Friday, June 01, 2018

Any Change, Guv?

Find the podcast on iTunes or via

Hello. This is Anthony Day with your Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 1st June. Welcome if you are listening for the first time. Welcome if you are a returning listener and a very special welcome if you are one of my patrons. You too can become a patron, and help with the cost of hosting this podcast and preparing the transcriptions. Your help from as little as $1 a month (I know, it’s an American site) is always appreciated and for slightly more than one dollar per month you get a stylish Sustainable Futures Report enamel badge. If that sounds interesting just hop across to and find out more.
This Month
Among this month’s sustainability news I want to tell you about the lecture I didn’t get to and the lecture I did get to. About how the government is making it easier for fracking and plans to make it more difficult to own a wood burning stove. It's cleaning up cars, eventually, although it's told us that once already and it's promising world-beating environmental standards, although that’s not nearly as good as it sounds. And carbon capture and storage is popping up again! Neoliberalism seems to keep popping up as well. Oh, and don’t buy an electric car.
Bees and the Weather
But first, I’m British so let’s talk about the weather.
After a dreadful March, a pretty awful April and a disappointing May - at least to start with - a few warm days make it easy to forget all that and to believe that summer is truly acomin in. I’ve mentioned in the past that I keep bees. Not very expertly, although I seem to get a lot of honey. Last Autumn I had two colonies. In January I still had two colonies, but by the end of that cold spell in March I had only one. In winter bees cluster together for warmth around the queen and they generate warmth by vibrating their wing muscles. They can keep the centre of the hive at 35ºC, but to do this they need energy from the honey that they stored away for the winter. There was plenty of honey in both my hives and I supplemented it with sugar fondant. Unfortunately it was so cold that some of my bees wouldn’t leave the cluster to find the food, so one colony starved. That left a very weak colony with a bad attack of chalk brood. This is a fungal disease which infects the larvae and kills them before they develop into bees. You’re left with little white lumps - hence the name. There’s no real treatment for this apart from shaking the bees into a clean hive, but that’s only recommended for strong colonies. All I could do was keep feeding and let them get on with it. I’m pleased to report that when I last inspected I found clean comb and healthy larvae, so it looks as though the colony will survive. Incidentally, my local beekeeping association had its annual auction of beekeeping equipment and supplies on 12th May. For the first time ever there were no colonies of bees for sale. Clearly I was not alone in suffering winter losses.
Lecture No 1
What about that lecture I didn’t get to? I think I mentioned that I’ve started researching for a PhD in Sustainability at Leeds Beckett University in the north of England, so when I saw a lecture entitled “What are the justified reasons why we don’t do more about Climate Change?” I thought I had to go. This was in Newcastle, so I set off in good time on the train but when we got to Thirsk we stopped and then we were taken back to York. Apparently there had been a fatality on the line. We were offered buses to Newcastle instead, but by then it was too late. I did make contact with the lecturers and I’ve been able to follow up their work in related fields. Joanne Swaffield and Derek Bell of the Department of Politics at Newcastle University have published: “Can ‘climate champions’ save the planet? A critical reflection on neoliberal social change.” Climate Champions are internally recruited by organisations. They are people who believe in saving the planet, but also believe in neoliberal values. Profit is therefore the first priority over everything. Individuals are more important than the community, so while these champions will advise their colleagues about climate issues, they will leave their colleagues to make up their own minds about whether to do anything about it. They say, “Encouraging climate champions to engage in ‘ordinary moral reasoning’ about climate change with their colleagues might be an important first step to prompting critical reflection on the limits of a neoliberal approach to social change.”
Lecture No 2
And the lecture I did get to? A similar theme. It was called “All about change: understanding motivation and how values influence behaviour.” It was presented by IEMA and the Going Green Working Group of the British Psychological Society. It was led by Jan Maskell who you may remember started as an architect and is now a psychologist and was interviewed on the Sustainable Futures Report in March last year. Opposite number from IEMA was Nick Blyth, Policy and Practice Lead. The objective of the Going Green Working Group is to minimise the negative aspects of one's actions on the natural and built world. Jan was also keen to draw a distinction between occupational psychology, which is what she does with organisations, and occupational therapy, which is what some people do with basket weaving.

This event was in fact not a lecture but a full day workshop with four speakers. First was Andrew Simms, Fellow of the New Economics Foundation and the New Weather Institute, who was talking about whether rapid transition could be possible. In other words are we realistic in expecting that people’s attitudes can fundamentally change towards climate change or any other issue in a relatively short time? After all climate change is quite urgent, given that scientific opinion indicates that the crucial 1.5°C threshold could be breached within five years. There was a record rise in CO2 levels last year, despite emissions reaching a plateau; fossil fuels still produce 82% of the world’s energy, which has doubled since 1978 and global material use is still increasing. If we are serious about an environmentally sustainable future then industrialised countries need radical reductions to consumption: changes of a scale never before seen. Pathways to change to 100% renewable energy do exist, but the political will is not there. 
Yes we can…
How realistic is it to believe that we can change rapidly and in time? Andrew told us that history shows that a short sharp shock can lead to rapid change. For example, in April 2010 that volcano in Iceland exploded. It filled the atmosphere with corrosive dust which meant that air travel was cancelled across much of Europe. And the world adapted. Supermarkets sourced food locally, businesses used video conferences, people shared cars and adapted to a slower pace of life without air travel. Of course the problem only lasted for a few days, but adaptation was almost immediate and life went on much as before.
Andrew quoted other examples of rapid change from the past. While it took 15 years to electrify the East Coast main line, Victorian engineers laid 4,000 miles of railway in only seven years. In one weekend in 1892 they converted Brunel's broad gauge railway from London to Plymouth to standard gauge in one weekend. He told us how the US under Franklin D Roosevelt’s  New Deal built extensive infrastructure, spending about 3 1/2% of GDP between 1933 and 1940. Incidentally that was less than the amount spent more recently on quantitative easing. He reminded us how people adapted during the Second World War. A diet constrained by rations, which had the unexpected consequence of improving the nation's health. More use of public transport and people spending what spare cash they had all enjoying themselves rather than on consumer goods. He told us about how Cuba reacted to the short sharp shock which came when Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union stopped supporting the Cuban economy almost overnight. Urban organic agriculture produced 26,000 food gardens in Havana alone and the obesity of the population fell by half. Cuba became self-sufficient.
The 2007 financial crisis showed how states can act swiftly and at scale - although whether the response to the financial crisis was the right one is another debate. Changes at a smaller scale: the Presidents Club in London collapsed almost overnight as a result of scandal, all male conference panels are no longer acceptable, veganism is rapidly becoming mainstream and we are seeing an inflection point in our attitudes to plastic. And there were many other examples. 
In conclusion Andrew said that we are good at change but we need public leadership; we need a political will to act at scale and speed and we need a realisation among political leaders that action is needed. The current neoliberal political philosophy, where profit is the over-riding goal and the individual is encouraged to be more important than the community, is not conducive to the changes required.

What should we do?, asked an audience member. Join your nearest transition towns organisation, was Andrew’s answer. He’s involved in an organisation called the Steps Centre which has run conferences on rapid transitions and you’ll find more about transition towns at 
Simon Jordan followed with a hard-hitting presentation. He explained how he had changed his own life from a very low ebb. “Only you,” he said, “Can make the change. Action trumps hope.”
In little more than 12 months Simon has set up an international movement called #5thingsclear. It started like this. He was horrified to find the amount of plastic washed up on to a remote beach in Wales close to where he lives. To find birds, animals and fish maimed and poisoned by the plastic they consume. I mentioned nurdles at the start of this episode. Nurdles are plastic granules which are the raw material for many plastic products. In the news this week nurdles have been found on British beaches in addition to all the abandoned fishing tackle, plastic bottles, plastic bags and other detritus which is becoming the norm. 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. You don't have to find it on the beach. Sadly litter is all too prevalent wherever you go. Picking up 5 things is a start, especially if we all do it. Especially if we see litter picking as a civic responsibility and not as a punishment, but of course that’s at odds with the neoliberal philosophy which values the individual above community.
Did you know that some supermarkets are now wrapping carrots individually in plastic? Please don’t buy them. Avoid plastic bags, plastic straws, plastic bottles, plastic cups. Carry your re-usable coffee cup. Don’t release helium balloons or candle lanterns. They can choke livestock where they land and candle lanterns have caused serious fires. There is no Plan B, said Simon. There is no Planet B. Our economy must be better, not bigger. There is no future in growth-based, debt-fuelled, over-consuming consumerism.  

So how does he think we can achieve change? People respond to trigger issues and to imminent threats. Hectoring, elitist attitudes are not effective. It's a question of living by example and constantly promoting the message. One questioner asked whether it was justifiable to place so much emphasis on plastic and litter when this is only one of a wide range of issues threatening our environment and our survival. But surely it is better to address at least one issue than to admit that the whole thing is far too difficult and complex and to use that as an excuse for doing nothing at all.
The second part of the event was devoted to two workshops. More about them in a later episode.
More Fracking
The British government continues its love affair with fracking. It was announced this week that planning regulations for new fracking operations will be eased. Shale gas explorers will be able to drill test sites in England without applying for planning permission and fracking sites could be classed as nationally significant infrastructure, meaning approval would come at a national rather than local level. Announcing the changes in Parliament, the Secretary of State explained that the UK had moved from being a net exporter of gas to a position where more than 50% and rising is now imported. As North Sea gas production declines the intention is to make up some of the shortfall from onshore shale gas deposits. The government's position is that the continuing use of gas is consistent with its long-term carbon reduction targets. Maybe so, but gas is still a fossil fuel and its consumption leads to carbon emissions, whether or not these are within targets. Gas provides about a third of the energy used in the UK and is widely used for heating homes and commercial premises. Changing from gas to another form of heating implies investment in new heating equipment. A national campaign to insulate buildings could cut demand and reduce the need for more gas, or energy of any kind.
Whatever the solution, fracking for shale gas remains controversial. At this stage we are talking about test drilling, so the actual availability of gas reserves is so far unproven. There is no doubt that there is a strong protest movement against fracking. Activists claim that the operations can cause earth tremors and pollute local ground water and water supplies. They complain about the high level of lorry traffic needed to service the sites and carry away the product. They have already shown that they are ready to disrupt operations at existing test sites by continuing civil disobedience. Of course the fracking sites are far away from London, but many are in Tory shires. Some even, despite promises, are planned  for national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. This government was quick to block the expansion of on-shore wind, the cheapest wind-power, because it upset some of its supporters. Do they think these supporters will be any happier with thousands - and yes, it will have to be thousands to achieve a worthwhile level of production - thousands of fracking wells?

Another campaign from Greenpeace
“Just a few short months ago, Environment Secretary Michael Gove promised "a world-leading body to give the environment a voice and hold the powerful to account””, they say, “and Prime Minister Theresa May pledged "Brexit will not mean a lowering of environmental standards.”"
Talking to the press, Environment Minister Michael Gove has indicated that a regulatory body will be established post Brexit, but there has been wide criticism of its very limited powers. For example, it will not be able to take the government to task. At present any EU government which breaches environmental regulations is answerable to the EU at the European Court of Justice and faces penalties and fines. Britain has been referred to the ECJ several times for failing to deal with dangerous air quality, but after Brexit that will no longer be possible, and critics including the United Nations warn that weakened regulations will damage the UK’s reputation. The Institute for Government reports that its analysis of European Court of Justice (ECJ) judgments from the last 15 years shows that almost half of the cases the Commission brings against the UK relate to the environment and that the UK loses most of them. It is difficult to see how a more relaxed regime will deliver better environmental protection, as the proposed new regulatory body will be able to issue “advisory notices” but no penalties. Comment in The Guardian and The Observer seems to imply that if the government itself is not held to account it will be able to preside over weakened regulations across the board. A strong letter is not going to deter polluters from cutting costs by ignoring regulations.
Losing cases
Not only has the government been prosecuted by the EU for poor air quality, it has lost at least three actions in the High Court brought over the same issue by campaigning lawyers Client Earth. Maybe this is why Environment Minister Gove has been talking specifically about clean-air provisions recently. From 2040 no new petrol or diesel cars will be permitted to be sold in the UK - as announced several months ago. At the time it was pointed out that Norway was planning to do this from 2025, and India, among others, from 2030. There’s now a rumour - strongly denied - that hybrids will be banned as well. Whatever happens, leaving it to 2040 will limit and postpone the effect. After all, many cars sold up to 2039 are likely to still be on the roads in 2050.
Electric Cars?
But don't buy an electric car! That's the advice given to at least one researcher from the universities of Suffolk and Aarhus. They posed as potential buyers and visited car dealers across Scandinavia, seeking advice. Many dealers failed to offer electric cars even though they were available from the manufacturers that they represented. Electric cars were often hidden away at the back of the site and frequently not even charged. Some dealers even claimed that owning an electric car would be financial ruin.
The researchers concluded that dealers were badly informed about electric cars, and there were two strong disincentives to their sale. The first was that dealers are incentivised on the volume of cars that they sell and taking time to explain an electric car reduces their time for making sales. The other issue is that servicing is frequently the major profit centre of a dealership and electric cars need very little maintenance. The conclusion appears to be that you shouldn't trust a car salesman. Who would have thought it? 

Clearing the Air
The other air quality issue addressed by Mr Gove was wood-burning stoves. They look essentially green, don’t they? They must be environmental because they burn a natural non-fossil fuel and any carbon dioxide emitted will be absorbed by new trees growing up to provide the next crop of logs. Maybe so. Maybe. The immediate problem with wood burning stoves is particulates: small fragments of ash which escape into the atmosphere. Particulates can act as nucleation sites. They stimulate the formation of clouds or fog like the London smogs of the 50s. Worse, they are small enough not only to be breathed into the lungs, but to transit the lung membrane and be absorbed directly into the bloodstream. About 10% of UK homes (2.5 million) have an open fire or wood-burning stove and account for 38% of damaging particulate matter in the UK. Michael Gove says he is ready to legislate to ensure only the “cleanest” domestic fuels will be available for sale.
Have your say. 
The government’s consultation is open until 15th June.
Captive Carbon
If you clean up particulates you're still left with carbon dioxide. The solution for major installations like power stations has been carbon capture and storage, although this has never been achieved at a commercial scale. The plan is to strip the carbon dioxide out of the exhaust gases from the power station, compress it and pump it along pipelines for indefinite storage in exhausted oil and gas wells under the North Sea. George Osborne, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, offered a £1 billion fund to make the technology work, but like other elements of the government’s energy policy this was withdrawn at short notice. Now Drax Power, operators of the U.K.'s largest power station, are looking at carbon capture and storage again. The difference is that instead of pumping the carbon dioxide away to remote caverns beneath the sea, the plan is to store the gas on site and to sell it for use in industrial processes. At this stage no buyer is in view. It’s interesting that they will be using CCS on their biofuel boilers. Perhaps the process isn’t as carbon-neutral as they like to claim.

A while ago I reported on a plan to make use of surplus CO2, but I’ve had no luck in finding the episode. If you can remember who it was who was going to develop this process please tell Drax.

And finally…
And that’s it for another episode of the Sustainable Futures Report. Thank you for listening, thanks for supporting and thanks for coming up with ideas. 
I have several interviews planned for future episodes. In September I’ll be reviewing a new book on the Circular Economy and I’ve just come across the Green Deal again. It seems to have been much more successful than many people thought and in fact it’s still in operation. More about that, too. 
As always, if you have ideas, suggestions or a sustainability story to tell do get in touch. 
I’m told that June is going to be incredibly hot - even hotter than the temperatures we enjoyed in the UK for the last weekend in May. Have a great June, and I hope you won’t be affected by a repeat of the flash floods and lightning storms which hit the south of England this week. I think it may be something to do with climate change.
Until next time
This is Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.

Bye for now.

Friday, May 11, 2018

It's all Rubbish

Hello, I'm Anthony Day and this is the Sustainable Futures Report. This is the edition for Friday, 11 May and there is a wide and wild selection of topics.

The podcast is at and also on iTunes

First of all 

...there's news of a net improvement in the volume of plastics in the oceans. Barclays are still banking on fossil fuels and I can tell you about the enchanted forest which made some environmentalists very disenchanted indeed. Spurs, the football team plans to kick single-use plastic into touch. In Scotland there is a new tidal project, in Sweden there’s an electric road and in California there’s an electric Apple. BP says it's going greener, the Filipinos are going to law, EDF is going slower–at least at its nuclear plant in northern France, while Scott Pruitt and colleagues are going first-class. Finally, was the beast from the east more than just a cliché?

Hello and welcome 

...and a special welcome to all my patrons. I really appreciate your continuing support. If you too would like to be a patron well, just hop across to Your contribution can be as little as a dollar a month and it helps me to pay for hosting the Sustainable Futures Report including the 200+ episode archive.

Plastic at Sea

David Attenborough, through his Blue Planet TV series, has made us all aware the vast quantities of plastics floating in the ocean. In fact, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is reputed to be three times the size of France, and there are three or four other debris islands across the world. The problems with plastic in the oceans are many. Discarded fishing tackle accounts for by far the largest proportion of plastic in the sea. Floating plastic traps and drowns fish, animals and birds or chokes them when they try to eat it. Gradually this plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller particles. To start with it floats on the surface where it can become contaminated with oil and other pollutants. Gradually it can sink to the ocean depths, taking with it polluting materials which have never previously penetrated into deep water. These small particles may also be absorbed by fish and marine organisms and thereby find their way into the human food chain. 
Given the enormous size of these rafts of plastic it would cost unimaginable sums to send ships to collect it all up. Now 23-year-old diver Boyan Slat has come up with a system of floating barriers or screens. They are up to 2 km wide and drift with the current, but are held back by sea anchors or drogues. This means that the plastic debris is trapped against the barriers while fish and all marine animals can escape around or underneath them. Using barriers to concentrate the plastic in small areas makes it relatively easy and cost-effective to send ships to collect the debris and return it to shore for recycling. It is estimated that this technique could clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in as little as five years. Presumably as long as we stop adding to it.

Tottenham Hotspur Football Club is on the case. 

The club is pledging to eliminate all plastic straws, stirrers and cutlery from the opening day of its new £850 million stadium in north London.
None of these items will be stocked in future nor will alternatives come in disposable plastic packaging. All new supplier contracts will also contain a requirement to reduce single-use plastics and the club will replace its current 5p carrier bags with ones which are biodegradable.

To eliminate waste we need to rediscover thrift.

That’s the title of a TED Talk by Andrew Dent. Search the TED website for Andrew Dent, or find the full link on the blog at .

Barclays Bank 

...plans to continue to invest in fossil fuels despite protests at its annual shareholders meeting where protesters were carried out by security staff. Barclays is financing the construction of a pipeline in Canada to take product from the tar sands to West Coast ports for export to Asia. Clearly Barclays sees this as a good investment. It's interesting how this contrasts with the presentations at a meeting of the Leeds Climate Commission which I recently attended. The theme was financing low carbon and the speakers were finance professionals who were confident that low carbon solutions were viable and profitable. One speaker reminded us that we can only burn a relatively small proportion of the earth's remaining fossil fuel deposits before we cause irreparable environmental damage. Apparently this is not a concern for the managers of Barclays or indeed for their shareholders. I won't be investing in them and I'm glad that Barclays doesn't manage my pension-fund.

And now to an enchanted forest, 

or how going green can leave you up to your neck in greenwash. 
Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld used the enchanted forest idea as a backdrop those Chanel fashion show in Paris. The models walks down what appeared to be woodland paths strewn with leaves beneath wild woodland trees. Campaigners said the grand couturier’s attempt to present Chanel’s green credentials had badly backfired and revealed the fashion house was “completely divorced from the reality of protecting nature”. The organisers obtained oak and poplar trees, some over 100 years old. After a few hours as part of the Chanel backdrop they were discarded. Lagerfeld's team insisted that none of the trees was more than 100 years old and said that they were had agreed to plant 100 Oaks in the area where the trees were felled as a condition of being allowed to them. Nonetheless, protesters attacked the company’s pretensions to environmental responsibility saying that whatever Chanel's intentions, they had clearly failed. FNE (France Nature Environnement ) published pictures of tree stumps in what it described as the “disenchanted forest” on Twitter. 
Others said that Lagerfeld should simply have relocated his show to a real forest.

BP goes Green

Climate Action reports that BP’s Chief Executive, Bob Dudley, has told an audience in London that the petroleum giant will place a cap on carbon emissions out to 2025.
The plan, outlined in a new report, will see the company take baby steps towards a low-carbon future.
Mr Dudley stated that even as BP grows total carbon emissions each year from now until 2025 will remain no bigger than in 2015 when the Paris climate accord was signed.
In addition, BP has set a target to cut carbon emissions by 3.5 million tonnes over the next eight years with investments in energy efficiency, tackling the intensity of methane emissions, and reduced flaring at oil and gas sites.
If these measures don’t work then investments in ‘high-quality’ carbon offset projects will be used instead. Carbon offset projects of course are a whole debate in themselves.
BP are talking about limiting carbon emissions from the company itself. The carbon emissions created by BP's customers using BP's products are a completely separate and very much larger issue. It makes me think a bit about having a smoking ban in the offices of Imperial Tobacco


Climate Liability News reports that the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines is holding the first public hearing of its investigation into whether fossil fuel companies have violated the human rights of its citizens, who have endured devastating climate-related disasters in recent years.
The five-person commission heard emotional testimony on Tuesday about the impact of severe drought and extreme storms on farmers, fishermen and their families. They also listened to scientists who laid out global and Philippines-specific data on climate change and presented research that attributed two-thirds of the man-made emissions since the start of the industrial age to 90 oil, gas, coal and cement companies. The two-day hearing continued on Wednesday.

Zelda Soriano of Greenpeace Southeast Asia delivered the opening statement, which compared the health and environmental impact of climate change—and the companies involved—to smoking and its health effects.

“Today, there’s that little government warning on every cigarette pack because once upon a time, some people sued the giant cigarette companies, and the courts listened to them and rejected the excuses that the impacts of smoking cannot be quantified,” Soriano told the commissioners.

The commission launched the investigation in 2015 after receiving a petition from a group that included Greenpeace, community groups and 18 individuals. The case targets 47 so-called Carbon Majors, which includes the world’s largest oil, gas, coal and cement companies, even those that don’t operate in the Philippines.
Clearly something else for BP to think about .

There comes a tide in the affairs of men…

…and the potential for the tides to generate clean, reliable electricity has taken a significant step with the completion of a flagship project in Scottish waters.
The innovative MeyGen tidal array has recently finished construction and is now connected to the UK’s mainland national grid. It represents the largest tidal energy project in the world with four 1.5 megawatt (MW) turbines being placed on the seabed in the Pentland Firth, 1.2 miles off Scotland’s north-east tip.
The area is known for its choppy waters and some of the fiercest tides in the world; strong currents coming in from the Atlantic Ocean flow through the area into the North Sea. 
The final 6MW tidal project can power a maximum of 2,600 homes and has already shown its potential with record-breaking generation over summer last year. It will stay in operation for 25 years; however, the developer, Atlantis Resources, has plans, and permission, to build at least four more phases of the array with the hope that 296 turbines could be constructed.

Undersea turbines are a way of generating electricity, 

Electric cars are a way of using it. The electric car issue is always the question of range anxiety. Will the car run out of charge before I reach my destination? Will there be a charger at my destination? Now a Swedish consortium has addressed this by developing a system which can charge cars on the move. They have installed an electrified rail into the surface of a 2 km test track. Vehicles have a pantograph rather like an electric train, except that this pantograph engages with the rail rather than with an overhead wire. Technical details are sketchy but looking at some of the reports it appears that this is not just a simple rail. After all, you need two poles, a positive and a negative, to make any electrical item work or to charge any battery. If the rail was just a single charged bar that might give you the positive and of course trams connect to the negative through their iron wheels in contact with the metal rails. The bar in this Swedish system actually appears to have two slots in it and therefore there must be two separate collectors: live and return, incorporated into the collecting arm. Apparently this arm can be rapidly retracted if the driver wants to overtake the vehicle in front. The system is for charging, not for powering the vehicle, so the car can run perfectly well without contact with the rail. Supporters of the scheme say that their charging rail is many times cheaper than the installation of urban tram systems. That may be true, but I fear that it is a false comparison. If your only objective for electrification is to eliminate emissions, then both the electric car and the electric tram will achieve this, but a tram will carry far more passengers per m2  of road space and you don't have to park your tram, you just send it on its way keeping it in nearly constant use.
Another system developed in Israel for recharging electric vehicles while on the move does not use a conducting rail but relies on induction coils embedded in the road surface. There is no physical contact between the vehicle and the charging circuit. The vehicle enters a magnetic field which induces a current in the charging system and recharges the batteries. This is the same principle as used by some smartphones which incorporate wireless charging. As far as I am aware, this is only about 60% efficient. That may not be much of a problem when you are charging a smart phone, but it sounds like a very wasteful way to recharge an electric car or an electric bus.

Another note on energy generation

EDF Energy has warned that the flagship nuclear power station it is building at Flamanville in France could run further behind schedule and over budget, after it detected faults at the €10.5bn ( £9.2bn) plant.This plant is of the same design that EDF are using to build the U.K.'s latest nuclear power station at Hinkley C. Reactors of this design are all years late and significantly over budget. For example, the Flamanville plant was scheduled to begin production in 2012, but is still not complete.
One of the first things that Mrs May did when she became prime minister was to put the Hinckley C project on hold. This lasted for only a few weeks. Maybe she should have held to her decision. The plant should have started production in 2017 but is now not expected to be complete before 2025, by which time the whole energy generation landscape it Is likely to have completely changed.

Green Apples

Another report from Climate Action reveals that Apple now claims its entire global operations are powered by renewable energy.
This means that all its retail stores, data centres and offices in 43 countries either directly use clean power, or are offset using renewable energy certificates. This is common practice within the industry and helped Google meet its own 100 percent target, officially announced last week.
On the manufacturing side, Apple also announced that nine new partners have committed to power its production facilities using 100 percent renewables, which now means 23 of its suppliers have made the pledge. However, the company has at least 200 global suppliers helping to make the majority of its products.
I once developed a training course called the green supply chain. One of the basic principles was that whether or not you believe that going green and reducing carbon emissions is a good idea, you may get these principles forced on you by customer expectations. So if any of you out there are actually supplying to Apple or to any other major companies with a green agenda, take note. Training course still available.

Flying High

There’s been debate in the United States about the fact that Scott Pruitt, head of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, flies first class. Of course he is a senior government official, so why shouldn't he? The debate is centred on the fact that he usually takes along his security detail and they all fly first class as well. As we know, flying is bad for the planet because of carbon emissions. First class flying is the worst, because there are fewer first class seats on each aircraft and therefore the carbon footprint per first class passenger is significantly greater. But Scott Pruitt, the man in charge of the American environment, doesn't believe in climate change. So that's all right then.

Thinking of moving?

Do you want to live in a co-housing community?
Well, there was a 2 Bedroom ground-floor flat available at LILAC in Leeds, but I’m afraid the deadline for applications for this particular opportunity has passed. LILAC stands for ‘Low Impact Living Affordable Community’.  Established in 2013, there are currently 35 adults and 13 children living in 20 low impact straw bale homes.   To reduce their environmental impact and create opportunities to socialise they have some shared facilities, including a separate ‘Common House’.
LILAC is a co-operative and a ‘Mutual Home Ownership Society’, meaning members own LILAC together.  This innovative financial model aims to make housing affordable, forever.
No chance of joining them this time then, but if it’s an idea you might like they are running a learning day on 19th May.
Other co-ownership projects are available.
Find out more about LILAC at

Cliché corner

The Beast from East made headlines a few weeks ago. The media love these catchphrases, don’t they? Unusual weather brought snow and freezing temperatures to the UK in late March, followed by a short heatwave and then one of the worst Aprils on record. Now we have started May with record-breaking temperatures again. It's easy to forget these extremes on a warm and sunny day like today, 9th May, but some people have expressed concerns that in recent weeks London has been colder than the North Pole. It's easy to say that climate is unpredictable and that we can neither forecast or change the long-term weather. At the very least we should be aiming to mitigate its effects, and first of all that means anticipating what they might be. If we flipped back into cold weather later in May we could have a devastating effect on agricultural crops. The season is already late, and the growing season will be curtailed. And then there's the issue of flooding as polar ice melts and sea levels rise. The old adage says that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. I think it's probably the price of avoiding wet feet, or worse, as well.

And on that happy note 

...we come to the end of another episode of the Sustainable Futures Report . As I said before I'd like to thank you for your continued support and to assure you that I am getting things back to normal so I fully intend the next episode to be available on Friday 1st June. As always, your ideas and suggestions are most welcome. I have a couple of interviews lined up for future episodes and if you have a message and you'd like to be interviewed do get in touch. Or if you have an idea and you’d like me to investigate further get in touch as well. Find me at
And so that really is it. I'm Anthony Day, that was the Sustainable Futures Report and let’s all go out and enjoy the sunshine. 

Bye for now.

Friday, April 13, 2018

April Showers

Find the podcast on iTunes or here.
Hello, here we are again.
This is Anthony Day with April’s Sustainable Futures Report. It’s Friday 13th April. Apologies for unavoidable delay. Welcome to all my patrons and thank you for your continued support and a special thank you to Richard Atkinson who has upgraded to Silver Supporter. Thanks Richard – you're on the Roll of Fame.
There’s just so much to talk about because sustainability is such an enormous topic. As you may remember, I signed up with Leeds Beckett University to do a PhD in the hope that it would give me more focus. Of course, as they say, you end up knowing more and more about less and less. So I'll continue with my highly specialised PhD research and I'll also continue to take a broader view when I write the Sustainable Futures Report.
In this episode I'm looking at pension funds, plastics and population. There's good news and bad news on fracking, there is controversy in Canada about clean water and ISDS, which I mentioned last time, has had a day in court. It seems that no one can stop Juliana, not even Donald Trump. Since the last episode we've had World Water Day, Earth Hour and Easter, that festival of packaging. WWF warns that climate change may be about to change our diets. And on the energy front there’s progress on the lithium air battery and progress, in a negative sort of way, on the U.K.'s latest coal mine. Thinking of a new house? Why not print one?
Pensions, they come to us all eventually. At least we all seriously hope they will. The qualifying age for pensions is steadily being raised but we all hope that once we get there there will be enough to live on, at least.
Now the UK Parliament's Environmental Audit Committee has written to the UK's top 25 pension funds demanding information on how seriously they are assessing climate risk. The government has admitted there is a "lack of attention and outright misunderstanding" among pension trustees of their fiduciary duty with regards to environmental and climate risk disclosure.
Writing to the committee, the pensions minister said the government was aware of “relatively little robust research” on the way that pension funds interpret risks such as climate change but that “good practice appears to be far from universal”.
Recent research had indicated that “a lack of attention and outright misunderstanding” of the scope of their fiduciary duty remained widespread among trustees.
Climate risks posed to investments include increasing numbers of claims made to insurance firms related to extreme weather, fossil fuel companies losing value as investments and energy businesses “being left behind” by the shift to a low carbon world.
Mary Creagh, chair of the committee said: “The climate change risks of tomorrow should be considered by pension funds today. A young person auto-enrolled on a pension today may be 45 years away from retirement. Over that timescale these climate change risks will inevitably grow.”
Responses to the committee's letter were expected by 28th March and the government is planning a consultation. I reported last time that Lloyds of London had advised against investing in coal some 25 years after it had been warned of the problems and risks with fossil fuels. Hopefully it will not take another 25 years for the pensions side of the insurance industry to take account of climate change risks.

Plastics Recycling
That David Attenborough documentary earlier in the year really caught the public imagination and people are still thinking about ways to reduce their use of plastic.
A report commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) summarises available data on single use plastic consumption and waste management in the UK, both historic trends and future projections, and considers the UK’s performance relative to other European countries. It was produced by waste management consultancy eunomia. 
A worrying conclusion is that the report estimates official figures over-state the quantity of plastic packaging sent for recycling by about a third, and much of what does go into the waste stream may be of such poor quality it cannot be re-used.
On the other hand an industry spokesman said he was "very confident" of the accuracy of the data from packaging firms.
But Eunomia argues that the industry's figures simply do not tally with the amount of plastic actually in the waste stream.
Packaging firms have to take part in government-approved schemes under what is known as "producer responsibility".
This obliges them to purchase a credit - a Packaging Recovery Note (PRN) - from a recycling firm to contribute to improving recycling. Defra, the UK Environment Ministry, says the scheme raised £50m in 2016. The cash was to be used for "capacity building" in the recycling system through increasing collection and processing of recyclables. But critics say the scheme is so opaque it is hard to tell exactly how the money is spent. And local councils, which have to run waste collection and litter services, complain they do not see a penny of it.

Canada - the right to clean water and shades of ISDS
News comes from the town of Ristigouche in Canada, where the municipality has been taken to court by oil and gas exploration company Gastem. Gastem sought $1m compensation from the town, claiming that regulations on clean water had obliged it to stop its operations in the area. The judge did not agree. He said that the regulations were based on serious research and that the town of Ristigouche was obliged to ensure the protection of watercourses in line with government regulations. He ordered Gastem to pay $154,000 to the municipality, and a further $10,000 towards its legal costs in defending the action. The campaign Solidarité Ristigouche had raised some $340,000 to support the 157 inhabitants of the area in their fight.
“Today we raise a glass - of water - to the clean water of Quebec and to everyone who supported us,” said the mayor of Ristigouche-Partie-Sud-Est, François Boulay.
The links to this story are on the blog. They're in French, but I don't expect that to hold back the listeners to the Sustainable Futures Report.
You’ll remember that I recently commented on ISDS, investor-state dispute settlements, which allow corporations to sue local and national governments if they find that local laws restrict their operations and their profits. There are elements of that in this case. It’s encouraging to learn that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has recently thrown out a similar case, as reported by
This case involved a Dutch company called Achmea and the government of Slovakia. The company was just starting to provide health insurance in Slovakia in 2006 when a new government in the country decided to reverse the liberalisation of its health insurance market, and placed specific limits on profit-making. The case is important in highlighting the threat to contracted out public health systems – like parts of the NHS - from these corporate courts. 
Achmea brought corporate court proceedings against Slovakia in 2008 under a Netherlands-Slovakia investment agreement. The company won, and Slovakia was order to pay €22million. That’s when proceedings started in the German court system to force Slovakia to pay up, and the German federal court of justice asked the ECJ whether all of this was lawful under EU Treaties.
The response from the ECJ was that the way these corporate courts work isn’t lawful because they exist outside the normal court system and therefore outside the judicial system of the EU. As such they are incompatible with EU law.
This ruling will have a big impact in a case that’s been going on for some years: that of Canadian mining company Gabriel Resources which is seeking over $2.5billion damages from Romania after it effectively rejected its plans for a gold mine –Europe’s largest – at Rosia Montana. The Romanian parliament refused to amend the country’s mining law in a way that would have made the mine possible, following months of local and national protest.
Gabriel then sued Romania in a corporate court. Even more shocking, Gabriel is actually a Canadian company, but took action under a bilateral trade agreement between Romania and the UK, on the basis that it has a 'shell' or' mailbox' company registered in Jersey. 
Of course the British government intends to ignore the ECJ once Brexit is complete. Just as well, as the US will almost certainly insist on ISDS as a condition of new trade agreements. It will make it so much easier for American companies to take over our National Health Service.
Still in the courts…
The Juliana case which I’ve mentioned several times rumbles on. This is an action by a number of young people against the US government. They claim that the government’s failure to close down the fossil fuel industry is prejudicing their future health and wellbeing.  
This has been going on since 2015, but the president and administration have made numerous attempts to prevent the case from coming to trial.

Judges with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled against a White House petition for writ of mandamus that would have dismissed the lawsuit because the young people failed to state a valid claim. Appeals court Chief Judge Sidney R. Thomas, writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, rejected the administration's "drastic and extraordinary" petition, meaning the case, Juliana v. United States, can go to trial.
"We are mindful that some of the plaintiffs' claims as currently pleaded are quite broad, and some of the remedies the plaintiffs seek may not be available as redress," Judge Thomas wrote in his opinion. "However, the district court needs to consider those issues further in the first instance.”
And so it goes on. Didn’t someone once say that justice delayed is justice denied?
Looking at a completely different aspect of sustainability, some are now asking the question: “Is birth control the answer?”
A study by statisticians at Oregon State University concluded that in the United States, the carbon legacy and greenhouse gas impact of an extra child is almost 20 times more important than some of the other environmentally sensitive practices people might employ their entire lives - things like driving a high mileage car, recycling, or using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs.

Haven’t we been here before? Similar research was put forward by Kim Nicholson and Seth Wynes last year. I reported it in the Sustainable Futures Report of 21st July and commented that doubts had been raised about the statistics. On 22nd September I interviewed Professor Karl S Coplan who also cast doubts on the results of the study.
The thesis is that a child, especially a child of the United States, will produce an enormous carbon footprint over his or her lifetime, so having fewer children will have a far greater effect on saving the planet than giving up your car, avoiding air travel or living on a plant-based diet. The Nicholson-Wynes study also took into account the impact of that child’s descendants as well.

I’m uneasy about this. Giving up your car and so on may have a smaller impact, but it will have a much more immediate impact, and time is short! I believe that the two major effects on the planet from population are longevity and lifestyle. As long as people are living longer than they used to, then population will grow even if couples only have children at replacement level. All these people have an effect on the planet. Secondly, the global middle class is growing rapidly. The total number of people is staying more or less the same, but the proportion with ambitions to be members of the middle class and with the ability to enjoy the levels of consumption that that brings is growing rapidly. Morally we can do nothing to reduce the world’s elderly population, nor can we deny the standards of living that we enjoy in the West to other nations. What we must do is ensure that they can enjoy that lifestyle on the basis of the most efficient and clean manufacturing, energy generation and food production.

I don’t think anyone should be made to feel guilty for having children, although they should probably stop after the first two per family.
Book Review
I’ve been reading a book; Standard Deviations, Flawed Assumptions, Tortured Data and Other Ways to Lie with Statistics. It’s by Gary Smith, who is Fletcher Jones Professor of Economics at Pomona College in Claremont, California. (ISBN 978-0715649145) He explains how statistics can be manipulated and presented to support a theory or political agenda. He  gives examples of work by distinguished academics and others who should have known better. Strongly recommended. It’s not a difficult read and it’s quite eye-opening. Find out about the falsified research which underpins the UK government’s austerity policy, for example.

A TED to Watch
If you’d like to watch something rather than read something, search out this TED Talk by Naomi Klein. It’s called:

Denialists, don’t you love them?
I’ll be examining them as part of my PhD.
“You can deny environmental calamity – until you check the facts” is an article by Guardian columnist George Monbiot (interviewed on the Sustainable Futures Report last year)
He’s taking issue with a new book called Enlightenment Now, by Steven Pinker. And yes he does go into lots of detail. Link on the blog if you’d like to read it.

Food for Thought
WWF has been busy with reports. This one is called Changes to Diet where it claims that great British dishes are under threat from climate change 
“In a new report launched ahead of Earth Hour”, they say,  “we reveal the environmental impact of the nation’s favourite dishes, and how a changing climate is likely to alter some of the country’s most iconic meals.”
The new report comes as WWF calls on people across the UK to make a promise for the planet this Earth Hour. Promising to become a ‘flexitarian’ and eat more sustainably by cutting back on meat, fish and dairy can help future-proof out best-loved dishes, and reduce our overall impact on the planet.
“The UK’s best-loved dishes as we know them could be under threat as soon as 2050 as a direct result of climate change. Research found that favourites including chicken tikka masala, fish and chips, the cheese ploughman’s and lamb cawl (Welsh lamb stew) may taste different, need substitute ingredients and cost more in the future, as climate change could threaten the supply of the key ingredients required to make up these dishes.”
The report also calculated the environmental costs of these dishes today, given that around 20% of the UK’s greenhouse emissions are attributed to food production. The cheese ploughman’s was revealed to contribute more to climate change than the fish and chips or chicken tikka masala. In fact, the simple cheese, pickle and bread dish created 2.6kg CO2 in greenhouse gas emissions to produce, the equivalent of charging a smartphone 316 times, boiling a kettle 113 times or keeping an LED lightbulb switched on for 28 whole days. (Don’t you just love statistics? Apparently if all the statistics published across the world in an hour were printed in 12 point font on A4 pages there would be enough to cover 2.7 football pitches and if the pages were all piled up the stack would be higher than several London buses. Furthermore, 47% of all statistics are made up on the spur of the moment.)
Anyway, back to reality. The report showed that by 2050, climate change could cause:
  • Chickens to be fed on alternative feeds such as insects and algae
  • Rice prices to rise by a third
  • Higher prices for tomatoes due to extreme rainfall and heatwaves
  • Substitutions of anchovies for cod, as warmer oceans cause those species to displace cod populations
  • Cheese production affected due to heat stress on dairy herds and resulting impact on milk production
The threat to these classic dishes shows that climate change could impact every aspect of our lives in future if we don’t act now. That’s why this Earth Hour WWF asked everyone to eat more sustainably. “If each of us takes a small action, together we can combat climate change and future-proof our best-loved dishes.”
"MAKE A PROMISE FOR THE PLANET AND BECOME FLEXITARIAN", they urge. Details on their website and links, as always on the podcast. If flexitarianism is a step too far for you, other promises are available.
Future of the Sea.
More reports! The British government has published a report, Future of the Sea. This report considers the role that science and technology can play in understanding and providing solutions to the long-term issues affecting the sea. It outlines a number of recommendations to help the UK utilise its current expertise and technological strengths to foster trade links, build marine capacity across the world and collaborate to tackle climate change.
In the related blog it talks about benefits to shipping from increasing access to trans-Arctic sea routes as global warming drives back the ice. This could also make drilling for oil easier, for those companies that still believe that fossil fuels have a future.
On the Energy Front
Not Backing Fracking - for the moment
After months of protest, anti-fracking campaigners have folded their tents and stolen away into the night. They dismantled their protest camp, which had been there since 2015, as exploration company Third Energy moved some of their equipment off the site. They are still waiting for final approval from the British government. Energy Secretary Greg Clark has ordered the start of drilling at Kirby Misperton to be put on hold pending an investigation into the “financial resilience” of Third Energy.
Clark’s move, taken after the collapse of outsourcing firm Carillion, came as protest groups and Labour politicians drew attention to the fact that Carillion’s former chief executive, Keith Cochrane, is now the non-executive chairman of Third Energy. 
Other exploration companies have been talking to the council about test drilling at a site close to the city of York. No doubt the protesters will be back.
Of course fracking is banned in New York, in France and even in Scotland and Wales. In England, however, the government is actively promoting it. It seems to have an obsession with pushing through measures which are demonstrably uneconomic, unpopular, unrealistic and potentially damaging to the environment, to the economy and to the population. Nuff said.
Once we’ve found the energy, let’s store it!
The University of Illinois announces that it has created a lithium air battery which can hold five times more energy than a conventional lithium ion battery and has 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. You may remember that I have commented on this research in the past. The lithium reacts with the oxygen in the air and the problem with a lithium air battery up till now has been that the air contains all sorts of pollutants which inhibit the battery’s operation. 
A unit with five times the energy of conventional units will be revolutionary, not just for mobile phones but also for electric cars. Imagine an electric car with a range of not 200 miles but 1,000 miles. That should certainly overcome a lot of range anxiety. A key issue, as ever, will be how long it takes to recharge the battery. There is no word on this at the moment. Cost will also be a factor. 
Despite all this, the word is that batteries are not the limiting factor for the introduction of electric cars. It’s niobium, the rare earth metal that’s essential for the magnets in the electric motors. Niobium is in short supply. It’s mainly produced in China, where all of it will be needed to meet domestic demand. And wind turbines need niobium magnets, too.
At the other end of the energy spectrum…
Sajid Javid, the Communities Secretary, has rejected the Druridge Bay opencast mine plan. This was to have been a coal mine on the Northumbrian coastline, close to the beach. It may not legally be an area of outstanding natural beauty, but it is an area of countryside rich in wildlife and popular with tourists. The minister rejected the plan not only on environmental grounds, but significantly he cited the damaging effects of burning coal. Of course, there would have been commitments to return the site to its former state once mining had been completed, but many promises like that have gone unfulfilled elsewhere. A coal mining company facing declining demand for its product could well find that it was unable to reinstate the land when the time came. And nothing could be done to recapture the CO2.
No Place Like Home 
I said at the beginning of this episode that you might be considering a new house. 
As part of the Nantes Digital Week at Nantes in France they built a house. In fact they printed it, using a massive 3D printer.
This innovative system makes it possible to build the walls of a house by 3D printing, on the construction site itself and in just a few days. The advanced technology consists of depositing 3 layers of materials using a polyarticulated industrial robot: two layers of expansive foam serve as formwork for a third layer of concrete. Once the walls have been constructed, the foam is kept in place in order to insulate the house without thermal bridging. At the end of the operation, the mobile robot emerges through an opening provided for the fitting of the joineries.
This 95m2 house will include 5 rooms, rounded walls, windows and doors… a set of complex architectural forms, achieved by means of a revolutionary technology, on a site provided by Nantes Métropole Habitat.
This innovative project is led by a consortium of scientists, manufacturers, and public and socio-economic actors. The aim: to quickly build affordable, adaptable, and energy efficient housing.
The building is described as ideal for social housing, but why should it be limited to that? Have a look at the video on YouTube and see what you think. Links are on the blog as always at . You can find more at

And finally...
And that’s the Sustainable Futures Report for April. Apologies for the delay. The next edition is scheduled for 3rd March, but might possibly slip to the 10th. Thank you for your support, thank you for listening and thank you for your ideas.
I'm Anthony Day. That was the Sustainable Futures Report. And I'll talk to you again soon. Enjoy the rest of April and here's hoping we might eventually see the spring.

Bye for now.