Technology – the thief of time and not always the answer

When lockdown came, I instinctively thought I would be saving time because I would not be travelling. Now I have analysed things more deeply I realised that is not the case. When I used public transport, I was productive, I could read on the train or bus and, thanks to free Wi-Fi, deal with emails and all the other things I did sat in front of my office PC. There was downtime, walking to the station or bus stop and waiting for the bus or train to arrive and sometimes waiting on the platform for a connecting train.

In theory I should be saving that time, I am not, something is gobbling it up; Zoom and its co-conspirators. Online meetings are easier to arrange, no room bookings necessary and no travelling, so there are now more meetings than before, add to that that there are no travel costs for the attendees and the inclination to attend is higher. Add to that free to attend webinars and courses and the diary is soon full. Friday was a prime example

7.00 -7.30 am Drop in discussion online event in South Africa

8.00 – 9.00 am Newquay Business Breakfast giving an online presentation

10.00 – 11.00 am Online event – UK and South Africa networking

11.00- 12.00 Cornwall Chamber of Commerce Networking (had to leave early)

11.30 -12.00 One-to-one meeting

1.30 pm to 4.00 pm Carbon Neutral Cornwall Partnership Group meeting

In pre-Covid days I would have probably only attended the CNC Partnership event. It was a good event with a range of people meeting up with a willingness to work together to inform Cornwall Council’s approach to Cornwall being carbon neutral and to act as a critical friend.  It wasn’t part of our discussions, however, I did raise that often we do not stand back enough from problems to find an effective solution. We see a problem with cars causing carbon emissions, so the solution is to build different cars with a cleaner propulsive unit. I shudder to think how much material and energy will be used to produce them. Step back and you can frame the problem differently; we are overdependent on personal transport. The solution then becomes entirely different; improved public transport, different work and travel practices and other things like changing how we shop. The benefits also become more extensive, the electric car solution only delivers cleaner air, the public transport and changed patterns delivers more, quicker travel (no overcrowded roads), more land for housing (less car parks) and more green spaces (less roads and less tarmac spaces to keep cars on).

Despite all the Zoom meetings I did manage to do some reading, normally my train and bus riding activity. This Guardian article caught my attention, Stop making sense: why it’s time to get emotional about climate change. In short it says that facts don’t change people’s opinions and behaviour, they will find all sorts of ways to support their irrational behaviour. That reminded me of someone who thought that washing up liquid was very harmful. If you did the washing up in her house she would watch over you to make sure you rinsed everything thoroughly then, when everything was done, she would pop outside for a cigarette.  

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Dystopia or utopia – you choose

I have not used public transport since lockdown so there is little car free experience to write about. I have made extensive use of Shanks’s pony and this has given me plenty of time to ruminate about the future. Covid-19 has paused the economy, before we press the restart button and get back to business as normal, we have the opportunity to reflect and decide what future we want. We could dream big and create a future in the image of Shangri La, the earthly paradise described in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon. Or, which seems more likely, we could go back to business as usual with ever increasing economic growth accelerating us down the highway of climate change and potentially something akin to Armageddon.

There are little hints of how things could be better. In Camborne some of the parking spaces outside a pharmacy have been coned off to allow pedestrians to pass, at a safe distance, the queue of people waiting to get in. Only a few customers are allowed in at a time and they are then asked to join a different queue outside to wait for their prescription to be fulfilled. The pavement is full of people in a socially distanced queue, hence the need for pedestrians to use the space normally reserved for motorists. If this space can so easily be set aside for social distancing, why can it not be permanently used for plants to green the high street and help combat climate change. Before we press that restart button, we should examine our relationship with the car.

Unfortunately, it looks like the Prime Minister is a business as usual type. He has announced plans to kick start the economy with ‘shovel ready’ infrastructure projects, such as road building, despite the fact that these are a very poor value way of creating jobs. While others are talking about ‘Build Back Better’ the slogan on Boris’s lectern was ‘Build, Build, Build‘ and his rhetoric harked back to a previous era that set us further along the path to devastating climate change. His little quips give cause for concern as well; “Newt-counting delays are a massive drag on the prosperity of this country”. The removal of environmental safeguards in planning regulations should not be seen as a ‘bonfire of the vanities’ it will just add fuel to the climate change furnace we have created.

The Covid pause has given us time to act – we needn’t be like these words from the first song to be played on the BBC’s 6 Music radio station – Burn baby burn.

Tumbling like the leaves

We are spiralling on the breeze

Almost to the point of no return

Everything will burn baby burn

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Some good news

Although it is still bad news

Earth overshoot day is calculated to fall on 22nd August. That is date on which it is calculated that humanity’s resource consumption for the year exceeds Earth’s capacity to regenerate those resources that year. The date has been getting earlier in the year since it was first calculated in 1987, when it was called Ecological Debt Day. In that year it fell on 23rd October, by 2010 it was 8th August and since then it has move gradually earlier and was on 29th July last year. Due to the effects of the actions taken to combat the coronavirus (lockdown) a lot of industrial production and fuel consumption has ceased hence the date of 22nd August for 2020. That is far from good, there should not be an overshoot day.

That single date hides a multitude of sins, the rich countries in the northern hemisphere have dates far earlier than 22nd August (with a few exceptions) and most counties in the southern hemisphere can be thought of as the good guys (well not quite so bad guys). It is difficult to over consume when you are poor. I like to think of myself as being fairly green (a public transport using vegan) yet when I used an online calculator to calculate my overshoot date it was 29th October (room for improvement). When I adjusted it for the effects of lockdown (no air travel and no transport other than Shank’s pony) I would only use up my share of 2020 resources by 11th June 2021 (go me!). It is a fairly crude calculator, but it does give a good idea where changes in your activities could make a big impact.

During lockdown I have been trying to reduce my water consumption to help save energy. A lot of energy is used in treating and pumping water. I was not sure how successful I would be during a time when I was washing my hands like crazy. I was incredibly pleased when I got my water bill this quarter to discover it was half what it was last quarter. All I have done is taken small steps to reduce my water usage, using the minimum amount of water necessary for cooking, making sure I had a full load when using the washing machine, doing the washing up when there was more to wash up, being a little bit quicker in the shower and generally being aware of how long I was having taps running. It has not been an inconvenience and produced good results. Give it a try and see how you get on.

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The road to Hell

Never has the adage, ‘The road to Hell is paved with good intentions been more apt. Other versions are available and are just as applicable; ‘Hell is full of good meanings, but heaven is full of good works, “facilis descensus Averno” – Virgil  (the descent to hell is easy) and “Paradise is surrounded by hardships, and the Fire is surrounded by desires.” – Mohammad.   

People intend to drive less according to a recent AA survey; of the 20,000 motorists polled for the AA, half said they would walk more and 40% intended to drive less. However, AA head of roads policy Jack Cousens said that traffic could return to normal “by the end of July”. We are hardwired to do what we always did and therefore get the results we always got, in this case air pollution and climate change; UK carbon emissions reportedly fell by 31% in April but have increased since. Things are not looking good for the planet or our lungs.

I would not disagree with Mohammad, there are hardships to be encountered on the journey to a cleaner, safer planet; a journey to create paradise on earth. We need to focus more on the benefits and less on the hardships. Going car free has taught me that there are benefits, very early on I learned that walking and public transport brought me closer to my community, made me more aware of my surroundings, gave me time to sit and stare and a lot more. I think, during lockdown, we have all glimpsed what the world could be like without traffic, cleaner air, more bird song and a slower pace of life. With less cars we need less space for the car which means more green spaces, more places for children to play, more places to walk and improve our physical and mental health.

In our endeavour to move from intentions to outcomes the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry “A goal without a plan is just a wish” should be a motto. Let us plan, plan, plan, then implement to turn the intentions into good works. Coming out of the Covid crisis is a once in a generation chance to change behaviour, not to create a brave new world, but a decent green compassionate one where people and nature are in balance. That will require behavioural change, new economic models and the intelligent use of technology, while remembering that technology is not the solution, we are.

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Big ideas – little green steps

Every week during lockdown I think ‘What am I going to write about? I’m not using public transport and we are now being told to avoid it. This blog was all about going car free and using public transport, reducing my carbon emissions and encouraging others to do so. These unusual times gives me the freedom in the Car Free Experience blog to look at other carbon reduction activities. That still gives me the problem what to right about; however, I have found something always comes up at the last minute.

This week it was two virtual events The Virtual Conscious Festival (hosted from Singapore) and the Digital Running Show (a UK event). One of the talks at the Singapore event I attended was about saving and sustainability. A claim was made that – ‘greening’ an individual’s financial assets, such as savings, could generate 27 times greater improvements in a personal carbon footprint than eating less meat, using public transport, reduce water use, and flying less. Wow! That sounded unbelievable so I asked in the chat box where that information came from and they told me, supplying a link.

Now that doesn’t mean you should drive loads of miles in a gas guzzling 4 x 4 with a clear conscience. No it means that while you are trying to chip away at the top of the iceberg to reduce your carbon footprint you should also think about the massive bit below the water that you could have a go at via your finances. More practical advice about this when I have had a bit of time to do some research and come up with some top tips.

Another thing that resonated with me was a statement made during the session on Capitalism versus the Climate. One of the speakers said that one of the interesting things about capitalism was that it prevented people imagining there could be a different way. Thinking about it I thought that was quite profound and probably meant we are doomed.

Fortunately, a little later, I switched to the Digital Running Show and a talk by Derek Redmond about change. At the 1991 World Championships Redmond was a member of the British team that shocked the athletics world by beating the much-favoured American team into second place to claim the gold medal in the 4×400 metres relay. Before that time, the received wisdom was that the second fastest in the team ran the first leg, the fastest runner the last leg and the other team members took the 2nd and 3rd legs. So, Derek Redmond, Kriss Akabusi, John Regis, Roger Black. This was how the team manager and coach planned it; however, the athletes wanted a different format and persuaded the coach to go with it. On your heads be it he said. So that is how the event was won with Roger Black leading off, Derek Redmond and John Regis running the next two legs and Kriss Akabusi running the final leg to victory. The change was necessary to get the win and after that date other athletics team moved away from the normal way of doing things.

The crazy ideas of today become the norm tomorrow.

Now I have hope that capitalism, which helps drive the destruction of the planet, can be replaced by a new way of doing business. It may be a crazy idea, but hey – it is today.

If you want to do your bit before the green revolution happens the organisers of the Conscious Festival, Green is the New Black, have a #LittleGreenSteps campaign where you can pledge to take action. They have some guidance on steps you can take if you need some inspiration.

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Simple is difficult

Looking for a Green Renaissance

Why would you want this IKEA lamp?

Two events this week gave some clarity about how to effectively tackle climate change and why it is going to be extremely hard to achieve. Those two events were the announcement that the Eden Project is to partially reopen and news reports of long queues of traffic at local McDonald’s drive thru outlets now that they have reopened. I last visited the Eden Project a few weeks before lockdown for a Biodiversity discussion organised by the Royal Society. Tim Smitt, creator of the Eden Project, said the solution to biodiversity loss and other environmental problems was simple, ““Get outside more and stop buying s**t”.” Driving to a McDonald’s was not what he meant by get outside more; I will not comment on the nutritional qualities of a Big Mac.  

Tim’s words were a shorthand way of saying that if people spent more time in nature, they would appreciate it and understand better how important it was. People would then be more motivated to look after it. His comment about buying stuff was a plea to reign back on needless consumption, something which the western capitalist model requires. It is telling that there were long queues outside IKEA stores when they reopened at a time when art galleries, where social distancing measures would be easier to implement, remain shut. I wouldn’t question the quality of IKEA’s products, they have enabled lots of people to acquire furniture and fittings at affordable prices, I would question the quantity of products in their range. Society has led to this sales model, or been led there, and it is not good for the environment. It is a widely occurring model, lots of products, lots of choice within ranges and big out of town locations. The huge variety of styles and their relatively cheap price has led to what were once one-off purchases becoming fashion items, replaced when fads change. To shed some light on that I’ll use lamps as an example and look at how many items are in the IKEA range.

Table lamps                        86

Children’s lamps               28

Work Lamps                      32

And if you want some pick and mix

Bases                                   31

Shades                                42

When it comes to lamps IKEA is a minnow; The Lighting Super Store have 2,410 in their massive range of 17,526 lighting solutions.

So, customers as well as driving to get there (bad for the environment) are also driving the consumption of stuff and a throw away mentality (bad for the environment). I am not having a go at IKEA itself, some of their policies are environmentally responsible, for example, only selling LED light bulbs; however, it is this approach to retailing and our approach to buying that I am criticising. And that is looking at things that are useful; add all the needless rubbish we buy; nodding dogs and Christmas tat, then layer on single use items, particularly plastic, and add on food waste and you can see how it is that the planet is being trashed.

Post-Covid we could build a new Green Economy, based on quality, long-lasting products purchased locally or delivered in an environmentally friendly way, rather than collected personally via a long drive in a gas guzzler. Let’s make sure that the post-Covid period becomes known as the Green Renaissance, when concern and care for the natural environment became manifest in politics and the world economy.

Fuel and environment saving driving tips to implement now while waiting for the Green Renaissance

Anything that saves you fuel when driving will also help cut down on greenhouse gas emission and save you money. Have a look at the driving tips on the AA and Green Flag websites. (other breakdown services are available).

Here’s my contribution

Do everything you need to do in the car before you start the engine. Sitting in the car with the engine running faffing around getting the satnav set up, searching for your sunglasses, texting your Mum to say you are on the way, putting your seat belt on etc. wastes fuel and creates unnecessary greenhouse gasses.

Turn the engine off when it is not needed: It amazes me how often I see people sitting in their cars with no intention of moving off for some considerable time with the engine running. They are wasting petrol and polluting unnecessarily. People who have dropped their children at school and are then talking on their mobile phones for a long time before moving off. I suppose I should be grateful they are not doing it while driving. Turn the engine off and I would be happier. Or people sitting outside a friend’s house to give them a lift. The engine is running even though the friend has leaned out of a window or opened the door and said ‘I need to do this or that and will be 5 or 10 minutes’. Turn the engine off and the streets would be less polluted. The worst case I saw was someone loading things into the back of the car with the engine running while her child was sitting in a car seat on the tarmac at rear of the car. Had she turned the engine off her child’s lungs would have been less polluted.

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The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

The Old Bailey

The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is the oath sworn by witnesses in many courts throughout the world. It is not something that is observed by the numerous factions in the climate change debate. Most people are trying to tell the truth; however, it is a complicated area and difficult to establish the facts (truths). It is also something where there are passionately held beliefs and vested interest, so facts used can be selective and manipulated. It would be useful to add to the oath ‘the full and unvarnished truth’.

Let me demonstrate what I mean with an often-used chart that is used to show how bad air travel is for the environment.

As you can see it has been varnished with the addition of the secondary effects from high altitude, non-CO2 emissions.

Strip that varnish away and a single driver in a car is the climate change villain. This is what is being encouraged as we come out of lockdown with the less polluting options, public transport, being discouraged. Of course, the second chart does not tell the whole truth; it makes sense to add in the truth that planes pump out stuff high up in the atmosphere. We should also look at what happens on the ground. To get to anywhere in a car you need great strips of nature to be tarmacked over; airports also cover over big plots of nature; however, if you add in tarmacking over gardens to park cars, municipal car parks, car parks at work and at supermarkets the airports’ footprint is probably tiny in comparison. Then we need to think about loss of biodiversity caused by the creation of rubber plantations needed to supply the tyre industry, the material needed to make the various forms of transport. I have not seen any data; however, instinctively I feel that per kilometre aeroplanes will come out rather well. Hmm this whole truth thing is complicated.

Motoring Money Saving Tips That Help the Environment

Check your Tyres

Check your tyre pressures regularly. Driving on under-inflated tyres uses more petrol. At the same time check the wear pattern. If it is uneven get your car checked. Uneven wear will mean you will have to replace your tyres sooner than is necessary.

Stay Alert, Control Your Tyre Pressures, Save Fuel – This will also help the environment

Park thoughtfully

Try and park so that when you next drive off you can drive out forward. Reverse gear uses more fuel than the other gears (when they are used appropriate) and when the engine is cold more fuel is used. So reversing at the start of a trip with a cold engine is a bad combination. Reverse into your parking space at the end of the trip when the engine is warm and at its most fuel efficient.

Stay Alert, Control Your Parking Instinct, Save Fuel – This will also help the environment

Combine Journeys

During the early part of a journey, before the engine is fully warmed up, your car uses more fuel. So, if you drive to the supermarket one day and the recycling centre the following day doing those journeys in one trip would save petrol and therefore money (and greenhouse gas emissions), even if they are in a completely different direction and you are not saving on mileage. If you are saving on mileage as well, then the savings are even greater.

Stay Alert, Control Your Journeys, Save Fuel – This will also help the environment.

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Love your car (not too much) to be kind to the environment

In the current circumstances we are being encouraged to avoid public transport and walk or cycle to work, if we can, and if we can’t go by car; if you are lift sharing the recommendation is no more than two in a car and it should be the same people in the car each time.  As a lot of people have a commute that cannot be easily done except in a car it looks like, at lest in the short term, there will be a rise in car use and therefore greenhouse gas emissions.

There are things that you can do to reduce your car’s impact on the environment, they might even save you money. Treat your car with love and it will repay that kindness.

Keep your distance

Now that you are used to social distancing apply the principle to motoring.  I am amazed at the number of people who drive very close to the car in front and have to keep constantly stabbing on the brakes to prevent getting even closer. If they increase the gap, they could just ease off the accelerator to maintain the distance, saving on fuel and brakes. Add to that some forward planning and more fuel could be saved. Corner coming up, ease off the accelerator. Likewise, before you reach a downhill section ease off the accelerator. If you do need to brake, it will be later and gentler saving on fuel and brakes. If you have passengers, they will have a more comfortable journey.

Stay Alert, Control Your Speed, Save Fuel. That will also help the environment.

Be smooth

Aggressive acceleration can use up a lot of fuel. Up to 60% more than when driving smoothly. If you need to accelerate hard when pulling out, leaving a cloud of black smoke if driving a diesel vehicle, you should probably not have pulled out at that time. Accelerate smoothly and get into a higher gear quickly without overdoing the revs. What’s the point of harsh acceleration only to sit waiting in a queue at a junction?

Stay Alert, Control Your Right Foot, Save Fuel. That will also help the environment.

Ditch the junk.

If you have stuff in the boot, or the rest of the car, that you do not need you are carting extra weight around and using more petrol. That extra weight may not be much, but it does mean you are using extra petrol and producing extra greenhouse gasses. It may not be much per individual journey but, when you consider how many journeys that junk takes and then multiply it by the number of motorists, we are talking very big numbers.

Stay Alert, Control What Is In Your Car, Save Fuel. This will also help the environment

More tips next week. We’ve got this; we can save the natural environment.

A fly in my chardonnay

Things are not going well for me, my blog or the environment. The latest government advice is to go back to work, avoid public transport and you can now drive somewhere to take exercise. Great – lots of cars on the roads and petrol being below a £1 is going to encourage more recreational driving. It looks like our greenhouse gas reduction aspirations are going up in smoke. Transport accounted for about 29% of carbon gas emissions in the UK pre Covid; the majority was from road transport, particularly cars. During ‘stay at home’ lockdown travel plummeted and air quality improved dramatically. The future looked bright; now it looks as if it will be obscured by economic recovery. Car Free and me are having a King Canute moment.

There is hope. The green shoots of change are starting to emerge; I was talking to two researchers from the European Centre for Human Health & the Environment and they thought it ironic that for years they had been banging on about green spaces being good for health and wellbeing with very little progress. Then a virus comes along and almost overnight everyone accepts that green spaces are important for health and wellbeing. The observant will have spotted the inspiration for the post title. It is an adaption of a line from the Alanis Morissette song ‘Ironic’. Before we go any further, I should say I do not drink chardonnay, if I were to drink wine it would be Pinot Noir, Merlot or Shiraz. I’m mainly a lager drinker, with two favourite brands Korev and Castle; however, in the summer I like the refreshing taste of Jubel fruit flavour beers. Sorry that was quite a diversion, we were talking about green shoots and perhaps, hope for a brighter future.

Ironic:

“Well, life has a funny way of sneaking up on you

When you think everything’s okay and everything’s going right

And life has a funny way of helping you out when

You think everything’s gone wrong and everything blows up in your face”

Well things have certainly gone wrong and blown up in our faces, how we put the pieces back together will be vitally important. In the rush to rebuild the economy and shattered lives it’s likely that the green shoots will be trampled on and Climate Change will be left unchecked. Perhaps we need a new snappy slogan:

‘Stay off the roads, Protect the Planet, Save Millions of Lives’.

I just hope that a future post doesn’t have a title taken from the Elkie Brooks’ (what an amazing singer) song Lilac Wine.

Listen to me, why is everything so hazy?

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Times they are a changin’, or are they? Covid-19 times.

For me times have changed, I am not travelling, not avoiding the car in favour of public transport. My only travel is on foot to the local supermarket and virtually via Zoom (other software solutions are available). Writing about being car free and extolling the virtues of public transport is a bit difficult in the current situation, so I thought I’d have a look at the current situation.

That Bob Dylan song was an anthem for disaffected youth; I would not have been affected by it when it was first released as I was 9 ½ and living in Singapore, where the world tended to pass you by. It was later, when I was back in Cambridge, and a hormone filled, idealistic, spotty teenager that the song became part of my life; I used to go to folk clubs, mainly because there were a couple of girls I fancied that went to them, and it was a standard in those clubs, there were also a number of cover version about. Nothing is so evocative of those times as the Bob Dylan original.

Nothing did change; I used to have a poster on my bedroom wall showing the dove of peace and underneath it was a list of all the conflicts up to that date. There wasn’t a single year since I’d been born when there was not a war. The youth of today could put up a similar poster.

Things are different now. I went for a walk on Friday, my sanctioned one form of exercise for the day, and was fascinated by the change in people’s behaviour. The first thing I saw was a car draw up near someone on the pavement for a chat. Normally that person would have approached the car, leant on it and chatted to the driver through the open passenger window, possibly even leaning in. This did not happen, the pedestrian stepped as far back from the kerb as possible with her back to the wall and had a loud conversation with the driver from a distance. Later I came across two neighbours in their gardens having a conversation, not leaning on the garden fence; both were some distance from the fence. In the next street someone was having a conversation from the middle of the garden with someone behind a window. And just before I reached home, I saw families commemorating the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Instead of congregating in one garden they had all set up tables in the middle of their own gardens. Social interaction with appropriate physical distancing.

Yes, things are different now; however, I fear it is a temporary aberration. Over the years we have seen some big protests. In the 50s and 60s, the Aldermaston marches and in the 80s, the CND marches, yet we still have nuclear weapons. And, looking at what is happening all over the world, the peace marches over the decades haven’t been successful. Society, or certain elements in it, very effectively maintains the status quo, reverting to the old ways once the emergency has passed.

I might be being too pessimistic, perhaps I should let hope triumph over experience. If we do change, I hope we consider those less fortunate than ourselves, those with different needs from the majority, the powerful, the decision makers and the influencers.

On Saturday I went for a run to the coast and noticed that a car park had been close and barricaded with concrete blocks. Perhaps a necessary evil, it is near a good viewpoint and does get crowded on sunny days. I am not sure if anything went on there at night before it was blocked off, it might have. The section of coastal path there has recently been upgraded to make it suitable for people with mobility issues and wheelchair friendly. It has stunning views which they can no longer enjoy, those views are now the exclusive preserve of the fit.

On a more positive note the social interactions I am having (at an appropriate distance) while out running are friendlier and more frequent than they were before Covid.

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