Saturday, 29 November 2008

The Ivory Tower strikes back

Back in July I wrote a piece about Bristol's most boring blogger, one Professor K Vala Ragnarsdottir of the University of Bristol, whose blog "Sustainability" (then hosted by ecojam.org) I mercilessly exposed. The pic below is just to prove that blonde nordic looks don't cut any ice with me.



I was rather surprised at the time that no one commented, but all things come to he who waits and the bright intellects of Bristol university finally responded last week. Of course the comments, languishing in the backwaters of this blog, have gone largely unnoticed so I thought it would be fair to give them due prominence by copying them forward to this post.



First to post a comment was Matt Fortnam (above), a Bristol University research assistant and founder, no less, of the ecojam website, a vapid piece of pale greenery trying to insinuate itself into some pole position amongst Bristol's green websites. Matt writes -
Dear Chris,

I was upset to read this blog post. I have often enjoyed your postings but I feel this was entirely unnecessary.

Ecojam has only publicly been launched in the last month. The blog postings you refer to were included as test entries and in fact the date June 9th has no relevance to the posting. I accept full responsibility for that.

Ecojam is a new endeavour and as such the blogs are in their early stages of development. I'm not sure if lampooning new, inexperienced bloggers is an appropriate tactic. You will certainly alienate others from getting involved.

To view this, only weeks before Vala leaves for her homeland of Iceland is deplorable. Vala has been a huge inspiration and force behind the sustainability agenda in Bristol, dedicating tireless hours to the city. After years of campaigning she has finally made the University of Bristol stand up to the sustainability challenge. Only on Wednesday, the cross departmental BRITE initiative began; research that could lead to real change in Bristol and beyond. In the city, she established the Bristol Sustainability Cafes which has engaged several hundred citizens, academics, business people and decision makers. This vision has been adopted by the Bristol Partnership's Green Capital initiative. Ecojam owes a huge debt of gratitude to Vala for her continued support, as do countless other initiatives in the city. In the Department of Earth Sciences, through her sustainable futures course, many students have become enthused by environmental issues. Another legacy she is leaving.

I could go on and on.

If anyone is to blame for a boring blog it is me. I have now closed her blog.

Kind regards,

Matt
Then Vala Ragnarsdottir herself posted. Vala, as mentioned by Matt, is shortly returning to Iceland to teach her kinfolk about sustainability (just what they need right now) and is anxious to flog off her £240,000 trendy loft apartment (below) down at George Ferguson's Paintworks (another Ferguson link - don't you just love serendipity?).



Vala, I should add, is, like George Ferguson, another of Bristol's 'Greenerati', that bunch of mainly ex public school types who have carved out their comfortable little environmental niches over the decades, busily scratching each other's backs with awards and honours.
Vala wrote-
Wow, to be singled out as the most boing blogger in Bristol is in itself an achievement!

I agree that environmentalists are an easy target to attack when it comes to flying. But I assure you that every flight I book is only done I feel that my presence at whatever meeting I´m invited to will make a difference. When traveling in Europe I take the train, even to Venice.

Earlier this year I attempted to turn down an invitation to Sweden on the account that my carbon footprint was too large - to which my colleague responded: Your work on soil sustainability and creating sustainable communities is so important that you should never worry about your carbon footprint...

That comment can of course be debated.

I do not take holidays that need flights.

I´m about to move to Iceland where I will attempt to influence the local community to live more sustainably - based on the success of the Sustainability Cafes that I have organised in Bristol since 2006.

These outcomes have been adopted by the Green Capital Momentum Group (of which I am a member) as the vision for sustainable Bristol.

The Bristol Sustainability Networks was also founded as a result of these cafes and after that ecojam.org was developed by my research assistant Matt Fortnam, linking over a thousand ´green´activists and companies in the city.

Ideas developed in the Sustainability Cafes were also included in the Bristol Green EU Capital bid this September, for which Bristol now has been short-listed along with 7 other European cities.

Bristol has now been deemed to be the most sustainble city in the UK.

I do not claim these successes personally, but I have been involved with a large number of fantastic people in Bristol that have worked hard to green the image of the city and increase the well-being of its citizen.

Lastly, this week a BriTE Futures Institute was launched at the University of Bristol - which will work on finding sustainability solutions for the 21st century.

Good luck Bristol in your green quests in the future!
So now we know who was behind Bristol's risible designation as Britain's Greenest City and its shortlisting for European Green Crapital. And she really believes all that bull-shit! I guess that comes of an academic career where you never have to engage with the real world.

24 comments:

DonaQixota said...

"the comments, languishing in the backwaters of this blog, have gone largely unnoticed"

That's a brilliant thing about Wordpress blogs - latest comments show up front.

thebristolblogger said...

"I assure you that every flight I book is only done I feel that my presence at whatever meeting I´m invited to will make a difference."

"Earlier this year I attempted to turn down an invitation to Sweden on the account that my carbon footprint was too large - to which my colleague responded: Your work on soil sustainability and creating sustainable communities is so important that you should never worry about your carbon footprint..."

"When traveling in Europe I take the train, even to Venice."

And does Prof Ragnarsdottir travel with her diary by any chance?

Are you sure the Prof's email isn't a satire Chris? The lost manuscript of Malcolm Bradbury's unfinished 'The Sustainability Woman' perhaps? or an early draft of the new David Lodge?

It's very funny. Thanks for publishing it.

Chris Hutt said...

Yes, it made me think of David Lodge too. The story of an unworldly Icelandic professor flying around Europe giving earnest lectures on sustainability, unwittingly providing the cynical apparatchiks of town and gown with a timely green smokescreen to obscure their squalid property deals. Of course it could never happen like that in real life.

Chris Hutt said...

In case anyone's interested, here's my response to the comments from Matt and Vala.

Firstly to Matt Fortnam.

Let's get a few facts right. Your site, ecojam, was up and running in June if not earlier, so saying that it's only been launched in the last month is misleading. When I viewed it in July there was no indication that I recall that it was only a 'test', whatever that is supposed to mean. Nor do I recall any indication at the time that Vala was due to return to Iceland.

If you or I post anything on the Internet it is then in the public domain and fair game for anyone to have a pot at. That's the nature of the Internet and, as they say, "if you don't like the heat..."

Whatever Vala's contribution might have been, at least she appears to have been paid well enough for it, enough to pay for a trendy loft apartment and frequent fights abroad anyway, which is more than can be said for many other long standing environmental campaigners in Bristol. So let's not make her out to be some sort of heroine.

If you read this you will have gathered that I don't think much of ecojam. In my view it's part of the problem rather than part of the solution. You buy into a lot of green hype that is promoted simply to obscure the reality of the profoundly ungreen nature of Bristol's economy.

Secondly to Vala.

We can all make excuses for flying. I do myself. But at least I know they are just excuses and I don't expect others to buy the idea that I'm so special that I should be allowed to fly when they shouldn't, which seems to be your line.

It would be interesting to know what you think your carbon footprint is, including all those business trips. Pretty massive I would guess, as is often the case with high-profile 'environmentalists'.

As for your work promoting Bristol as some sort of a Green Capital, you may have noticed that I am not the only one who is quite incredulous of this.

Bristol is far from even qualifying for consideration in such a competition, yet your work deflects public attention away from Bristol's shortcomings and focuses on those few Green scraps with which the city tries to conceal its true nature.

In short your work is counter-productive from a green perspective.

By all means respond to that if you wish. I'm happy to publicise such a vitally important debate.

Chris

DonaQixota said...

Sustainability Cafe and Bristol Uni in particular are clearly a wonderful seething hotbed of Wilt characters, fertile ground.

Maybe we should inaugurate one of these awards - they do grow on trees after all - for Greenspin.

http://www.sustainability.ie/terminology.html

Trying to be green said...

"The pic below is just to prove that blonde nordic looks don't cut any ice with me."

I wonder if your agressiveness in attacking the Professor made you loose sight of the debate. Would the above comment have ever been considered if the professor had been male? What relevance do looks have within this debate.

The Professors flights may not be considered appropriate for a 'true' environmentalist, but the cost of her apartment is completely irrelevant to say the least.

You suggest that the profssors comments are not always relevant to the sustainability debate but I'd suggest that your comments show that the agenda can be forgotten at times.

Chris Hutt said...

"Would the above comment have ever been considered if the professor had been male?"

Probably not. So what?

As for the asking price for her apartment, where did I say it was relevant to the debate? It's just a bit of interesting background info.

TTBG, you're the one who seems to have difficulty differentiating between the key points and peripheral ones.

Opal said...

"Would the above comment have ever been considered if the professor had been male?"

Let's not get too hung up on pc, please.

If Chris were female and Vala male, no-one would question it. Or if gay and the same sex.

I notice Alex Woodman never complained about his looks being at the centre in 'Hottiegate'. Nor did anyone else.

Amy said...

Since I subscribed to this blog, I've had reservations about you. But your post about Prof Ragnarsdottir is really the last straw. What spiteful, pointless, unpleasant little post.

I'd really like to read a blog that tells me about green issues that affect the city I live in. Yours is not it. Yours is a weird exercise in axe-grinding, a constant moan-a-thon in which you criticise each and every step the council try to take towards becoming greener and more sustainable, the paranoid frothings of man who sees conspiracies where there are none. It seems absolutely NOTHING is good enough for you. The question is, what exactly are YOU doing to make this city a better place? You complain about everything and yet offer solutions for nothing.

Matt said...

Quickly...

Vala wasn't paid for her Bristol sustainability work. Her contracts are soil sustainability based. I don't see what her flat has got to do with anything. I live in a box, does that make me OK?

I didn't realise setting up a website was a competition. I'm quite happy sitting in the heat until Ecojam is perfected. You are welcome to take a "pop", I welcome any suggestions. I'm not perfect like you, sorry!

Public school.... ummm. Well researched as per usual. Lets make sweeping generalisations that all academics are toffs.

Lets also make a list of everyone in the city who is trying to do something and take them to pieces. That will be fun and constructive.

I don't think anyone is fooled that we live in a 'green city'. But perhaps we can agree this is an aspiration we can all share. At least there are people in the Council who are willing to listen. Lets support them by providing fresh ideas. I may be young, foolish and an idealist, but I believe we haven't had a better opportunity to steer Bristol towards a sustainable path.

Chris - Is your glass half empty?

Chris' readers: If you want to take part in intelligent debate, log on to www.ecojam.org to contribute your positive ideas.

We are also seeking new bloggers, so please get in touch if you would like to write an alternative to Chris' "frothings"

Chris Hutt said...

Amy, the blog isn't about what I may or may not be doing for the environment, beyond producing this blog. What I do, or what my personal motivation is, is irrelevant to the validity of the points expressed here.

You too need to differentiate between serious points and peripheral 'froth' as Matt might call it. I've always assumed that anyone reading this blog on a regular basis would be able to do that.

Amy, you criticise me for a 'spiteful' post, yet your comment is even more so. Would you care to explain why it's not OK to me to be spiteful but OK for you?

Perhaps you think your spitefulness is justified in retaliation to mine, but then I might argue than mine was justified in retaliation to Vala's efforts to bamboozle the public into thinking that Bristol is some sort of model of sustainability.

Glenn Vowles said...

Matt said 'I don't think anyone is fooled that we live in a 'green city'.'

I dont think people making judgements and awards have even sorted out proper objective ways of assessing this! However, this has not stopped the media headlines and hyped up stories plus follow up columns! Its not stopped local political figures talking about their 'achievements'.

A meaningful and productive process of change begins with full acknowledgement of the current state of affairs. When will we get this and who will lead the process?

thebristolblogger said...

I'm a bit vacuous and spend too much time reading the tabloids admittedly but I'm very interested in people's background, wealth and where they live.

It usually explains their politics rather well.

The rest of the media focuses entirely on personalities why shouldn't bloggers?

Chris Hutt said...

Matt, a few points in response to your comment.

As I understand it University Professors have a lot of time within which they can pursue whatever academic study, research and writing that they please. I'm assuming that Vala used some of this time to pursue sustainability matters. If that's not the case, if all her 'sustainability' work was over and above all the other academic work that a professor is expected to carry out including private study, then I would owe her an apology.

As BB helpfully pointed out above, whether one lives in a box or a luxury loft apartment is not merely interesting but does make a big difference to one's attitudes to life and hence one's politics. the information on Vala's apartment had been posted on the internet by her agents so I did no more than point to what she had already put in the public domain.

You say "I don't think anyone is fooled that we live in a 'green city'". Really? The City Council seem to think so and if such nonsense is repeated enough you can fool most of the people most of the time. Then you create an attitude of complacency, which is the last thing we want.

You say "At least there are people in the Council who are willing to listen". Of course there are, wouldn't you if you were being paid £100k+ to do so? But listening doesn't necessarily translate into appropriate action.

You say "I may be young, foolish and an idealist, but I believe we haven't had a better opportunity to steer Bristol towards a sustainable path". The first part I'll agree with, but on the second it may well be too late now to avert the impending environmental disaster, so the best opportunity to steer Bristol towards a sustainable path was probably about 25 years ago, when incidentally I was young, foolish and idealistic enough to try to do so. Who knows, perhaps in 25 years time you'll be as hard-bitten and cynical as me!

As for my glass, it is almost completely empty, in marked contrast to the glasses of the useless Council apparatchiks stuffing their pockets and pension pots with our tax money, but you would probably say I was lucky to have a few dregs in the the bottom.

Holly said...

...bollocks! She's going back to Iceland because she's realised living in the UK means falling behind the rest of the Europe in terms of REALLY BEING green and sustainable:
- crap public transport systems
- crap cultural mindset
- BCC allowing the destruction of green spaces
- lack of a variety of decent cafes
- government u-turns (e.g. open cast coal mining)
- etc...

Glenn Vowles said...

'You say "I may be young, foolish and an idealist, but I believe we haven't had a better opportunity to steer Bristol towards a sustainable path". The first part I'll agree with, but on the second it may well be too late now to avert the impending environmental disaster, so the best opportunity to steer Bristol towards a sustainable path was probably about 25 years ago, when incidentally I was young, foolish and idealistic enough to try to do so.'

Well said Chris Hutt!! All the scientific evidence is with you here, especially on climate change. Its definitely become much harder to put us on a truly sustainable path. I too was green campaigning 25 yrs ago and was then told by the big political parties, the media and big business etc not to worry and that they had appropriate plans in place (eg Bristol City Council's so-called 'Green Charter') to solve problems. How much further along the green/sustainability path has Bristol come? Carbon emissions for instance are on average six times the sustainable level!

Chris Hutt said...

I amazed that anyone has read so far through the comments.

I may not show it but I've some sympathy with what Matt and Vala are trying to do, but I'm afraid they are both naive and misguided, as I was myself at Matt's age (but Vala should know better - is academic life really so detached from reality?).

They have to learn about bullshit, especially 'Our City - Ambitious Together' bullshit. The Council's agenda is one of 'business as usual', but with green trimmings' and Matt and Vala (and many others) are contributing to the 'green trimmings'. In doing so they aid and abet the utterly unsustainable 'business as usual' agenda.

Matt said...

“the uncertainty of our times is no reason to be certain about hopelessness”.

Vandana Shiva

Glenn Vowles said...

Matt, I note you have not responded to my point about proper objective assessment not being done. Its the heart of the matter and the beginning of real hope for change. It would enable us to address the real world and not pull the wool over people's eyes.

I dont feel hopelessness but I do feel we are making it harder and harder for ourselves to successfully get as green as we need to be. We dont seem to keep pace with what the latest evidence is telling us. We dont start by putting problems on the right scale and in the right context. As a result change achieved has often been mere tinkering.

See George Monbiot today:
http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2008/12/02/whistling-in-the-wind/

David Hembrow said...

There is a serious issue here. I emigrated and now live in the Netherlands. We live in a city with a cycling rate vastly higher than anywhere in the UK, with LED street lights installed to save energy - one of the policies to make the city carbon neutral by 2020, with a recyling rate vastly higher than the UK, a policy of planting ever more trees (it's already a very green city) etc.

All this is without any particular claim to be green. In large part, it's just what any responsible Dutch city does.

I'm seeing more action and less hot air than I was used to in the UK.

Chico said...

Mr Hutt "What I do, or what my personal motivation is, is irrelevant to the validity of the points expressed here."

I think if you are going to air your opinions on a public blog is does help the reader to understand your own expertise and actions in the field. Also the cyncial bitterness that you seem to show will do little to engage the already cynical public.

Chris Hutt said...

Chico, as far as engaging the public is concerned, you might like to note that this blog gets quite a lot of comments (22 on this post, so far).

Not as many as the Bristol blogger mind you, but isn't he a little inclined towards 'cynical bitterness' (or should that be bitter cynicism?) too?

By contrast, if you check out the blogs on Matt's nice and naive 'ecojam' site you will see, if can can stay awake long enough, that there is hardly a comment to be found.

So I think I'll carry-on as I am, thank you very much. Besides, I don't do 'sweetness and light'.

Chico said...

Not sure engaging is the right word, if this is the level of debate around environmental issues..then no wonder we're in trouble. Still interested in your expertise and where you sit within the political and social spectrum. Good luck with it all...but you could cheer up just a touch.

DonaQixota said...

Funny how there seems to be whole gaggles of Dr Panglosses still regurgitating Maggie Thatcher's old line about "moaning minnies ... talking Britain down".

Maybe it's because they're the ones sitting pretty at the moment?

Let's face it, there's plenty to be bitter about in this modern version of Dante's inferno world.

Maybe it's you Panglosses who need to take off your rose-tinted spectacles for a while. Had you thought about that?