Too late to turn back the tide?

DISASTROUS floods in New Orleans, Gloucester and Bangladesh may or may not be directly due to the earth's increasing temperature.It's a moot point - too moot for the best-informed scientists to be sure of, let alone the rest of us.

DISASTROUS floods in New Orleans, Gloucester and Bangladesh may or may not be directly due to the earth's increasing temperature.

It's a moot point - too moot for the best-informed scientists to be sure of, let alone the rest of us.

But the deep waters we've encountered up to now could be just the first signs of something that will get much, much worse.

It may be too late to turn back the rising tide. But it may not be - and we surely have to try.

The question is what we can do. And just how, and how much, we have to change our lives before drastic changes are forced on us.

Chris Goodall is a campaigning author and Green Party candidate. He has been called an “environmental guru”, whatever that means. His grasp of the scientific facts and figures may be very good. I'm not really qualified to judge that.

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But if so, I think his grip on the important business of informing public opinion is woeful. Unless all he's after is getting publicity for himself and his book, in which case he's scored another hit right here.

His biggest triumph was a headline in a respected national newspaper, quoting him: “Walking to the shops 'damages planet more than going by car'.”

A triumph in personal PR, perhaps, and for the motor industry, but a disaster for the green cause.

Goodall claims driving burns less energy than the food that would fuel you in walking the same distance.

He bases this on the assertion that “you'd need about 100g of beef” to replace the energy you'd use on a three-mile walk. Which might be true if we all got all our energy from beef, which we don't.

While carefully factoring in every aspect of beef production and shipment, including the animals' gaseous emissions, he omits the environmental impact of making and shipping your car and its fuel.

And he assumes that if we all exercised less, we'd eat less - whereas the opposite appears generally to be the case.

To complete his calculations he probably ought to take into account the medical care of the beef-guzzling, couch-potato obese.

If you look at all he's saying, Goodall's primary target appears to be the international food industry. I'm sure he's right in most of what he says about it - such as the devastating waste involved in processed and frozen food.

But his sensational comparison of walking and driving is a colossal own goal.

Those of us who walk to the shops are likely to buy local. Those who drive use the supermarkets and fast-food joints that are the front end of the very industry Goodall rightly deplores.

The newspaper article which Goodall has since called “a good assessment of the main points I tried to raise” goes further to “shatter the great green myths”.

In particular, it makes the eye-catching claim that trains are “more polluting than 4x4 vehicles”. It's eye-catching because it's wrong.

Yes, a diesel train carrying ten passengers might burn more fuel than ten big cars making the same journey. But when were you last on a train with only ten passengers?

The frustrating thing about all this is that when you strip away the sensational headlines, Goodall has several vital points to make.

His conclusion is: “Don't buy anything from the supermarket or anything that's travelled too far.”

That is the message we all need to hear and take in. Not some spurious, half-baked idea that driving cars is somehow good for the world.

HAVE you ever leaped to the right answer in a quiz, then wondered where it came from?

And then, perhaps, reasoned your way to a different answer, only to find that the right one was the one you first thought of?

If you're a football fan, you'll know that the best strikers often miss chances if they have time to think about them.

In a fascinating new book, Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious, psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer explains why our first reactions are often best.

Imagine a cricketer catching a ball. Then imagine how he'd fare if he tried to calculate its trajectory mathematically.

Gigerenzer also demonstrates that too much choice paralyses our ability to make the right decision - or any decision at all. That's something our politicians might like to consider next time they're tempted to put “choice” at the top of the agenda for education, water or health provision.

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