Confessions of an environmental hypocrite.

I started tapping this out on my Smartphone at 30,000 feet as I headed for my fourth airport in 20 hours. From Carribean Holiday to Tech-ed Barcelona via London Heathrow (where, inevitably, BA lost my bag). With all the guilt we are supposed to feel when we fly, spending 15 hours in economy seems like some kind of penance. ('Forgive me father for I have flown' ... 'My son, say 3 life Jackets or 4 Emergency exits').

I ribbed Steve recently because I'm pedantic when it comes to Carbon Guilt. Unlike making a car journey, occupying a few square inches in the cheap seats on a plane doesn't directly cause extra carbon to be spewed into the atmosphere - the plane would have flown if my seat had been empty. But everyone who flies a route keeps it viable, and a share of emissions yet to come can be laid at our doors. In which case, what am I doing flying half way round the world to go scuba diving?

I'm a little agnostic about the role of Co2 in global warming. Climate does appear to be changing, but in a way is more closely correlated with solar activity rather than with co2 output. The scientific models we have for climate are far from perfect - but neither of those things completely invalidate all theories of the Greenhouse effect: they show that climate is a more complicated thing than you might believe from the way the subject is reported. An Article I read in The Times on Monday said that "In 1950 there were about 5,000 polar bears. Now there are 25,000" and "evidence from organisations such as the US National Biological Service [shows] that in most places polar bear populations are either stable or increasing". Despite this, it says, the Polar Bear will "top the eco-hysterics' list of animals in danger because it's so fluffy and white and photogenic."

People are bothered by the extinction of any animal, not just a "fluffy, white and photogenic" one. When I first understood that modern animals could become extinct - some time in my childhood - it bothered me. I'm more of an "energy conservationist" than an "eco-hysteric" - I don't like the idea of there being no more oil either. Things that have always been there should, in the natural course of things, continue to be there. Think of the "Death Star" in Star Wars and ask yourself why destroying a planet is worse than bringing many lives to an end prematurely. Lives come to an end: planets don't. To me, back then, a world without Tigers, or Pandas, or Rhino was an idea which just jarred.

And before you think that it global warming is the biggest risk for species, think about how demand for Palm oil could cause the extinction of the Orang-utan and one use being proposed for Palm Oil is as a bio-fuel to reduce Co2 emissions - as this report from the Guardian explains.

The idea of great majestic whales being hunted out of existence bothers us , and killing something with a reputation for intelligence makes us check that our tuna is "Dolphin friendly". But what about long line fishing, which kills 100,000 Albatross - a year - 19 of 22 Species are endangered. Or the desire for Shark fin soup which has put 110 species into the "threat" category on the IUCN Red List. (Incidentally, Shark finning throws away 95% of the slaughtered animal, which is waste on crass level which can only be matched by the Ivory trade). The list goes on; over-fishing has all but wiped out the predators which used to keep down the Crown of Thorns starfish - a species which is now are chomping though huge amounts of coral.

So where-ever you stand on global warming - between the extremes of denial and "eco-hysteric" - it's by no means the only example of humanity's ability to screw up the planet. Before I started diving, I didn't think much about what we're doing to coral and the other life in the world's oceans. It's depressing, because I feel powerless to do anything about it. But excessive numbers of divers are harmful to reefs. Compressing air to use on dives, getting to dive sites (flying there, staying in the vicinity and taking the boat to the site itself) means using energy and creating pollution. It's more depressing to find that in gaining an understanding of these problems, I'm adding to them, and I'm not doing anything to improve the situation. So here's an offer. Microsoft allows me to take few days each year to do volunteer work. Is anyone reading this who could use that time to do something about any of the issues I've referred to? Get in touch.

Comments (4)

  1. James ONeill says:

    @ Arthur. Good points mate.

    "The real question that we should be asking is … is the carbon footprint a smoke screen, and the true message should be we are concerned over the available levels of fossil fuels therefore we need to preach the conservation of energy ?"

    Indeed. It doesn’t matter if we approach it from the point of view of Carbon footprint, or of conservation of resources. The end point is the same.


    I’ve seen similar data on solar activity to that which Ben quotes. I call myself agnostic is I believe neither that CO2 is the only cause of warming nor that it has zero impact.

    The fact that none of the models work too well shows that science hasn’t yet worked out all the factors combine.

    But even if the effect of C02 were zero, it would be still be good to use less fossil fuel.

  2. Eileen_Brown says:


    here’s a view on global warming that may make you think.

    Also think about how carbon has affected the 400,000 year Milankovich cycle:

    And don’t feel too guilty about flying…

  3. Arthur says:

    Talking of environmental hypocrites I notice that the fact that a certain global charity, (which shall remain nameless) recently held a 1,000 mile march in order to reduce the carbon footprint.

    In true Christian charitable manner local people provided food and shelter to those who walked in the name of this charity and their cause over the following weeks.

    The walk took roughly about a month to complete, with the said charity holding a service of thanksgiving at a rather large church in London, (you know the famous one with the dome); which was attended by those people who tend to make life very interesting, along with those who complete the mundane tasks that make daily life function.

    The irony, is this charity brought people into Britain from all over the world, so that they could march with one voice calling for the world to reduce the carbon footprint !

    One thought ….

    We’ve been living with the news for years that the global reserves of fossil fuels are running out.

    The real question that we should be asking is … is the carbon footprint a smoke screen, and the true message should be we are concerned over the available levels of fossil fuels therefore we need to preach the conservation of energy ?

    If this last message were adopted then the conservation of energy will naturally lead to the reduction of the carbon footprint

    The reality …

    The reality is that our grandparents possibly knew about the issue concerning the availability of the resources, but based upon the technological advances at the time, this was not seen to be a problem. In all reality, other than HG Wells or Nostradamus, no one would have believed that in the last years of the 20th Century that the growth of personal electronic equipment would cause a potential drain upon the resources that were planned to provide comfort for the foreseeable future.

    “With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter …… And early in the twenty-first century came the great disillusionment.”


    It has been many years since I first read “the cycle of world affairs”, (Luigi Di Porta)

    Peace brings riches

    Riches bring pride

    Pride brings anger

    Anger brings war

    War brings poverty

    Poverty brings humanity

    Humanity brings peace

    And peace, as stated originally brings riches

    And so the world’s affairs go around

    Maybe at some point we will resolve the issue of the carbon footprint, and the available resources as we watch the ashes of war float on the welcome fresh morning breeze as our faces are washed by the tears falling from the sky

  4. Arthur says:

    One thing that I hadn’t really given thought to is that if we are often faced with the reduction in Travel & Expenditure (T&E) as many companies are pushed by their investors with the need to reduce costs; but also reduction in the "carbon footprint"; but also the improvement in productivity.

    A manager, (whatever level), travelling 2 hours to conduct a meeting for one maybe two hours is effectively unproductive for anything upto four hours at a time (travelling). The same is true for those who travel by air when you add the total time spent travelling, (start destination to the airport, queuing time, security check-in, lounge waiting time, flight time, arrival check-insecurity, baggage collection, travel time to destination ect).

    One ideal solution is the emergence of Unified Communications. Whether it be the team conferenc call or an international conference.

    Just how much time do you spend travelling ? – what a thought

    Reduced travelling time = increased productivity = reduced costs = potentially an improved worklife balance


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