Don't pretend this doesn't depress you. Photo: Matti Mattila on Flickr via Creative Commons
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In the housing crisis, blue carpet is a symbol of the landlord’s freedom to channel Ebenezer Scrooge

The housing crisis has created a seller’s market in which landlords have the power to treat their tenants with as much contempt as they like, including installing carpet in shades never found in nature.

Sometimes you find yourself browsing through £5m London houses on Zoopla. If you’re anything like me, you do so tearfully and at 3am, having realised long ago that you’ll never own a property. Throw a slice of fridge-cold leftover pizza, or a bowl of cereal into the mix and you’ve just Picassoed yourself a picture of me at nearly any given 3am.

It’s probably quite telling that, these days, I fantasise more about wooden floors than I do about women. Telling of what exactly, I have no idea, but I somehow manage to make it dirty. A belt sander, a wall splattered with paint… “Hey, reasonably-priced flat, I’ve been a very naughty London-dwelling millennial…”. I’ve developed full-on objectophilia for Georgian houses in Islington, decked out in G-Plan furniture, and I blame the housing crisis.

You want what you can’t have, right? So, this brings me to what I can have (if and when I ever earn enough to make London rent). I can have houses with blue carpets.

Here’s a potted history of the Blue Carpet that I totally didn’t just make up: it was invented in the early 90s by a slum landlord called Clive Stench. Stench, a formidable bastard, spent 37 years developing a carpet that would make his tenants abandon all hope. The completed product, a work of evil genius worthy of the early Wernher von Braun, was blue. A completely new shade of blue, in fact. One so horrible that it can’t be found anywhere in nature, because nature took one look at it and said, “Yeah right”. This design was quickly distributed to the owners of shitty rentals all over the country, and there it remains, dotted with red wine stains and plainly malevolent in its blueness.

When I look through affordable (ha!) rentals in London, the Blue Carpet is a running theme. It’s there to remind me, and millions of others like me, that a rented property in London isn’t somewhere you live; it’s somewhere you pass through on the way to death. A bit like a crap service station that doesn’t even have a Burger King.

Blue Carpet simply does a spectacular job of saying, “You’re not welcome here”. Landlords want us to know that these aren’t homes they’re renting to us for ruinous stacks of cash, they’re dismal and faceless money factories. After all, a Blue Carpeted house is just a few dehumanisingly short pens away from pastiching the interior of a Jobcentre Plus. And woe betide anyone who spills something on a Blue Carpet. It doesn’t matter that it predates John Major’s prime-ministership and already looks like it’s been jizzed on repeatedly by anyone who’s ever trodden it; there goes your deposit. Here’s a game for a lonely night in, try and imagine all of the fluids, bodily or otherwise, that went into making your Blue Carpet so sticky that it practically clicks when you walk on it.

The cruel genius of Blue Carpet is that nothing goes with it. The idea is that you take one look at it, say, “Fuck this”, deck out your bedroom with a stolen park bench and a rusty Morrisons trolley, and wait to shuffle off this mortal bedspring. The Blue Carpet was designed to break you.

The housing crisis has created a seller’s market in which landlords have the power to treat their tenants with as much contempt as they like. The Blue Carpet is a symbol of the landlord’s freedom to channel Ebenezer Scrooge having an argument with a Poundland shop assistant over the price of a pack of felt tip pens. We’re truly living in an age of Blue Carpet tyranny.

So, letting agents, please do us all one small favour and stop describing Blue Carpeted properties as “neutrally decorated”. They’re not.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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North Yorkshire has approved the UK’s first fracking tests in five years. What does this mean?

Is fracking the answer to the UK's energy future? Or a serious risk to the environment?

Shale gas operation has been approved in North Yorkshire, the first since a ban introduced after two minor earthquakes in 2011 were shown to be caused by fracking in the area. On Tuesday night, after two days of heated debate, North Yorkshire councillors finally granted an application to frack in the North York Moors National Park.

The vote by the Tory-dominated council was passed by seven votes to four, and sets an important precedent for the scores of other applications still awaiting decision across the country. It also gives a much-needed boost to David Cameron’s 2014 promise to “go all out for shale”. But with regional authorities pitted against local communities, and national government in dispute with global NGOs, what is the wider verdict on the industry?

What is fracking?

Fracking, or “hydraulic fracturing”, is the extraction of shale gas from deep underground. A mixture of water, sand and chemicals is pumped into the earth at such high pressure that it literally fractures the rocks and releases the gas trapped inside.

Opponents claim that the side effects include earthquakes, polluted ground water, and noise and traffic pollution. The image the industry would least like you to associate with the process is this clip of a man setting fire to a running tap, from the 2010 US documentary Gasland

Advocates dispute the above criticisms, and instead argue that shale gas extraction will create jobs, help the UK transition to a carbon-neutral world, reduce reliance on imports and boost tax revenues.

So do these claims stands up? Let’s take each in turn...

Will it create jobs? Yes, but mostly in the short-term.

Industry experts imply that job creation in the UK could reflect that seen in the US, while the medium-sized production company Cuadrilla claims that shale gas production would create 1,700 jobs in Lancashire alone.

But claims about employment may be exaggerated. A US study overseen by Penn State University showed that only one in seven of the jobs projected in an industry forecast actually materialised. In the UK, a Friends of the Earth report contends that the majority of jobs to be created by fracking in Lancashire would only be short-term – with under 200 surviving the initial construction burst.

Environmentalists, in contrast, point to evidence that green energy creates more jobs than similar-sized fossil fuel investments.  And it’s not just climate campaigners who don’t buy the employment promise. Trade union members also have their doubts. Ian Gallagher, Secretary of Blackburn and District Trade Unions Council, told Friends of the Earth that: “Investment in the areas identified by the Million Climate Jobs Campaign [...] is a far more certain way of addressing both climate change and economic growth than drilling for shale gas.”

Will it deliver cleaner energy? Not as completely as renewables would.

America’s “shale revolution” has been credited with reversing the country’s reliance on dirty coal and helping them lead the world in carbon-emissions reduction. Thanks to the relatively low carbon dioxide content of natural gas (emitting half the amount of coal to generate the same amount of electricity), fracking helped the US reduce its annual emissions of carbon dioxide by 556 million metric tons between 2007 and 2014. Banning it, advocates argue, would “immediately increase the use of coal”.

Yet a new report from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (previously known for its opposition to wind farm applications), has laid out a number of ways that the UK government can meet its target of 80 per cent emissions reduction by 2050 without necessarily introducing fracking and without harming the natural world. Renewable, home-produced, energy, they argue, could in theory cover the UK’s energy needs three times over. They’ve even included some handy maps:


Map of UK land available for renewable technologies. Source: RSPB’s 2050 Energy Vision.

Will it deliver secure energy? Yes, up to a point.

For energy to be “sustainable” it also has to be secure; it has to be available on demand and not threatened by international upheaval. Gas-fired “peaking” plants can be used to even-out input into the electricity grid when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind is not so blowy. The government thus claims that natural gas is an essential part of the UK’s future “energy mix”, which, if produced domestically through fracking, will also free us from reliance on imports tarnished by volatile Russian politics.

But, time is running out. Recent analysis by Carbon Brief suggests that we only have five years left of current CO2 emission levels before we blow the carbon budget and risk breaching the climate’s crucial 1.5°C tipping point. Whichever energy choices we make now need to starting brining down the carbon over-spend immediately.

Will it help stablise the wider economy? Yes, but not forever.

With so many “Yes, buts...” in the above list, you might wonder why the government is still pressing so hard for fracking’s expansion? Part of the answer may lie in their vested interest in supporting the wider industry.

Tax revenues from UK oil and gas generate a large portion of the government’s income. In 2013-14, the revenue from license fees, petroleum revenue tax, corporation tax and the supplementary charge accounted for nearly £5bn of UK exchequer receipts. The Treasury cannot afford to lose these, as evidenced in the last budget when George Osborne further subsidied North Sea oil operations through increased tax breaks.

The more that the Conservatives support the industry, the more they can tax it. In 2012 DECC said it wanted to “guarantee... every last economic drop of oil and gas is produced for the benefit of the UK”. This sentiment was repeated yesterday by energy minister Andrea Leadsom, when she welcomed the North Yorkshire decision and described fracking as a “fantastic opportunity”.

Dependence on finite domestic fuel reserves, however, is not a long-term economic solution. Not least because they will either run out or force us to exceed international emissions treaties: “Pensions already have enough stranded assets as they are,” says Danielle Pafford from 350.org.

Is it worth it? Most European countries have decided it’s not.

There is currently no commercial shale-gas drilling in Europe. Sustained protests against the industry in Romania, combined with poor exploration results, have already caused energy giant Chevron to pull out of the country. Total has also abandonned explorations in Denmark, Poland is being referred to the European Court of Justice for failing to adequately assess fracking’s impact, and, in Germany, brewers have launched special bottle-caps with the slogan “Nein! Zu Fracking” to warn against the threat to their water supply.

Back in the UK, the government's latest survey of public attitudes to fracking found that 44 per cent neither supported nor opposed the practice, but also that opinion is gradually shifting out of favour. If the government doesn't come up with arguments that hold water soon, it seems likely that the UK's fracking future could still be blasted apart.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.