Thursday, March 23, 2017

Sustainability - a Psychologist’s View


Published as a podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and at www.susbiz.biz 

Hello and welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 24th March. I’m Anthony Day and I bring you sustainability stories, ideas and interviews without advertising, subsidy or sponsorship. 

The main part of this week’s Sustainable Futures Report is an interview with psychologist Dr Jan Maskell. I don't have a transcript of the conversation, but I've summarised it below. I'm looking into creating transcripts for all future interviews, because I know that many of you prefer to read rather than listen.

But, before we get to that, we’ll call in to the No Surprises Department.

It’s no surprise, unfortunately, that 2016 has now been confirmed as the warmest year on record. Just like 2015, 2014 and so on and so on. The warmest February on record has just drawn to a close, so 2017 looks like one for the record books as well. One thing that didn’t make the headlines was a consequent 15mm rise in sea levels - about  five times the previous average. Bad news for coastal cities - like New York, Singapore, Sydney, London and many, many others.

It’s no surprise that the G20, influenced by the US and Saudi Arabia, has dropped from its latest communique any reference about willingness to finance measures to combat climate change as agreed in Paris in 2015. The B20 - twenty leading global businesses - has fought back. “Climate change represents one of the largest risks to sustainable development, inclusiveness, equitable economic growth and financial stability,” they said. http://globalnews.ca/news/3324282/climate-change-g20-global-warming/ 

It’s no surprise that Donald Trump’s proposed budget for the Environmental Protection Agency involves a cut of $2.6 billion - back to 1990s levels - and a reduction of 3,200 employees in the EPA workforce - back to 1980s levels. There’s a detailed rundown of the cuts at http://www.salon.com/2017/03/21/trumps-budget-is-a-declaration-of-war-on-the-environment_partner/ 

BUT ARE WE DOWNHEARTED?

Well Jan Maskell certainly isn’t. Alone we may not change the world, but together we just might.

In my conversation with Jan she explained her progress from architecture and the civl service to qualifications in psychology, which is now the basis of her business. She told me why sustainability is important to her, and how it is embedded in her lifestyle at http://www.lancastercohousing.org.uk/ .

We mentioned how some politicians may have attempted to use psychological techniques to influence voters. I shared links to the story about Cambridge Analytica with her and you can find them here.

Jan recommended a number of information resources, including jeremyleggett.net - which you’ve heard me mention several times before - and a book, “The Switch” by Chris Goodall. 


She’s also contributed to an article in Huffington Post about hidden agendas behind your children’s education. Scary stuff!


Listen to the full interview on iTunes, Stitcher or via www.susbiz.biz

Have you come across the acronym she mentioned? PESTLE. I think it stands for Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal and Environmental - all the angles you need to cover.

That’s it for this week. Next week’s episode is another interview and this time there will be a full transcript here on the blog. I’m talking about the link between meat and climate change with Kristie Middleton and Dr Helen Harwatt of the Humane Society of the US. 

I’m also planning developments and enhancements to the Sustainable Futures Report. Watch this space for more news soon, and of course for the next issue of the Sustainable Futures Report, which will be out next week.

This is Anthony Day.

That was the Sustainable Futures Report.




Thursday, March 16, 2017

Islands of Dreams

Published as a podcast on Friday 17th March on iTunes, Stitcher and at www.susbiz.biz

Hello, this is Anthony Day and this is the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 17th March. Welcome to new listeners, welcome to established listeners. The Sustainable Futures Report reaches across five continents, and is brought to you without advertising, sponsorship or subsidy. Don’t forget that if you need a conference presenter, keynote speaker, awards host or webinar facilitator you can contact me via mail@anthony-day.com 

This week there’s more about energy and about islands - in the middle of the North Sea and floating out there in space. How do you get your groceries? Ocado has a new idea and Ocado is not alone. Drones, robots, autonomous lorries? Are these the future? There’s more on the effects of air quality and the WHO has produced a new report on a sustainable world for children, linked to the SDGs. Surfers are protesting against plastic bottles - a story which made the front page this week. Do you remember American Judge Ann Aiken? She’s now under attack from the Trump administration, as well as from the fossil fuel industry. I’ll tell you more.



All at Sea
Next week three companies from the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany will sign an agreement in Brussels, backed by the EU, to develop a large renewable electricity system in the North Sea.

They are going to build an island on Dogger Bank which is a shallow area of the North Sea between the United Kingdom and the European continent. It will cover 2.5 square miles with an airstrip, a harbour and accommodation for the workforce. It will be a hub for the vast array of wind turbines in the surrounding sea. Interconnector cables will link the hub to Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Norway and Belgium. These cables will be used to bring power from the wind turbines ashore, but will also be used to allow countries with surplus electricity to export it to other countries. The island will be a maintenance centre for the turbines, saving the time needed to travel backwards and forwards to the mainland. The location is also in the middle of an area with relatively high and stable wind speeds.

There are no details at present of how the island will be constructed and there is no doubt that it will be a challenge. First, even though the sea is shallower here than elsewhere in the North Sea, it’s still 15-36 metres deep depending on the tide. It would be impossible to create an island just by dumping rocks on the site. Will they build it on legs? Dogger Bank is a sandbank, so those legs would have to go well into the sea bed to give stability. For a 2.5 square mile platform that’s an awful lot of steel. You could question whether the carbon savings from the renewable wind energy will ever compensate for the carbon emissions from the construction.

Then there’s the geology of the site. In 1931 an earthquake took place below Dogger Bank, measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale. It was the largest earthquake ever recorded in the United Kingdom. It caused damage across eastern England and was felt in countries all around the North Sea.

Dogger Bank is an important fishing ground, and there are also calls to designate it as a Marine Conservation Area. 

Doesn’t look like plain sailing to me for this project! I’ll let you know when I have more news.



Solar Farms in Space
There’s wind power in the North Sea but if you were to build solar farms in space they would be super-efficient because there’s no clouds or atmosphere to get in their way.

This week is British Science Week, and Jerry Stone of the British Interplanetary Society (BIS) presented a paper on living in space. Together with other members of the BIS he’s been updating research carried out in the US in the 1970s into how humans could start living in space in large numbers. They believe that thousands of people could be living in floating space colonies orbiting the Earth in as little as 20 years’ time. A colony would consist of a vast hollow cylinder, which would rotate to provide gravity for the people who would live on the inside. While life in space might sound unappealing to some, they say it could actually be healthier than planet Earth, enabling people to live longer and, eventually, grow taller. It’s probably healthier than an island in the middle of a windy ocean. 

Space colonists would initially build and maintain solar panels that would be used to provide power on Earth, but other industries might later move into space to take advantage of the weightlessness and huge supply of energy from the sun.

I’m not sure how the electricity from that solar farm would be transmitted to earth, but then, I’m not a scientist. Obviously not a cable, but perhaps a laser beam. As long as you don’t fly through it.



Delivering the Goods
If you’re living in a space colony, I suppose you have to wait for a rocket from earth to bring you supplies, at least in the early years. If you live in London, on-line supermarket Ocado has been testing grocery delivery by electric vehicles as part of a bid to cut its carbon footprint, reduce congestion and keep noise levels to a minimum, especially in residential areas.
It uses the Danish-designed TRIPL Urban Cargo Drive vehicle for short-distance home deliveries. It looks bit like those tricycles you see selling ice-cream at the seaside, with a big box on the front and the courier sitting over the single wheel at the back. No pedalling. The electric drivetrain gives a range of up to 100km, a top speed of 45kph and a maximum payload of 200kg.

But who needs a courier?

The Starship robot is a six-wheel automated trolley that can travel up to 4 mph for roughly 10 miles. It uses a GPS signal and nine cameras to navigate and avoid obstacles. It runs along the pavement, or sidewalk, as you say in America. It doesn’t have a driver, although if it gets lost or confused it can call home for help and an operator can then look through the cameras and take over control. It’s much smaller than Ocado’s trike, but it can carry up to 10 kilograms or three shopping bags at a time. It’s designed to transport packages, groceries and takeaway meals. 

Instead of a person arriving at their door, customers could find themselves receiving a notification on their phone that says a robot is on its way and a code to unlock it. "Put the code in, the robot opens up, and there's your food," said David Buttress, chief executive of Just Eat. 
So far there are no reports of any accidents or any cargoes going missing. Allan Martinson, the chief operating officer of Starship, said,  "The most surprising reaction has been the lack of reaction, but kids love it. We've seen them try to chase it, hug it. One person tried to feed it a banana.”


Keep on Trucking
Here’s yet another futuristic delivery system. Mercedes-Benz Vans announced an equity investment last week in a drone startup company, Matternet and that it will invest €500 million over the next five years in designing electric, networked vans.  The drones will launch from the rooftops of the van. It’s all about efficient delivery over the last mile.

Steve Banker, writing in Forbes magazine, is sceptical. He points out that regulations in both the US and Europe make the use of autonomous drones totally impractical. On the other hand, the technology in the van is a significant advance. Racking modules are loaded up in the warehouse and then loaded into the van. The van is electric, designed to be quiet when travelling down suburban streets, and although it’s not totally autonomous the driver controls everything from a joystick. No steering wheel, no pedals. Arriving at a location, the racking module delivers the correct parcel to the driver. No searching in the back of the van for the right one. The screen gives last-minute instructions like “leave with neighbour”, “put under flowerpot”, and so on.


Meanwhile, for long-distance deliveries Mercedes-Benz has unveiled an autonomous lorry that will be able to drive itself across Europe's roads within the next 10 years. This looks like good news for the thousands of Eastern European drivers in the news this week. It was reported that they can’t afford to live in the expensive Western European countries where they work, so they camp in their vehicles, sometimes for months at a time. When these new autonomous vehicles come in they won’t need to live in their cabs, although they may no longer have jobs. But wait, the new autonomous lorry will still have a steering wheel - and a driver. What’s the point of that? It looks as though a boring and tedious job could become even more boring and tedious. The driver will have far less to do. Maybe operators will be able to pay the drivers even less. 




Something in the Air
More about air pollution, and this time it’s not just about the effect on people.

Plantlife is a British conservation charity working nationally and internationally to save threatened wild flowers, plants and fungi . It owns nearly 4,500 acres of nature reserve across England, Scotland and Wales where you can find over 80% of the UK’s wild flowers . It has 11,000 members and supporters and HRH The Prince of Wales as its Patron.

A new report from Plantlife, “We need to talk about Nitrogen”, explains how atmospheric pollution with nitrogen compounds is affecting both plants and animals. 

Writing in the charity’s blog, Dr Trevor Dines says,

“It is no exaggeration to say that an excess of nitrogen deposited from the air is pushing many wildlife habitats in to critical condition. In a report released today by Plantlife we reveal that a staggering 90% of sensitive habitats in England and Wales are suffering from excess nitrogen.
Nitrogen deposition takes place when nitrogen emissions from transport, power stations, farming and industry – mainly emitted as nitrogen oxides and ammonia - are deposited back into the natural environment directly from the air or in rain. And the results of nitrogen build-up are hugely damaging to biodiversity. 'Thuggish' plants - such as nettles - that flourish with high levels of nitrogen are overpowering many of the UK’s rare and endangered wild plants, who simply cannot survive in such nutrient -'rich' soil.
As the countryside greens up this Spring the impacts of nitrogen deposition are clear for all to see; you don't need to venture far to see that nettles are running ever more rampant. In some areas once diverse habitats are becoming monotonous green badlands where only the nitrogen-guzzling thugs survive and other more delicate plants - such as harebells - are being bullied out of existence.”

The report spells out how tackling the destructive impact of atmospheric nitrogen deposition on plants and ecosystems is one of the greatest challenges faced in nature conservation. It not only affects plants, but also affects animals, insects and birds as their habitats are overwhelmed.

Nitrogen oxides are emitted from the burning of fossil fuels mainly from power stations, factories and transport emissions, whereas the main source of ammonia is from agriculture. In 2014, agriculture accounted for 83% of all UK ammonia emissions, with the largest contributor being livestock manures, especially from cattle, as well as emissions from organic and inorganic fertilisers that are spread onto fields.

“The nitrogen deposition problem is complex and requires co-ordinated and multi- faceted approaches to address both its causes and consequences,” says the report. “Links need to be strengthened between related policy areas such as agriculture, water quality, energy, transport, climate change and public health. The reactive nitrogen problem is a global, regional, country and local issue, and effective solutions will need to be sufficiently integrated to drive a reduction in overall emissions.”

In other words, governments must act. If only they hadn’t got so many other things to consider at the moment. Maybe that 25-year Environmental Strategy that we’re still expecting from DEFRA, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, will have some answers. Maybe.


Sustainable World
Another report is out. This one is from WHO

“Inheriting a sustainable world?  Atlas on children’s health and the environment”

“More than a decade after WHO published Inheriting the world: The atlas of children’s health and the environment in 2004, this new publication presents the continuing and emerging challenges to children’s environmental health.
“This new edition is not simply an update,” they say, “but a more detailed review; we take into account changes in the major environmental hazards to children’s health over the last 13 years, due to increasing urbanization, industrialization, globalization and climate change, as well as efforts in the health sector to reduce children’s environmental exposures. 
“…as governments discuss sustainability in the face of growing populations requiring food, water, housing and other basic needs, investing in the health of children by reducing exposure to environmental risks has to be an overriding priority. Only in healthy environments do children have the potential to become healthy adults, capable of meeting the challenges of the future.” 

“In 2015, 26% of the deaths of 5.9 million children who died before reaching their fifth birthday could have been prevented through addressing environmental risks – a shocking missed opportunity. The prenatal and early childhood period represents a window of particular vulnerability, where environmental hazards can lead to premature birth and other complications, and increase lifelong disease risk including for respiratory disorders, cardiovascular disease and cancers. The environment thus represents a major factor in children’s health, as well as a major opportunity for improvement, with effects seen in every region of the world. 

“Children are at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals, because it is children who will inherit the legacy of policies and actions taken, and not taken, by leaders today. The third SDG, to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages,” has its foundation in children’s environmental health, and it is incumbent on us to provide a healthy start to our children’s lives. This cannot be achieved, however, without multi-sectoral cooperation, as seen in the linkages between environmental health risks to children and the other SDGs.”




Surfers against Sewage 
Surfers against Sewage are campaigning to urge the Scottish Parliament to introduce deposit return schemes on plastic bottles to help stop plastic pollution. This is just part of a story which continues to make the news, not just in Scotland but throughout the world. In the UK we buy 35 million plastic bottles each day, and although many of them are recycled, some 16 million are dumped. Little wonder that the press coverage shows beaches covered in plastic bottles as far as you can see. It’s a classic case of “externality”. An externality is an event for which a producer is not held responsible. There’s no penalty for Coca Cola, Evian, Sainsbury’s, Halfords, or any of the thousands of suppliers if a consumer finishes one of their products and throws the bottle away. It’s external to their responsibilities. The consumer might be penalised, although that rarely happens. Many externalities are now controlled, so manufacturers can no longer emit gases into the air or pollutants into watercourses with impunity. Surely the ‘polluter pays’ approach should be extended to the suppliers of plastic containers.

Although putting a charge on plastic bags has dramatically reduced their usage, putting a deposit on a plastic bottle is different. In most cases it’s not possible to refuse the bottle, because even if you’re carrying your own container, the product will have arrived at the retailer in a bottle. With a plastic bag you can refuse to pay for the bag and it is not supplied and not used. With a bottle it’s always supplied and it’s only taken back if you think it’s worth collecting the 5p or 10p deposit. If it’s taken back, it’s taken back to be recycled, which uses more energy and resources than if you never had the bottle in the first place. 
You can take your own cup or insulated container to be filled at most coffee shops. Why not extend this to soft drinks and other liquids? Body Shop always used to offer refills for their lotions and potions, but I’m not sure if they still do. How often do you throw away a washing-up liquid bottle? How many are thrown away each month in your street? In your town? In the UK? Have a look at splosh.com. They provide washing-up liquid. You get a bottle and you refill it using concentrate that they send you by post. Once the concentrate pouches are empty you send them back for recycling. You keep your bottle indefinitely. And it costs about the same as buying it from the supermarket, but you don’t have to carry it home.

There’s no doubt that we need to do something, as we discussed in detail in the Sustainable Futures Report for 10th February. It’s not just about rafts of plastic bottles on beaches, it’s about the micro-particles that these plastics break into, that pollute the oceans, damage marine life and get into the human food chain. You can make a start by carrying your own re-usable water bottle or checking out splosh.com. And don’t forget the Litterati app I told you about. (That’s with two Ts) It lets you identify, locate and photograph pieces of litter. Let’s use it to name and shame the organisations that produce all this rubbish.



And finally…
Lawyers representing fossil fuel defendants in a youth climate lawsuit filed a motion last week with a U.S. District Court seeking an appeal to the order in Juliana v. United States. As reported by The Washington Post, the Trump Administration filed a similar motion requesting appeal. Fossil fuel defendants support the Trump Administration's motion.
The background to this is that in April last year, twenty-one children, aged 8 to 19, successfully sued the Federal Government and the Fossil Fuel Industry for damaging their future by not doing anything about climate change. Judge Ann Aiken then rejected a motion to dismiss the case.

Now the fossil fuel defendants claim that the Judge erred when ruling that the dispute was not a political question. The fossil fuel defendants argue that the government, and not the judiciary, should resolve the issues presented by plaintiffs in this case.

However, in her 11-page judgement Judge Ann Aiken explained in detail why it was not a political issue and therefore a matter for the courts, not for the government. The latest challenge shows how determined the fossil fuel industry and the government are to defeat this so-called “Kids’ Case”. It looks as though it will go on and on. Of course if the courts did eventually find against the government and the industry it would have monumental implications. No wonder they don’t want to lose.

I’ll keep watching and keep you posted.


Next Monday I’m talking to MBA students at Huddersfield University about sustainability and business ethics. What should I call the presentation? Maybe, “The Only Way is Ethics.”

That's all for this week. You might say that's more than enough. 

This is Anthony Day, that was the Sustainable Futures Report and there will be another report next week.
I’m off to Whitby on a steam train at the weekend. Don’t mention the carbon footprint!


Bye for now.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Design for Living

Published as a podcast on Friday 10th March on iTunes, Stitcher and www.susbiz.biz


It’s 10th March, it’s Friday, it must be the Sustainable Futures Report. Yes, here’s another episode of news, views and ideas about what’s going on the world of sustainability with me, Anthony Day. Another bumper week last week with more hits on Friday for the last episode than ever before. Thanks to all my listeners, wherever in the world you are. Thanks for your suggestions for interviews. There are some most interesting ones in the pipeline.

Roses are red, violets are blue, but LILAC is a housing co-operative. More about this later. The future, and the past, seems to be electric with electric taxis in Beijing and a very special battery-powered classic. In the I-told-you-so department climate scientists reveal that their 1980s forecasts were not that far out, while others report a massive permafrost thaw. (Try saying that with your teeth in!) Literati - you thought they were people who wrote for the newspapers, didn’t you? Well Litterati (that’s with two Ts) is about litter and there’s an app and a TED talk that you mustn't miss. Chevron seems to be realising that the end of oil is in sight - and not because it’s running out. And finally my good deed for the week, and why you should do one too.




But first…LILAC

Remember I told you about a CIWEM event about the Foss Barrier Flood Defence Scheme? One of the people I met there was Amanda Crossfield. I was delighted to learn that she drives a Nissan Leaf–the 100% electric car–and she told me that she lived at lilac. Lilac I asked, what's that? Lilac is a Low Impact Living Affordable Community and very interesting as both an idea and as a location. I found out that they were holding a Learning Day last week so I went along to learn more. 

The project is 3 miles from the centre of Leeds, a major city in the north of England, in case those of you in the south of England don’t know. It is close to bus routes and not far from the canal, where the towpath provides a safe and swift cycle track into the city centre. It’s a brownfield site; previously a primary school. There are 20 dwellings, and in total there are six 1-bed, six 2-bed and six 3-bed flats, and two 4-bed houses positioned around a central pond and green area. In addition there are allotments for tenants to grow some of their food, although it was never intended that the community should be self-sufficient. There’s a “pocket park”, a children's play area and a quiet corner for contemplation.

Let's look at the  three dimensions of the project.

First - low impact. Residential and non-domestic buildings account for around 45% of C02 emissions in the UK and LILAC is aiming to make each home carbon negative: able to return to the national grid as much power (and more) as it uses over the course of a year.

How does this work? It’s low impact both in terms of the construction and in terms of daily use.

The walls of the houses are made from super-insulated straw bale and timber panels using the Modcell system which were  prefabricated off site. The panels are faced with lime plaster, which keeps them watertight, and the production of lime plaster is far less energy-intensive than the manufacture of concrete or bricks, and it actually absorbs CO2 as it matures.  In contrast to a conventionally built home which produces around 50 tonnes of CO2 during its construction, a home built using straw bale as insulation can actually store 12.25 tonnes of CO2! The CO2 is locked in the timber, the plaster and the straw for the life of the building - expected to be a minimum of 60 years.

The buildings use ‘passive solar’ design, which means that the insulating materials and design of the buildings combine to store solar heat in the winter and reject solar heat in the summer, thus reducing the need to input heating energy. Although each home has a conventional gas boiler, when I went round I could see that the radiators were very small. And the houses were warm. All the people I met said they were paying far less for energy than they ever had before. A Mechanical Ventilation and Heat Recovery system (MVHR) means that fresh air is circulated into the houses from outside, heated by the stale air as it’s expelled. The windows, too, are triple glazed. Electricity from solar PV panels on every roof helps to keep the bills down, and each house has solar thermal hot water. Rainwater is not harvested as such, but the run-off from the roofs of the buildings is all diverted into the pond. This overflows into the urban sewer system, but a hydraulic brake ensures that it slows the impact of a downpour.

Secondly, Lilac is a community. Legally it’s a co-operative: a mutual home ownership society. With different sizes of the flats and the houses it’s home to people of all ages, including families with children, seniors and younger people. It’s a cooperative which means everybody has a say and a responsibility in managing the community. It means also that everyone benefits from shared resources.  At the heart is the Common House where people meet to discuss, manage and agree, and where they socialise and eat together twice a week. Why have a spare room in each house if it’s hardly ever used? There are guest rooms which anyone can book for visitors. Why have a washing machine which stands idle for most of the week? There’s a communal laundry. There’s a workshop as well, where everyone shares tools to mend bikes or carry out DIY projects or repairs. There are 11 cars on site and informal car-sharing arrangements means that 11 cars are enough for the 50 people who live at LILAC.
Residents join one of six teams responsible for the management of landscape, finance, food, the site and the Common House. The community atmosphere is strengthened by the layout of the site, which means that all the properties overlook the central green area. It’s easy to watch the children and acknowledge neighbours, and there’s no problem with traffic as all the cars are parked behind the houses. Having said that, each property has its own private garden and every resident has complete privacy behind his or her own front door.

The third aspect of LILAC is affordability. LILAC is a mutual home ownership society and the residents all have shares. Only residents can be shareholders and only shareholders can be residents. This means that LILAC can never be controlled in any way by outsiders. It also means that if people decide to leave, the choice of someone to take their place is made by the whole community. Only with 100% approval will a new resident be allowed in. Affordability is based on each resident’s income, as their monthly contribution, which covers purchase of shares, site maintenance costs and the cost of running the Common House, is set at 35% of income. This means that all sources of income must be declared annually to the Finance Team, and for many people that would always be a step too far. For others, though, LILAC and the many other cooperative housing schemes across the UK offer exciting opportunities.   

Thanks to all at LILAC for sharing with me last week.

www.lilac.coop 

Spring Fever

The sun was shining at LILAC and spring is almost here. Time to get away from it all? How about a camper-van? Better still, and more sustainable, how about an electric camper-van? A few weeks ago I wrote about just such a vehicle which VW were exhibiting at the Detroit International Auto Show. The trouble is that they've done this before but they don't seem to have any intention of making such a vehicle available to the public. 
Don't despair! I know a man who has an electric camper-van and for the right price he'll even let you borrow it. Go to edubtrips.uk for the details and the pictures. Kit Lacey, Director of eDub Trips, explained to me recently how he obtained a vintage 1970s VW camper-van, stripped out the engine and installed a complete electric drivetrain. If you have your own classic VW camper he will convert it to electricity for you, for less than the cost of a first-class round the world flight. And of course the carbon footprint of an electric camper-van is so much smaller than your flight would be.
Kit’s classic camper is intended to be the first of many. There will be vans located in every UK National Park and he’s planning to install batteries as charging points at these remote off-grid locations. They will be charged from solar and wind power. Some dates still available for 2017, I’m told. Get in touch and tell him you heard about eDub Trips on the Sustainable Futures Report.

Taxi!
Looking to an electric future, the United Nations Environment Programme reports that Beijing’s 67,000 taxis are to go electric. Although there is worldwide concern about  urban air quality, Beijing is a city with one of the very worst problems. In Beijing you can actually see the pollution, and on a bad day you can hardly see anything else. Air pollution is responsible for as many as 4,000 premature deaths each day in China, according to a 2015 study. The electric transition is estimated to cost taxi operators around 9 billion yuan ($1.3 billion) because while a conventional car costs approximately $10,000, an electric car costs double that. This investment is seen as a necessary cost to curb CO2 emissions. The city must now expand its EV charging infrastructure to accommodate all the additional electric vehicles in the capital. Of course the problem won’t go away until they power all these EVs with clean energy. Coal-fired power stations are a major source of Chinese pollution, but there are plans to close those in the city and China is the world leader in solar and wind power.

If there are 67,000 taxis in Beijing there must be many more private cars. Measures to cut back on these, to reduce their use and to encourage their replacement with EVs must be expected.

Back in 2010 there was a report that all new London taxis were to be electric by 2020. Not sure how this is progressing. I don’t go to London very often but I’ve never seen an electric black cab. Have you?



DEFRA’s 25-year Plan
News on the long-awaited 25-year Environment Plan from DEFRA, the UK’s Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. There is no news. Still no publication date. A group of MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee have written to the Minister urging progress. The report was supposed to have been published last summer, and the Minister has stated on several occasions that it will be published “soon”. The committee is now calling for a firm date for publication.


Getting it Right
Back in the 1980s there was widespread climate change denial and much scepticism of a model designed to forecast the evolution of global warming. 30 years on, scientists writing in the journal Nature Climate Change report that the 1989 predictions were far more accurate then expected. Dr Ronald Stouffer, head of the climate and ecosystem group at Princeton University, and his colleague Dr Syukuro Manabe, compared the predictions with actual results over the three decades and found they were very similar.




Permafrost Permathaw 
Meanwhile in northwest Canada huge slabs of Arctic permafrost are slumping and disintegrating, sending large amounts of carbon-rich mud and silt into streams and rivers.  Permafrost is of course land that has been frozen year-in year-out for thousands of years. Except it isn’t any more. Global warming, which is particularly intense in the North polar region, is causing it to melt.

A new study that analysed nearly a half-million square miles in the region found that this permafrost decay is affecting 52,000 square miles of that vast stretch of earth—an expanse the size, they say, of Alabama, which apparently is more than six times the size of Wales. 
According to researchers with the Northwest Territories Geological Survey, the permafrost collapse is intensifying and causing landslides into rivers and lakes that can choke off life downstream, all the way to where the rivers discharge into the Arctic Ocean.
Similar large-scale landscape changes are evident across the Arctic including in Alaska, Siberia and Scandinavia, as the researchers wrote in a paper published in the journal Geology. The study didn't address the issue of greenhouse gas releases from thawing permafrost. But its findings could help quantify the immense global scale of the thawing, which will contribute to more accurate estimates of carbon emissions. Scientists estimate that the world's permafrost holds twice as much carbon as the atmosphere.

Other global evidence of similar large-scale permafrost changes have recently been documented in Siberia, where scientists with the Permafrost Laboratory at the University of Sussex (UK) are monitoring another rapidly growing scar in the earth. More than a half-mile of once-frozen ground has collapsed 280-feet deep, according to their study published in in the journal Quaternary Research in February. The researchers said they expect to see the rolling tundra landscape transform, including the formation of large new valleys and lakes.
Similar signs are evident in coastal Arctic areas, where thawing permafrost and bigger waves are taking 60- to 70-foot bites of land each year, according to researchers with the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research. Writing in the journal Nature Climate Change in January, AWI scientists warned about collapsing coastlines and urged more research, with input from policymakers and native communities.
University of Alberta scientists Suzanne Tank, who was not involved in the new study, said that the release of sediments from the new slumps in the Canadian permafrost has significant ecological implications. The pulses of silt, mud and gravel make streams murkier and limit growth of aquatic plants at the base of the food chain. Exactly how that affects other species, including fish, is the subject of ongoing research.
Scientists know thawing permafrost unlocks carbon. But according to Tank, most of the carbon in the Canadian melting is being released quickly as coarse particles that aren't converted to CO2 immediately. But separate research by Swedish scientists suggests that the soil particles are quickly converted to heat-trapping CO2 when they are swept into the sea.
A series of studies on the National Institute of Health's Arctic Health website documents how the widespread thaw of permafrost is already having direct impacts on people. Warmer water and increased sediment loads are harming lake trout, an important source of food for native communities. Changes to the land surface are also disrupting caribou breeding and migration, and in some places, the disappearing permafrost has destroyed traditional food storage cellars, researchers have found.
At lower latitudes, permafrost is the glue that holds the world's highest mountains together by keeping rocks and soil frozen in place. Scientists are documenting how those bonds are dissolving, said Stefan Reisenhofer, a climate scientist with the Austrian Bureau of Meteorology and Geodynamics.
"We've seen a significant reduction in the number of ice days (those with 24 hours of sub-freezing temperatures), especially in the summer months," said Reisenhofer, who works at a climate observatory at an elevation of 8,500 feet. "From 2010 to 2014, the number of ice days decreased and the mountain beneath the research station crumbled, requiring a huge investment to stabilise the outpost”, he said.
Using satellite images from the European Space Agency's Copernicus program,  the Austrian researchers have shown how, similar to the findings in Canada, thawing permafrost has unleashed huge amounts of sediments below receding glaciers. Intensifying summer rainstorms have triggered huge landslides, damaging roads, power lines and water infrastructure, according to a recent evaluation of satellite images by Austrian climate researchers.



http://www.nwtgeoscience.ca/sites/www.nwtgeoscience.ca/files/resources/geology-2017-kokelj-g38626.1.pdf 

No Litter, Please, We’re Tidy

By comparison with problems caused by melting permafrost, the problem of litter might seem trivial. I came across Litterati this week, and it's another example of big data and almost the internet of things. Do you like picking up litter? Do you ever pick up litter? If everybody in the world did, it would make the world a much cleaner place. It would stop all that pollution drifting down the watercourses and floating out into the sea, as we mentioned in previous episodes.
Jeff Kirschner has come up with an app which makes litter-picking interesting. Not only that, it gathers useful data. You download the Litterati app and then when you see a piece of litter you photograph it, pick it up and dispose of it, and send its digital record to the digital landfill in the cloud. Every time you do this the location of the item and the time you found it are both recorded. Given that many items of litter are branded, the photograph will frequently reveal where it came from. Kirschner quotes the example of the tobacco companies who sued the government in California because their product was being taxed as a major source of litter. The Litterati data was so clear and conclusive that the tobacco companies lost their action and the litter tax was doubled. Have a look at Jeff Kirschner's TED talk. Go to tED.com and search for Jeff Kirschner. It's only six minutes. When you've done that you can download the Litterati app to your smartphone and join the worldwide contingent of people who are making this world a cleaner place!


The End of Oil?
And talking of making the world a cleaner place, what if we stopped using fossil fuels? Well obviously we can’t stop overnight, but if we stopped using them we would cut the world’s greenhouse gas emissions dramatically. Chevron, the international oil company based in California, has listed in its annual report the risks to its ongoing operation and profitability. One of these risks is regulation of GHG emissions. Here’s what they say. I’ve abridged this 950-word clause: 

Regulation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions could increase Chevron’s operational costs and reduce demand for Chevron’s hydrocarbon and other products. In the years ahead, companies in the energy industry, like Chevron, may be challenged by an increase in international and domestic regulation relating to GHG emissions. Such regulation could have the impact of curtailing profitability in the oil and gas sector or rendering the extraction of the company’s oil and gas resources economically infeasible. 
International agreements (e.g., the Paris Agreement and the Kyoto Protocol) and national, regional and state legislation that aim to limit or reduce GHG emissions are currently in various stages of implementation. 
…even with respect to existing regulatory compliance obligations, the landscape continues to be in a state of constant re-assessment and legal challenge, making it difficult to predict with certainty the ultimate impact that such regulations will have on the company. 

… the ultimate impact of GHG emissions-related agreements, legislation and measures on the company’s financial performance is highly uncertain because the company is unable to predict with certainty, for a multitude of individual jurisdictions, the outcome of political decision-making processes and the variables and tradeoffs that inevitably occur in connection with such processes. 

So is Chevron going to diversify, or is it going to fight on? It’s a global organisation with international commitments and multi-billion investments, revenues and liabilities. At least it has identified the risk to its business. Changing any organisation of such a size will take years to plan and execute.

Let’s watch and see what happens. Let’s see what approach other oil majors take. At the World Economic Forum this year Al Gore said that corporations were good at managing risk, but no good at all at managing uncertainty. Chevron’s problem seems to be that its major risk is shrouded in uncertainty.

And Finally…
This week I made my 75th blood donation. I think that's quite a sustainable thing to do. We can manufacture pharmaceuticals and produce all sorts of marvellous medical equipment, but we cannot synthesise blood. Healthcare depends for that on people like you and me. 
My message of the week is that if you haven't given blood recently or if you've never thought of giving blood it's time to do something amazing. Go to blood.co.uk  or search for “blood donor” if you are not in the UK, and get yourself signed up. Yes I know it involves a needle, but you don't have to look. It doesn't hurt. It takes a lot less than an hour from start to finish and it could save a life. 
Your life, your partner’s life, your child’s life or the life of someone that you've never met and never will meet but who would die but for your generosity. 
That's the thought for this week. 
Do something amazing: sign up to give blood.
Do it now.

OK, I won’t detain you. I’m Anthony Day and that was the Sustainable Futures Report.

Don’t forget: blood.co.uk.


Until next week.