Friday, March 06, 2009

Simon Usborne and Helen Brown are both ignorant twats


The Indy has put a set of photos compiled by these two up on their website with text passages below and the title "Inconvenient truths: Don't believe the greenwash". When I read this I assumed it would be some expose on the subject, along the lines of Fred Pearce's work for the Guardian. Sadly not. It is, in fact, an odyssey of misinformation, obfustication and outright anti-environmentalism masquerading as a critique of environmentalism. These two are so fucking stupid that they do not understand the difference between "ecologists" and "environmentalists", as the sub-heading beneath the link to the article on the front page of the Indy reads "the facts many ecologists would rather ignore".

Seriously. Fucking. Weak.


I started writing a point-by-point critique of it but I'm labouring under a gods-awful hangover and gave up after the first two because I couldn't muster the effort to do it justice. I'm feeling a little more manly now so, having been inspired by John B's comment below, I'm back to have another stab.

Number 2 is just bizarre. The authors' claim of there being "some serious cute collateral along the way" to achieving EU renewable energy generation targets ignores the consequences of climate change and continuing GHG emissions. So there is no "cute collateral"- there is the lesser of two evils whereby the installation of renewable generation capacity results in limited disturbance to the environment. Much less than climate change is predicted to, anyway.

Number 3 is clearly bollocks. Nuclear is a favourite ranting topic of mine so I am content to simply link to previous posts that explain why it sucks ass. Most of the best arguments come from Monsieur Godhaven. Who rules.

Number 4 is fair enough.

Number 5, as John B points out, is overplayed but generally correct. However, it omits mention of the elephant in the room, which is that hybrids are utterly pointless when you can buy fully electric vehicles. It also omits from its discussion of footprints the obvious point that driving an old car around means no resources consumed in the production of a new one and no scrap generated from your old car.

Number 6 is a sack of shit. "Clean Coal" is an oxymoron. End of story.

Number 7 is another bizarre one because it starts with the title "Organic farming doesn't add up" and then throws a bunch of odd facts at you about farming, some of which are incredibly contentious. The factoid about organic cattle feed containing more roughage and resulting in more methane production is just bollocks. The potential for waste organic material to be used for anaerobic digestion to produce methane isn't mentioned and the massive contributions of fertilisers to GHG emissions also doesn't seem relevant to these two fuckwits.

Number 8 is such a blinkered argument that I truly struggle to believe it made into print in a national newspaper. It just goes to show you how dangerous a little knowledge can be in the wrong hands. Yes, trees' CO2 uptake falls when they reach maturity. No, this doesn't mean we should cut down ancient forests and replant them. That is exactly the sort of piecemeal analysis, ignoring any interaction more complex than the most obvious, that results in natural disasters such as the flooding we now experience so regularly or climate change. Individual trees may absord less carbon as they age but the forest as a whole remains a massive and growing sink for carbon. You can't argue with Nature (see what I did there?).

Number 9 is just cock. Goat cock, in specific. Once again, Merrick will explain. And George. I might observe that engineering algae to produce biofuels efficiently is one application of GM that I wholeheartedly support. As long as the algae are grown in a closed system to prevent their genes escaping into the wider ecosystem.

Number 10 is bang on the money.

Number 11 is another odd one. Yes China could produce enough wind turbines to power the world. Why we would want it to when we could do it ourselves, thereby generating jobs and simultaneously saving the world isn't considered. Again, the big-picture eludes our two type-writer equipped monkeys.


  1. It's a weird mix of bollocks and not bollocks.

    2, 4, 8 and 10 are about right.

    6 and 9 are outright lies.

    5 is overplayed but makes a good point (ie Priuses do fuck all for the environment and the people who drive them are fake, greenwashy, Cameron-ish twats).

    3 is up for debate.

    And 7 and 11 aren't actually factual claims, they're just weird statements about nothing.

  2. Yes of course you're right about 8, the only forests applies to are artificial forestry plantations that are commercially managed for growth anyway. A bit embarrassed I fell for that one.

    On 2, I think you're overestimating the level of public debate. Real people do, genuinely, oppose turbines and barrages because they're worried about killing cute little animals. The rejoinder that far more cute little animals will be killed by climate change is certainly true, but I thought that Usborne & Browne's point here was that this is an argument we need to have & win.

    (and your electric vehicles link doesn't seem to work - but the problem here is that batteries charged from the grid are massively inefficient, particularly when the grid mix consists primarily of non-renewable sources anyway. Yes, in the very long term, once all generation comes from low-carbon sources, self-propelled electric vehicles will make sense, but during the transition period we'd do better to dedicate the oil and gas we do use to cars, while phasing them out earlier for all grid-connected energy needs...)

  3. OK, I missed the point of 2. Thanks for the clarity. I made my usual mistake of trying to think about something rationally and assuming that everyone else does too. Its odd how I blog regularly about how this country is in a shit state for exactly that reason and then forget it a post later.

    In defence of renewables and fluffy things, climate change and renewables are obviously far from being their only threat. I hate to quote that nasty little climate change denier, Bjorn Lomborg, but he did come up with some relevant numbers on how many birds are killed by various anthropogenic activities. Wind turbines killed 30,000 p.a. in Denmark. Cars killed a million. In the UK, cats kill 55 million.

    As for electric vehicles, Wikipedia reckons they are at least as good as petrol/diesel engined vehicles in terms of efficiency.

    And, whilst overall carbon emissions are the same for the two types of propulsion, it is a lot easier to reduce the emissions of your EV by charging it from renewables than it is to reduce the carbon emissions of your internal combustion engined car. That's what I see as the fundamental advantage of electric vehicles: Choosing to go electric involves rejecting the massively entrenched paradigm that cars should be throbbing, roaring, speeding things instead of practical, quiet, efficient things. (I.E. I blame Jeremy Clarkson.)

    My own hope is that we can develop a way of producing biofuels so as to continue fuelling the entrenched paradigm. Replacing the entire world's vehicle fleet with electric ones in a single generation is utterly impractical and would require a massive amount of resources. It makes a lot more sense to develop sustainable biofuels and convert to electrics gradually and only partially. Of course, we have no idea what energy sources might be available in even twenty years so this is all very hypothetical but I think its the most sensible plan when you look at the big picture.

  4. Three chords are enough16 March, 2009 20:51

    Hey smart cunt

    the birds that are frequently killed by wind turbines are large birds with a low reproduction rate, such as large raptors. Funnily enough these are the same birds that migrate in areas where wind farms may be sited. The results can be disastrous - see the Altamont and Tarifa debacles and European problems with White-tailed Sea Eagles.

    Given your recent Malthusian masturbation, you can probably appreciate the potential damage to raptor populations that could result from a poorly sited (as many seem to be) wind farm.

    Me?, I don't give two fucks but I thought you might like to know the facts around raptors and wind farms. Even so, perhaps a few dead birds is a price well-worth paying.

    Like the blog, keep it up.

  5. "smart cunt" has a lovely ring to it.

    I see what you mean about Altamont:

    And Tarifa:

    But the numbers being discussed- eg. 1000 at Altamont- are irrelevant in the broader scheme of things for the reasons I gave before. Even if a disproportionate number are raptors, there remain heavily protected populations of such birds in national parks- far from wind farms- that will continue to breed. So extinction is an unlikely threat. I think most raptors aren't migratory so that shouldn't be a problem (I'm on ropey ground here though, so correct me if I'm wrong).

    Ultimately, if we continue to fuck the ecosystem these birds will probably die anyway. So, as you rightly observe, maybe a few dead birds is a price worth paying.

    Glad to be of interest. Word.


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