Friday, September 29, 2017

The Truth


Hello and welcome once again to the Sustainable Futures Report. I’m Anthony Day and it’s Friday 29th September.
Welcome to you all, welcome to my patrons and a particular welcome to those of you in Australia. After the US and the UK, the largest number of listeners seems to be in Australia, closely followed by Canada. Hello to you in Canada as well. I’ll be in Australia in December, so just supposing I’ll be in your part of the country let me know if you’d like to get together for a chat about sustainability. Contact me about that or about anything else sustainable at
This Week
The Met Office says the slowdown in global warming is over, but does everyone believe it? Is climate change a really urgent issue? Carbonbrief takes issue with the Daily Mail over this. Are we doing enough recycling? The Marine Conservation Society sees straws in the wind, but sadly they’re plastic. The British government announces a Green Finance Taskforce. Haven’t I heard of something like that before? And then there’s the Green Supply Chain. Listen up before you eat that chocolate! Sustainability, or at least renewable energy, seems to be becoming a political football down under, and they’re growing salads down underground. Hot news from the Sahara on the energy front. Energy from there might help us replace all those diesel cars which got another bad press this week. Or maybe we’ll get it from a new solar plant, plus batteries, just commissioned nearer to home.
And would you rather trust Boris or Matilda?
The Truth
The truth is not always clear and may often not be what people want to hear. It's been said before that constantly repeating a lie doesn't make it true. The sad fact though, is that constantly repeating a lie makes some people more ready to accept it as truth. Last week the UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, repeated the claim that after Brexit there would be an extra £350 million, some of which  could be spent on the National Health Service. This claim was originally made during the Brexit referendum campaign and strongly disputed. This time it was described as an ‘egregious misuse of statistics’ by the head of the Office of National Statistics, Sir David Norgrove, but there are still many people prepared to believe it.
Last week the Daily Mail claimed that: “Fear of global warming is exaggerated, say scientists: Experts now have longer to reduce amount of fossil fuels we burn”. This was not a lie, but it was a misunderstanding of the facts which, incidentally, fitted the Daily Mail’s agenda. It was based on an article in Nature Geoscience, and the authors responded angrily via to complain that it was a total misrepresentation. Looking at the comments on the Mail website, many people took the article as gospel and further proof in their eyes that climate change is a hoax. They are unlikely to read about the response in the pages of the Mail. If they do track down the report they will find that it is a complex piece of work, and that the full document is behind a paywall.
My point is that if you believe, as I do, that sustainability and climate change and all the related issues are important and require urgent action it’s very difficult to get the message across. Quite apart from politicians and the mainstream press each with their own axes to grind, we now have social media and fake news and stories crossing the world and read by millions in minutes without provenance, proof or verified facts. Fake news frequently hits the headlines. Expert corrections hardly ever do.
Sir David Attenborough was quoted this week saying: “All we have to do is keep declaring the facts as we see the facts, and producing the evidence whenever we can”

There’s No Slowing Down
Meanwhile, the Met Office reports that while a slowdown in the rise of average global temperature had been observed in the recent temperature record, with the last three record years, this slowdown has ceased. The slowdown in global warming is over. Professor Adam Scaife, head of monthly to decadal prediction at the Met Office Hadley Centre, said that with 2015 and 2016 exceeding the 1°C threshold above pre-industrial Global Mean Surface Temperature, there was increasing pressure on limiting global warming to a 1.5 °C warming threshold, as agreed in Paris in 2015. So far 2017 has also exceeded the 1 °C threshold, although the Met Office has forecast that 2017 is unlikely to be a record-breaking year as temperatures this year have not been influenced by El Niño conditions.

The Last Straw
There’s been a lot of comment about plastic pollution and particularly plastic bottles recently. The plastic pollution coalition is now campaigning against plastic drinking straws. Plastic straws have the same problems as other plastics. They’re persistent, and unless they have been burnt every straw that was ever made still exists somewhere on earth. Plastic straws are too small and fiddly to be collected up for recycling so they tend to be sent to landfill or just thrown away. It’s estimated that more than 500m of them are used in the US every day. That’s nearly two for every man, woman and child in that country, but when you think about it, many drinks are served with two straws whether you ask for them or not. The key question then is do you need two straws, or any straws, in your drink? If you really do, biodegradable straws are available. Of course they are more expensive, but what price the environment?
UK pub chain JD Wetherspoon has confirmed that from January 2018, all its 900 pubs across the UK and Ireland will no longer use single-use plastic straws. They will only add a straw if specifically requested - and then it will be a biodegradable one.

Water Plants
An update on hydroponics. I featured Bowery Farming in New York earlier this month. They have developed a vertical farm in an industrial unit to grow salads in totally controlled conditions. They can guarantee quality and minimise delivery distances because they are close to their customers in the city.
Now I’ve come across Growing Underground, which is producing salad crops in a similar way in disused railway tunnels in Clapham, southwest London. It seems to be an altogether bigger operation, with a wider range of products and customers. They offer to supply wholesale through New Covent Garden Market and plan to make their produce available through Ocado and other online retailers from January 2018. 
Is this the future of agriculture? It certainly has its attractions. The yield per acre can be greater than traditional agriculture, pests can be excluded, nutrients can be accurately delivered to each plant and any agricultural run-off can be managed long before it gets anywhere near the water table. But when you consider the need to feed 7.4bn people world wide, and the reliance on major crops like wheat and rice which are unsuited to hydroponics, industrialised salad production will probably only ever be a niche product, albeit an important one.

Meanwhile, Down Under…
Turning to politics, the Guardian newspaper reports that former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott says that dumping clean energy targets would help the Coalition win the next election. Abbott has campaigned on energy issues before, and used it as an issue to defeat rival Julia Gillard in a previous election. His chief of staff admits: “Along comes a carbon tax. It wasn’t a carbon tax, as you know. It was many other things in nomenclature terms but we made it a carbon tax,” Peta Credlin told Sky News in February 2017. “We made it a fight about the hip pocket and not about the environment. That was brutal retail politics and it took Abbott about six months to cut through and, when he cut through, Gillard was gone.” Surely some things are too important to play politics with. The average Australian has one of the largest carbon footprints in the world. Not likely to change any time soon. 

…and At Home…
By contrast, this week the British government announced its Green Finance Taskforce. It says:
“To build on the UK’s global leadership in the sector, BEIS and HMT will be co-hosting a Green Finance Taskforce that will bring together senior leaders from the financial sector. This Taskforce will work with industry to accelerate the growth of green finance, and help us deliver the investment required to meet the UK’s carbon reduction targets. The Terms of Reference will be published following the first meeting in late September.
Proposals announced today [18th September 2017] will build on the UK’s global leadership, including development of world’s first green financial management standards with the British Standards Institute.
The transition to a low carbon economy offers Britain a multi-billion pound investment opportunity, creating high-value jobs and boosting exports.

But didn’t we use to have a Green Investment Bank? Oh yes, but the government sold it to the Australians.

Outlook Sunny for Energy
In Tunisia a company has just filed a request in the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Renewable Energy for the authorisation of a 4.5GW solar energy export project destined to fuel Europe. It’s a solar farm in the Sahara Desert.
The technology that will be used is Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), using parabolic mirrors to heat a tower containing molten salt that in turn heats water to generate steam to run a turbine- a technology that has seen significant cost reductions in the past few years. The beauty of using molten salt is that it’s a heat store, so the station can produce clean energy 24/7. I suspect that the mirrors will be cheaper and longer-lasting than PV panels and using molten salt as an energy store is likely to be much cheaper than using batteries. 
The plan is to deliver the power by submarine interconnector cable to Malta, and then to France. There may also be a direct link from Tunisia to Italy.

A more conventional solar farm opened in the UK this week, billed as the UK’s first subsidy-free solar power plant. It’s in Bedfordshire, has photovoltaic panels with a capacity of 10MW and 6MW of batteries.

Cleaning Cars
Diesel cars came in for criticism again this week. We’re well aware of the efforts of VW and others to falsify emissions test results by using specially programmed engine management software. Now there are complaints that the official tests are unrelated to real-world driving conditions. Independent testing has shown that some cars in slow-moving traffic can emit up to 118% more nitrogen oxides than their official rating. So is the electric car, maybe running on solar energy from the Sahara, the answer?

Time to Tip?
Mining company BHP-Billiton said this week that 2017 would be the tipping point for electric cars. They predicted 140,000,000 electric vehicles would be on the world’s roads by 2035. Interesting for them, because electric cars use four times as much copper as internal combustion cars. But this 140m is still only about 8% of the world’s vehicles, which sounds an unambitious number if we are going to meet global emissions targets.
And where are we going to get these electric cars from? James Dyson, the vacuum cleaner man, said this week that he was investing £1bn in developing an electric car and had another £1bn for the manufacturing plant. His car would compete with the Tesla and come to market in 2020.
Do you remember the last vacuum cleaner company which manufactured electric cars? Hoover built the C5 for Sir Clive Sinclair. I wonder what happened to them. 

More on the Green Supply Chain
I’ve spoken in the past about conflict minerals - tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold: the 3TGs. They come from violent areas of the world, sometimes from mines guarded by child soldiers, and end up in our smartphones and other electronic devices. At least they did, but the major manufacturers have committed to do everything they can to end this trade, although traceability is not yet perfect. Depending on supplies which in turn depend on violence and exploitation is not good business and not good PR. That’s why it’s important to keep your supply chain as green as possible.
There are now doubts over the integrity of the supply chains for completely different  industries. Not about violence and exploitation, but about environmental damage. The first case is chocolate. The major producers of cocoa beans are Ghana and Ivory Coast in West Africa. 
Ivory Coast is losing its forests at a faster rate than any other African country – less than 4% of the country is covered in rainforest. Once, one quarter of the country was covered in rainforest. Farmers are cutting down the trees and planting cocoa beans. They are cutting the trees down gradually so as to leave shade for the new plants, but the deforested areas are getting gradually bigger. Without shade the cocoa plants cannot survive, so after a very few years the land becomes useless and may be on the way to desertification. Gone is the forest which preserved wildlife and acted as a carbon sink. It sounds trite to say “Once it’s gone it’s gone,” but it’s no less true for all that. The chocolate companies say they are aware of the situation and are doing their best to avoid unsustainable supplies. Are they doing enough?

Greenpeace is campaigning. Whenever was it not? This week it’s about toilet paper. They claim that the supply chain of manufacturer Essity extends into the Great Northern Forest, a massive area of woodland extending from Scandinavia to China and easternmost Asia and across the northern regions of North America. According to a report by Greenpeace, Essity is sourcing timber from protected parts of this forest in northern Sweden for the manufacture of Velvet luxury toilet tissue. While the Velvet brand claims to be environmentally responsible by planting three trees for each one felled, Greenpeace says that by planting non-native species it is destroying the wild-life habitat and in turn threatening the survival of the tribes which live in these remote northern regions. A luxury for some means the future for others is just being flushed away.
Oh, and apparently Velvet isn’t the only brand implicated in this.
As always, there are links on the blog at so you can read the background to these stories. 

We are coming to the end of this week’s episode of the Sustainable Futures Report. I'm Anthony Day and I'd like to thank you for listening. If you’d like to show your appreciation don't forget Patreon. Go to to find out more.
And finally…
I asked at the beginning of this episode whether you would rather trust Boris or Matilda. “Who’s this Matilda?” you ask. Victorian poet Hilaire Belloc explains.

Matilda told such Dreadful Lies, 
It made one Gasp and Stretch one’s Eyes;
Her Aunt, who, from her Earliest Youth, 
Had kept a Strict Regard for Truth, 
Attempted to believe Matilda: 
The effort very nearly killed her
And would have done so, had not she 
Discovered this Infirmity. 
For once, towards the Close of Day,
Matilda, growing tired of play, 
And finding she was left alone, 
Went tiptoe to the telephone 
And summoned the Immediate Aid 
Of London’s Noble Fire-Brigade. 
Within an hour the Gallant Band 
Were pouring in on every hand, 
From Putney, Hackney Downs and Bow, 
With Courage high and Hearts a-glow 
They galloped, roaring though the Town, 
"Matilda’s House is Burning Down" 
Inspired by British Cheers and Loud 
Proceeding from the Frenzied Crowd, 
They ran their ladders through a score 
Of windows on the Ball Room Floor; 
And took Peculiar Pains to Souse 
The Pictures up and down the House, 
Until Matilda’s Aunt succeeded 
In showing them they were not needed 
And even then she had to pay 
To get the Men to go away! . . . . . 
It happened that a few Weeks later 
Her aunt was off to the Theatre 
To see that Interesting Play 
The Second Mrs. Tanqueray. 
She had refused to take her Niece 
To hear this Entertaining Piece: 
A Deprivation Just and Wise 
To Punish her for Telling Lies.
That Night a Fire did break out- 
You should have heard Matilda Shout! 
You should have heard her Scream and Bawl, 
And throw the window up and call 
To People passing in the Street- 
(The rapidly increasing Heat 
Encouraging her to obtain 
Their confidence)-but all in vain! 
For every time she shouted "Fire!" 
They only answered "Little Liar!" 
And therefore when her Aunt returned, 
Matilda, and the House, were burned.

A cautionary tale. Be sure your lies will find you out.

Till next time!

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