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I’m Anthony Day and welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report.
Yes, this Sustainable Futures Report for 28th July is the last one until 1st September. Welcome to my patrons. And welcome to listeners in the UK, the US, Canada, across Europe, in the Far East and in Australia.
Quite a lot to catch up on before I close down for a month. Apparently co-housing makes you happy but some people are quite cross and railing at the British Government’s transport policies. They’ve also announced a new energy policy, which does seem to have confused the BBC somewhat. Is wind power all at sea, and if you’re recycling - you certainly should be - are you doing it right? Michelle Marks can advise. Across the pond President Trump has made another appointment, there’s controversy about chlorine-washed chicken and Juliana has a new friend in James Hansen. If you’re going away this summer, NOW is the time to travel responsibly and NOW is also a website to tell you how to do it. I close with my holiday booklist and an introduction to sustainable Shakespeare.
Greenland Ice Cap
But first, a special welcome to my one listener in Iceland. Is it getting warmer up there?
The reason I ask is that the BBC reports that Scientists are "very worried" that the melting of the Greenland ice sheet could accelerate and raise sea levels more than expected. When the ice melts in the summer it exposes the surface of the sea. While ice and snow reflect sunlight and heat back into space, the water is darker and absorbs heat which contributes to global warming. Now algae are beginning to grow on the ice, making it darker and less reflective.
Currently the Greenland ice sheet, which is on land and not floating in the ocean like the north polar ice-cap, is adding up to 1mm a year to the rise in the global average level of the oceans. If it all melted the average sea level would rise around the world by about seven metres, more than 20ft. Even a millimetre, when spread across the vast surface of the oceans represents millions of tonnes of additional water which could be caught up in a storm surge or tidal wave. Current research has direct relevance to major coastal cities as far apart as Miami, London and Shanghai and low-lying areas in Bangladesh and parts of Britain. In fact the majority of major cities in the world are close to oceans or estuaries.
Home Sweet Home
Co-housing can make you happy and live longer.
That’s the theme of a TED Talk by Grace Kim. Certainly the people I met at the LILAC co-housing project back in March seemed very happy. There are many successful co-housing projects across the UK and across the world. You can find out more in the 10th March Sustainable Futures Report and Grace Kim’s TED Talk is at ted.com/talks. The complete link is below.
Travelling in Hope
In the last few days the government has made several important announcements about transport. The first was the award of contracts for HS2, the high speed rail line from London to the Midlands, and later to Manchester, Leeds and beyond. The confirmed route was announced for Phase 1 as far as the Midlands, but the Phase 2 is subject to change. There is wide opposition to the scheme, and not only from those who complain that the line will blight the countryside and their homes. In a letter to the Guardian Jonathan Tyler points out that the project will starve Network Rail of experienced staff and financial resources. In fact it will starve the whole economy of skills and resources and the latest news that the line is already over budget and will now cost not £30bn but £56bn has led to even louder choruses of protest.
Michael Byng, the rail consultant who created the method used by Network Rail to cost its projects, has calculated that each mile of the initial section from London to Birmingham will cost more than £400m, almost twice the official figure. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling told the BBC the calculation is “just nonsense”. As journalist Nils Pratley commented, “Let’s hope his department bothers to publishes a transparent reply, including workings.”
Even the Institute for Economic Affairs, a right-leaning think-tank, is sceptical about whether HS2 will have any benefit for the North. It’s also on record as saying, “It is astonishing that the Government has given the green light to HS2, despite the project’s astronomical costs and its so-called benefits being near universally discredited. There is a need for improving transport capacity, but HS2 is a wildly inefficient solution.”
Many people are asking whether HS2 is the best way to spend £56bn of public money.
And from a sustainability point of view it’s calculated that HS2 will make virtually no difference to the nation’s carbon emissions. But that’s without taking into account the carbon footprint of construction.
The government also announced that they would cancel rail electrification projects planned for the Midlands and the Northwest and of course the Liverpool - Manchester - Leeds - Hull upgrade has been on hold ever since the Great Western electrification ran way over budget - still vastly less than the cost of HS2. This was met with some anger in the North when the government then announced its support for Crossrail 2, an underground line crossing London from northeast to southwest and costing some £30bn. Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said, “They’re not governing for the whole country.”
Transport Secretary Grayling justified abandoning the electrification plans by explaining that new technology could provide trains that could run either on diesel or on electricity, so overhead wires were no longer necessary for the full length of routes. Or trains could run on batteries or hydrogen. As far as I know there are no hydrogen-powered locomotives and battery locomotives have only been used for shunting. Electro-diesel locomotives and multiple units, which can run on electricity or on diesel, have been in use in some areas of the UK for years, but they are an uneasy compromise. Under electric power they have to haul around the weight of a diesel engine and its fuel: running as a diesel they still have the weight of the electric transformer. And surely electrification is part of phasing out diesel to improve our air quality and reduce the nation’s carbon emissions.
No Petrol or Diesel Vehicles
This week, like France a couple of weeks ago, the government has announced that no new petrol or diesel cars may be sold after 2040. It's a bit of an empty gesture because air pollution is a problem now, and one that the government has repeatedly avoided despite being successfully prosecuted in the Supreme Court several times. Norway will ban petrol and diesel cars from 2025. Roger Harrabin, Environmental Correspondent at the BBC pointed out that this ban has actually been UK policy for some years. It seems the only purpose of the announcement was to generate headlines. Which it did.
The Wind Farm at Sea
This week there’s been lots of news on energy, starting with a floating wind farm which is being installed 15 miles off Peterhead in northern Scotland. These floating turbines can be installed in waters too deep for structures fixed to the seabed. It’s interesting that the project is led by Norway’s Statoil, an oil company which is looking to diversify away from carbon-based fuels.
The government and Ofgem, the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets, published “Upgrading our Energy System: Smart Systems and Flexibility” So the government has finally recognised that managing demand is an essential part of managing energy. They talk about a smart grid, about the internet of things and about energy storage. They mention appliances like freezers or washing machines which can be smart enough to turn on or off depending on the demand - and price -for electricity at a given time. They talk about batteries which would allow consumers to store cheap energy and use it or sell it back to the grid at times of high demand. They mention the work of Moixa, intelligent battery suppliers, who have been carrying out trials in homes. Of course you already heard about them in the Sustainable Futures Report of 3rd February when I calculated that a typical unit would pay for itself in 17 years. Of course this all depends on the feed-in tariff and the price of electricity. Other demand management options were discussed by Professor Andy Heyes in the Sustainable Futures Report of 16th June. Remember, you heard all it here first.
The BBC was a bit bemused by the technicalities and reported in its bulletins that we were all going to store electricity in car batteries. That gave me visions of garages full of hissing lead-acid cells, but what the report was actually referring to was batteries in electric cars. If they were connected to the charger they could discharge a small amount back into the grid to help meet peak demand. A small contribution from a few hundred thousand electric cars could make a big difference.
The Government has announced an investment of £246m for the Faraday Challenge, which is focusing on the design and manufacture of better batteries for electric vehicles.
The Legal Perspective
Apart from the technical aspects of smart grids and distributed generation, the legal environment for energy storage, especially large scale storage, is restrictive. A recent article published by lawyers Walker Morris, Battery Storage: Opportunities and Challenges, addresses some of these legal issues.
Recycling Comes Round Again
Last week I reported on a study that showed how recycling had little effect on reducing the world’s carbon emissions. Maybe so, but recycling is still a good thing to do. By recovering materials we avoid using the labour and energy and creating the associated emissions involved in mining or growing new supplies. We prevent used products from littering the earth or polluting watercourses. But for recycling to be effective it needs to be done properly. Most important is to segregate waste streams, because only a small quantity of the wrong material can contaminate a whole batch, meaning it has all to be sent to landfill. This is important at the domestic level, but increasingly important for businesses as landfill taxes rise. Michelle Marks of Coral Mountain explains how much contamination is too much in an article on LinkedIn.
Meanwhile, across the pond…
President Trump has nominated a well-known climate change doubter to the top science job at the Department of Agriculture.
Sam Clovis will serve as undersecretary for research, education and economics. Clovis, who does not have a science degree, according to a Washington Post report, takes over a position that it said has generally gone to someone with an advanced degree in science or medicine. He has called himself a skeptic, telling Iowa Public Radio in 2014 that he is “extremely skeptical" of climate change and claimed “a lot of the science is junk science.”
“It’s not proven; I don’t think there’s any substantive information available to me that doesn’t raise as many questions as it does answers,” he said.
Why did the Chlorinated Chicken cross the pond?
British minister Liam Fox has been in Washington this week talking about post-Brexit trade deals. The issue of chlorine-washed chicken has come up. He says it’s a trivial detail, others say it’s far from trivial and a guide to the problems that new trade deals will bring. The issue is that washing chicken carcases in chlorinated water is common practice in the US but prohibited in the EU. The reason for this is stated that the chlorine wash can be used to cover up poor hygiene practices elsewhere in the supply chain. If chlorine-washed chicken is imported into the UK from the US post Brexit it could undercut British farmers who will continue to operate to European standards so that they can continue to export their chickens to the EU. The principle at stake is that trade with the US - and other countries - could be conditional on our relaxing the quality standards currently specified by the EU. It will cause problems for the producers and is unlikely to benefit the consumer.
Incidentally, new Environment Secretary Michael Gove has said that chlorine-washed chicken will not be allowed into the UK.
Juliana’s New Friend
And the other story from the US is about the continuing Juliana case. You remember, the action against the US government by a group of children claiming their futures have been put at risk by the government continuing to allow the use of fossil fuels. James Hansen, formerly of NASA and one of the world’s most respected climate scientists, has produced a report which will be presented in evidence when the case comes to court in February. In the Earth Systems Dynamics journal he says that future generations will need to remove carbon dioxide from the air and that reducing emissions is not enough to limit global warming. Better agricultural and forestry practices, including reforestation and improving soils, would be able to achieve most of the CO2 extraction needed to prevent global-warming's most dangerous consequences. But this will only work if there are immediate and effective measures to reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuel use.
I’ll be following the case.
Where are you going on holiday?
Before you go you might have a look at itmustbenow.com.
On the website they say, “NOW is a Force for Good with a mission to boldly advance sustainability, social responsibility and principled business practice. Our aim is to achieve a complete paradigm shift within the travel industry.” It looks like a good idea, although so far I’ve not been able to find much more about it.
If you work in the hospitality industry have you heard of it?
And now, the Book List
Last week I promised to tell you about the books I plan to read in August.
I also asked for suggestions and patron Manda Scott came back with 'No is not enough' by Naomi Klein. “But only,” she said, “if you’ve already read Klein’s 'This Changes Everything’”. I haven’t. I’ve heard of it. It’s on the list.
No Impact Man - Colin Beavan. I mentioned this last week. It’s about a family living off grid in a New York apartment. There’s also a DVD.
Good Cop Bad War - Neil Woods. Nothing to do with sustainability. This is the account of a retired police officer of his part in the war on drugs. Despite achieving hundreds of convictions he believes he made little difference to the drug trade and that the solution is state control of the drug supply, not prohibition.
Your Life in My Hands - Rachel Clarke. Another first-hand account, this time about the life of a junior hospital doctor.
How to Stop Time - Matt Haig. This one’s fiction. It’s about a man who’s 400 years old but looks 40 and feels 40, and his struggle to convince the world that he really is only 40.
And for something action-packed, fast moving and historically fascinating choose Manda Scott’s own Rome: The Eagle of the Twelfth
More serious? Try
Thank you for arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion by Jay Heinrichs. Arguments which lead to raised voices and personal abuse only serve to drive the parties further apart. If we want to promote sustainability, change minds and ultimately change governments we need more powerful techniques. Read this book and find out how.
The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton looks a pretty daunting title. I chose it as the book to take away with me for the weekend for two reasons. One, it’s a lightweight paperback and easy to carry. Two, it would probably send me quickly to sleep. Actually it’s very easy to read, and like Jay Heinrichs' book, has useful insights into how to promote a cause.
I’ll report back on as many of these as I manage to read when the Sustainable Futures Report starts again in September.
But hey - maybe you don't want to sit and read a book. Go and watch a performance by the Handlebards, currently on tour across the UK. They are two troupes of four actors; the boys and the girls, and they will travel 1,500 miles exclusively on their bikes, towing all their luggage, props and scenery in trailers, presenting Shakespeare as they go. They say, “Climate change is real… ..In our fifth year as a bicycle powered environmentally sustainable touring troupe, we're continuing our journey to becoming the world’s front-runners in sustainable theatre.”
This year the girls are performing As You Like It and the boys present A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s certainly a challenge for four actors to play all the parts in a Shakespeare play. That’s why if you sit too near the front you may find yourself in a starring role.
Full tour dates and details at handlebards.com
You probably heard about the Knightscope robot. It’s a sort of electronic bouncer, designed to help maintain security at a shopping mall in the US. Unfortunately its artificial intelligence was not sufficiently intelligent to stop it bouncing down some steps into an ornamental pond where it quietly died. Robots not taking over the world just yet, then. Mind you, if we think computers will take over the world with an army of humanoids we’re probably looking in the wrong direction
And that’s it until September.
Have a great break if you’re having one and we’ll get together in a few weeks. Meanwhile, if you’ve not already done so, have a look at patreon.com/sfr
I’m Anthony Day, already thinking about the next Sustainable Futures Report.
But I can relax for a while - I’ll go and do my VAT return.