Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Avatar, not Ed, will make the case on climate

James Cameron’s blockbuster will persuade far more people to go green than all the hot air pumped out in Copenhagen
Alice Thomson

Checklist: thermal tights, gloves, hat, boots, shovel, ice pick. Ring the plumber to remind him that the boiler hasn’t been working for the past three days, spend an hour scraping ice off the car with your fingers before discovering that the school is closed, turn round, inch your way back and slip on the steps before taking a binbag up the nearest hill. This is Britain 2010: freezing in the coldest winter for 30 years.
Global warming, don’t even try it, they’re ice-skating in Delhi and sledging in Seoul. That kind of sums up the argument doesn’t it? One of the heaviest snowfalls of the winter was landing on Britain as Ed Miliband stood up to defend the Copenhagen summit in Parliament and explain why it was the political event of the Noughties.
Yet the £130 million spent on this environmental junket for 115 world leaders appears to have come to nothing. They just expended an extra 41,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, more greenhouse gas than produced by Malawi, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone over the same period.
No one seems to care. Who gave their wife a wind turbine for Christmas? How many people bothered to sort the paper crackers from the cranberry sauce? Perhaps it’s not just the Chinese who aren’t trying any more.

When the political parties began their election campaigns this week Gordon Brown somehow failed to mention his compost; David Cameron didn’t pose for that poster with homegrown marrows in his vegetable garden. Green is no longer minty cool, it’s sludge-brown boring. According to a Populus poll in The Times in November, less than half of Britons believe it is an established scientific fact that global warming is largely man-made. They refuse to feel guilty any more. Going green is just another luxury that we have learnt to do without in the recession Yet the planet may be saved — not by human beings but by 10ft Picassoesque aliens in turquoise Speedo bodysuits with tails. These creatures, who inhabit the distant moon Pandora, live in branches and worship Mother Earth. They drink water that is pooled in giant leaves, chant around trees that whisper of their ancestors and use pterodactyls for transport (although they do still eat meat, apologetically). They are the stars of Avatar, the film that has become the fourth-biggest blockbuster of all time in less than three weeks.
The Na’vi may be armed only with bows and arrows, they may live 150 years in the future, but their message to humans is clear. You have no vegetation left on 22nd-century Earth. You have messed up your planet and wasted your resources, now don’t come and destroy ours.
When humans are sent to exploit their mineral wealth (called Unobtainium, of course) with a campaign of shock and awe bombings, they fall in love with the Na’vis low-emission lives and the hero chooses to become an alien and reject selfish humanity.
The script could have been written by Al Gore. This is An Inconvenient Truth for children, but instead of a middle-aged former Vice-President lecturing you about destroying the planet, it’s extraterrestrials who are better dressed than ET with their covetable jewellery.
How come you know so much about it, you’re thinking. It sounds ludicrous. Having seen the film twice in three days with my nine-year-old, I admit that I don’t need to see it again, but he and his friends do — and not just for the £237 million 3-D effects, the battles, the Bambi-like scenery of Pandora or the popcorn. My son believes in these creatures’ message and has started lecturing me on my environmental commitment. Why do we need to cut down a tree for Christmas? Does he really need all that packaging round his new iTouch (he does, however, still need the iTouch).
The film is brilliant PR — smug and simplistic but effective and energising. James Cameron, who won an Oscar for sinking the Titanic, now wants to save the world and may just succeed in converting the next generation. Avatar has made $1 billion from ticket sales around the world in the shortest time yet and could overtake Titanic, which took $1.8 billion.
No wonder the American Right hates it, with one commentator calling it “a deep expression of anti-Americanism”. They understand that any nation that loves this movie will not want to continue pumping oil out of the Alaskan National Park.
The director sounds a bit ridiculous when he says: “We’re going to find out the hard way if we don’t wise up and start seeking a life that’s in balance with the natural cycles of life on Earth,” Disney put it more succinctly in The Lion King with “The Circle of Life,” but Cameron is clearly a believer who is not in it just for the box-office receipts. He spent 15 years perfecting the film.
It may not be every 40-year-old’s first choice, but anyone with children — which includes most politicians — is likely to see it. President Obama chose Avatar for his family’s new year outing. The Shadow Cabinet has fallen for it: “A story about blue people who save the world created by a man called Cameron — of course we’re seen it,” said one, who went with his son. The Miliband brothers are said to be fans.
The political elite is beginning to get the message — audiences do care about the planet, they just don’t want to be lectured about it by hypocritical politicians. They want help to do their bit, not hectoring.
Avatar isn’t Star Wars, Apocalypse Now or even The Lord of the Rings: it’s not a classic. But few films manage to change perceptions. The Sound of Music rehabilitated the Austrians, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner ridiculed racism, Philadelphia maybe changed our views about Aids, Kramer vs Kramer tackled divorce. Dr Strangelove made the best case for unilateral nuclear disarmament. Avatar — rather than Ed Miliband talking about Copenhagen — could do the same for global warming. If you can get through the snow to see it.

Speculation over change in role for Chinese climate negotiator

Media outlets in Hong Kong suggest He Yafei has been punished for failing to smooth relations at Copenhagen between China, the US and Europe

Jonathan Watts, Asia environment correspondent, Tuesday 5 January 2010 17.44 GMT
A senior member of the Chinese negotiating team at Copenhagen has been shifted from his post, prompting speculation that he has been punished for the debacle of the climate talks.
He Yafei, who was at the forefront of China's blocking actions on the final fraught day of the summit, has been removed as vice foreign minister, according to a short summary of government appointments by the Xinhua news agency.
The agency gave no explanation, but the Hong Kong newspaper Sing Tao suggests He has been punished with a shift to a post at the United Nations for failing to smooth relations between China, the US and Europe, particularly as tempers flared in the last hours of the talks.
During the negotiations, He described his US counterpart as "lacking common sense", frustrated the US president, Barack Obama, at his inability to make decisions and astonished the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, by refusing to allow even rich countries to set a target to cut emissions by 2050.
In public, China has hailed the "significant and positive" outcome of the Copenhagen accord, which committed the world to keeping global warming below 2C.
Privately, however, officials are furious at the public relations disaster of the summit, which ended with Europe blaming China for sinking long-term goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Part of the problem was the vastly different expectations of the delegations. Britain and other European nations intended to bang heads together to achieve progress and to set ambitious targets during the two-week conference.
China, however, was desperate to avoid any goals that might limit its economic expansion. Having announced its first carbon target shortly before the conference, China's negotiators hoped the event would be a chance for the world to applaud the progress the country has made to improve efficiency and boost renewable energy.
The vastly different approaches led to several messy and fractious encounters, at which He Yafei was usually the fall guy.
Although the premier, Wen Jiabao, was the most senior figure in the Chinese delegation, he refused to attend most of the negotiating sessions with other leaders. This was a defensive move rather than a snub. The premier did not want to be strongarmed into a deal he could not guarantee at home.
In his place, he dispatched He, an experienced multilateral negotiator who previously served in senior posts at the United Nations and arms control talks, as well as running the North American department of the foreign ministry.
But He lacked the authority to make decisions. In huddles with world leaders, who far outranked him, all he could do was block. President Obama is said to have declared in exasperation: "It would be nice to negotiate with somebody who can make political decisions."
When he rejected a European proposal that developed nations reduce emissions by 80% by 2050, Angela Merkel described the situation as ridiculous.
The vice-minister also failed to endear himself to the chief US negotiator, Todd Stern, who suffered his undiplomatic wrath after stating that the US was not in historical debt to China because of climate change.
"I don't want to say the gentleman is ignorant," He said. "I think he lacks common sense or is extremely irresponsible."
In the angry aftermath of the conference, senior European diplomats accused China of "systematically wrecking the accord" with leaks and obstructionist tactics.

Think Electric Car Will Be Built in Indiana

Think, a Scandinavian electric-vehicle maker, will build its first car for the U.S. market in Indiana starting in 2011, the company's chief executive said.
The Oslo-based company plans to sell its City subcompact car in the U.S. starting late next year by importing vehicles assembled in Finland. The import sales will be followed by U.S.-produced cars starting in early 2011, said Think CEO Richard Canny.
Think plans to invest $43.5 million in building improvements and equipment at an Elkhart County, Ind., assembly plant. The auto company has secured government support, including local and state tax incentives and job training funds totalling $17 million, according to the company.
The Think City, which has two front seats for adults and two child seats in back, will have a range of in excess of 100 miles on a single charge and will cost about $30,000 in the U.S. after a $7,500 federal tax credit, Mr. Canny said. "It's larger than a Smart car but slightly smaller than the Mini," Mr. Canny said of the Think City car. "It's an urban car that can get you on and off the highway."
Top speed for the U.S. model is expected to exceed 70 miles an hour, according to Mr. Canny.
Eventually, Think will have enough capacity to assembly more than 20,000 vehicles a year in the Indiana plant. In the first year, Mr. Canny said, production is expected only to be "in the low thousands."
The company started delivering its Finnish-made Think City cars to customers in Europe last month. In Finland, the car is built with the company's manufacturing partner Valmet Automotive.
Think's Indiana plant will be near its Indianapolis-based lithium-ion battery supplier, EnerDel. Ener1 Inc., the parent of Enerdel, is a 31% equity stakeholder in Think.
In 2009, Think underwent an operational and financial restructuring followed by a reorganization with a $47 million capital injection, Mr. Canny said.
Write to Matthew Dolan at

Boiler scrappage scheme goes live

Vouchers worth £400 that go towards the cost of a new energy-efficient boiler under the scrappage scheme will be issued on January 18.

By Richard Evans Published: 6:11AM GMT 05 Jan 2010
The Government announched the scrappage scheme which encourages people to ditch their for old boiler for a new one in the pre-Budget report. It hopes the scheme will help cut CO2 emmissons - domestic heating accounts for 14 per cent of the UK's CO2 emissions.
New boilers have rated efficiencies of 90 per cent or more meaning that they use less fuel, resulting in lower CO2 emissions and running costs. Renewable heat technologies do not use fossil fuels, reducing CO2 emissions still further.

By upgrading your G-rated boiler to an A-rated one, your household heating bill should drop by about a quarter - a saving, on average, of around £235 a year.
People who apply to the scheme will receive their voucher on or after January 18.
The Energy Saving Trust says that a good quick test for gas boilers is to see if it has a permanent pilot light -if it has then it is very likely to be a G-rated boiler. If it is gas fired and over fifteen years old it is likely to be eligible. If it is oil fired and over twenty five years old, it is likely to be eligible.
For a better idea, see if your boiler make and model is listed as G-rated or worse by clicking here .
The £50m scheme, which will benefit only people living in England, is likely to be funded entirely by the taxpayer.
Will Marples, an energy expert at, the price comparison service, said: "Heating and hot water account for £756 a year on average so it makes absolute sense to focus energy efficiency efforts here, where people have the most to gain. Installing a modern efficient boiler can save up to £235 a year on heating bills.
"However, for many families and households the cost of buying one and having it installed is prohibitive. Hopefully this new scrappage scheme will put it within reach of more people."

Forget eco-homes and look to the Mumbai slums, Kevin McCloud urges British Government

Britain should focus less on building environmentally friendly housing and more on providing “happy” places to live, according to Grand Designs host Kevin McCloud.

By Anita Singh, Showbusiness EditorPublished: 6:00AM GMT 05 Jan 2010

The presenter suggests that, for all the millions of pounds spent on designing eco-towns — the Government’s answer to Britain’s housing shortage — ministers could learn about creating happy communities from the slums of Mumbai.
A recent trip to the Indian city provided him with unlikely inspiration for making communal living a success.

"I've come back with a sense of renewed hope about how we can do that," McCloud said. "If I have one message for developers and the Government, it's to focus less on eco-housing and green buildings - because, frankly, we know how to do that. Let's start focusing on the social stuff, on how we can make people happier."
His words are likely to dismay the Government, which is pressing ahead with the plans to build 10 sustainable “eco-towns” by 2020.
They are also likely to raise questions about McCloud’s own proposal to build a 200-home eco-development near Swindon, despite the fierce opposition of neighbours. He has been attempting to push through the £19 million project since 2007, but local residents claim it will destroy a green space used by children and dog walkers and which is a haven for wildlife.
The apparent change of heart follows McCloud’s visit to Mumbai’s Dharavi slum, the rubbish-strewn shanty-town which provided the backdrop to last year’s Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire. It is home to between 600,000 and one million people who are crammed into a 520-acre site. Disease is rife and it is estimated that there is one lavatory for every 1,400 residents.
McCloud was there to film Slumming It, part of Channel 4’s forthcoming Indian Winter season. He told Radio Times that Dharavi could teach Britain a great deal about “social sustainability”. “There is a tremendously elastic attitude to what is theirs, what they own and how they work in and use space,” he said of the slum residents, who live side by side in corrugated iron shacks.
“A room has several functions. You can take a space and extend it out to a balcony and into the public realm. Because women don’t have huge kitchens, they rinse their pots in the street. That has to be the most civilised, sociable way of doing the washing-up – outside in the sun, chatting to your neighbours.”
“It’s all about people sharing things. It’s about making sure people are happy where they are living and content to stay there, rather than treat their home as an isolated box that is part of their pension plan or investment portfolio.”
"We should stop looking at property as pornography or an investment, and instead think of it as our home, and that home being next to another home, and those together being part of a community."
The presenter lived with a 21-strong family during his stay, all of whom had "perfect teeth and hair" despite their surroundings.
Describing the communal laundry area, he said: "Professional washers stand knee-deep in grey water all day whacking clothes against the slabs. That water comes from a little creek that runs under the railway line. There are dead rats, rubbish and toxic waste floating in it. Yet those clothes get beautifully pressed and everyone's smartly dressed. That is the amazing paradox of the slum."
Last year, the Prince of Wales hailed Dharavi as a model for urban planning, claiming it had an "underlying intuitive grammar of design"

France Plans New Version of Carbon Tax

PARIS--The French government plans to levy a new version of the carbon tax in the second half of this year, a spokesman said Tuesday, after an initial version of the bill was rejected by the country's highest court.
"The new carbon tax will be effective July 1st," Luc Chatel told a press conference after the weekly cabinet meeting.

A previous version of the bill was struck down by the country's Constitutional Council, which ruled that there were too many exemptions to the proposed tax of €17 ($24.5) per metric ton of carbon emitted. That tax was intended to take effect Jan. 1.
The council's decision was an unexpected blow to President Nicolas Sarkozy, who pledged tougher environmental legislation in his 2007 presidential campaign and emphasized climate change in his victory speech after being elected.
He had championed the tax, which would have been the first such sweeping levy introduced in France in the past 20 years.
It was forecast to generate €4.1 billion for the government.
Earlier Tuesday, Finance Minister Christine Lagarde gave the first few clues of how the new draft would differ from the one rejected by the court. Large companies that pollute heavily would be penalized more in the new draft of the bill, but the rates could vary, while exemptions on electricity would be maintained, Ms. Lagarde told Les Echos newspaper in an interview. "We are considering the possibility of applying reduced rates and of setting up other incentive mechanisms," Ms. Lagarde said.
In the draft proposed late last year, the government exempted over 1,000 highly polluting industrial sites, such as power stations, oil refineries and cement works, because they are already subject to a European Union quota system to be progressively put in place from 2013. According to EU rules, emissions at these sites will have to be cut by 21% by 2020.
Write to Gabriele Parussini at

Food labels to show 'carbon footprint' under Government plans

Supermarket food will be clearly labelled to show its carbon footprint as well as country of origin and animal welfare standards as part of efforts to transform the British diet.

By Louise Gray, Environment CorrespondentPublished: 3:08PM GMT 05 Jan 2010

Tesco already display carbon reduction labels as part of their packaging on certain products
Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, said in future people will have to eat less “carbon intensive” foods like red meat or excessively packaged products to make sure Britain meets targets to cut greenhouse gases.
To help consumers do this, new “green” food labels will show how much carbon was produced in the manufacture and transportation of food.

Tesco, Pepsi and other leading brands are already displaying a “carbon reduction label” on certain products showing the amount of carbon dioxide produced in grams in growing the food, packaging and transportation.
As part of a new food strategy for the next 20 years, the Government calls on other brands to consider measuring the carbon footprint of goods as well as being more honest about where meat was bred and the standards of welfare.
But environmental groups said the Government needed to bring in legislation rather than a voluntary labelling scheme to really transform food and farming.
Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, Mr Benn said choosing low carbon goods will help people fight climate change.
“Over the years ahead we are likely to see more information about how things are produced and what the carbon impact is,” he said.
“We are still learning as a world how to do it, but given that one of the things we have to do is get our emissions down here as in other countries the choices consumers make can have a big impact.”
A Government-supported body, the Carbon Trust, is currently working with the food industry, including big brands like Boots and Innocent, to help manufacturers work out and display the carbon footprint of different items.
Following the Irish pork scandal, Mr Benn also called on all retailers to sign up to the Pigmeat Labelling Code of Practice, due to be published next month, that will show where meat was born, reared and manufactured.
But Tracy Worcester, the former actress and food campaigner, said the guidelines will do little to improve animal welfare unless it is compulsory.
“It needs to be mandatory because no producer is going to put people off buying their food,” she said.
Helen Rimmer, of Friends of the Earth, also said carbon labelling will do little to fight climate change unless more low carbon products become available.
She said the Government should be supporting sustainable methods of farming such as organic, while cutting subsidies to factory farms.
"Hilary Benn rightly recognizes the need to fix the way we farm, but yet again it has failed to choose the path to fair and planet-friendly food,” she said.
Research released at the Oxford Farming Conference showed that farmers broadly support development of genetically modified crops and John Beddington, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, will call for more research into the technology at the event.
However an alternative event the “real farming conference” argued that more environmentally-friendly methods can be used to boost food production.

First US off-shore wind farm challenged by American Indians

Plans to build America's first off-shore wind farm in the sea off Cape Cod are being obstructed by local American Indian tribes which say it will disrupt their ancient sun-saluting rites.

By Tom Leonard in New York Published: 4:04PM GMT 05 Jan 2010
The proposed $1 billion (£620 million) wind farm off the Massachusetts coast would provide electricity to 400,000 homes and bolster President Barack Obama's strategy to expand the US renewable energy sector.
However, it has been opposed by two local tribes, descendants of the Wampanoags who greeted the Pilgrim Fathers, whose lawsuit on Monday won the backing of the National Park Service.

The Mashpee Wampanoag of Cape Cod and Aquinnah Wampanoag of neighbouring Martha's Vineyard have said the proposed 130 turbine towers - each 440ft high and covering 24 square miles - would ruin their spiritual ritual of greeting the sunrise.
The ritual requires unobstructed views across Nantucket Sound, which contains the wind farm site and separates the cape from the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. The tribes also say the so-called Cape Wind project would disturb ancestral burial grounds, now underwater.
Environmental and political arguments over the project have dragged on for nine years. Although backed by the state's governor, the wind farm was opposed by the late Senator Ted Kennedy, whose family compound overlooks the sound.
On Monday, the project faced a new setback when the National Park Service said that Nantucket Sound was eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its significance to the tribes.
Signalling Washington's frustration with the delays, Ken Salazar, the US interior secretary, said he would summon key parties in the dispute to a meeting next week and set a deadline of March 1 for a compromise to be reached.
Environmental campaigners attributed the government's intervention to what one called a "renewed sense of urgency" to address climate change in the wake of the Copenhagen summit.