Friday, December 14, 2018

Another Year

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Hello, good morning and welcome. I'm Anthony Day, this is the Sustainable Futures Report and it's Friday, 14th December 2018. Yes, less than two weeks to Christmas so I hope you’ve got all your cards written and presents bought. 
This week as promised I shall look back at the 22 episodes published this year and pick out some themes, stories and updates.
Sustainability is an immensely broad issue and climate change must come at the very top. Among other things this year I’ve also looked at waste, population, and low carbon solutions for transport and energy. CoP 24, the United Nations climate change conference, comes to an end today although of course at the time of recording it's still going on. I'll update you on what was finally decided next week, but apparently the major contribution of the United States to the event was the promotion of the continued use of coal. This was initially met with disbelieving laughter and then drowned out by protesters complaining about the damage caused by fossil fuels from both production and use.
The big climate news this year was the IPCC report warning that we have only 12 years before reaching the tipping point when we will be unable to prevent catastrophic climate change. Actually that's not exactly what the report said. Certainly none of what I read quotes the 12 year figure. It does talk about 2030 as the deadline which of course is 12 years off, just. I'm concerned that the way it's being reported gives people a false sense of security and they'll think that they don't really have to worry about anything for 10 years or so. Of course what the report actually says is that we need to take urgent action now. Interestingly that's more or less what Lord Stern said in his report, and that was published in 2006.
Floods and Fires
2018 has seen extreme weather events across the world. In June and July there were wild fires in California, in northern England, in Greece and in Sweden, even above the Arctic Circle. Floods in Japan killed more than 200 people and then in the September Japan was hit by a typhoon. In Italy extreme rain led to flash floods which washed down a gorge and swept 11 hikers to their death. In October flash floods killed 10 people in France and at the same time hurricane-force winds hit Portugal, uprooting around 1,000 trees and leaving 300,000 people without power. Sydney, Australia, had torrential rain and destructive flash flooding in November.
Melting Ice
In the Arctic the warm weather led to ice melting and water seeping into the Global Seed Vault on Svalbard. You’ll remember it’s a long-term seed storage facility which represents the world’s largest collection of crop diversity. Fortunately, "The seeds in the vault have never, ever been at any kind of threat," said Maria Haga, executive director of the global Crop Trust. The Norwegian government is making repairs.
At the other end of the world the city of Cape Town in South Africa warned that it would run out of water on 21 April as the result of continuing drought. In the event that did not happen, although stringent rationing had been introduced and thousands of plastic jerrycans were sold as people prepared to stock up. Just in time, the rains came and farmers up country were also persuaded to release some of the water held in agricultural reservoirs. Cape Town is safe, although rationing and strict water management remain.
Wilder Fires
Wildfires returned to California in November. The biggest, called The Camp Fire, killed more than 85 people and destroyed18,000 structures. It’s estimated that the CO2 released by the fires was equivalent to the total CO2 emitted in the state from power generation. The 2018 wildfire season was the most destructive on record. President Trump blamed the extent of the fires on poor forest management. To the surprise of the population of Finland he suggested that that country avoided fires by raking their forests and keeping them tidy. But then, Trump is a well-known climate sceptic. When the Fourth National Climate Assessment prepared by the U.S. Global Change Research Program warned of serious economic consequences from climate change the president’s response was, “I don’t believe it.”
Glaciers on the Move
Last week I spoke about the effect of climate change on the polar ice caps and the effect of the polar ice caps on climate change. Accelerated melting raises sea levels and retreating ice exposes areas of the ocean which absorb heat, unlike the ice which reflects most of it back. News from the BBC this week of a NASA report that satellite images show that Eastern Antarctic glaciers are moving more quickly as they slide towards the sea. Addressing the  Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), Dr Catherine Walker from Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center said that the glaciers had speeded up by about 3% compared to 2008. The cause of the melting seems to be warmer water coming up against the glaciers as they reach the sea. The changes that are occurring are still quite subtle, and they are only really discernible because of the new automated computer tools that will search through the millions of satellite images taken of Antarctica. Research continues. 

It’s a Waste
Another major story this year has been waste, in particular plastic waste. A programme by David Attenborough revealing the devastation caused by plastics in the ocean caught the public imagination. We learnt that about half of the plastic in the ocean is lost or abandoned fishing gear. We also learned about microparticles. These come from some toothpastes and other toiletries, although they are being banned in the number of markets. The other source is other sorts of plastic which gradually break down as they decompose. These microparticles can absorb other pollutants as they float on the surface of the sea and then can sink to the depths of the ocean taking this pollution with them to infect deep-sea life. Otherwise microparticles can be absorbed by fish and other marine organisms. This can lead them into the human food chain but it's also been demonstrated that they can change the behaviour of some shellfish. For example, winkles can lose their fear of predators, which means whole populations become easy prey for crabs, changing the ecological balance.
Plastic waste has maintained a high profile throughout the year. There are ways of cleaning it up, but the long-term solution must lie at the production end so that the plastics used do not pollute or can be easily recycled. We need to continue to promote the circular economy.
Linking Cans
One of the most notorious articles of plastic waste is the mesh that is used to hold beer cans together. Once discarded any animal that gets trapped in it can find it impossible to free itself. Disturbing examples are widely to be found in the media. Many drinks companies have committed to abandoning this mesh and instead they will hold their cans in fours or sixes by using adhesive blocks to stick them together. Good idea, but I haven't seen them on the supermarket shelves yet.
In May I met Simon Jordan, founder of #5thingsclear. Simon says we must stop closing our eyes to litter and expecting that others will clear it up. #5thingsclear calls on you to pick up five pieces of litter every day and take it away for proper disposal. Sadly litter is all too prevalent wherever you go, so that shouldn’t be too difficult. Picking up 5 things is a start, especially if we all do it. “Only you,” he said, “Can make the change. Action trumps hope.”
Refill is an organisation setting up a network of places where you can fill your water bottle free of charge. Re-using a bottle means you avoid single-use plastic bottles, and some re-usable bottles are designed to keep your water cool as well. There’s an app, so wherever you are it shows you where your nearest refill point is.
I have a reusable coffee cup. Sometimes I remember to take it with me. Most coffee bars give a discount these days if you use your own cup, so it doesn't take long for it to pay for itself. There is a problem in that once you've used it you're carrying around a dirty cup. I've never asked a cafe whether they would wash it for me before refilling, but if they did I could have several coffees in a day and avoid single-use cups.
Recycled watch
In September Climate Action told us about a new solar-powered watch made from recycled plastic bottles. “Two French designers are leading the way to reducing plastic pollution,” they say, “by creating a watch made from recycled bottles. The new eco-friendly watch is named ‘Awake’. It is made from plastic waste, recycled stainless steel and is powered by solar energy.” 
Apparently this watch will cost about $300. I must admit I’m tempted, although my £65 watch still works perfectly well. If I were to buy a new watch it would be nice to think that it’s been made with minimal impact on the environment. I think the new watch’s main contribution will be to make people remember that recycling is important.
Walker of Shame?
The people’s plastic police picked on Walker’s, the popular crisp manufacturers. Walker's crisps are packaged in bags made of plasticised foil which is extremely difficult to recycle. Hundreds of people started sending the bags back to Walker’s, using the customer service freepost address. Many of them just sent the packets which caused a lot of disruption to the post office which urged them to at least put them in envelopes. Walker’s have responded and this week announced that they have set up a network of collection points across the country. They have developed a partnership with TerraCycle which specialises in recycling difficult materials. In fact it claims that it can recycle anything. According to the website you can help fund charities and schools each time you recycle your crisp packets. Walker’s say that they are committed to using 100% recyclable packaging by 2025.
Other potato crisps are available. 
Two Farmers offer crisps in a range of flavours. On their website they say: “In a pioneering move for the crisp industry we package our crisps in 100% compostable bags. These will completely break down in a home composting environment in 26 weeks. We also package into recyclable tins.” So you know where to go if you can’t wait for Walker’s until 2025.
The British government said it would do something about plastic in the budget. When it came to it there were no new taxes. The government said it would consult.
Energy, clean energy, is the most frequently recurring story in the Sustainable Futures Report. There are the ongoing sagas of the Hinkley C nuclear power station and the Swansea Bay barrier. Hinkley C carries on much the same as it did at the start of the year, way behind schedule, way over budget and extremely costly once it goes into production. The nuclear industry is not a happy place at the moment following a rumoured decision by Hitachi to pull out of the planned nuclear power station at Wylfa in Wales. The company’s share price rose 3% on the news, even though it will have to write off expenditure to date of nearly £2 billion. Bad news for the British government, though. It looks as though it may have to rescue the scheme with public money - something it vowed never to do. And it comes after Toshiba walked away from another proposed nuclear plant in Cumbria, which will now almost certainly not be built.
… and Tides
The Swansea Bay tidal barrage has its own set of problems. It has always been difficult to make the sums add up and the only way that the electricity price per unit can be calculated at anything near a reasonable level would be by looking at an extremely long expected life. The other issue is the problem with construction which will require thousands of tons of rock. The preferred source of this it is a quarry in Cornwall, but this is currently in an area of outstanding natural beauty and locals are horrified at the scale of expansion that would be needed. There are also questions over the financial structure, with ownership of the quarry and the barrier appearing to be in the same or closely related hands. On the one hand the present government has said that the barrier will not be built. The Labour opposition says that when it comes to power the barrier will be one of its first priorities. If it does come to power any time soon I think it will have more pressing matters to deal with.
The long hot summer in the UK generated a lot of solar energy and wind power made a significant contribution as well. For several months no coal was used for power generation. Still a long way to go to make the UK independent of fossil fuels for electricity generation. There is still much investment in gas fired power stations. Pity we don't have the level of sunshine that they get in Australia. In March, Elon Musk, he of Space-X and the Tesla electric car company, announced that he would give free solar panels and Tesla Powerwalls (batteries) to 50,000 homeowners in South Australia. The deal is that he sells the electricity to the homeowners for about 30% less than they are currently paying, he links all the systems together to make a virtual power station and he sells the surplus electricity to recoup his costs.
Fracking has been in the news as after months of protest the go-ahead was given for franking operations to begin near Preston in Lancashire. The process has been halted several times because of earth tremors. The latest and greatest at 1.5 on the Richter scale was reported just this week. It came just after operations had been resumed after a month-long suspension following earlier tremors.
Liquid Energy
Other energy stories that came up included the idea of a pumpable liquid to fuel electric cars. Too good to be true? Researchers Cronin, Chen and Symes say in the abstract from their article in the Nature Chemistry journal “we present a polyoxoanion, … that can act either as a high-performance redox flow battery electrolyte… …or as a mediator in an electrolytic cell for the on-demand generation of hydrogen.” It seems that this new process could be used in electric car batteries. The exhausted electrolyte liquid would be drained out and replaced with a new energy-rich batch. If this could be done as quickly as refuelling a petrol or diesel car the range anxiety problem with electric cars - the worry that the battery will run out and take hours to recharge, leaving the driver stranded - will be solved at a stroke. Of course there will be a few issues to be ironed out…
Leading the Charge
Other suggestions for charging up electric cars are to do it on the move, either with rails embedded in the road surface or with induction coils underneath.
The Bigger the Battery
Battery capacity is a key issue for electric vehicles. Energy to weight and energy to volume must be maximised. In April the University of Illinois announced that it had created a lithium air battery which could hold five times more energy than a conventional lithium ion battery and had been successfully charged and discharged 750 times.
They say it will take more work to create a commercial version of the battery but if they achieve this it will be a game changer. Research continues.
News from Canada
A major energy story continues in Canada. Alberta has vast reserves of hydrocarbons in its tar sands and wants to export crude oil to Asia through the Port of Vancouver. Vancouver is in British Columbia, and for the moment the provincial government is blocking the construction of a new pipeline to carry the oil from Alberta to the port. There are fears of pollution and desecration of the tribal lands of indigenous people and concerns about the passage of oil tankers through the difficult channel to the sea. I strongly recommend that you go to the blog at and follow the Globe and Mail link. 
 This is one of the best visual presentations that I’ve seen, and not only shows how the pipeline will reach the coast but highlights the risks involved in shipping the oil out.
At the moment the project seems to be stalemated, but in the light of the IPCC report we have to stop exploiting fossil fuels. Galling as it is - and highly significant for employment in Alberta - the best course for the planet must be to keep the tar sands in the ground.
22 episodes, about 70,000 words and 300 stories this year. I haven’t done them all justice, I’m afraid, but there will be another episode of the Sustainable Futures Report next week. Let me leave you with a reminder of the people I’ve interviewed this year, the books I’ve reviewed or come across and the TED talks that you really should watch.
In July I spoke to Martin Baxter of IEMA about the future of environmental regulation in the UK after Brexit. Also in July Kristina Joss, Head of Salterbaxter North America, a leading sustainability agency,  spoke about aligning business goals with the SDGs. I was also interviewed on Talk Radio by Mike Graham about adapting to climate Change. I was interviewed again on Talk Radio, this time by Julia Hartley Brewer about carbon dioxide. Do you remember that back in the summer there was a shortage of CO2 which affected the brewers and the soft drinks industry? The popular query seemed to be “If there’s all that CO2 out there causing climate change, how can there be a shortage?” I tried to explain.
Hal Harvey, author of Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy, spoke to me in October. His book is available now. Something for the Christmas stocking? It was the turn of Professor Jon Gluyas of Durham University later in October to talk about carbon capture and storage. 
Clive Wilson gave me an interview in September about his book, Designing the Purposeful World.
Books for your Christmas list should include 
  • Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy, by HalHarvey.
  • Designing the Purposeful World by Clive Wilson
  • And  “A Circular Economy Handbook for Business and Supply Chains” by Catherine Weetman and published by Kogan Page.
There’s a special offer for Sustainable Futures Report listeners on Catherine’s book. Go to - the full link is on the blog -, and use the discount code  CIRCULAR20 which she assures me makes it even cheaper than at Amazon.
This year I’ve also read,
  • This Changes Everything and
  • No is not Enough - both by Naomi Klein
  • Out of the Wreckage by George Monbiot and
  • Moneyland by Oliver Bullough is scary account of the world in which we now live and try and get our sustainability messages over.
TED Talks
If you’ve time for a TED Talk, search out Naomi Klein and Andrew Dent.
Before I close, 2018 has not been too good for VW the car company. It’s been scarred by the dieselgate scandal and then it was found that the company had been testing the effects of diesel emissions on monkeys. It stirred up a storm in Mexico, too. Apparently, Volkswagen is curbing the use of hail cannons outside its factory in Puebla, Mexico, after it was accused by local farmers of causing a drought in the region, leading to heavy losses of crops.
VW used the cannons to protect newly-built vehicles from hailstone damage. The devices emit shock waves into the sky, which are believed to prevent the chunks of ice from forming, but there’s a lack of scientific evidence that the cannons actually impact weather conditions and minimise hail, and their legitimacy has long been criticised. Still, farmers in Puebla claim that the cannons have led to a lack of much-needed rainfall. The hail cannons are “affecting the Earth’s cycles,” said Gerardo Perez, a leader of the farmers. When the devices blast away, “the sky literally clears and it simply doesn’t rain,” he said. To cover the crop losses, the farmers are demanding that Volkswagen pay nearly $4 million in compensation.

And that’s it..
…for this week, but there will be a final episode for the year next Friday 21st December when I’ll talk about the outcome of CoP24. Meanwhile, do you remember this song? I first played it in March. It’s called “Goodbye Beautiful World” but are we down hearted?
I'm Anthony Day and I'm still optimistic.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report and there'll be another next week.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Water - and COP24

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Hello and welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report. I'm Anthony Day and this is the edition for Friday, 7th November 2018.

This week I wanted to make water my theme. We’ll come to that, but the big news of course is COP24. It's the annual United Nations climate change conference held this year in Katowice, Poland. It's ironic that as the conference opened President Macron of France, faced by the increasing violence of the gilets jaunes protests, agreed to suspend the planned increase in diesel prices which were intended to protect the planet by reducing demand and reducing emissions.
Meanwhile, the opening keynote speaker was television naturalist Sir David Attenborough whose message was widely reported.
“Right now,” he said, “we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years.
Climate Change. 
“If we don’t take action the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.” 
He went on to explain, 
“At this crucial moment, the United Nations has invited the world’s people to have their voice heard, by giving them a seat. The People’s Seat; giving everyone the opportunity to join us here today, virtually, and speak directly to you the decision makers….. 
“…The world’s people have spoken. Their message is clear. Time is running out.
“They want you, the decision makers, to act now. They are behind you, along with civil society represented here today. 

“Supporting you in making tough decisions but also willing to make sacrifices in their daily lives. 
“The People have spoken. Leaders of the world, you must lead. The continuation of our civilisations and the natural world upon which we depend, is in your hands.”
He explained the UN’s This is an interactive app based on Messenger and when you click on the Get Started button it comes back with this personalised message:
“Anthony, you have the power to tackle climate change. Small changes can make a big difference if we all work together. The United Nations has identified 10 key actions that you can take in your daily life and record here. Our collective actions from around the globe will be presented to world leaders at the UN Climate Summit in September 2019.”
The 10 actions, with detailed explanation of each, are:
Eat meat-free meals, turn the lights off, drive less, use energy saving light bulbs, refill and re-use, have a 5-minute shower, buy local produce, bring your own bag, unplug, recycle. 
Simple enough, and small enough individually, but if we all do it there is vast strength in vast numbers. Not sure that I will go back to the site to record all my actions, though. Will people do that?
The People’s Seat
The People's Seat which Attenborough mentioned is a new UN campaign that will allow people from around the world to watch and have their voices heard during the climate summit COP24 which is now on. To do that you tweet using hashtag #takeyourseat. This use of Twitter along with the on Messenger is presumably aimed at a younger demographic. Apparently the campaign has been running for a while and if you google People’s Seat you’ll find messages about climate change from all over the world. 
The conference continues until next Friday 14th December, so I’ll comment on it again after that.
Oh, by the way, Katowice, where the conference is being held, is in the heart of Polish mining country. JSW, a majority state-owned corporation and the European Union's largest producer of high-quality coking coal is one of the major sponsors of COP24.

Let’s talk about water.
Water is one of the main issues of sustainability. Clean water part of the United Nations sustainable development goals. It's crucial to life and it's bound up in so many ways in the cause and effects of climate change.
Today I want to look again at how water affects us all. From the polar ice caps to the thermohaline circulation and the Gulf Stream; from floods to droughts to mudslides.
Polar ice 
First, let’s look at the poles. At both the North and South poles there are major masses of ice. The principal difference is that most of the Arctic ice is floating on the sea, so that if it melted it would not change sea levels. This is similar to the ice cube in your gin and tonic which may melt but won't cause your drink to overflow the glass. There is a significant amount of ice covering the Greenland landmass, and this would add 7 metres to sea level if it melted. 
In the Antarctic the ice sits on land. The Antarctic icecap contains about 90 percent of the world's ice and 70 percent of the world’s fresh water. Antarctica is covered with ice at an average of 2,150 metres thick. If all of the Antarctic ice melted, sea levels around the world would rise about 61 metres. 
Ice Loss
We talk constantly about global warming, so how likely is it that this ice will melt? Stuff, a magazine based in New Zealand, warns that Polar ice sheets may 'collapse' even if global warming is limited to the Paris Agreement target of 2℃. It quotes an article in Nature Climate Change which predicts that the threshold for irreversible ice loss in both Greenland and Antarctica is somewhere between 1.5 and 2C global mean warming. 
We're already at a bit more than 1C warming.
Professor Christina Hulbe, from the University of Otago School of Surveying, said the work had "one clear message: we are very close to triggering irreversible change in Earth's polar ice sheets”.
Faster Melting
In June this year, analysis showed that the rate of melting in Antarctica had tripled since 2012. Associate Professor Rob McKay, from Victoria University of Wellington's Antarctic Research Centre, said after the tipping points were reached at each polar ice sheet, "retreat potentially becomes unstoppable”. The more we overshoot the 1.5C target, the more rapid this accelerated ice sheet melt will be, but it won't happen overnight. It’s expected to take hundreds or thousands of years. 
Rising Tides
No grounds for complacency. As long as Antarctic ice is melting, or just slipping off into the sea as icebergs, sea levels are rising.
The National Geographic reports that the annual rate of rise over the past 20 years has been 3.2 millimetres a year, roughly twice the average speed of the preceding 80 years. Even 32mm per decade doesn’t sound a lot, and it isn’t very much in calm conditions. However, let’s take an example.
Let’s assume that the Thames Estuary has an area of about 700km2. That’s 700,000,000m2. If the sea level rises by 32mm in 10 years that’s an extra 22m tonnes of water. When there’s a storm surge or a high wind driving up the river that’s an extra 22m tonnes of water pushing against the Thames Barrier or flooding into coastal towns. Now consider how much more water there will be across the oceans of the world as sea levels rise. The total area of global oceans is about 360mkm2. You can do the maths.
Things could be much worse. NASA predicts that sea levels could rise by 65cm by the end of the century and says that that could be a conservative estimate. It seems that the difference is accounted for by the expansion of water as the world warms, and by differences in modelling techniques. Ice-melt prediction is a relatively young science. Some researchers believe that the Greenland Ice sheet will completely melt by 2100, releasing enough water to submerge London. And if that happens many other cities and countries will be affected as well.
Wet Feet?
According to the US ocean service, in the United States, almost 40 percent of the population lives in relatively high-population-density coastal areas, where sea level plays a role in flooding, shoreline erosion, and hazards from storms. Globally, eight of the world's 10 largest cities are near a coast. The UK Climate Projections report, issued last month by the Met Office, warns that the most serious consequences for the UK will be increased flooding. Environment Minister Michael Gove (at the time of writing) says that flood defences can only go so far, and some areas will have to be permanently evacuated.

The Oceans
The water in the oceans is in constant flux. There are local currents driven by the wind but there is a much larger flow called the thermohaline circulation. The North Atlantic current, including the Gulf Stream, flows from the Caribbean to the northeast above Scandinavia. As it reaches the higher, colder latitudes it begins to freeze, and as the ice forms the salt in the water is left behind, making it denser. Denser water sinks to the bottom of the ocean and begins to flow south across the ocean bed. On the surface, more water is drawn in to replace the water that has sunk. This is the start of the thermohaline circulation: thermo, relating to the heat and haline, meaning saltiness.
Slowing Down
Forbes Magazine reports on the work of researchers at the Swire Institute of Marine Science and the University of Hong Kong. They studied sediment and fossils off the coast of Canada to reconstruct ocean circulation in the past and to compare it with where it is today. The team, which published its findings in Geophysical Research Letters, found a dramatic weakening of ocean circulation during the last century. The concern is that increasing numbers of icebergs flowing off Greenland are changing the salinity of the water and effectively creating a freshwater cap. This is slowing down the sinking process, which in turn slows down the current, and could eventually block it. 
Why does this matter?
The clue is in the thermo bit. The current crossing the Atlantic is bringing warm water, which affects the climate. It’s the reason why winters in London are much milder than those in New York, even though London is 11 degrees of latitude further north. A slowing of the current could perhaps have been the cause of the Little Ice Age in Europe. This period, lasting from around 1300 to 1850 AD marked bitter cold conditions, famine, drought, and widespread population decline. Nobody can say for sure. Equally nobody can say when or whether it will happen again. If you believe in the precautionary principle, it’s another strong argument to take every measure to attempt to keep global warming down to 1.5℃ or less.
More to come
There’s an awful lot more about water. I haven’t discussed clouds, or floods, or droughts, or drinking water or sewage, but I’m going to leave those topics for another time.

There is a vast amount of information on the web and you’ll find a selection of links on the blog at .

And in other news…
I got a press release this week from the Group of 78 (G78) which apparently is a non-governmental organization, founded in 1981, dedicated to the promotion of a progressive foreign policy based on principles of sustainable peace, justice, and global survival in the face of contemporary challenges. Its report Meeting the Climate Challenge: Accelerating the Transition to a Post-Carbon World, G78 Conference Report and Policy Recommendations, is the outcome of a policy conference held in Ottawa September 28-29.
Anyone can become a member of G78 and the number refers to the 78 Canadians who originally set up the organisation. 
The report and the press release call for stronger international actions to avert catastrophic climate change. G78 hopes that international leaders and decision-makers will commit to such actions at the UN’s COP24, which is currently in session. I hope so too, and I’ll report on that in the Sustainable Futures Report for 21st December.           
CO2 Up
 Action is certainly needed. The BBC reports that CO2 is sharply up in 2018 due to the use of cars and coal. China is boosting the use of coal to drive its economy. In other areas, including the UK, gas prices have risen making coal more competitive for generating electricity. In the UK the chancellor froze fuel duty for the 9th year in a row recently. Cars are getting bigger and drivers have little concern for fuel economy or emissions levels. They can perhaps be forgiven for being sceptical about all this after the diesel-gate scandal - the deliberate modification of cars to defeat emissions tests. Meanwhile, as I said at the beginning, President Macron’s attempt at cutting fossil fuel use by raising prices led to two weeks of riots in the streets across France and he’s had to back down. 
We live in difficult times!
And finally…
That's it for another week.
Thanks for listening and thanks to my patrons for all their support. You can find out about being a patron at 
Patron Iain Duke got in touch and suggested I should look at the conflict between development and ecological footprint reduction. Thanks, Iain, I’ve got that down for early next year. And if you’ve got any ideas or opinions on that please share. I’m on
Next week I’m going to have a look at all the topics I’ve covered in 2018 and see whether there are any significant updates you should know about. On 21st December I’ll look at what happened at COP24 and I’ll also talk about the Carrington Event. Could it happen again?
That’s it for this week.
I’m Anthony Day.

That was the Sustainable Futures Report.

Friday, November 30, 2018

All the Lovely People

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My Dilemma

I have a dilemma. I have a choice between meeting my deadline for a new Sustainable Futures Report every week and providing you with in-depth analysis of the topics that I cover. Inevitably most of my coverage is superficial, but I certainly can't afford to trivialise these very important issues. This week I'm looking at population, and like many other sustainability issues it is broad, deep and complicated. Today's episode therefore will take a top level view, but if it's something you'd like me to go into in more detail, or if you can contribute your knowledge and ideas to the debate, please get back to me. It’s  as always.
Yes, I’m Anthony Day with your Sustainable Futures Report for Friday the 30th of November. Less than a month to the Christmas consumer-fest. Welcome and thank you all for listening.
Population. It's another elephant in the room. We know we need to do something about it. We know we need to do something about plastic. We’ve had dire warnings from the IPCC of the very present dangers from climate change, and we know we need to do something about that. But many people are concerned about family, housing, jobs, the cost of living and declining public services. Do we really have to worry about population as well? It’s the perennial question: “What can we do?” At the very least we should all have an opinion. Governments have a role in this. We need to hold them to account.
Let’s talk about numbers. First of all I'd like to draw your attention to a website. It’s Just have a look at it and watch world population growing before your eyes. I remember that when I was at University there was a slogan going around: “Whatever your cause it’s a lost cause unless we limit population.”  At that time, world population was around 3.5 billion. Now it’s almost up to 7.7 billion; more than double. It’s actually trebled in my lifetime. These figures are based on UN statistics, and on the website there’s a lot more detail than just the absolute numbers. The first thing you can see is that the birthrate exceeds the death rate, and as long as that continues then population will continue to grow. It's currently growing at about 1.09% per annum globally, and while that rate of increase is slowing, it's still a rate of increase. United Nations estimates that world population will reach 8 billion by 2023, 10 billion by 2056 and exceed 11 billion by 2100. These are estimates within a wide range. At least this slowing growth rate means that it will take 200 years for the population to double again - if that were feasible.
Developed Countries
Looking at the Worldometer website you can see that developed countries like the US, UK, France, Germany and Italy have birth rates of between 1.4 and 2 children per woman, which is replacement level or less. The populations of these countries, apart from Italy, are still growing, even after adjusting for migration. The average growth rate for these five is less than 0.4% per annum. If the birth rate is below the replacement rate but population net of migration is still growing, the only conclusion must be that this growth occurs because people are living longer in these countries. 
Developing Countries
Compare this with some developing countries. I’ve chosen Nigeria, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Populations here are all growing, at an average rate of 1.9%, compared with less than 0.4%. China is the lowest, growing at 0.39%, but the rest are growing from just over 1% to 3.3%. The average number of children per woman in the developed world is 1.7, but in these developing countries it is 3.5, with the DRC at 6.4. 
(Sorry about all these figures. You can find them on the blog, and the source is the UN via the Worldometers site.)
It’s interesting to see a reverse correlation between the birthrate and the median age of the population. In most cases, the lower the median age, the higher the birthrate. For the developed countries within my sample, with an average birthrate of 1.7, the median age is 42 years. For the developing country sample with an average birthrate of 3.5, the median age is 26. In the DRC with the birthrate of 6.4, the median age is only 17.
Health and Longevity
Increased longevity is one factor in increasing world population. As developing countries develop and healthcare improves, longevity will increase here as well. Infant mortality and the survival of babies beyond their first year will also improve. In the short term this may give a boost to population, but studies have shown that once people are confident that their children are likely to survive their families get smaller.
What’s the problem?
As population grows, what’s the problem? The campaign group Population Matters tells us simply that:
 “Our population has become so large that the earth cannot cope.” 
As there are more mouths to feed there is more pressure on the land to produce food. There is more pressure on resources to provide the goods and services that an increased population demands. One of the most significant pressures comes not just from absolute numbers but from the expectations of world citizens. According to the OECD the size of the “global middle class” will increase from 1.8 billion in 2009 to 3.2 billion by 2020 and 4.9 billion by 2030. These are the people who expect to drive cars, have a refrigerator and a television and to carry a mobile phone. Many want to eat a Western diet. Population Matters estimates that we are already using 1.7 times the total output of the earth, in terms of food and resources. We are using it faster than it can be replaced, and in some cases we are causing damage that can never be undone. It’s unsustainable.
What’s the Solution?
The solution, according to them, is smaller families, even in Western countries where population is beginning to decline. It’s a very hard sell. As they say on the website, 
“To have or not to have children is a fundamental human right that everyone should be free to exercise without judgment or criticism.” 
It’s also a human right that only a small part of the population can exercise at a given time. 
An Academic View (or two)
I’ve commented on the work of Kim Nicholas and Seth Wynes in the past. They calculated that having a child increased your carbon footprint by a massive 60 tonnes per annum and was much more serious than driving a car or travelling by air. As Professor Karl Coplan said on the Sustainable Futures Report for 22nd September 2017, 
“I think that actually disserves the climate cause because people outside the climate movement look at that and say; oh my God, these climate activists, they are telling us that we should just stop having children.” 
At the time they published their work, Nicholas and Wynes were widely criticised for misinterpreting the papers on which their analysis was based. Unfortunately their conclusions have been widely shared - including by Transform, the journal of IEMA. I asked Nicholas and Wynes for an interview back in 2017 but they said they were not giving interviews, at least not to me.
Family Planning
Population Matters is promoting family planning in developing countries. The US of course has now withdrawn funding from its own work in this field. Will family planning have a sufficient effect in time?
Population Matters justifies its call for smaller families in developed countries on the grounds that these children will have a far larger impact than children in poor countries. For example, they estimate that a child in the UK will have 70 times the impact on the planet that a child in Nigeria will have. You can't argue with that, so the whole debate comes back to the use of resources and the creation of waste and emissions, and indeed the campaign urges everyone to cut back. There are many ways which we can enjoy our current lifestyle with a much lower use of resources and with less pollution. We can help developing countries to use these techniques and raise their standard of living in a sustainable way. But for all this to happen we need politicians to take a lead, to take a long-term view, to control those corporations damaging the planet for short-term profit by things like destroying forests, polluting the seas and burning coal. In my view we all have to have an opinion. We each have to do what we can to ensure that our individual lifestyles minimise our impact on the planet. We have to share our ideas and demand that governments act.
And you?
What do you think we could or should do about population?

In Other News…

News from Canada. 
Rex Murphy writing in the National  Post says “Lewis Carroll (you know, the one who wrote Alice in Wonderland) is alive and well, and writing Canada’s energy policy.”
Murphy is concerned that the nation is not making full use of its energy resources and of course this turns to a great extent on the dispute between Alberta and British Columbia. As I have previously reported, Alberta has vast reserves of oil from its tar sands deposits and wants to export them through the Port of Vancouver. Vancouver is in British Columbia and the province of British Columbia does not wish to permit pipelines to cross its territory. Among other things, environmentalists are very concerned about the prospect of large numbers of oil tankers making their way along the hazardous passage from the port to the open sea, particularly in winter.  
Murphy says: 
“Until there are pipelines (plural) built and oil flowing to international markets there should be no talk of the so-call carbon tax — the energy tax. Until the crazed circumstance of the blockade on Alberta energy is resolved, all talk of “reducing carbon emissions” and the pretence of meeting our Paris “commitments” should be shelved. Fix the home front first, and then if some wish to attend to the dubious goals of planetary salvation, let them at it.”
This is clearly not someone who has read the IPCC report, or if he has, he doesn’t believe it. I think it was St Augustine who prayed, “Oh Lord, make me pure - but not yet.” 
OK Mr Murphy, let’s cut emissions, but not yet. Oh dear, it’s too late.
U.S. Global Change Research Program
Earlier this month the U.S. Global Change Research Program produced its Fourth National Climate Assessment. It states: 
“Climate change creates new risks and exacerbates existing vulnerabilities in communities across the United States, presenting growing challenges to human health and safety, quality of life, and the rate of economic growth.” 
It goes on to explain the many ways in which the nation will be affected, from the economy to water, to health, to agriculture, to tourism.
The report says that the economic impact of climate change would be devastating. Questioned on this, President Trump said, “I don’t believe it.”
A footnote to last week’s episode. An official report from Brazil says that deforestation in the Amazon in the 12 months to July 2018 was the worst for 10 years. Environment Minister Edson Duarte said illegal logging and an upsurge in organised crime was to blame. 
On 1st January president-elect Jair Bolsonaro will take office, and is expected to have a much more relaxed attitude to the protection of the rainforest.
France in Yellow
In France, the yellow vest or gilets jaunes protest continues across the nation. What started as a protest against increased fuel prices has developed into a demonstration against low incomes and the high cost of living. It continues across the whole country. President Macron introduced the price increases as a measure to reduce carbon emissions. So far he is standing firm and has not blinked yet.

More news about micro plastics. A report from the Royal Society has found that these particles can change the behaviour of certain shellfish which absorb them. They no longer recognise threats and become easy prey for crabs, leading to an imbalance in the food chain. According to Paul Morozzo, of Greenpeace, “we’re dumping an extra truckload of risk into the sea every 60 seconds.” 
I was also intrigued to see a comment in the article which said that micro plastics are now even found in honey. I can't imagine how bees come into contact with micro plastics, except perhaps through the water which they pick up from puddles and ponds.
Extreme Weather
More extreme weather, this time from Australia. The BBC reports that Sydney has experienced its wettest November day since 1984. 91mm of rain fell in 90 minutes, and high winds and flash flooding led to two deaths. 8,000 homes and businesses lost power. Airports were closed and vehicles crashed.
While the storm was intense, it was highly localised. Other parts of the state in the grip of drought got no rain at all.
In the US the Juliana case rumbles on but the Pacific Standard asks whether it will ever get to court. The government has continually blocked it, but has not succeeded in getting it dismissed. A date for trial is still to be set.
Meanwhile in Canada a similar case has emerged. ENvironnement JEUnesse (ENJEU),[that’s a French pun] a Quebec-based environmental education group, announced this week that it had applied for authorization for a class action suit on behalf of all the citizens of Quebec under the age of 35. It challenges the Canadian government for insufficient action on climate change. Like the Juliana case, it is expected to take several years to play out.
Nuclear Power
You remember that nuclear power station at Hinkley C? There is news from Flamanville where another nuclear plant is being built to the same design. It’s way over budget and years behind time and one of the key issues in the delay has been questions over the integrity of the castings of the reactor vessel. There were concerns that the metal contained too much carbon and would therefore not have sufficient strength. After extensive investigations which have taken years, the nuclear inspectorate in France has authorised the plant to begin operation. Now environmentalists, including Greenpeace France, have filed a lawsuit to block this authorisation.
Although Hinkley C will use the same design as Flamanville, the castings for the reactor vessel have not yet been produced and there is no suggestion that they will have the same problems as those at the French site. Experience is a wonderful teacher. Well, it is in many cases. The experience of Flamanville and a similar site in Finland being massively over budget and years behind schedule seems to have been overlooked when Hinkley C was reviewed in 2016.

And finally…
COP 24, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, is taking place in Katowice in Poland. Preliminary events have begun and the Official Opening Ceremony takes place next Monday 3rd November. COP21 in 2015 was where the Paris Climate Change Agreement was negotiated. It will be interesting to see what comes out of COP24. I’ll keep you posted.
And that’s it…
Yes, it's the end of another episode of the Sustainable Futures Report. Thanks again for listening and, if you are, thanks for being a patron. If you're not well you can find out about it at It's December next week and we are getting increasingly close to Christmas. There will be at least two, and probably three more episodes before the end of the year, although after that I’m planning a break until the middle of January.
I'm always open to feedback and in particular I'd be interested in your comments on what I said today about population. Like all the topics which I address, it is a vast subject and I've only scratched the surface. If you have opinions or expertise on any aspect of this or indeed on any aspect of sustainability, I'm always keen to hear from you. Drop me a note at
Yes, that's it.
I'm Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report. 

Until next time.