Friday, January 03, 2020

100 Words

100 words

Hello and welcome to the first Sustainable Futures Report of the year published on Friday 3rd January 2020. I’m Anthony Day and I’d like to welcome first of all our newest patron, Manjunath Ramesh. He’s told me about the world’s most dangerous GHG. We’re looking into it. More in a future episode.
This episode is about ideas. I asked you suggest in 100 words your ideas of what we should do in 2020. But first, I’ve had some ideas from Ian Jarvis, following up on previous topics. He points me to a study from the University of California, Davis: 
“Grasslands More Reliable Carbon Sink Than Trees”. 
The report suggests that increased drought and wildfire risks are making grasslands better than trees at locking up carbon. Indeed, wildfires can turn trees from a carbon sink to a carbon source. 
Unlike forests, grasslands sequester most of their carbon underground, while forests store it mostly in woody biomass and leaves. When wildfires cause trees to go up in flames, the burned carbon they formerly stored is released back to the atmosphere. When fire burns grasslands, however, the carbon fixed underground tends to stay in the roots and soil, making them more adaptive to climate change.
The researchers accept that trees can store more carbon than grasslands, but the fire risk makes them less effective overall as a carbon sink. They urge an international re-assessment of carbon management policy. This is particularly compelling given the continuing and worsening bush fires in Australia. I don’t know whether the land where the trees have gone will support grassland, although nothing at all is likely to grow while the Australian drought continues. According to Time magazine, the bushfires have emitted a combined 306 million tons of carbon dioxide since Aug. 1, which is more than half of Australia’s total greenhouse gas footprint last year.
Solving Tornadoes
Ian sends another link - you’ll find it on the Sustainable Futures Report blog - a link to the Solving Tornadoes blog. There’s an article here which suggests that wind-farms cause drought. The theory is that the turbines cause turbulence which prevents the formation of storms which otherwise would deliver rain. The author suggests a high correlation between the location and timing of drought with construction of wind farms, especially in Texas and California. Follow the link and see what you think.
And now for those hundreds of words. 
I said, “Finally the world seems to be realising that we have a climate crisis and it’s serious. In not more than 100 words, what should we do in 2020?”
Richard James MacCowan of Biomimicry, who spoke to us in December, came up with two ideas. Here’s his first.
“I would say it’s for the lay person at home. Let’s start in your back garden. Instead of buying all those plants that soak up lots and lots of water go and find neighbours who have been there a long time and have got plants that don’t need watering or ones that soak up water if you get a lot of rain, and plant more of them. Then you don’t need to water your garden so much and it allows the reservoirs to keep stock of the water. That’s a thing people could do in Spring.”

Andy Walker of Sure Insulation had no hesitation in answering. He specialises in retrofitting insulation to homes to make dramatic cuts in energy use. He says, 
“I’m encouraged that the awareness and concern about the Climate and Ecological Crises is on the rise.
But there’s still a long way to go before the wider public really understand the life-threatening seriousness of what’s happening to our world.
In 2020 there are three hugely important priorities:
  • We need everyone to fully grasp the threats that face us and the opportunities for creating a fairer society.
  • We need to act now to urgently stop fossil fuel extraction and use – that’s end it not reduce it.
  • And we need to involve more people in the decision making process through Citizens’ Assemblies”

Back in October Extinction Rebellion took over the streets of London. One person determined not to be moved, to the extent that she was arrested, is Laura Cox. Here’s what she said:
“A huge debate comes with asking 'what we should do'. Who is we? To what extent are 'we' obligated to act? There's no prescriptive list, and imposing the 'should-do' narrative is more likely to hinder than help the cause. However, that being said, 2020 will be incredibly important. In 2019, XR very much started the climate conversation. Moving into the new year, I'd like to see local groups grow and become a real force to be reckoned with. I see great value in community outreach, and building connections with climate-conscious organisations across the UK and the rest of the world." 
Thanks, Laura.
Here’s Richard MacCowan’s second idea.
“Buy a magnifying glass and start understanding how the natural world works, understand the complexity, understand the way it can do things without using as much energy. Watch how the insects pollinate your garden and how they’re not going to every single flower and then they’ll fly off because they can’t expend all their energy. Think about that way when you’re doing your own daily lives.”
Yes, let’s learn from the natural world.
Carol Dance got in touch from Sydney, Australia. 
“Dear activists,
Don’t focus on changing the deniers.  Focus on the ‘adaptors’.  Understand their rationale, which is often:  ‘What could two or four degrees more matter?  We’ll just move to higher latitudes. Vegetables will grow in Greenland.  We will all eventually be OK once we adapt.’ 
The activists’ reply:  ‘While the two or four degrees is a huge problem, the real problem is that greenhouse gasses now in the atmosphere will increasingly trap the sun’s heat.  The temperature will continue to rise, causing mass extinction.’ 
Challenge the ‘adaptors’.  They are the problem now.”
Carol enclosed a photograph of herself wearing a teeshirt emblazoned with #STOPADANI. “What’s all that about?” I thought. Apparently, Adani is an Indian company planning to build the biggest coal mine in the world at Carmichael in Queensland. The 60m tonnes of coal extracted annually will generate emissions equivalent to those from the whole of Belgium. Adani has also been associated with plans to dredge a passage through the Great Barrier Reef so that ships carrying coal can pass through. The Stopadani movement seems to be much like XR, and has a network of some 125 community groups across Australia. The current furore over the links between coal and climate change and between climate change and the droughts which facilitate bushfires will certainly keep this battle going. I’m sure we’ll hear more in the course of the year.
Finally, Sarah Tuneberg, who spoke to us just before Christmas, came up with a neat and concise response:

"I have 33 words, I hope, I think I counted right 
  • Prepare. 
  • Check your risks. 
  • Make a plan. 
  • Pack a go-bag: 72 hours of food and water, key medications and some cash in small bills. 
  • Check your insurance, and make sure you have enough."

She went on to say, 

"I think we invest a lot of time and energy in, and I think appropriately so, in things like reducing our own climate footprint. Recycling, advocating, doing our own part, but I think there's this other piece that we forget which is storms happen, wildfires come, power goes away, and so making sure you're prepared and you have a plan is the strategy that we should also deploy to ensure ourselves and our family are safe."

Thank You
Thank you to all contributors. And if you’ve got ideas which you’d like to add, let me know via If you’re a patron and would like to explore these ideas and any others through a round-table discussion on Skype of similar, you can contact me at the same address. 

And what about my 100 words? Here goes:
Let’s make 2020 the clean air year. Long before Sydney was overwhelmed by the smoke from the bushfires there were concerns about poor air quality in Beijing, in Delhi, in London - in fact in most major and minor cities across the world. If we don’t tackle it people will die prematurely from respiratory diseases. Children’s development, mental and physical, will be damaged. Let’s find ways of managing pollution from transport and from coal-burning power stations while we develop ways to eliminate fossil fuels. And if we clean up the air we breathe, we cut GHG emissions as well.
99 words.
Did I wish you a Happy New Year? Although there are many grounds for pessimism on both the climate and the political fronts, let’s be positive. If we don’t meet the climate challenge let it never be said we didn’t try. And in the meantime seek out and enjoy laughter, fellowship and family, and the kindness of friends.
I’m now taking a break until 14th February, but don’t worry, I already have offers from interviewees, a raft of news clippings and that lead from newest patron Manjunath Ramesh, so there will be plenty to go at once I get back to my desk.
In the meantime check out the links to all these stories on the Sustainable Futures Report blog - and maybe have a listen to some episodes you’ve missed.
Have a Happy New Year.
I’m Anthony Day.
That was the first Sustainable Futures Report for 2020.
No doubt the first of many.
Until February.


Biomimicry UK

Sure Insulation

Adani Mine


Friday, December 20, 2019

Taking Back Control

Taking Back Control

It’s the final Sustainable Futures Report of 2019 - episode No. 45. Yes, I’m Anthony Day and this is the edition for Friday 20th December 2019.

Image by Skeeze

In the News
I’ll be commenting on the British General Election, although it won’t take long. More important is the outcome of COP25, the UN Climate Conference in Madrid, where hard-fought negotiations struggled into extra time over the weekend. That’s all for later. First I have another interview for you.
Adapt and Survive
We’ve spoken many times in the Sustainable Futures Report about the causes of climate change and the measures needed to get them under control. The truth is that changes to our climate - the effects of global heating - are already embedded into global systems and it’s as important to be able to cope with them as it is to stop it getting worse. My guest Sarah Tuneberg of Geospiza spoke to me about it.
Well first of all, Sarah, thank you very much for agreeing to take part in the Sustainable Futures Report.

Thank you very much for allowing me to participate. I'm very excited. 

I understand that you've been involved in emergency management, emergency planning for 10-15 years. Dealing with all sorts of natural disasters, but I know you are going to stop me there because you're going to say there is no such thing as a natural disaster. Why do you say that?

Indeed, I believe, and I think that the evidence is very clear that there are natural hazards, those weather phenomena or natural phenomenon like earthquakes, volcanoes, cyclones. They happen, but the disaster happens when we have people and human development in the path of those naturally occurring phenomena. So to call them natural disasters - all of these things are very human responsibility for the disaster component. We, as human beings, actively choose to live, to build, to work, to play in highly vulnerable areas. And when there are big consequences where human development and natural hazards align we call them natural disasters, but I think it's a misnomer, and I think it, it makes it feel like we don't have any power in what's happening when really, we did it.

Anthony:  1:38
Okay. So, do you think we should be doing more in the way of risk assessments in the broadest context?

Absolutely. I think that we should be doing more and more, even than doing risk assessment, I think there is value in putting the huge amounts of risk assessment data and risk identification data into action into mitigation and adaptation into preparedness. I was talking to a colleague recently and she said you know what - I feel like I'm living in a, in an alarm state, all the time, fire alarms of some sort, going off, whether it's climate or global warming or flooding or pandemic influenza that there's all these threats, but I don't really know what to do about them. And so I think that that's really one of the challenges we face is how we put all of this data and all of this risk into action to really reduce the risk.

Anthony:  2:40
A lot of this data I think comes from a wide range of public bodies, well, public bodies or bodies with responsibility to the public ranging from the utilities like the power and the water, the emergency bodies like the fire, and the police. Have you had any success in drawing these together, and being able to actually consolidate the data so you've got a complete picture of a particular situation?

Sarah: 3:13
Yeah, absolutely. That's sort of been the route of my professional career is how we draw data and evidence from this huge amazingly diverse set of partners together to make information products that help make important decisions or support important decisions. Yeah, that's where I've spent a lot of my work and the company that I co founded, it's called Geospiza, is that that's the work that we do. The academic universe, the government research universe, utilities, emergency managers all of these parties, create incredible data, but one of the challenges is that in an under-resourced very stressed environment like a disaster, an impending disaster, climate disaster it's hard for people to stitch those together in a meaningful way. They come in disparate forms. They come from all over the internet sometimes in different languages, whether they're different computer languages or actual different languages. And it's hard to make meaning of them and so there's huge value I think in doing that and I think one of the best ways that's really exciting is that mapping technology has gotten so much better recently. So, taking zeros and ones of digital information and making really beautiful maps, this is a way that we can convey information powerfully.

Anthony:  4:39
Do you find that all these different organizations are prepared to share the data with you or with some other coordinator? And what about a GDPR is that causing you problems as well?

Sarah: 4:53
So the first part of the question is no, of course people are not necessarily prepared to share. I think people develop their data sets. Sometimes I think you have sort of both things happen or a lot of things happen in sort of a spectrum, some people don't want to share they don't know how it's hard work for them. Other people, I think especially academic and government researchers, they've done this, it’s their life's work and they're excited to have it used, they don't necessarily know how. I think lots of times you get a little bit siloed, you get a little bit myopic because you're working on your own research and you think, oh, that oh there's a whole bunch of people who could use it. That's exciting. So I think there's a spectrum there. GDPR is interesting. We have built our work to be fully GDPR compliant. To be aligned with that because we are building a global company at Geospiza and we believe that that's a place to start. But yes, I think that things like GDPR, and in the, in the US, we have a law called HIPAA the Health Insurance Portability Privacy Act (maybe don't quote me on that) but it's HIPAA, it's about medical data privacy and our experiences, even though that has pretty much nothing to do with what we do. People are always worried they're like “oh does this violate HIPAA?”, and I imagine GDPR similar does this like that, a lack of knowledge makes people reserved and concerned. And so some better guidelines, some better ideas about how it really does apply in certain circumstances could be hugely powerful, but I think the, the reservation is always conservative people move conservative and then you have to sort of pull them along.

Anthony:  6:50
Right. Okay, I suppose you get all the local organizations together, you managed to consolidate their information. Is that a question - who actually takes a lead, and and takes the decisions based upon the information that you've been able to consolidate?

Sarah: 7:04
Absolutely. And I think you end up in two different situations. One is sort of the emerging unfolding disaster. And then the other one is the longer range situation what are we talking about five years 10 years from now and I think those parties can be really different. And the biggest challenge happens when those two pieces come together. So when we're talking about for example, increased flooding, as a result of climate change, climate change lives started with Planning sometimes and flooding lives with Emergency Management so how do you get those parties together to be able to collaborate on mitigation and preparedness activities? It is that as a huge challenge.

Anthony:  7:50
Okay. Okay, well just assuming that you get all the people talking together and you have this body of information. And let's say a flood is forecast. What does this information management allow you to do that has been lacking in previous national natural disasters?

Sarah: 8:13
Geospiza’s specific product and the work of similar companies, allows public safety entities, corporations who have lots of employees or customers in an area, anybody like that, to understand who, on a very granular geographic level. What the population, looks like, and what their needs might be. There might there be a neighborhood that's likely to flood where there are a lot of people who rely on public transportation so if we give them an evacuation order, they're going to need some sort of support to get out. There might be a lot of people who rely on public support in some sort of food aid or rental aid and so if we need them to evacuate we're also going to have to provide some sort of food aid or something like that. Then the other piece is, what infrastructure is in place in those geographies, that we might want to get back on line quickly? So is there a power station that we need to get or is there a key employer? And that becomes really relevant.

Anthony:  9:33
There's a wide range of disasters going on in the world at the moment, one of the most notable ones of course is these fires in Eastern Australia which have now got to the size of Greater Sydney itself. I don't know whether there's been planning, I don't know that there hasn't been planning. But how would you approach something like that, particularly as we recognize that it is only spring in Australia at the moment - they haven't really started the fire season, so things could get worse. Where would you go from here?

Sarah: 10:12
Yeah, it's a, it's like a deeply challenging set of problems and we experience it very similarly in the United States right now where what used to be a very defined fire season is no longer, now we're dealing with it, year long. Australia situation is unbelievable. So I think that there's been some really interesting changes. One is that previous hesitation, the sort of previous plan planning strategy was that people were encouraged if they wanted or permitted if they wanted to stay and defend their houses. One of the things we know about fire behavior is that it's not actually the flames usually that caused the fire and a wildland fire situation, it's the sparks that move ahead, and they settle and then it causes the fire to move very quickly. They fly on the wind and start the fires - it's not really the flames. So if you can have people who stay in defend their own homes and put out these advanced sparks and advanced sort of cinders. You can stop fire and you can you can build fire breaks. One of the very different situations that Australia is facing is that the fire is so big and so fast and the conditions are so dry, again, likely as a result of a changing climate that they've encouraged people to leave. They cannot, they don't they don't want them to stay, the fires are moving too fast and maybe can become overwhelmed by them very quickly. I think this marks a really significant change in risk communication, which is public officials globally have been very bad at being honest about what might happen. And they have a tendency because they want, I believe they have a tendency because they want to be encouraging and they want to be supportive to not …. or maybe they don't know because they're politicians and they're not, they don't want to believe that themselves. They don't effectively communicate the risk. And they don't use the data to communicate the risk. So I think this is a really interesting time and I'm excited to learn from it.  Australia is really changing what they're telling people and they're telling people to leave, and they're evacuating huge amounts of people to some economic loss, like all sorts of disruption happened when you, when you evacuate people. So I think this is a really interesting time and I think it will be an example that we will draw from from, as we see this happen more and more whether it's from flood or wildfire that we're just going to have to move a lot more people around, and that is something we're not great at.

Anthony:  12:59
How can we educate public officials, how can we change their attitude and make them more aware and make them also aware of the opportunities of integrated planning, through having a broad spectrum of data to draw on?
Do you run training courses for example?

Sarah: 13:18
Absolutely we run training courses, we advocate, we lobby. I think conveying data is the best way - some well-designed maps in this world of well-designed infographics, getting some real evidence-based data in front of politicians to give them concisely and clearly what they're facing is the most effective strategy, and I think lots of times it's important to link it to the long term growth or economic development component. I think most politicians feel the day-to-day pressure of ensuring their constituents are healthy, happy, and having economic expansion. And so if you can show them how these things play together, there is huge value. And not to mention I will, I'll add another thing which it's hard to convey but a natural hazard in the United States - we say in the emergency management community that snow storms are Mayor killers, that this relatively modest regularly-occurring event of a blizzard in the United States is the surest way to lose your job as a mayor because what seems like it should be very simple which is snow clearance is actually very expensive and very complicated. And we've seen several mayors of large cities, lose re-election or have to resign their office because they handled it very poorly. One of the best examples is Marion Barry who was a DC a mayor of Washington DC, went to the NFL Pro Bowl in Hawaii, when there was a huge snowstorm in Washington DC and he was seen on TV in this very warm weather, when all of his constituents were stuck in their homes, and that was the end for him, and we've seen that happen in Boston and Chicago. And so, there is a very real implication of mishandling these natural hazards and natural events. People depend on the government to deliver services and and politicians should be prepared to deliver on that or explain why they can't and lots of times you can't, it's expensive and it's hard and so being really transparent is difficult.

Anthony:  15:44
Okay, well, it's expensive and it's hard to say. [Yeah] And as climate change… I mean, we are doing everything we can to stop climate change getting any worse but we have built a certain amount of climate change into the system. You're already seeing or frequent more intense, or violent storms, so there will be more natural hazards. That’s the word, Yes Yes. Do you think that we are going to be able to upgrade our emergency planning to cope with the challenges that climate change is inevitably going to bring us whatever we do about emissions? Over the next 10, 20, 50 years?

Sarah: 16:31
I don't know, I am fairly disheartened at the moment. Honestly, I think that one of the biggest sort of heartbreaks I have is that the emergency planning and preparedness structures globally are very disparate. And that you see everybody doing an okay job, some people doing a great job but very few people doing an excellent job. And those communities that are especially vulnerable to the hazards of climate change also having the least well developed Emergency Management Planning preparedness strategies, and I think a lot of, like, Ho Chi Min city is a good example where new modeling shows that Ho Chi Min city is going to experience far more flooding than we ever imagined, and sea level rise is going to happen way more quickly. And there's huge populations of not particularly affluent people who are going to need help, and we don't have a great system in Vietnam. Similarly, I think of the Gulf Coast of the United States, where you have lots more cyclonic activity, lots more large rainfall activities that cause flooding, all sorts of unprecedented events happening, and not great. We're not very good at evacuation and we don't have a lot of tax base in those communities to support perhaps buying people out and moving them other places. So it's a really big challenge and I think also, in lots of communities but especially in the United States, we have a racially disparate emergency management system and a racially disparate land use pattern where people of colour and poor people live in highly vulnerable geographic areas, and they're going to bear the disproportionate brunt, and I don't know what we do about that at the moment but it's the part that feels hardest.

Anthony:  18:43
Certainly some very challenging thoughts there. These issues, particularly about the less wealthy nations, are being brought up now at COP 25 in Madrid.
So tell us a little bit about your company.

Sarah: 19:02
Yeah, so my company is called Geospiza. We take our name from the genus of finch that Darwin studied on the Galapagos to develop his theory of evolution, and we feel like it's our link to our mission of helping our customers, adapt to a rapidly changing climate. And we built it - we have built internet-based platforms, web platforms, that ingest huge amounts of data, lots of it - this open data we were talking about about risks and hazards and climate modelling and population-based data around the world and we visualise that in a really beautiful map-based interface that allows all of this very complex disparate data to be understood in a very fast and very easy way. And then we build decision support tools. What we really care about is putting data into action to help make good evidence-based decisions. So we do a lot of adaptation pathway modelling, which is an academic strategy for climate based planning that comes out of the Netherlands where you link the decisions you need to make to get to your end goal to the real time data so you know when you need to change your strategy. So for example, do we need to elevate, and when do we need to elevate because we can't do all of our climate adaptation and mitigation strategies at once it's just too expensive. So how do we sequence them to get the best benefit, and we use machine learning and a little bit of AI to help support those decisions.

Anthony:  20:42
Thank you very much for that. We will put a link to your website on the blog which accompanies the podcast. I'm going to put a link to your TEDx talk as well.

Sarah: 20:50
Thank you.

Anthony:  22:20
Sarah, thank you very much for talking to the Sustainable Futures Report.
Sarah: 22:24
Thank you for having me.

Sarah Tuneberg. Her company, Geospiza, is at and I recommend that you look at her TEDx talk. You can search or find these links on the Sustainable Futures Report blog.
Election. Blues won.
Yes, we’ve just had a General Election in the UK with an overwhelming victory for the Conservative Party. I’m disappointed with the result, mainly because I believe that Brexit will severely damage our country. This is not the forum to discuss politics, so I’ll leave it there. The new government’s policy on climate change will be crucial. Prime Minister Johnson refused to take part in a TV climate debate. This could be climate scepticism or it could be simply part of his strategy to avoid the press wherever possible, which was evident throughout his campaign. Calling XR activists uncooperative crusties living in hemp-smelling tents, as he did back in October, does not bode well. As with everything else on the government’s to-do list, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Far more important than Brexit and far, far more important than the UK is the climate crisis, so I shall continue to make that my principal focus in 2020. As you know COP25, this year’s UN Climate Conference, has come to an end. Scheduled to close on Friday 13th, negotiations continued into the following Sunday, and many are unhappy with the outcome.
If the pledges made in Paris in 2015 are fulfilled, warming is likely to be held to around 3℃, far in excess of the 1.5℃ which is now believed to be the maximum that temperatures can be allowed to rise without causing catastrophic damage to agriculture and coastal cities. Signatories to the Paris Accord agreed to report back in 5 years and present revised proposals for the future. Although a full five years will not have passed until next year there were few signs that the major emitters have met their current commitments or have made much progress in establishing more realistic commitments for the future.
Brazil, Australia, the US, China and other major emitters were all accused of holding up progress. I mentioned last time that they spent much time arguing over which words it was permissible to use in conference documentation. The US remains a party to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) even though it has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, claiming it will damage the competitive position of the nation. Smaller nations set out their plans for reducing their emissions, but the effect of these will be dwarfed by the actions of China and the US, by far the largest emitters of GHG, who account for around 50% of the total between them.
There were disagreements over carbon markets and the responsibility for assisting poorer nations already suffering the consequences of climate change, principally from sea-level rise. It was generally agreed that the final agreement was an uneasy compromise, leaving much to be decided at COP26 in 12 months’ time.
Meanwhile the BBC reports on an article in Nature that describes how Greenland ice is melting seven times as fast as in the 1990s, with obvious consequences for sea levels.
It’s more than worrying that faced with an emergency that affects the very existence of humanity world leaders can do no more than talk - and defer decisions for one more of the 10 years that some scientists say is all we’ve got left!
In the Bank of England’s Financial Stability Report published this week Governor Mark Carney says, “What we’re looking for management at banks to do is to think through their strategy about their exposure to industries… …that could be increasingly and materially exposed to climate risks. And the question is how resilient is your strategy if you are concentrating your lending in areas that will be potentially severely affected 5, 10 plus years out?”
Back in October he was warning that firms ignoring the climate crisis would quite simply go bankrupt. 
Also this week the Bank published “The 2021 biennial exploratory scenario on the financial risks from climate change.” This is a discussion paper and is open to comment from anyone until 18th March 2020. They say, 
“The Bank will use its 2021 biennial exploratory scenario (BES) to explore the financial risks posed by climate change. The exercise will test the resilience of the current business models of the largest banks, insurers and the financial system to climate related risks and therefore the scale of adjustment that will need to be undertaken in coming decades for the system to remain resilient.
Conducting a climate stress test poses distinct challenges compared to conventional macrofinancial or insurance stress tests. To ensure it is effective in light of these challenges, the Bank is using this discussion paper to consult relevant stakeholders on the design of the exercise. This includes financial firms, climate scientists, economists, other industry experts, and informed stakeholder groups.” 
Find out more and submit your own comments via the link on the Sustainable Futures Report blog.
Mark Carney leaves his post as Governor of the Bank of England early in 2020 and will become a UN special envoy for climate action and finance. He is clearly committed, to the extent that he will receive no salary for the role.
COP26 will take place in Glasgow at the end of next year. The UK’s relationship with the UNFCCC and commitment to the Paris Agreement is through its membership of the EU. This of course starts to change as we enter our transition period towards Brexit in 2020, so the UK will presumably have to make its own commitment to the Paris Agreement as it prepares to host this crucial conference.
And Finally
We’re close to the end of another Sustainable Futures Report, the 45th and last for 2019. Do you remember that I asked for 100 words on what we should do in 2020? That will form the theme of the next episode which will appear on 3rd January. Quite a lot of people have come back with ideas, including Carol Dance from Sydney, Australia. Thanks, Carol. I’ve got both your emails. 
There’s still time - just - to add your own 100 words to what we should do next year. Drop me an email at as soon as you can, and if you want to record it on your phone and send that to me as well then so much the better. Ian Jarvis has sent me some more ideas so we’ll look at those next time as well.
That’s it…
…for now, for 2019. Enjoy your Christmas holiday - it’s an ideal opportunity to catch up with all those Sustainable Futures Reports you missed during the year. Thank you for supporting me as a patron, thank you for listening.
I’m Anthony Day, and remember, I don’t just do podcasts. If you want a keynote speaker at your conference or a workshop leader to bring your team up to speed on what the climate crisis means for them and your organisation, you know where I am. Now taking bookings for February.
And, as has become my custom in this festive season, let’s play out with something different… 

Sarah Tuneberg

The UN climate talks are over for another year – was anything achieved?
UN climate talks end with limited progress on emissions targets

Bank of England

Friday, December 13, 2019

Biomimicry - Nature Shows the Way

Biomimicry - Nature shows the Way
Image by Couleur from Pixabay

Hello and welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday, the 13th of December. There is no news of the general election results because I wrote this before the polls even opened. 
This Time
Aside from election news, on the sustainability front Australia is still ablaze, COP25, the UN Climate Conference, draws to a close this week with criticism and complaints, Greta Thunberg says the school strikes have achieved nothing and some in Scotland are having a grouse - about grouse moors. But apart from all this, whatever we do to our world we are going to have to live in it and it’s important to make the very best of it. There are lessons we can learn from Nature. I recently heard a presentation by Richard James MacCowan who is the founder and managing director of Biomimicry UK. In the conference brochure it said:
“Richard is a real estate consultant and designer having worked across Europe on projects from billion-dollar asset transfers to new developments. His passion for all things biomimetic and problem-solving started in his youth, and it has never stopped since then. This has led to unexpected clients and opportunities with the BBC, luxury hotels and even running a workshop in a nudist colony in the Balkans!”
He never told us about that in his presentation, but I was able to catch up with him later and we discussed a whole range of things.

Richard MacCowan of Biomimicry UK. Find out more on his website: 

Australia Ablaze
We need nature, but nature in some parts of Australia is under severe threat. The fires that I reported weeks ago are still burning and are now being called too big to put out. They are covering an area equivalent to the size of greater Sydney, and they are not that far from Sydney. Temperatures were expected to reach 43C during the week. The city is choked with smoke and air quality has exceeded "hazardous" levels on several occasions. This has led to a 10% rise in hospital admissions, while paramedics have treated hundreds of people for breathing problems. There are air quality problems from bushfire smoke in Adelaide as well.
Firefighters say there is no hope of putting the fires out because everything is so dry. All they can do is wait for rain, which is not expected before late January or February. We spoke about water vapour last time and how warmer air can hold more of it. This means that when it finally condenses into clouds and then turns into rain the downpours are excessively heavy. But on the other hand it means that where clouds rise to heights which would normally trigger rainfall it's not cold enough, so the clouds move on leaving drought behind them. As we warm the atmosphere we change weather patterns.
All these fires must be putting tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, but at the same time they are killing wildlife and destroying habitats. For those creatures that survive there may be no insects or plants or prey left to live on.
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison, has consistently said there was “no credible scientific evidence” linking climate change with the fires. This has been rejected by climate scientists, who have said politicians are “burying their heads in the sand while the world is literally burning around them”. The Climate Change Performance Index rates Australia’s climate policies as the worst in the world, coming 57th out of 57 countries.
As we learnt recently, Australia accounts for 37% of world coal exports. Shutting the mines would devastate the economy overnight. Equally, shutting the mines would not stop climate change or the droughts or the fires. It’s a necessary but not sufficient action for controlling the climate crisis, which depends on actions by governments and corporations across the world. The effect of humanity on the environment has built up over the last 200 years or so; and particularly in the last 50. The effect of cutting CO2 emissions and extracting CO2 from the atmosphere will take centuries if not millennia to work through. Somehow we need to sell the necessity of immediate action to deliver long-term security but no immediate return. You can understand why politicians would prefer to believe that climate change is not happening.
It’s not just in Australia that the mining industry is resisting calls to curtail its operations. Friends of the Earth warn that the international Energy Charter Treaty could be used by fossil fuel companies to challenge countries’ climate regulations. The original objective of the treaty was to protect western energy companies as they started to invest in former Soviet states, and the organisation is certainly not without teeth. The most notorious case, involving the Russian Yukos company, ended with a $50bn judgement. 
COP25 closes this week, after this edition has been published, but already there’s much news. The general message is that not enough is being done quickly enough and corporations and countries are dragging their feet, if not deliberately hampering progress. 
Johan Rockström, joint director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said, “We are at risk of getting so bogged down in incremental technicalities at these negotiations that we forget to see the forest for the trees” An example is the position of China, Saudi Arabia India and Brazil on the use of the term “climate urgency”. They claim that since the phrase has not been used in the past it cannot be used now. Other delegates are frustrated at this insistence on a triviality in the face of the science, of the shrinking time to act and the realisation across the world of this emergency.
In 2015, countries signed up to the Paris agreement and are due to put new plans on the table to run from 2020. The richer countries were supposed to undertake specific carbon cutting actions in the years between 2015 and 2020, but many haven't yet achieved these targets. Negotiators have ignored the central question of increasing country pledges to cut their carbon and concentrated instead on protecting national interests.
Carbon Markets
There are two contentious issues: loss and damage, and carbon markets. The conference is setting out to establish a new scheme for carbon trading but some countries, notably Brazil, want to carry forward carbon credits that were generated under previous schemes. This would limit the efforts needed by Brazil to meet its targets, but it is claimed that these old credits do not in fact represent real carbon reductions, so their use is not justified. If old credits are allowed there is little point in having a new scheme. 
Loss & Damage
Loss and damage has been on the agenda since the conference opened. Poorer and developing countries affected by sea-level rise or major storms that have a climate component are looking for support and assistance from richer countries. Richer countries are afraid of being held liable for billions of dollars indefinitely.
It’s Time
You’ve probably heard that Greta Thunberg has been nominated as Time Magazine’s person of the year 2019. It’s as much about Time Magazine as about Greta, but the publicity must be welcome for the climate cause. In the past Greta has been dismissive of praise and awards. What she wants is action. Speaking at the summit in Madrid this week, she urged world leaders to stop using "creative PR" to avoid real action. She also said that the school strikes for the climate over the past year had “achieved nothing” because greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise. In the four years since the Paris Agreement global emissions have risen by 4%. Meanwhile delegates at the conference focus on the wording of the documents rather than the urgency of the bigger picture.

Greta complained as well about the criticism of activists and the abuse she has received. Petrolhead Jeremy Clarkson surprised everyone when he said that climate change must be real because he found that he couldn’t take a boat up the Mekong River in Cambodia because parts of it had dried up. It didn’t take long for him to revert to type and say that Greta should shut up and go back to school. She told activists in Madrid that we needed more activists, that school strikes could stop if governments took action and she hoped that there would be a positive outcome from COP25, as ministers from across the world arrived for the final stages of the summit. She didn’t look optimistic, but she always looks determined.
At the other end of the age range, 82-year-old actress Jane Fonda has joined the climate activists and been arrested four times. She says that she’s inspired by Greta Thunberg and that climate activism has helped lift her depression which followed the election of Donald Trump.
Grouse Moors
The United Kingdom lies a few hundred miles north of Madrid, and large areas of northern England and Scotland are pretty barren. There are very few trees and much of the landscape is bog and heather populated by sheep. Although this countryside has looked like this for 200 years or more, it’s not natural. It’s managed like this for grouse shooting, an activity which uses 13% of the land area of Scotland but contributes a negligible amount to Scotland’s economy. A report from Revive, the coalition for grouse moor reform, claims that continued management of this land as grouse moors will maintain a large area of Scotland’s land in an impoverished state. It’s treated with pesticides, contaminated with lead shot and parts are burned each year so that the heather puts out new shoots that the grouse feed on. This close-to-sterile landscape could be returned to scrub and woodland, with habitat for a wide range of wildlife, opportunities for year-round leisure activities and managed forestry with associated jobs. The trees would be a carbon sink, but protecting the peat bogs, already a massive carbon sink, would be far more important. To achieve this, of course would need political will and cooperation from those that own the land. Politicians may well choose easier battles to fight.
I fear the Scottish landowners would be every bit as obdurate and obstructive as the coal companies.
And Finally,
Some good news. Well, reasonably good news anyway. The Times reports that the UK market share for greener cars rose above 10 per cent for the first time in November, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. Demand for hybrids rose by 15 per cent to 7,038 compared to the same month last year; plug-in hybrids increased by 34.8 per cent to 4,362; and battery electric cars rose by 229 per cent to 4,652. 229%! But then that’s a very low base. And that’s just 4,652 vehicles out of a total of some 160,000. And is the car, petrol or electric, the way to go?
I think that’s a question for another time.
And that’s it…
…for another Sustainable Futures Report.  Remember that links to the sources for all of these stories are on the blog - or will be by Friday.
Next week I’ll bring you a more measured response to the results of the UK election, to the outcome of COP25 and there’ll be a look at how we can adapt to the climate change already built into the system. That will be my last episode of 2019, bringing us up to 45 editions for the year, so you won’t be surprised that there will be a break in January. I’m aiming for a 3rd January episode, although precious few have come back with 100 words on what we should do in 2020. Send me your ideas!  Before Christmas if you possibly can.
If you’re contemplating a New Year’s Resolution (OK I know Christmas hasn’t even started yet!) But if you are, why not become a patron of the Sustainable Futures Report. Details at Makes an ideal Christmas present, too.
Right, that’s enough for this time. 
But before I go, 
lest we forget, XR hunger strikers are now in their third week with nothing but water and vitamins.
Some people have immense courage and they’re doing this for you and me.
I’m Anthony Day
That was the Sustainable Futures Report
I’ll be back next week in time to wish you a Merry Christmas.


Australia fires: blazes 'too big to put out' as 140 bushfires rage in NSW and Queensland
Sydney's air 11 times worse than 'hazardous' levels as Australia's bushfires rage
Energy treaty 'risks undermining EU's green new deal'


UN climate talks failing to address urgency of crisis, says top scientist

Greta Thunberg says school strikes have achieved nothing

Jane Fonda on joining the climate fight: 'It's back to the barricades'

Close Scottish grouse moors to help climate, report urges


Hello and welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday, the 13th of December. I was planning to stay up late tonight so that I could incorporate the result, or at least the trend, of the general election in this episode. Then I realised that by the time you listen to this you will know far more than I might do at midnight on Thursday. So we’ll talk about the election next time. I hope you get this on Friday. BT are about to cut our internet off - maybe for as much as 24 hours the man’s just told me. I’m sure I’ll find a way.