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You didn't expect that song, did you? That song is Goodbye Beautiful World by Michael Anzilotti. I'll play it in full at the end of this episode. But yes, for the moment this is the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday, 2nd March with me Anthony Day. Thank you for waiting, as they say in all the best supermarket queues.
Converting the report from weekly to monthly means that so much more information builds up that it's difficult to make a choice. Anyway the first thing I must do is to welcome my latest patron: Per-Mattias Nordkvist from Stockholm in Sweden. Welcome!
This time I'm going to talk about rubbish, about free solar panels and batteries and cars in space. About growing food in the desert, about Boris Johnson, the UK Foreign Secretary, and agricultural standards after Brexit. About who’s getting pressure from Greenpeace and who’s giving pressure to Avaaz, another campaigning group. There are straws in the wind - plastic ones - more in some places than others. Then there’s books I’ve been reading, and you should too! Can we have a good life for all? The British government has lost a legal action for its lack of action on air quality - for the third time - and finally non-native species are not always what they seem.
There, I told you it was a lot.
Messages from Sweden
Let’s go back to Patron Per-Mattias Nordkvist from Stockholm. He says, “One subject I'm interested in but that is hard to report on is "moonshot"-missions. Can we equip 1 million homes here in Sweden with solar panels over 10 years? Sort of what Norway is doing with electric cars. I'm interested in countries or organisations that are raising the stakes. Aiming higher.”
Well, my newspaper quotes Eurostat and Imperial College and reports that Sweden is way ahead of other European countries in exploiting energy from renewable sources. Figures show that in 2016 renewables delivered 53.8% of that nation’s energy compared with the U.K.'s 9.3%. It's interesting that the other countries up at the top of the table like Finland and Latvia with nearly 40% are by no means the sunniest countries in Europe, but maybe they get their energy from wind. Italy, Spain, France, and Greece were all well below 20%. Could do better! Incidentally it would be worth looking at the the original figures to check whether it is correct to say that we're talking about percentages of energy, and not percentages of electricity which is only part of the energy mix.
Climate Action reports that Sweden is on course to build Europe’s largest battery cell plant. They say:
“The European Investment Bank (EIB) has recently approved a loan that will help a Swedish company build an innovative battery factory.
€52.5 million ($68 million) was approved by the bank this month to help get the project off the ground; construction is expected in the next few months in the city of Västerås in central Sweden.
The company behind the project, Northvolt, was only established in 2016 as the brainchild of former Tesla employee Peter Carlsson. Now the CEO, he sees a strong future for the technology: ‘Europe is moving rapidly towards electrification. Northvolt’s objective is to build the world’s greenest battery to enable the transition. With the support from the European Investment Bank and the European Union, we are now one step closer to establishing a competitive European battery manufacturing value chain’, he said.”
And talking of Tesla, my son has just sent me a news report from Australia. Elon Musk, he of Space-X and the Tesla electric car company, has announced that he will give free solar panels and Tesla Powerwalls (batteries) to 50,000 homeowners in South Australia. The deal is that he sells the electricity to the homeowners for about 30% less than they are currently paying, he links all the systems together to make a virtual power station and he sells the surplus electricity to recoup his costs.
Maybe Sweden should give him a call, although it sounds as though they are doing pretty well without him.
You’ve got to admire Elon Musk. Well I do, anyway. He’s a South African-born Canadian American inventor and entrepreneur. He made his money as one of the founders of PayPal, which was sold to eBay for $1.5bn. His Tesla electric car is sold all over the world, and you’ve probably seen that there’s now one out there in space. The Space-X company wanted to demonstrate the capabilities of its heavy rocket and used a Tesla car as part of the payload. Of course some people have said that sending up this vehicle complete with dummy astronaut in the driving seat is shameless grandstanding and polluting space. On the other hand, two out of the three boosters which lifted the rocket into space returned to earth and landed precisely where they were expected, ready to be used again. Full marks to Musk for recycling!
His ultimate objective is to colonise Mars so that the human race does not become extinct. At the same time he's doing everything he can to promote renewable energy to mitigate global warming and climate change.
This Next Bit’s Rubbish
We've been sending used plastic for recycling to China for years. About half a million tonnes per year from the UK alone which, given that plastic is pretty light, is an awful lot of plastic. There were signs back as far as 2008 that China might not continue to accept all this waste and from the beginning of this year they have imposed a ban. There is no capacity in the UK to recycle all this extra material so much of it will have to be burnt, as far as incinerators have the capacity and the rest will go to landfill. Costs of waste disposal paid by local councils will go up. It's ironic that in the past I have criticised councils for entering into contracts with incinerator companies which have obliged them to divert materials from recycling so that they can supply a waste stream of sufficient calorific value to these incinerators. It looks as though that problem will be solved, although it's far from an ideal solution. And there is the risk that we will see more and more fly tipping until domestic recycling capacity is increased. And that won't happen overnight!
What is the British government doing about this?
When asked recently, Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, said: “I don’t know what impact it will have. It is ... something to which – I will be completely honest – I have not given it sufficient thought.” Of course Prime Minister Theresa May made that speech that I reported on last time, when she said the government was committed to working to a target of eliminating avoidable plastic waste by end of 2042. And we always accuse governments of short-termism!
Chancellor Philip Hammond announced in his budget that he would "investigate how the tax system and charges on single-use plastic items can reduce waste”.
Three months on, the chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Mary Creagh, has called on Philip Hammond for answers. A HM Treasury spokesman said: "We're fully committed to reducing the use of harmful single-use plastics - and the damage they cause to the world's oceans and wildlife.
"Our call for evidence - launching shortly - will build on Britain's world-leading ban on microbeads and plastic bag charge, forming a major part of the Government's 25-year environment plan.”
Which means that so far, three months on, nothing has been done.
Others are not so dilatory. It’s reported that Her Majesty the Queen is banning plastic drinking straws and plastic bottles from the Royal Estate. Worryingly, it’s also reported that purchases of plastic drinking straws by the caterers at the Houses of Parliament are higher then ever. Good news though, from London City Airport. They claim to be the first UK airport to be phasing out plastic straws. What next? Maybe they could cut CO2 pollution by phasing out aircraft!
A Red, White and Blue - and Green - Brexit
Speaking recently to farmers, UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove reiterated his desire to "occupy the high ground" on green standards after Brexit. In the same week Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who has a very wide interpretation of his brief, insisted that any Brexit deal should provide the UK with the freedom to change environmental rules, energy efficiency standards, and energy taxes if it wanted to.
Maybe he is anticipating ISDS, Investor-State Dispute Settlement. This is a system already incorporated in some 3,000 trade and investment agreements across the world and operated by the World Bank. It allows corporations to sue a government for compensation if the actions of that government have limited the corporation’s profits. For example, the Spanish government was sued by organisations ranging from the Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund to German municipalities and a US brokerage firm for suspending renewable energy subsidies worth €6.5 billion in 2014. In other words corporations are able to penalise governments which bring in legislation for the protection of their citizens. If the UK concludes new trading deals with United States, a country very active in this area, who’s to say that ISDS won't be a condition of these deals, therefore giving the corporations the power to overturn the British government’s environmental regulations. And environmental regulations may only be the start of it.
[see The Corruption of Capitalism, Guy Standing, Biteback Publishing 2017]
https://www.businessgreen.com/bg/news/3026668/boris-johnson-hints-at-opportunity-to-dilute-environmental-standards-post-brexit?utm_medium=email&utm_content=&utm_campaign=BG.Breaking_News_RL.EU.A.U&utm_source=BG.DCM.Editors_Updates&utm_term=&im_company=&utm_medium=email&companysize=50%20to%2099 (Subscribers only)
Farming in the Desert
A while ago I reviewed the book called “Let there be Water” by Seth M Siegel. It was about how Israel manages its very scarce water resources and is able to support agriculture by the use of techniques including desalination, trickle irrigation and re-processed sewage. In Australia Sun Drop Farms go much further than that. This is what they say on their website:
“If you are a traditional farmer, you’ll need water and energy to grow your produce. And you’ll need lots of it.
The challenge is that they are finite resources that are becoming ever scarcer. Our solution? Not to use them!
We don’t extract groundwater from the planet at unsustainable rates. We don’t rely on fossil fuels. And we don’t use soil or valuable farmlands.
Instead we’ve developed technologies that integrate solar power, electricity generation, fresh water production and hydroponics. It produces an equivalent quantity of food to that grown using traditional methods, but the quality is significantly better.
“We use the sun’s energy to produce freshwater for irrigation. And we turn it into electricity to power our greenhouse to heat and cool our crops.
Our ventilation also uses seawater to help cool the greenhouses, and we re-use water again and again.”
Growing crops in greenhouses means that pests can be excluded and so there is no need for pesticides. Using hydroponics means there is nowhere for weeds to grow so there is no need for herbicides. This means that the food is not affected by unnecessary chemicals and the farmer saves the cost both of buying and applying such treatments.
There are many advantages to this sort of agriculture. It’s suitable for salads and for some types of fruit. It's not suitable for pulses and cereals which are still the main staple foods of the majority of the world’s population.
Talking of herbicides, one of the world’s most successful products is Monsanto’s glyphosate, also branded as Roundup.
This week I had a message from Avaaz, an international campaigning group. This is what it says:
“We've just been hit with a 168-page court subpoena from Monsanto.
“We have only days to respond, and it "commands" us to hand over every private email, note, or record we have regarding Monsanto, including the names and email addresses of Avaazers who have signed Monsanto campaigns!!
“This is big. They're a $50 billion mega-corporation, infamous for legal strong-arm tactics like this. They have unlimited resources. If they get their hands on all our private information, there's no telling what they'll use it for.
“So we're going to fight this. Because Monsanto may have unlimited resources to intimidate, but Avaaz has unlimited people power, and our members just aren't afraid.
“Our deadline to respond to the subpoena is just days away -- donate to help defend our movement, and let's send Monsanto a message -- every time they come at us, they'll only make us stronger.”
Avaaz has successfully campaigned against Monsanto and the renewal of approval of glyphosate in some countries. The product has advantages. The main one is that it eradicates weeds so crops can be planted that will grow without competition from weeds. Because it kills the whole plant down to the roots it is not necessary to plough the land, preserving soil structure and avoiding the use of agricultural machinery which uses fossil fuel and emits CO2.
On the other side, the destruction of all plant life apart from the crop destroys the habitat of many insects, invertebrates, animals and birds. There are suggestions that the product is carcinogenic. Read Monsanto’s website and read avaaz.org and make up your own mind.
Some years ago Monsanto got a very bloody nose over GM foods. The way they approached their introduction to Europe led to angry reactions and the ban on GM foods in the EU. Clearly that had financial consequences and they want to avoid a similar episode with glyphosate. The way they are approaching Avaaz sounds sinister, however. As the message says, why do they want everybody's details? Are they planning a class action against anyone who has ever taken issue with them or their products? I am very concerned that a campaigning organisation such as Avaaz could be forced to give up its mailing list. Certainly this seems to fly in the face of data protection laws which appear to be becoming more onerous by the day. Watch this space. It is an example of corporate power. Like ISDS.
In other activist news, Greenpeace contacted me the other day to complain that the UK's air pollution limit for the whole year had now been reached. They went on, “It's now the 8th straight year this has happened in the very first month – and scientists say diesel is the reason why. To end this cycle, we're taking on a car giant with the power to move the entire industry away from diesel for good. And to win it's going to take every single one of us.”
They are urging VW to abandon diesel and concentrate on electric cars.
If you want to support their campaign https://secure.greenpeace.org.uk/page/s/volkswagen-ditch-diesel-now?source=em&subsource=20180130apem01&utm_source=gpeace&utm_medium=em&utm_campaign=20180130apem01 is the place to go. It’s not very obvious on their website, but there’s a specific link on my blog at www.sustainablefutures.report.
I’ve reported several times on the actions of Client Earth, a group of environmental lawyers who have repeatedly challenged the British government in the courts over its failure to take adequate action to deal with atmospheric pollution. This week they won their third case.
ClientEarth made legal history after a High Court judge ruled that the court should have effective oversight of the UK government’s next air pollution plans.
It means, for the first time ever, that ClientEarth can immediately bring the government back to court if it prepares a plan which is unlawful.
This move, which means the environmental lawyers will not need to apply for permission to bring judicial review, was described by the judge as “wholly exceptional”.
The government has subsequently said that it will not appeal against the judgement. We must hope that it will follow it.
Clean Air Parents’ Network
Meanwhile ClientEarth and the British Lung Foundation are launching a new Clean Air Parents’ Network, set up for concerned parents across the country who want to help solve the UK’s air pollution crisis.
https://www.businessgreen.com/bg/news/3027090/clientearth-wins-third-battle-with-government-over-air-quality-plan?utm_medium=email&utm_content=&utm_campaign=BG.Breaking_News_RL.EU.A.U&utm_source=BG.DCM.Editors_Updates&utm_term=&im_company=&utm_medium=email&companysize=50%20to%2099 (Subscribers only)
Dealing the US Out (or In)
The EU has announced that it will only make trade deals with nations that ratify the Paris climate agreement. An obvious conclusion is that the United States would be excluded.
Of course that won’t worry the UK as we’re leaving the EU. When I say leaving, we’re leaving the customs union according to the government, which gives us freedom to make our own deals. But as of this week we’re not leaving the customs union according to the opposition and not according to a large number of members of the governing Conservative Party. If we do leave we will be able to make our own trade deals with whoever we like whether they are in the Paris Agreement or not. At least we’ll be able to do that after the end of the transition period, which may last two years, or may last 20 months or longer, or not at all. Unless the opposition and dissident Conservatives gang up on the government. There’s every chance that that will happen before the next edition of the Sustainable Futures Report. Watch this space.
The UK thrives on positive leadership. I really wish we had some.
A Good Life for all within the planet’s means
A study led by the School of Earth & Environment has found that no country currently meets its citizens’ basic needs at a globally sustainable level of resource use. The research, published in Nature Sustainability, is the first to quantify the sustainability of national resource use associated with meeting basic human needs for 151 countries. Each country’s resource use and well-being achievements have been made available as a website built by the academics involved in the study.
Lead author, Dr Daniel O’Neill, from the Sustainability Research Institute at Leeds, said: “Almost everything we do, from having dinner to surfing the Internet, uses resources in some way, but the connections between resource use and human well-being are not always visible to us.
“We examined international relationships between the sustainability of resource use and the achievement of social goals, and found that basic needs, such as nutrition, sanitation, and the elimination of extreme poverty, could most likely be achieved in all countries without exceeding global environmental limits.
“Unfortunately, the same is not true for other social goals that go beyond basic subsistence such as secondary education and high life satisfaction. Meeting these goals could require a level of resource use that is two to six times the sustainable level.”
You can read more via the link on the blog at www.sustainablefutures.report .
As the climate changes plants, animals and fish are moving to areas where they were not previously found. Examples of this in the UK are Japanese Knotweed and Himalayan Balsam, both of which choke waterways and suppress native plants and are extremely difficult to eradicate. As an beekeeper I love Himalayan Balsam because it makes very nice honey, but I am very concerned about the Asian hornet. This insect eats honey bees and a swarm of Asian Hornets can rapidly wipe out a whole hive.
It was reported last week that a farmer near Aberdeen in Scotland was concerned that a non-native mammal had invaded his land. He called the police and told them that he thought that he’d seen a tiger. The police asked all the local zoos to check whether they had lost a tiger and they sent an armed response unit. They cornered the suspect in a barn and discovered it was a very large cuddly toy.
Hey Ho, better safe than sorry.
And that's it
for a another episode of Sustainable Futures Report. Thanks for listening, and if you are, thanks for being a patron and if you're not: have a look at patreon.com. The next episode will be on Friday 6 April, a very important day for all UK taxpayers. I haven’t covered those books I’ve been reading and this episode is already significantly longer than normal. Watch out next time.
We’re making good progress on setting up The Smart Sustainable Cities Convention. It will be held in Leeds and we’re inviting speakers and delegates from all over Europe. We will have a very special deal for local government officers, councillors and city officials when registration opens later this year. For the moment, put 21st March 2019 in your diary and hop across to sscc19.com and sign up for further information.
I'm Anthony Day and before I go I promised to let you hear that song, Goodbye Beautiful World. I'm going to play it in full in a moment. That's my normal jingle in the background because I didn't want to talk across the song.
Goodbye Beautiful World was written by Songwriter - Michael Anzilotti, with
• Vocals - Colleen Heauser
• Piano - Jaime Morante
• Guitar - Michael Anzilotti
• Background Vocals - Matt Pacini, Michael Anzilotti…
…and the Dobro & Pedal Steel Guitar is played by Pete Grant - “Pete is the only one of us with any real fame”, says Michael, “he recorded a lot with the Grateful Dead (while not an official member he was playing with them before they were actually the Grateful Dead, very close friend with Jerry Garcia, etc) as well as recording and playing with lots of other well known artists like Crosby, Stills and Nash, etc.
Michael is looking for someone to work on a video of this song with him, so if that could be you, mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. That address is on the blog at www.sustainablefutures.report.
So here we are - Goodbye Beautiful World. All I’ll say is it doesn’t have to be goodbye. We haven’t all given up yet.