That's the 'heated accommodation' bit.)

OK, that is cheating, in a sense. Not many of us would want to do that for fun, let alone with the serious intention of trying a day without fossil fuels or living the low-carbon life. But at least you can see that I have honestly had a number of NoFF days so I know whereof I speak - as the cliché goes.

Checklist for a real NoFF day: So let's get real and think. Such a day would need to be as close as you can get to a normal working day. So if you walk to work, that's your NoFF transport taken care of. If it's not too cold or too hot, you don't need any heating at home or at work so that's ok too. If you're one of those who has had the foresight to put their money where their mouth is and use genuinely renewable energy for heating, lighting, cooking and sundries like computers, then you don't need a NoFF day as you're already there!

  • Transport: no car? no bus? no plane? No sweat: walk or cycle. If you're so far from work or shops that NoFF is not an option, then consider moving house sometime soon so that it isThis stove heats most of my stone-built farmhouse very efficiently. The wood is all collected, sawn and split by me from the farm. Yes, I know this isn't an option for most of us.. Or what about teleworking?
  • Heating: no oil, coal or gas heating but you can use electric if it's from a guaranteed renewable source, or wood (wood-burner like mine on the right) which is also renewable and so carbon neutral.
  • Cooking: as above, not easy without a range that burns wood. Or biogas if you happen to have it. Or you could use a spirit camping stove like the one I take backpacking. Alcohol fuels can be derived from plant matter and so, like wood, are carbon neutral. An electric stove is fine subject to the power being from a utility company which guarantees its renewability.
  • At work: use no machinery or equipment which isn't hand-powered or getting its power from renewables (very unlikely).
  • Eating: only locally-grown food or, better, your own-grown food which has zero food miles. If you don't know where your food is from, fossil fuel will have been used to get it to you for sure. If it's packaged and/or processed, fossil fuel will have been used in its manufacture.

It's not easy being green: You'll have read through my list, thought about it a bit, and probably decided that the whole idea is impossible. And to a large extent, you'd be right. You can look upon it as a sort of 'thought experiment'; an exercise in assessing dependence. Or you can give it a go anyway and see how much you can manage. Devise a way to give yourself some points; more points for less FF. What did you score? What was the maximum you could score using your assessment? (If you come up with a good way to do this, add a Comment to this post.)

Points mean prizes! And the eventual prize: a habitable planet for our children to inherit. So... have a NoFF day!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Harnessing the power of belief

Our planet surrounded by the symbols of the most important world religions (clockwise from top): Islam, Hinduism, Paganism, Christianity, the Jewish faith, Buddhism. There are many other minor religions but not room for them all!

Some scary facts

  • human population is expected to reach 9-10 billion by the end of the century

  • the planet is in the middle of its sixth mass extinction

  • climate change is the most imminent and serious threat ever faced by humanity

What can we do? Can we mobilise for a War on Climate Change? Most of us opt for outright denial that there's a problem and continue 'business as usual'. Those of us who are aware ('extremists' like myself and still a tiny proportion of humanity) can do very little apart from tinkering round the edges. Politicians can do very little either for fear of unpopularity. Industry in many cases would readily support some action (of course, others like Exxon will not) but are justifiably concerned at being put at a competitive disadvantage in the dog-eat-dog world of modern commerce.

So how do we mobilise the numbers of people we need to get moving on climate change mitigation? In times of world war, whole populations have been successfully mobilised to fight and have had to put up with major adversities (apart from the killing) like rationing: at the very least, there's going to have to be rationing of fossil fuels. But tackling climate change needs international mobilisation, and acceptance - in the rich world at any rate - that living standards will inevitably decline. Is it possible to get started on this before climate-induced disasters impact so severely on economies and lifestyles that there becomes no other option?... but by then, it will be too late because of positive climate feedbacks such as massive methane releases (from gas hydrates in the oceans and vast tracts of melting permafrost in Siberia and Canada which is already underway).

A faith solution: E O Wilson, the great American biologist, already has a partial answer. He's just published a book about it: The Creation: A Meeting of Science and Religion. In it he makes the case for an alliance between secular humanists and people of faith in order to avert mass extinctions.

This approach is not only brilliant; it might also be the best chance we've got. But why stop at American Christians, Wilson's main target audience? Why not all faiths everywhere?

Mobilising religious people: the problem Those old enough to remember songs of the 1960s will probably remember this by mathematician and lyricist Tom Lehrer:

All the Catholics
Hate the Protestants
And the Protestants
Hate the Catholics
All the Muslims hate all the Hindus
And everybody hates the Jews.
National Brotherhood Week, Tom Lehrer

(It was a great tune, too!) But this song serves to make the serious point that so much zeal and potential creativity is diverted into hatred and wars. Much of the news today is about just that.

Have faith and imagine...! If only humankind could harness that often-deadly energy, that zeal, passion and conviction that all faiths share to some degree and channel it into taking action to save our planet! For a start, there'd be much more cash available because there would be less need for armaments, a despicable evil industry which netted more than $1 trillion last year.

I imagine that all the world's great religions include a duty of care of the environment and the planet for the good of all. I know that Buddhists do and American Christians have begun to mobilise on this issue, noticeably over the last few months. Paganism is based on care for Mother Earth as is, for example, the 'old' religion of the Andean peoples who revered pachamama, Mother Earth and inti, the sun god.

How could it come about? It's not going to be easy. I'm sure plenty of people , religious or secular, will have ideas. How about convening an All Faiths Forum where faith leaders agree to bury the hatchet and find common ground? Who convenes it? Over to you, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews: you could work together. Could some of you get started please? Your planet needs you!

If you're religious and you think these ideas are worthwhile, please copy, print and forward this piece to your friends and religious leaders. There's no copyright. My blog is your blog!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A day at the seaside... without fossil fuel

Val outside a medieval house, en route to the sea. Nice place for a picnic.Have you noticed how, when you drive somewhere reasonably local in your car, it seems an impossible distance to imagine doing on foot or by bike. Yet when you do try it without the car, you're quite surprised at how short a distance it actually is. I have the good fortune to live within a few miles of the nearest sea but oddly, my wife Val and I had never actually tried cycling there instead of using the car... for exactly the reasons I just mentioned: it seemed like a long way to go.

The headland at Penychain. Lots of interesting geology here if you like that sort of thing: flow-banding, brecciation and a possible lava dome. Well we tried it yesterday and - surprise! - it wasn't. Getting there was incredibly easy because it was mostly downhill. Being there was fun as the day was warm and sunny and there were cliffs to explore, beaches for paddling, seabirds and landbirds to see and flowers to enjoy. And, oddly, it was easy cycling home. We had both expected it to be hard.

We have another advantage here in rural north Wales: there's a network of little-used very minor roads. So you can, with care, choose a route which is both scenic and almost devoid of cars. Because it's cars which, for me, make cycling so generally unappealing. On our chosen route, we were passed by one car and only had to cross two main roads.

Happily, many people nowadays can turn to cycling as a means of getting around because there are more and more cycle routes which avoid roads as much as possible. Also, there is something rather special about happy days out in which the only CO2 you add to the atmosphere is from your respiration. Very satisfying!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Who are the 'criminals' really?

The blog (in blue) below is from, posted today. I agree with almost everything he says except his comment on the 'real criminals'. Please read on and see what I mean:

'Plane Stupid' protest puts short-haul flights under the spotlight
News from last week suggests that at long last a direct action campaign against climate change is really beginning to kick off. On Sunday 24 September twenty-six 'Plane Stupid' protesters established a temporary climate camp - not in a field next to a power station this time, but on the taxi-way of East Midlands Airport. The airport - called a "climate change factory" by the demonstrators - was chosen because it specialises in mega-polluting short-haul flights, which could easily be replaced by train travel.
Whilst there they listened to a Baptist minister preach from a makeshift pulpit that, at a time when 160,000 people are dying from climate change impacts every year, "flying is a sin". The Rev. Malcolm Caroll's former parish was in nearby Nottingham. The activists managed to stick it out for 4 hours before being removed by police, and all 26 were arrested and charged with aggravated trespass. Needless to say, the real criminals - those operating the airport and the airline companies - continue with business as usual, protected by the full force of the law.
A few days later, the Met Office issues a press release: September was the warmest on record in the United Kingdom "by some margin". Is anyone listening?

I disagree that the 'real criminals' are the plane operators. Of course they are part of the problem. But surely the people to point the finger of blame at are those who actually fill the planes on their cheap package tour holidays. They don't have to do it. They can choose not to. But they don't, either because they don't know what they're doing is crazy or because they don't care. It is the task of we enlightened people who eschew flying for frivolous purposes to - somehow - get through to the 'frequent flyers' and encourage them to take their holidays locally.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The climate 'extremist' changes tack

If you've visited this blog before, you'll be confused because I've changed its name! It used to be 'the climate extremist' but I decided that wasn't very helpful. The reason I called it that at first was because flying will soon be the biggest contributor to global warming of all so I refuse to travel by air. As a result of this stance, a friend accused me of being 'an extremist'.

My aim was to encourage like-minded responsible citizens to help make this no-fly stance not 'ex-treme', but mainstream. People who fly for frivolous reasons (like tourism) are killing the future, not just for my kids, but for everyones.

But it's not just air travel that's the problem. It's the way we live on the planet, using far more of its resources than it can possibly sustain whilst the global population ticks away, inching upwards at about 3 per second, and now standing at around 6.6 billion. Refusing to fly for non-essential reasons is just one small thing any of us in the rich world can choose to do which will make an impact once there is a critical mass of likeminded people. There are a host of other things too, some of which I'll doubtless blog about in the future!

Monday, May 22, 2006

Slow is smart

A burning issue: As road vehicle fuel costs climb, visits to fuel stations are a quick way to burn money. I've been aware for some time of the relationship between speed and fuel consumption and now, this is dramatically confirmed by carefully-conducted tests of various models of cars. It doesn't matter whether it's petrol or diesel, gas-guzzling SUV or hybrid, fuel consumption soars as your driving speed goes up.

Steer us to diesels: That was the title of a piece I wrote for the Telegraph Magazine many years ago. It made the still-valid point that, mile for mile and size for size, diesel cars are up to 30% more efficient than petrol. Even the so-called 'economical' hybrids still can't touch the best small diesels. I have just about the most economical car on the road - Ford's best kept secret - a diesel Fusion. (See what Green Consumer guide says about its fuel consumption.) Its CO2 emissions are just 116grams per kilometre and I find that it averages around 65mpg/3.6 litres per 100 kilometres. It's surprisingly roomy and more economical than the best hybrid. Why doesn't everyone buy something similar? I got mine second hand a year ago.

Slow down for the planet! So with an economical car AND by driving gently - that's no violent acceleration and braking; keeping to speed limits and cruising at much less than the 70mph speed limit where it applies - you can start making a big difference to your emissions (and bank balance) right away. Oh, and better for the planet too!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

War on the atmosphere: military aircraft emissions

Low-flying aircraft above our polytunnel Insult to injury: George Monbiot's recent piece on aircraft emissions prompts this post; something I've been considering for some time. It is, in turn, prompted by the daily screech and roar of military aircraft over this 'peaceful' country haven in north Wales. Quite apart from any other considerations, this daily air and noise pollution is a continual affront to our attempts to live here as sustainably as possible. With one economical car (65mpg average and 116 grams/kilometre CO2 output), a wood-burner, low-energy lights, insulation and central heating used sparingly, our lifestyle is as low carbon as you can reasonably get in the carbon-fuel-dependent UK. Probably these aircraft burn up what we use in a year in just a couple of hours... but I don't know. Who does?... Or is it secret?

Aircraft emissions and the atmosphere: Okay, here's the issue: we know aircraft emissions are really bad for the environment, especially those at high altitude. Just how much fuel do the airforces of the world squander on training flights (or war games for big boys and their very expensive toys as I'm uncharitably inclined to regard them after the tenth jet in twenty minutes)? What proportion of total aircraft emissions do they represent? I have no idea but I'll bet it's more than you might think. No doubt it's a closely-guarded military secret. And what's it all for? That gross euphemism 'defence' (Orwell warned of this) is bandied about by politicians everywhere. But what's the point of it all (and upgrading nuclear 'deterrents' come to that)? In what way are these scary warplanes and their undoubtedly skilled pilots increasing our security in Britain? Consider little Costa Rica appropriately about the size of Wales: This little country doesn't have an airforce or any military force. The country is still there... and it has land borders with its neighbours making invasion easy, unlike seabound Britain.

Is war more important than climate? The biggest problem facing the planet now is climate change. Most of us, including politicians, would agree with that. So who is about to attack the UK which requires a large active fuel-burning airforce to repel? Terrorists? But everyone knows that terrorists' weapons are suicide bombers and cars packed with explosives. They don't use aircraft - except as flying bombs, one infamous day, in 2001. So why must we put up with this squandering of limited resources on things like military aircraft and the resultant pollution which endangers everyone, not to mention useless nuclear weaponry? Or is there another agenda we ordinary folk don't hear about, like invading Iran - as if the disaster of the US/UK invasion of Iraq wasn't lesson enough? Or maye it's just successive UK governments' desire to have access to the 'top tables' with their American friends, perpetuating the absurd post-colonial notion of 'punching above our weight' and the so-called 'special relationship' which must be nurtured at all costs? That's a lot of questions but how can I get some answers? I have asked my MP to enquire and he is doing so.

Lives are at stake here.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Signing the pledge

Anti-airport expansion pledge: The no-fly movement is here... sort of. You can make an 'airport pledge' online. This anti-airport expansion pledge is being backed by Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, People and Planet, Rising Tide and Transport 2000, together with local protest group HACAN ClearSkies.

I've signed up. You can see my pledge (and another 3770) here. This was the comment I added (as you can):
"It's the planet, stupid! This mantra (or something like it) should be on display at all airports, all travel booking websites and travel agents... rather like the health warnings on cigarette packets. Frivolous fliers should have pariah status but first, they have to understand what they're doing. Most people don't get it... yet. Education through campaigns like this is one of our best hopes for getting the message across."

More please: But we need more than this, nationally and internationally. We need to have a responsible citizens group drawn from anywhere in which individuals can 'sign up' and make their pledge not to fly except in emergencies. There is a website of this sort, called the Flight Pledge Union which tells you almost nothing about itself. I envisage something much more interactive than this and it's clearly critically important that a list of real people - like the 'airport pledge' site (above) displays. And besides, I'm not too keen on 'anti' anything; it's too negative. If anyone has ideas, links or knows of organisations which are potentially relevant, please leave a comment.

By the way, 6 out of 10 to the Flight Pledge Union for trying but I think they have much work to do.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Trapped: it's the planet, stupid

Poor sick planet Earth
All is not well with our planet as we are regularly reminded by a string of reports, such as last year's Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the almost-daily string of revelations about how the climate is changing faster than we thought.

The fault is ours. Even George Bush has acknowledged that. But though politicians make speeches paying lip service to the environment, business continues as usual. Coal is mined; forests are burned; people still fly off on holidays; the planet warms... Business as usual.

Are we trapped or can we free ourselves from this relentless cycle of energy resource overuse? It looks like were locked in to an economic system, depending as it does on exploitation, even though we know it’s a system that’s bound to come tumbling down (maybe taking most of us with it). Are we trapped into pillaging the planet’s life support systems even though we know it can’t go on? Even now, many countries behave as if they were not all connected to and dependent on the biosphere, a lesson still not understood − particularly by nationalists. The universal excuses for doing nothing are always 'keeping business competitive', jobs and ‘the economy’. But it's the planet, stupid! I always feel like screaming when I hear these deadly mantras. Without a healthy planet, there won't be an economy.

Three Ds: the dilemmas of democracy and denial
So what’s being done? Not much. One stumbling block is, ironically, democracy because it ensures that nothing unpopular can be done. Worse is outright denial that there’s a problem at all. No flyer today can be totally unaware of the damage they subscribe to by their addiction to cheap flights. Their main defence, I suppose, is that since everyone else is doing it, what difference can my self-denial make?

Is there a way forward? My main purpose for creating this blog is to explore what we as individuals can do to make a difference. I hope readers like you will post your own ideas. Let's make a start...

Let's create a voluntary no-flying movement: NFM
One idea whose time has come is for more far-seeing citizens to create a voluntary no-flying movement (NFM). I would be among the first to join. One religious movement, the Christian Methodists, encouraged people to sign a pledge to avoid alcohol for ever in an effort to cut alcoholism rates. Our NFM could involve a pledge too but we should positively encourage sustainable travel and holiday alternatives.

If we can't collectively do something, we’re back to the dilemma we all face: the planet’s cry for help isn’t getting through. It seems we really are trapped.