Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Age of Stupid

It's a humbling thing to see two children surviving the death of their father in the midst of the rubble of Iraq, in the full knowledge that his death was a direct result of the developed world's (read UK & USA) grab for oil. It's deeply moving to see the loss of a french glacier to climate change, and to hear the narrative of an 81 year old mountain guide who has lived there all his life. It's maddeningly frustrating to see the loss of a Devon wind farm application to local aesthetic fears (hey, what are motorways but a scar on our landscape? A scar that is creating part of the problem by carrying the very vehicles that are pumping damaging emissions. What an irony that we accept motorway expansion with so little fight, unlike the wind farm applications). It's challenging to view the contradictions of the oil worker who believed himself to be an environmentalist. These and other stories are the stuff of The Age of Stupid, the new movie from 'McLibel' Director Franny Armstrong and the Producer of the Oscar-winning 'One Day In September', John Battsek. Oscar-nominated Pete Postlethwaite (In The Name of the Father, Brassed Off, Usual Suspects) stars as an old man living in the devastated world of 2055. He watches 'archive' footage from 2008 and asks: Why didn't we stop climate change when we had the chance?

There were few dry eyes at the end of the All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group sceening at Portcullis House yesterday afternoon. Such was the impact on an audience consisting of hardened environmentalists, seasoned campaigners and (a smattering of) concerned MP's. The Q&A session afterwards elicited some insightful responses. Colin Challen MP called for everyone to join the "Militant Green Tendency and go agitate your party of choice at every meeting you can until Climate Change is top of the political agenda". Franny Armstrong, the director, asserted that the only way forward is for there to be strong international laws put in place (a timely reminder just as the crucial Climate Bill, the world-first climate change law, is making its way through parliament). Roger Higman of Friends of the Earth, when asked whether we had enough time to turn things around, stated that he was optimistic it could be done. On a scale of 1 - 10, he put his personal belief at a 9 - 10. And Peter Postlethwaite (who forsook his normal actor's fee and stayed with chums rather than incur additional costs during filming)? Good news there: he's finally got the go-ahead for his own turbine to be installed at his eco-home in Shropshire.

Later in conversation with Mark Lynas over a pint, we nattered on the rapid evolution of knowledge on climate change. Even with a film that flags up best understanding on climate change at the beginning of 2008 (with Mark filmed in his garden shed - clearly the hub of much activity - succinctly explaining why 2 degrees is such an important figure), scientific understanding has already moved forward and the framing of the issues has shifted (see the controversial Kyoto 2 book by Oliver Tickell, due to land in book stores next week). The concept of 60 - 80% reductions of greenhouse gases has now been superceded by the general scientific acceptance that, as Mark put it, to ensure we get within spitting distance of getting no further than a 2% degree increase of temperature (and all the attendant climactic conditions that will bring) will mean that we must bring our emissions to 350 parts per million. Our emissions already stand at about 385 parts per million. Thus, we have in effect already overshot. Quite simply we need to progress to a zero-carbon world as soon as possible. That's not to knock the important message that The Age of Stupid is presenting, as Mark was quick to point out. It's valid, vital and very very good.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

We Can Solve It says Al Gore

Al Gore's challenge to America to produce 100% of its power from carbon-free sources in 10 years.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mediterranean Solar Plan gets green light

Sometimes certain decisions are determined in the international political arena that are seismic in their potential for shaping our future yet remain largely under the radar of general public knowledge. Of course CSP being my bag, means I am here to bring you the latest sunny developments - and the future is indeed looking bright.

In Paris on Sunday 13th July at the Heads of State Summit, a formal declaration launching the Union for the Mediterranean was issued, laying out the goals and workings of the 43-member organisation. One initiative in particular holds huge promise - the formal endorsement of the Mediterranean Solar Plan, which was presented by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Even Gordon Brown has backed the Solar Plan, stating at the conference: "in the Mediterranean region, concentrated solar power offers the prospect of an abundant low carbon energy source. Indeed, just as Britain's North Sea could be the Gulf of the future for offshore wind, so those sunnier countries represented here could become a vital source of future global energy by harnessing the power of the sun. So I am delighted that that the EU is committing at this summit to work with its neighbours - including Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and the League of Arab States - to explore the development of a new 'Mediterranean Solar Plan' for the development and deployment of this vital technology from the Sahara northwards.".

According to the International Energy Agency in it's recently published Energy Technology Perspectives 2008 - Scenarios and Strategies to 2050, on top of the investments in the Business-as-usual scenario, total additional investment needs for the period 2010-2050 amount to USD 45 trillion. The average year-by-year investments between 2010 and 2050 needed to achieve a virtual decarbonisation of the power sector include, say the IEA, the build of 215 million square metres of solar. Others technologies proposed to achieve 50% cuts by 2050 include 55 fossil-fuelled power plants with CCS, 32 nuclear plants and 17 500 large wind turbines as well as widespread adoption of near-zero emission buildings and, on one set of assumptions, deployment of nearly a billion electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

The Union for the Mediterranean agreed that the recent activity on energy markets in terms of both supply and demand, confirms the need to focus on alternative energy sources. Market deployment as well as research and development of all alternative sources of energy was declared a major priority in efforts towards assuring sustainable development. The Secretariat is now tasked to explore the feasibility, development and creation of a Mediterranean Solar Plan. It is expected that 20GW of CSP will be constructed by 2020, with electricity exports transmitted into Europe, and exponential growth thereafter.

The political will is now in place for the deployment of CSP plants in the Sahara Desert, with transmission of it's clean electricity into Europe. It's nemesis will of course be nuclear. But CSP has many advantages over nuclear: rapid construction times (3 years versus 10 -20 years), low environmental impact (even positive environmental impact can be achieved where desalination is incorporated in the plant, thereby providing water for both human consumption and agricultural use), unlimited availability of resource (in any given 2 week period, deserts receive the same amount of energy from the sun as is contained in all nuclear fuel reserves), lower security and terrorist risk (compare the bombing of a nuclear plant to the taking out of a bunch of mirrors in the desert - transnational devastation versus 7 years bad luck). Let the race commence.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Wild Law

I'm back - after 2 weeks in the wilderness. Well, Scotland, to be exact, but in some ways it felt like a dip into the wild. After a weekend in Edinburgh for a bit of film festival celebrations for the premier of my brother’s latest documentary (The New Ten Commandments), we headed off up the west coast to the Highlands. A land I know well and love, in part due to the lesser dominance of human impact. No TV (no problem), no radio (hmm), no phone connection (survivable), no internet connection (hugely frustrating). Just the two of us, millions of midges and a pile of books.

Where some pray under the hallowed edifices of the kirk, I communed with the ancient and sacred standing stones to be found in and around the Kilmartin Glen trying to unravel the mysteries of a civilization who had far greater connection with our planet than we do. A childhood shaped by authoritarian Catholicism and the rigid teachings of Jesuits failed to instill in me a belief in religion (the questioning of which led to much time spent outside the classroom). To this day it remains too ethnocentric and paternal for my taste. Instead, it made me question what our earth’s systems are. In time this has evolved into a recognition that all species and organisms – non-humans – have rights too.

As often happens, an accumulation of thoughts ideas and conversations come full circle. For me…a year in Vienna in 1988, working with an ecologist who taught me about Tree Tenants ... more recently, last year a conversation with a close friend about tree rights… a co-incidental introduction to a few fellow tree rights supporters … an email dialogue … an introduction to some seminal texts…an invite to an inspiring day course on Earth Jurisprudence at the Gaia Institute. Books mounted by my bedside tantalizing me to read, but I needed a little time to digest, rather than hurriedly devouring before turning my thoughts to other more immediate concerns. Thus, with very little distraction, and in the midst of the most beautiful countryside, for the past two weeks I have turned my thoughts to addressing what I now consider to be crucial for the environment - even more significant than saving our rainforests and the implementation of technological renewable energy solutions (this is not to denigrate their importance – for they are of course also vital). Something that requires nothing less than a dramatic shift in our collective consciousness.

To stop and even reverse the plundering and the violation of our world’s resources (and as a consequence that which has triggered climate change), we need a recognition of a Duty of Care for our planet. Nothing less than a mandatory principle – the creation of a legal standing of the inherent rights of the natural world - is required. Such an overriding objective should thus be accorded primary consideration by what Thomas Berry in The Great Work refers to as the the four major spheres of influence – academic, economic, political, religious and their corresponding bodies: universities, corporations, governments and religions.

Our legislative frameworks shape our societies, but somewhere within our development humanity failed to recognise that planet rights must be respected too. We now accept that the exploitation of our eco-systems is human-driven; with this knowledge comes the responsibility to act. Without an overarching recognition of planet rights, all legislation applied to provide energy and environmental protectionism remains piecemeal, incoherent and insufficient for the radical shift in consciousness and understanding that is required.

10th December 2008 will mark the 60th anniversary of our Universal Declaration of Human Rights; 60 years that have also fashioned our planning, energy and business laws and as a consequence our general belief of our dominant role within the planet. But at what detriment: a detriment that needs to be redressed now to ensure future protection. Is it not now time for an International Declaration of Planet Rights?

"The Power of the World always work in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days...all our power came from the sacred hoop of the nation and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished"
Heka Sapa, North American Oglala Sioux 1930 - 1931

...and one I read that made me laugh out loud: There's a Hippo in My Cistern by Pete May.