Miércoles 6 de Agosto de 2008, Ip nº 241

Can green be groovy?
It is often said that environmentalists are too dour and self-denying to convert the frivolous mass of consumers to their cause. Tell that to the owners of Surya, a new disco in London that claims to be “the world’s first ecological club”. Its founder, Andrew Charalambous, believes that “all you have to do is dance to save the world.”

That sounds like something of an over-simplification. But Surya is full of green features. For starters, it generates all its power on-site through various renewable technologies, and even has some left over to donate to neighbours. There is a wind turbine and solar panels, along with batteries to store some of their output. More strikingly, it boasts a piezoelectric dance floor, which generates power thanks to the motion of the happy patrons jumping up and down.

Energy-saving measures and recycled materials also loom large. There are no power-hungry light-bulbs, needless to say. The high-tech windows help to retain heat. The bar and the wooden shelves behind it are made from scrap wood, while the sofas, stools and coffee tables are made from unwanted bathtubs, cable drums and the like. Even the décor is recycled: it consists of old postcards, newspapers, matchboxes and compact discs, whittled into imaginative shapes or arranged in psychedelic patterns.

The toilets use hardly any water and the urinals none at all. The paint is chemical-free. The curtains are made of hemp. The marble and granite flooring and the wooden balustrades are “fair-trade”. The wine is organic and the beer is “bio”.

For anyone who somehow misses the thrust of all this, Surya also communicates its concern about the state of the planet through slogans painted on signs or flashed up on screens, along with images of deserts, dolphins and Thai people in boats. “Over the past 20 years, the average distances cycled and walked have both fallen by a quarter,” reads one. “1.2 billion people earn less than $1 a day,” laments another. “77% of foodstuffs grown in 1900 have now disappeared,” declares a third.

There is lots to sniff about. For one thing, it’s not clear how many people there are who yearn at once to boogie the night away, but worry too that by doing so they will place an unbearable strain on the planet. The claim that “Clubbing is the most energy-consumptive activity on the planet and engages in some shape virtually all the youth of the planet” seems breathtakingly naïve. What about aluminium smelting, and the teenagers of rural Africa?

More pettily, a rival outfit in Rotterdam seems to have come up with the idea of a “sustainable dance club” long before Mr Charalambous. It unveiled plans for a disco with a piezoelectric dancefloor, waterless urinals and bio-beer back in 2006, although its first venue will not actually open until September. It is also hard to believe that Surya is “the first business on the planet to donate surplus electricity to neighbouring residents”, as its publicity claims.

But it is hard not to feel a flicker of admiration for Mr Charalambous. For one thing, in an apparent tribute to Dr Evil, the spoof villain of the Austin Powers films, he dresses in white suits, shaves his head and styles himself “Dr Earth”. His ten-point plan for green enlightenment features such wise aphorisms as “Clubbing is a spiritual act” and “See the world as lateral. Not linear.” According to his biography, he is a former parliamentary candidate for the Conservative party, a tantric master, a poet and a Rosicrucian. Sixty percent of his diet is fruit. And he has promised to donate all the profits from Surya to Friends of the Earth, an environmental NGO.

Dr Earth is certainly right to reject the obvious complaint: that clubbing is a wasteful, indulgent pastime that should be sacrificed on the altar of environmentalism. Finding green ways for people to do the things they enjoy seems a much better way to save the planet than discouraging them outright. And if all this trendy eco-babble converts a few impressionable clubbers to the cause, so much the better.

But there are several drawbacks to the flaky, faddish school of greenery. The first is that trends come and go, yet the planet will still need saving if Dr Earth and his ilk decide they are more interested in macramé or tae kwon do. Second, and perhaps more importantly, conflating various right-on causes does not make them any easier to achieve. Putting an end to third-world poverty, rich-world obesity, biodiversity loss, climate change and the use of chemicals in wine-making all at once is clearly impossible. Agreeing on the causes to include on the list, let alone acting on them all, would be quite a task—especially while concentrating on cutting a dash on the dancefloor.

To read this article in spanish click here.



  21/07/2008. The Economist.