The best environmental problems are the ones that cancel each other out. Take the fat and energy problem. Don't get me wrong. This is not about indolent fellow-citizens who are gravitationally challenged. I am talking about the problem of fat deposition that is clogging up London's sewers. The great grey globs of fatty substances that festoon the crumbling orifices of the pride of Victorian London. By globs, I do not mean mere blobs, nor even gobbets or ladlefuls (and if that is not a word, it should be). I mean great icebergs of fat, obscene slobbery works of oleaginous artistry, the kind of installations that might give nightmares even to the likes of Damien Hirst or Tracey Emin.
Where, I hear you cry, does this fat originate? From whence and from whom? Dear reader, some of the tonnage comes from your frying, grill and chip pans. That oily golden fluid that pours so easily down your plug hole solidifies into grey glop as soon as it hits the coldness of the drain. The best that can be said of it is that at least it is blocking the sewers rather than your coronary arteries. The other consolation is that you personally are not the worst offenders. That doubtful honour belongs to the chippies and the take-aways, who are responsible for the other uncountable number of tonnes that are giving London's sewerage networks a coronary.
It doesn't have to be like this. All it takes is for the Greater London Assembly to take a deep breath and dive in. Not you understand, into the sewers, but into the chip fat reclamation business. They need to pass a law banning the disposal of cooking fat into the drains, and at the same time, equip a little fleet of vans to drive round collecting fat from the chippies.
Of course the pundits who forecast that the congestion charge would be a disaster will start to scream, “What will propel these vans? Who will pay for them?” Good questions, which prompt an even better answer: they will run on chip fat, suitably filtered to keep bits of batter out of the engine, with a small nip of alcohol added to keep the cold away. And they will pay for themselves, from excess fat sold on as bio-diesel. Et voila! as the French would say, Robert est votre oncle!
Richard Lawson is a doctor, and used to live in Pimlico.