Talk about Newsnight

Ethical Man - Justin Rowlatt

Ethical Man - London, Milan, Trento

  • Newsnight
  • 8 Dec 06, 06:55 PM

I seem to have sparked a very healthy debate about turbines and green electricity on the blog. We’ve even had a contribution from Ian Pearson, the Minister for Climate Change, himself.

I have to admit I’ve taken a bit of a back seat. That’s because my wife Bee and I have been on an “ethical excursion”. We’ve been to a conference in the beautiful medieval town of Trento.

bee203.jpgTrento – in the foothills of the Italian Alps - was home to the great theological conference, the Council of Trent. It was the forum at which the Catholic Church attempted to reformulate its doctrine in the face of the challenge of the Protestants. The Council began in December 1545 and ended 18 years later in December 1563.

Our conference was considerably shorter – just two days – and a little less portentous. I was invited by the Council of Europe to participate in a discussion on the role of the media in promoting more “ethical” lifestyles.

It sounded like an interesting event with speakers from across Europe but at first I had to refuse because it would mean flying.

Fortunately the organisers said they would be happy to pay for me to travel by train. Not only that, because she’s an integral part of the project, they said they’d pay for Bee to come too. What’s more they offered us first class tickets.

We decided to accept the offer and to take baby Elsa along too.

justin203.jpgTaking a train across Europe is certainly more exciting than catching a plane at some over-crowded airport. We’d checked in and were through customs within minutes of a arriving at Waterloo. We settled back into our seats, sipped a little complimentary champagne and before we knew it we were in Paris.

Struggling to Bercy station by RER and then the Metro with two heavy bags and Elsa in her enormous pram was not much fun but making ourselves at home in our two-bed couchette certainly made up for it.

There is still the whiff of the Agatha Christie novel about overnight train travel. We enjoyed dinner and a glass of wine in the dining car as the French night rattled by outside.

I’d like to be able to report that we all then enjoyed a blissful sleep. Elsa slept like the baby she is but Bee and I had a fitful night. The motion of the train was restful until it would lurch to a halt in some rural siding, wait a couple of minutes and then shudder off on its way again.

Milan - by Carsten ClasohmJust before dawn I fell into a deep sleep and was woken by the guard bearing two freshly frothed cappuccinos. Despite feeling a little battered, sipping hot coffee as the Italian countryside slides by outside is a very pleasant way to start the day.

Of course it all cost far more than hopping on a plane and took far longer – 21 hours door to door instead of about 5 hours but I reckon we emitted roughly a third of the carbon dioxide of catching a plane.

Not bad, and on the way back we got a glimpse of what really committed investment in the railways can achieve. We caught the night train from what must rate as the most spectacular station on earth: Milan Central.

It is a temple to fascist hubris. The great vaulting ticket halls are bigger than the nave of a medieval cathedral. It is fabulously decorated with extraordinary mosaics including the signs of the zodiac. There are huge bulbous statues and the great steel and glass canopies over the platforms cover a whopping 66,500 square metres.

In fact it is a wonder Mussolini had any cash left to spend on the actual trains.

Comments  Post your comment

I’ve done something that goes against my journalistic instincts – I’ve had to reject a comment from the blog.

I would like this to be an open forum for debate and comment but I do draw the line at people insulting my family, which is what Lou Lou did.

Of course some of you are going to object to things I say in my blog. That’s one of the reasons I write them - to get people talking. But I think you’d be amazed at how abusive some of the messages we receive are.

It’s a really odd thing, as if people don’t to feel accountable for what they say. So here’s a question for you: why do some people think the comment option on blogs is just an excuse to pour out their poisonous vitriol?

  • 2.
  • At 02:04 AM on 14 Dec 2006,
  • Spartacus wrote:

Illegitimi non carborundum, as the Romans certainly didn't say.

For pizza in Trento I can recommend Ristorante Green Tower on Piazzi Raffaello Sanzio (the gelateria over the road is also good).

You can get free internet access by joining the local library, though you usually have to book a machine in advance. The library staff are patient and helpful, despite the fact that people keep pilfering their mice.

  • 3.
  • At 08:58 AM on 14 Dec 2006,
  • Mike Bridgwater wrote:

It's all very well being greem and taking a train, but as you say it is usually much more expensive than driving especially if 2 or more got together.

I am also a trutee of a small charity working in Africa and trustees and coordinators regularly fly to Dar es Salaam. There is no other feasible way to get their other than to drive a 4X4 overland (tssking some weeks. It sometimes seems flying may well out wiegh the benfits to the environmnet by encouraging tree planting and more efficient ways of using firewood for cooking and lighting


  • 4.
  • At 01:06 PM on 14 Dec 2006,
  • antithetical wrote:

why do some people think the comment option on blogs is just an excuse to pour out their poisonous vitriol?

Because Justin, the vitriol is created by having to watch day after day overpaid members of the bourgeoisie telling us about there oh so perfect lives and twee nuclear families - go and get a job that is useful to society - like cleaning or building (or prostitution even!) - and then maybe you will have something interesting to tell us. Want to censor me because I'm poor? - what a surprise, I've already learned that the bourgeoisie spell ethics E.T.I.Q.U.E.T.T.E.!!

  • 5.
  • At 03:44 PM on 14 Dec 2006,
  • antithetical wrote:

Well, I suppose you had to...but thank you anyway...and I hope you will be equally generous allowing this post…

Why has 'ethics' become a separate industry from 'environment' when much of ethics is about the environment? You see, it does start to look as if we are just running out of jobs for the intelligentsia, I mean we just veritably breed NGOs and QUANGOs don’t we?

Plus - I have been trying to get Greenpeace and other environmental groups to tell me how I can contact trades people who understand ecology in practical application but all I ever get is invitations to meetings with other boring intellectuals (i.e. I know I’m one too). Surely this is the ideal opportunity to bridge the professional/trades divide, which is very British and very unpleasant, and to include trades people in the ethical/environmental process.

Of course the other option is the knit-yer-own-yoghurt brigade, but my point is that I personally don’t want to become an expert in wind power, well not outside my bedroom anyway, because I’m just as happy to trust the expertise of a builder as I am that of a doctor, but you say that to someone on a stand at a fair or something and they look at you like you’re a heretic – oh no, you have to ‘own’ your environmental/ethicalism. But what is wrong with including the building industry in the greening process, why do we only ever see posh people (or troglodytes) telling us how to be green? And I think this intellectual elitism is why products such as organic food have simply become a badge of the bourgeoisie, totally divorced from any real environmental meaning. And that goes right back to the PC debate on the other blogs which clearly has got the WC’s back up and rightly so.

So, all this talk of carbon trading leaves me thinking, if half the world is starving, I don’t suppose they are much interested in sustaining the planet so who are we sustaining it for? If you do a web search it is very easy to find scientists who are quite annoyed that certain scientific viewpoints have been cherry picked for this new form of economic sustainability, and if we wanted to do something environmental in the here and now why don’t we take the organic agriculture option seriously? So to me the whole carbon trading thing has been got hold of by ‘capitalists’ (people who like lots of money anyway) and all we are really doing is creating another financial market, because ‘futures’ has got boring / oversubscribed, to match the on-line casinos for ‘ordinary’ people. I know it all sounds horribly Marxist and I wouldn’t consider myself such, but I’m struggling to see the logic in what is happening with this sudden rush to embrace ethical men.

A literary boffin recently said – and I’m sorry I can’t remember his name, I think it was Martin but it wasn’t Amis, that doom and gloom scenarios are what keeps the bourgeoisie going – I’d never thought of it before but it’s true isn’t it? This whole risk culture came from our fear of our own shadow – and is that shadow the vast majority of the population who actually do some hard work? Haven’t we laughed at builders’ cracks long enough and isn’t it time we included them in the discussion and if that means amending our approach (not everyone likes meetings) maybe we should.

  • 6.
  • At 01:03 AM on 16 Dec 2006,
  • June Gibson wrote:

The ruling against polytunnels exposes some people's lip-service to the whole subject of ethics and environmental concerns. Every time there's any attempt to cut pollution and food miles, the green wellie brigade (doubtless mud-free so as not to dirty their 4 wheel drives)have a moan. Mustn't have anything spoiling the view, must we? No polytunnels to grow fresh English soft fruit. Or wind turbines to help save on energy. Or animal smells to offend.
Betcha the loudest squawks come from those who don't actually work in the countryside, and those who only visit at weekends. Shopping in my urban grubbiness, I make a point of buying raspberries and strawberries grown in the S.E. of England. How lovely it is to know they were picked recently and did not have to be flown in from California or southern Spain. The complainers ought to get real about the transport of food and other goods.

  • 7.
  • At 11:35 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • donald balfour wrote:

I was disappointed the way that you were basically very disparaging about LEDs. They have moved forwards at an amazing rate over the last few years. If you for instance tried the latest ultrabrite leds such as the 3 x 1 watt bulbs or the 4 x 1 watt bulbs in warm white rather than the cold white that you used on the programme.
I am not a scientist or a specialist but any lighting system that uses products that will last between 50,000 to 100,000 hours with all the implications of not having to go to the shops etc. to buy bulbs for up to 25 years + the fact that 80% of the energy goes into producing the light whilst 80% of the energy goes on heat with traditional bulbs.
I really believe they do deserve to be better served as the potential savings are vast.
Donald Balfour

  • 8.
  • At 01:23 PM on 29 Dec 2006,
  • Sarah Bowen wrote:

This may be a stupid question, but I am confused as to why carbon footprints includes air travel (or any other collective travel, for that matter). If I fly on a plane with 99 other people, there is still only one plane carrying all of us. Yet, all 100 of our carbon footprints would include the carbon emissions from that flight. There was only one plane, yet the carbon emmissions would be calculated 100 times, which seems like an inaccurate calculation. Can anyone explain this to me?

  • 9.
  • At 03:07 PM on 31 Dec 2006,
  • Norma Clerkson wrote:

Going back to your critics,Justin(please don't censor this I am a deightful person)the problem is that you seem to live in a different world from all of us.I have managed for years with only a motorbike-my partner has a car but he has to be away a lot for work reasons.If I want to go to the shops I have to stand in the cold with a capricious five year old and catch the bus.
If you insist on playing the Waltons of Newsnight why not quietly ditch the designer clothes(please don't tell us they're from Primark) go the whole hog and dress the entire family in faded dungarees?
In the meantime a happy new year to you-I expect even now you're tracking down that vegan bottle of champagne,wondering where to find vegan fudge for the kids and debating the ethics of wearing perfume tested on animals with Bee.The problems of the rich and famous!

  • 10.
  • At 01:50 PM on 02 Jan 2007,
  • Norma wrote:

Justin,you know perfectly well I wrote delightful(DELIGHTFUL) not deightful.Was this a smear campaign to make your critics look like hopeless drunks and/or illiterates? Call me paranoid but I would put money on it.

  • 11.
  • At 10:24 AM on 04 Jan 2007,
  • Richard Crowley wrote:

Message for antithetical (post 5)
I too get very fed-up with the ethical/environmental brigade.
I have been interested in environmental matters ALL my life (now in my sixties) and cringe when I hear the current environmental brigade extolling the virues of this or that environmental benefit - low energy light bulbs, solar panels, wind power etc.
As an example when a local "green" acquaintence was bragging about his solar panels he confirmed that he was still using several Mw/hrs per year more domestic fuel than I am using, and the reason that my domestic fuel consumption is less than half the national average (meaning that every other household in the country uses over twice as much as me) is that I don't earn enough to able to waste it.
My taunt to anyone questioning my environmental credentials is that "I don't earn enough to damage the planet".
You're right "tweeny-greenism" is very much a middle class thing, and as an engineer I do claim the right have some understanding of what really makes the world 'tick'.

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