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London Goes Carbon Crazy
June 5, 2007 10:58 AM   Subscribe

Arriving in London this past week was something of a shock to the system, a jolt of reality that was both delightful and disarming. The town seems to have gone carbon crazy, offering up a display of initiatives from both the public and private sectors that highlighted how far behind the U.S. has fallen. The consciousness about carbon here seems to be sky-high.
..by Joel Makower, producer of the mockumentary Climate Counts.
posted by stbalbach (23 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
This may have to do with them noticing that if Greenland or West Antarctica lose their ice caps, they will lose their capital city to the sea. Unlike some other nations they might actually care about something like that.
posted by localroger at 11:00 AM on June 5, 2007


It may have to do with the fact that London is one of the wealthiest cities in the entire world and can afford to worry about things like carbon offsets, especially since they host a market where carbon offsets can be traded (with commissions and all the financial and political power that entails.)

Countries that can't afford this kind of indulgence, like China, rightly point out that economic development and the war against poverty will be hampered by their carbon limitations. They say it's not fair; Europe and the U.S. did not have to worry about carbon emissions as they became industrialized nations and raised their own standards of living. So why should China?
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:06 AM on June 5, 2007


They say it's not fair; Europe and the U.S. did not have to worry about carbon emissions as they became industrialized nations and raised their own standards of living. So why should China?

And we're all paying the price now.

You think the war on poverty's got its inequities--just wait until the soon-to-come war on mass human extinction gets fully underway. You want to talk about unfair... I've got a 10-month old son who'll probably have to fight in it.

Thanks, O Enlightened Ones.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:20 AM on June 5, 2007


ikkyu2,

Yeah, China can't afford it. They can totally not afford to prevent Shanghai from being underwater. As long as "economic development" is going strong, who cares if climate change can cause famines and massive population shifts? I mean, when was the last time China had a hard time feeding it's people?
posted by wuwei at 11:38 AM on June 5, 2007


My favourite is the Guardian's Travel Section. There is a little column where people ask things like "Is it okay for me fart in the pool in Tenerife or will I be melting the ice caps?". The inevitable conclusion is of course that to reduce your carbon footprint you shouldn't take a step which sort of makes for dull travel.
posted by srboisvert at 11:38 AM on June 5, 2007


*its
posted by wuwei at 11:39 AM on June 5, 2007


So, ikkyu2, are you claiming that you're not familiar with the Stern Report, which shows that every £1 spent on tackling climate change saves £5's worth of negative consequences to a domestic economy, or merely that the Chinese haven't?
posted by imperium at 11:39 AM on June 5, 2007


As a Canadian living in the UK, I can't help notice this phenomenon as well. Carbon emissions do seem to be more often in the news here, and there is much more chatter and awareness of the environmental impact of flying and buying imported food.

On the other hand, I think ikkyu2 is not far off the mark when he/she notes the wealth of London. Except I don't think this issue is limited to Londoners but rather I feel that the discussion is mostly being held by the upper-middle-class in the UK generally.

I also can't help feeling there's a certain amount of elitism in the debate. That's not to say there aren't good intentions or that it isn't a serious issue -- there are, and it is. But I think sometimes people lose sight of just how privileged you have to be to be deciding that you won't take that shopping holiday to Spain because of the carbon emissions.

There is a particular style of environmental awareness I've noticed in the pages of the Guardian a lot recently which seems to be all about how you can "ethically" consume. Buy this product because it's organic, fair trade, blah blah blah. It begs the issue somewhat -- consuming anything leads to carbon emissions so surely the solution is to consume less not to be suckered into spending twice as much on some designer purse as you might otherwise just because it's "ethical".

If this debate is a lot more common in the UK than it is in Canada and the US, I think that's largely because of how many more rich people in the UK have left-wing sentiments and beliefs to start with. The Guardian and the Independent are newspapers read by the well-to-do and yet they both cater to a left-wing viewpoint.
posted by attaboy at 12:13 PM on June 5, 2007


Carbon panic / paranoia more like. You'd think it was a pollutant or plutonium the way some behave. But it is a Fad and will be forgotten.
posted by A189Nut at 3:34 PM on June 5, 2007


A189Nut, I see your a teacher. How well read are you on this topic to make that comment?
posted by stbalbach at 4:06 PM on June 5, 2007


Nut, indeed.
posted by basicchannel at 4:12 PM on June 5, 2007


Carbon offset purchasing is hitting our Canuck airlines, though, guys. There was a fairly extensive interview on CBC Radio the other day about how it works, why we would choose to spend the extra few bucks, etc.

We'll have a full-fledged carbon offsets fad within the year, is my guess.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:41 PM on June 5, 2007


which shows that every £1 spent on tackling climate change saves £5's worth of negative consequences

I think the ignore climate change argument boils down to: is it my pound being spent, and who is saving the other 5?
In Australia we hear a constant litany that carbon reduction will hurt the poor coal miners/aluminium smelters, rather than creating jobs for wind farm maintainers etc.
There is also the deceptive "cost" of amelioration. Because the economy may grow slightly less quickly if we combat CO2 emission, this opportunity cost is totaled resulting in headlines like "CO2 plan to cost $40b".
Except for the Stern report, I haven't seen the flip side argument "Non-CO2 action to cost $400b".
posted by bystander at 4:48 PM on June 5, 2007


One can only hope that a First World country like the United Kingdom will lead by example. Other European countries are far ahead of the UK, and I sincerely wish that the EU can impose green initiatives that will actually be rolled out here in the UK in the near future.

In other words, I want Parliament to help me put solar panels on my roof in the same way that Germans can.
posted by chuckdarwin at 5:02 PM on June 5, 2007


Countries that can't afford this kind of indulgence, like China, rightly point out that economic development and the war against poverty will be hampered by their carbon limitations. They say it's not fair; Europe and the U.S. did not have to worry about carbon emissions as they became industrialized nations and raised their own standards of living. So why should China?

Well, I think having Shanghai might make it a bit more difficult to "raise their own standards living"

And for the moment, China emits about 63% as much CO2 as we do. So right now we are a much bigger problem then China. Per capita, each American outputs 5.37 tons a year, while the average Chinese puts out 0.76. In that measure, they're not even close.
posted by delmoi at 10:40 PM on June 5, 2007


Carbon panic / paranoia more like. You'd think it was a pollutant or plutonium the way some behave. But it is a Fad and will be forgotten.

Well, there me a faddish element to consumer initiatives, but if you think government action on CO2 is going to subside or go away your out of your mind.
posted by delmoi at 10:43 PM on June 5, 2007


Per capita, each American outputs 5.37 tons a year, while the average Chinese puts out 0.76. In that measure, they're not even close.

Yes, but they'd like to be - because burning all that carbon gives a person a higher standard of living.

Of course, if London has its way, the Chinese will not be permitted to use up the fossil fuels. That privilege will continue to be reserved to the civilized races.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:35 PM on June 5, 2007


Per capita, each American outputs 5.37 tons a year, while the average Chinese puts out 0.76.

Sonofagun. An order of magnitude difference. The West just can't continue to do what it has been doing. Just isn't sustainable.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:49 PM on June 5, 2007


A189nut is correct. The CO2 issue has only been picked up by the popular press in the last 6-12 months. If Joel had come to the UK a year ago, he wouldn't have seen much mention of it anywhere. Presumably they'll get bored of it soon like they have with bird flu.
posted by cillit bang at 1:29 AM on June 6, 2007


Another factor could well be the weather thing.

London was infamous for its rain. Think of the archetypal image of the city stockbroker with his umbrella. Think of the British obsession with whether it will rain today or not.

Fast forward to 2007. Spring seemed to start early in March. Instead of April showers, we got April sunshine. Which is all well and good, but doesn't bode well for South East Britain's water supply, which is still on a drought order.

In other words, climate change is happening in London. Right now.

But yeah, there are more middle-class lefties and right now it is the trendy topic, as long as it doesn't overtly impact on people's lifestyles. Can't wait to see what happens when carbon limitations are set on people at an individual level, which I think must happen.
posted by electriccynic at 2:15 AM on June 6, 2007


chuckdarwin : You can apply for UK government grants for putting solar panels on your roof. The DTI's Low Carbon Buildings Programme is what you're looking for. Technically this is different from the way that Germans get support for PV in that it's direct subsidy rather than a tariff per unit of electricity, and I would agree that the tariff is the more effective mechanism. If you're talking about solar thermal then Germans also have a grant system for domestic installation, which is slightly different from the UK's, ie Germany subsidises for area of panel (with minimum efficiency specified) while UK subsidises as a fraction of total capital cost (for approved technologies). The UK subsidy is quite a bit more generous I think, though oversubscription means you have to be quick on your feet to get your project approved.
posted by biffa at 3:48 AM on June 6, 2007


Yep, certain Londoners, particularly those in the (upper)middle classes reading the Guardian/Independent, are talking a lot about climate change these days - starting to feel guilty about their heli-skiing trips and shopping bags. My take: it's classic self-actualisation, as per the top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. To me Maslow's pyramid is looking more like "Maslow's Jenga" these days (people pull out the basic building blocks at the bottom to strive for the top), but maybe that's just me being crotchety...
posted by runkelfinker at 5:18 AM on June 6, 2007


Of course, if London has its way, the Chinese will not be permitted to use up the fossil fuels. That privilege will continue to be reserved to the civilized races.

If London has its way London will remain above water. If you think it's about anything else you're deluding yourself.
posted by vbfg at 5:55 AM on June 6, 2007


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