Divide and Rule

Even though I presume that you, dear reader, laudably don’t buy The Times, nonetheless you may glance at headlines whilst passing a news-stand.

Yesterday’s main story was headlined ‘THE GREEN DIVIDE: Times poll shows the gulf between words and action on the environment’.

It shows nothing of the sort. The table that, ahem, proves it uses reasoning that could be easily unravelled by a brain damaged gerbil reading the newspaper in the dark.

The Times front cover, 8 November

On reading the article, I’ve got to wonder what form of revenge the journalists wish to exact upon the subeditor who came up with the headline, subheader and table. The article and poll tell a story with an opposite message.

The body of the piece informs us that a majority of Britons think that people who don’t recycle everything they can should be fined by their council. A majority would ‘personally be willing to pay significantly higher petrol prices, car tax and air fares as part of efforts to cut back on carbon emisisons’.

Let’s look at the supposed discrepancies between word and deed.

65% buy only energy-saving light bulbs
Less than 20% of bulbs are energy-saving
Energy-saving bulbs last about fifteen times longer than incandescents. So, people who buy incandescents buy more bulbs.

54% make a conscious effort to take fewer flights
The number of passengers was higher last year than in 2000
As popular awareness of aviation’s contribution to climate change has happened a lot more recently than 2000, this comparison is meaningless. Also, the number of passengers does not properly compare to the number of people taking flights; the big increase in aviation is wealthier people flying more times rather than more people flying. So if 54% take fewer flights but the rest take a lot more we have more passengers.

80% do not leave their television on standby
8% of all domestic electricity is wasted by use of the standby facility
The TV is the one people are most likely to turn off; they commonly still leave their microwave, computer, DVD player, computer monitor or other appliances on standby. Also, as with the flights thing, the drive to switch off has massively increased recently; the Times poll is more recent than the DTI figure that ‘disproves’ it.

76% recycle everything in the household that they can
Only 22.5% of household waste is recycled in Britain
The key word is ‘can’. Much of what we throw away cannot be recycled; either we have no facilities to recycle it, or it is made of mixed materials. Also, as with the flights, they confuse quantity of consumption with quantity of people. As the survey confirms, unskilled workers are more likely to recycle. If those who generate the most waste are the least likely to recycle, we end up with a lot of people doing it but a low quantity of waste recycled.

56% try to use public transport wherever possible
The number of bus journeys outside London fell last year by 4%
This time the key word is ‘possible'; if the transport facilites aren’t there, it is not possible to use them. It’s interesting they want to factor out London; that’s because London’s put investment into running buses as a proper public service. As a result, people use them more. Also, as with the TV on standby thing, the refutation doesn’t compare like with like; just as not all standby appliances are TVs, so not all public transport is buses.

75% try to avoid unnecessary car journeys
63% of all journeys are by car
That thing I just said about poor availability of public transport? See how it applies to making people have to travel by car.

There may be a real story along these lines to be had (people always tell a questioner they’re better than they really are; fast food corporations found that out by responding to consumer demand for more healthy salady type stuff only to find nobody actually buys it and they all do want the triple decker burgers after all).

But if such a story does exist, it’s not the one in the Times. The article doesn’t suggest it, and the stuff in big print is a laughably flimsy cynical attempt to cobble it out of nothing.

The fact that the aforementioned gerbil could rubbish every one of the points without trying means this isn’t some little slip, it’s a wilful twisting of the story. It deliberately undermines the text that follows.

Certainly we can presume that people aspire to do more than they presently achieve and, contrary to the Times’ sneering tone, that’s no bad thing. Our action comes after we’ve decided to take it, not before. Aspiration is the first part of improvement. If you don’t fall short of your standards once in a while then you’ve probably not set them high enough.

The article says that most people are prepared to change their lives and take responsibility for their carbon emissions. It is encouraging. The presentation, in contrast, is discouraging.

In contrast to what it knows to be true, its message is; you know those people who say they’re being environmentally responsible? They’re not really. Don’t let them prick your conscience at all, they’re just lying and trying to make you feel bad. There is no groundswell of people taking personal action on their environmental impact. Honest. Nobody else is doing it, so there’s no point in you starting.

  1. The TV is the one people are most likely to turn off; they commonly still leave their microwave, computer, DVD player, computer monitor or other appliances on standby.

    Is it not the case, though, that the TV uses far more power on standby than any of these others? Or am I wrong?

  2. Sim-O said:

    I haven’t heard anything to the contrary, but also, unfortunatley, it is probably the appliance that gets used the most.

  3. Doormat said:


    I don’t think so: at least for modern TVs. Most modern appliances use power when in standby because they have (very) inefficient AC/DC converters, and they run these continually to power things like clocks and remote-control recievers.

    However, I think that older TVs basically didn’t turn themselves off. You can check by putting a TV on standby, waiting a while, and then seeing if the screen takes some time to warm-up when you take it out of standby. My TV certainly does, but I was shocked to see recently that my parents’ old TV does not: standby just turned the input to the electron-gun off, but kept it running.

    There’s a good article (with a US bias) here which has lots of technical details.

  4. robinhio said:

    Are there some figures due to be released on the governments performance WRT CO2 emissions etc ?

    Blunketts column in the Scum yesterday was foisting the blame for the impending environmental catastrophy onto people who have kids, china etc etc.

  5. Chris said:

    I would like 2 types of sockets in my house, a normal set and a set that can be turned off on a switch by my front door. I could put all the stuff with clocks on the old circuit and then not have to worry about unplugging stuff when I leave the house.

  6. Mr Paul Sharp said:

    I got a bit drunk tonight. Then, after a couple of bottles, I went outside for a cigarette.

    It was cold, and I started thinking about heat and stuff.

    Anyway, I thought about when poeple have gas fires on and stuff, there’s all this hot air going up the chimney.

    Then I thought that there’s probably an updraught all the time, particularly when the temperature differential between indoors and outdoors is at its most extreme. (I’m not sure if this means a downdraught in summer)

    I expect the energy potetial to be pretty low. Far too low for any kind of 240 volt AC supply, but whatabout having some kind of turbine or heat exchanger built into chimneys?

    It could possibly be connected to a battery.

    The average living room could be connected to a fairly constant, low voltage supply, that could be used to run clocks, phone chargers, appliances on standby, etc.

    Just a thought.

  7. another Paul said:

    Your observations on the airflow are correct – updraught most of the time, downdraught on some hot days which wafts the smell of soot into the house.

    The answer is to recycle the wasted heat through a heat exchanger. An architect friend of mine recently designed some houses in Ireland which draw waste/stale air through a heat exchanger using an electric fan to warm up incoming fresh air. To work efficiently the house needs to be draight proof and obvioulsy the doors and windows need to be shut.