James O'Neill's Blog

November 15, 2007

Confessions of an environmental hypocrite.

Filed under: Uncategorized — jamesone111 @ 5:08 pm

I started tapping this out on my Smartphone at 30,000 feet as I headed for my fourth airport in 20 hours. From Carribean Holiday to Tech-ed Barcelona via London Heathrow (where, inevitably, BA lost my bag). With all the guilt we are supposed to feel when we fly, spending 15 hours in economy seems like some kind of penance. (‘Forgive me father for I have flown’ … ‘My son, say 3 life Jackets or 4 Emergency exits‘).


I ribbed Steve recently because I’m pedantic when it comes to Carbon Guilt. Unlike making a car journey, occupying a few square inches in the cheap seats on a plane doesn’t directly cause extra carbon to be spewed into the atmosphere – the plane would have flown if my seat had been empty. But everyone who flies a route keeps it viable, and a share of emissions yet to come can be laid at our doors. In which case, what am I doing flying half way round the world to go scuba diving?


I’m a little agnostic about the role of Co2 in global warming. Climate does appear to be changing, but in a way is more closely correlated with solar activity rather than with co2 output. The scientific models we have for climate are far from perfect – but neither of those things completely invalidate all theories of the Greenhouse effect: they show that climate is a more complicated thing than you might believe from the way the subject is reported. An Article I read in The Times on Monday said that “In 1950 there were about 5,000 polar bears. Now there are 25,000″ and “evidence from organisations such as the US National Biological Service [shows] that in most places polar bear populations are either stable or increasing”. Despite this, it says, the Polar Bear will top the eco-hysterics’ list of animals in danger because it’s so fluffy and white and photogenic.”


People are bothered by the extinction of any animal, not just a “fluffy, white and photogenic” one. When I first understood that modern animals could become extinct – some time in my childhood – it bothered me. I’m more of an “energy conservationist” than an “eco-hysteric” – I don’t like the idea of there being no more oil either. Things that have always been there should, in the natural course of things, continue to be there. Think of the “Death Star” in Star Wars and ask yourself why destroying a planet is worse than bringing many lives to an end prematurely. Lives come to an end: planets don’t. To me, back then, a world without Tigers, or Pandas, or Rhino was an idea which just jarred.


And before you think that it global warming is the biggest risk for species, think about how demand for Palm oil could cause the extinction of the Orang-utan and one use being proposed for Palm Oil is as a bio-fuel to reduce Co2 emissions – as this report from the Guardian explains.


The idea of great majestic whales being hunted out of existence bothers us , and killing something with a reputation for intelligence makes us check that our tuna is “Dolphin friendly”. But what about long line fishing, which kills 100,000 Albatross – a year – 19 of 22 Species are endangered. Or the desire for Shark fin soup which has put 110 species into the “threat” category on the IUCN Red List. (Incidentally, Shark finning throws away 95% of the slaughtered animal, which is waste on crass level which can only be matched by the Ivory trade). The list goes on; over-fishing has all but wiped out the predators which used to keep down the Crown of Thorns starfish – a species which is now are chomping though huge amounts of coral.


So where-ever you stand on global warming – between the extremes of denial and “eco-hysteric” – it’s by no means the only example of humanity’s ability to screw up the planet. Before I started diving, I didn’t think much about what we’re doing to coral and the other life in the world’s oceans. It’s depressing, because I feel powerless to do anything about it. But excessive numbers of divers are harmful to reefs. Compressing air to use on dives, getting to dive sites (flying there, staying in the vicinity and taking the boat to the site itself) means using energy and creating pollution. It’s more depressing to find that in gaining an understanding of these problems, I’m adding to them, and I’m not doing anything to improve the situation. So here’s an offer. Microsoft allows me to take few days each year to do volunteer work. Is anyone reading this who could use that time to do something about any of the issues I’ve referred to? Get in touch.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

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