How low can you go? | John-Paul Flintoff

John-Paul Flintoff




How low can you go?


Somewhere upstairs, my wife is sitting in bright light beside a warm radiator, sipping tea, flicking through glossy magazines as she blow dries her hair – and consuming in 30 minutes about half the energy used by the typical Bangladeshi all day.

And I’m trying to make up for that. I’m sitting in the dark.

The heating is off. I’m wearing two jumpers, a hat and a scarf and a pair of fingerless gloves I improvised out of old socks that had gone at the ankle.

I’m writing this on an ancient manual typewriter.

It’s not easy. Unlike a computer, a typewriter doesn’t let you move blocks of text around and there’s no word count function. You can’t press a button and switch to the internet to look something up.

It’s also bone-shakingly hard work – a bit like a work out at the gym.

But I’m enjoying myself. For starters, there is no junk email. And it makes me extremely happy to think of all the electricity I’m saving.

Because recent calculations suggest that IT will very soon overtake aviation as a guzzler of energy.

All these videos on YouTube and unread blogs take up space on servers that suck ever increasing amounts from the grid.

It was recently shown that an avatar on Second Life, the online game, uses the same amount of energy as the average Brazilian.

Then there are all the gadgets that we can’t seem to live without.

All the batteries that need recharging. In fact, it was the batteries going on my mouse that got me thinking about using this typewriter.

And now I am planning to de-escalate my digital life altogether.

Out with the computer unless strictly necessary, and in with the typewriter. Out with the Palm Pilot and in with the paper diary.

The planet is heating up, the weather turning more than ever unpredictable.

The forests are dying and animal species too – at such a rate that its been described as the sixth great extinction (or was it the fifth? If this typewriter went online I could look it up).

On top of that, even major corporate reports now accept that the world’s oil production will peak in as little as three years, if it hasn’t already, and go into terminal decline.

For both these reasons it has become imperative to save as much energy as we can – reducing emissions and preserving valuable fuels to help make the transition to a renewable energy infrastructure.

And to do this we need a target.

James Hansen, the Nasa scientist who has done so much to raise the issue of global warming, argues that we should focus our minds on the safe level of CO2 in the atmosphere – 350 parts per million.

He may be right, but it doesn’t work for me.


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