Tuesday 29 March 2011

Monbiot: Not So Green As ...

As greenie-lefties go, George Monbiot seems to me more admirable than most, being broadly open to honest reason and changing his mind. Of course his earnestness is easy to mock - e.g. his retreat from Oxford to a remote corner of Wales where he tries to live the good life self-sufficiently on half an acre of land.

Recently he was forced to admit that adverse winter weather had completely wiped out his crops. Once again, it is easy to chortle: betting on global warming, eh, George ? But it does at least make a serious point, which he seems - in his earnest way - to have taken on board.

The serious point is one I have debated off and on with the good Sackerson. Where is the balance to be struck between reliance on trade for ones basic needs, and reliance on self-sufficiency ? The downside of trade is that it can become over-extended, and let you down at critical moments, with nothing to fall back on. The drawback of self-sufficiency is that you'll always be deprived of something you can't grow / make yourself, which makes for a pretty limited - not to say primitive - existence: and, as George has found out, you can be wiped out in a single, localized bad harvest.

Well, there must be an optimal position out there somewhere. Personally I'm quite in favour of free trade, as I guess most of us are round here (with a little stash of beans in reserve - and some gold ...)

And I think George - based on his farming experience, perhaps - is backing away from the dafter extremes of hair-shirt self-reliance as well: he wrote this in the Grauniad a propos of Fukushima:

"What [some greens] want is ... we should power down and produce our energy locally. Some have even called for the abandonment of the grid. Their bucolic vision sounds lovely, until you read the small print.

At high latitudes like ours, most small-scale ambient power production is a dead loss. Generating solar power in the UK involves a spectacular waste of scarce resources. It’s hopelessly inefficient and poorly matched to the pattern of demand. Wind power in populated areas is largely worthless. Micro-hydropower might work for a farmhouse in Wales; it’s not much use in Birmingham. And how do we drive our textile mills, brick kilns, blast furnaces and electric railways – not to mention advanced industrial processes? Rooftop solar panels? The moment you consider the demands of the whole economy is the moment at which you fall out of love with local energy production. A national (or, better still, international) grid is the essential prerequisite for a largely renewable energy supply."

Amen to that. An honest man, our George: he's willing to learn from experience - though he'll get no thanks for it ...



Old BE said...

Simple. The greens don't like our brick kilns, blast furnaces and advanced industrial processes. Their idea of Utopia is a world population small enough for everyone to have a small strip of communal land to work. They hanker for the post-plague era where the population was so small that there was land to spare. The one time I had any respect for Ed Miliband was when he stood up to some Green Loony on Newsnight who said that air travel should be banned. Miliband said something along the lines of "do you really expect that to be popular?".

Sackerson said...

I approach it from several points:

Principally (and which you've touched on):

1. Pharoah's dream - the seven fat kine and the seven lean

... but slso:

2. Energy inefficiency

... and:

3. Destructive feedback cycles in pricing resource consumption - see Charles Hugh Smith's graph here:


James Higham said...

Well, there must be an optimal position out there somewhere. Personally I'm quite in favour of free trade, as I guess most of us are round here (with a little stash of beans in reserve - and some gold ...)

Free trade - I've heard the word before. didn't we have that some decades ago?

rwendland said...

While we are talking about techno-journalists, notice how Lewis Page has completely shut up, over at The Register, about "Fukushima scaremongers" this week.

I don't generally like to rub it in, but the "Fukushima is a triumph for nuke power: Build more reactors now!" type stories were just so wildly wrong, they will forever damage his credibility. He was predicting all the Fukushima reactors would be repaired and running again after a while!

Also notice how professional magazines like Nuclear Engineering International stopped reporting Fukushima on March 23. Looks a bit like the industry has decided it is best to downplay it as much as they are able. Or maybe the nuclear PR types are just in total shock.

Nick Drew said...

BE - yes, every such discussion should commence with the green being asked the range-finder question: would you actually be happy to live in a cave ?

Sackers - that chart is interesting, but a bit too a priori in nature: I'd say demand (for a given commodity) goes to zero not because of 'the end of the world' but because of substitution - the stone age didn't end through a shortage of stone etc

James, you old cynic, you

Mr W - I'd say you have every right to chalk one up on Page. I notice today that Clegg is taking the opportunity to pour some cold water of his own (sorry, couldn't resist it) on the UK new nuke programme. This, along with several other awkward implications of Fukushima, and uncertainty over the viability of CCS, leaves Huhne's plans a bit up in the air ...

thank Heaven for shale gas, eh ?

I think I shall be posting on this shortly