Notes from the Green Party MEP for East of England. Biographical reflections on life as an MEP. Longer reflections and discussions on issues relating to policy, the good life, justice, equality, anti-austerity economics and the future of the planet. This is also a forum for exchanging ideas on how to tread lightly on the planet and avoid supporting exploitation and corrupt practices. Here we go...

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Mod cons

Are there some things that we have been too readily persuaded that we need, when really the supposed "need" is created by our use of the thing we now think we need? I mean, companies advertise something as though it will make our life better, but actually it makes life no better. Meanwhile we come to think that we can't do without it.

The thing is a con, which makes us go on buying the thing that is making things worse.

I don't mean things that we could live without (with some minor discomfort). I mean things which we would be happier and more comfortable without, if only we could resist the pressure to have the thing we've been conned into having.

Here's an example: deodorant.

When I was a teenager I thought that there were some people who were lucky enough not to need to use deodorant (my younger brother for instance) but the rest of us were smelly and would be very smelly indeed if we didn't use deodorant every day.

Then I met a man who didn't use deodorant, and he persuaded me that all you need to do is wash your armpits at the end of each day. So I tried it, and sure enough, once you've washed off the weeks of bad chemicals from the deodorant, you become fresh and sweet smelling and you don't generate so much perspiration. Nor do your clothes get messed up by the deodorant, and they breathe better as a result, so you don't get hot and sweaty from wearing the clothes that had become non-porous from the nasty things you were applying to your armpits. And you don't need to wash your clothes so often, nor do you find that you need to buy new garments because the old ones have bad marks under the arms.

Perhaps it may be true that there are a few people who have some kind of illness or malfunctioning sweat glands, and maybe they might get a bit smelly. But it's my belief that most of us are fine with a bar of soap, a washbasin with warm water, a good flannel to wash with, and some well-chosen clothes...

I mean, obviously you don't want to be wearing clothes that cut in too tight under the armpits, or clothes made of nylon or polyester or acrylic. But such clothes are uncomfortable and look horrid anyway, and are another mod con, only suited to chavs.

I haven't used a deodorant for thirty years now.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Things calculated to annoy a cyclist

Every road on the main cycle routes across Cambridge has been dug up this winter. In particular, the routes to get from East of the city, or North East, into the city, or to the Sidgwick site, or to the station, or to Trumpington Street/Silver Street, or to the University Library, or to anywhere any civilised person wants to go... all of them have been dug up, all at the same time.

When they dig up the road they make a large hole. Then they park their digger next to the hole. Then they park their portable toilet next to the digger, or on the other side, next to the hole. Then they fence the entire thing round, enclosing any remaining space between their hole and the pavement. Then they put up a big notice saying that the road is closed (or, in this case, a sign saying go to the left of this blockage, as though there were still a way past). The fact that it was the only cycle route for you to get to work or to the station is, of course, not their concern. While I was taking this photograph (which is a picture of the ten minute route from here to the station, in this case through Kingston Street) sixteen cyclists came by, and every one of them had to dismount (luggage, children and all) hump up onto the pavement, walk past, hump down again, climb on again, etc.
Why did they still do that? Because the next nearest way round, involving dropping down to Gwydir Street and going round by St Barnabas road instead of Devonshire road, is about twice as long and involves three sets of traffic lights, making this a twenty minute journey instead of a ten minute one.
I didn't think to get any pictures of the similar works on King Street, which were helpfully timed to be at the same time as yet another set of (still ongoing) works on Jesus Lane, so that both of the two main arteries into Cambridge for cyclists from the East were closed at the same time. It's true that Jesus Lane is not wholly closed... but it has traffic lights, which are extremely slow and add a great deal to the journey time. What is more, whereas at an earlier stage it was possible to by pass the problem on Jesus Lane by going round by King Street, now they have gratuitously moved the Jesus Lane traffic light back like this:
This is the view of it where you come out from Malcolm Street onto Jesus Lane opposite Wesley House. This used not to have a traffic light, so you could turn left at will providing no traffic were coming from the right, and you could turn right into Malcolm Street from Jesus Lane even if the traffic light, which was a bit to the right of this junction, were red. Not so now. As you can see the traffic light here is quite isolated from the road works: the works are way down the road to the right. Why stop the traffic here? Just to make life difficult for the cyclists, to prevent them from avoiding the problem by way of King Street and Malcolm Street...
Which way would you go if you couldn't do Jesus Lane and Trinity Street, or King Street and ... (well where do you go from there? It's a designated cycle route, but then you're not allowed to go through Sussex Street, for some incomprehensible reason, and the police, just to aggravate everyone further, have been having a campaign to stop the poor cyclists from going through Sussex Street, which was their last resort... but just how are you supposed to get to Green Street, which is also a designated cycle route? and just how are you supposed to get from Midsummer common to King's)
Anyway, suppose you decide instead to go by way of Emmanuel Road and Downing Street. Now, this is what greets you:
In this case they have closed not only the left side of the road (we're looking East here) but also the contra-flow bike lane on the right. They know we won't like it, and that it is a crucial cycle route, so they specially put up a notice telling us we must dismount. I realise I haven't got a picture of the offensive blockade that they've put up at the Trumpington street entrance to this route.

What exactly is the city's policy with regard to encouraging cycling? I ask in genuine bemusement.
By the way, I've never seen anyone digging in these places. You'd have thought that they could at least arrange their digger and their toilet booth in a long line while they're off duty, so that the whole blockage was made long and narrow, with room for cyclists to pass on one side. Wouldn't you?

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Incandescent with rage...

A mailing this week from Lightbulbs Direct (my source of the otherwise unobtainable halogen bulb that I like to have in the uplighter, as well as whatever supplies of traditional light bulbs are still available) confirms that the EU have gone ahead with their threat to ban incandescent light bulbs. Such bulbs (the cloudy sort first) will start to become unobtainable from September (or rather before that, since most of us will panic buy whatever stocks can be supplied before that time). Clear ones may be around for a bit longer but eventually they'll be ruled out too.

Why are we to be deprived of the right to light? Presumably in the interests of saving CO2.

I wonder whether they've actually calculated the saving of CO2 correctly, though. The thing is, an incandescent light bulb produces both light and heat. A flourescent tube produces more light and less heat. The amount of energy put in (watts of electricity) is the same amount of energy as comes out (light and heat). Less energy in, less energy out. More energy in, more energy out.

If you use incendescent bulbs in a room that you are also heating, you will need less heating to keep the room warm than you will if you use a flourescent bulb. So in the winter, nothing is lost if you use an incandescent bulb in a room that is also heated by electricity. Your electricity usage will not go up or down by changing your light bulb.

Perhaps you heat your house by gas, and light it by electricity. Then your electricity usage will go down and your gas usage will go up if you change to cooler bulbs. But now, is this a good thing? It won't be saving CO2 if your gas and your electricity are both causing CO2 to be burnt off.

There is a risk (increasing as more of us join Green tariff electricity) that your electricity was actually coming from a renewable resource, wind power or solar or water or something, and not causing any CO2 emissions at all. So your incandescent bulb was giving you light and heat at no cost to the environment. Then the gas is worse than the electricity. In that case you are doing more damage to the environment by fitting the low wattage bulbs and adding heat from the gas fired heating instead.

So the only occasions on which you will assist the environment by going for the horrid low wattage bulbs is if the light is out doors, if the light is in a room you are not intending to heat or which tends to be too hot already, or if you are burning the light in the summer. But those are a tiny proportion of the occasions for switching on a light, and can be solved if we are all taught to fit a low watt light bulb in a room we never use or in outdoor fittings, and if buildings are built with adequate natural light so that no lighting is needed in the daytime, particularly on summer days. It can't be necessary to make incandescent bulbs illegal to achieve that!

And what about those of us who will have to resort to reading by candle light or gas or oil lamps, since we can't stand the flashing light of the flourescent lighting?

You don't think it flickers? Try this experiment. Sit in a room lit by a flourescent light, and try taking a picture with a digital camera (e.g. the one built into your computer if you have one). Now you'll see. That's why it's so uncomfortable to read by and why it makes you tired and brings on a headache.

My thanks to Bob De Wolf for pointing out how simple the physics of this is, and how dotty the policy is as a result.