Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Fred Flintstone didn't drive a gas guzzler...

This is the title of an article by Ruth Lea in the latest New Statesman. You can find it here. Here's my reply:

"Yes, I agree, we can’t control climate change, and natural cycles and solar activity are probably part of the problem. But we can’t ignore that mankind has increased the amount of atmospheric CO2 dramatically in the last two centuries. We know that the greenhouse effect is real – it keeps the surface of the planet at a temperature that supports life – so upsetting the balance of greenhouse gases must be a risk.

Yes, the UK emits only 2% of the world’s greenhouse gases so we cannot change the world on our own. It’s a truism to say that if no-one does anything then nothing gets done, Yes, China is opening new power stations, but it’s trying to bring its population – 30 million of whom still have no electricity – up to a standard that’s still far lower than our own. China will generate carbon-free electricity from the Three Gorges Dam and is very advanced in the use of solar power. We must support them by our example.

We can cut our carbon footprint by cutting fossil fuel use. This will help us to adapt to the coming global energy crisis as fuels, led by oil, begin to run out. (And we’re talking within the next five years!) There is no alternative fuel with the capacity to replace oil and no technological solution to the shortages. It is just too horrific for most people to consider that the energy that drives our cars, heats our homes and produces everything we eat, use or wear is coming to an end. Read what the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas www.peakoil.net has to say. Check on the statements of Dr Ali Samsam Bakhtiari, formerly of the National Iranian Oil Company; the presentations of international energy banker Matthew R Simmons and the books of Richard Heinberg and many others.

Changing to low-energy light bulbs is a step forward, but nothing to the changes that global energy shortages will impose on us in the next few years. We need to adapt to this now. Doing nothing is just not an option. Recognising the true problem would be a start."

Catch 22

I was with a group of businessmen last week discussing climate change. Chatham House rules so I can’t be more specific, but the conclusions will reach Whitehall in due course.

One of the more obvious conclusions we came to was that encouraging more people to work at home would benefit the environment. Less commuting means less travel and less pollution. If people do not travel in every day the head office can be smaller, with lower energy bills, lower water usage and a lower carbon footprint. The company saves money and so do employees. Unfortunately there’s a catch.
Employers have a statutory duty to provide employees with a safe working environment. They are responsible for proper lighting levels, an adequate temperature and for ensuring that the employee has a work station with a chair that will provide proper support. The employer must ensure that all equipment is safe and that electrical equipment has been PAT tested.

To do all this in the employee’s home would infringe the employee’s rights. Not to do it lays the employer open to a claim if the home worker has a problem, like breaking a leg by tripping over the cat or getting a shock off a faulty fax.
For the employer it’s therefore safer to make everyone work in the office. Generally employees commute in their own time and at their own expense, so there’s no problem to the organisation there.

Saving the planet? Sorry, it just doesn’t make business sense.