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Yes, as promised, here's another episode of the Sustainable Futures Report. I’m Anthony Day and unless you’re a patron and you're getting this early, it's Friday, 5 October 2018. Thanks first of all to everybody for their feedback. I've had more feedback than ever this week and I'll try and develop some of the ideas which you've shared.
In this week’s episode
In this week’s episode, climate failures and climate lies, a big price for small reactors, don't paint the town red – paint it green, and how should we keep it warm? News from Smart Cities World, from the IPCC and a follow-up on some of the issues covered last time.
Plastic Next Week
This week there was a major BBC documentary on plastic waste. I'm going to cover the whole issue of plastic in the next episode. For the moment you will be able to pick up the programme on the BBC iPlayer if you are in the UK and there is more at BBC.co.uk/plasticsaction.
And now, a very warm welcome to our newest patron, Shane. Yes another one! Shane says he was looking for a podcast that covers green living and environmental issues. I hope we measure up, Shane. Shane’s a Cyber Security student and privacy advocate, and says that the episode on Smart Meters was really interesting and made him aware of some of the downsides he had not thought of. He mentioned the 'Amazon Echo' and 'Google Home' devices that are always listening and gathering lots of data. Yes; won’t have one of those in our house, Shane.
Feedback also came this week from Tom de Simone, our new gold patron I told you about last week. He says, “I think heating is the one that's most playing on my mind at the moment, as we don't seem to be making very much progress in that area. Passivhaus is all good and well, but we need to do something about the existing houses out there, and most people are not able or willing to do a whole house retrofit. We need something that's less severe than retrofit, but still improves the insulation properties of the house to a reasonable degree.” He says he’s looking for an online discussion group to explore the issue. There surely must be discussion groups out there for improving domestic insulation. If you know of one, let me know via firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll pass the word along. This podcast is heard from Australia to Canada and from Belgium to Brazil, so I’m sure there’s someone listening with opinions and ideas about this.
Katerina Robinson is a long-time listener to the Sustainable Futures Report - Hi Katerina - and she pointed me to Do Nation. “At Do Nation,” the website tells us, “we help people commit to make small behaviour changes that add up to a better world. Like cycling to work, driving more efficiently, eating less meat or turning the thermostat down a notch.
“You can either make a pledge yourself, or start a campaign - at home or at work - to raise pledges from friends, family and colleagues.”
Groups can be set up in businesses, universities and other organisations. According to DoNation’s website, one couple asked well-wishers to make pledges instead of sending wedding gifts. Do Nation sets up a web page for each group, calculates the carbon savings resulting from people meeting their pledges and creates a leaderboard to keep people focused and motivated. There’s an app which keeps you up to date.
Katerina has set up such a group at Freedom Group, where she is Group Environmental Sustainability Manager.
News on Climate Change
This week The Guardian reported on climate change failures, but urged us all not to give up. They said that the world was failing to combat the threat of climate change. Global carbon dioxide emissions from coal, oil and gas increased by 1.6% in 2017, after three years when they rose little or not at all. Demand for oil is increasing by around 1.5% a year. They mentioned how protesters against fracking in the UK have been locked up for opposing a process which they see as dangerously irresponsible.
This week the IPCC is discussing its special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels at its 48th Plenary in Korea. The text is not yet available. The Guardian says it will be available this week but the timeline on the ipcc website seems to indicate that it may not come out until next year. Incidentally I was invited to debate it on Talk Radio with Piers Corbyn on Monday night. I declined because they gave me less than an hour’s notice and I didn’t know what it was about. I still don’t, but the Guardian’s man has been talking to one of the report’s authors.
“It’s extraordinarily challenging to get to the 1.5C target and we are nowhere near on track to doing that,” said Drew Shindell, a Duke University climate scientist and a co-author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report…
“While it’s technically possible, it’s extremely improbable, absent a real sea change in the way we evaluate risk. We are nowhere near that.”
If the report is published this week I will track it down and let you know.
You can read the full Guardian articles on line: the link is on the blog at sustainablefutures.report. There’s a link to the IPCC site as well.
Down under, but not really down
Can you believe a word of what politicians say? No, I'm not talking about people who may or may not be addressing the Conservative party conference which is on this week. This story relates to Australia where the new energy minister claims that the country is on track to meet its 2030 emissions targets.
The New Daily tells us that energy minister Angus Taylor made a claim about carbon emissions this week that looked on the surface to be fantastic news, but on closer inspection was false.
The minister wrote in the Australian Financial Review: “Emissions reductions are the least of our problems, with every prospect we will reach the 26 per cent reduction below 2005 levels ahead of schedule and without interventions.”
According to Mr Taylor’s own department, Australia is on track to woefully miss the 2030 target, and will reduce emissions by just 5%, not 26%.
The minister’s office then said that he had been talking just about electricity, not all energy, but the Energy Council said that was incorrect as well.
The minister’s office did not respond when this was pointed out.
If you read the original headline it appears that all is going well with Australia’s emissions reductions. The truth is that the new Morrison government has scrapped the National Energy Guarantee (NEG), which would have forced energy generators to limit their emissions and has made it clear it will not replace it with anything. The Energy Council says that without regulation there is no hope of meeting Australia’s Paris targets.
Thank goodness we know that we can trust everything our politicians here in the UK have to say.
More on the Energy Front
I'm in danger of falling out with my community energy friends by suggesting that nuclear power might be a good idea. No, not white elephants like Hinkley C, but modular nuclear power stations which could be housed in a container at the end of our street. Well, no, perhaps not in the middle of a residential area but perhaps on the local industrial estate. Mini nuclear generators have been used for decades to power nuclear submarines and sailors have been living in close proximity for all that time without adverse effects. Rolls Royce is a world leader in this technology. If these units are cheap, simple and totally emission free in use surely they are preferable to burning imported gas, coal or wood chip. But a recent news report makes me think again. And neighbourhood nuclear would probably receive the same warm welcome as fracking.
In January the government set up the Expert Finance Working Group on Small Nuclear Reactors, which reported recently. It recommends that the private sector should aim to develop first-of-a-kind small reactor projects and that the taxpayer should take the financial risk. At this stage we’re talking about some £2.5bn, for projects to be delivered by around 2030. By which time renewables and battery technology will be widely installed and will have the benefit of another 12 years’ development.
The report says:
“HMG’s actions could build on the momentum, trust and confidence created by large nuclear such as Hinkley Point C”
‘Nuff said I think.
Last time I reported that in the face of serious doubts about the financial viability of fracking the British government was still determined to promote it. In England at least, although it’s banned in Scotland and Wales. Equally there are those who are implacably opposed to it, because of the risks of contaminating groundwater and the risks from methane leaks from the production sites which could make the gas produced from fracking dirtier in terms of overall emissions, than coal. Some of these people have been sent to prison for their actions to disrupt the operations of the drilling company. Many people see this as a denial of free speech. It’s apparently the first time people have been sent to prison for this sort of protest since the mass trespass on Kinder Scout 82 years ago.
Meanwhile six days after parliament went into recess for the party conference season Energy and Clean Growth minister Claire Perry announced that Cuadrilla will be allowed to frack a second well at its Preston New Road site. Some 20 Conservative MPs are known to oppose this but of course have no way of doing anything about it while Parliament is in recess. The government has already taken such decisions away from local authorities. 38 degrees and the Campaign to Protect Rural England have a petition against this. Link on the blog.
Commenting on this latest decision, Caroline Lucas of the Green Party accused the government of trampling over democracy.
Last time I reported that senior officials at Ofgem had raised doubts about the smart meter roll-out and were threatened with imprisonment under the Utilities Act if they repeated their claims. They were even prevented from presenting their grievances to an employment tribunal.
I wrote to Old Sparky , who writes a column on energy for Private Eye, the satirical and investigative magazine, to ask what was going on.
“I wish I knew!” he replied, “And I imagine the Guardian [which published the report] feels the same - unless they fear being hit under the Utilities Act also. We have some leads, mostly on the RHI, but would welcome more info. Both issues are politically sensitive of course (see Northern Ireland ...): and the smart meters saga is so extensive, it could lead anywhere.”
I’ll keep reading the column and keep you posted. Perhaps you know more. Do tell.
Diesel and air quality
What's the future for diesel and how does that square with air quality? Writing in September's oil market review James Spencer of Portland Fuel explains how commercial operators of trucks and buses have come under increasing pressure to clean up their vehicle emissions. Local authorities are very concerned with local air quality and many therefore exclude all vehicles except those which meet the latest regulations, at least for part of the day. There’s emphasis on reducing nitrous oxide as well as CO2. This does not extend to private cars and we have reached the situation where a Euro VI bus emits 0.61mg of NOx per km per passenger, whereas a Euro 6 car engine emits 100mg per km per passenger!
Two members of my family have acquired new cars in the last 12 months - one Audi, one Mercedes and both diesel. In both cases they found that the model they wanted was not available with a petrol engine. It’s disappointing that model choice was considered more important than the potential damage from emissions. Even in cars, diesel engines are very much cleaner than they used to be, but why are these manufacturers still preferring them over petrol? If you know, let me know.
Diesel Ban by 2030?
Transform, the journal of IEMA, tells us that Europe must end diesel car sales by 2030 to deliver the Paris Agreement. They cite a report from the German Aerospace Centre Institute of Vehicle Concepts, commissioned by Greenpeace Belgium. The report says:
“Over the last decade, the emissions from the EU28+2 car segment have changed little. If this trend continues in the next decade the passenger car CO2 budget for EU28+2 would be completely depleted in the 50% scenario within 10 years. In the 66% scenario the carbon budget would be depleted within 5 years.”
What does that actually mean?
The EU28+2 is the current EU members including the UK, plus Norway and Switzerland. The 50% scenario aims at a 50% chance of keeping global warming within a 1.5℃ increase. The 66% scenario aims at a 66% chance.
This is based on the assumption that the world at large can emit only so much more CO2 into the atmosphere if catastrophic climate change is to be avoided. If our transport fleet continues to emit CO2 at current rates for another 5 years then there is a 66% chance of hitting the 1.5℃ target. That assumes that all emissions from transport stop at that point. If our transport fleet continues to emit CO2 at current rates for another 10 years then there is only a 50% chance of hitting the 1.5℃ target. This relates to emissions from all vehicles, not just diesel ones. The solution is to convert the fleet to electricity, but as James Spencer says in his Oil Markets Report, in that case some pretty hard questions need to be asked as to how all this electricity will be produced, where it is to be produced and whether it will actually result in an overall reduction in emissions versus the current crop of clean diesel engines…
Growing car dependence
Smart Cities World reports that UK drivers’ dependency on the car has jumped in the last year with a third (33 per cent) of motorists – the equivalent to 13.2m – saying they are more reliant on their cars now than 12 months earlier, according to research for the RAC’s annual Report on Motoring.
It compares to just 27 per cent in 2017 and almost a quarter blame it on a deterioration in public transport services.
If this continues it will be increasingly difficult to prevent emissions from private car use from increasing, let alone to reduce them.
When people used horses in the street they were eventually made to clean up after them. Now bus company GoAhead has adopted the same principle, but with modern technology. This week they launched the UK’s first air filtering bus that makes the air around it cleaner as it travels. According to the press release, the bus is fitted with a specially designed filter that removes ultrafine particles from the air and traps them as the bus moves through streets. The filter then allows the bus to blow out more pure air so that the air behind it is cleaner than that in front of it.
“We want this pilot to show that buses should be looked at as not just the solution to congestion in cities, but also as a solution to the air quality problem,” said Go-Ahead’s Chief Executive, David Brown. “As the bus removes the ultrafine particles from the air as it travels along the route, it is helping solve the air quality problems of the city. This bus will clean the air on its route 1.7 times a year to a height of 10 metres - imagine the change we could make to air quality if all buses had this technology.”
There is no detail on the actual size of particles trapped or on the CO2 and NOx emitted by the vehicle, but it’s got to be a move in the right direction.
Another bus and another report from Smart Cities World. The first autonomous school shuttle in the world will take to the roads this autumn in Babcock Ranch, Florida.
Babcock Ranch, which bills itself as the first solar-powered community in the US, is also going to be the first to trial an autonomous school shuttle on its roads.
The 12-person Easy Mile EZ10 Gen II shuttle is fully electric and, according to the new town’s transport partner, Transdev, it reacts 30 times faster than a human driver. Currently, the shuttle travels at a top speed of 12mph, but has the potential to reach speeds of 30mph once the necessary infrastructure is in place. A safety attendant will remain on board at all times and Transdev will test the autonomous shuttle with students and families before the pilot officially begins.
Well, if it can stand up to school children…
Are you thinking of any DIY jobs now the nights are drawing in? A bit of painting, perhaps? Painting the town red? Or green? The trouble is that there’s always some paint left over, isn’t there? You tuck it away on shelf in the garage in case you need it, but by the time you come to look at it, it’s gone hard and useless. So you need to dispose of it, and you really, really shouldn’t put it in your black bin for landfill. You need https://communityrepaint.org.uk/ This is a network of non-profit organisations across England, Wales and Northern Ireland which take un-used paint and provide it to charities and community organisations at a nominal price.
No clutter in your garage, no noxious substances sent to landfill, redecorated community facilities.
It’s a win-win-win!
A Final Word
Green GB Week starts on 15th October.More about that next week, but details at
And that's it for another episode!
I can't end without thanking my patrons whose support helps me cover the cost of hosting this podcast and the 200+ episode archive. Thank you all, and if you're not yet a patron we’d love to add you to our number from as little as $1 per month. Yes I know, but patreon is an American site. All you have to do is to hop across to patreon.com/SFR and sign up. You could get a Sustainable Futures Report enamel badge and in most cases you'll get the audio of this podcast a day early, sometimes even earlier.
But as I said, that's all for this time and there will be another Sustainable Futures Report next week. It will be all about plastic. Share it with friends. Don't just discard it when you finished with it.
I'm Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report
Bye for now!