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The Secret Environmentalist: Exit, pursued by a (Green) Blob

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Poor Owen Patterson, he’s not exactly Steve McQueen. Like Steve, Owen was (or felt) attacked by a blob, his borrowed term for the environmental movement; a mix of NGOs, lobbying organisations and other environmental interest groups. The erstwhile UK environment secretary apparently felt besieged by a well-funded, coordinated machine.

However, most of us inside it would struggle to recognise our sector as such – it will be more familiar to us as a dis-organised, poorly funded rag bag of environmental types riven with internecine conflicts, petty jealousies and clashing egos.

Unlike Steve McQueen however, Owen’s heroism in fighting the green blob is less clear to the observer…perhaps he will find his place in history as the champion of the downtreaders, Galt like hero of the overlords.

It must be tough being environment secretary, especially when your acceptance of the basics of science is tenuous and your belief in the free market means that noting its inadequacies for preserving our life support systems is tantamount to apostasy.

Owen’s complaints about the green blob feed in to a regular (if tedious) mantra; that environmental groups are well (lavishly!) funded, self-serving and single issue. Let’s examine these one-by-one.

Are environmental groups well-funded?

Well, it depends what you are comparing them to. Some environmental NGOs (ENGOs) are reasonably comfortable, some have shiny landmark offices and attract and disperse funds of many millions a year. This seems like a lot, but it isn’t really when compared to the budgets of groups seeking to pursue a less pro-environment agenda. Such budgets are not merely those specifically earmarked for lobbying to affect, arrest or to design legislation and massage public opinion. The true equivalent to an ENGO’s turnover is the annual turnover of a consumption promoting company (and let’s face it, they are pretty much all engaged in that – growth is the only signifier of success in our modern markets – and growth equals increased consumption).

ENGO’s turnover, even the biggest, tend to be in the low multi millions, perhaps around 100 to 150 million. Corporates have turnover in the multi billions. When it comes to gaining the ear of politicians and policy makers, who is the best funded and best placed?

Are environmental groups self-serving?

Well, strangely enough they probably are self-serving, but so what? They tend to work to deliver action within their Articles of Association and in the interests of their members and their mission. That sounds remarkably like any corporation or private company you care to mention. Like any organisation, environmental NGOs try to undertake activities that have tangible demand, are fundable and have a connection to their purpose. You wouldn’t call a company on a trading estate in Luton selling electrical components self-serving, why should you do so to an organisation raising and spending money on conserving endangered species?

The single issue issue

All organisations have a purpose – does a focus upon the delivery of that through a strategy make them single issue? Big biotech is single issue when viewed through this lens – in Owen’s many meetings with their friendly representatives, did he castigate them for not making furniture or installing double glazing too?

Lots of corporate entities in our modern world are single issue; any private institution is literally single issue – interested in and encouraged to maximise capital, you can’t get more single issue than that!

Most environmental groups aren’t even single issue anyway – those mature enough to acknowledge the fundamental interconnectedness of things actually seek to create sustainable, equitable change on a number of levels.

In any case, why should an organisation having a clear and defined focus for its activities be seen as a problem, or render them dubious or suspicious?

Going Native

It is a strange and notable fact that, over the years, many UK environment secretaries have “gone native”, examples are considered to be Lord Deben and Michael Meacher.

Once in place for a period of time, they start to actually understand and represent the interests of the environment – straying from party ideology and dogma to what approaches a nuanced understanding and representation of environmental issues.

Why this happens is probably quite obvious, anyone who looks at environmental trends and their implications for our continued security and quality of life over the next few decades finds it hard to ignore the fact that environmental concern is not about sentiment but about survival. It is difficult to unlearn what you have learnt, difficult to un-see what you have seen.

Of course, this is not a problem if you aren’t there to learn in the first place and are wilfully blind to the fact that we need to find ways to live on our single planet that do not innately give rise to problems we are ill equipped and unprepared to deal with.

The wrong peg in the wrong hole

Of course, the outgoing minister’s problem might not have been that he really meant all those epithets, or even that he was publically outwitted by large (self-serving) Mustelids. It might be simply that he was put in a job that he really wasn’t suited to by a prime minister who seems to have a functional disregard for maintaining the quality and quantity of the UK’s social and ecological infrastructure.

Mr Paterson, like so many of his colleagues, was not really made for or interested in a world of complexity, a world where properties emerge from intricacy in unexpected ways, a world where the side-effects of an action may be much, much worse than the problem that it was originally designed to treat.

Of course the former minister may not get his fritillaries mixed up – but he is certainly part of a government seemingly hell bent on consigning fritillaries of all stripe and type to the (natural) history books.

May he go well and go fruitfully unto speaking engagements, his time in the lime-green light over for now. We have work to do even as he exits stage left (pursued by a blob), we must gird our loins to meet the fresh face entering stage right (wing), the next ideologue hot off the political production line.

“The Secret Environmentalist has been in the business for more than two decades and has worked at all levels of sustainability. S/he has ranged from the chalk-face of kids education and the coal-face of small business support to the nightmare of drinking coffee in some of shiniest boardrooms on the planet. Experienced in the real world of the private sector and the realer one of not-for profits, the Secret Environmentalist is mad as hell, and is not going to take this anymore.” 

Further reading:

The Secret Environmentalist: tell me something I don’t know

The Secret Environmentalist: things are changing but sustainability is still a pipedream

The Secret Environmentalist: all out for shale gas

Our insane civilisation lacks the wisdom to deal with the problems we face

Climate change: the time has come to become unreasonable

 

The Secret Environmentalist has been in the business for more than two decades and has worked at all levels of sustainability. They have ranged from the chalk-face of kids’ education and the coal-face of small business support to the nightmare of drinking coffee in some of shiniest boardrooms on the planet. Experienced in the real world of the private sector and the realer one of not-for profits, The Secret Environmentalist is mad as hell, and is not going to take this anymore.

Economy

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?

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self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/zapp2photo

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.

Deadheading

Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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Environment

Road Trip! How to Choose the Greenest Vehicle for Your Growing Family

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Greenest Vehicle
Licensed Image by Shutterstock - By Mascha Tace -- https://www.shutterstock.com/g/maschatace

When you have a growing family, it often feels like you’re in this weird bubble that exists outside of mainstream society. Whereas everyone else seemingly has stability, your family dynamic is continuously in flux. Having said that, is it even possible to buy an eco-friendly vehicle that’s also practical?

What to Look for in a Green, Family-Friendly Vehicle?

As a single person or young couple without kids, it’s pretty easy to buy a green vehicle. Almost every leading car brand has eco-friendly options these days and you can pick from any number of options. The only problem is that most of these models don’t work if you have kids.

Whether it’s a Prius or Smart car, most green vehicles are impractical for large families. You need to look for options that are spacious, reliable, and comfortable – both for passengers and the driver.

5 Good Options

As you do your research and look for different opportunities, it’s good to have an open mind. Here are some of the greenest options for growing families:

1. 2014 Chrysler Town and Country

Vans are not only popular for the room and comfort they offer growing families, but they’re also becoming known for their fuel efficiency. For example, the 2014 Chrysler Town and Country – which was one of CarMax’s most popular minivans of 2017 – has Flex Fuel compatibility and front wheel drive. With standard features like these, you can’t do much better at this price point.

2. 2017 Chrysler Pacifica

If you’re looking for a newer van and are willing to spend a bit more, you can go with Chrysler’s other model, the Pacifica. One of the coolest features of the 2017 model is the hybrid drivetrain. It allows you to go up to 30 miles on electric, before the vehicle automatically switches over to the V6 gasoline engine. For short trips and errands, there’s nothing more eco-friendly in the minivan category.

3. 2018 Volkswagen Atlas

Who says you have to buy a minivan when you have a family? Sure, the sliding doors are nice, but there are plenty of other options that are both green and spacious. The new Volkswagen Atlas is a great choice. It’s one of the most fuel-efficient third-row vehicles on the market. The four-cylinder model gets an estimated 26 mpg highway.

4. 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

While a minivan or SUV is ideal – and necessary if you have more than two kids – you can get away with a roomy sedan when you still have a small family. And while there are plenty of eco-friendly options in this category, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is arguably the biggest bang for your buck. It gets 38 mpg on the highway and is incredibly affordable.

5. 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel

If money isn’t an object and you’re able to spend any amount to get a good vehicle that’s both comfortable and eco-friendly, the 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel is your car. Not only does it get 28 mpg highway, but it can also be equipped with a third row of seats and a diesel engine. And did we mention that this car looks sleek?

Putting it All Together

You have a variety of options. Whether you want something new or used, would prefer an SUV or minivan, or want something cheap or luxurious, there are plenty of choices on the market. The key is to do your research, remain patient, and take your time. Don’t get too married to a particular transaction, or you’ll lose your leverage.

You’ll know when the right deal comes along, and you can make a smart choice that’s functional, cost-effective, and eco-friendly.

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