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Yes, it's Friday 1 September and the Sustainable Futures Report is back. My name is Anthony Day and my first duty is to welcome and acknowledge my latest patrons. Step forward Silver Supporter Michael Rogerson and Foundation Member Lucas Smith. Welcome and thank you for your support and a big thank you to to all my established patrons.
Lucas Smith has already drawn my attention to a book which is substantial both in terms of it being a big book and having something important to say. Drawdown is almost an encyclopaedia, almost a manifesto and I'll be reviewing it in detail later this month. I'm also going to be reviewing the other books which were on my reading list at the beginning of August. I have to admit I have not read them all yet, but I'll work through them and tell you what I think. My first reviews will appear next week. I've also seen Al Gore's new film – more in a moment.
There’s still time to book for the Going Green Working Group Conference 2017: 'Being Green in 2017 - Proactive initiatives to deliver sustainability in your organisation’ It’s being held in London on Monday 18th September by the British Psychological Society. Go to https://www.kc-jones.co.uk/ggwg2017
This link and many others can be found on the blog at www.sustainablefutures.report.
What’s it all about?
Starting back after the holiday I thought this would be a good opportunity to review what the Sustainable Futures Report is about. Remember the Brundtland Definition? It came out of the report “Our Common Future” produced by a team led by Gro Harlem Brundtland the Norwegian prime minister back in 1987.
"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Listening to Al Gore, reading Naomi Klein and watching the news, including the latest news from Texas emphasises the fact that sustainability is a really serious issue. (By the way, at the same time as storms devastated Texas, an exceptional monsoon in India, Bangladesh and Nepal killed 1200 people. Strange that that doesn’t seem to have made the headlines.) In producing the Sustainable Futures Report I’ll continue to be serious. I'll continue to bring you sustainability stories. I’ll continue to look at technological developments which will help us meet the challenges of a sustainable future. I’ll continue to urge you to spread the word, lobby the government and to look for new ways to be sustainable. The campaign for a sustainable future is likely to become increasingly political and I make no apology for that because the objective of the campaign is the preservation of us all. There’s so much still to be done since that Brundtland Report was published 30 years ago.
Serious times, but I do hope there will be room for a bit of humour now and again.
One of the really nice things is you've got such a nice voice.
My wife loves your voice.
I don’t know what to say
You have to come and meet us sometime.
Just let me finish this podcast. Where was I?
Coming up in the next few weeks will be an interview with Yvonne Teo of the BIKE project, a follow-up to that story which claimed that the best way to reduce your carbon footprint was to have fewer children, more book reviews including my new ebook. You can still buy my “Sustainability Works” on the Amazon Kindle store, but I urge you not to. This is because in the coming weeks I will be revising and updating it, and it will be available to loyal subscribers completely free.
What’s been happening?
But now to some of the things that have happened since the last Sustainable Futures Report in July. Former vice president of the US and climate campaigner Al Gore launched his film “An Inconvenient Sequel”, a follow-up to his “An Inconvenient Truth” of 2006. The UK launch started with an interview with the man himself which was streamed live to 340 cinemas across the UK and Ireland. Here’s my summary of the points he made.
How do we reach the masses with our message? Well hopefully this new film will gather momentum, he said. Make people aware because millions of conversations can change the world. Use your vote and let your elected representatives know of your concerns. Democracy can overcome big money. The large carbon polluters are following the tobacco strategy - even using the same PR agents to push their pseudoscience. Mother Nature, said Al, is more persuasive with her rain bombs. He quoted Miami and New Orleans having 9 inches of rain in 12 hours, but of course this Q&A session took place two weeks before tropical storm Harvey dumped 30 inches and more on to Houston. One of the major criticisms of An Inconvenient Truth was of the animation showing a storm surge driving floodwater into the heart of New York. People called it recklessly alarmist. Then in 2012 Superstorm Sandy surged into New York just as predicted.
Al Gore’s continuing theme was that the sky is treated as an open sewer by the fossil fuel industry, which is unethical and immoral. We need to change laws, he said, not light bulbs.
He's optimistic about the Paris agreement: how it sent a message to investors; how the entire world is committed to reducing carbon emissions and how India, which was one of the most difficult to convince in Paris, is leading in that it will ban fossil fuel powered cars from 2030, not 2040 like the UK and other European nations. While President Trump has indicated that the US will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement no other countries have followed. Indeed, many other countries have restated their commitment and so have many City and state authorities within United States.
What can children do? Learn, encourage others and ask pointed questions. Choose what skills to acquire and be part of the solution.
How do you stay so positive, Al? they asked. He says he’s inspired by millions of grassroots activists and despair is denial. There is strength in numbers and we can overbalance the lobbyists. There are alternatives to fossil fuels. The price of solar is coming down and is less than half the cost of fossil fuels without subsidy. Wind is cheaper than coal in the UK and it's creating employment. Renewables offer the biggest business and commercial opportunity of all time.
Does he look forward to the future? Al Gore has children and grandchildren and he is optimistic on the assumption that the movement will build and grow. Many things seem set to make long, slow progress but then they accelerate and surprise everyone. For example, gay marriage happened far faster than anybody ever expected. Gore believes that the climate movement is at a tipping point. Democracy is in crisis but everything is about to change.
And then they rolled the film. And I fell asleep.
In the week of the UK launch Al Gore was interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. And immediately afterwards, in the interests of so-called “balance” the BBC interviewed Lord Lawson, former Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister) and well known denialist. Lawson ridiculed the film, attacked Gore and quoted facts and figures intended to show that Gore’s claims were nonsense. It was subsequently revealed that Lawson’s facts and figures were wholly inaccurate and were even repudiated by his own Global Warming Policy Foundation. Professor Brian Cox and Professor Jim Al Khalili both criticised the BBC for their handling of the issue, not because of Lawson’s inaccuracies but because of the decision of the BBC to “balance” established science. No-one is asked by the BBC to balance reports that obesity can lead to health problems or that smoking is bad for you: the science is settled. Climate science is accepted by some 97% of the scientific community so why should the BBC want to call on an unqualified observer to present a contrary view?
And across the pond…
Across the Atlantic the climate change battle continues. The battle, that is, to pretend that it doesn't really exist. For example, employees at the US Department of Agriculture's farm conservation division, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, have been told to avoid using language that directly references climate change. Instead they are told to refer to "weather extremes;" and instead of talking about how the country can "reduce greenhouse gases," they're asked to talk about "building soil organic matter.”
Is this a plan to mislead?
A Rose by any other Name…
Writing in the Guardian, George Monbiot explains how naming things colours perception. He points out that few people would want to travel to “a land flowing with mammary secretions and insect vomit”, but that describing the same place as a land of milk and honey makes it much more attractive. Sites of special scientific interest, no-take zones and reserves all sound fairly boring and prosaic. Small wonder that there is often limited opposition when these places are built on, mined or cleared.
‘Let’s abandon the term climate change,’ he says, ‘and start saying “climate breakdown”. And instead of extinction, let’s adopt the word promoted by the lawyer Polly Higgins: ecocide.'
Climate breakdown. I think that’s a lot more honest. I think it better expresses the urgency.
Talking of reserves, the big news in August must be the decision by the Brazilian government to abolish a vast national reserve to open the area to commercial mineral exploration. The area straddles the northern states of Amapa and Para, and is thought to contain rich deposits of gold, iron, manganese and other minerals.
A decree from President Michel Temer published in the official government gazette on Wednesday dissolved the protected area, known as the National Reserve of Copper and Associates (Renca), which was established in 1984 under the then military dictatorship.
President Temer has been seeking to stimulate economic activity as Latin America's top economy emerges from the worst economic crisis in more than a century. He has recently replaced President Dilma Rousseff, accused - some say unjustly - of corruption and impeached. Temer himself narrowly avoided being put on trial this month, also for corruption
Brazilian public policy coordinator of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Michel de Souza, described the announcement as a "catastrophe", which failed to consult the public and could leave the region vulnerable to corruption and conflict.
A report released by the WWF last week warned that mining in the area would cause "demographic explosion, deforestation, the destruction of water resources, the loss of biodiversity and the creation of land conflict".
The Amazon rainforest absorbs carbon dioxide from the air, and accounts for 25% of absorption globally. Even without deforestation, studies by Roel Brienen, a forest ecologist at University of Leeds, have shown that its capacity to absorb is falling. The Amazon rainforest is crucial to the global environment, but Brazil has always resisted outside intervention in the management of the region. We need global leadership to take action before this truly becomes a catastrophe; one that will be irreversible.
What else went on in August?
An underground power station in London has just undergone a £26m refurbishment, changing from diesel to gas power and becoming the largest CHP scheme in any British city. It distributes electricity, heat and chill to buildings across the city via underground tunnels.
The Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Summit scheduled for January in Brussels caught my eye, in particular a trip for delegates to visit the Colruyt Wind Powered Hydrogen Refuelling Station.
Colruyt is the supermarket we used to use when we lived in Belgium. It’s like Aldi, but without any of the glamour. It’s all about low prices, and clearly about low costs as well. During the visit, the participants will have the opportunity to see two types of electrolysers (alkaline and PEM) in operation, 2 types of hydrogen compressors, 2 types of hydrogen storage, a fleet of hydrogen forklifts in operation, the public hydrogen refuelling station and a presentation by Colruyt about their vision on hydrogen in the energy system.
A lesson for Tesco, Sainsbury's, Morrisons and all the rest? If you know of any groundbreaking sustainability innovations by British supermarkets do let me know.
This year, Earth Overshoot Day occurred on 2nd August. That means that by 2nd August we had used more from nature than our planet can renew in the whole year. We use more ecological resources and services than nature can regenerate, through overfishing, over-harvesting forests, and emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than forests can sequester. So from now until Christmas we’re running on empty. Of course, Professor Stephen Hawking suggests that the human race will survive by colonising Mars. Just remember, that doesn’t mean that all 7.5 billion of us will get to go.
We’re aware of the shortcomings of the Paris Climate Agreement and how the agreed targets are unlikely to be enough to limit temperature rises to 2℃. Now there are concerns that the emissions levels on which all this is based are seriously underestimated. Counting the Carbon, a programme on BBC Radio 4 goes into detail. It’s available on line.
With all the news about floods it’s easy to forget that we’ve had a serious heatwave in Southern Europe, with grapes harvested a month early in Italy. There have been wildfires in Italy, France and Spain. We’ve also seen wildfires in Greenland. Yes, Greenland. That country up in the not-so-frozen North. There are no forests to go up in flames, but the peat bogs are ablaze. Lots of links to the story on the blog at www.sustainablefutures.report
Bright idea of the Month
Did you know that every washing machine contains a 25kg concrete block? This is needed to counterbalance the drum and to control vibrations as the machine spins. It means that washing machines are heavy to transport, difficult to store and need two men to deliver and install them.
The new idea is to replace the block with a plastic tank. Once installed, the tank is filled with water to provide the needed counterweight effect. The tank needs to be bigger than the concrete block because water is less dense than concrete, but even a big plastic tank weighs almost nothing.
This simple change was developed as part of a final project by undergraduate Dylan Knight, with the help of engineering professor Amin Al-Habaibeh at Nottingham Trent University.
Before I go, let me complete the story of Al Gore’s film. Was it a wake-up call? As I told you, I fell asleep. How can you possibly review a film, you ask indignantly, when you admit you slept through it? Fair point, so when it went out on general release the following week I went to see it again. This time I stayed awake, but it didn’t change my view a great deal.
When I saw An Inconvenient Sequel for the first time a lot of people came out with broad smiles saying what a great film it was. But I recognised many of them as activists and the film reinforced our prejudices, rehearsed and repeated ideas we are all familiar with and ended with optimistic rhetoric.
It was much more of a biopic about what Al’s been doing since his last film 10 years ago. I’m afraid it was the bit where he was walking around the family home and reminiscing over the family photos when my attention wandered. It’s a great documentary for the faithful and I urge you to go and buy the DVD which will probably be out in time for Christmas. But it’s not going to galvanise the masses. When I went to see the film for the second time there were only about 20 people in the cinema.
Nevertheless, climate change and sustainability are issues crucial to the futures of ourselves and everyone on earth. We need to to continually raise awareness so that the popular press no longer puts climate news down with the cute kittens and funny-shaped vegetables.
Here’s a letter I wrote to the i newspaper this week. So far they haven’t printed it.
“I enjoy reading [travel writer] Simon Calder’s interesting and authoritative articles, but I take issue with a recent comment. (26/08 p4) Talking of a third runway at Heathrow he says: “Environmental concerns must be taken seriously - but the nation’s need for resilient infrastructure is equally imperative…” No it isn’t, Simon. Environmental concerns are about preserving a liveable planet for us all. Everything else is just re-arranging the Titanic’s deckchairs. You could ignore the 97% of scientific opinion that believes it’s almost too late to slow climate change, and go ahead anyway. Or you could ask around. What would people in New Orleans (Katrina), New York (Sandy), Houston (Harvey) or 100 other unreported devastated cities have to say, I wonder?”
Bye for now!
And that’s the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 1st September. I’m Anthony Day, and there’s lots more to come in future weeks. Thanks again for the support of my patrons, especially Lucas Smith and Michael Rogerson, who signed up at patreon.com/sfr. Thank you for listening. I’m always looking for new ideas, so do get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, comments and feedback.
I’m Anthony Day.
Until next week.