Otterly, Otterly brilliant

28 Sep 2012

Sea Otter in Morro Bay - photo Mike Baird

Occasionally The Tank is forced to break off from repeatedly typing "Justin Bieber dreamboat" into Google and come up with some words on a novel carbon saving technology: one day it's a swish new eco-whatnot, the next a snazzy clean tech doo-dah. Sometimes, it can even be things you can't find at Ikea.

One thing you certainly cannot lay your hands on at Sweden's finest furniture boutique is a sea otter. But, if the connection hasn't become immediately apparent, it seems the cute and not so cuddly creatures (pace Terry Nutkins) are carbon-cutting machines.

This simply amazing discovery was stumbled upon by scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who determined that sea otters eat sea urchins. But that's not the clever bit – no, those rascally sea urchins feed on kelp, see, which is simply great at storing carbon.

So the more otters there are, the fewer sea urchins, which allows the kelp population to flourish and absorb 12 times more carbon dioxide than it would without the sea otters. In fact, the chaps at UC Santa Cruz reckon the amount of carbon saved by the kelp is worth between $205m and $408m, which could pay for a fair few otter sanctuaries.

"At least on this part of the Earth, animals have quite a significant impact," said lead author of the new report Chris Wilmers. "Maybe we should be thinking about that."

Frankly Chris, it's all we can think about now. Especially given the heartless decision to consign thousands of badgers to history – who knows what kind of food-chain related damage that particularly reckless policy decision could do to our carbon budgets? Has anyone even done a carbon audit?

The Tank is now planning to phone Defra and recommend that they put their shotguns away and spend the badger-massacre budget on a nationwide rollout of sea otters.

After all, Squire Nimby might object to a wind farm on aesthetic grounds, but who could complain about a mass installation of one of the world's cutest animals? Perhaps green campaigners should forget sticking a decarbonisation commitment in the Energy Bill and lobby to have otters included. There's your complicated Electricity Market reforms solved.

We'll expect that knighthood in the post, then.

The million man flush

24 Sep 2012

Toilet roll - photo Max Power

Lots of things work better when they're done in time - and we don't just mean square dancing or the proverbial stitch here.

No, once again we're talking toilet. You see the one million residents of drought-stricken Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city, have been instructed to ... well, we're getting ahead of ourselves. Patience, dear reader, patience.

Anyway, it seems two of the city's five water storage dams have had to be decommissioned and the shortages mean Bulawayo's suburbs are being deprived of water for up to 72 hours.

But fortunately, the city council has a high tech solution up its sleeve, something its august members clearly haven't been pitched by a junior official whose mate's two weeks into a plumbing course.

"We're asking residents to flush their lavatories at precisely 7.30 p.m. on the day that water is re-introduced to their homes," city spokeswoman Nesisa Mpofu told news agency Bloomberg, boldly maintaining city-wide synchronised flushing would reduce blockages and burst pipes.

So, if it's yellow, let it mellow. And if it's brown, well ... best wait till 7.30. But alarmingly, even this sure fire measure may not be so, er, sure fire - another two storage dams may dry up before the rainy season in November.

"Water rationing may be extended to 92-hour periods. The situation is very serious," Mpofu added, before producing a plunger, hissing through her teeth and declaring, "this ain't gonna be cheap, guv." Well, probably.

All of which rather brings home the importance of waste-water recycling, especially as climate change produces more frequent droughts. Now if you'll excuse us, we're off to pee in the window box.

The Pope's faith in electric cars

07 Sep 2012

Pope Benedict - photo Renault

What do exercise, religion, and laundry have in common? That's right - they're all things the Sceptic Tank just doesn't "do". The clue's in the name really.

There's a lot of unanswered questions, you see. Such as, why would a just and loving God inflict James Delingpole's prose on the world, much less the electorate? And where did our favourite penguin socks go?

But recent developments seem to suggest that if there is a God, he or she may well be an environmentalist - just look at Pope Benedict XVI, the man considered God's representative on Earth by almost a fifth of the world.

The Pope has written of the need to protect God's creation in his encyclicals, as well as raising the issue on his foreign trips and in annual peace messages, while on his watch the Vatican has installed solar photovoltaic cells and offset its carbon dioxide emissions through a reforestation scheme.

And now the good people at Renault have clearly bagged themselves a prime parking spot in heaven by giving His Holiness an electric car.

The white, modified Kangoo Maxi Z.E. van boasts not only the Pope's official livery, but also an impressive range of 170km (106 miles) on a single charge. And Renault hasn't forgotten the Corps of Gendarmerie of Vatican City, otherwise known as La Fuzz, who can follow the Pope around in their very own blue version with snazzy white and yellow stripes.

Sadly, the new car is not an official Pope-mobile and will only be used for pootling around Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence.

But still, this is the third electric addition to the Vatican fleet after Italian automaker NWG donated an electric car to the press office earlier this year, a move that allows the church to set a fine example to the millions who look to the Pope for direction. And if the last two years as a green guru have taught the Tank anything, it's that environmental progress is nothing if not a numbers game.

The Sun, sex, and solar panels

29 Aug 2012

Met Office solar scheme

Ah the seventies. Sure, we only had electricity three days a week, two channels on TV and a record of hooliganism that would embarrass Genghis Khan, but still – it was a simpler time.

Men were men, women were women, and anyone in door-to-door sales was a randy old goat. Yes, popular fiction would have us believe window washers, driving instructors and gas-fitters were all delivering bored housewives considerably more than an extended warrantee – just ask Robin Askwith.


Of course, since those heady days, the face of the British economy has undergone a Jocelyn Wildenstein-esque transformation, which should (pay attention at the back there, George) soon establish the UK as a low-carbon hub.

But how to convince those Tory grandees who fear a solar farm might ruin that half of Oxfordshire they inherited from Great Uncle Tarquin? Well, the Tank might just have found the most convincing argument for the green economy yet, and all thanks to Rupert Murdoch's ever-charming Sun.


The Sun's hard-hitting problem page, Dear Deirdre, reported this weekend that a 19-year-old solar panel fitter is effortlessly rising to the challenge of entertaining ladies of a certain age.

"He was with his boss and was really sweet. They took a few days on the job and I really got to know him chatting over cups of tea and so on," wahey-ed a 38-year-old in the Bun's august pages this Sunday.

And as is the way of these affaires de coeur, "things then went to the next level and ended up in my bed".


Great stuff, another beautiful tale of requited love with sexy results, thought the Tank, flicking towards the front of the paper – but wait! "He's called me tonight," complained our not-in-any-way-made-up correspondent, "and says our relationship must end as his mum would go mad if she found out about us!" Bom, bom booooooooom

Fortunately, Deirdre is quick to put a metaphorical arm round the broken-hearted lady's shoulder. "There was never much chance this relationship would last," she sympathises, before parroting her unique brand of agony aunt platitudes.


Of course the important thing here is: who is this man? Do YOU know him? Write to [get back to the point – Ed]

Ahem. Of course, the most important thing here is: the benefits of green jobs are clear – not only economic growth and energy independence, but also a sure-fire way to win over that tricky Shades of Grey-reading demographic and a return to good-old seventies values. What more could all those Tory strategists worried about their party's appeal to women voters want?

Racing ahead with recycling awareness

21 Aug 2012

Garbage bin world cup

Now, you and I know there's been a lot of handwringing over how to get people enthused about waste. The country's losing billions by failing to recycle materials and yet somehow businesses have not fully cottoned on.

You can imagine the consternation in Defra, where no doubt top mandarins are even now wandering through panelled rooms thick with cigar smoke beating their breasts and wondering aloud "just what will get John Bull playing ball?"

Well, worry not, as the Germans may just have cracked it. Yes, we give you... the Garbage Can World Cup!

Firmly under the "so bonkers it just might be brilliant" banner – think chocolate covered pretzels or Boris Johnson's political career to date – the world cup saw more than 60 drivers from across Europe race through the streets of Hermeskeil, western Germany, atop specially modified wheelie bins while mystifyingly dressed as rabbits, devils, and plain-old bin men.

Organiser Christoph Koenig said he came up with the idea at the Rock at the Ring music festival, held at the world famous Nuremburg Ring race track, when a no-doubt well refreshed – wasted, if you will – reveller lay down on a garbage can.

Norman Schaefer, a student from Nonnweiler, retained the title he won at 2009's inaugural event by shooting round the course in 21.1 seconds at speeds reminiscent of Ernie, the fastest milkman in the west.

"It is all about technique," the modest champion insisted. "Little contact of the feet to the asphalt and little contact between the garbage can and the ground – so that only those two wheels are rolling."

If all this sounds a bit, well, "Monkey tennis", Defra suits should note more than 6,000 spectators turned out to watch. All that's needed now is a whizzy marketing campaign, perhaps some controversial corporate sponsorship, and we're away. The ball's in your court, chaps.


The Sceptic Tank blog provides a unique take on all the latest weird, wonderful, and downright infuriating green stories from around the world

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