Wednesday, February 28, 2007

London, my London

London is to become the greenest city in the world. Hurrah. Ken Livingstone has announced a radical climate action plan to cut carbon emissions by 60 percent within 20 years.

No stone shall be left unturned (or should that be no piece of litter) in his attempt to make London the first city in the world to have a really comprehensive plan to cut its carbon emissions. Plans include slashing carbon output by reducing demand and wastage across the whole spectrum from individuals to households, businesses and local governments. The plan is far more ambitious than the draft Climate Change Bill the British government will publish on March 12 setting in law a commitment to cut national emissions of the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide by 60 percent by 2050 (The IPCC report claims 80+% cuts are necessary by 2050, environmentalists and scientific community say 90% by 2030 - why not pitch higher?). So hear this fellow Londoners - if you haven't already, time to turn off your TV and lights and switch to low energy light bulbs. Lest you forget, you are about to be bombarded with messages to encourage you to do so. But thankfully it is not all 'go change a lightbulb'. Substantial subsidies are also being put in place for you to insulate your homes.

Green initiatives will be promoted for businesses and local governments, who will be awarded green badges of merit for (literally) cleaning up their acts. Which is good news for the many businesses who are cottoning onto the financial as well as environmental benefits of establishing good green credentials.

That is not all. The bedrock of the plan is a major change in the production and distribution of the city's electricity. The aim is to switch over one quarter of the city's power supply from the old and hugely inefficient national grid to locally-generated electricity using far more efficient combined heat and power plants (CHP). Unlike traditional power stations where up to 70% of the original energy output is wasted in lost heat or during transmission, a CHP unit captures and uses the heat produced. By moving power generation closer to our homes and offices where it is needed, efficiency can be greatly improved and therefore reduce the total amount of energy needed.

The plan aims to cut London's carbon emissions by 20 million tonnes a year by 2025, but the real goal is a reduction of 33 million tonnes or 60 percent below 1990 levels. An ambitious plan indeed, and a plan that will need the assistance of the government in the form of stable, long-term carbon prices and tough building regulations applied to new and existing buildings.

The aptly named Mr Watts, climate change adviser to Ken said "Londoners don't have to reduce their quality of life but they do have to change the way they live." Lead the way Ken.

Full Report: The Mayor of London’s Climate Change Action Plan - 'Action Today to Protect Tomorrow'

For more of what Ken is up to at City Hall: Mayor of London

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Food & Freezers

Time for an update on my direct action: life without my freezer. If you have been following this particular self-imposed restriction, you will know that (with the assistance of some hungry mates) it was finally emptied in time for the beginning of the New Year.

Amongst other reasons, I was curious to see whether or not it would make much impact on my eating habits. Interestingly, 7 weeks on, it has made surprisingly little difference. Yes, I initially found myself being more careful as to what I bought as I no longer had that fall-back position of chucking it in the freezer if it looked like those lamb chops would not get to the grill over the next few days. But it was a minor adjustment, and life without a freezer soon settled in as the norm. The thing is, life without it has had little adverse impact on my day-to-day mastications. The fact that I do not miss it supports my theory that we seem capable of adopting patterns of behaviour with remarkable ease - and before we know it, they become the accepted norm. Take supermarkets. Now, shopping in them really cannot be explained away as normal - and yet, 42 million people use them at least once a week (that's over 85% of the population).

Such is my aversion, I have not stepped near the sterile chiller cabinets of a Freshco or the likes for, ooh, years. But I am lucky. For one, I have no kids (my child-bearing friends tell me that this reason alone justifies their defence of duress). Living as I do in Bloomsbury, central London, surrounded on three sides by Kings Cross, Clerkenwell and Islington, my forage does not take me far to secure seasonal/locally sourced/organic/low carbon emission sustenance. I can even bankroll the Zapatista rebellion by buying their coffee. There is a smattering of well-stocked health food-stores, some wonderful deli's, my local Sunday Farmers' Market, and if the lure of the all-in-one proves too much, Planet Organic is close by.

On a Friday and Saturday, I can toodle over to Exmouth Market, pick up a bag of mushrooms hand-picked in Kent that morning, um and ahh over which of the Neal's Yard cheeses is at its' ripest, take a refill of the best organic museli ever tasted from Unpackaged (what a spanking idea this is - you pay less if you return with the same packet) as well as topping up on my dwindling supply of Ecover washing-up liquid.

Even better are the local eateries. Oliver Rowe's hunt for food reared within the boundary of the M25 ends up on a plate at Konstam at the bottom of the hill, the eco-friendly Acorn House restaurant is just around the corner, Medcalf tips it's hat to seasonal, sometimes organic and the award winning super duper Duke of Cambridge is but a 10 minute meander in the other direction. These places are well known, and very popular - justifiably so.

Yet, there is one restaurant that is quietly forging ahead without a PR company to blow it's trumpet or a marketing plan to put itself on the map. If anything, The Ambassador has a bit of a renegade streak. Yes, it's important to them to work closely with their suppliers. They work with small outfits, artisans and family producers. All their meat is rare breed from small farms and if not actually certified organic, is as good as, with Herdwick lamb and Galloway beef from the Farmer Sharp stable of sustainable suppliers. Veggies are seasonal and local, with little knowledge of a pesticide spray. Water is Belu - because, as Clive says "what they're doing just makes sense". He even has it delivered by pallett instead of having just a dozen cases at a time. It's a bit more work, but he acknowledges it contributes to keeping delivery emissions a little lower - and hey, it helps with his costings too. The remarkably good wine list has a fair smattering of organic and biodynamic wines (and a generous choice by the glass), wines from small producers - wines with good stories.

The Ambassador is run by Clive Greenhalgh. He started off at The Eagle long ago. He earned his stripes as front of house at The Brackenbury, alongside chefs Jonathan Jones (now of the Anchor & Hope) and Trish Hilferty (now of The Fox), before running The Chiswick. So this is a man who knows his food and wine. And that's where his money has gone in this venture, not on flashy surroundings. Wooden tables and bistro chairs are virtually the only adornments, giving it the quiet air of a Hopper painting. Everything seems to be happening just out of range. As indeed it is – the kitchen is there at the rear, not hidden, but not exactly obvious either. He's got a good chef in there too - Toby Jilsmark, a Swede who brings an interesting influence. His geographical heritage has imparted the practise of making best out of limited ingredients, layering flavour to a dish that looks deceptively simple. Take the humble carrot. It may arrive on your plate, alongside a meltingly delicate hunk of braised veal (see The Good Veal Guide ), pureed as well as sitting prettily pert and peeled. Thus you have the delightful sensation of contrasting texture as well as heightening of the flavours. This is skilled and thoughtful craft. Not , I have to admit, what I can be bothered to do at home.

Back to that renegade aspect. The problem is, I bet you didn't know any of that ‘caring for the food’ stuff is there. But that’s just it. Clive does not want you to remember The Ambassador for it's sustainable credentials. You won’t get to know of much of this unless you ask, and ask some more. He and his team just quietly get on with what they do, caring all the while. He wants you to come back simply because "the food tastes nice, it's served well, and is fairly priced." Gosh, I nearly forgot - it's all that too.

For full article: see The Ecologist Blog: Fish Food and Freezers
[photo credits: Ecologist feature banner, lunch dish at Konstam]

Monday, February 19, 2007

USA is warming to Climate Concern

Last week was a busy week in USA.

First off was Al Gore's announcement of the launch of Save Our Selves - the Campaign for a Climate in Crisis. The SOS Campaign will be spearheaded by a 24-hour concert on 7/7/07 across all 7 continents that will bring together more than 100 of the world's top musical acts. Television, internet and wireless coverage has already been secured in 120 countries, with more to come. Live Earth concerts will take place in the Brazil, Shanghai, Japan, Johannesburg, London, Sydney, the United States and Antartica. It is designed to trigger a global movement reaching people in every corner of the planet through television, film, radio, the Internet and Live Earth.

The Live Earth audience, and the proceeds from the concerts, will create the foundation for a new, multi-year global effort to combat the climate crisis led by The Alliance for Climate Protection and its Chair, Vice President Al Gore.

The campaign's identity is cleverly based on the international Morse code distress signal: three dots, followed by three dashes, followed by three dots. Founder Kevin Wall (previously Executive Producer of 2005’s Live 8) explained: SOS is the most urgent, universal message we have, and SOS will use that signal as a continuous distress call to prompt individuals, corporations and governments around the world to respond to our climate crisis with action. "SOS is creating an unmatched communications platform to take on an unparalleled crisis", he said. "Our message must saturate the globe if we're to succeed, and we will.”

Live Earth are not only issuing a rallying call to the world but are also ensuring that they do so sustainably. They will be implementing a new Green Event Standard that will become the model for carbon neutral concerts and other live events in the future.

••• − − − ••• Live Earth

Next up over in Washington, by way of a response to the none too productive United Nations climate negotiations in November, the British-led Global Legislators Organization for a Balanced Environment (GLOBE) set up a meeting in the hope of stimulating progress in a less formal setting. The two-day meeting brought together legislators from the Group of Eight industrialised countries - United States, United Kingdom, Italy, Germany (current president), France, Russia, Canada, and Japan - plus Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa.

And indeed, although no decisions were binding, progress was made with the expectation of influencing the 2012 Kyoto Protocol succession plan (GLOBE have launched the G8 + 5 Climate Change Dialogue). Delegates agreed that developing countries will have to face targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions as well as rich countries and a global market should be formed to cap and trade carbon dioxide emissions.

The Americans were in an upbeat mood too with Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman supporting legislation limiting US emissions.

One Englishman who attended both events was Steve Howard of The Climate Group - an independent, nonprofit organization based in London dedicated to advancing business and government leadership on climate change. To see a short video of him speaking about what action needs to be taken now, see Green TV.

Politicians Sign New Climate Pact

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Romance of Rail Travel

The romance of rail travel never fades. Childhood memories of waking aboard a sleeper from Scotland and looking out at misty sidings in the depths of English countryside, hugging knees with barely containable excitement of what more was to come. An early morning train as a student, rattling through the summer sun-kissed fields en route from Vienna to Rome. A confused conversation in Basque with an old lady carrying a mesh crate full of noisy chickens, in readiness for the market at San Sebastian. A sophisticated late night dinner on a train to Berlin, with linen napkins, silver crockery and the promise of a romantic long weekend with my companion. A life-changing declaration of love in the waiting room at Abergavenny.

Most recently, the early train to Aigle from Paris via Lausanne; the rising dawn slowly revealing frost and snow capped mountains - and the promise of more snow at our destination, Whitepod.

Travelling by rail is part of the adventure - it starts the very moment you step into the station. Watching who comes, who goes, what they carry, what they say, how they move. Conversations are in other languages. Are they regulars or are they interlopers? What is their adventure? Do they understand the romance of travel by train too?

Think of films with memorable train and train station scenes; Cary Grant’s passionate encounter with Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest, Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard’s temptation in A Brief Encounter, Bobbie running to her father in The Railway Children, Platform 9 1/2 at Kings Cross Station.

And what of the very architecture of a station? Of course, the lure of grandeur appeals greatly – the majesty of the Belle Epoque interior of Le Train Bleu restaurant in Gare de Lyon, with it’s frescoes illustrating the cities that travellers passed through when travelling south to Lyon and the Mediterranean. In the UK we have Paddington station built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1854, with it’s magnificent wrought arches supporting a glazed roof over the main train shed stretching almost 700 feet long. I eagerly await the arrival of Eurostar at the foot of the gloriously eclectic St Pancras Chambers. Oysters and champagne above the concourse and journey times of just over two hours to Paris are promised before the end of this year.

So check the station clock, grab your bags, find your platform, take your seat, settle in and as your train leaves the bustle of the city behind, allow your eye to stretch further and your thoughts to slow down. Look out over fields with houses dotted in the distance and sheep grazing in meadows. Dip into a book, snuggle up, watch a DVD, chat, snooze, dream, enjoy. Let it be a lifelong affair, each trip an opportunity to renew the romance and savour the experience.

The era of the train has returned.

~ Rediscover the wonder of travelling by train: The Man at Seat 61
~ The Lazy Environmentalist Blog from Whitepod.
~ carbon footprint of a return train journey from London to Paris per person: 41 kg (0.041tonnes) (See My Carbon Footprint for travel carbon calculations)
[photo credit of trains in snow:
Fevrier 2003]

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Energy Revolution II: Tony Blair, Clean Energy & Cuba

On Tuesday Tony Blair announced his support for a major international clean energy project. Hurrah, I say - roll out the renewables. But, wait. The focus is not on established carbon-free technologies such as those set out in the Energy Revolution report. Mr Blair's focus is on a solution not yet perfected and fraught with high costs and high risks: carbon capture and storage.

Although the goals of the project have not yet been finalised, Mr Blair is pushing for international agreement for the investment in the research and technology needed to perfect the capture of carbon dioxide produced from burning coal and store it under the ground or the seabed to prevent the release into the atmosphere. 'Clean' coal, it seems, its Mr Blair's answer to all our energy problems - bury the dirt and then it miraculously becomes clean. It begs the question Mr Blair: why are you not backing true clean technology - technology that does not release carbon dioxide in the first place?

The Energy Revolution Report has established that it can be done, with considerable reduction in carbon emissions. Is there any other plan out there that can better a result of 50% reduction of energy CO2 reductions by 2050?

Extensive gas infrastructure projects are well underway in the UK, such as the 196km pipeline connecting new gas import terminals at Milford Haven to the national transmission system. The pipeline will run from Felindre near Swansea, across the Brecon Beacons to Tirley in Gloucestershire. Similar pipelines are being put in place to enable the UK to adjust to being a net importer of gas. An industry boosted by strong long term governmental support and generous subsidies, has just announced this morning that gas prices are due to drop soon thus boosting further demand from imports. Whilst this is good news for the price conscious consumer, this does not bode well for our long-term clean energy needs.

Production and consumption of conventional energy use creates enormous environmental problems: alongside acceleration of climate change there are the additional problems of pollution to land, water and air, as well as to humans. There is an inverted logic to the solution presented: "lets dig up more fossil fuels from our planet, bag the bad gases and hide them safely out of sight and mind. Fingers crossed they do not come back to haunt someone else." We will never really know whether or not it would work, but hopefully we are not going to be around to find out. As a business venture, I for one would not give it my financial backing, and not when there are safer options out there.

Energy is essential to our everyday living and working. It provides us with fundamental services: lighting, heating and cooling and mobility all require energy use. It is difficult to visualise our lifestyles without it. Society as we know it would grind to a halt - essential services such as heath, education and welfare would break down rapidly.

Such an energy crisis did take place. In 1990, following the Soviet collapse, Cuba's massive subsidies of oil were halted. Their GDP dropped by nearly a third, transportation came close to standstill and food became scarce. The impact on individuals was most clearly demonstrated in terms of weight: the average Cuban lost 20 pounds in the first year. Remarkably, Cuba not only survived, but successfully managed to make the emergency transition by turning to local organic agriculture (called oganoponico), renewable energy, and large-scale mass transit.

Our challenge is to make the transition to clean energy whilst still meeting energy demands. Whilst Cuba was forced by dint of unanticipated circumstance, we are forced by knowledge of future circumstance - of the need for drastic greenhouse gas cuts and the pending peaking of oil.

This can be done. We are not in the same position as Cuba, but we can draw important lessons from their experience. We are not in an emergency situation - yet. We have the luxury of a little time, which allows us to be proactive rather than reactive. Stern tells us to act now rather than later is the cheaper route. It can also be the equitable route. Incorporation of renewable energies such as Concentrating Solar Power can greatly assist developing nation economies as well as sustain our energy needs. We have a short window of opportunity to put in place appropriate plans, global solutions to benefit us all to move forward into what will indeed be a new energy revolution. Decisions that will be made over the next few months have the capacity to determine our future energy needs and our future environmental impact.

Mr Blair, I ask you, read the report and act on it.

Energy Revolution Report

How Cuba Survived Peak Oil

Katherine Hamnett: Kept in the dark
Concentrated Solar Power is the secure energy supply of the future, so why haven't we been told about it?

[pictures credit: Energy Institute, Treehugger]

Monday, February 05, 2007

IPCC Report: The Evidence Stacks Up

On Friday the world's scientists lay down the most definitive report yet that a failure to cut greenhouse gas emissions will bring devastating climate change within a few decades. Average temperatures could increase by as much as 6.4C by the end of the century if emissions continue to rise, with a rise of 4C most likely, according to the final report of the expert panel set up by the UN to study the problem. The forecast is higher than previous estimates, because scientists have discovered that Earth's land and oceans are becoming less able to absorb carbon dioxide.

The report, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is written by hundreds of scientists across the world and has been approved by every government. It leaves little room for doubt that human activity is to blame.

The report itself said human activity was "very likely" to be responsible for most of the observed warming in recent decades, which means the scientists are 90% sure. Emphasis has now shifted. No longer is the question whether climate change is linked to human activity. IPCC reports later this year will focus of what we must do about it.

The good news is we still have time to adapt. The IPCC panel stressed that a significant switch to "clean and resource efficient technologies" would cut expected temperature rises by half (see the Energy Revolution Report for a blueprint on how to cut emission by 50%).

This report is the first volume of three. On April 6, the IPCC will report on the impact of climate change and the adaptation and vulnerability of people and wildlife; and on May 4, it will report on potential ways to mitigate the problem.

Work on the three reports began in November 2003, with the creation of three working parties. It will finish in November this year, when the IPCC will collate its findings into a single publication. The IPCC Fourth Assessment report will be released in time for key UN climate talks in Indonesia in December. FAQ about the IPCC

The Guardian Q&A: The IPCC Report

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Ecologist

For the month of February, I am guest blogging on the Ecologist Online newsletter - it lands in your email weekly, packed full of the latest environmental stories, and it's free. Why not sign up today?