Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bali: UN Climate Conference outcome


It was an 11th hour nail biting, final pulling together after berating the Americans for their attempts to sabotage any agreement, which resulted in .. a compromise.

World governments agreed a negotiating framework to decide a new global climate policy by 2009 on 13th December 2007 for the post-2012 period.

The Bali road-map commits all developed countries to quantified greenhouse gas emission reduction targets and says "deep cuts" will be needed. Developing countries will commit to "appropriate mitigation actions".

Disappointingly, upon the insistence of the US, the road-map suggests no concrete emission reduction targets. But a footnote makes reference to documents from the IPCC which say reductions of up to 40 per cent by 2020 are needed to head off dangerous climate change. Greenpeace lamented the lack of references to "crucial cuts" and the "relegation of science to a footnote".

On the positive, general approval was voiced for consensuses reached on tackling emissions from deforestation, on enhancing technology development and transfer, and on stimulating financial flows to fund all climate change-related action.

However, the next two years of talks promise to be difficult. Somewhat unsurprisingly, US officials saying that they had "serious concerns" about the Bali deal. White House spokesman Dana Perino said climate negotiators "must give sufficient emphasis to the important and appropriate role that the larger emitting developing countries should play" - a clear reference to India and China. This may complicate, and indeed hinder the process - a polite way of saying it is anticipated that the US will continue to be obstructive.

[Participation in the Kyoto Protocol, where dark green indicates countries that have signed and ratified the treaty and yellow indicates states that have signed and hope to ratify the treaty. Australia's new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has promised to sign and ratify it - so should be coloured green also.The United States has signed the treaty but continues to refuse to ratify it.]

Technology transfer deal: a clear mandate
In a separate agreement in Bali, parties to the Kyoto protocol agreed to be fully guided by the IPCC's recommendations in setting a second round of commitments by 2009 (which suggests those 40% GHG reductions by 2020 will be implemented in due course - a matter of watch that space). It is intended for the two tracks - the Bali road-map and Kyoto - eventually to merge. A review of the protocol, which will focus also on how to enhance carbon markets, was also launched.

One deal was reached that can be considered the most significant milestone yet on the road towards a new global climate agreement for the post-2012 period. Agreement was reached on a text setting out how the industrialised world should transfer technology to developing countries. The text must still be rubber-stamped by ministers, but no problems are foreseen since it has been agreed by officials representing all parties.

The deal should create a new entity dedicated to technology transfer under the Global Environment Facility (GEF), a fund that supports environmental projects in developing countries. It is not clear whether funding will come from elsewhere within the GEF or from outside.

An expert group will analyse current and potential funding sources for a wish list of developing country technology transfer-related demands, with a view to filling gaps and developing new financing tools if necessary. It must report back by 2010.
Performance indicators for technology transfer will be developed.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Power Down: London's Carbon Neutral Night of Music


Now here's a thing - a carbon neutral music night, and not a carbon offset in sight. Instead, only natural acoustics, candlelight and organic booze (unrefrigerated of course - but that's not a problem as it's so cold outside anyway). Sounds delightful, rather romantic and, well, rather unusual.

But wait - is that a negative factor? I don't think so. Infact, it's all been rather well thought through - and such is it's success that it's now onto it's third outing. There's a serious message behind it all. Power Down strives to make fundamental changes in the way events are organised and run, without using off-setting services. Instead energy conservation and efficiency are the name of the game. When you enter into a space that is lit by candlelight and listen to music without the usual array of stage amplification, whilst supping Buddles organic beer that is thankfully cold due to being stored outside, it does make you stop and pause for thought. It can be done - and Power Down is doing it with the lightest of carbon footprint. No acoustic guitars here, thank you very much (how very last century they are).

Even the candles are made from recycled materials. Second hand vegetable oil from a local fish and chip shop has been mixed with unused wax from redundant candles to make new candles. No worries, the fishy smell has long gone (and anyway Islington chippies tend to be rather pucker affairs).

So, go along and have your preconceptions challenged - Power Down aims to bring a large array of genres to an open minded audience, from Hip-Hop, to Jazz, to Pop, to yes, Folk. There is no reason why all of these different art forms, as dependent on electricity and modern computing as they seem, cannot be stripped bare to their acoustic core. Present a musician with this task, and let's see the result. Who knows what it will sound like. Hopefully it will be intimate, intense and enlightening from the lack of barriers between the audience and the artist, air being the only remaining medium.

When: Saturday, 15th December
Where: the Islington Arts Factory, 2 Parkhurst Rd, Holloway, N7 0SF

Oh, and there will be mistletoe. With lots of dark corners, who knows what the night may bring....

Powerdown

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Climate Change March


'Tis the season of goodwill and festive cheer - and there was much of that to bouy our hardcore lineup of protestors marching from Millbank outside the Houses of Parliament up to Grosvenor Square. So what that it rained? Ach, but why didn't I think to wear wellies?

Soggy feet aside, rousing speeches were given by Michael Meacher, Phil Thornhill, Caroline Lucas and more. All head nodding stuff - yes, we need to cut emmissions, this government needs to support microgeneration, introduce feed-in-tariffs (and if they don't the Tories will), give teeth to the Climate Change Bill. What is needed is action, not just aspiration. Yes, we cheered.

The best speaker, however, was left to the last. By which time any meaningful connection with my feet had been lost. But suddenly it didn't matter. George Monbiot took to the podium and gave a compelling thought-piece on capitalism and the need for individual action. Politically, little is taking shape, he says. The Bali talks promise little more than a tinkering at the edges - and I tend to agree with him. Where goverments fail, the movement for change must come from below, from grass-roots community and individual action. Monbiot proffers a different vision of how we need to live, in a world where we need to live with less.

Each time I hear him speak is somewhat akin to soaking up a compelling read, and each time I am left hungry for the next chapter. So much has evolved in the past year alone that it is said Monbiot is to revise his book Heat. This is also a man who is not afraid to let his own thoughts evolve as his own knowledge grows. If his spoken word is anything to go by, it promises to be one of the most significant books of our time.

  • Global Climate Campaign

  • Campaign Against Climate Change



    [top three photos by Andrew Steele, bottom photo from Marmaduke Dando - with thanks]
  • Friday, December 07, 2007

    Friday, November 30, 2007

    EUMENA-DESERTEC Concept takes root in Brussels

    On Wednesday, in my capacity as a representative of TREC-UK, I attended the presentation of The White Book "Clean Power from Deserts - The DESERTEC Concept for Energy, Water and Climate Security" to the European Parliament by His Royal Highness Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, former President of The Club of Rome.

    The book is based on the studies by the German Aerospace Center on the potential of deserts to supply clean power to Europe, the Middle East and North Africa (EU-MENA).
    It proposes a solar co-operation between the technology belt and the sun-belt, between Europe and the MENA region, to fight climate change in an economical and technically feasible way. Key technologies in the DESERTEC Concept are concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) plants with solar heat storage for day/night operation, and low-loss high voltage direct current transmission lines to bring clean power to Europe from the deserts of MENA. A seven year action plan for kicking-off the DESERTEC Concept was announced, setting down the roots for the vision to become reality: CSP plants stretching across the deserts, connecting into a supergrid network bringing clean electricity to Europe, Middle East and North Africa.

    The DESERTEC Concept has been developed by the Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation (TREC) in collaboration with scientists at the German Aerospace Center. The presentation in the European Parliament was staged by four Members of the European Parliament - Matthias Groote, Vittorio Prodi, Rebecca Harms and Anders Wijkman - and by the Club of Rome initiative TREC.

    “Every year, each square kilometre of desert receives solar energy equivalent to 1.5 million barrels of oil. Multiplying by the area of deserts world-wide, this is nearly a thousand times the entire current energy consumption of the world.” said Dr Franz Trieb, Project Manager for a set of reports on trans-European renewable energy networks. Not much desert would be required. As the map above demonstrates, the larger red square on the left shows an area of 254 km × 254 km of hot desert that, if covered with concentrating solar power plants, would provide electricity equivalent to the current electricity consumption of the whole world. The smaller square (110 km × 110 km) shows a corresponding area for the European Union (when it included 25 countries). Time now to translate vision into action.

    The white book can be found at: DESERTEC

    TREC-UK

    Monday, November 26, 2007

    What will we eat when the oil runs out?

    What will we eat when the oil runs out? That was the question posed by Richard Heinberg at the Soil Association Lady Eve Balfour Memorial lecture held at Westminster Central Hall on Thursday night. Marm' and I decided to chew it over.

    Richard Heinberg set out 4 simultaneous dilemmas that we face:
    1. higher oil prices with knock-on effect on input and output transport of foodstuffs;
    2. increasing demand for bio-fuels thus replacing food for fuel production;
    3. extreme climate change events;
    4. degredation of natural resources, of top soil and water.

    All the above exacerbated by increasing population.

    Calculations demonstrate that more food will need to be produced in the next 50 years than in last 1000 years combined. Post WW2, the introduction of herbicides, petro-chemical pesticides brought better living conditions through chemistry - but at a high environmental cost that was only appparent later. Ironically, this era of food expansion was called the Green Revolution. But it was, as we now know a double edged sword. A tripling of food production increased the human carrying capacity, and so we go forth and multiply ever more.

    Now we are facing increasing food prices and urban poor will be impacted the most by our modern day dilemmas. Modern agriculture is highly centralised and therefore more vulnerable to disruption. Quite literally, the seams are fit to burst.

    Dramatic economic transformation is needed, so says Heinberg. Transition is needed at forced pace with a dramatic increase in local food sufficiency. The government must support return to agricultural life and land reform - look to Cuba: active lobbying of agronomist was crucial.
    The primary solution Heinberg proposes is a planned rapid reduction of fossil fuel used for the production of food and the organic movement to provide the necessary framework to guide and lead.

    We need to introduce draft animals, oxen are an ideal choice - they do not compete with humans. Not so far fetched: some french towns are introducing horsepower again for local deliveries

    Richard Heinberg puts peak oil supply crunch at 2012, with global coal peaking at 2017 - 2020. David Rutledge of Caltech suggests a similar timescale. These two are the best of the American thinkers on the subject - what they say is worthwhile considering seriously. Heinberg is an optimist: we can do it if we start now and we have to start with the organic movement. Time to start growing our own veg.


    Richard Heinberg
    Podcast: Lady Eve Lecture
    For Dave Rutledge's most recent talk on why energy efficiency is not the answer, but reduction of fossil fuels is see: Hubbert's Peak, The Coal Question and Climate Change

    Sunday, November 18, 2007

    Entrepreneurs with Conscience

    Sometimes people enter into my life whom I recognise have the capacity to change not just my life but also the lives of so many others. There are thinkers, there are do-ers - and there are thinking do-ers. Mike Edge, Annette and Andrew Mercer fall squarely into the latter category. They are Entrepreneurs with Conscience - and are busy persuading others to do the same on the basis of three very simple principles:

    1. to build ethical and environmental businesses to tackle climate change;
    2. to support those working at the coal-face of climate change - the NGO's, such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and The Climate Group;
    3. to make a personal commitment to reduce their own carbon footprint.

    Businesses can move, and with the assistance of these people are moving, far faster than politics (and certainly faster than our current government, who as Jonathan Porritt so succinctly stated, suffer from a chronic case of NIMTO'ism - Not In My Term of Office) to tackle climate change. They are the ones recognising that there needs to be rapid change, grasping the opportunities and are backing the big solutions.

    Yesterday I joined Annette to hear Andrew speak at the Be The Change Conference about his experiences as a low carbon green entrepreneur. They have set up Footdown, a forum to foster like-minded entrepreneurs with kernals of business ideas that have the potential to make a big difference. One such kernal which took seed out of one of these meetings prompted the formation of the company 2OC. 2OC has taken to market a remarkable technological solution called geo-pressure energy. Their technology (a small turbine not much larger than the palm of your hand) enables the harvesting of clean electricity from waste energy produced from gas pressure reduction stations. Each turbine creates 2 Megawatts of clean energy - that's the equivalent capacity of the Reading 2MW Wind turbine. Their aim is by 2010 to have installed generating capacity in the UK equivalent to 1 Gigawatt (1GW). That's the equivalent of removing one million tonnes of carbon (1MtC) from the earth’s atmosphere; equivalent to the amount emitted annually by the whole of the UK’s National Health Service. No small achievement.

    Andrew is an inspirational speaker - and what he, his wife and his rapidly expanding team are doing is in itself remarkable. This is just the beginning. There are other such businesses galloping over the horizon. These are the people who are raising the bar, setting the new standards, creating the new world around us and acting on the bold vision needed to ensure the right solutions are put in place. As Mike says, it's time to build a war-chest and fight for the planet. Be the Change - the sky's the limit.

    Entrepreneurs with Conscience
    Be The Change
    Footdown
    2OC

    Tuesday, November 13, 2007

    CSP basks in the glow of a sunny future




    So, I have seen the future. The future is bright, the future is CSP. Really, I did, and it was awe-inspiring.

    After two days of intense industry and investment talk on CSP, Hywel and I determined we had to see a CSP plant for ourselves. An all-nighter with some newly found friends sampling the delights of Seville sealed our fate. Fortified with an indulgence of tapas and manzanilla, off we scooted without a map before sunrise on a rickety moped heading northwesterly to find our plant. And find it we did. Just as the sun was peeking over the horizon, shimmering in the chill morning air, there loomed a tower with beams of light shining up from the heliostats, looking for all the world as if it had been zanussied in from outer space. It stopped us in our tracks.


    This is the Abengoa PS10 plant, the first commercial CSP plant in Spain, and the first solar thermal plant to use a tower commercially. It’s an 11 MW solar thermal plant that has been designed to produce 23 GWh of electricity a year, enough to supply a population of 10,000. It went online in March this year and saves about 16,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum.

    Ach, it’s a baby plant you may scoff, this is nothing. But wait, this is just the beginning – and it does not feel so small when standing in front of one of the mirrors as it looms as high as a lamp-post, surrounded by an array of hundreds of these super-sized mirrors. Ahh, but they’re great for basking in the warmth, especially after our hair-raising-chilled-to-the-bone excursion. You can hear them humming happily, as they turn imperceptibly to track the sun: technology’s answer to the sunflower. Oh - and there on the other side of the dusty track is another one: a sister plant double the size which is due to commence operations within 6 months. It’s exciting spacey stuff.

    So, the technical details: electricity is produced via 624 movable mirrors (heliostats) of 120 m2 surface each that concentrates solar radiation to the top of a 115 meter high tower where the solar receiver and the steam turbine are located. So, the sun heats the liquid up to 260 - 300*C, which in turn creates steam, which turns the turbine which creates clean green electricity. Simple really, and stunning to see.

    But this is not all. Spain has big plans; a further 13 plants , each of 50MW, are due to begin construction (the great thing is these things can be built fast – just 2 – 3 years from planning licence application to laying of the mirrors) by 2010. If they could go bigger they would, but the legislative framework put in place by the Royal Decree 661/2007 ( which has created regulatory stability for access and connection rights to transmission and distribution networks of renewable electricity) currently places a cap on size and number. That will doubtless be increased in due course. There are favourable feed-in-tariffs and, by fostering such proactive policies and incentives, the Spanish government has demonstrated it’s strong commitment to back the renewable industry. They have boldly set their Mandatory Energy Objectives at 30% renewables by 2020, 80% by 2050. There is optimism that even more can be achieved, earlier and within an even tighter framework.

    Globally, is estimated that up to 45 GW will be online within the next 15 years, but if those with grand vision are to be supported, the reality could be far larger than that. 500 GW would satisfy the total European electricity demand – that’s a bold vision, but not impossible (there’s a lot of desert and sun out there), and some clean tech investors across the world are beginning to think really big.

    Australia is experimenting, China is looking, the Middle East and North Africa have the space and the sun to really roll this out and even America is now moving with remarkable speed in this arena. Switched on this summer was the 64MW Nevada Solar One, a 64 megawatt plant in Boulder City, Nevada. Now Acciona Energy has announced plans for their next project which will be more than three times its size. The 200 MW plant will be built by 2010. Due to the vast solar resource in the Southwest - New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada, the US is now envisaging racking up new-build capacity to 1.5 GW per annum, rapidly increasing to 3 GW within 10 years. Even a year ago, such bold vision was not anticipated. What will this industry look like in a year’s time I wonder?

    So, here I am back in sodden London, wondering how soon a Europe-wide and North African standardised electricity network could be put in place. It all seems like a dream, until I awoke this morning to hear Al Gore on Radio 4 saying that he has teamed up with venture capitalists Kleiner Perkins to to help finance entrepreneurs who are addressing climate change.

    Having explained what the problems are with his film, he is now looking to the solutions. He’s out to prove that protecting the environment and reducing carbon emissions is good for the economy as well as the environment. Not only that, he’s putting his money where his mouth is and matching the smart solutions, such as low carbon alternatives to generating electricity. As he put it, there are a lot of technologies that already exist that have never been given their due, and now it is time to do so. One example that they are supporting, he said, was “advanced solar thermal electricity generation based on the use of highly sophisticated computer driven mirrors to concentrate the sun's energy to simply boil water to generate electricity.” Now that is a smart idea!

    Generation Investment Management

    Gore joins Silicon Valley's Kleiner Perkins to push green business

    Latest news article: All about CSP

    If you would like to know more about CSP, or help support awareness raising, go to TREC-UK

    Saturday, November 03, 2007

    Film Preview of A Crude Awakening


    Yesterday my mate Jeremy Smith (former editor of the Ecologist - so, a guy who knows his megawatts from his terrawatts) phoned on spec to see whether I'd be interested in joining him for a preview screening of a Peak Oil film and Q&A with the directors afterwards. Excellent, I said, I'm on my way. The film, A Crude Awakening, is to be released nationally on the 9th Nov.

    So off I zooted to the Everyman cinema, fully expecting an audience of the great and good from Hampstead's energy royalty (David Strahan lives close by, as does Dr David Flemming, and the irascible Meyer Hillman - and given the size of some of the homes up on the hill, no doubt a whole clutch of oil magnates). Instead, it was a random audience made up of what seemed to be general passers by (that's how Jeremy happened to be invited - he was just walking along South Bank the previous evening). They were, we were promised, looking forward to a challenging debate in the Q &A session afterwards. Hmmm. If that was the case, where were the experts? This audience was largely comprised of concerned individuals picked randomly off the street.

    Not wanting to spoil a good story, nevertheless let me tell you about my experience.
    The first three quarters of the film has some stonking good footage of Baku oil fields and of a woman at her dressing table with all manner of things flying through the air (including her clothes!) to demonstrate what items are reliant on oil for their production. This and more is cut with various weighty talking heads from Colin Cambell to Matt Savinar (who seems to be in the process of future proofing himself with stacks of purified canned food boxed up behind him) to a range of retired oil experts, geologists, scientists and even some footage of Hubbert, the original whistleblower in the oil industry who predicted 50 years ago that oil would peak about now. The story of oil and our reliance on it is told - and told effectively.

    But - it's a big but - the film then moves onto possible solutions, and wham! it seems to literally run out of energy. A slow trot through the (valid) problems with hydrogen, biomass, nuclear. Weirdly no mention of coal, and a petering out with a passing reference to solar. All a rather bleak picture which left most of the audience depressed and feeling rather hopeless.

    So this was strange - a film made by a journalist who had clearly done his homework (after all that's what you do, isn't it, when you go off and make a film?) - to a certain extent, then stopped short of examining what possible solutions there out there. Well, if you have been following my blog, you know that one of my passions is Concentrating Solar Power, which to me seems to provide a huge solution. This wasn't touched on at all and I wanted to know why.

    Before I even did so, it came up, and to my surprise a stock answer was given that I have often heard given before - one that often comes from oil men and nuclear supporters: that solar is the key, it's just too expensive and will take forty years of research and development. This is strange, simply because it is not correct.

    Firstly, I pointed out, the technology is out there. It is mature, tried and tested technology that has been around for 30 years. Commercial-scale plants have been operating in California since the mid 1980s and are still supplying electricity to about 100,000 homes. (In fact, versions of CSP have been tried since the late 19th century, not counting Achimedes' attempts to set the Roman navy ablaze). There are also sites here in Europe (in Spain) and plants are due to be rolled out in various sunbelt countries. Electricity can be transmitted economically for three thousand kilometres or more via a Supergrid of HVDC of lines (on pylons or laid underground or under the sea). With this technology, transmission losses are no more than about 3% per 1000 km. Cost wise it is already looking to be cost-effective against the soaring oil prices (which as I write have now hit $96 per barrel - they say it will reach $100 by end of next year, but it looks set to be far sooner than that). It has been estimated that only 113 km x 113 km of desert covered in mirrors would supply all the electricity needs for the whole of Europe - that is, in desert terms, a tiny fraction of available space (and available sun). You can find out more at concentratingsolarpower.info and on the TREC-UK website.

    "Well, hey what do I know, I'm just a journalist" was the response I got. Someone made the point that if such momentous a message is to be told they have a duty to give a happy ending. Maybe a happy ending is asking too much, but he had a point. At the very least a responsible examination of possible solutions would have been welcome.

    Well, if they aren't prepared to do something about it I am. I leave for Seville today and the reason I am going there is to attend a conference on CSP. I want to know just how viable CSP is, just how big it can go and how soon. We need big solutions as well as small, and CSP could be just that. Watch this space - I will be reporting back live from the conference.

  • A Crude Awakening
  • TREC-UK
  • concentratingsolarpower.info

    [photo credits of Baku oil fields: State Archives of Azerbaijan Republic, Stanley Greene, Sezin Aytuna, Mark Lewandowski]
  • Tuesday, October 30, 2007

    Peak oil - it's already happened.

    Sometimes there seems to be a convergence of unrelated activities, that nevertheless have a greater collective bearing than the sum of their parts. To me, the past seven days demonstrated such a synchronicity between the looming energy and environmental crises as they draw closer.

    In the same week as oil prices hit over $90 a barrel, and share prices on both slides of the Atlantic went into freefall, a clarion call to act came from a group of energy experts. The respected German Energy Watch Group published a much needed independent report on our remaining oil reserves (EWG Oil Report). Unlike most other future mapping reports (such as the fair-weather approach of the IEA), this analysis does not rely on unverifiable and unreliable reserve data. Rather the analysis is based primarily on production data. It concludes that world oil production had in fact peaked in 2006.

    Production, it says, will start to decline at a rate of several percent per year. By 2020, and even more by 2030, global oil supply will be dramatically lower. So what of it? Well, this steep resource depletion will create a supply gap which can hardly be closed by growing contributions from other fossil, nuclear or alternative energy sources in this time frame. Crude oil is the most important energy carrier at a global scale. All kinds of transport relies heavily on oil and the future oil availability is of paramount importance as it entails completely different actions by politics, business and individuals. With a 3 - 7% decline per annum, the UK's proposed 4% plug by nuclear by 2025 is woefully inadequate. A matter of too little too late. By my simple reckoning, at the most conservative estimate, we are looking at a 54% decline by 2025, almost 70% by 2030. Peak oil is now they say, but in the UK our government and the energy industry seems to be in denial - what Jeremy Leggett, Solarcentury CEO and former member of the British Government’s Renewables Advisory Board, calls "institutional denial".

    Remaining world oil reserves are estimated to be 1,255 Gb (Giga barrel) according to the industry database HIS (2006). For the Energy Watch Group (EWG), however, there are sound reasons to modify these figures for some regions and key countries, leading to a corresponding EWG estimate of 854 Gb. The report concludes that world is at the beginning of a structural change of its economic system, a change that will be triggered by declining fossil fuel supplies and will influence almost all aspects of our daily life. Climate change will also force humankind to change energy consumption patterns by reducing significantly the burning of fossil fuels. Our way of dealing with energy issues will have to change fundamentally.

    The point is made that we are now entering a period of transition. A period which will probably has its own rules which are valid only during this phase. Things might happen which we never experienced before and which we may never experience again once this transition period has ended.

    Just as oil prices ebb and flow before it's own tsunami breaks, so too do our climate warnings. It was reported that absorption of atmospheric CO2 by the North Atlantic ocean has plunged by half in the last ten years. This of course has major implications: one of the world’s main carbon sinks is, for a reason that scientists can not explain, breaking down. The just released Global Environment Outlook (GEO-4) UNEP report is equally hard hitting in outlook and serves to underline the fact that the world does not face separate crises - the “environmental crisis”, “development crisis”, and “energy crisis”. They are infact all one.

    The question is, what sort of framework should be and could be put in place? To that end, I trotted off to hear Jonathon Porritt speak at the RSA . He proffers a workable framework: Capitalism as if the World Matters. Like Jeremy Leggett, he recognises the lack of readiness of governments and industry to engage and suggests that the pending oil crisis will focus minds. He believes that there is a case and an opportunity for capitalism to become sustainable, providing it is also equitable. The environment and society, sustainability and social equity - these are the cornerstones of our future, if we are to have a future. You can listen to what he said here: podcast of Jonathon Porritt at the RSA

    And who's going to take up the mantle of this good leadership? At governmental level, in the UK The Environmental Audit Committee has just called for a Climate Minister to have overall responsibility for co-ordinating the Climate Change Programme and a Climate Change and Energy Secretariat, with the duty to provide clear political leadership on climate change. That strikes me as an eminently sensible and vital first step. How long will it be until this is done?

    I shall be off to Seville at the end of the week - a 24 hour train journey each way. It should give me ample time to read the newly revised and updated Capitalism as if the World Matters .

  • For other recent podcast interviews with various experts on Peak Oil see David Strahan's short and pithy interviews at
    The Last Oil Shock
  • oil price graph: Cleantech Collective
  • Wednesday, October 10, 2007

    Why I say No To Nuclear


    50 years to the day after the Calder Hall fire at Sellafield (then called Windscale), we find ourselves back at square one. 10 October 1957 was day the world’s first nuclear reactor generating commercial electricity caught fire. Fuel melted, the fuel cans burst, uranium ignited and fission products were released into cooling ducts and ejected out of the cooling chimneys. The plutonium-producing reactor sent clouds of radioactivity into the atmosphere. Fast forward to half a century later; last week there was another explosion. This time it was deliberate. The four 88 meter high cooling towers at Windscale were blown up as part of Sellafield’s decommissioning. In total, 50 years of nuclear capacity in the UK brings with it an additional £90 billion price tag to decommission.

    And so the Windscale legacy lives on. Scientists are still trying to work out how to safely dismantle the chimney-top filter that trapped much of the radioactive smoke 50 years ago. In an ironic twist of fate, 10th October 2007 heralds the closing date of the government’s consultation on their proposed reintroduction of nuclear to the UK.

    You have just today left to have your say on whether you support or oppose a new generation of nuclear plants. The only way you can have your say is by submitting your views online at nuclearpower2007.direct.gov.org. Yes, there were consultation meetings. But no, I could not attend. God knows, I tried.

    As a former employment lawyer, I understand the importance of appropriate procedure and the merits of a properly conducted consultative process. As a British citizen I was entitled to take part, and felt it my duty to do so. For a consultation so important - of a controversial technology that would present a legacy for future generations stretching over many thousand of years – I discovered that it has been remarkably difficult to take part.

    Various meetings were held by the government throughout the country. Seven of them, called Citizen Deliberative Events, took place simultaneously and notification was by random phone book selection |(1000 were invited, 949 attended). There were also 12 Regional Stakeholder Meetings. Representatives from local authorities, business, NGOs and other community-based organisations were invited to attend and share their views. I wanted to attend. I received notification of when the events were taking place 12 – 24 hours prior to each event. But even where I was prepared to travel last minute, the exact locations were not disclosed. They were by invitation only. Me? NFI. Problem was, I am just a concerned citizen, I was not part of an organization so therefore I was precluded from being invited to the Regional stakeholder events, and as I was not randomly selected for the Citizen Delibertative event, that avenue was closed also. There were no events open to the largest stakeholder group of all – the general public.

    The thing is, I really wanted to find out more. But the government seemed unable help me on that too, so off I went to do my own research. And research I did. I have spent many hours pouring over books, data, reports and presentations. I have looked at nuclear of the past and present as well as the only reactor that is currently being built in Europe, the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) at Olkiluoto, Finland (already €700 million over budget, beset with construction problems and now two years behind schedule), to see what lessons may be learned there. I have listened to those who know better than I and I have sought the opinions (for and against) of energy experts. I have looked to see what the alternatives are and whether they are viable. I examined the immediate, mid-term and long-term social, economic and environmental costs. Finally, I looked at the worse case scenario: the possibility and the consequences of yet another reactor explosion – accidental or malicious. It seemed to me that in our current political climate, nuclear power stations are especially vulnerable to terrorist attack. We have after all witnessed how easy it is to fly into skyscrapers.

    In short, I entered into my own period of consultation. As is important during a period of consultation, I remained open-minded. I believe I gave as much if not more time to this issue than I would have, had I had been given the opportunity to attend a government meeting. So I guess, had the consultation process explored the same issues and had I been given the opportunity to enter into the consultation process I would have come to the same conclusions. Maybe you, had you been given the opportunity, would come to the same conclusions too. Maybe not.


    Here are some of the questions I asked and the conclusions I have reached. (If you wish to read my fuller answers to the government consultation, please contact me direct for a copy)

    What is the proposed capacity of new nuclear programme?
    A complete replacement of the current UK’s nuclear reactors, the combined output of 10 GW. This would generate just under 4% of total UK energy needs.

    What are the proposed costs?
    £15 billion is proposed for the construction programme. Inevitably decommissioning costs for a new generation would be substantially more than the current £90 billion price tag. Additional costs include the cost of providing protection against terrorist attack for nuclear plants, and for additional protection of movement – of trains and ships carrying nuclear fuel and nuclear waste. There are the costs that will extend over and above the 40 – 60 year lifespan of the reactors and will continue for thousands of years. These costs will be born by future generations – citizens that will receive no compensating benefit.

    Insurance is an unknown quantity. Currently the industry is only required to pay a small fraction of the cost of insuring fully against claims, and it still remains an unresolved issue as to who would pay in the event of a disaster.Ultimately, new reactors could potentially store up substantial future costs for taxpayers which they will have to accept whether they like it or not, regardless of the potential long-term damage and the associated indirect costs.

    Can it be said that Nuclear is a 'clean' energy solution?
    No. What is often overlooked is the fact that large amounts of fossil fuels are required to mine and refine the uranium needed to run nuclear power reactors, for plant construction, and to transport and store the toxic radioactive waste created by the nuclear process. Furthermore, large amounts of the now banned chlorofluorocarbon gas (CFC) are emitted during the enrichment of uranium. In addition, there is the increasing use of fossil fuel required over the 20+ year lifespan of a reactor plant - as available global supplies of uranium ore declines (like fossil fuel it is a finite resource and in decline), more fossil fuel will be required to extract the ore from less concentrated ore veins and to enrich the remaining poor grades of uranium. Furthermore, current legislation allows each reactor to emit hundreds of thousands of ‘permissible’ curies of radioactive gases and other radioactive elements into the environment every year which are not factored into the equation. Thus, it is arguable that it is not a low carbon solution.

    Is it correct to state that Nuclear would be a ‘home grown’ solution?
    No. A new generation of nuclear power would be dependant on the mining of uranium and plutonium which is not available in the UK. Thus, the essential ingredients will need to be obtained from countries such as Kazhakstan and Russia, which raises issues of security of movement of materials and dependency on potentially politically unstable countries.

    Can safety from accident be guaranteed?
    Where humans are involved, safety can never be fully guaranteed. Calder Hall in 1957 was not an isolated incident. Last year Sellafield was fined half a million pounds after admitting a radioactive leak the size of a lorryload of thallium, and 160 kgs of plutonium from a relatively new Thorpe plant, raIsing concerns that new generations of technology are no safer. Numerous incidents have taken place over the decades, most recently in late July 2006 an accident at Sweden's Forsmark nuclear power station was described as a near-meltdown. Whilst not on the scale of the Three Mile Island (1979) and the Chernobyl (1986) disasters, the memory of those tragedies serve as stark reminders of the potential catastrophic consequences (See also "22 accidents since Chernobyl"). As Robert Socolow and Stephen Pacala stated in the Scientific American, September 2006: “Nuclear plants are mutual hostages: the world's least well-run plant can imperil the future of all the others."

    What is the true risk of terrorist attack on any one of our 17 plants?
    Given that terrorism is promoted by our government as a very real threat to the UK, disproportionately this seems to have received the least attention. The online consultation commentary dismisses terrorist concerns in one single paragraph. This is worrying given the high level of concern, a concern that the government has often portrayed terrorism as our greatest threat (or, ironically, second only to climate change in terms of threat). That high level threat must surely extend to the most dangerous of all targets - the destruction of a nuclear plant. After all, as 9/11 clearly demonstrated, it only needs only one aeroplane to fly into a plant to imperil the lives of thousands (if not millions).

    How dangerous are radioactive gases?
    They can be life-threatening. Each cooling pool store tons of solid radioactive waste which contain toxic elements. In the event of a disaster, when released into the atmosphere they pollute the environment and human food chains, giving rise to cancer, leukemia and genetic disease, and ultimately also death to untold numbers of humans, spreading thousands of miles, as Chernobyl so clearly demonstrated.

    Has a solution has yet been found to the problem of disposing of dangerous nuclear waste?
    The only proposal that has been put forward is that the waste be placed in interim storage until a solution is found, much of which will remain dangerous for more than 10,000 years. In short, there is still no solution.

    Are there other alternatives?
    Nuclear power only provides electricity, which accounts for a 4% of the energy mix in the UK and about 3% globally with little prospect of much increase. It does not address the problem of reducing CO2 emissions from space heating and road transport
    Currently Britain's centralised power stations, including nuclear, waste two-thirds of the energy put into them in the form of waste heat that escapes up cooling towers or as cooling water. Industrial sites alone in the UK could provide the potential for enough CHP capacity to deliver the same electricity output as an entire fleet of new nuclear reactors while also meeting those sites' heat needs at the same time. New build gas or coal-fired power stations could all have heat capture, providing both efficiency and energy security. Renewable energy technologies such as geothermal, hydro, tidal, solar, wind are all technologies that do not pollute, are benign, do not attract the same insurance, legacy and terrorist risks.

    Microgeneration has huge potential once legislative restraints are removed, mandatory new-build and existing housing and business stock standards and supportive feed-in tarrifs are put in place.

    Looking globally, there are vast resources of solar in deserts, with Concentrating Solar Power providing safe, benign, zero carbon, and inexhaustible supplies. Only 112 x 112 km of desert could provide the whole of Europe with all it's energy needs. 10 gigawatts of CSP would command €47 billion (£32.56 billion) to build (including €5 billion for the HVDC transmission links, see TRANS-CSP 2006 report) - that's approximately 1/3rd the cost of decommissioning our current 10 gigawatts of nuclear power stations. And with no risk to future generations.

    Such is the abundance of our natural resources such as wind and sun that all the worlds’ energy needs can be fulfilled many times over. This all leads to one inescapably conclusion: I say no to nuclear.

    If you too are concerned about our future energy supplies, then add your say to the government's consultation - it can be as brief or as long as you want (be warned, it took me 7+ hours to read and complete the online consultation document). If short of time why not sign up, log in and just write “As a concerned citizen I say No to Nuclear”. As justification, you can always put a link to this page if you endorse my findings and would like to use them in support of your position. The important thing is to voice your opinion. It’s our future, make sure you have your say. You have until 7pm tonight to do so.
    nuclearpower2007.direct.gov.org.

    Wednesday, September 12, 2007

    Politics: green rhetoric v's green action


    How the UK Political Parties Stack Up

    Which party is really delivering the goods when it comes to addressing environmental issues? Nine of the UK's leading environmental organisations (Green Alliance, Friends of the Earth, WWF, Campaign for Rural England, Greenpeace, Woodland Trust, The Wildlife Trusts, National Trust, RSPB) have subjected the three main political parties to an environmental audit.

    How green are our parties? The Green Standard report, finds that none of the parties have yet implemented policy commitments and action on the scale required to meet the
    range and urgency of the environmental threats we face.

    The assessment sets out a set of six robust environmental leadership tests developed by the NGOs in February. The report
    uses a ‘traffic light system’:
    • Green to indicate support for both ambition and commitments
    • Amber to indicate a mixed picture in relation to ambition and commitments
    • Red to indicate where we are concerned by both the effect of a party’s approach and a lack of positive commitments.

    The Green Standard tests are:
    1. UK action on climate change - Achieve reductions in UK carbon dioxide emissions of at least three per cent year on year, en route to a low carbon economy based on energy efficiency, renewable sources of energy and
    decentralised energy.
    2. International action on climate change - Provide international leadership to restrict global temperature rises to 2°C and ensure worldwide emissions are falling by 2015.
    3. Green living - Make it cheaper and easier for individuals to reduce their environmental impact through tax, regulation, information and other powers of government.
    4. Natural environment - Protect and enhance the beauty, accessibility and wildlife of the environment in our countryside, towns and seas through incentives, regulation, investment and other powers of government.
    5. Planning - Value, support and develop our planning system as a democratic tool for protecting and enhancing the natural and built environment of our countryside and towns.
    6. Environmental tax and subsidies - Green the tax system by increasing the amount of revenue from taxes that reduce environmental damage, and eliminate environmentally perverse subsidies.

    With no ‘green lights’, the gap between Conservative aspirations on the environment and their limited policy commitments is stark. The Labour government, despite having previously displayed international leadership on climate change, is failing on its renewables and emissions targets and has failed to commit to implementing a Marine Bill and receives just one green light. The Liberal Democrats get three green lights by offering the strongest set of policies on climate change, green taxation and green living. However, the gulf between words and action remains lamentably wide. The report concludes that all three parties have failed to give sufficient attention to policies that will protect and enhance our countryside and wildlife.

    With the start of the party conference season just days away,The Climate Clinic (a coalition of 30+ of the UK’s leading environmental groups, trade bodies and professional societies representing over six million members) will, for the second year running, be at the three main political party conferences. Its aim is to push for real political action to tackle climate change by mobilising the UK’s most influential scientists, politicians, industry leaders and environmental campaigners.

    The Climate Clinic
    The Green Standard

    Tuesday, September 11, 2007

    Anita Roddick


    Tragically, she died yesterday aged just 64 from a brain hemorrhage. A truly remarkable activist, environmental campaigner and ethical entrepreneur, here are some of her own inspirational words...

  • I believe in businesses where you engage in creative thinking, and where you form some of your deepest relationships. If it isn't about the production of the human spirit, we are in big trouble.
  • I didn't go to business school, didn't care about financial stuff and the stock market.
  • I want to work for a company that contributes to and is part of the community. I want something not just to invest in. I want something to believe in.
  • If I can't do something for the public good, what the hell am I doing?
  • Consumers have not been told effectively enough that they have huge power and that purchasing and shopping involve a moral choice.
  • If I had learned more about business ahead of time, I would have been shaped into believing that it was only about finances and quality management.
  • If you are an activist, you bring the activism of your life into your business, or if you love creative art, you can bring that in.
  • If you do things well, do them better. Be daring, be first, be different, be just.
  • If you think you're too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.
  • Look at the Quakers - they were excellent business people that never lied, never stole; they cared for their employees and the community which gave them the wealth. They never took more money out than they put back in.
  • Nobody talks of entrepreneurship as survival, but that's exactly what it is and what nurtures creative thinking.
  • One of the interesting things is once we started to get smarter and understand the issues more, and when we realized that we were going to be a real voice, then we ventured out with an extraordinary social justice agenda.
  • The Body Shop Foundation is run by our staff and supports social activism and environmental activism. We don't tend to support big agencies.
  • There is no scientific answer for success. You can't define it. You've simply got to live it and do it.
  • Vigilante consumers are working with human rights groups, environmental groups - the grassroots movement - and are definitely challenging corporations.
  • We have been creating a whole range of publications for developing the activist. All knowledge should be shaped into action and we have been proselytizing that for many years.
  • We turned all the shops into action stations to educate the public on certain issues such as human rights.
  • We were all social activists, and the activism sort of transferred itself into a new environmental movement.
  • When you run an entrepreneurial business, you have hurry sickness - you don't look back, you advance and consolidate. But it is such fun.
  • Years ago nobody was elected on the economic ticket. It was either the education platform, or it was health or it was other issues. It is only recently that economic values have superceded every other human value.
  • It's a bummer.
  • Friday, September 07, 2007

    Concentrating Solar Power


    Latest short (3 mins) video on Concentrating Solar Power - the remarkable global solution to our energy needs.

    Tuesday, September 04, 2007

    The Origins of Hydroelectricity

    In my pursuit to better understand energy systems, my journey has taken me to Cragside in Northumberland, the bizarre and remarkable home designed by Norman Shaw for the victorian industrialist, scientist, engineer and technical innovator, William George Armstrong (1810-1990). Perched on a crag amidst it's own micro-climate created by seven million trees of Armstrong's planting, it is the first house in the world to be powered by hydroelectricity.

    It was while observing a waterwheel in action supplying power to a marble quarry, it struck Armstrong that much of the available power was being wasted. And so, very much in the manner of the Victorians of that time, off he headed to invent, amongst other things, the hydraulic crane - a quayside crane powered by water pressure. So successful was this invention that he resigned from his legal practise, raised the necessary financial backing, built a factory to manufacture cranes and other hydraulic equipment which he went onto sell in enormous quantities throughout the world.

    And so there the might story end, but no...
    In the spirit of a true entrepreneur, Armstrong diversified, with yet more success, into guns and warships...but I was visiting Cragside to learn more about his interests in renewable energy systems. 150 years ago Armstrong foresaw the energy predicament that we face today. Coal, he opined, 'was used wastefully and extravagantly in all it's applications.' In 1863, he predicted that 'England will cease to be a coal producing country...within 200 years.'

    Armstrong believed the future lay in the harnessing the forces of water, wind and sun, but recognised that the uptake of the generation of electricity by renewable power was dependent on the end of the use of fossil fuels. He calculated that "the solar heat operating on one acre [4047m2] in the tropics would ...exert the amazing power of 4000 horses acting for nearly nine hours every day' speculating that the 'direct heating action of the sun's rays' might be used 'in complete substitution for a steam engine.' A man ahead of his time, if alive today he doubtlessly would have been a vocal proponent of CSP.

    In a speech to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1870 (of which he was then president), Armstrong predicted the widespread use of hydroelectricity, stating that 'whenever the time comes for harnessing the power of great waterfalls the transmission of power by electricity will become a system of great importance'.

    That same year Armstrong created Debdon Lake to use the water running through his estate to supply the world's first hydroelectric power station. This powered various labour-saving devices in his house including a roasting spit, a dishwasher and (a wonderful innovation) a servants lift. Turkish baths were installed as part of the innovative provision of central heating for the house, electricity facilitated the installation of an arc lamp in 1878 and the first of his friend Joseph Swan's incandescent light bulbs were installed in time for christmas 1880.

    Armstrong became Britain's largest industrialist and one of the richest men in Europe. He was the first engineer bestowed a Peerage in 1887, finally dying in 1900 at the age of 90. But just as he brought so much light into his life and for others (he was exceptionally happily married to Margaret, herself an accomplished gardener, and a popular and well loved man locally), so it was with his death that the lights began to dim. From such riches, sadly, over the decades, Cragside fell into decline and likewise hydroelectricity fell out of favour.

    Once more those lamps are filling Cragside with light. Now gifted to the National Trust, thanks to an extensive renovation programme the house has been completely rewired and reopened earlier this year. The aim is to reconnect the water supply from Nelly Moss Lakes to Armstrong's original Power House and to use a modern generator to provide hydroelectric heating and lighting to the building. Cragside would then be returned full circle to it's original state: a highly efficient self-contained decentralised electric infrastructure, independent and without reliance on our existing centralised electricity system with all it's attendant shortcomings of our current energy crisis.

    So too must we look to ways to keep the lights on. Armstrong with his characteristic prescience stated 'As in the vegetable kingdom fit conditions of soil and climate quickly cause the appearance of plants, so in the intellectual world fitness of time and circumstance promptly call forth appropriate devices. The seeds of invention exist, as it were, in the air, ready to germinate whenever suitable conditions arise, and no legislative interference is needed to ensure their growth in proper season.' Let us hope that our current legislation does not prove to be an insurmountable block to the promotion of such renewable energy and decentralised systems.

    Green Northumberland
    A week in Northumberland proved to be a haven for a spot of eco-holidaying and exploring. Late summer afternoon tea and the most delicious homemade rhubarb jam in Anne and Phil's orchard with chat about their plans to build an eco-extension overlooking their vibrant and fertile organic vegetable patch...London seems a world away...

  • Trains:
  • from London take only 3 1/2 hours to Berwick upon Tweed from London, where one can stock up on all and sundry at the comprehensive Green Shop on Bridge Street.
  • Getting around:
  • take your bike. There are fantastic bike routes throughout Northumberland's numerous lanes and byways, through pretty villages, past abbey ruins, grand castles and flowing waterways. The best cycling to be had is across the causeway to Lindisfarne with the tide receding - quite literally the waves part in front of you....
  • Eat:
  • Cafe Bean Goose, Lindisfarne. An eco-haven facing out onto the village square. Lesley has thought of everything - all homemade produce made from the finest of organic and fairtrade ingredients, from Montezuma's chocolate (my favourite) wheat free brownie with added cranberries, to Holy Island strawberry jam with carbon footprint of just a matter of a cycle ride away, to organic and fairtrade teas, tisanes, coffees, juices, locally sourced veg, dairy produce and meats including Piperfield Pork (so good that they are the favoured supplier of Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck Restaurant).
  • Stay:
  • Cafe Bean Goose B&B, Lindisfarne (above the cafe). Sheets are organic cotton, water is heated by solar thermal panels, all cleaning materials are environmentally friendly, the delightful garden has a compost heap to be proud of - and breakfast, well, as you can imagine, it will be the best for miles around. Oh, and the views are just marvellous: over the abbey down to the bay and the castle in the distance.


    The National Trust puts 3.5 million in front line against climate change

    Monday, August 13, 2007

    Revealed: cover-up plan on energy target


    Ministers urged to lobby for get-out on renewables

    Ashley Seager and Mark Milner, The Guardian, Monday 13th August 2007:
    Government officials have secretly briefed ministers that Britain has no hope of getting remotely near the new European Union renewable energy target that Tony Blair signed up to in the spring - and have suggested that they find ways of wriggling out of it.

    In contrast to the government's claims to be leading the world on climate change, officials within the former Department of Trade and Industry have admitted that under current policies Britain would miss the EU's 2020 target of 20% energy from renewables by a long way. And their suggestion that "statistical interpretations of the target" be used rather than new ways to reach it has infuriated environmentalists.

    An internal briefing paper for ministers, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, reveals that officials at the department, now the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, think the best the UK could hope for is 9% of energy from renewable sources such as wind, solar or hydro by 2020.

    It says the UK "has achieved little so far on renewables" and that getting to 9%, from the current level of about 2%, would be "challenging". The paper was produced in the early summer, around the time the government published its energy white paper.

    Under current policies renewables would account for only 5% of Britain's energy mix by 2020, the document says. The EU average is 7%; Germany is at 13%. It acknowledges that Germany, unlike Britain, has built a "strong and growing renewables industry".

    EU leaders agreed the 20% target for the bloc in spring. The European Commission is working out how to reach this .

    DBERR officials fear that Britain may end up being told to get to 16%, which it describes as "very challenging". The paper suggests a number of ways ministers could wriggle out of specific commitments. It also suggests ministers lobby certain EU commissioners and countries such as France, Germany, Poland and Italy to agree to a more flexible interpretation of the target, by including nuclear power, for example, or investment in solar farms in Africa.

    Officials ask ministers to examine "what options there are for statistical interpretations of the target that would make it easier to achieve".

    They suggest the target lacks credibility because it is so ambitious, while acknowledging that the Germans will be difficult to persuade because the Chancellor Angela Merkel is the champion of the 20% target and wants to commit Germany to 27%.

    "These flexible options are ones that may be difficult to negotiate with some member states such as Germany, who we expect to resist approaches that may be seen to water down the renewables target," the briefing says.

    Environmentalists were shocked. "This briefing reads like a 'wriggle and squirm' paper," said Andrew Simms, director of the New Economics Foundation. "It combines almost comic desperation from civil servants suddenly realising that they actually have to do something to promote renewable energy, with a breathtaking cynicism as they explore every conceivable get-out clause to escape the UK's international commitments."

    A spokesman for DBERR said he would not comment on leaked documents, but added: "This government is committed to renewables and reducing emissions in line with EU targets."

    The Conservative's shadow secretary of state, Alan Duncan, said: "This is a staggering revelation and shows the government has known all along it won't meet its targets but has deliberately avoided admitting it. They have been living a lie."

    The Lib Dem environment spokesman, Chris Huhne, agreed: "This news confirms that the government has said yes to an EU target of 20% of renewable energy without any visible means of achieving it. If the government's policy is now to have any credibility and not be seen as a cynical attempt to woo green opinion, ministers must stop fudging and start acting."

    The paper reveals an aversion to renewables on the basis of perceived cost, arguing that they are a more expensive way of reducing carbon emissions than the European Emissions Trading Scheme. It estimates that getting to 9% by 2020 could cost the economy £4bn a year.

    Environmentalists reject the idea that renewables are too expensive. Even £4bn a year is only about one third of the 1% of gross domestic product rich countries were recommended to spend a year combating climate change.

    The paper also reveals that carbon capture and underground storage of CO2 emissions from new coal-fired power stations is projected to make little contribution before 2020. "This is betrayal of the highest order," said Rajiv Bhatia, head of renewable energy distributor Alternergy.

    Jeremy Leggett, of solar energy company Solarcentury, said: "It would not surprise me if this delay in renewables deployment was the tactical objective all along for some senior officials in DTI. Serving on the government's Renewables Advisory Board from 2003 to 2006, I witnessed what cynics could easily have mistaken for a deliberate campaign of delay, obfuscation, and the parking, if not torpedoing, of good ideas coming from industry members of the board."

    Read the leaked document here
    Environmentalists urge Brown to overhaul Britain's energy policy

    Saturday, August 11, 2007

    Community Action

    Something remarkable is happening in the UK. Something is happening in a place near you. Quiet little places, that you might have once driven through and given little thought. But to those who live there a pioneering sprit has been unearthed. One by one villages and communities are gathering together to take action on climate change. Not for them the writing to MP's or signing of petitions. Not for them the waiting for government to take lead on how to address the impact of environmental issues on our daily lifestyles. No, they are taking matters into their own hands and promoting grassroots action by changing the way they live and work as people and communities.

    What is so remarkable is that these are ordinary places taking practical steps and using practical persuasion. Villages and towns for from as far afield as Biggar in Scotland are committing to reducing their carbon emissions through tree planting, renewable energy and energy efficiency measures. Other networks, such as Transition Towns in the West Country, and the Crags network of Carbon Rationing Action Groups has at least 20 group members, from Chiswick in west London to York, Leeds and Glasgow. All are actively tackling climate change from the bottom up and are embracing the need to help their communities to live a cleaner energy, lower carbon emission, future.

    One such village is Ashton Hayes, a village in Cheshire of approximately 1000 people. It is their stated ambition to become England's first carbon neutral village. Since their formal launch in January 2006, much has been achieved.

    They are a community determined to do its bit to put the brakes on global warming, and it is proving immensely popular. So much so, that since the launch of their initiative, they have received £26,000 funding from Defra to assist them to take actions that should enable the village to declare itself carbon neutral in a matter of years. In their first year, they cut their emissions by 20%. Now they are busy advising other villages not only in the UK but also in Australia, Norway and Denmark on how they can do the same.

    To help in its aim of becoming carbon neutral, the village has invested in a ‘carbon sink’ - new and young trees that will absorb some of the CO2 produced by residents. Chester city council has pledged its support by offering every child under seven in the area an opportunity to plant a tree at school. Local businesses have given free expert advice ranging from suitability of plants to be used.

    The project has generated tremendous community support with many people keen to reduce carbon dioxide emissions through personal energy saving and lifestyle considerations, some volunteering to provide practical help, others offering tracts of land for tree planting. Recycling rates in the village have risen, The Golden Lion pub (and hub of much activity revolving around the project) has reduced it's own carbon emissions considerably and saved £200 a month by hanging laundry outside, switching off the cigarette machine at closing time and turning down the thermostat. It now serves locally sourced produce to complement their immensely popular carbon neutral quiz nights.

    Energy is supplied from 100% renewable energy suppliers, such as Good Energy, and six houses have so far invested in solar panels as has the local primary school. But some of the most ambitious plans are still to come, including a microgrid to transmit renewable energy to buildings on the north side of the village from local renewable sources, a wood burner is to be installed at the school, wind turbines or solar panels to be situated on the church.

    There's much strength in numbers. What started with one or two individuals has created a rolling momentum, with other villages and communities taking up similar challenges. It starts at the bottom, showing the way and then shapes decision making at the top. In this way government ministers will be encouraged to take politically bold decisions - be it the banning of high energy light bulbs, taxing of unnecessary plastic packaging, supporting renewable energy projects and local initiatives, investing in more sustainable infrastructures and setting necessary emission targets.

    As one local Ashton Hayes resident commented, “it's simple really, you just start with changing the lightbulbs and keep on going from there.”

    This is what George Monbiot calls active citizenship. Let me know what is happening in your town.

    goingcarbonneutral
    transitiontowns
    carbonrationingactiongroups (CRAG)

    For full article, see Concept for Living, September 2007

    Tuesday, August 07, 2007

    Nosedive for BAA


    Joss Garman, John Stewart and Leo Murray outside the RCJ yesterday.
    As a member of the Woodland Trust who supports the campaign for aviation to pay for the environmental damage it causes, I have kept an eye to see whether I would, along with 5 million others, turn up on BAA's environmentalist blacklist.

    BAA, owned by Spanish construction and services group Ferrovial, went to the High Court in London to restrict the actions of campaigners, various environmental organisations and those due to attend the annual The Camp for Climate Action located near the airport between August the 14th and 21st.

    Coming more from the stable of discourse rather than direct action, I nevertheless have a strongly held admiration for those who take to the runways to make their voice heard. They are the frontliners, the ones who make others - and clearly BAA - sit up and listen, even when they do not want to. And it has to be said that Joss Garman and Leo Murray of the anti-avaition group Plane Stupid, more than any other environmental organisation, have firmly placed the issue of flight CO2 emmissions on the radar. They have proven to be a great stumbling block in BAA's smooth flightpath of profit at the expense of the planet.

    So much so that BAA felt compelled to take their own radical action, seeking an injunction to curtail protestors from disrupting Heathrow during the week-long climate change camp which is due to commence next tuesday. Their hit-list of objectional protestors included, against others, Airport Watch which is an an umbrella group of various organisations including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Woodland Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

    But it didn't wash. Yesterday the proposed injunction against Heathrow Campaign Against Aircraft Noise(HACAN), No Third Runway Action Group(NoTRAG), AirportWatch and Geraldine Nicholson (Chiar, NoTRAG) was dismissed. Instead Mrs Justice Smith at the High Court imposed a vastly limited injunction covering trespass and nuisance upon just three named organisers - John Stewart (HACAN), Josh Garman and Leo Murray. All three had previously offered undertakings to the court that they would not engage in disruptive direct action. The The Camp for Climate Action planned for the 14th to 21st August is allowed to continue and remains injunction free.

    This was an ambitious pitch and corporate flexing of muscle by BAA. It was in essence a challenge against some of our basic human rights: freedom of thought, conscience, expression, assembly, peaceful protest and freedom of association. However, despite demanding the whole cake they ended up with only the crumbs. Mrs Justice Swift in her decision ensured this was a victory not only for human rights but also for common sense.

    The Camp for Climate Action
    Plane Stupid
    AirportWatch
    Heathrow Campaign Against Aircraft Noise(HACAN)
    No Third Runway Action Group (NoTRAG)
    Woodland Trust

    Friday, July 20, 2007

    Switching to Renewables - the easy, equitable and cheapest option.


    Major polluting energy plants and heavy CO2 emitters such as this one could soon be a thing of the past

    Two new reports have recently been published, both addressing energy needs and capacities for the near future. Both point to the same premise: committing to renewable energy is both feasible and financially prudent. Good for the planet, good for the people, good for the pocket.

    The first report examines our domestic potential to to reduce our carbon emissions to zero within 20 years.
    Named Zerocarbonbritain, the report is a result of over a year's consolidated research by the Centre for Alternative Technology. It sets out the policy drivers required to achieve zero carbon Britain by 2027, and presents the scenario for using only proven (renewable) technology. Quite simply, the technology already exists to make the UK carbon neutral (without the need to resort to nuclear), but what is required is political determination and changes in the way we, as a society, view energy.

    An ambitious, bold plan, but most importantly, it can be done.
    Here and now. Here's how:
    3 steps are needed to achieve zero carbon Britain by 2027 -
    1. policy implementation of Contraction & Convergence and the use of Tradable Energy Quotas (carbon credit cards)
    2. powering down our fossil fuel use, and
    3. powering up our use of renewable energy generation


    Moreover, it's an equitable solution to climate change, energy security and global equity.

    The essential policy driver needed is the implementation of Contraction and Convergence (viewed by Lloyds of London as "the best hope we have"), a co-ordinated plan to reduce carbon emissions by allocating a equal share per capita basis from a limited budget, as proposed by the Global Commons Institute.

    C&C In a nutshell:
    Contraction:
    An international cap on emissions is set for the next 20 years, the amount allocated annually reduced year on year until it reaches zero in 2027.
    Convergence: Each nation receives receives a national share allocation which is then divided equally per person. Over the 20 years, the allocations are reduced to a point that everyone on the planet has an equal share.

    These share allocations, called Tradable Energy Quotas’ (TEQs) can be traded, bought and sold between individuals and businesses. Each year the cap on TEQs is reduced, so there are fewer to share, in line with the national budget. Gradually, individuals and companies would have to learn to make low and zero-carbon choices, due to the cost or inconvenience of doing otherwise. TEQs are tradable, and represent a source of income for cash poor households. Essentially carbon credits become a kind of parallel currency. Very quickly we would be scrapping the petrol engine, improving building standards, changing the way we produce and consume food and investing heavily in renewable energy. All it needs now is political backbone to make this a reality.


    In the future you might need more than your credit card when you go to pay for your petrol, your carbon card would also have to be handy
    [photo credit: www.tutor2u.net
    ]

    Nuclear v's Renewables. Still wonder which offers the best energy return on energy investment? Here's a well presented argument from Zerocarbonbritain Chapter 8:

    Today’s approach to fossil-fuelled energy provision follows the pay-as-you-go principle. Like renting a house, each day’s use is paid for, but with no lasting accrual from those payments. It represents an ongoing cost.

    Pursuing the housing analogy, building new nuclear power stations is like paying to build a house, paying rent to live in it (the cost of fuel and maintenance), and finally being evicted after 30 years, with the obligation to pay for the dismantling of the house and then passing to future generations the obligation to continue paying indefinite further rent. It is an ongoing, open ended liability.

    Renewables present the opportunity to build and own a home outright. This home will require a significant initial investment and take time to complete. But once built, the benefit of the infrastructure is free excepting maintenance costs. Investment of this sort provides society with an enduring asset.


    The second report examines the global economics of worldwide adoption of renewable technology. In the first global analysis of its kind, Future Investment - A Sustainable Investment Plan for the Power Sector to Save the Climate, the report demonstrates a powerful economic argument for a shift in global investments toward renewable energy (including solar, wind, hydro, geothermal and bio energy) within the next 23 years, and away from fossil fuel, coal and nuclear power. Savings of US $180 billion per year are predicted from switching investment to renewables from fossil fuels.

    According to this joint report by Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC), investing in renewable energy as the source for electricity in our future will save 10 times the fuel costs of a "business as usual" scenario, saving US$180 billion annually and cutting CO2 emissions in half by 2030.

    The report, which stresses the urgent need for decisive action now, gives the financial rationale for Greenpeace's earlier report Energy [R]evolution.

    Number crunching:
  • An extra global annual investment of $22 billion in clean and renewable power plants is needed on top of current expenditure. This equates to less than a tenth of the annual subsidies currently received by the coal and gas industry.
  • Fuel cost savings: > $202 billion per year. This means the up front investment will pay for itself ten times over.
  • The global market for wind turbines was worth €18 billion in 2006, the total renewable industry $50 billion. Under an energy revolution scenario, the renewable energy would be worth a massive annual market volume of $288 billion by 2030.

    +++OOO+++

  • Future Investment - A Sustainable Investment Plan for the Power Sector to Save the Climate
  • Energy [R]evolution
  • Zerocarbonbritain
  • Centre for Alternative Technology
  • Contraction and Convergence
  • Global Commons Institute
  • Tradable Energy Quotas’ (TEQs)
  •