Great Green Smokescreen: The review.

Channel 4’s programme has finally been aired, fronted by their science correspondent Tom Clarke. The hour unfortunately did not do the topic(s) justice as no one green product was covered in much depth. Just as a good point was made about a particular product, the substance behind it was left hanging in the air as they moved on to the next product. Frustrating.

The programme, if it was watched by many people, won’t help the fledgling offset industry. Green electricity tarrifs also came in for a hammering. Dr Andy Kerr of E3 International was consulted on his opinion of this product. I have the feeling his negative thoughts were given prominence by the programme team or, at the very least Dr Kerr’s mention of positive developments were not expanding on.

The general point made by the GGSS was that every household already pays £7 p.a. on their electricity bills towards funding the Renewable Obligation that all energy utilities must fulfill. Why therefore should people pay for a separate green energy tariff? Powergen’s response was that if they got extra money from green tariff customers over and above the RO then they could invest more money in renewables. So Powergen isn’t sounding terribly proactive then!

GGSS made some play with the fact that general agreed standards haven’t been agreed yet for assessing products like carbon offsets. There is no industry wide, recognized label or monitoring system. The industry is young so this is hardly a ground breaking revelation. Similarly the term ‘carbon neutrality’ got a knocking. M&S were mentioned but GGSS didn’t unpick the company’s plans, just sort of kicked it to touch.

One good point was made about the Carbon Trust’s project to attempt to assign a carbon footprint to products we buy in the store, mentioning Walkers crisps in particular. An expert did point out that while it is possible to measure some aspects of the farming and production, some aspects of the farming are difficult to measure. GGWS pointed out that the government gives the Carbon Trust millions a year to come up with ideas on how we might reduce our carbon footprints. GGWS then implied that the Trust might be spending a lot of time and money to produce this Walkers crips footprint and for what? The project does seem incredibly ambitious but the organisation has many very skilled and experienced people covering a varied menu of projects, not just Walkers Crisps!

Global Cool turned up to check out Mr Clarke’s own home to give some basic ideas on how he might reduce his household carbon footprint; shower don’t bathe, use energy efficient light bulbs, turn the thermostat down to 18 degrees C and so on. Miss Global Cool thought Mr Clarke could save about 2 tonnes a year on his carbon emissions off a typical household’s 11 tonnes p.a. Mr Clarke’s response was flippant and instantly dismissive; ‘Just one flight will wipe out that saving!’ he exclaimed. Hardly the point.

All in all I think the programme failed to seriously analyse anything in particular and simply skirted around major issues. The one hour format was always going to do the issues an injustice. Lots of shots of a giant floating foot did become a little tiresome! The BBC’s Ethical Man series; now that was useful and very interesting.

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5 Responses to Great Green Smokescreen: The review.

  1. earthpal says:

    Thanks for the review Matt. I tried to catch the programme (bad time for me with all the kiddie bedtime business etc.) but I only managed to see the last ten minutes where I saw Global Cool checking out Clarke’s house.

    Maybe it will be repeated.

  2. matt says:

    You’re welcome. It hasn’t caused the storm I think Channel 4 was angling for. As I say above, the ‘Ethical Man’ series had far more impact exposing the complexities of changing one’s lifestyle to help the environment. That series ran over the period of a year!

  3. Pete Smith says:

    OK, it was tabloid TV, but there was some interesting stuff in there. Yes, the inflatable foot was irritating, and there was a surfeit of tricksy stop-go camerawork straight out of ‘Green Wing’. And why did a program about how the planet is choking on our greenhouse emissions have to fly a production crew to Mexico for 1 minute of footage of pigs, and then to Bulgaria for a 30 second interview with a talking head?

    The core message was that being ‘Green’ has become a major selling point for all types of business, from multi-nationals to a carbon-neutral cabaret in the West End. There’s an enormous range of products aimed at reducing our footprint, and as in all things, the buyer should beware. Offset schemes such as BP’s Mexican pig slurry methane plant aren’t providing the expected carbon savings. Money invested in offset schemes often doesn’t result in new tree planting, but only buys the rights to the carbon storage capacity of existing forests, which have uncertain futures anyway. In several examples, offset money was not core to a project but just a “nice to have” bonus, so the work would have been done regardless of the offset scheme. A forestry company working with the Carbon Neutral Company receives £55K through sale of offsets, but £325K from the Forestry Commission for growing the same trees. As Duncan McClaren of FoE said, it’s “essential” that offset money plants new trees, and this isn’t happening.

    There are glaring inconsistencies in the way that different companies calculate emissions and hence the required offset contribution. A company called Treeflights says 1 flight = 1 tree =£10. KISS? Using exact mileage, Climate Care calculated a flight at 5.31 tons CO2/£40 offset, but BA, a Climate Care customer, says 3.68 tons/£27. The disparity arises because BA refuses to use the high altitude multiplier which takes account of the exaggerated warming effect of carbon emissions in the upper atmosphere, saying they are only following UK government guidelines.The Climate Care guy seemed genuinely pissed that they had to compromise in terms of interpreting the science so that consumers can understand it, and in terms of asking a price that offsetters are prepared to pay.

    Oh yes, and green electricity tariffs are a minefield and don’t do what they claim, but we knew that already. And uncertain science reared its head again in the “wildly impractical” scheme to label foods with their carbon footprint.

  4. matt says:

    Good summary Pete.

    At least Channel 4 is contributing to the discussion and debate which must be had about ‘green’ products, individual responsibility, corporate responsibility and just where the government fits in regards the provision of reliable guidelines on product standards to alleviate consumer confusion.

  5. earthpal says:

    Yes, thanks Pete for the helpful review.

    As Matt says, at least it’s getting talked about now and all the downsides can hopefully be discovered/exposed/dealt with . . .

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