Category: Blog

Here’s another reason not to try and terrify people out of conspicuous consumption, aside from the basic flaws in the “eco angel” approach and recent evidence that moralising is putting people off ethical consumerism. Some interesting research by Swiss psychologists found that warnings about death has the ironic effect of making some smokers want to smoke even more! The reason? They derive a self-esteem boost from smoking; warnings about death sent these smokers to a trusty source of self esteem to overcome that downhearted feeling – death-bringing cigarettes! So next time you tell someone that buying too much crap might cause planetary collapse, it’s fairly likely that your nasty nagging well send them running for a standard Western self-esteem boost: shopping.

Oooh I couldn’t resist, how we English love our slight dusting of snow!

Can a local community pay for its own regeneration instead of relying on developers with tall blocks of flats and massive government grants? I got thinking about this again after reading a jargon-fuelled paper on urban rights and renewal sent my way by local hero Eileen Conn. The author writes about communities owning, or controlling, their urban environment, and being able to determine how to spend “surplus value” (Marxist terminology for capital that rich people and governments accumulate off our backs). How could local people in Peckham, for example, decide how money is spent in the area? Here are two quick steps that are decidely practical compared to the ivory tower academic paper. First, give people more control over the property and land in Peckham. At the moment you either buy a home and the land it sits on, or you rent from a landlord, or you rent from the…

Cometh the General Election this year, we can expect most political parties to keep harping on about the national debt crisis. The way the media and politicians collude, you’d think we’re about to become a third world country, cutting services left, right and centre to appease the IMF. Is it that bad? I’ve been reading a few really interesting papers that show the problem is massively exaggerated. First, how big is government debt? In a fairly readable report, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research calculates that it will increase to 93% of GDP by 2015. This, as I wrote earlier, is a good deal lower than in the US, Japan, Germany and Italy. The main problem with government debt is that you have to service it, which means both paying the interest and trying to reduce it when it’s too high. This means that, short of incredible “efficiencies”,…

You don’t often see national newspapers celebrating a drop in house prices, despite the fact that they rose twice as fast as average incomes in the past decade. It’s much like the coverage of any strike that might affect a journalist’s holidays plans. Most journalists and commentators are wealthy middle class home owners, so they are heavily invested in maintaining this trend of above-income-inflation house price rises. There are two main reasons for this trend: first, house building supply never came close to meeting demand; second, cheap credit created a bubble that massively over-inflated the value of homes. Here in London, households with incomes up to an incredible £74,000 are soon to become eligible for “affordable housing”, which you can buy up bit by bit. Us paupers on a mere £74k are no longer able to buy a home otherwise. In the past year this trend has very slightly eased,…

If you read beyond the squeals of indignation from the latest TaxPayers Alliance “research” you find an interesting conclusion. The taxes we pay on measures aimed principally at reducing carbon dioxide emissions are much lower than the cost of those emissions to the economy. So we should be putting more tax on carbon dioxide, and perhaps less on good stuff like work! The TPA, better known for their corporate tax avoidance and personal tax evasion than robust research, have really gone to town on environmental taxation. So here are two fatal flaws and an interesting conclusion for those worried by the headlines. First, they pit these taxes against the cost of carbon dioxide emissions. But by their own, buried and obfuscated admission, these taxes do a lot more than just reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Fuel and vehicle excise duty, which make up the bulk of the taxes, also address congestion,…

Jim Jepps praises Peter Cranie for not taking up the BBC’s airtime offer to debate climate change with Nick Griffin. Quite right too. After watching this excellent explanation of the UAE “climategate” emails, well trailed as a “controversy” in the media, I was beginning to wonder if the BBC wasn’t about to go back to it’s old damaging balance position. It hasn’t exactly won the public’s affection over its stance on giving the BNP disproportionate time on news bulletins and Question Time. But what do you do if you must share a platform with the BNP? The London Assembly gives me regular access to the BNP’s “mr chips” Assembly member Richard Barnbrook. Word is, by the way, that he only ever eats plates of chips in the cafeteria, which might explain a few things. This week he tried to deny climate change by helpfully pointing out that there aren’t any…

For your average closet climate change denier or otherwise-stuck-in-the-mud politician, the Balance is a great weapon to deploy against evidence-based policy. “Of course we want to tackle climate change”, the argument goes, “but we must strike a balance between this and [insert contradictory aim here]”. If they understand the science of climate change, and have read the work of the Committee for Climate Change, they’d quickly realise they were asking for a balance between right and wrong, or more correctly and plainly for the wrong policy; you can’t really find a middle ground. So lately we see lots of senior Tories running this trope in an attempt to rein in the green public face of the Conservative Party (despite the party demoting most of its green lights to the back benches). Riding the resurgence of denial in the Telegraph and Spectator, these MPs are boldly defending their right to ignorance.…

One of the London Mayor’s favourite tactics is to totally confuse an issue, joking around to avoid anything sticking. With an issue like the South London Line he’s in his element. Except that residents of south London might prefer if he used his wit to help save public transport services, rather than trying to deny any responsibility. To recap very quickly, the excellent train service (which I use daily) is due to be axed in 2012. Boris has tried to claim it’s the government’s responsibility; that it is purely a technical decision which he can’t reverse; and that he is fighting our corner (only when his hand is forced, of course). In fact, we can be pretty sure that it all comes down to money, and that Boris won’t stump up the measly £2.4m per year for two years out of a massive central Government grant to save the line…

My paper about BedZED in was published in the Environment and Urbanization journal last month, there’s a free PDF for download. Aside from the many nitty gritty technical lessons learned from the UK’s first and still-largest Zero Carbon development, I took away two basic lessons for green policy. The first is that good urban design really can influence behaviour, making for a better sense of community and more environmentally friendly lifestyles. The old rule of thumb – make good choices the default and easy, bad choices more effort – bore fruit. The second is that the prevalent “save you money” view of selling sustainability needs a good kick in the teeth. Of course bill savings can be a good motivation for some people, but where did BedZED residents spend their savings? Flights; the now well-documented rebound effect at work. If you save money somewhere, do you automatically think “Great, I’ll…