I have a depressing newspaper photograph in front of me. It depicts a fairly advanced stage in a forest fire. ‘Carbon emission’, blurts the caption, and then explains that the smoke is rising from devastated peatland in Indonesia. I do not doubt the presence of particulate carbon in the smoke but the article illustrated by the photograph is really about the climate-changing effect of the emitted carbon dioxide.

I find it hard to believe that there is no confusion in the lay public’s mind between ‘carbon’, as people are encouraged to call CO2 ‘for short’, and the carbon that darkens smoke but is also such a vital element of life.

Water vapour from cooling towers figures often as ‘smoke’ (or something worse), even if only implicitly, in captions to media photographs. This happens so regularly that it nowadays scarcely raises the aggrieved eyebrow of a public relations officer. But the weary howler has taken on a semblance of life in a new form because smoke – the visible stuff – is being described by some as an

emanation of ‘carbon’, the demonised transparent combustion product.

In the UK, as presumably elsewhere, newspaper editors are printing stories of new nuclear power stations planned in their country, now that it has restored that option to favour, Opportunities therefore present themselves for illustrative use of landscapes in which sunlight behind cooling towers gives a dark, ominous look to the vapour billowing out of them. I have a specimen picture that I rather prize. It is a UK national daily’s colour photograph, measuring about 22cm by 15cm, which gives the full solar-lit treatment to an existing nuclear site. Alongside is a subheadline about two members of the ‘next generation of plants’ and their possibly ‘deadly legacy’ of radioactive waste.

But the accompanying article puts the whole thing into context, explaining nuclear power’s intended role in the reduction of total CO2 emission from electricity generation. So the press is not all bad!

One picture may be worth a thousand words, as the proverb has it, but one word can spoil the picture.

Backpack brings power to more people

‘Renewable Energy Backpack Brings Power to the People.’ That is the title of an announcement passed on to me by a warm-hearted staff colleague who knows my passion for the open road and the offtrack bivouac. He pointed to the word backpack and relished my approval.

The announcement starts with praise for what the writer calls ‘Bourne Energy’s new RiverStar BackPack Power Plant’ and further describes as ‘the smallest of its RiverStar hydrokinetic energy series’.

The product is said to offer a ‘new dimension in renewable energy systems’ and to be ‘ultra-portable’. Its turbine generator, complete with control system etc, folds into the backpack. Unfolded and set up in a stream or river, ‘using Bourne’s novel submerged

horizontal mooring system’, the unit could deliver about 500 watts continuously, given the required water flow. Resiting is easy, should river currents vary with season. Units could be ganged to supply remote villages, clinics and schools.

These and other merits, we are told, ‘open up large areas of the world to this new type of renewable energy’.*

We are assured that operation is silent, with no heat or exhaust emission. An installation would be an ‘excellent candidate for environmentally sensitive regions such as headwaters and rainforests’, gaining from its independence of trucked-in fuel and the absence of engine-oil pollution risk. The units could be mounted below the surface of the watercourse to banish scenic pollution as well.

I am happy to add that the blessing of this ‘new type of renewable energy’ is not restricted to backpackers, hermits and isolated communities. The announcement ends with an offer-list of ‘portable micro-hydro power systems that provide portable off-grid power systems for camping, remote field work, emergency power generators, remote homes, ranches and the military’. Moreover, the vendor ‘has also developed larger scale versions of its river, tidal and ocean power systems with power outputs ranging from 50kW to 3MW per unit’. Not bad for a new type of renewable energy. Go for it, backpackers and pioneers and forward-lookers all.**