More thoughts on the Environmental Impact

 

There's not going to be much on the subject of aircon on this page but firstly, before we even mention that subject let me put a few points to you which may at first seem irrelevant but which will I hope soon become clear.

I must have been conceived within a few days of the start of World War II. This means that all my early formative years were in an era of austerity and deprivation, particularly with the provision of food, indeed food rationing did not finally disappear until I was 14 years old. As a result of this austerity mothers everywhere were adept at not wasting a thing. My own mother continued in this vein all her life, you could say that she was frugal, a state not fashionable today in this consumption society but perhaps it had better return. For over 67 years after I was born until the day she died in her nineties she continued to waste very little because it was so engrained in her psyche. Not surprisingly I have this trait engrained in me; I always clear my plate (to the detriment of my figure), until 2016 I still used an old black and white Nokia mobile, I keep the same car for years and years and rather than throw anything away, if there is any possibility of it being useful, I'll keep it 'just in case'. My wife who was born much later than I, laughs at this behaviour. Our son despairs of me.

What has this got to do with the environment? Quite a lot actually. Occasionally I have been lectured to by some "holier than thou" cyclist sometimes with a beard (I've got nothing against beards or cyclists) on wasting the planet's resources on AC, yet these same people may think nothing of changing their mobile phone every year and need to change their laptop every two years to keep it current. Presumably they fail to see that the raw materials and the energy required to produce these products are all part of the same equation. In theory, each person on this planet should have an equal portion of its resources but in practice inequalities in their wealth mean that the distribution is unequal. That shouldn't mean that we in England need to beat our breasts in shame - who does more to deplete the planet's resources, he who uses the aircon on his car or he who clears and burns a whole section of virgin rainforest to make a palm oil plantation. We're all entitled to a share of these resources but let's just not waste what we take for ourselves. It is very fashionable in the UK for the media to bleat about the USA not signing up to the Kyoto Treaty and implying that the Americans are too wasteful with their "gas guzzlers". This seems to ignore the fact that most of the legislation on vehicle emissions and the technology that it spawned first saw the light of day in California. How many hybrid vehicles have we in the UK compared to the quantities in the USA. If you want to see a high "Per Capita Carbon Footprint" look not towards America but towards the Middle East.

I wonder how many people know that the huge Data Centres that provide the servers to run Facebook, Ebay and Google etc need so much electricity to run that they rival the CO2 footprint of the Aero Industry. Last year I read in a newspaper that all London black cabs are in the future to be "Zero Emission". No, that doesn't mean they will have a nuclear engine - it just means that we pretend that the emissions to generate the electricity to recharge the batteries just do not count or matter. Any black cab driver knows that, any man in the street will know that also but say it frequently enough and politicians at least will start to believe it.

A couple of winters ago (2009-10) the UK and Europe experienced a much colder period than we have had for some years. The next winter (2010-2011) started very cold, very early, but by Christmas had turned relatively mild again in southern England. Over the previous few winters, there had been only a few days when the temperature dipped below zero degrees C yet only about 25 years ago there were periods of WEEKS when the temperature did not rise ABOVE zero. Whilst these recent winters have resulted in more snow and extreme temperatures than for some years there are quite a few winters much more extreme within living memory. One winter buses and lorries were coming to a halt because it was so cold the diesel was turning to wax and vehicle fitters sent out to restart the engines had to resort to lighting fires on the road beneath the fuel tanks of the lorries in an effort to melt the wax. Fuel companies had to bring in a whole new standard for the provision of fuel with additives to ensure fuel could take temperatures of at least minus 17 degrees Celsius before waxing occurred. After some years of these cold winters many experts were telling us that we were moving into a period of a Mini Ice Age as had occurred a number of times in previous centuries. A few years later it became obvious that these experts had been mistaken, as experts often are. Yet now everyone listens to the "experts" and believes every word they say. Maybe they are right this time, sometimes they are, but time will tell in the end.

History is what happened before you were born. Everything that you remember in your life is Experience but your "Experience" may be only "History" to someone born a lot later than you. Experience is a wonderful thing, with long experience you remember that there had been "experts" before. I remember well seventeen years ago many "experts" being trotted out to warn that the modern world would virtually fall apart on December 31, 1999 as computers would be unable to cope with the changeover from the year 1999 to the year 2000. As an ex computer professional myself, I knew that apart from a few poorly written programs, all this was nonsense but was this contrary view ever presented in the media? If so, I never saw it in any newspaper or on TV - all the experts that the TV and newspapers presented simply ranted about "The Millennium Bug". It's not surprising really, TV stations need to gain viewing figures, newspapers need better circulation figures and as was always said "Never let the Truth get in the way of a Good Story". so we the viewing public took it all in, as we usually do. Even the Government didn't have the sense to question whether these "experts" had sufficient knowledge or were just full of misplaced self-confidence. I expect that some of our current crop of "experts" are like that.

Currently the temperatures in Britain and in much of the world are higher than for the 1970's and although temperatures have not continued rising for the past ten years or so, we have plainly entered a warmer period. It was stated by some "experts" that the Antarctic icesheet was shrinking as a result of Global Warming. Examining the logs of Captain Scott and others however have shown that the ice-sheet 100 years ago was almost exactly the same as today. The highest temperature ever recorded in the UK was on August 10th 2003 when the temperature in the small village of Brogdale in Kent reached 38.5ºC. The previous record for the UK was almost exactly 92 years to the day before that, on August 9th 1911 in a town just a few miles from Brogdale the temperature was very nearly as high at 36.7ºC and don't forget that in 1911 the internal combustion engine was still extremely rare in Kent and what is more is that this small town was entirely surrounded by orchards so levels of CO2 would have been much the same as they had been for centuries.

Although the "second highest ever UK temperature" occurred over 100 years ago it is still normal for global warning to be almost entirely blamed on the rise of CO2 and by implication on Man's activities. The same reason is given for the extreme weather we occasionally experience. I was out working in the very extreme conditions of The Great Storm of 1987 in the early hours of October 16th. This storm was quite something here in the south east of England. The previous comparable storm for southern England occurred in 1703 and was probably even more destructive. I do not deny that the globe is warming slightly but I have great difficulty in equating that fact just with the level of carbon dioxide in air, particularly as far back as 300 years ago.

The level of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere is now higher than previously and some scientists are theorizing that it is the increased level of CO2 that has caused the earths temperature to rise. Other scientists are of the opinion that the rise in CO2 is the result of the rise in earth's temperature. Chicken or Egg, who's to tell? As far as I know there is no proof either way, merely theories. It is true that each spring as vegetation starts to come alive after the winter each plant uses some CO2 in its photosythesis and gives off Oxygen in exchange and this is very detectable world-wide as a lowering of the CO2 level. Conversely each autumn as the vegetation starts to shut down for the winter so the levels of CO2 rise again, BUT each year the CO2 level rises slightly higher than the previous year. I understand that CO2 helps to prevent heat being lost to the earth by acting like a greenhouse and that in the northern hemisphere this comes to maximum in the late spring before the plants can utilise the extra CO2. This is reasonably assumed (assumed not yet proved) to be the result of man's involvement, perhaps the burning of fossil fuels but also maybe the destruction of the most energy efficient vegetation or it might even be that the earth is being heated more by the sun and is giving off more CO2. Governments having a vested interest (they feel that they can rake in more taxes) are plumping for the former theory. Not being a scientist, I'm keeping out of the way. All I know is that 100% of the heat in the earth's atmosphere comes from the power of the sun. I also know that the heat from the sun is not constant, solar radiation varies at least on the well-known eleven year sun-spot cycles and there may be more long term cycles that man is as yet scarcely aware of. When the sun-spots are at a minimum every eleven years there is a decrease in solar UV radiation and the earth is heated less. Occasionally at just over three hundred year intervals there seem to be periods of about sixty years or so when the sunspots virtually disappear and the earth cools noticeably - the last was between about 1645 and 1715 (called the "Maunder Solar Minimum") so we might be due for one of these "Little Ice Ages" soon. This last "Grand Solar Cycle" contained the coldest winter ever recorded in Europe (the winter of 1683/1684) and was the time that Frost Fairs occurred on the Thames (the winter of 1708/1709 was also extremely cold). Note the date that this Little Ice Age finished - it was soon after this date when CO2 is known to have started increasing in the atmosphere but it may just be coincidence of course. But back to the planet warming - I read just over a year ago that some reputable astronomers have reported that the climates on Mars and Jupiter are also heating up. If that is true then the explanation of why the planets in our solar system are heating up can have nothing to do with CO2 as a greenhouse gas as although it has recently been found to be present on both Mars and Jupiter there is no activity similar to earth so almost certainly the warming there must be just change in solar radiation on those planets.

So if the higher levels of CO2 are the effect of the higher temperatures or are simply another factor which effects it neither way then trying to limit CO2 emissions is irrelevant to global warning. If, on the other hand, history finally proves that the theory of CO2 being the cause of global warming is factual then we might have left it too late to do anything - and there's the rub. Just in case that is the cause perhaps we should try to limit our production of CO2 as far as possible. Perhaps it is not going to make one iota of difference. Back in 1888 I think it was, "Experts" were concerned about the huge number of horses that were being used as transport in central London, pulling wagons and traps and omnibuses and Hackney cabs. These experts after calculation were forecasting that there was no way that London could not be submerged under six feet of horse manure within sixty years (that makes it 1948). The Victorians were a very clever lot and these experts were well respected and bear in mind that in 1888 London was without doubt the most important capital city in the world. Now my mum and dad used to take my sisters and me visiting central London in 1948 (that's the 60 years the Experts forecast) and although I can remember all old buildings were completely black then from several hundred years of coal smoke and I can also remember riding on a tram going through the tunnel at Kingsway down to the Embankment, I don't remember seeing any piles of horse manure anywhere in London. It seems completely farcical now in retrospect but these experts had not realised how innovative man is, nor how the newly invented internal combustion engine would completely revolutionize transport and supercede the horse. But we cannot rely on innovation and technology to get us out of a hole. Perhaps we should just be careful and waste as little as possible over the next few years until we might see the true situation with regard to global warming. Of course we could cease to use our cars at all - never take the kids to see grandma or to the zoo or to the seaside - but you won't find me doing that, I'm just going to continue trying not to waste things, just like mum taught me all those years ago.

While we are thinking about wasted resources, what about the potential massive waste of resources which is the result of a lack of policy from the government on sea inundations. It is proposed that many acres of eastern England are to be allowed to be flooded by the sea due to lack of coastal protection, including the Norfolk Broads and lovely fertile river valleys in Kent. A few years ago much of this land was thought to be of little use due to full agricultural production, excesses of many foodstuffs (remember European Food Mountains?), the EU encouraging farmers to leave some of their land fallow by paying "Set aside" subsidies. A lack of joined-up thinking had not envisioned the desires of the populations of newly enriched emerging nations for burgers and buns rather than just rice and rice and rice. As a result, with just a little help from a warming climate creating several poor harvests, there is now a serious shortage of feedstuffs for cattle and wheat for bread - the law of supply and demand increased the price of wheat threefold in months. This land, to be allowed to flood, is now becoming valuable for cropping. Perhaps it is fortunate that this crisis with food production has occurred now and not ten years down the line when it might have been all too late. I wonder what our children will think of us a generation from now, that we could have allowed this dreadful waste of almost our most precious resource - land, this is England, there are already too many of us crammed onto a small island. I can't think that there would be many Dutchmen happy to allow the sea to reoccupy their dearly won land (half of the Netherlands are below current sea-level) or even the French or Belgian polders, all very productive agricultural land now. I found www.happisburgh.org.uk very interesting, just what is DEFRA doing - short term saving for long term disaster perhaps?

I read in the paper that one government minister was given permission to keep his diesel powered Jaguar and not have to use the eco-friendly Toyota Prius that ministers are supposed to use. This was partly because he covers quite high mileage. This seems to me just like government policy is based upon two minutes of thought. Toyota Prius and other similar hybrid vehicles are undoubtedly very eco-friendly vehicles but only under certain restricted conditions. They are outstandingly economical under urban stop-start conditions or even in very hilly areas. On the open road however they offer few advantages except in extremely congested motorways when driven by inexperienced drivers who are unable to anticipate events ahead and are constantly on the brakes. Government ministers have chauffeurs however so one would hope that they are all reasonably competent drivers and should not drive thus. For someone driving high mileage on modern highways a modern high-efficiency diesel engined vehicle (as is the Jaguar) is almost certainly going to produce lower overall CO2 emission costs particularly if one considers initial build costs, battery life costs and component replacement costs. I suppose I should be surprised that they (the government) don't seem to have investigated the facts more fully but somehow I'm not.

Sometimes we have to take decisions on which way we turn. Do we allow a very powerful security light to turn on for several minutes every time it detects movement after dark? Obviously very non-eco this powerful light, probably of 500 watts, might just make the difference between being robbed or not. The threat from the burglar being ever present and possibly immediate, the threat to the planet being vague and long term. The movement might be only a cat, but then it might not. Most of us would opt for the security light.

I've wandered far and wide on this subject, too far and too wide but it worries me slightly that we too readily accept the words of experts as facts when frequently they are not proven facts, merely likely theories. Television news, both BBC and ITN are particularly bad when they frequently report hand-outs from self serving pressure groups as though they were real facts. There must still be some good reporters about but unless they are young and attractive they are less likely to appear on TV news in the UK as appearance seems to rate higher than ability. To return again to air conditioning in your car, the safety aspects that come with AC, such as being able to see clearly through all the glass under very moist conditions must overcome even the most eco-friendly auguments. Being more alert on long journeys must lessen the risk of accidents and thus make the AC perfectly acceptable. For me, I use the AC whenever I feel it is helpful for keeping cooler or drying the air and don't feel bad about it but I am not wasteful.

Another scenario - which situation is worse in this case - leaving in winter with a windscreen which is scraped clear of frost externally but starts to freeze up immediately on moving off or is it acceptable to leave the engine ticking over for ten minutes before leaving in order to warm up the car and to completely defrost the glassware. One is using precious fuel and creating unnecessary emissions but the other is safer to every other person in the vicinity of that car and to the occupants. Saving the planet might be our long term objective but it is not the sole criterion, if we are all a little frugal we shall be doing our bit.

A final thought - does global warming really matter? I'm not sure but I'll tell you what really does matter and that is global population. The United Nations estimates that the globe currently holds about 6.8 billion people. This means that since I was born the population of this world has tripled - yes, that's right, there are now three times as many people on this planet as when I was born. Now that is serious. Each of these extra people must be contributing to depleting the earths resources and contributing to any man-made global warming. All of us with children are guilty, the guilt increasing with the number of children. Now what can we do about that? Answers on a postcard.....

Surprisingly this is not just about the number of children born though but is partially the result of the Third World catching up with the West in both health and life-span. The old are not dying fast enough to make way for the arrival of the children... Now what is it that Lemmings do?

These last two paragraphs might make you think that the future was so bleak that there was no alternative to putting your head in the gas oven (there - that shows you how old I am). The situation is not as bad as it might seem however. The "expert" I listened to (I was convinced that he was exceptional and did know what he was talking about) said that the major population explosion was tailing off and that, with the exception of Africa, most of the world would have only slight growth over the next century. The prediction was that world population might grow to 10 or possibly 11 billion by the twenty-second century - mostly African growth but even that should tail off soon.

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