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'We must all stop washing to save the planet'

Peel your socks off the wall for Gaia, chaps

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And you can stop drinking coffee while you're at it

Yesterday, in fairly standard style, the mainstream broadsheets decided to lift the New Scientist story without attribution. They even do this to us here on the Reg sometimes, and they probably figured it was safe in this case as New Scientist has many fewer readers.

In any case, we hear again of the Reay five-point plan in the Telegraph and the Scotsman today: but the big energy-gobblers like washing are barely mentioned. The headliner, of course, is the doctor's contention that instant coffee is more eco-friendly than filter.

The average cup of black filter coffee is still responsible for 125 grams of CO2 emissions. Of this, two-thirds comes from production and most of the rest from brewing.

Opting for the more prosaic joys of instant coffee reduces that figure to around 80 grams. Yet that still means a six-a-day caffeine habit clocks up more than 175 kilograms of CO2 each year.

Except that actually the average Brit only drinks 1.6 cups a day. And the difference between instant and filter - the headliner - is only 45 grams. That adds up to a measly 16 kg of CO2 saved per year.

Or in other words, the difference between drinking instant and filter coffee is utterly insignificant in the context of a Western citizen's energy use and carbon emissions. Ditch the headline, chaps. And indeed Reay isn't really advocating that we switch to instant, he's saying we should stop drinking coffee altogether:

The environmental group WWF has calculated that it takes 200 litres of water to produce the coffee, milk, sugar and cup for just one regular takeout latte. So if everyone ditched their pre-work coffee fix that would do wonders for the planet.

Never mind that water is just energy by another name - and that energy use, anyway, isn't the same thing as carbon emissions. Carbon-free nuclear and renewable energy can be used to desalinate seawater, to farm coffee, to ship it to you and then put it in your hand in a recycled cardboard or washable china cup.

But renewables almost certainly can't deliver the energy the human race needs to live at Western levels of luxury, and everyone's afraid of nuclear. So we have earnest fellows like Dr Reay telling us - though he doesn't quite dare to, not wishing us all to turn against the possible Copenhagen accords - that we need to stop washing, stop drinking coffee, stop doing anything at all in fact that involves energy use - which means pretty much anything other than inefficient farming for most of the population.

The real news here - and the blunt truth, barring a worldwide shift to nuclear power or some other massive breakthrough - is that carbon emissions cuts in line with those demanded by climate activists mean we'll all have to become very dirty and smelly. And that's just for starters. ®

*Consider this from Guardian eco-scribe John Vidal: "[The solar plant] is expected to supply 45MW of electricity each year."

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