Talk about Newsnight

Ethical Man - Justin Rowlatt

Blogging - a new era

  • Newsnight
  • 18 Apr 08, 05:49 PM

blog203.jpgAs many of you who've used the BBC's blogs will know, it has for some months been a deeply frustrating experience, not just for you but for us too.

The point of blogging about our programmes is to have a swift and informal conversation with our viewers. That's impossible if it takes hours to get your comment or our response through.

I'm relieved to say that as of yesterday we have a new system which should be much more robust and which I hope will usher in a new era of blogging for Newsnight.

One change is that in order to comment you'll need to register by filling in a simple form.
Once signed up, you'll be able to comment on any BBC blog using the same login.

Many of you have already commented on how it's working and one or two have suggested it's designed to introduce more censorship.

That's certainly not our intention. The aim is to encourage much more open discussion about the programme and much more interaction with the programme-makers. I'm sure it isn't perfect and that you'll let us know how it could be improved.

Thanks very much to all those contributors - the Bob Goodalls, Barrie Singletons, Mistress76UKs and many others - who have persevered through all the blog problems. Apologies for all the Error 502s, and welcome to the new era.

Blog fix imminent

  • Newsnight
  • 16 Apr 08, 04:32 PM

Blog closed temporarilyFrom 1800 this evening (UK time), we'll be doing some essential maintenance to the blog. As a result of this, you won't be able to leave any comments on our blog posts from that time until Thursday morning and the comments function on all old posts will close. We apologise for any inconvenience.

The work will fix the very frustrating problems we've encountered for some time now with the whole comments system.

From Thursday a new system will be in place - this will mean you will need to complete a simple registration form in order to post a comment on the blog. Once signed up, you will be able to comment on all BBC blogs using the same login. There will be more details in the morning. In the meantime - if you wish to comment on the programme you can email us via

Blog problems - a solution is nigh

  • Newsnight
  • 10 Apr 08, 11:40 AM

blog502error.jpgAnyone who regularly reads the Newsnight blog will know that we have suffered from a series of technical problems for some time now. Comments disappear, the dreaded 502 'not available' message appears, and multiple copies of comments get submitted in error. (More on the problems here.)

Well, to much relief (not least here at Newsnight), a solution is about to be unveiled.

In the very near future the comments system that causes all the problems is being replaced by a BBC-wide system.

Under the new system, anyone wishing to leave a comment will need to sign in - a relatively swift and painless affair that comes with the added bonus of enabling you to leave your thoughts on blogs and message boards across all BBC websites.

Finally, we hope to revamp and relaunch the whole Newsnight blog shortly, with more bloggers, more variety, and the odd bit of video thrown in. But one step at a time...

We'll update you on the changes next week.

Is it legal to compost your loved ones?

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 22 Jan 08, 11:52 AM

I bring grave news: a legal dispute compels me to disturb the remains of Ethical Man.

compost_man.jpgRegular Newsnight viewers and readers of this blog will recall that the corpse of Ethical Man was laid to rest by Britain’s King of Compost, John Cossham, in a specially designed compost bin in his suburban garden in York. We judged composting was the most environmentally friendly way to dispose of a human cadaver.

I’d imagined that that would be the end of the story; the memory of Ethical Man would gradually rot away leaving little more than a rich loam. Unfortunately it was not to be. A legal battle rages over our chosen method of disposal... Ethical Man cannot rest in peace.

The claim is that we gave “false information on law”. It is a serious claim and is the subject of a formal complaint to the BBC.

So what is at issue? Well, before Ethical Man lowered himself into his compost grave I said that the only problem was that “it isn’t actually legal to compost human beings”. We felt that we could side-step this because – and this may surprise some readers – I wasn’t actually composted.

The complaint is that this is not an accurate representation of the law. The complainant, who says he is an expert on the law relating to dying and death, says that “there is no law that I know of which proscribes the composting of bodies”.

He asked me to check the true legal position and issue a correction. I have to admit that I failed to do this. I’ll be honest here - after the demise of Ethical Man I wanted to move on. I didn’t want to let his shadow affect the rest of my working life. I moved on to new journalistic pastures (on the One Show) and forgot about the legal complexities of composting corpses.

justin_203x177.jpgSo is it legal? Well, I’ve spoken to the ultimate authority on this subject, the Ministry of Justice and as so often in law it appears there is no clear answer. The problem seems to be that no-one has actually tested the law to find out if it is legal.

Under the Births and Deaths legislation all deaths must be registered and when they are, the registrar issues a certificate for the body to be buried or cremated. The person responsible for the disposal of the body then has to certify to the registrar that the body has been disposed of by burial or cremation.

So what if someone composted the body instead? If the registrar did not receive a certificate of burial or cremation then they might refer the disposal to a local environmental health officer who would then have to decide whether composting was a suitable method of disposal.

Test case needed

The law on burials is not clear whether it would be. The Ministry of Justice says that all the law says is that the body/coffin should be at least three feet below ground level (or no less than two feet in certain circumstances).

There is no requirement for a coffin (which would slow the composting process) but a body would be expected to be covered so as to avoid an offence to public decency.

The Ministry of Justice adds one final coda. We suggested it might be a good idea to chop the body up into little pieces to ensure a rapid and aerobic compost. The Ministry warns that any attempt to dismember the body would have to comply with the Human Tissue Act 2004 and that dismemberment might in itself be regarded as an offence to public decency.

In short then, what is needed is a test case to clear up the law on this important subject. So please help. If you are considering composting your corpse or that of a loved one do please contact us so we can follow the process.

The ethics of Christmas presents

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 18 Dec 07, 06:22 PM

Let’s not beat around the bush: Christmas is a carbon catastrophe and the reason is our ludicrous culture of present giving.

scrooge203x152.jpgI know I’ll be called a mean old Scrooge but here’s the Christmas manifesto of this (former) Ethical Man: if you must give, give money.

Why? Because you don’t have to want Tiny Tim to starve in the workhouse to recognise what bloated consumer nightmare the festive season has become.

Take my family, for example. We try to meet up over the Christmas period but I am beginning to wish we didn’t.

Not because I don’t enjoy seeing everyone and eating and drinking far too much before falling asleep in front of the telly. Last Christmas I couldn’t wait to tuck into Ned, the Newsnight turkey. No, the reason is that I hate giving presents.

There you go you see – you are thinking I’m an old Scrooge aren’t you?

Well I say bah humbug to that. I hate receiving presents too and here’s why.

I’ve got three children and they have ten cousins. If each of my children buys everyone a present that’s thirty-six presents. If all the cousins do the same we’re talking 13x12 presents – a staggering 156 in all.

And that is just the start. We’ve got to get presents for my folks, my three sisters and their husbands, my mother-in-law and her partner as well as my father-in-law, my wife’s grandmother and her brother. Then, of course, they’ve all got to do the same for us. So that’s another 9x8 presents – 72 more gifts - even if we assume that couples get just one present.

So my direct family alone could buy each other as many as 228 presents every single year and that’s before I’ve popped over to my cousin Xand’s for a mulled wine or two (another present plus one for my Aunt Anthea) or even begun to think about presents for friends (not that I do, you understand).

So why are these 228 presents a carbon catastrophe? That’s simple: because every single one has a carbon cost. It wouldn’t be a problem if this glut of gifts were actually useful. But be honest, when was the last time you actually got something you wanted or more importantly, needed?

Tsunami of tat

My children are too young to read this blog so I can be completely honest here. They now get so many presents that we collect up the ones we don’t like and give them to the local charity shop. I know it sounds cruel but we live in a small house and we would be engulfed in a veritable tsunami of tat if we didn’t.

The real problem is that giving presents is an inherently inefficient activity. It means guessing what someone else may want or need. Every now and then you’ll buy the perfect shirt but more often than not the ornament or tie or garden thermometer will end up in the attic or more likely in a landfill site and all the carbon that went into making it is completely wasted.

A few decades ago you probably needed the socks that your mum gave you or the saucepan she was given by her Aunt. These days it is different. Consumer goods are so cheap and plentiful that even people on very low incomes have no shortage of stuff.

Indeed, if you need proof of how corrupt our present giving culture has become look no further than the “gift” shops that have colonised every high street. You know the ones; they sell things no-one wants like scented candles, little vases and foot massage kits. Nevertheless they seem to do reasonable business.

Cash is best

Some of you may be thinking that I’m missing the point. You’re thinking that present giving isn’t about the inherent value or utility of the gift but is about the act of giving itself.

I’ll concede there’s something in that but gifts don’t have to be useless. I’ve got a rule of only buying consumables as presents: food and drink (and sometimes fireworks). At least you know someone is going to enjoy them.

But surely it would be more ethical if we all bought each other stuff that you knew we really needed. Stuff like washing up liquid, toilet paper and breakfast cereal. Or better still, cash.

I’ve never understood why giving money is considered bad form. Wasn’t that five pound note folded into Granny’s card the very best present of all? You could use it to buy something you actually wanted. Not only that, cash is completely carbon free (until you buy something, of course).

Hence my Christmas manifesto.

But by way of a post-script I’ve got a bit of an ethical confession to make. I’m still sufficiently in thrall to Christmas to feel obliged to give some gifts so direct family are getting goats (and a couple of toilets for really special people). And my daughters are getting appalling plastic dolls which shed “real tears” and giggle.

Which, I suppose, goes to prove one of the central problems of tackling global warming: it is one thing to get people worried about the issue, quite another to get them to do anything about it.

And on that note, Merry Christmas.

Has flying been unfairly demonised?

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 25 May 07, 07:14 PM

Let me come clean: I love flying and I have done ever since I was a boy.

justinflying1.jpgIndeed, I still remember the day a friend of mine brought an impossibly exotic treasure into our primary school classroom. It was one of those plastic packets of miniature “travel essentials” from some now defunct airline – Pan American or BOAC.

I can’t remember exactly what it contained – nylon socks, an eye-shade and a perfumed face wipe in a foil wrap perhaps. That wasn’t the point. What made my friend’s little plastic package so fabulous was that it was proof that my friend had actually flown in a plane.

justinflying2.jpgIt was three years before I flew for the first time – a family holiday to Morocco when I was about 10. Of course I’ve flown hundreds of times since then – most recently on my Mission to Mumbai – but I still enjoy every flight.

My problem is that a year of carbon-counting as Ethical Man brought home just what an environmental disaster flying is – my family’s one trip to the Canaries last year created as much carbon as a year of driving our car.

That’s why I’ve posed my deliberately provocative question. I want to know if it is possible to fly with a clear conscience.

So here’s the good news: when you look at the numbers, modern jet aeroplanes are actually a very efficient form of transport.

Indeed, the jet engine is one of the most effective ways to convert the energy from fuel into thrust. The best jets are 37 per cent efficient. By contrast it seems modern petrol engines are around 25 per cent efficient while a finely tuned diesel will achieve, at best, 32 per cent efficiency.

justinflying3.jpgHow does that translate into actual fuel consumption? Take a look at some figures: my old car - a two litre petrol Saab 9-5 estate - uses 8.6 litres per 100km. The most efficient cars do better than that. The Toyota Prius, for example, is much more frugal. It uses 4.3 l/100km.

So what about aircraft? The average jet plane now uses around 4.8 l/100 km per passenger – just a little worse than a Prius with no passengers. But the manufacturers say that modern jets are much more efficient.

Airbus claims it makes the most efficient aeroplane currently flying, the A380. It says this behemoth uses just 2.9 l/ 100km per passenger. (Here’s the dull bit: that’s the fuel consumption when you assume a three class configuration operating at capacity with 525 passengers).

As far as I can tell the latest jumbos are similarly efficient – it is hard to be certain because the manufacturers do not publish comparable figures – but Boeing’s 747-8 uses 3.7 l/100kms per passenger when operating at 70 per cent of capacity. (Assuming it is configured to hold 470 passengers in three classes).

So if jet engines are more efficient than car engines why do they get such a bad rap?

One reason is pretty obvious - we use planes to travel extremely long distances. I covered 14,000 kilometres on my trip to Mumbai and that weekend in Jamaica racked up just over 15,000 kms. Each trip covered pretty much the same distance as the average British car driver travels in a year.

The other big problem is that planes release their pollutants high up in the atmosphere where they have an even stronger greenhouse effect. The process is known as radiative forcing. What radiative forcing means is that aircraft emissions are reckoned to be almost twice as damaging as emissions at ground level.

So, combine the distance you fly with the effect of radiative forcing you can see why environmentally conscious people get so worried by our appetite for air travel. You can do as I did - get rid of your car, switch to energy efficient bulbs, eat locally grown food - but take one holiday flight and you will wipe out all your careful carbon cuts.

So here’s the important question: is there anything that can make flying less environmentally damaging? The received wisdom is that there is no simple fix but I’m not so sure. Here are some thoughts – please tell me what you think.

My friend Omar - who featured in our original flying film – speculates that turboprop planes – a kind of hybrid between a propeller and a jet plane could be as much as a third more efficient on short journeys.

That huge saving isn’t because turboprops are inherently more efficient than jets. The reason is that much of the fuel used by jets on short journeys is to get them to the high altitudes where they are most efficient. Turboprops fly at lower altitudes which saves fuel and also reduces radiative forcing.

What I want to know is this: if Omar is right why don’t more airlines use turboprops?

And Omar reckons turboprops would be less efficient than jets on long-haul flights. But there is some good news here too. The aeroplane manufacturers say they are doing their very best to improve fuel efficiency. They say today’s aircraft are 70 per cent more efficient than those of 40 years ago and that more efficient planes are in development.

Boeing boasts that its new 787 will better the fuel efficiency of even the A380. It claims that fuel consumption (assuming a two class configuration and 90 per cent occupancy) could be as low as 2.4 litres per 100 km.

There are other ways to cut emissions. IATA, the International Air Transport Association, estimates that improving air traffic control could cut emissions by as much as 12 per cent. It claims that by straightening out air lanes it has already cut millions of tonnes of CO2.

And I’ve got a last suggestion that would massively increase aircraft efficiency in a stroke. It would be straightforward and cheap to implement and doesn’t rely on some untested new technology.

What is my innovation? Just get rid of first and business class.

Think about it. If you packed the A380 with economy seats it could hold 853 passengers. A back of the envelope calculation suggests this “economy” Airbus (operating at capacity) would use 1.9 litres per passenger per 100km. That’s pretty much half the fuel consumption of most current aircraft.

Of course flying in such an aircraft would still be a carbon intensive activity but considerably less so than current planes. That’s because the effect of radiative forcing means each tonne of carbon you don’t emit is the environmental equivalent of saving two tonnes.

In fact – here’s a thought – now that I’m not Ethical Man maybe that’s what I should do. An economy-only eco-airline, the green alternative!

What’s the telephone number of Airbus again?

Should Indians drive cars?

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 22 May 07, 05:11 PM

Now that my year of living ethically has come to an end I am free to explore the question that has haunted me throughout the last year.

justin_rickshaw.jpgThe question was raised wherever I went and whatever I did and it went to the very heart of the Ethical Man project.

What people wanted to know was whether my ethical efforts really counted for anything when India and China are building new coal-fired power stations every single week.

That’s why a few weeks ago Sara, the Ethical Man producer, and I boarded a plane to Mumbai. I’m hoping that our decision to fly won’t incur the torrent of criticism that followed my trip to Jamaica last year. The question is whether our report is worth the carbon cost.

What we set out to explore was what Indians made of the whole idea of “ethical living”. We wanted to see if we could create an Indian Ethical Man.

justin_shirt.jpgWithin days of arriving in India I got a pretty good indication of Indian attitudes. I opened the Times of India over breakfast to find that the Indian parliament had scheduled May the 8th for its first ever debate on India’s role in global warming.

That seemed a clear sign that Indian politicians are recognising that there is a problem but any optimism this might have inspired was quelled by a restatement by the country’s environment minister of the Indian government’s official position - global warming is not the responsibility of developing countries like India.

Yet India is a world-class polluter. It has already overtaken Japan to become the fourth biggest producer of greenhouse gases on earth. In 2000 India was responsible for 1.89 billion tonnes of CO2 (5.6 per cent of the world total) – just a few million tonnes behind the Russian Federation - 1.91 billion tonnes (5.7%).

(For more on these figures see the World Resources Institute’s Climate Analysis Indicators Tool CAIT)

Of course India isn’t yet the carbon catastrophe that is the Chinese or American economy. In 2000 China produced a whopping 4.96 billion tonnes of CO2 (14.7 per cent of the world total). But even China’s carbon count was dwarfed by the 6.87 billion tonnes of CO2 America spewed out. That’s a fifth (20.3%) of the world total.

justin_crew.jpgNevertheless Indian emissions show every sign of continuing their rapid growth. India has over a billion people and its population is booming. By 2050 it is expected to have overtaken China to become the most populous nation on earth with 1.6 billion people to China’s 1.4 billion (see Population Reference Bureau).

By comparison to India, Britain’s emissions – 0.66 billion tonnes (1.95% world total) - seem relatively modest.

Indeed, you only need to do some simple maths to see why the growth of the Indian economy could have such a consequence for global warming. Even relatively small increases in the incomes of Indians could lead to huge increases in carbon emissions.

For example, imagine every Indian bought a car or took a return short haul flight or even just used a tumble dryer 90 times a year. That would be enough to increase their carbon footprint by a tonne of CO2 and would add (obviously) a billion tonnes to the national total – almost twice Britain’s current total emissions.

So does that mean that India should curb its population’s carbon consumption?

The Indian Government’s policy of blaming global warming on the West is based on the fact that, over the years, India has emitted significantly less greenhouse gasses than the leading developed countries.

Between 1950 and 2000 India emitted 17.58 billion tonnes of greenhouse gasses. That makes it the 13th biggest polluter over the period with 1.58% of all world emissions. Britain has emitted almost twice that – 29.73 billion tonnes putting it in 8th place with 2.67% of global emissions.

Once again America dominates the table. Between 1950 and 2000 it emitted a staggering 186.70 billion tonnes of carbon – 10 times the emissions of India – 16.77 per cent of world emissions.

But take a look at the emissions per person and you can see why even the Indian branch of Greenpeace argues that the primary responsibility for tackling global warming lies with the West.

Between 1950 and 2000 each American produced 642.0 tonnes of CO2 emissions. Each Briton toted up 499.1 tonnes. Over the same period the average Indian was responsible for just 16.5 tonnes. That is one of the lowest figures for any country on earth - 164th out of 185 countries - and is less than the average American is responsible for in a single year.

That is why – after a week in India – I found it easy to understand the Indian Government’s position. It is also why I found it hard to begrudge Indians – in particular the two families we filmed with - some of the luxuries like cars and holidays abroad we in the West have been enjoying for years.

We are told the world needs to reduce carbon emissions worldwide if we are to avoid catastrophic global warming. If India is going to increase its emissions that means someone somewhere will need to make some carbon cuts.

The question is who.

We are all ethical men and women now

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 13 Apr 07, 05:57 PM

family203.jpgMy year of living as the BBC’s Ethical Man came to an end this week. It has been a long year (it actually started last February) but, I think, a successful one. Take a look at Professor’s Tim final carbon footprint for us. My family’s ethical endeavours succeeded in reducing our total carbon footprint by 20%.

If that doesn’t impress you - and anyone who saw this Wednesday’s programme will know Bee wasn’t – then I would urge you to look just at the first bit of the table, direct carbon emissions. That’s things like personal transport and home heating and power which we have full control over. There our total was 37%. A very creditable result I’d say - and the Professor agrees.

So here’s the big test: what things will we go on doing?

Continue reading "We are all ethical men and women now"

Ethical Issues - Your questions

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 11 Apr 07, 12:28 PM

logo_black_203_152.jpgTonight Newsnight's ethical man finally hangs up - or in fact composts - his green suit. After a year of trying to live ethically we'll be debating what his efforts have taught us.

But with elections pending in May we'll also be asking the political parties what they plan to do about environmental issues. Do you have a question you think we should put to them?

Your comments and thoughts are welcome below.

I’ll compost your corpse

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 2 Apr 07, 10:35 AM

justinapril.jpg“I’ll compost your corpse” has to be one of the most unusual offers I’ve ever received. It didn’t come from some bloke whose pint I’d just knocked over but from Britain’s king of compost himself, John Cossham so I had to take it seriously.

John wrote in to Newsnight after our first Ethical Man item to encourage me to explore the virtues of composting. He boasted of how a book called the Humanure Handbook had changed his life. He said it had inspired him to build himself a composting toilet in the back garden of his York semi and since then he’s hasn’t looked back – composting has become his life.

We first met John last summer but now, as I reach the twilight of my ethical life, I’ve found myself thinking more and more about John and his unusual offer.

When Newsnight’s editor first challenged me to try and reduce my family’s environmental impact by living as “Ethical Man” the deal was clear: the project would only last a year. The year was up in March so the producer, Sara, and I have been trying to come up with a suitably environmentally friendly way of disposing of Ethical Man.

Continue reading "I’ll compost your corpse"

How ethical is my baby?

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 30 Mar 07, 10:39 AM

elsa203.jpgIn the course of my year of living ethically I’ve tried hard to reduce my family’s impact on the environment yet quite a few readers of this blog and viewers of Ethical Man have written in to claim that my family is responsible for something which will out-weigh all my family’s eco-efforts. She’s called Elsa and very lovely she is too.

You don’t need to be John Nash to do the maths. We managed to cut the family’s carbon footprint by twenty per cent in the last year – that’s about two tons of carbon. But Elsa adds a fifth person to the family. When she’s grown up she – like the rest of us Britons – is likely to burn off some three tons of carbon a year. On that basis we are worse off than when we started.

So what I want to know is whether it is ethical to have had little Elsa at all.

The new orthodoxy seems to be that, when it comes to the environment, people are the problem and it is not hard to see why. Baby Elsa, our third child, is one of about 137 million people born last year. Unfortunately only 56 million people died leaving an 81 million surplus.

In short, there’s a population explosion underway. The UN expects the global population to reach 6.7bn by July this year. That’s almost twice what it was when I was born in the mid-sixties and the boom is set to continue. By the time Elsa is my age the UN reckons another two and a half billion people will be sharing the earth with her.

Many people believe that will lead to global catastrophe: “Without policies to reduce world population, efforts to save our environment cannot succeed,” says the Optimum Population Trust (OPT).

Continue reading "How ethical is my baby?"

Ethical Wife in cash giveaway shock

  • Newsnight
  • 20 Feb 07, 03:30 PM

By Bee Rowlatt, Ethical Woman

bee203quida.jpgI’ll admit that when it comes to money, like most of us, I have no idea what it’s doing when it’s not actually in my pocket. So I was more than a little nervous when Newsnight asked me to give my husband’s finances the ethical once-over.

This all came about as a result of my revelation, seven month’s into Justin’s stint as Newsnight’s Ethical Man, that he had quietly held onto a small but profitable shareholding in an oil company.

So I’d got my hands on his filthy lucre. My first instinct was to sell the shares and give all the money to charity – not something Justin does very often. But this is supposed to be an exercise in ethical finance. So here’s the question: is it ok for an ethical man to hold shares in an oil company?

Justin’s shares - as a portion of the oil company – equate to over four tonnes of carbon. Add that to our family’s carbon footprint and it would increase it by a whopping 40% - from 10 to 14 tonnes. As Justin’s wife, this is my footprint too: I was ready to flog the shares there and then.

Then our carbon guru, Professor Tim Jackson, pointed out that it’s the people who pump Justin’s company’s product into their cars and factories who end up “owning” the carbon cost.

But surely by making a profit from the oil industry you must be held at least partially responsible for its consequences?

Justin argues that there is nothing inherently wrong with investing in an oil company. He pointed out that we all use oil in one form or another, and it has to come from somewhere. But I suspected that not all oil companies are the same.

My job was made more difficult because the oil company in question refused to participate. So I tried several other British oil companies instead. They wouldn’t take part either. Were they all feeling a little vulnerable about their activities?

This wasn’t to be the only rebuff I encountered. I went to a glamorous City event celebrating five years of the FTSE4Good, an index that encourages corporate social responsibility. And even here - despite the flowing champagne - the big business leaders refused to discuss their ethical credentials with me.

Naturally the anti-oil industry campaigners were all too happy to talk, and I also got some help from ethical fund managers and other city sources. Even the Environment Secretary, a man tipped to be the future prime minister, stepped into the fray to advise on what Justin should do.

Here’s what I told them: the company Justin has invested his money in shares in is a relatively small company specialising in oil exploration. As oil companies go it isn’t remarkably bad, but then it isn’t especially good either. (I found no records of the company even hinting at green technologies like carbon sequestration or bio-fuels.)

So should I keep the shares, or should I sell them? And if I sell them, what should I do with the profits...?

bee203reva.jpgI turned to a very ethical man indeed - a Canon, no less. Canon Christopher Hall is a life-long environmental campaigner. He also has shares in Shell Oil. His advice was that the best way to deal with the ethical conundrums posed by the shares was… to keep them!

He argues that the best way to change companies is from within. At last year’s AGM, he lobbied Shell to change their corporate behaviour, and persuaded another £10-billion-worth of shareholders to defy the board.

I find this compelling, but would the shareholder in question, my husband Justin, feel the same? Justin is no campaigner. He didn’t seem to know much his company’s activities, and by his own admission he has never so much as been to an AGM.

My mind was made up – the shares had to go. Now I needed to find something ethical to do with the profits.

Ethical finance is a subjective business. There are some things you simply don’t do: nukes, tobacco and arms. But after that, it is a bit of a pick ‘n’ mix. You choose what matters to you – be it animal rights, religion, human rights, the environment – and then you select your investments accordingly.

I was told that as well as excluding companies that “behave badly”, I could also use my investment to encourage good: to put pressure on companies and keep them under scrutiny.

Not only that, you’ve got to decide how “good” you want the companies you invest in to be. Ethical investment indices for environmental investments range from so-called dark green (very ethical!) to light green (more mainstream).

Given that Justin has the weighty title of Ethical Man to live up to, I didn’t mess around. Only a dark green fund was good enough for us. I knew his first question would be “But will it make money?” but reassuringly the fund has consistently out-performed the FTSE average.

But I also held some money back. Because I’m with all the people who have written in to Ethical Man to say that being ethical isn’t just about being green – it’s about being good. I still wanted to give some of that oil money to charity.

justin_effect_203.gifGiving to charity is a private matter, but I was surprised to find out that around a third of the British public rarely or never gives at all. Sadly Ethical Man falls into this category, the extent of his charitable giving is limited to a direct debit to Oxfam for the princely sum of £2 a month (and I’m sorry to add that it was me who set this up for him).

Just for fun I let Justin believe that I was going to give away the whole lot. But ultimately it is his money. Realistically 20% of it struck me as a figure I thought he’d find hard to argue against. I chose to target somewhere I felt the money would have the best impact, and so have chosen two small charities in which I have a personal interest:

Friends of Colombia and Elizabeth Blunt School.

Not everyone has a share portfolio of course. But many of us have some savings or perhaps a baby bond to invest. So why let it languish in a bank when it could be out there doing some good, and maybe making you some money too!

Bee Rowlatt's film on Ethical investments will be shown on Newsnight at 2230GMT on BBC Two and on the Newsnight website on Tuesday 20 Feb.

Trouble and strife

  • Newsnight
  • 5 Feb 07, 04:07 PM

beemoney_203.jpgBy Bee Rowlatt, Ethical Wife

Back in November I invaded Justin’s blog with the news that he has a small share-holding in an oil company.

He said I should sort it out myself. So here I am in the heart of Newsnight, on a mission to do just that.

For the last week Rachel the producer and I have been out filming and interviewing people, on a voyage of discovery about ethical finance.

Basically we’re trying to figure out what to do with these shares. Justin has no idea what we’re up to – only that we are indeed up to something. (Poor Justin – not only being hounded at home but now in his very own office…)

Keeping the project secret is proving rather tricky – I’ve had to cover up my notes, hide my phone, and maintain a look of bland innocence every time he asks me about it.

Matt the cameraman has been sworn to secrecy, as he works for both “sides”. I’ve also subjected him to a few home-filming attacks posing awkward questions, when he least expected it.

To find out what happens to Justin’s shares tune in to see the film next week, and if you have any suggestions meanwhile then please share them here…

Meet Daisy the cow – global climate’s enemy number one.

  • Newsnight
  • 2 Feb 07, 03:52 PM

justin_cow_203.jpgWhen I started to investigate the impact of food on the environment a month ago I thought I would find myself fretting over food miles. In fact transport is a tiny component of agriculture’s worldwide contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

No, the main culprit is out there in the fields, chewing her cud. It turns out that livestock – predominantly cattle – are responsible for an astonishing proportion of global warming gases - 18 per cent of the total, to be precise.

That’s right, almost a fifth of all emissions which is more greenhouse gas emissions than all the transport on earth – planes, trains, cars, skidoos the lot.

You’ll be wondering how I reach that staggering conclusion. Indeed, regular readers of this blog may be worried that my decision forgo flesh and become a vegan during January has fostered an irrational hatred of animals.

Not so. The research implicating Daisy and her bovine brothers and sisters in global warming is very well sourced. A good start is “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, a report by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation.

So why is the meat we eat so polluting?

Continue reading "Meet Daisy the cow – global climate’s enemy number one."

Not on the label

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 23 Jan 07, 11:26 AM

justin_veg300.jpgEthical Man has discovered a whole range of food additives don’t even get listed on the ingredients.

I’m spending a month as vegan to see how cutting animal products out of my diet will affect my environmental footprint. It is surpisingly difficult to avoid animals; you'd be amazed how many foods contain animal products in some form or other.

There was a huge response when I wrote about my concerns that an amino acid used as an additive in bread is sometimes manufactured from human hair. I was reassured to discover that it is possible to avoid the substance – called L-Cysteine or E920 – because it is listed on the ingredients.

Then last week Britain’s leading organic baker, Andrew Whitely, wrote to me to warn of what he calls of “baking’s big secret” – the use of enzymes.

Continue reading "Not on the label"

Who remembers winter?

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 12 Jan 07, 11:07 AM

snowman_203.jpgDo you remember snow? It’s that cold wet stuff you used to trudge through in the olden days.

I was reminded of the stuff – not by the weather of course – but as I looked through some super-8 footage of my family that my dad shot. It’s been collecting dust at my parent’s house for years. I dug it out because we were looking for images to use in the Ethical Man series.

I built the snowman with my sisters in January 1968. The shots of us sledging are from January 1971. It is beginning to look like my kids will be lucky to ever build a snowman in our garden.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that we used get great drifts of snow every year but we’d certainly get enough to sledge down Parliament Hill on every few years. You haven’t been able to do that for a while.

This year there’s barely been a decent frost. The country may have been battered by some powerful storms over the last couple of days but one thing has stayed steady, the temperature - this winter remains resolutely warm. Average temperatures in December were 1.7 degrees centigrade above average and the Met Office is already predicting that 2007 will be the hottest year on record.

You don’t need to be a meteorologist to discern the changes. Instead of frost and snow we’ve got bulbs sprouting in the garden and the neighbour’s cherry tree is already in blossom.

The weathermen say that the clement weather is down to a combination of global warming and El Nino and are saying that it may not last. (According to David Parker of the Met Office: “El Nino has a tendency to make cold snaps more likely in the second half of winter.”)

Here at Newsnight we’ve devised a plan that is guaranteed to bring on that chilly weather. We want you to give us your images of how winter used to be. Send your clips, pictures and assorted snowy ephemera to with "Winter Wonderland" in the subject heading. And try not to make the files too big...

A couple of days ago my colleague Paul Mason described Jeremy Paxman’s “famously quizzical eyebrows” as resembling a pair of squirrels. At the very least the prospect of more of your footage on the programme should keep them out of hibernation.

Does your daily bread contain human hair?

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 10 Jan 07, 02:50 PM

justin_turkeydinner_211.jpgI don’t mean one of your stray locks that fell into the butter. What I want to know is whether amino acids produced from human hair were used to process the flour that went to make that piece of toast you wolfed down on the way to the bus stop.

It sounds unthinkable doesn’t it? But since I became a vegan on New Year’s day I’ve developed a keen interest in what goes into the food I eat and I’ve discovered that a food additive which is sometimes produced from human hair can be used as an additive in some baked goods.

But first, the veganism. I am not becoming a vegan out of high principle. The idea is to test the claim made by a number of people who have emailed in to insist that becoming a vegan significantly reduces one’s impact on the environment.

I will be vegan for all of January. So my new diet did not preclude me eating Ned the Newsnight turkey

I am happy to report that Ned was as tasty as he was ethical. My family gnawed our way through his ample carcass over the course of a full week. We ate Ned roast on the big day, then sandwiched, curried, as a supreme and finally in a tasty soup. Then, as the last few slices of Ned grew an extravagant mould in the bottom of our fridge, the New Year turned and my diet became completely meat and dairy free.

It is not easy. I’m not just cutting meat and fish out of my diet. Vegans don’t eat any animal products including milk, eggs and honey. So will cutting out all animal products reduce my carbon footprint?

I need a bit of persuading about the bees but cows certainly produce an impressive quantity of greenhouse gases. I cited the extraordinary figure of up to 500 litres of methane a day per animal when I announced this project in December.

At a conference last week the environment secretary David Milliband pointed out that "the livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions than transport". Agriculture is reckoned to account for 7% of all greenhouse gas emissions, about the same as aviation.

And methane isn’t the only issue. It is claimed that one acre of arable crops can produce enough food for up to 20 people. Turn that field over to beef production and it will feed just one person.

Not only that, raising animals is a lot more carbon intensive than growing vegetables. David Pimentel, an ecologist from Cornell University, has calculated that animal protein production requires more than eight times as much fossil-fuel energy than plant protein yet yields proteins only 1.4 times as nutritious for humans.

That’s the average. When you look at individual sectors the figures are even more startling. Take beef, for example. Using US Department of Agriculture figures he found that beef production requires an energy input to protein output of 54:1 (as well as 100,000 litres of water per kilogram of meat).

Vegetarians shouldn’t feel too smug, though. Milk protein has a ratio of 17:1. In fact, rather depressingly the most efficient form of animal production – perhaps not surprisingly – is battery chickens. Pimentel finds that broiler chickens have a ratio of energy input to protein output of just 4:1.
My problem has been eradicating all these inefficient animal proteins from my diet. Take my very first day of vegan living, New Year’s Day.

I hadn’t prepared very well and hadn’t got any margarine in. The local corner shop, a Londis, was open and they stock a good range so I wasn’t too worried. But as I worked my way through the eight or so different varieties of margarine I was amazed to find that every single one contained milk or dairy products in some form.

justin_lunch211.jpgIt makes you realise just how common the use of animal products in food is. Before I became a vegan I would eat animal products in every single meal. Indeed the Vegan Society points out that some vegans consider tap water unacceptable because it contains chemicals that have been tested on animals.

I am not going that far but I have certainly developed a mania for reading food labels and there are all sorts of unexpected animal additives.

Most people know that gelatine is produced from animal skin and bones and that the rennet used in some cheeses comes from calves stomachs. But did you know that bone char (from cow bones) is still occasionally used to whiten some sugars or that some wines and many beers (particularly real ales) include isinglass – a substance obtained from the swim bladders of fish?

Which brings me back to the possibility that human hair may be used in bread. A vegetarian friend alerted me to the existence of an animal-based flour additive called L-Cysteine. It is an amino acid which is used as a flour improver. It is known as E920 and is permitted for use in all biscuits, breads and cakes except those that claim to be wholemeal.

The problem for a would-be vegan like me is that traditionally L-Cysteine is produced from feathers, pig bristles and sometimes even human hair. These days L-Cysteine can also be produced synthetically but apparently human hair remains one of the richest sources of this amino acid – it makes up about 14% of your hair - and there is a small industry in China making the additive from hair clippings.

There’s even a paper on the web written by a Rabbi about whether L-Cysteine from human hair is kosher. Apparently it is – so long as the hair in question was not harvested from dead bodies.

So how commonly is L-Cysteine used? My vegetarian friend claims that the problem with E920 is that – even when it is used – it doesn’t have to be listed in the ingredients. She says that’s because it is broken down in the baking process so the manufacturers argue that doesn’t constitute an ingredient.

That is something the Food Standards Agency flatly denies. It says that L-Cysteine must always be labelled. Indeed, the industry says the reason you so rarely see E920 on labels is that these days it is very rarely used (apparently it was much more common fifteen years ago). The industry also says that the only L-Cysteine their members would use is the synthetic variety.

That is a little odd because according to the Food Standards Agency the European regulation specifies that only L-Cysteine produced from duck and chicken feathers or from pig bristles can be used. That means that, so long as your daily bread was baked in Europe, it almost certainly does not include human hair.

But it leaves me a little confused. If British bakers are using synthetic L-Cysteine are they breaking EU guidelines? It is hard to get a straight answer because the biscuit makers told me it would be added when the flour is milled and the millers say it something the bakers would add.

So if anyone can put this hairy issue to bed once and for all I’d be very grateful. And while I am on the subject, if anyone knows of any other animal-based (or human-based) food ingredients an embryonic vegan like myself needs to steer clear of please do tell me.

There's a rat in me compost...

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 3 Jan 07, 05:36 PM

rat203.jpgThey say you can go anywhere in Britain's cities, and you'll never be more than six feet from a rat. I've even seen reports that claim that rats are now as numerous as people.

I've always been a bit sceptical of these stories. The last time I came face-to-face with a rat was a couple of years ago outside the BBC. I know what you are thinking but this one was of the rodent variety and ducked into the bushes as I passed. I fear I may very soon establish a much more intimate acquaintance with our burrowing buddies.

When I went out to deposit the peelings and parings of the season in the compost I discovered evidence of what appears to be an assault on our bin.

I would insert a picture of the three inch diameter hole dug in the earth beneath the bin and the foot or so of debris sprayed out behind it but I am staying with Bee's mum for a couple of days and don't have the technical capability to do so. I know that will make diagnosis difficult but please do your best. What I want to know is whether this is indeed the work of a rat? And if so, what can I do about it?

I was rather hoping that some keen-eyed zoologist would tell me that this is unmistakably the work of a fox. It wouldn't surprise me, there are no shortage of foxes locally.

In fact our foxes have all the urban swagger of hip hop artists. You see them by and night, and they happily pass within feet of pedestrians with little more than a snarl and a glare. But are they really likely to raid my compost?

I think the evidence suggests a smaller animal. I've tried to flush whatever it is out. I've given the in a good kick and even prodded around with a garden fork (admittedly rather gingerly) in the compost itself. The huge snarling rodent I was expecting did not materialise.

Before you ask I have been very scrupulous about not composting cooked food. Our bin holds only garden waste, raw vegetable peelings, some shredded newspaper and the occasional eggshell or teabag.

I'm hoping that this was a single foray and that whatever invaded the bin was disappointed by what it found and will not return but I know that is probably optimistic. So, to misquote UB40, there's a rat in me compost, what me gonna do?

I wish I had killed him

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 22 Dec 06, 04:33 PM

justin_turkey_203.jpgLast week I travelled up to Norfolk to meet my Christmas lunch in person for the first and last time.

I have followed Ned the Newsnight turkey’s progress from a lustrous chick into a magnificent one and a half stone stag. Now it was time for me to kill him.

I eat meat almost every day but I have never actually killed an animal. As Ethical Man I reckoned that it was time to take full responsibility for my food. An ethical man should be able to stomach dispatching his own supper or should decline to dine upon it, shouldn’t he?

But having said that, killing Ned wasn’t something I was looking forward to. My mother-in-law’s partner Dave was so upset after he killed two turkeys in a garden shed in York fifteen or so years ago that he’s been a vegetarian ever since.

I was consoled by the fact that Ned has had a good life. In fact he’s about as ethical a bird as you are ever likely to eat. But, when the time came, I couldn’t bring myself to wring his neck.

turkey_farmer_203.jpgWringing a turkey’s neck takes a fair bit of skill. You hang the bird by its feet, take a firm grip on its neck and then twist it slightly while pulling firmly down. Tony, the most experienced turkey slaughterer on the farm, assured me that - when done correctly - the neck is broken in a second.

So why didn’t I do it? I accept that morality shouldn’t be size-based but a living, gobbling turkey is a surprisingly bulky beast and Ned’s size was certainly off-putting. The clincher, though, was that I was worried that, in my inexpert hands, Ned might suffer unnecessarily.

So it was Tony who saw to our Ned. He flapped frantically for a minute or so after Tony had done his work, then twitched his last. It was a distressing sight but Ned did not appear to feel any pain.

As soon as his body was still Tony and I started to pluck him. The feathers come off much more easily in the moments after the bird has been killed. Ned’s body was surprisingly warm.

Then, a couple of days ago Ned turned up on my doorstep. He was in a white cardboard box and looked smaller than I remembered him. He’s in the fridge now.

turkey_meat_203.jpgI am confident that Ned will be delicious on Christmas day. I am looking forward to stuffing him, seasoning him and popping him in the oven. His giblets will make a rich gravy.

And, if you are wondering, I am not upset by having played such an intimate role in his death. If anything, I think I should have mustered the courage to kill him myself. In truth, I bottled out and I shouldn’t have done.

Because, let’s be honest about this: carnivores can’t afford to be squeamish. Turkeys like Ned have to die if we are going to get our Christmas dinners.

Anyway, I’ll have all of January to reflect on the ethics of what I eat because I’m becoming vegan. The idea is to explore how diet affects our impact on the environment.

I’ve been a meat eater all my life and I still think that this will be my toughest ethical challenge to date, even though I now have a good few tempting vegan treats to choose from

One consolation is that, according to a doctor I saw last week, I can expect to come out of the experience healthier. After a thorough check-up he said that cutting out animal fats would be good for me.

We’ll see.

I am not a transvestite, I just want to talk green electricity

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 21 Dec 06, 05:05 PM

zola203.jpgTake a look at the picture of my four-year-old, Zola. I defy you to deny that she appears a sweet and gentle child. But beware: Zola also has a wicked sense of humour.

Last week she may have besmirched my reputation with her teachers forever and may also have ruined my chances of the school governorship I had set my sights on.

Her nursery school teacher, Mrs D, was making herself a cup of tea when Zola proffered that her father likes wearing tights.

Now Mrs D is not one to encourage gossiping in children but she couldn’t help but blurt out a shocked “really?”

“Yes,” Zola confirmed. “He put on Mummy’s tights and now Mummy is very angry with him.”

Continue reading "I am not a transvestite, I just want to talk green electricity"

When is a sprout not a sprout?

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 11 Dec 06, 11:26 AM

sprout203.jpgWhen is a sprout not a sprout? The answer appears to be when it comes in my family’s organic box. Take a look at the picture and then read the blurb that came with this week’s cache of vegetables.

“There is a new vegetable in town: the oh-so-cool sprout top. It’s the brassica du jour, found on the menu of quite a few fashionable eateries in England. It will be gracing some of you with its exclusive presence this week and is quite simply the vegetable to be eating this season!”

The missive from Abel and Cole goes on to distinguish the sprout top - “the sweet and tender tip of the Brussels sprout plant” - from the actual sprouts which apparently come from lower down the stalk of the same plant.

I’m sure that whoever writes the company’s weekly newsletter had their tongue at least partially in their cheek as they wrote this eulogy to the country’s least-loved vegetable. But I am not going to risk a fashion faux pas with the family’s Christmas fare, so Ned, the Newsnight Turkey, will be garnished with only the very finest organic sprout tops.

Yum, yum.

Continue reading "When is a sprout not a sprout?"

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.

Continue reading "Ethical Man - London, Milan, Trento"

Will the Tory leader get it up (his turbine that is)?

  • Newsnight
  • 1 Dec 06, 05:51 PM

David Cameron - does he know his onions when it comes to wind turbines?There’s been an impressive response to my blog on the physics of wind turbines. The overwhelming consensus seems to be that small wind turbines are simply not appropriate for most homes.

If that is correct then domestic turbines, which not so long ago looked like proud environmental virility symbols, might very well end up looking like limp gestures. So are some of the high profile people who signed up to micro-wind power now reconsidering?

The most notable wind enthusiast is, of course, the Tory leader David Cameron. His plans to erect a turbine on his home generated acres of newspaper comment along with the ire of some his neighbours. He was awarded planning permission months ago by his local authority but there is still no sign of a turbine on his West London home.

Continue reading "Will the Tory leader get it up (his turbine that is)?"

Are domestic wind turbines an eco-con?

  • Newsnight
  • 30 Nov 06, 02:40 PM

turbine203caption.jpgIt is time to talk turbines. Very uncharacteristically I’ve been biting my tongue on the subject as I waited until I got my own windmill. Then last week, just three days before the thing was due to be installed, a representative of Windsave rang to say the company had decided that my property isn’t suitable and that their installers would not be coming round.

Windsave, as regular viewers will know, offered me a turbine back in March when the Ethical Man experiment first began. It is also the company which, with much fanfare, sells its turbines through B&Q. Windsave has promised to come round to my house next Thursday to explain its decision.

But if Windsave isn’t going to put a turbine up then I should put my cards on the table: I am now persuaded – unless someone can convince me otherwise – that domestic wind turbines are little more than an eco-con.

Why do I believe this? Well, it is a question of physics.

Continue reading "Are domestic wind turbines an eco-con?"

How green is your government Minister?

  • Newsnight
  • 29 Nov 06, 05:00 PM

The Government makes a lot of its new green credentials. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown jointly launched Sir Nicholas Stern’s report on the potentially apocalyptic consequences of global warming and, to underline the government’s commitment, it announced a climate change bill in the Queen’s speech.

Environment minister Ian Pearson MP on Newsnight in OctoberIndeed, back in May Mr Blair appointed a Minster with special responsibility for climate change. He is Ian Pearson, the MP for Dudley South, and yesterday I shared a platform with him at a conference on sustainable development.

It was my job to open the conference. I ran through some of the things my family and I have been doing as Ethical Man and then I set the delegates a little ethical living test. I asked a series of questions about their lifestyles including whether they had made the switch to a green electricity supplier.

Continue reading "How green is your government Minister?"

How to save money and live longer...

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 27 Nov 06, 02:30 PM

I’ve had quite a few embarrassing moments since becoming Newsnight’s Ethical Man. There was the time my producer Sara filmed me in the bath (watch here); the day my wife decided to ask about my petrol company shares on my blog, and then there was the day Sara took the family car away. She made the whole family stand outside the house and wave as a man winched our car up onto a flat bed truck and drove it away (watch here).

I’ve owned a car ever since I first passed my test more than twenty years ago, and to be honest my wife Bee and I (and most of our friends) thought we wouldn’t last the first month without it, let alone a year. So – seven months on from that humiliating morning - how have we been getting on?

Watch the report here

Continue reading "How to save money and live longer..."

Talking turkey (not shares)

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 20 Nov 06, 12:20 PM

bird_203.jpgI'm still smarting after Ethical Man attracted the attention of a number of national newspapers thanks to my wife's contribution to my last blog entry.

I'd written about the joys - and dangers - of urban foraging and was hoping to prompt a vigorous debate when Bee intervened with a query about some shares I own. As a result I'm hoping she'll report back on the ethical makeover she wants to put the family finances through.

It is a worrying prospect so, by way of a diversion, I am publishing this handsome picture of Ned, the Newsnight turkey.

The plan is he'll be the centrepiece of our "ethical" family Christmas. He certainly looks like a suitably proud bird and he's certainly come on well since we last saw him.

Unfortunately Ned's progress has inspired the ethical producer Sara to suggest that I atone for consuming him by spending January as a vegan. I've been a keen carnivore all my life but many of our correspondents believe that the only truly ethical diet is meat and dairy free. They also argue that it will make another dent in the family's carbon footprint.

I won't lie, I am not keen. I'm also not persuaded that carbon savings from forgoing flesh will offset the increase in methane emissions from a diet of beans and pulses. Rather ominously Sara says there is only one way to find out...

Forage with care

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 13 Nov 06, 01:57 PM

gin203.jpgI am very glad to see that the response to my blog and Urban foraging film has been very positive. So far not a whiff of that writ…

Indeed many of my ethical correspondents seem to have particular fruit trees and bushes that they remember fondly. One favourite of mine is an almond tree my daughters and I came across as we walked through a North London street a couple of Sundays ago. The nuts were still on the branches and though it took a bit of battle to crack them, the almonds were the finest I have ever tasted.

Continue reading "Forage with care"

Urban foraging - ethical?

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 8 Nov 06, 02:47 PM

Justin Rowlatt - Click to watch the filmWe hear a great deal about how we should buy food locally as a way of reducing “food miles”, that is, the distance our food has to travel before it reaches our plates. So what could be more ethical than picking fruit from trees on the streets around my house?

The Ethical producer, Sara, confiscated my car back in April so I’ve had the opportunity to watch the local fruit trees blossom and the fruit ripen on the boughs. I’ve seen the apples swell to maturity, the wine-dark grapes take on their yeasty bloom and the figs blush purple. Yet nature’s bounty has remained untouched.

So are Ethical men and women like me allowed to reap this rich harvest? Read on...

Continue reading "Urban foraging - ethical?"

The ethics of radiator valves

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 1 Nov 06, 02:42 PM

cooper203.jpgWhen is it ethical to change your radiator valves? That was the big question that was perplexing the Newsnight team after our broadcast last night.

The housing minister, Yvette Cooper, invited me to have the first of the new Energy Performance Certificates on my home and even did me the honour of popping round to my house for a cup of tea to see how I got on.

It should have been a pretty straightforward report. Trials of the certificates begin around the country next week. They'll be introduced nationwide in June next year.

The idea is pretty simple. When houses are sold the seller will pay for the house to be energy rated, just like a fridge, and they'll offer suggestions for how energy efficiency could be improved. Sounds pretty sensible doesn't it?

Continue reading "The ethics of radiator valves"

Stop whinging

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 23 Oct 06, 10:25 AM

jamaica203.jpgI have come in for a staggering amount of stick for our decision to fly to Jamaica (watch my report here). We set out to explore whether it is ever ethical to fly. If the response to the programme is anything to go by, in many people’s minds it is not.

But the fact is, most of us do.

Of course we knew that the idea of a man who claims to be “ethical” getting on a plane would upset some people, but what better way of illustrating how carbon intensive flying is?

As I made very clear in the film, that one flight pretty much bust my carbon budget, undoing most of those careful carbon reductions my family and I had been making...

Continue reading "Stop whinging"

"Ethical Man my a***"

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 17 Oct 06, 05:01 PM

plane1_203.jpgToday the National Trust is encouraging us all to contribute a diary to an online archive of a day in the life of Britain.

They want to know what you ate, where you went, what you listened to on your iPod. The idea is to compile all the humdrum events of one ordinary day to create a unique social history of Britain for future generations.

So how many of you will record how you thumbed through brochures looking for your next exotic holiday or for that matter flew off to some far-flung idyll? And now pause and consider whether that’s something you are likely to be doing in 20 years time – or for that matter in 10.

Because the most striking thing I’ve learnt since my editor appointed me Newsnight’s Ethical Man is just how polluting flying is.

In the weeks before the project began my family flew off for some cheap winter sun in the Canaries. When we worked out our carbon footprint that one short holiday was responsible for more carbon dioxide than heating my house for a year or all the emissions from the family’s estate car.

That message was banged home today in a report from Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute. It says aviation will consume an increasingly large proportion of Britain’s carbon budget even under the most conservative growth forecasts and concludes that current aviation policy is at odds with the government’s targets for climate change.

But are there ways we can neutralise the effects of our extravagant carbon consumption and continue to fly? That’s what I set out to find for tonight’s Newsnight and what’s more I flew all the way to Jamaica to find out.

I know some people will be shocked that a man who claims to be trying to minimise his carbon footprint took a plane. My wife certainly was, not least because since we are now living as an “ethical” family we’ve eschewed aviation, given up our car and took the train to France for our summer holiday.

“Ethical Man my arse,” she said when I told her that me and a cameraman were off to Jamaica for the weekend. You can see her full reaction tonight.

Watch the programme if you can and please tell us whether you think we were right to fly all the way to Jamaica for this item. Is carbon offsetting an answer to the challenge of reducing carbon emissions or will it just compound the problem by discouraging us from changing the way we behave now?

Answers on an postcard, please – or at least via the comments form below...

Click here to watch the report

Have you given up flying?

  • Newsnight
  • 22 Sep 06, 11:54 AM

plane_203.jpgFor Justin Rowlatt's next Ethical Man film, he'll be looking at holidays and flying. When he had his carbon footprint taken at the start of this project air travel for his family holiday accounted for a massive chunk of his emissions - so, he's mended his ways and given up flying for a year. Of course, he thinks he's pretty special for doing that - but is he alone? We've heard quite a bit of anecdotal evidence that other people are ditching the wings in favour of other kinds of holidays and travel. Are you one of them? Have you quit flying for good? Let us know and we'll bring you the results of this most unscientific of surveys in October.

Now I am pissed off

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 8 Sep 06, 06:37 PM

I wanted to write about the controversy I caused by asking a child if he was “pissed off”. The problem is my editor got there first, which pissed me off. What made it even more irritating is that he’d called me into his office the morning after my report and given me a mild dressing down. “A word of wisdom,” he said, “don’t swear at children.”

ethicalgore203b.jpgGood advice, but in the meantime I need to blog about something else and this week I met (to steal his gag) the former future president of the United States.

Continue reading "Now I am pissed off"

It's no breeze

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 29 Aug 06, 06:59 PM

I’ve been trying to get a wind turbine ever since I first had the title Ethical Man foisted on me by the Newsnight editor six months ago. Wind turbines are this year’s must have eco-accessory and I was keen to bolt my new credentials firmly to the roof of my terraced house.

I live in a borough that boasts about how green it is but getting the planning permission I need has not been easy. My application didn’t get any formal complaints from neighbours but Camden still wanted me to undertake an expensive acoustic survey.

Meanwhile I’ve had to watch as ethical fellow travellers David Cameron, the Tory leader, and Malcolm Wicks, the Energy Minister, have been granted permission for their turbines despite local opposition.

Then today my wait came to an end. On Friday Camden council decided that I could install my environmental virility symbol on my home, though my permit only allows for a temporary erection – six months only.

As an ethical man, I wish Messrs Cameron and Wicks all the best with their turbines, but I thank Camden that at last I am back in the race.

Another BBC Turkey

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 18 Aug 06, 07:44 PM

turkey203a.jpgMeet the Newsnight turkey. Not some duff story that will make the editor cringe when he sees it, but the bright eyed bird that will grace the table of Ethical Man and his family this Christmas.

I know some in the Ethical Man audience will not be pleased to see Ned – as the farmer has called him. Some of Ethical Man’s most consistent correspondents are vegans arguing that the only ethical diet is one that is free of all animal products.

Continue reading "Another BBC Turkey"

Off message

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 17 Aug 06, 06:22 PM

blogcomment203.jpgI am still very new to the world of blogging but already I am beginning to understand why so many people – including a number of my colleagues here at Newsnight – have become obsessed by it.

Journalists just love to talk about what people think about what they do. But our audience hasn’t always entered into the discussion. The audience figures show that about a million people watch Newsnight each night yet sometimes we get no virtually feedback whatsoever.

I say “virtually no feedback” because we do get at least two calls every night. These are made regardless of who is presenting the programme. One says that Jeremy is rude to guests. The other says that Newsnight is not worth watching without Jeremy presenting.

Continue reading "Off message"

A hybrid world

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 14 Aug 06, 02:40 PM

ethicalfamilycar203.jpgWell my colleague Paul Mason couldn't have been more frank about the difference between a blog and a diary. He says it is that "people who think you are an a*****e can say so immediately and have it hosted by the BBC!". Quite an opportunity, I'd have thought.

So I was pretty pleased with my first haul. Most of my correspondents seemed to look fairly favourably on my ethical endeavours. Even my very first respondee, Kate, who wrote to tell me "this "ethical man" crap has to be one of the worst ideas newsnight (sic) has ever had" - rather paradoxically concluded her message by wishing me good luck with the blog.

So here's another one of my ethical confessions...

Continue reading "A hybrid world"

An ethical blog...

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 9 Aug 06, 03:41 PM

ethicaldiary_203_120.jpgWelcome to my new "ethical" blog. Now I'm not the most computer literate of people so I don't really understand the difference between this, an ethical blog, and my previous ethical diary.

Ian - one of our online overlords - tells me that the important thing is that it will be easier for people to respond to the articles I post. Sounds like a bit of a mixed blessing to me but here goes…

My latest Newsnight ethical film is on how lobsters can help save the world. Take a look and tell me what you think.

Newsnight's Justin Rowlatt has agreed to take part in an experiment for the programme - to live as ethical a lifestyle as possible for a whole year...

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