Emissions impossible

30th June 2006 at 01:00
When I start up my 50-year-old tractor, I sometimes wonder whether the plume of black smoke is damaging the planet. Will my grandchildren need webbed feet to get around?

These sober musings aside, environmental matters have their funny side.

What got me going was the hosepipe ban in the South-east. "The worst water shortage for years," bleat the water companies. No, it isn't. Water is not being created or destroyed.

What we have is what we have had since we were a hurtling lump of Big Bang.

It gets locked up in glaciers and ice caps and melts every now and then, but there it is, the same old stuff that rots your boots and is boring to drink.

The problem is dead simple. It is how to transport water from Scotland which, as everyone knows, cowers beneath a perpetual deluge, and the Costa del Croydon, where people are forced to sip a chilled Pimm's under the parasols of a pavement cafe.

The solution is called a pipe. Pipes have been around for a while. They are used to deliver oil from faraway places like Uzbekistan to keep my tractor smoking in Hampshire.

Compared with that, a big pipe running alongside the A1 is a mere bagatelle. Get it built and stop whining. Just learn to live with the idea that Londoners are not going to emigrate to Scotland to take the waters.

Messrs Blair, Brown, Reid, Darling and all the rest will tell you firmly that, at least until Croydon becomes unbearably torrid, the great trek is southwards. Perhaps all these migrating Scots could each bring a length of pipe with them? Start now. The first to leave Sauchiehall Street has the least distance to carry their pipe.

And another thing. I've got real problems imagining a tonne of carbon dioxide. It is the stuff in those pretty bubbles swirling to the top of a glass of champagne. The only things that both rise and weigh tonnes are double-decker Airbuses, and they need enormous engines to do the trick. So it stands to reason that something invisible, except when rising swiftly through the glorious tipple, cannot plausibly be measured in tonnes.

You can imagine my disbelief at the news that each home in Uttlesford, Essex, produces no less than an annual average of 8,092kg, the equivalent environmental impact of driving an average car 22,500 miles each year. The report went on breathlessly to tell me that a Boeing 747 produces the same amount going from here to Australia and back.

So there, we have dealt with another bunch of bleaters. We can carry on going to nice places by just demolishing Uttlesford. Nobody knows where it is anyway. Nobody would notice. It could only be seen as a good thing all round if we knocked down a few bits of stockbroker belt to provide Carbon Offset for a fortnight's sunbathing, boozing and unwise personal liaisons.

The disbelief just goes on mounting when I learn that, while big hot noisy aeroplanes produce 4 per cent of all carbon dioxide emissions, making wet, cold, slithery cement wafts a huge 11 per cent into the atmosphere.

You can see how all these tonnes of apparently weightless gas get taken up all that way to the ozone layer by plane. But how do cement and concrete get that far?

And yet another thing. I also read somewhere that the speedy solution to global warming was to stop ploughing the great plains of midwest America.

Ploughing apparently releases the carbon from all the rotted veggies and sheep that go to make up earth.

The great plains are a problem partly because they are, well, great. There is a lot of lain to plough. Apparently they are also a problem because Native Americans skittered about on them for millennia, with never a plough to break the sod.

There was, in short, a lot of time without disturbance for the great plains to get all fizzy with carbon dioxide which really should have gone into grapes to make champagne, but ended up instead in buns for McDonald's.

Now you would think agriculture was rather benign in the great scheme of climate death. Fields of waving corn, even when trundled over by my old tractor, seem sort of green. You would also think that one good ploughing would be enough to let out all the fizz from the soil. But no. We put fertiliser back in, and that is made of oil which comes from even more rotted veggies and sheep.

I give up. Our education system is going to have to put some more effort into creating the instant pipeline, the cementless house and the concreteless motorway.

And I will keep taking what comfort I can from a world which is patently, and ever more so, barking.

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