Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Guardian of My Concience? Not Today...

One of the advantages/drawbacks of my job is that most days, I've read all the Scottish newspapers worth reading by 11am. This leaves me with the problem of which one to buy at lunchtime. Usually, the Evening News wins out if I'm in Edinburgh. Today, however, I opted for the Guardian, which due to the amount of tedious crud in its pages I managed to get through at near flickbook speed. That said, 2 articles jumped out for long enough to tee me off.

The first was a feature in G2 on Whole Foods, a US food store chain which is about to open its first UK outlets. Now, I quite like food shopping in the US - just 10 minutes walking round somewhere like Harris Teeter shows up many of our own supermarkets. Whole Foods, though, is in a different league - a bit like a reasonably upmarket deli the size of a small supermarket. If they are going to be any like the ones in the US, then as far as I'm concerned, they can't get to Edinburgh fast enough.

Surely then, this is just sort of enterprise which would get your average Guardianista hugging themself with delight. But woe and alack, you will be horrified to learn from G2 that there is a dark side. Trade-offs between what consumers want and the high ideals the company started out with; frozen TV dinners for sale alongside the organic produce; happy employees but only because they get high pay(!).

I'm sure you get the picture. All that's missing in the critique is a particularly graphic description of a dark Satanic mill, even though its Satanicness or otherwise would only be measured in comparison with the ideals set for it by the ├╝ber-green Birkenstock wearers of California. Anyway, I'm lucky to have an old-fashioned high street and the time to shop there, but in the absence of same, give me a Whole Foods any day of the week.

But today's prize for putting the cart before the horse goes to George Monbiot, who makes the frankly bonkers claim that biofuels are causing 'more harm than good'. Eh? Causing more harm than their mineral-based equivalents? Pull the other one...

Apparently, our demand for biofuels is contributing to deforestation, and will lead to farmers growing more crops geared towards biofuels instead of providing food for those without. At a certain level, the argument has appeal - an apocalyptic paradox that by doing good, you end up doing more harm. In truth, it's well suited to the messianic 'I know better than you lot' tone that he seems to have as his stock-in-trade.

But there's 2 big problems with this thesis. The first is that since there's no shortage of agricultural land in the world, there's no reason for anyone to lose out as a result of increasing biofuel production. The second is that by trying to make a causal link between issues like all deforestation and all biofuel production, he damns the very considerable levels of potential production which can take place on currently fallow land.

All in all, if you're feeling miserable, I can recommend today's Grauniad for being chock-full of the sort of self-flagelatory, ill-informed 'we're all doomed' prose guaranteed to keep you that way. If you're in a reasonable humour, though, then steer clear. It's a lovely day, after all, and life is short.

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