The podcast is here.
Hello I’m Anthony Day and you’re very welcome to this latest edition of the Sustainable Futures Report. A special welcome and thanks to all my patrons.
Shooting the breeze or shooting the hurricane. Is that a good idea? We’ll find out. Whatever you do, don’t mention climate change. At least not at the EPA, although perhaps you should mention it in the confessional and it may be brought up in court. Of course if you’re the British government losing court cases doesn’t seem to matter, even if the United Nations calls you to account. When the UN complained about insufficient action to improve air quality it was not a nice atmosphere. Careful how you cross the road! Carbon Tracker believes that those electric cars could be arriving more quickly than you thought, although Shell is not so sure. More on Hinkley C. Free solar panels for social houses. It’s all in this week’s Sustainable Futures Report. And crunchy insects, too.
“Don’t shoot at Hurricane Irma” That’s a message from the Florida Pasco Sheriff’s Office. Why would anyone want to shoot a hurricane anyway? It seems that a bored 22-year-old, Ryon Edwards, posted the idea on Facebook - “show Irma that we shoot first” and at the last count it had 54,000 likes.
“Don’t shoot at Hurricane Irma” urged the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bullets fired into the air can return to the ground at a pace of over 200 feet per second, a speed “sufficient to penetrate the human skull and cause serious injury or death”.
But why worry anyway?
Florida-based Rush Limbaugh, host of the most popular radio show in the US was telling his listeners that the hurricane was a hoax and it wouldn’t make landfall in any case. He is a notorious climate change denier who has declared, “The views expressed by the host of this program [are] documented to be almost always right 99.8 percent of the time.” Seems to have got it wrong this time however. Others would say that trying to fit facts to his personal agenda makes him wrong most of the time. His show did not air last Friday apparently because he was travelling out of South Florida, destination unknown. Whether his listeners fled the storm after he had assured them that there was nothing to worry about, is not altogether clear.
The head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, the man who says he "would not agree" that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming, said it was an inappropriate time to discuss what role climate change may have played in the recent hurricanes.
On the other hand Pope Francis has warned that history will judge world leaders who do not act, saying that the recent storms meant the effects of climate change could be seen "with your own eyes". Some may say that that stretches the science too far, but others embrace the precautionary principle. If we can develop a low-carbon economy, if we can do this while improving living standards and jobs, if by doing this we can reduce the effects of climate breakdown, why wouldn’t we?
Going to Law…
Elsewhere in the media the voices are becoming more strident and demanding that we accept that these disasters are inextricably linked to climate change. Client Earth - lawyers committed to securing a healthy planet - say that there is likely to be more and more litigation against fossil fuel companies and others for their contribution to climate breakdown. We’ve already been following the Juliana case in the US on the Sustainable Futures Report, where a group of children are suing the government for prejudicing their life chances by allowing corporations to pollute the environment with carbon emissions. Coastal communities in California are suing over sea-level rise: Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, which killed 7,000 people, have also taken to law.
Read more at: https://inews.co.uk/distractions/humour/florida-sheriff-dont-shoot-hurricane-irma/
…but will it help?
My view is that sadly all this litigation will be little more effective than firing bullets at the storm. Never underestimate the capacity and the resources of the fossil-fuel industries. Never underestimate the ruthless determination of industries fighting for survival. Never underestimate the capacity of the legal system for dragging things out and out and out. Time is what we lack. We need to cut global carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. That means achieving substantial cuts by 2020, by 2030 and more by 2040. That means starting now.
I know that 195 governments signed up to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, but I also know that while emission rates for 2015 were the same as 2014, they were still the same for 2016 as well. They are flat-lining. They are not growing. Well, true. The rate at which we are adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere is not increasing but we are still adding GHG to the atmosphere every year. Only urgent and radical action can slow the rate by enough to achieve our targets.
Cutting the Carbon
In practical terms, what can we do? Transport is a major generator of emissions. If we can’t persuade people to use public transport, although with the right investment maybe we could, we could incentivise people to use more efficient cars. In the UK we had a system which taxed cars on the level of emissions they produced. Until this year, 2017. Now all cars, apart from pure electric, pay the same road tax each year. Our former Chancellor of the Exchequer also abolished the so-called fuel tax accelerator, a measure designed to increase fuel tax year by year ahead of inflation to discourage waste and reduce emissions. He went further: for several consecutive years he held UK fuel duty at the same level. Even when the oil price fell and he could have hidden a duty rise he did nothing. Apart from forgoing the extra tax revenue which had to be made up elsewhere he fostered the attitude which says, “If you can afford the car you can afford the petrol.” No-one seems to care whether the earth and future generations can afford the pollution from burning all that petrol. (And don’t mention diesel.)
Electric cars arriving…
The good news is that electric cars, which will transform pollution levels from the vehicle fleet, are very much on the horizon. Reports from Carbon Tracker suggest that electric cars will take over much more quickly than expected, so that there will be no growth in oil and coal after 2020. And that’s only three years off. Of course electric cars are currently only 1% or less of the global fleet. Time was when diesel cars had that level of penetration, but as diesel engines became as quiet and refined as petrol and delivered more miles to the gallon their sales took off. Electric cars launching next year will have a 200+ mile range. Maybe that will be their tipping point.
Last week, oil company Shell argued that the fuel savings from the efficiency improvements in internal combustion engines would outweigh those from electric vehicles threefold.
The company believes oil demand will not peak until the mid-2030s, despite expecting electric and plug-in hybrids cars to make up 35% of new car sales by then, up from 1% now.
“For peak oil demand to come radically earlier than the early 2030s, there has to somehow be a demand change, and it’s not going to come from electric cars,” said Guy Outen, Shell’s executive vice-president of strategy and portfolio.
But the company’s actions may tell a different story. It is hedging by shifting its portfolio increasingly away from oil towards gas, which can also supply the new power stations that electric cars will need.
Electricity generation is another source of carbon emissions, from stations burning coal, gas and biomass. And don’t forget the increasing number of back-up generators around the back of supermarkets and other buildings. They run on diesel.
News this week is that wind-power is cheaper than nuclear. Next week the government will invite bids for the supply of electricity and it is expected that offshore wind farm operators could ask for as little as £80 or even £70 per MWh. This is significantly cheaper than the £92.50 (indexed for 30 years) that the government has committed to pay for output from the new nuclear station at Hinkley C. You’ll remember from previous podcasts that Hinkley C is a nuclear station to be built to an unproven design by French company EDF and financed in part by the Chinese.
…and rising costs?
At a cost of at least £20billion - and some predict £50billion - the project will be the most expensive in the world. One of Mrs May’s first actions as prime minister was to put the whole scheme on hold, only to give it the go-ahead a few weeks later.
EDF is building a station to the same design at Flamanville in France and although years late it was expected to come on stream next year. It now seems that start-up will be delayed until 2019 and the plant will have to close for repairs in 2024 unless the French nuclear inspectorate can be convinced that the castings that make up the reactor vessel are safe. Tests on these components are part of the reason for the delays.
Should all technical problems be overcome, Hinkley C, which is already 18 months behind schedule, could be in production just before 2030. Wind farms, on the other hand, take only 4-5 years to develop and build. They have no fuel costs, rely on proven technology and create no waste.
Greenpeace is urging the government to rethink their energy policy. You can sign a petition on the Greenpeace website.
There’s been some good press for the government on the energy front with the announcement that tenants of 800,000 social houses are to get free solar panels. The scheme is led by renewable energy supplier Solarplicity and funded by Dutch bank Maas Capital. The extent of the British government’s involvement seems to be negotiation of the loan by the Department for International Trade and a photocall by Minister Greg Hands.
The way it will work is that tenants will get the panels installed at no cost to them and Solarplicity will provide them with electricity on a tariff significantly cheaper than those available from the Big Six suppliers. Typical savings of £240 per household per year are promised. The installations will be paid for from revenue from the tenants, from the government’s feed-in tariff as paid to all solar panel owners and from payments for any unused power sold back to the grid. A new army of installers is to be recruited, principally from among ex service personnel. Since many solar installation companies collapsed as a result of short-term changes to government tariffs there will be no alternative but to recruit and train new installers.
Clearing the air - or not
Sadly the British government is never far from censure. It was criticised again this week for lack of action to address air pollution, in spite of losing twice in the courts and being ordered to implement effective measures. This latest criticism came not from the EU but from the United Nations’ (UN’s) special rapporteur on human rights related to toxic waste, but this government increasingly seems to believe that it can do what it likes regardless. This week it has pushed through measures to give it a majority on all of the parliamentary committees, despite the fact that it does not have an overall majority in Parliament.
Criticism of the government as well over the effect of Brexit on environmental legislation from campaigning lawyers Client Earth. Their argument is over the consequences of the Great Repeal Bill, the legislation that will remove EU law from the UK as part of the Brexit process. We are talking about replacing a body of legislation that has taken over 40 years to build up, and the government is planning a comprehensive transfer of the regulations into English law, but allowing ministers to amend the detail at their discretion and without the approval of Parliament. The regulation of clean rivers, clean beaches, countryside and wildlife could be varied without debate. This principle extends across a whole swathe of issues; effectively allowing ministers to make law in all areas. Unsurprisingly, this has caused uproar in all parts, but so far the Great Repeal Bill is proceeding steadily towards the statute book. Will Members of Parliament wake up before it’s too late?
Law of Unintended Consequences Department
Why are hundreds of mature trees being felled in Sheffield, London and other cities? Constant pressure from government in the name of austerity forces local authorities to contract out more and more services. In Sheffield it was decided to pass the management of city trees to service company Amey for the next 25 years. Amey have realised that newly-planted trees take far less maintenance than mature trees; hence they chop down mature trees and plant saplings. Even rare species have gone without protest from the council, although there has been loud protest from community groups. The reason why the council has not stepped in to protect any of the trees lies in the small print of the 25-year contract. If the council requires that any trees should be preserved then the agreement says that the responsibility for maintaining those trees reverts to the council.
A scientific analysis of tree values estimates that trees worth some £66m have so far been felled under the so-called Streets Ahead programme. And that’s in Sheffield alone.
A link to the study is here: https://savesheffieldtreesorguk.files.wordpress.com/2017/09/cavat-valuation-report-on-street-trees-in-sheffield.pdf
What about Pete?
And if we’re not preserving trees, what about gardening? The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Wildlife Trusts, Plantlife and Friends of the Earth wrote a joint letter to the press this week:
“The importance of our remaining peatlands to people and planet is hard to overstate. They are the unrivalled kings of carbon storage. Known peatlands cover about 3% of the world’s land surface yet store twice as much carbon as all of Earth’s standing forest and provide a haven to unique wildlife – from threatened wild flowers through dragonflies to curlews. Yet 2m cubic metres of peat are sold annually for us to plant begonias and tomatoes.”
I saw a bag of growing medium in a garden centre the other day. On the bag it said, “The peat contained in this product was not harvested from a site of scientific interest.” So that’s all right then.
Ok - let’s take a break. Fancy a drink - and maybe a snack? Across the globe some 2bn people regularly eat insects. They are far more efficient at creating nutrition than cattle, sheep or poultry. Now the Swiss Coop store, or at least 7 of its 2,500 branches, are selling insect balls and mealworm burgers. The story is that they are doing this legally because there are now specific regulations to cover insects as human food in Switzerland. There are no regulations on this within the EU and a quick search shows that such products are readily available on line. Here’s the description from one supplier’s site:
- Whole dehydrated mealworms, seasoned with Garlic & Herbs, Sesame & Cumin or Impérial Soy flavour.
- Ready to eat as a snack or to share with your friends, it will be a perfect way of discovering the goodnesses of edible insects.
- Delicious and healthy snacks with seasoned and dehydrated insects. Jimini's mealworms are farmed in Europe and cooked in France with natural seasonings.
- High source of protein!
- Available to buy as 3 boxes (18g each).
- Best kept in a cool dark place. Use within 3 days after opening.
- This product has a shelf life of 10 months.
And jiminis do sell crickets.
No, actually that was a potato crisp.
You won’t catch me eating insects. Not when those three 18g-boxes cost £18! That’s about $24 US or €20.
Until next time
That brings the Sustainable Futures Report to a conclusion for another week. I'm Anthony Day and thank you for listening. Special thanks to my patrons for their continuing support. You too can be a patron - just go to patreon.com/sfr
I’m already thinking about next week’s edition and I've been approached by organisations that want to talk on the podcast about fusion energy and about copper, so they may well appear in due course. If you have a particular interest that you’d like me to follow up or that you would like to talk about on this podcast, please get in touch. As always I’m at email@example.com. I've got some other really interesting items coming up over the next few weeks. All will be revealed shortly.
I'm Anthony Day. Here's hoping you have a really good week and we'll catch up again next Friday.