Wednesday, January 2, 2008


Oh dear me. It seems that I have been a delinquent citizen. In a community where “greenliness” is next to Godlinesss (or Godlessness) I have apparently violated a Green code of conduct. During the first major power outage of the season, I finally made operational the 6700 watt diesel generator that I had purchased six months before.

The purchase was made after careful research and many trade-offs. Fuel economy, noise, durability, and maintenance were all weighed in the balance. I determined that diesel was the best option, and its first performance vindicated my choice. Unfortunately, at least two of my neighbours did not share my satisfaction. The second-hand opinion I heard was that the generator was “environmentally unfriendly” and unkind to the atmosphere.

The news puzzled me. I knew that diesel-powered cars generally have a superior fuel economy than equivalent gasoline engines and produce less greenhouse gas pollution. This greater fuel economy is due to the higher energy per liter content of diesel fuel and also to the intrinsic efficiency of the diesel engine. True, diesel’s 15% higher density results in 15% higher greenhouse gas emissions per liter compared to gasoline. This might have the basis for my neighbours’ opposition. But the 20-40% better fuel economy achieved by modern diesel engined automobiles offsets the higher-per-litre emissions of greenhouse gases, resulting in significantly lower carbon dioxide emissions per kilometer. Diesels burn less than half the fuel gas engines do while doing the same work. Cars or generators, the physics are the same.

Meanwhile, what were my neighbours doing to keep warm? Using their wood stoves to burn wood. Now surely that can’t be good for the atmosphere. A look at the satellite photos of the burning Amazon rainforest will confirm that. But they have a rationale for their energy choice. They argue that since trees absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, it reduces the GHG that wood produces when it burns. It is called “carbon sequestration”. Quite a nonsensical argument if you think about it. To obtain the wood that you need to burn you must chop down trees, so those trees are no longer available to absorb C02, are they? True, they can grow back, but in the meantime there is an absorption deficit. To contend that logging is indirectly good for fighting climate change because it promotes tree planting is like saying that car accidents are good because they promote the auto body repair business. In an ideal world it would be preferable to have neither.

There is another curious contradiction in my neighbours’ Green crusade. One complainant announced his intention to leave with his wife on a trip to Mexico, while another declared his intention to travel with his wife to India. Neither we going by sail boat. Using Carbon Footprint analysis, I determined that during the return flight from Vancouver to Mazatlan the first set of Green exemplars would be responsible for the release of .922 tonnes of C02 into the atmosphere. The second set of Green paragons in their return flight from Vancouver to New Delhi would be responsible for 2.514 tonnes of C02.

I think it is safe to say that the exhaust from my 6700 watt diesel generator did nothing to approach those numbers during its two days of operation. To be precise, I would have to run my generator for 15 days continuously round the clock to burn the 368 litres of diesel equal to the C02 generated by that trip to Mazatlan. And it would take 41 days of constant use for my diesel generator to inflict the C02 damage that one passenger flying from Vancouver to New Delhi return would cause the planet.

A more obvious target than my generator for environmental criticism would have been my car. A car that consumes 416 litres of fuel emits the equivalent of 1 tonne of C02. Mine burns about 11 litres a week or 572 litres of gasoline a year on average. That is much the same as taking a return flight from Vancouver to Caracas, Venezuela. My Green critic, an avid bike rider, missed his bet by not calling me out on that one. His wife, however, most probably drives more than I do.

At present, air travel accounts for 3% of global warming but in a mere 12 years it will be a staggering 50%. There are 2 billion airline journeys each year and GHG emissions grow 7% every year.

But here’s the rub. The world’s population is generating four times as much C02 as the airlines are, just by breathing. Yet my neighbours, as fully paid up members of the Green-Sierra Sheep Fraternity, will not face up to the population factor. For them, only our individual footprint matters, not the number of footprints. Their focus is entirely on what you and I do to change our personal habits. By starting at the grassroots level and living green life-styles as individuals we can turn this thing around, just as their guru, Mr. Mary Poppins, Al Gore said. The big picture, the sheer volume of people, is of little account to them. The idea that we can cut GHG emissions by 60% in the next 40 years and yet lose all of those gains from a growing population is beyond their comprehension. Sierra Club Greens just can’t make the connection between consumption and population.

Case in point. One such neighbour gave me a lecture about the importance of reducing my garbage and recycling it, but he opposed the concept of capping the population in the community, or in the country at large. He did not see my point that it was immaterial to Mother Nature if we all cut our garbage in half, but then proceeded to double our population. The landfills would be the same size.

A British study done by Optimum Population Trust found that even if all waste was recycled, the saving would be less than 10% of the waste generated by an extra citizen from birth or immigration. One new citizen wiped out the efforts of 80 lifetimes of responsible recycling. Clearly recycling, while beneficial, is not key to waste.

Lets put this into perspective. James Lovelock remarked that “if we had the population level we did in the 18th century, it wouldn’t matter what energy source we used.” It wouldn’t matter if we all burned coal, or used diesel, or all took Mexican vacations. Our obsession today is on consumption simply because political and religious taboos prevent us from talking about the Elephant in the Room. Over-population.

My friend and retired oceanographer Dr. Buster Welch stated the problem more bluntly.

“It doesn’t matter if you shit in a river or drive an SUV if you are the only one doing it. But if a million people are doing it, you have a problem. That is over-population.”

The cure is a Total Fertility Rate of 1.5 to trim the global population down to less a billion. Ideally .5 billion in order that Gaia may recover. If we won’t do it Nature will, in a very inhumane fashion. Or perhaps Prince Philip will fulfill his wish. He expressed the hope to be reincarnated as a deadly virus that will cull the human population.

We do know that the most effective climate change fighting strategy is to limit the population, globally, nationally and in your own family. In that regard, one would think that Greens who have sired or borne several children would not have the cheek to counsel others about conservation. But apparently they are oblivious to the fact that each child born in the United States will generate 23.8 metric tons of GHG every year of his life (in Canada it will be just under 20 metric tones) and that more people will mean more pressure on farmlands, wetlands and wildlife. Their pet “smart growth” remedies will not indefinitely defend these lands and they will certainly not prevent the generation of waste and pollution that more people bring.

Green hypocrisy in my community is best illustrated I think by three eco-criminals who have apparently escaped moral opprobrium from the Green Police. Rather than adopt a baby or a child from the thousands of foster children desperately hungry for a loving home, one gay couple had artificial insemination. That is, they added one more human being to a human population of 6.7 billion, and to a country of obscenely high consumption. Another woman did the more responsible thing, by adopting a baby, but again, it was a baby from the undeveloped world, who will now grow up to consume six to ten times as much here with all the negative impacts that will entail. All of this belongs of course, to the province of “personal choice” that is supposedly none of anyone’s business. But my generator is.

My neighbours would have been well advised, I think, to consult Matthew 7:1-5 before citing me for bad environmental citizenship. “First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Taking a fearless inventory of one’s own footprint is recommended before enumerating the excesses of someone else. For more information, refer to or simply phone 1-800-Green-Hypocrite.

Tim Murray

Quadra Island, BC

November 23/07

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