Carbon Trade Watch Interview

March 2006

Newman arrives at Cartagena Hilton

Can you talk a little bit about the decisions you have made about your patterns of energy consumption (flying, car use, home heating etc) with regards to climate change?

I don't fly short-haul, i.e. anywhere in Europe, I don't own a car, I am with Good Energy and on Tuesday a man is coming round to fit double-glazing. (Here's an embarrassing admission: I probably would never have got round to getting double glazing if I hadn't bought a new settee which only fits next to a really drafty window.) I cycle and use the tube. I try never to go to supermarkets -except occasionally the Co-op, and use local shops. I don't eat fruit out of season unless I've recently been chucked, in which case I persuade myself that the Argentinian blueberries came by sailboat.

I try only to buy second hand things, apart from underwear (and fabulous settees.) I am a meat eater but try only to eat grass-fed. My web host is solar-powered.

What prompted you to make these decisions? What impact have they had on your personal or professional life?

A friend was round for dinner in my back garden one night three years ago he used the phrase, "There's no excuse for flying short-haul" in relation to someone else. And that was that for me. All I needed was for someone to say it with certainty.

The next year I did a 26-city tour of USA. This tested my resolve. I did a 36 hour train ride (which necessitated my giving up smoking before the trip - hidden bonus). I was able to tour very cheaply because I had an Amtrak one-month pass which let me go on any train for a month for about $300. (Obviously the carriages were packed with the Rolling Stones, Coldplay and KT Tunstall who were also touring at the same time (see below).

It made the journey more of a journey and I felt I really knew the country when I got back. And I'd met some people who weren't executives.

But I did fly rather than spend five hours overnight in Chicago bus station or take 3 days to get from Montreal to New Orleans.

Another effect on professional life was a really cool group of people who ran the Eco-Confessional Booth in which to confess your eco crimes, set it up in the foyer of a theatre I was doing a run at.

British Airways have teamed up with Climate Care to create a scheme where you can pay money to offset the emissions from your flight. Would you be tempted to keep flying as you did before but use this scheme to offset your emissions, and if not, why not? What’s your opinon on this partnership between BA and Climate Care?

First of all, there is not enough money in the world to offset the emissions from flying. Even if you combined all the treasuries and gold reserves and assets and security bonds of every country in the world. How much, for example, will it cost to put Bangladesh on stilts? What day rate were you thinking of paying the workers who are carrying ice and snow up to the top of Kilimanjaro? How many laboratories with how many tenured research fellows and professors before we fine-tune the gamma-ray that's going to zap the ice-crystal clouds in the upper troposphere caused by vapour trails?

Second, what you are paying for is not to offset emissions but to offset the danger of regulation or full-cost accounting being imposed on BA. Who or what are Climate Care? Where did they come from? Why has no-one ever heard of them until now? I wonder if they are an airline industry front group.

The solution to this problem is the grounding of the air-fleet except for air ambulances and using the runways as allotments. (To quote DEFRA.)

Some artists like the Rolling Stones, Coldplay and KT Tunstall have chosen to pay money to the Carbon Neutral Company (formerly Future Forests) to make their tours or albums “carbon neutral.” What do you understand by the term carbon neutral? Would you pay the Carbon Neutral Company to make any aspects of your personal or professional life carbon neutral in a similar way, and if not, why not?

This leaves me with some questions. I wonder how tough and Elliot Ness the Carbon Neutral Company are around the Stones? Do they swoop unannounced? Who's doing the sums? Who says it's carbon neutral? Does carbon neutral include all the merchandise, all the stadium's electricity, all the paper cups, all the people driving cars to the gigs, all the millions of CDs and DVDs pressed and freighted from Zhengzhou Province or Baleuchistan or Solihull to all the brightly burning high street megastores?

Also the forests these people talk about are what indigenous Amazonians call 'Devil's Orchards': single species stands of trees with no understorey or biodiversity. And that's quite rock 'n' roll really, isn't it?

About Carbon Trade Watch:

With a focus on the emerging greenhouse gas markets, Carbon Trade Watch monitors the impact of pollution trading upon environmental, social and economic justice.

The inclusion of pollution trading in the Kyoto Protocol signals an historic proliferation of the free market principle into the environmental sphere. Through research and analysis, Carbon Trade Watch seeks to challenge the assumption that a liberalised marketplace is the only arena in which environmental problems can be resolved.

Carbon Trade Watch also pools the work of others and acts as a meeting point for researchers, campaigners and communities opposing the negative impacts of pollution trading. The aim is to facilitate effective opposition to environmentally and socially destructive economic policy and create space for bottom-up solutions and alternatives to emerge.