My day with Dave and the dead

Halfway through my talk to the Conservative party conference, I began to suspect that the audience h

Standing on the main stage at the Conservative party conference addressing the stony faces of the delegates is the sort of nightmare that would have me leaping out of bed in the small hours, teeth chattering and covered in sweat. But it wasn't quite as I had imagined. It was worse.

After a lot of arm-twisting, I was persuaded by the representatives of the hip young party that my presence in Bournemouth would not in any way be construed as an endorsement, not least because I would be arguing against a nostrum dear to the Tories' hearts. I would be there to fight for the causes I believed in, rather than to help "Dave" rebrand his party as the voice of the Google generation. Well, more fool me.

Halfway through my talk, I began to suspect that the audience had died. My killer jokes resounded through a hall as lively as a catacomb. Even when the lights came up, I wasn't entirely sure. The cobwebs rustled briefly, then the patina of dust settled again. Perhaps it was just the wind. Cameron thinks he's leading his party towards a "bright future". This lot stopped moving 20 years ago.

My floors are not lagged

My wife is furious with me. We were in the middle of selling our house and it seemed to be going well. Then the Guardian published some extracts from my book. One of them was the section about the disastrous condition of Britain's housing stock, and the astonishing amount of energy wasted in heating it. To illustrate the point, I explained how our own home had been done up by a property developer before we bought it. Because the building regulations are so weak and never enforced, he hadn't bothered to make it energy-efficient. "Neither the walls nor the floors are lagged, the windows rattle, there are gaps in the roof insulation nine inches wide . . ."

"Do you realise what will happen if they get hold of this?" she asked. I tried to reassure her. "The chances that they'll read it are tiny." "But there's a huge photo of you standing outside the house." A few days later the estate agent rang. "The buyers have turned up waving a photocopy from the Guardian, which says your house is an ecological disaster. What's going on?" They haven't dropped out yet. But it's just struck me that they probably read the New Statesman as well. Perhaps I had better stop there.

Cold fusion conman

One of the hazards of being a climate-change campaigner is that you are pestered by quacks and conmen. Almost every week brings an email from someone who claims to have discovered perpetual motion, or a means of transporting air passengers by cosmic energy. A friend rang the other day to ask my advice about a presentation he had just attended at the Savoy Hotel. A delightful old silver-haired Australian man claimed he had unlocked the secret of cold fusion. He was looking for millions of pounds of investment.

Cold fusion - welding atoms together at room temperature - is the Holy Grail of energy research: long sought and utterly improbable. The sweet old man had explained most of his process, but had kept a crucial part secret, to prevent the method from being stolen. It sounded as dodgy as a £3 coin. My friend replied that he couldn't believe this was a con, the old Aussie was so charming and plausible.

He checked the Australian patent office site anyway, and searched its lists in vain. But the man's name did come up in another context - in a cautionary tale published by the office's centenary magazine. In 1983, he'd persuaded the government of Queensland that he had developed a car engine that could run on water. Queensland's bonkers premier of the time, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, agreed to back it, and organised a public demonstration of the brilliant new technology in Sydney. The inventor turned up in "a vehicle that looked outwardly like an ageing conventional car". Bjelke-Petersen filled it up with water, sat in the driver's seat and turned the key. Nothing happened. He got out and looked for the inventor, but the man had disappeared, never to be seen in Sydney again.

George Monbiot's book "Heat: how to stop the planet burning" is published by Allen Lane, the Penguin Press (£17.99)

This article first appeared in the 16 October 2006 issue of the New Statesman, The war on youth