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BBC TwoNewsnight
Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006, 13:35 GMT 14:35 UK
Diary of an Ethical Man - May
By Justin Rowlatt
Ethical Man, BBC Newsnight


25 MAY

Eco-balls - the big "wash off"

Eco balls
Eco Balls (other non-detergent based washing products are available)
Back when I still had a car (it seems like an eternity ago) I wrote about an "ethical" cleaning product I had bought called Eco Balls. The balls claim to allow clothes to be washed without the use of detergent.

I was rather sceptical and wondered whether they lived up to their name and were nothing more than a load of eco balls.

Well, we have finally completed our wholly unscientific investigation into the cleaning power of the balls. How did we do it? We just used the things.

But, in the great tradition of detergent tests, first we needed to prepare a few stains. The correct adjective in this context is, as everyone knows, "stubborn". Tomato ketchup should fit the bill.

Ground-in grime

Applying the ketchup
Applying the ketchup (other tomato based sauces are available)
The balls look like fat little flying saucers and, as befits their eco status, they are green.

The blurb on the side of the box claims that they "unleash ionic cleaning power to penetrate deep into clothing fibres to lift away dirt without fading bright colours." Sounds great doesn't it?

Each one contains a handful of little dusty pebbles which appear to be the key to all that "cleaning power". So will they rid our clothes of those stubborn stains?

You add the balls to your washing machine with the washing. It is recommended that you use a little detergent with really ground in grime.

For this test we decided to try the balls completely detergent free and, to keep the test realistic (and avoid waste), we are doing a full family wash at the same time.

Do they work?

Bee and washing
Bee looks sceptical - either that or Danny baker is at the door
Eco Balls recommend you use a normal low temperature wash cycle.

So do they work? The truth is Bee does most of the washing in our family (before you start, I do a lot of cooking) so she should be the one who makes the final judgement.

She went carefully through our washing. There are still some marks on one of my daughters' dresses but these have survived a number of washes with our usual powder.

The ketchup stains I prepared earlier have completely gone.

Our washing does seem to be clean but there is something missing, something all of us have come to associate with cleanliness - that fresh clean perfume that all the detergent companies add to their products.

Bee's assessment

Eco Balls are perfume free so you have to really inspect the clothes to persuade yourself they are clean.

Clean clothes
Bee looks faintly disappointed that it works
Here's what Bee's got to say about my balls: "I've used Eco Balls a few times now and haven't really noticed a difference between the way they clean and my usual product.

"I suppose that is a good thing. I haven't yet tried to do whites.

"I don't know if they will work for that but for coloureds they are great. You could really save a lot of money with these. But if you really like the smell of washing powder you might miss that. I don't, the clothes just smell clean when they come off the line."

15 MAY

Fun with ethical statistics

Justin Rowlatt and family watch

When we make films for Newsnight there is always loads of stuff that - as we say in television - is left on the cutting room floor. These aren't just things we've filmed but can't cram into the programme; we also have to ditch loads of interesting information.

My family's latest ethical challenge is living without our car. As we researched the report we collected reams of statistics - most published by the Department for Transport.

Now, statistics have a bit of a bad name, thanks in large part to that Disraeli quote (often attributed to Mark Twain): "there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics". Of course statistics can be twisted to support almost any argument, but when used responsibly they can be very revealing. So here's a selection of choice stats which didn't make the cut.

First of all, oil is central to all our lives. It fuels 90% of all transportation and - one way or another - is involved in the production of 95% of all the goods in shops, including 95% of the food we eat. The world now gets through 80 million barrels of oil a day, 29 billion barrels a year.

Cars are a significant consumer of oil. There are 776 million of them on the roads of the world. That total increases by 6% every year and the global car pool contributes around 15% of all carbon emissions (around 1,200 million tonnes of carbon).

Car culture runs deepest in the US where there is almost one car for every one of its 298 million-strong population. Two thirds of the 20 million barrels of oil America uses every day is needed to keep them on the road.

Three quarters of us now live in households with access to one or more cars
China, by contrast has a positively frugal 18 million cars shared among its 1,313 million souls. Nevertheless it is the second biggest oil consumer in the world, though even at current levels of demand - 7 million barrels a day - it uses considerably less oil than the US.

But be warned: car ownership is strongly linked to income so, as the economies of China and India surge, so will car sales. Indeed, the rapidly increasing Chinese thirst for oil has already helped push the international oil price to record levels.

Here in Britain we share one car between two, that's 29 million motors for our 60 million people. Our cars produce 18 million tons of carbon each year. Three quarters of us now live in households with access to one or more cars and around 15% of the average household's expenditure goes on travel (£59 out of a total of £406 per week) with the majority of this (12% or £51 a week) on motoring. The richer a household, the further they travel, and the more likely it is that they will own a car.

Justin and daughter
Cheer up - ethical statistics are fun
Not only do we own more cars, but we drive them further than ever before. The average distance travelled by car drivers increased by 15% in the 1990s, while the distance walked fell 20% and the distance travelled by local bus fell 11%. That may be explained in part by the fact that the cost of motoring has fallen by 5% in real terms over the last 30 years, while the real cost of travelling by train has gone up 80%, and travelling by bus by 70%.

The average annual mileage in a single car household is now 8,000 miles. If there are two cars the main car does about 14,000 miles while the second car does about 6,000. Marry this with the estimate that each car produces its own weight in carbon dioxide every six thousand miles, and you get an idea of the scale of the problem. All of which helps explain why, despite an increase in the fuel efficiency of cars of around 10 per cent over the past decade, carbon emissions have also increased - up 8%.

So why are we driving more? Well, delve into the detail of the statistics and you find that between 1992 and 2002 the sharpest increase is in the distance travelled to go shopping (up 15%). That increase coincides with the spread of out of town shopping centres. One in five of all the journeys made in Britain is to the shops and three out of four of us now use a car when we do the big food shop.

But the really big change is in who is driving our cars. 70% of car traffic growth in the 1990s can be attributed to the growth in the average distance driven by women as car drivers, which increased by almost 50%. There are more women drivers on the road than ever before: the number of women holding licences has grown much more quickly than for men in recent years. Back in the seventies just 43% of women in their twenties could drive. Now it is well over 60%. Nevertheless there are still more male drivers than female: in 2002/3 81% of men aged 17 and over had driving licenses compared to 61% of women.

Justin Rowlatt preparing to cruise in his first car
Lock up your daughters - Justin goes cruising in his first car
Londoners like myself have the lowest levels of car ownership in Britain. By giving up our car a month ago my family has joined the 2 in 5 Londoners who get by without a car. In rural areas just 1 in 10 are carless. It is not hard to understand why people in the countryside are so much more dependent on the car. Only 51% of households in rural areas are within 13 minutes walk of a bus stop with at least an hourly service, compared with an average of 96% in urban areas.

Indeed, London's excellent public transport is why my family hasn't found living without a car too difficult¿ yet. What I miss is the ease and speed of car travel: we can still do almost everything we did when we had a car, but because it is that little bit more difficult and time consuming, we don't.

And - once again - the proof is there in the statistics. People in households with cars make around 50% more trips than those in homes without access to a car. My problem is that I like to make trips.

Finally there is the dispiriting statistic that we quoted at the end of the film: if everyone in cities gave up their cars, it would only cut Britain's carbon emissions by a meagre 2.5% - yes just 2.5%.

This figure was calculated by my carbon guru, Professor Tim Jackson of the University of Surrey. He assumes that private cars produce 18 m tonnes of carbon (66m tonnes of CO2). They are responsible for half of all UK transport carbon emissions. All transport emissions account for about a quarter of the 150 million tonnes of carbon Britain is responsible for each year.

Professor Tim reckons that there are 20m people in cities, and that if these people gave up their cars, 25% of trips would be substituted by walking or cycling and the other 75% by public transport. This, he calculates, would reduce carbon emissions by 4 million tonnes of carbon (15m tonnes of CO2) or 2.5% of total emissions.

If everyone in Britain gave up their private cars on the same basis we'd save 12 million tonnes of carbon - 8% of current emissions.


Radiohead playing at The Big Ask Live

Big Ask launch - Ethical Man meets the Green Elite

Not so long ago caring for the environment was for, well, hippies.

That's all changed now; everyone seems to want to be an ethical man or ethical woman. And for some it is important to show you care, and that means being seen at the right ethical events.

Justin Rowlatt

Last night was a big night in the green calendar. Radiohead played a London nightclub to promote Friends of the Earth's climate change campaign, The Big Ask. As Newsnight's ethical man I didn't have to join the queue: I'd been invited to the exclusive VIP reception.

The "ether-rati" were out in strength, sipping Friends of the Earth's bubbly and tucking into organic canapés cooked by celebrity chef Ross Burden.

And, in amongst the celebrities, was a clutch of senior politicians. Friends of the Earth have already signed up over half of all MPs to their campaign for year on year cuts to climate change emissions. The event seemed like the ideal opportunity for a report on how the environment has become a key political issue for the main parties.

David Cameron with weather presenter Sian Lloyd
David's hoping this forecaster can tell him how bright the future is
No-one has done more to raise the political profile of green issues in recent weeks than David Cameron and, needless to say, he was at last night's bash.

Indeed, if a party's commitment to the environment was measured in the number of glasses of organic champagne drunk last night, the Tories would have won by a large margin.

The new Tory leader was joined by his environmental advisor Zac Goldsmith and Greg Barker, the party's Environment spokesman.

The leader of the opposition wasn't the only David in the room who's been tipped as a future prime minister. The Labour local government minister, David Milliband was also there. In fact, only the Lib Dems failed to have a cabinet member in attendance. Lembit Opik's wife, Sian Lloyd, turned up but the Lib Dem front bencher did not make the party.

So how many of these political scalps could Ethical Man bag for his report? Er, one.

David Cameron was naturally a little wary of speaking to Newsnight after our report last week on what he described as "shoegate" - the revelation that when he cycles in to work, a Lexus plays follow the leader.

He stayed resolutely off-duty as did Zac Goldsmith and David Milliband. Which left Greg Barker. Unfortunately he did not think my joke about how Mr Cameron's shoes had travelled to the gig was the least bit amusing.

Radiohead's Thom Yorke
Radiohead's Thom Yorke provided the music
The highlight of the evening was a fantastic set by Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood of the band Radiohead. The plan was to feature this in my report as well but unfortunately we weren't allowed to record that either. It was not turning out to be a very productive evening for this ethical man.

I can,however, report that the canapés and champagne were delicious. And, of course, the important thing was the issue. This gig was designed to raise the profile of Friends of the Earth's campaign for legislation to reduce climate change emissions - and also to try and chisel a bit of cash out of all the property developers and businessmen they had invited.

We did our, rather modest, bit to reduce climate change emissions - not by agreeing to a huge pledge of cash - but by catching the night bus home.

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