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Ethical Man goes down to the woods

Justin Rowlatt | 22:30 UK time, Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Hopefully, you all saw my latest Ethical adventure on this evening's Newsnight. If not, you can catch it on the BBC iPlayer for the next 7 days, and it will be available to watch here tomorrow and up on YouTube soon. Meanwhile, if you'd like to find out what happened when I made a pitstop in the Pennsylvania backwoods on my way to Washington, just click play on the video below. I hope you "spread" the word!

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  • Comment number 1.

    I am not quite sure what this series is meant to be saying. Tonight’s programme about the environmental movement has obviously been infiltrated, staged and dressed up by the Obama administration. The movement is being controlled by government and is not radical at all, it along with Obama endorses the capitalism that has got us into this mess. As if we even need to be having the discussion, really, should we be talking about saving the planet! It is a sad fact that ethical man is unethical when it comes to challenging the truth. It is a crazy world when you consider we need to make a choice about saving the world. Unfortunately the high hat from Obama is you can have your demonstrations and go and campaign in your communities as long as it doesn’t threaten the real issue, capitalism.
    Americans at one time were never so gullible, thanks to Reagan and Thatcher the notion of any solidarity has been replaced by selfish greed and individualism, to form a collective is near impossible. Like in the UK we have environmental groups on every street corner, ethical man said that whats happening in the USA would never happen here, well it is, and like in the USA these “individualistic” groups are not a threat, contained effectively and all endorse the very thing that is destroying our world, capitalism. Cap on Carbon Pollution will not solve a dot, it may shift things economically but thats the problem, its about the economy first and not the environment, how can you tell a capitalist that there is no point in being rich on a dead planet, and equally how can you tell the voters they are saying yes to their own death sentence! Ethical man could at least read Singer to start with!

  • Comment number 2.

    One is tempted to exclaim with respect to this segment 'what a pile of... ' but it's such a cheap shot. One dimension of this is that this is a long ways away from the real manure 'problem', which is that of the cows, pigs, and chickens that exist in so many numbers to feed humans. Beyond that is the fact that half of all the food bought in the US is wasted, and this is the food that makes it to the store shelves. But the really significant waste is in the use of coal, gasoline, and natural gas to heat and air condition vacant buildings or to mindlessly travel routes with empty aircraft, buses, or trucks.

    One has to live with the limits of the medium, and TV thrives on explosions, vehicular x-treme sports, bodies lying in the streets, polticians caught live in bed with persons of ill-repute, and things that would stink if you were there in person. The people that watch this segment, however, are as likely to read books as they are to watch soaps. There is a sense of scale, with respect to the problems being addressed, and this is a few orders of magnitude away from any scale that matters. Composting toilets are good if you live in the country: they're no help in 20 story apartment buildings or 60 story office buildings. You won't find them in sports arenas or concert halls. In any case, the manure issue in urban areas can be dealt with at the sewage plant: it doesn't particularly matter where in the chain of custody the issue is dealt with, as long as someone takes care of it.

    Trade magazines like to have some anonymous columnist in the back page describing the drunken stupor they wake up in after a night partying at some trade show. This is another literary device that doesn't hold up under scrutiny. The point is that the audience gets wise to this and bored with it after awhile. If you're on the road you're already miserable, why make it worse with excessive drinking?

    Peeople are fascinated with foreign places, and the US must look pretty foreign to people across the pond right now. There are parts of this country I can't recognize any more, due to either A) exploding suburbs, B) closed down factories, or C) mines and landfills. Much of the US is losing population, and they're leaving a legacy of ghost towns in places like Colorado, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. Is this interesting to someone in the UK? Probably not. Does anyone over there even know that the US population is concentrating along the coasts? Probably not. There are some consequences, particularly with respect to wetlands, beaches, and estuaries. Some of the destruction is breathtaking. If we're going to wander off on tangents, this might be one to wander off on.

  • Comment number 3.

    Whoa, a lot to digest there, if you'll excuse the mental image, as much ground is covered and over various timelines.

    I would also rather wish the intros were changed from 'saving the world from climate change'. This rather paints one into a corner from the off. The climate changes. What is bad is that it might be doing it negatively, and our puny race could yet be a mitigating factor if it is man (person?)-made or, my preference, worsened.

    Anyhoo, first up there's the news from Washington and this conference that is dominating the world's headlines.

    Not too encouraged that almost immediately we learn that there's no actual progress, as it's more a kind of discussion vs. any actual negotiations, and the key host player is 'hoping for a dialogue' and 'thinks that will happen'. O......k. Good intentions can pave many things.

    Then we hit the fact that India and China say all sorts of fluffy things are fine, but the West 'goes' first. Hold that thought.

    As I try and chew on our representative saying, in one sentence 'You can't get agreement based on science', and then in one later there's 'a commitment to science'. I have long been concerned about the competencies of our politico-media establishment in this arena, but maybe should be reassured: there now seem to be two sets of sciences. How very Star Trek/Gate.

    I have to give Mr. Rowlatt credit for pressing certain points in this interview, especially to provoke the gem that our government’s cabinet ministers don't seem to think they have much influence over the police 'service' and its actions. Novel. Who, in the name of public service accountability, does then?

    And then I got a bit lost on the timeline, but I think it was the near present that we headed from Detroit East. Traveling can indeed be difficult, but most journeys can be made anywhere still, though agreed often not so quickly. There's the rub. If you have stuff, or a schedule, compromises need to be made. From families of four with two weeks in Cancun booked, to struggling eco-types needing to get to London for a climate conference (at £500+VAT for the day), to BBC journalists and their crews with a programme to make. Or pols heading with entourages and Caddies in the hold. Tricky when the finger wagging starts if you are not careful... or being hypocritical.

    But a full load of activists in a Prius has to be as good as it gets, on a motorway, on a long haul trip... I'm sure. At least once the urban bit kicked in... if they didn't get lost. I am sure a Sat Nav was deemed evil, even if the lofted waving mobiles at the subsequent love in were deemed 'different', somehow. Even those have directions now, surely?

    Anyway, these 'agents of change' (a different one to the climate variety, I guess) were a joy to behold, especially to those who had them under their spell. Once 'hope for change' wears off, I am thinking 'You are right and they are wrong' will be a great substitute when dealing with others not as keen on the views held... in a democracy. Words like 'impose' and 'enforce' have a worrying ring as backstop rhetoric vs. popular public delivery, too. And, bearing in mind the theme of this 'journey' another I am not sure I am not keen the UK learning from the US. Ta very much.

    Especially when backed by 'Obama's EPA' (the environment’s protection agency not good enough?) and its larger than life leader, Ms. Jackson. A vegetarian, I am sure.

    I have to say I then got a bit confused again by who was in government, who was in the quango and who was an activist with time on their hands. And who was paying for who to teach whom to do what against who.

    I'll have to check and see if my local tech has civil disobedience on the curriculum, and who is funding any nifty tactics being so shared, such as resisting arrest. Might be handy in Gordon and Barak's new world order that maybe I missed in the BBC's G20 coverage.

    Again a good stab at getting yet another senior administration pop star to grapple with consequences, Mr. Rowlatt, but he really didn't seem to be too convincing on the link between higher energy costs and the economic consequences. Not part of the narrative that should be overplayed, I'm guessing. Change...! Hope...! You first...! I'm more equal than you...! So it's really OK I hitch a ride on Al's jet!!!

    However it was interesting that, after all this, there is still the small matter of convincing Congress and the Senate. And, I might add, having held that thought from earlier for so long, those nice folk in India and China. But there's just a few billion each that I am sure 12,000 energised 'merican yoof can reach, though I'd say a Prius might struggle with the wet bits and some terrain 'soon2B banned' 4x4s could be more suitable for.

    Then, finally, we scoot to the woods. And speaking of what's done naturally, why do slots like this have such terribly faked 'surprise' first meetings? It was set up.. in advance. At the due time a fleet arrived at a remote location in the middle of a forest, at night. I reckon they were alerted.

    Actually here was one potentially truly inspiring aspect, though I do have my caveats, especially when pondering eating a curry to provide the raw materials, and washing it down with a beverage, beer, that uses vast litres of water to 'make' it, at least commercially. Not a totally coherent signal.

    But then this is a person who has traveled the world to spread the word on his concept, minimizing the impacts of human waste. I am sure the benefits created have many times overcome the cost of such a journey.

    I would have liked to learn more about this frankly, and will beaver off thus inspired.... virtually of course (if worrying about the humming servers).

    I was especially intrigued that the pathogens are destroyed, what with all this swine flu lark at the moment.

    It would be interesting to see how this stacks up against our crumbling Victorian sewage systems in a row of City centre terraces. Though the space required would seem to suggest that wider spaces might be required for it to be really practical. Maybe all those college grads could be prevailed upon to give it a stab in their multi-storey dorms.

    I'm guessing interesting, but not too practical for most applications. Again.

  • Comment number 4.

    As a 1st generation 30yrs old USAmerican from Euro mother, and cuban Exile father, I find the ethic manner's to be a mix emotions for the cultural reformation that the new US generation is absorbing with the global recession versus a complete new political black president from the former narrow administration. Certainly your report enrich my education, keep doing it, it is terrific!


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