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Clear thoughts in a confusing world

April 20, 2010


We’re in the midst of an election campaign, so our minds are being buffeted more than ever by claim and counter-claim, statistics and damn lies, as politicians battle for our votes. 

Green news followers are quite used to this.  Should we be so worried about the rate of global warming that drastic, perhaps unpalatable lifestyle changes are called for?  Or will technology save the day and allow us to adapt? 

Then there are Feed-in Tariffs, which sprang to life at the beginning of this month.  For some they herald a new dawn of microgeneration, as homeowners get paid for producing their own electricity – and for exporting any surplus to the grid.  For others, the FiT represents a tax-free investment for the better-off at the ultimate expense of those who cannot afford the initial costs and should be replaced by simple incentives paid on the basis of reduced fossil fuel energy consumption.

One camp of environmentalists will say we should wind down our coal-fired power stations and power the UK on non-fossil fuel sources – including nuclear reactors in the energy mix.  The other camp will shudder at the thought of storing all that toxic waste for thousands of years and insist that renewables alone are the solution.  Whose line should we follow?

Fortunately, like little islands of calm in a turbulent ocean, there are environmental stories that can satisfy even the most cynical.  The Guardian reported earlier this month on the launch of the Turanor, the world’s largest solar powered boat.  Whether or not you think it will revolutionise transport – and the team behind it are refreshingly clear-headed in maintaining that ‘trial’ is the key word – we can only wish it well as it chases the sun on its round-the-world voyage.

This should resonate pleasingly with regular followers of the SolarUK blog, who will know from an October posting that sailing, or more specifically coping with life on the high seas as Thor Heyerdahl experienced it, connects us at a deeper level with the world around us.

You may also have noticed that food, and the purchasing of it, pops up in this blog almost as frequently as newspaper election polls.  So you might enjoy taking non-controversial pleasure in the Co-op’s fair-trade cotton shopping bag.  It not only encourages the shopper to cut down on plastic bag usage, but also provides communities in South India with a sustainable source of income.

Balancing up the competing claims of a retailer’s offerings does, we must admit, return us to the muddle-headed state we are trying to avoid (should I buy this major brand flapjack because it has Fairtrade sugar and honey in it, or that other chewy offering because it’s made by a small local producer and is organic but lacks the Fairtrade  accreditation?).  We can at least assure ourselves that, generally, if a product has been ‘fairly traded’ it’s quite likely to be relatively chemical free if not 100% organic (if only to protect the workers’ health).  It’s also reasonable to imagine that the ethical approach of the companies to employee pay will extend to the whole question of environmental benefits. 

Though arguments may rage around us, let’s end with a focus on the positive (especially as it’s a fine, sunglasses-donning day here in Eridge): the possibility of using the sun to power our transport, and cotton bags that benefit both people and planet.

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