Monday, 24 August 2009

The green list: from bikes to patio heaters, what's best – and worst – for the planet

Campaigners and politicians nominate their loves and hates
James Meikle
The Guardian, Monday 24 August 2009
They may be a simple way to keep you warm on an autumn evening in the back garden or offer the shortest travel time to a well-earned holiday, but patio heaters and short-haul flights are among the least ethical goods and services of the past 20 years, according to a survey of leading politicians and green campaigners.
A list of perceived environmental evils that also includes the standby on your television set and the complex international framework for carbon offsetting has been garnered from those at the forefront of the environmental movement by Ethical Consumer magazine.
But the "most hated" innovations, which apparently threaten a green future and therefore should be banned, are balanced by suggestions for the most ethical products of the last 20 decades. The rise of cycling, the Fairtrade movement and the Eurostar links between London, Brussels and Paris all win plaudits.
The vision of the best and worst emerges as part of the magazine's 20th birthday celebrations, for which it invited nominations from environment secretary Hilary Benn, political opponents, climate camp activists and a number of campaign groups.
For Benn, success in a British campaign to get the bluefin tuna added to the international list of endangered species would stop the fishing industry wiping it out, while he, like others of those questioned, endorses the Fairtrade movement – "a brilliantly simple idea that builds a relationship between the farmer and the person buying the product".
Greg Barker, his Conservative opposite number, backs the already planned EU ban on incandescent light bulbs, while hoping that the generation of mercury-based low-energy bulbs will soon be superseded by LED products, and commends smart electric meters, which "have the power to revolutionise people's relationship with the energy they use".
Lib Dem Simon Hughes says that locally grown food will help Britain significantly reduce food miles, and he says getting rid of the standby facility on TVs and other electrical appliances could save almost 1m tonnes of carbon emissions each year.
London mayor Boris Johnson refuses to suggest a product or service that should be banned, believing "in carrots rather than sticks", and promotes instead his plans for a cycle hire scheme in the capital and incentives for recycling waste. But his nomination for best ethical product is the development of electric cars, adding: "I am completely blown away by the rapid development of the technology behind them."
The choices from Climate Camp activists make up a single entry in each category – but there is therefore a triple suggestion for best product, "ideas and time; something I made myself; the bicycle". And there are two suggestions for bans, carbon offsets ("Nature doesn't do bailouts") and flights powered by agrofuels, "a blatant example of greenwash".
Other candidates for a ban range from private health insurance, "a creeping threat to the integrity of public health systems around the world" according to John Hilary, of War on Want, and battery-farmed animal products, nominated by Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association.
Other hated technologies nominated include patio heaters – "It's just so pointless heating the open air," said Andy Atkins, of Friends of the Earth – and coal-fired power stations, for their "devastating role" in climate change, according to Jason Torrance, of the transport charity Sustrans.
The wind-up torch is the most ethical product, according to Helen Starr-Keddie of Action for Sustainable Living. "Real nappies" save a lot of money and waste going to landfill, said Caroline Fernandez of the Women's Environmental Network.
Eurostar's nomination comes from Greenpeace's Ben Stewart, for challenging "Britain's addiction to flying".