not recommended as the long-term panacea for our ailing planet, is “the
only effective medicine we have now.” Onshore wind turbines are “merely
... a gesture to prove [our leaders’] environmental credentials.”

This heated debate is fundamentally about numbers. How much en-
ergy could each source deliver, at what economic and social cost, and with
what risks? But actual numbers are rarely mentioned. In public debates,
people just say “Nuclear is a money pit” or “We have a huge amount of
wave and wind.” The trouble with this sort of language is that it’s not
sufficient to know that something is huge: we need to know how the one
“huge” compares with another “huge,” namely our huge energy consump-
tion. To make this comparison, we need numbers, not adjectives.

Where numbers are used, their meaning is often obfuscated by enor-
mousness. Numbers are chosen to impress, to score points in arguments,
rather than to inform. “Los Angeles residents drive 142 million miles – the
distance from Earth to Mars – every single day.” “Each year, 27 million
acres of tropical rainforest are destroyed.” “14 billion pounds of trash are
dumped into the sea every year.” “British people throw away 2.6 billion
slices of bread per year.” “The waste paper buried each year in the UK
could fill 103448 double-decker buses.”

If all the ineffective ideas for solving the energy crisis were laid end to
end, they would reach to the moon and back.... I digress.

The result of this lack of meaningful numbers and facts? We are inun-
dated with a flood of crazy innumerate codswallop. The BBC doles out
advice on how we can do our bit to save the planet – for example “switch
off your mobile phone charger when it’s not in use;” if anyone objects that
mobile phone chargers are not actually our number one form of energy
consumption, the mantra “every little helps” is wheeled out. Every little
helps? A more realistic mantra is:

if everyone does a little, we’ll achieve only a little.

Companies also contribute to the daily codswallop as they tell us how
wonderful they are, or how they can help us “do our bit.” BP’s website, for
example, celebrates the reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution they
hope to achieve by changing the paint used for painting BP’s ships. Does
anyone fall for this? Surely everyone will guess that it’s not the exterior
paint job, it’s the stuff inside the tanker that deserves attention, if society’s
CO2 emissions are to be significantly cut? BP also created a web-based
carbon absolution service, “,” which claims that they can
“neutralize” all your carbon emissions, and that it “doesn’t cost the earth”
– indeed, that your CO2 pollution can be cleaned up for just £40 per year.
How can this add up? – if the true cost of fixing climate change were £40
per person then the government could fix it with the loose change in the
Chancellor’s pocket!

Even more reprehensible are companies that exploit the current concern
for the environment by offering “water-powered batteries,” “biodegrad-

For the benefit of readers who speak American, rather than English, the translation of “every little helps” into American is “every little bit helps.”