Find the podcast on iTunes or via www.susbiz.biz from Friday 10th February
It’s Not Cricket!
Cricket, (no the game, not the insect), could be at threat from climate change according to the MCC and the Climate Coalition. The government's White Paper on Brexit is published and Martin Baxter comments on the implications for the environment. News from Scotland about a lamp post which generates its own electricity and statistics from the SMMT about diesel cars. I also ask why marine anthropogenic litter is an issue for us all, whether Greenpeace has overstepped itself this time, I introduce another candidate for the Department of Missed Opportunities, and Sir David King warns that time is no longer on our side.
Yes, hello, this is Anthony Day with your Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 10th February. Welcome to all listeners in 40 countries across five continents. And a particularly special welcome to my listener in Haiti.
Brexit White Paper
The British government has published its Brexit White Paper setting out its “vision of what we are seeking to achieve in negotiating our exit from, and new partnership with, the European Union”.
Martin Baxter, Chief Policy Officer at IEMA, gave us his thoughts about Brexit and environmental legislation in the Sustainable Futures Report for 21st January. Now the White Paper is out he has some points to add and you can read his post on LinkedIn. The issues I picked out of his piece were
- it’s not clear whether post-Brexit laws will be amended or repealed by Parliament or whether this power could be delegated to Ministers. This could have implications for environmental quality standards.
- Nevertheless, it looks as though we will retain a link to European standards through BSI via CEN, the European standards body which isn’t an EU institution, but does accept mandates from the European Commission.
- The Government has re-stated its commitment to enhancing natural capital over a generation. We’re still waiting for Defra's 25yr environment plan to provide more on this - any day now.
- The Government re-states its commitment to the Climate Change Act 2008 and links this to support for international work to drive climate ambition.
- The White Paper is silent on air quality – save that existing EU targets will be incorporated into UK law through the Great Repeal Bill. The government has recently been prosecuted (twice) for failing to meet these targets so we can only hope that in adopting them it intends to respect them.
As I said, the full text of Martin’s summary is on his LinkedIn page.
News from Scotland this week that IT company, NVT Group, has joined forces with Own Energy Solutions to develop wind turbines which attach to lamp-posts. They foresee 'huge export potential’, in addition to the two million lamp posts in the UK which could be suitable for conversion. Metered, clean energy could be fed directly into the National Grid and the company said that as a result, each suitable lamp-post conversion would save half a ton of carbon being released into the atmosphere. I spoke to NVT and asked them how the units would cope with turbulence from passing traffic and whether they would be made in Scotland. They agreed to get back to me, but had not done so by the recording deadline.
The report reminded me of the lamp posts which I wrote about in my 2007 book, Will Climate Change your Life?
These were in Woking, Surrey, in the UK, and they not only had vertical wind turbines but also solar panels. They were designed to store enough energy in batteries to keep them running for 5 days in cloudy, windless conditions. Woking does not seem to have rolled out a large number, but manufacturers EETS eets.co.uk tell me that the product, the Hybrolight, is still available and each one is individually designed for its specific location. While the NVT units appear to require a grid connection, the Hybrolight can be totally free-standing and operate without an external power supply. In the 10 years since I wrote about these lamps we have seen dramatic developments in batteries, LED lights and solar PV technology, coupled with dramatic falls in costs. I’m sure there’s a bright future for this idea.
End of the road for diesel?
According to the Telegraph a scrappage scheme for diesel cars could be introduced within months as part of a plan to lower emissions and improve air quality across the country.
Apparently work is under way by officials in the Department for Transport and Defra on a scheme to offer cashback or a discount on low-emission cars if people trade in their old polluting vehicles.
Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, reportedly told industry experts that he supports plans for a scrappage scheme, but that it must be properly targeted.
It follows a dramatic warning earlier this month after a number of London boroughs issued black alerts for toxic air quality and the city's Mayor was forced to call on people to stay indoors and put off exercise until the levels improved. Westminster council introduced a 50 per cent surcharge on parking for diesel cars in a bid to drive them out of the borough.
The bad publicity has also hit diesel sales. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) reports that while overall car sales increased by 2.9% in January, sales of diesel cars were down 4.3% on the same month last year. Sales of alternative fuel vehicles - pure electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid - rose by nearly 20%, but that’s easily achieved from a very low base. To put things in perspective, of the 175,000 new cars registered in January 7,300 were alternative fuel vehicles, but only 1,010 were pure electric. For the moment at least you should always be able to find a vacant charging point.
Marine Anthropogenic Litter
What is Marine Anthropogenic Litter and why should it concern us? In a recent presentation Dr Lucy Woodall of the Department of Zoology at Oxford University explained that it is pollution of the seas with the waste that we humans create. It’s easy to believe that all this pollution comes from shipping, but that’s far from the truth. In fact, almost anything which gets in to a watercourse ends up in the sea. That can be a plastic bag which blows into the river, a cigarette end washed into the gutter, agricultural run-off or industrial waste. Most of the material polluting the oceans starts on land. The oceans are becoming the world’s rubbish sink, with vast areas of rubbish swirling in the gyres, the circular currents in the southern oceans.
Pollution comes in various forms. Degraded plastic is a common sight on beaches, but micro-plastics, where plastics are eroded into minute particles or nurdles (lovely word) which are fragments of plastic raw material, can be a more serious threat. Plastics are generally considered inert, so they may be untidy but perhaps not dangerous. However, they may not be so benign. Of course as bags or ropes they can trap or choke sea creatures. Some chemical pollutants are hydrophobic and float on the surface of the water. Now they can be absorbed by the floating micro-plastics and then maybe ingested by fish. Eventually the contaminated micro-plastics may sink, taking chemicals to the bottom of the ocean to places where they would never normally reach.
Abandoned fishing gear can trap fish; floating plastics can form wind-blown rafts which can carry chemicals and organisms thousands of miles from their source to contaminate distant lands. Every fish we eat is likely to contain some micro plastics. There’s no data yet on how this will affect us or whether there is a safe daily helping of fish.
But there’s good news! There are many positive initiatives towards cleaning up the oceans, or at least preventing the the problem from getting worse. They’re all good ideas, but they probably need to be geared up 10-fold or more to have a significant impact. They include
- Baltimore’s “Mr. Trash Wheel” combining old and new technology to harness the power of water and sunlight to collect litter and debris flowing down the Jones Falls River.
- Banning plastic micro-beads from cosmetics and cleaning products
- Banning plastic shopping bags
- Rubbish-catching barges on London’s River Thames
- MARPOL - the marine pollution convention governing shipowners.
- The Sea Bin - a floating rubbish collector
- One less plastic bottle - a campaign to remind you to take a bottle of water from home, rather than buying a new one every time
- The Project Ocean Partnership, which includes among others the Zoological Society of London, Selfridges, Greenpeace and the Marine Reserves Coalition. They say: “By 2025 there will be one tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish in the world’s oceans if nothing changes.”
There’s a clear message about plastic here. It’s in almost everything we use or wear. There’s a link here with the circular economy which I’ve mentioned in previous episodes. In the circular economy there is no waste: everything that is discarded becomes raw material for new production. If we re-use all our plastics we stop adding them to our waste stream, but much needs to change before that can happen. The fundamental issue is assigning responsibility for pollution. At present manufacturers have no responsibility for the disposal of their products - that’s the consumer’s problem. Manufacturers have no obligation to make their products capable of recycling or repair. Planned obsolescence is alive and well. If the consumer doesn’t throw the product away the consumer won’t be buying a new one. There are clear commercial pressures. After all, making, distributing and selling a new one supports jobs.
Solving this problem will need government intervention. We need to make it more expensive to throw things away. We need more plastic recycling facilities. Nearly all plastics can be recycled, but if there are no local facilities it’s rarely cost-effective to send them away for recycling - and the transport involves a carbon footprint. Despite this, there are simple things we can do and signs we are doing them. Now where’s that plastic water bottle I’m going to refill?
Climate Change is not Cricket
Lords, the home of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), announced this week that it had become the first cricket ground in the country to run on 100% renewable energy. The new Warner Stand, which will be opened in April 2017, is symbolic of MCC’s sustainability drive. This innovative structure, designed by architects Populous, includes photovoltaic roof panels for electricity generation and a state-of-the-art water collection and recycling system.
At the same time, new figures revealed the increasing disruption to cricket caused by extreme weather patterns. Extreme weather in December 2015, which has been linked to climate change, caused more than £3.5 million worth of damage across 57 cricket clubs. Two cricket grounds, at Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire and Appleby Eden in Cumbria, remain unplayable.
The announcement at Lords launched the annual ‘Show The Love’ campaign from The Climate Coalition, and the publication of its ’Weather Warning’ report highlighting how extreme weather conditions are affecting some of Britain’s favourite places - from gardens to local pubs, rivers to our parish churches, iconic cliffs to woodlands. As well as cricket grounds.
Department of Missed Opportunities
I’m afraid this launch by the Climate Coalition qualifies for this week’s referral to the Department of Missed Opportunities
The Climate Coalition launched its #ShowTheLove campaign with a new video on YouTube (full link on the blog at AnthonyDay.blogspot.com .) “This is a love song,” they say, “like you've never heard before. It is the sound of the nation, of people across the country coming together to #ShowTheLove for the life they hold dear and want to protect from climate change.”
It’s certainly a piece of art with memorable photographs, poetry, music and celebrity cameos, but I wonder whether it will actually change anything. It closes with this message on the screen: “Climate change is threatening the things we love but it's not too late to protect them if enough of us show we care.” This stays on the screen for 5 seconds which is barely enough time to read it and then the website address appears, and shows up for even less time. In case you missed it, it’s sharethelove.org.uk which redirects to fortheloveof.org.uk. And this is a lavish website, but it’s not clear what it is or what it’s for - at least not at first sight. It reminds me of an article by Malcolm Gladwell who wrote about something like the curse of too much knowledge. For example, if you work in an organisation that uses jargon every day it becomes second nature and blindingly obvious, but it’s easy to forget that it means nothing at all to outsiders. I’m sure that whoever created this website knows what it’s about, but I don’t.
And then there’s that report,“Weather Warning”, but I couldn’t find it on the Climate Coalition website. On the fortheloveof site there’s a news link. But the top story is “Historic Climate Deal reached in Paris”. Yep, that was in December 2015. Nothing about any report. Then I eventually found the Weather Warning report behind a link called “Special Places Report”.
When I finally got into the report I found the foreword had been written by Professor Piers Forster, Director, Priestley International Centre for Climate at Leeds University.
You may remember him from the episode “Can we trust the IPCC?”, which appeared on this podcast on 10th November 2014. No? Oh, well it’s still available.
Anyway, it’s a detailed and well-presented report with a dozen case studies about special places in Britain under threat. It ends with reasons to be cheerful and on page 34 it tells us “the Show The Love campaign is encouraging people from all walks of life to show they care by wearing and sharing green hearts in the week of 7th-14th February to stir feelings, spark thoughts, begin conversations and show politicians that we are passionate about protecting our world - not just for ourselves, but for generations to come.”
A very important message, but tucked away at the back of a report which itself was almost impossible to find. And where can I get a green heart? From the website of course, but there’s no link from the home page to the green hearts page - you can only find it by googling. And when you’re there, it’s a guide to make your own. Do let me know if you see anyone wearing a green heart this week.
Dealing with climate change is a very difficult but vitally important message. The Climate Coalition has clearly put a lot of effort into all this, but I don’t think it’s worked. It’s an urgent message.
reports that Sir David King, former chief government scientific advisor, said this week that time is no longer on our side. “In a worst case scenario,” he said, “some of mankind’s greatest cities could flood, economies could collapse and millions of people be left starving to death.
“The risks of global warming are really quite severe. If we don’t manage this problem we are going to be faced with quite dramatic challenges to all of our economies.
“We could see sea level rises in the region of metres if we are very unlucky – and we have to look at the possibility of being very unlucky.
“Cities that are based on coastlines – Calcutta, Mumbai, Shanghai, New York and London – these are all at risk if sea levels rise.” He was speaking at the Energy Institute in Aberdeen, and went on to say, “Quite frankly it took us 21 years to get that agreement in Paris. We really have wasted an awful lot of time. Time is no longer on our side. We need to move on this and we need to move on this quickly.”
It’s generally impossible to motivate people with bad news. But Sir David cited money, the great motivator.
He claimed that the marketplace for innovative technology to decarbonise the energy industry was worth trillions of dollars over the coming decades.
He added: “We really need to be shifting away from fossil fuels to provide all of the energy that we need.” (Opportunity for wind-powered lampposts here!)
“We have to replace that with renewable energies, energy storage, smart grids – new clean technologies coming through to the market place.
“My message”, he concluded, “is that this new marketplace is the new wealth creating opportunity for the global economy.”
Are you a member of Greenpeace? I'm not, although I do support some of their campaigns. I had an email recently inviting me to write to the bank HSBC to complain about their support of the palm oil industry. I did so, because I am aware that in Indonesia the industry has caused destruction of forests and widespread burning is causing soil erosion, atmospheric pollution, dispossession of local inhabitants and destruction of wildlife habitats. I got a detailed letter in response and it's made me think very hard about whether HSBC was as bad as Greenpeace claimed. Greenpeace also sent me a link which I could forward to my friends. (I didn’t.) I looked at it and it was a video of Stuart Gulliver, HSBC Group Chief Executive being interviewed at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos. The footage was intercut with shots of construction equipment destroying forests and it made HSBC look very bad and complacent. I sought out the original video from the World Economic Forum and viewed the complete interview. It doesn't do Greenpeace any favours and demonstrates how they have distorted things through selective editing. If you want to check it for yourself, the video is called A New Chapter for Climate Action at weforum.org and the section in question comes about 9 minutes before the end. I’m all in favour of protest, but only when it’s justified and founded on fact. I’ll certainly think twice before responding to the next appeal from Greenpeace.
And so here we are again, at the end of another episode of the Sustainable Futures Report. I started this week concerned that I would have nothing at all to write about but it just goes to show that stories about sustainability bubble up all the time. There will be more next week. If there is anything in particular you'd like me to focus on drop me a line. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you across the world for listening. This is Anthony Day, and as I said before I'm always available to chair your conference, host your awards ceremony, facilitate your webinar or deliver a keynote speech. But for the moment, until next week, that's it.