Sunday, November 27, 2005

Ecovillages, Watching TV, Saving Water and Changing Energy Consumption

One of the aims of the Alternative Energy Blog is to go beyond reporting the opening of the latest windfarm and explore our existing energy culture and how this culture can be changed. While the recent UK television series "No Waste Like Home" went into the homes of families which used several times the energy of the "average" family, the recent episode of the documentary series "30 days" from American documentary maker Morgan Spurlock (of "Supersize Me" fame) approached the issue by taking two "ravenous consumers of fossil fuels" and making them go cold turkey by taking them off-grid by living on the Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, a commune "committed to radical environmental sustainability" in rural northeastern Missouri.

This approach was in my opinion a limited success. While it may have made for reasonably diverting television with one participant saying they couldn't live without their hair products and the other adopting the name "Meato" when challenged by the community's vegan diet it seemed to achieve only limited change in the participants with vague commitments to installing low energy lightbulbs and trying to use public transport more. The programme failed to challenge their belief that "oil isn't going to run out any time soon" or even provide any reasons to change other than the effects of diesel pollution in one Californian port town. So while recycling their "humanure" and running a car on discarded vegetable oil (which regular readers will know is NOT a scalable solution) may have been curiosities, there were few "take aways" for either the participants or the viewers. For me this was where "No Waste Like Home" succeeded by actually engaging the participants in their everyday environment and presenting them with both a "radical" and "practical" change to their energy usage from which both they and the viewers could learn from.

The Interflush

A different BBC television series "Dragons' Den" highlighted for me another issue. The series in which entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to "elite business experts" saw the inventor of the Interflush pitch his ideas to the panel of "business experts". The invention itself promises radical water savings "an unbeatable 47%" from a device which retails for around $30. Unfortunately a combination of a distinct vagueness on predicted sales figures and less than polished presentation skills meant there were no offers of investment. An affirmative answer by the inventor to the question "do you see yourself as more of an eco-warrior than an entrepreneur?" from the panel ended his chances. He was mocked for trying (and failing) to sell his invention to water companies who make money from selling more water. Yet isn't there something wrong when the world faces serious energy problems and oil, gas, electricity and water companies make bigger profits when people consume more. It is interesting therefore that energy giant BP in their latest marketing campaign asks "Do you know how big your carbon footprint is?". While the debate will continue as to just how green BP really is (the fact remains almost all their profits come from oil and gas) this campaign is getting people to think about their energy use which is definitely a good thing. Thinking about energy has to been a mainstream concern for all of us and our culture needs to change to reflect this. I'm interested in how readers think we should be creating this culture change.

Interview with 30 days show participant Vito Summa

Dancing Rabbit's response to 30 days

note: the "Off the Grid" episode of 30 days was first broadcast on July 13th on the FX Network and November 24th on More4 in the UK.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad to see you back, I enjoy your blog.

1:33 am, November 27, 2005  
Blogger Stewart Peterson said...

As for BP's profits, see:

7:12 am, November 27, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I'm interested in how readers think we should be creating this culture change."

Truthfully, I've gotten so angry at the cluelessness and selfishness of the general population that my answer is "scare them".

Sheeple seem content to live in a way that makes for brown skies and fish we have to be worried about eating. How can even dullards like "Meato" not see something horribly wrong with this?

No more gentle understanding. We're right, they're wrong, lets act like it.

~Greg Bell

9:51 pm, November 27, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"We're right, they're wrong"
- It's precisely this kind of attitude that undermines the green movement. You don't get anyone to change by telling them they're wrong. You have to show them something that is clearly better. Our man with the water-saving toilets needs to avoid going on about how good it is for the Earth and instead to tell people why the thing is good for them. Will it save me money? Is it better, cheaper, quieter? Will it last longer? These are the kind of questions that matter to everyone.

5:20 am, November 29, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When the Nazi's were exterminating the Jews, nobody pussy-footed around it. It was wrong, lets go to war.

Sometimes right and wrong are clear. Sheeple have had 3 decades to choose to do the right thing based on green arguments. By and large, they haven't. Time for Emergency Plan B.

We can't endlessly debate and work to convince those that are stubborn. Time is running out. Its wartime.

As for showing people why "its better for them" - most actions required to save the earth are sacrifices - no bones about it. No point in appealing to the selfishness in people - its about survival in a longer term than they have the capability of seeing, therefore we must dictate.

We haven't done enough of this. There hasn't been much tough talk. We've tried your way for 30 years, time for some leaders to lay down the law.

12:55 am, December 09, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i've lived my life conserving fresh water by using only a few gallons per day... buying used items, repairing, reusing and recycling just about everything possible... driving cars for over 15 years... haven't owned a TV since 1989 and had hardly used one since 1980... get the idea?

What still amazes me is most people feel they have to keep up with the Jones' and buy everything they see on their TV... most don't have a clue as to what it means to conserve our resources.

Perhaps hitting them upside the head with a 2 x 4 would get their attention... for a while? Then what?

They are so used to instant cures for everything and their attention span is so short... using the profit motive should work but many would look at the savings and make fun of it if it isn't 'worth their time'...

Education is the key to the locked door... let's hope it isn't too late and we can be a positive influence.

10:04 pm, December 10, 2005  

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