What I said and what the Telegraph said I said - spot the difference!

In the early hours of Wed 8th January 2014 I was suprised to find that I was featured on the front-page of the Telegraph, and that what I had "said" had led to me being branded a total moron by some of the delightful people who lurk in the friendly comments corner of the Telegraph's site and elsewhere.

I thought it would be fun to set a "spot the difference" challenge - can you see the differences between what I said in the relevant paragraph of the DECC intranet magazine interview [highlighted in yellow, below left], and what the Telegraph said I said in their first 5 paragraphs [below right]?

A solution to this challenge is provided at the foot of the page.

The DECC Review interview was one of those "me and my spoons" interviews; I've edited out all of my replies except for the one relevant paragraph. Below is the internet version (dated 10:00PM GMT 07 Jan 2014) of the Telegraph article. The headlines in the physical edition of the newspaper were "Fix a fridge and save the world says No 10 advisor", and "No 10 adviser vows to end throw-away culture"
Ellerington and MacKay
Ian Ellerington (L) and David MacKay (R) discussing something innovative

Meet David MacKay

David MacKay was appointed our Chief Scientific Advisor in October 2009, after the publication of his highly acclaimed book 'Sustainable Energy - without the hot air' - which he dedicates to those who will not have the benefit of two billion years accumulated energy reserves.
Following our recent organisational restructure we caught up with him to find out how joining up of the functions will affect his role...


Why did you want to work for DECC?

How do you think the new structure will change your role?

DECC is a department with a massive mission: to power the country and protect the planet - do you think we can do it?

What do you think the major challenges will be?

One difficult challenge is the way in which economic activity and growth currently is coupled to buying lots of stuff and then throwing it away. When a fridge, clothes-washer, or microwave develops a fault we throw it away instead of repairing it. Car manufacturers love us to buy a new car every few years.

The whole system could use significantly less energy if we designed things to last, if we only bought things we need to use, if we used them for their full life, repairing them when necessary, and then disassembled them carefully so that components could be re-used. How can we get there from here?

If you could change one thing about working in the civil service what would it be?

Are you a blogger...can we expect to see regular updates from you on the intranet?

What should people know about your style of working?

A piece of wisdom you would pass on...

Work life balance - what leisure activity you enjoy the most...

And finally what's your favourite book and why?

[Source: deccintranet/news/november-2013/Meet-David-MacKay.aspx Date 24/11/2013 ]
The Telegraph's image of a fridge, from http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02638/CXWW9B_2638152b.jpg
British families should stop buying new cars, fridges and washing machines, according to a government adviser Photo: Alamy

Stop buying new appliances and cars and repair them instead, Government adviser says

Families should help environment by repairing electrical goods and cars rather than buying new, top Government adviser says

British families should stop buying new cars, fridges and washing machines and instead repair them when they fail in a bid to save the environment, a senior Government adviser has said.

Professor David MacKay, the energy department’s chief scientific adviser, said that electronic equipment and cars should be kept for as long as possible and then disassembled so that components can be recycled.

Householders “buying lots of stuff and then throwing it away” make it “difficult” for ministers to reduce the country’s energy consumption, Prof MacKay said.

[For your interest, here's the rest of the article]

Officials believe that re-using household appliances and furniture could save families £1 billion a year as well as create work for repair shops across the country.

Around £17 billion could also be saved from the annual budgets of British businesses by reducing waste, a Government analysis has said.

Asked about the “major challenges” of his role advising the Government, Prof Mackay told a Department of Energy and Climate Change newsletter: “One difficult challenge is the way in which economic activity and growth currently is coupled to buying lots of stuff and then throwing it away.

“When a fridge, clothes-washer, or microwave develops a fault we throw it away instead of repairing it. Car manufacturers love us to buy a new car every few years.”

Prof MacKay, who wrote the book “Sustainable Energy - without the hot air” and teaches at Cambridge University, claimed that products could be taken apart at the end of their lifetimes so that parts can be recycled.

“The whole system could use significantly less energy if we designed things to last, if we only bought things we need to use, if we used them for their full life, repairing them when necessary, and then disassembled them carefully so that components could be re-used,” he added. “How can we get there from here?”

His comments about people purchasing too many vehicles came as figures showed that car sales increased by almost 11 per cent in 2013. Car sales have soared to their highest level since before the recession.

According to government figures, about 228 million tonnes of waste is thrown away every year in England.

Prof MacKay’s comments chime with a recent policy paper released by the Department for Food and Rural Affairs, which is run by Owen Paterson.

The document said that ministers want to move “beyond our current throwaway society to a ‘zero waste economy’ in which material resources are reused, recycled or recovered wherever possible and only disposed of as the option of last resort”.

The paper added: “It means reducing the amount of waste we produce and ensuring that all material resources are fully valued – financially and environmentally – both during their productive life and at ‘end of life’ as waste.”

A spokesman for the environment department said: “We are making it easier for people to make their own choices about reusing and recycling household items. Reducing waste not only benefits the environment but can save people money.”

An energy department source on Tuesday night referred to Prof MacKay’s comments as his “personal view”.

Peter Lilley, the Conservative MP for Hitchin and Harpenden who sits on the Commons energy and climate change committee accused the professor of “shooting himself in his policy foot”.

He said that projections have shown that “more efficient” appliances could lead to a 27 per cent reduction in household energy use.

“If we repair the inefficient ones we will consume far more energy,” Mr Lilley said.

He added: [Prof MacKay] should either decide whether he’s chief scientific adviser [at DECC] or whether he’s going to join Friends of the Earth and knit his own socks.”

Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative MP for Richmond Park, said: "We generate enough rubbish in this country to fill the Albert Hall every hour, and sooner or later that's going to have to change. Among other things, that means making things that last, can be repaired and eventually recycled."

Solution to 'spot the difference'

Letter to the editor, 8 January 2014

Sir,

I never said that "British families should stop buying new cars, fridges and washing machines" ("Stop buying new appliances and cars and repair them instead, Government adviser says", 7 January). Today we are often not able to repair goods because products aren't designed for repair, because spare parts are not easy to source, and because repairing is too expensive. Consequently we are spending valuable resources making appliances then throwing them away when just one small component fails. To make more efficient use of resources possible, we need to look at the whole system.

The potential transformation of the ways in which we use and value materials is explored in a wonderful book, which is available free online: "Sustainable Materials - with both eyes open" by Julian Allwood and Jon Cullen

David MacKay FRS
Chief Scientific Advisor, DECC

P.S. Incidentally, I agree with the point Peter Lilley raised in the Telegraph's article. In some cases, new products are more energy-efficient in use than old ones — I discussed this trade-off on page 58 of my book for the case of lightbulb-scrappage — but often these gains are relatively small compared to the energy required to make the new products.

P.P.S. The Daily Mail have copied most of the Telegraph's inventions verbatim, and added a few more embellishments of their own. [8th Jan 10am, author Matt Chorley]

P.P.P.S.: Quite a few days after the first article was published, the Telegraph published my letter (near the bottom of the list of letters), slightly edited by them and with a nonsensical title ["Buy new cars, fridges and washers, but not today"] above it.

And finally, there's a more accurate report in Resource Efficient Business. Congratulations to journalist Paul Sanderson. And the Guardian's article doesn't misquote me either.


David MacKay
Last modified: Mon Jan 13 20:21:00 GMT 2014