Greenwash, Ecobuild, Disclosure

Letting the train take the strainBit of a mixed bag this, and perhaps the title of this post is a little too sweeping, but then we’re feeling a little incensed by a recent article in the Independent. In a spectacularly poorly researched piece of dross, Simon Usborne and Helen Brown attempt to “face the facts many ecologists would rather ignore”.

There’s a grain of truth in some of them, such as the notion that food miles aren’t a bombproof proxy for the carbon footprint of a product. Indeed, we’ve touched on the same subject. Similarly, it’s true to say that an ancient woodland isn’t sequestering carbon at the same rate as a fast growing, young plantation of, say, eucalyptus trees.

But to suggest that we should cut those ancient woodlands down and plant fast growing species there instead displays a lack of understanding that for a journalist at a leading daily beggars belief. Adapting to future climate change is not just about reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It’s about helping wildlife and people deal with the changes to which we are already irrevocably committed.

Ancient woodlands might not be significant carbon sinks (although they do continue to sequester carbon indefinitely) but they are massive carbon stores, accounting for an estimated 1445 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent in the UK alone (compared with annual GHG emissions of 554 million tonnes). Undisturbed soils store carbon over a much longer period than commercial forestry allows. From an emissions perspective alone, trashing our ancient woodlands would be nothing short of disastrous.

Our ancient woods represent a tiny fragment of the UK’s land area. They are under almost continual threat from “development” — be it roads or runways — and a significant part of the Trust’s work (indeed, why we were founded in the first place) is focused on defending what precious little of these pre-industrial ecosystems we have left. They provide a true haven for wildlife, and many species could not exist anywhere else. Even hinting at the notion of destroying them, especially in the name of emissions reduction, is irresponsible and an abuse of journalistic and editorial influence.

In short, the Independent should be ashamed of itself.

Ecobuild — the “world’s biggest event dedicated to sustainable design, construction and the built environment” — is currently in full swing at London’s Earl’s Court. There are many admirable goings on (we were particularly drawn to the comments made at yesterday’s seminar on the future of urban trees), but if you think it’s all like this, think again.

One exhibitor, whose anonymity will be respected, takes old uPVC double glazed units and makes them into… new uPVC units. Sort of. What actually happens is that the glass goes to landfill (it’s not even ground up for aggregate — something to do with the boron content that was beyond our and, frankly, the exhibitor’s understanding). Next the uPVC frame is ground up into little pieces.

Then it’s ground up into even smaller pieces.

Then it’s ground into really tiny pieces.

Finally, it’s all squashed back into thin black strips.

And those thin black strips get used to line the inside of the frames of new uPVC units, of which the majority of materials still come from virgin sources.

There was one obvious question: “What are the GHG emissions arising from this recyling process, compared with just making the whole lot from new?”

It wasn’t just a pregnant pause. It was a five-months-overdue-elephant-pregnant pause. Then, the carefully considered, thoroughly researched, technical answer.

“It balances out”.

On the other hand, literally, the Dyson airblade stand was good. The sales rep was totally on the ball, the dryer really works, and the energy costs to users are potentially massive. At the other end of the technological spectrum, Carpenter Oak were doing things of great beauty, and it was a delight to see that Saint-Gobain were giving ash trees away to visitors. Chapeaux!

Last stop of the day was a trip to the House of Commons to hear the latest from the excellent All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group. To a packed room, Lord Hunt of King’s Heath OBE — Minister of State for DECC — set out the various virtues of the Carbon Disclosure Project, which has turned its sights on public procurement (where the government buys stuff).

The public sector’s buying power is vast, as the CDP’s report yesterday demonstrates. In the EU it amounts to 16% of gross GDP, so obtaining a snapshot of the supply chain could well lead to massive GHG emissions reductions in the coming years. Finally, some glimmer of hope that the government will lead by example. Now we just need to do something about the PM’s carbon footprint

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