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This is Anthony Day with the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday, 19th October. Welcome and thank you all for listening. A special thank you to my patrons whose support helps to make this possible. Thank you for your support and thank you for your ideas.
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The big story this week is the IPCC report. Yes, I know it came out two weeks ago but there was an awful lot to read. One of the recommendations is the use of carbon capture and storage and this week we have an interview with Prof Jon Gluyas of Durham University who is an expert in this field.
In this episode I also comment on a number of the government's green policies, I talk about energy, I look into a smart sewer and I can tell you where to park your car for the price of a few plastic bottles
An IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels has made a lot of headlines in the last couple of weeks. The report was created by a team of international scientists. Many reports start with an executive summary which runs to one or two pages. This report comes with a completely separate summary for policymakers which runs to 33 pages. It is meticulously cross-referenced to the relevant sections of the full report.
The report talks about the dangers resulting from a global temperature rise of 1.5°C, but it spends a lot of time talking about how much worse things will be if the rise reaches 2°. It warns that warming from anthropogenic emissions from the pre-industrial period to the present will persist for centuries to millennia and will continue to cause further long-term changes in the climate system, such as sea level rise, with associated impacts.
I quote: “Future climate-related risks depend on the rate, peak and duration of warming. In the aggregate they are larger if global warming exceeds 1.5°C before returning to that level by 2100 than if global warming gradually stabilizes at 1.5°C, especially if the peak temperature is high (e.g., above 2°C). Some impacts may be long-lasting or irreversible, such as the loss of some ecosystems.”
These impacts will be both on the natural world and on humanity. Rising temperatures are expected to lead to the increased frequency and intensity of precipitation and of droughts, with some areas being at greater risk than others. If temperatures rise by 2° sea levels will rise significantly more than if the rise is held to 1.5°, but in either case sea levels will continue to rise beyond 2100. The actual magnitude and rate depends on emissions now, and a slower rise gives greater opportunities for adaptation.
Instability of the marine ice sheet in Antarctica or the irreversible loss of Greenland ice could lead in the very long term to metre-level rises. Theoretically this could be triggered if global temperatures rise towards a 2° increase. At 1.5° a sea-ice-free summer could be expected in the Arctic every 100 years. A 2° rise makes this likely every 10 years.
Life on Earth
The changing climate will affect all insects, plants and invertebrates and some may lose 50% or more of their geographic range. Again, a 2° rise makes things even worse, including a greater occurrence of forest fires.
Not so permanent permafrost
Global warming risks thawing the permafrost, releasing methane which is a significantly more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.
Global warming affects the oceans causing acidification. The range of marine species will shift and coral and fisheries, particularly in low latitudes, will become depleted. Agricultural yields will fall, both from cereals and from livestock. This will lead to higher costs of food for some and increased poverty for others particularly in developing countries and marginal lands.
The concept of the carbon budget has been around for a while. The theory is that we have only so much more CO2 that we can emit into the atmosphere before we pass the point of no return in terms of triggering catastrophic climate change. The report addresses this issue but cautions that the exact limit depends on measurement methodology. In turn that means the choice of temperature measurement, the prediction of the incremental effects of additional CO2 in the atmosphere and the behaviour of permafrost and wetlands as they release their sequestered CO2 and methane as the planet warms. If we are to limit global warming to an increase of 1.5° C there remain between 420 and 770 gigatons of CO2 left to emit before we reach a tipping point. If we divide those figures by the current annual global emissions of 42 gigatons then the best case is that we have less than 20 years left and the worst case is only 10. Even that may be an unsafe conclusion, as on present rising trends annual usage by 2030 could have risen to 58 gigatons.
What do we do?
The report presents a number of strategies for addressing the carbon emissions problem. They all involve carbon dioxide removal (CDR), bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) and agricultural, forestry and other land use (AFOLU) changes. They all involve lower energy demand.
There is no doubt of the seriousness of the message. I quote: “Pathways limiting global warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems. These systems transitions are unprecedented in terms of scale, but not necessarily in terms of speed, and imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors, a wide portfolio of mitigation options and a significant upscaling of investments in those options.”
One of these options, as I've mentioned, is carbon capture and storage. Professor Jon Gluyas of Durham University is Dean of Knowledge Exchange, Director of the Durham Energy Institute and holds the Ørsted/Ikon Chair in Geoenergy. Here’s what he told me.
Green GB Week
It’s the UK government’s Green GB Week, in fact it ends today. I can’t tell you a lot about it as I only heard about it very recently. The tagline is “Building the UK’s Clean Future Together”, and you can’t argue with that. There have been events all over the country, mainly aimed at business, and mainly sold out. There’s advice to consumers on the website - the usual reducing food waste, getting a smart meter, carrying a reusable bottle or coffee cup and reducing energy use at home. There’s a list of the top ten actions to take. Interestingly that includes understanding where your pension is invested.
For communities the main lead is to the Community Energy Hub. I have to admit that I hadn’t heard of this, although I am involved in our local community energy group.
If they make this an annual event and hold it again next year I hope they give it a higher profile.
What else has the government been doing this Green GB week, following the publication of the IPCC Report?
Well fracking has restarted in the North of England after 7 years, despite being rejected by the local council and opposed by activists. Our green government has overruled the council and sent some of the activists to prison. Fortunately on Wednesday of this week the Appeal Court found that the sentences were disproportionate and the protestors were released. There’s another protest on Saturday, apparently. I do hope they won’t be arrested again.
UK joins Trump
Professor James Hansen, former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City and considered by many as the father of climate science has written to UK environment minister Claire Perry warning that the decision to allow fracking was a serious policy error that would contribute to “climate breakdown”.
“So the UK joins Trump, ignores science… full throttle ahead with the worst fossil fuels,” Hansen told the Observer. “The science is crystal clear, we need to phase out fossil fuels starting with the most damaging, the ‘unconventional’ fossil fuels such as tar sands and ‘fracking’.”
Our government knows best.
Electric cars breakdown
Also in Green GB week the government announced changes to the grants for electric cars. From 9 November 2018, consumers will see the grant for electric cars fall from £4,500 to £3,500. The grant for plug-in hybrids will be withdrawn altogether. The government announcement says that if this news leads to a surge in sales to beat the deadline they will bring the deadline forward.
We ordered our electric car last month, but there is nothing in stock anywhere in the UK so it has to be built to order. It won’t arrive until December, by which time the changes will have taken effect.
Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2018/10/changes-to-electric-and-hybrid-car-grant-means-owners-will-pay-more/ - Which?
Eating meat is bad for the environment because the amount of nutrition that has to be fed to sheep and cattle is far in excess of the nutritional value of the mates. This is because these animals use their nutrition to produce bones, horns, leather and so on, none of which can be eaten. Raising livestock requires vast amounts of water, so all in all if we continue to eat meat we are going to be unable to feed the growing world population. Not to mention that ruminants such as cattle and sheep emit vast amounts of methane, that highly potent greenhouse gas.
Asked if she would advise people to eat less meat the same Claire Perry said that this would be the act of a nanny state and that people should make up their own minds. A letter to the i newspaper put it rather differently. “A nanny state is when the government tells me what I should do for my own good. I do not consider it is a nanny state when governments tells me what to do for the sake of all.
In Germany meat has been excluded from the meals served at official government functions in recognition of its unsustainability. This has not gone down well with some German politicians, notably the German Minister for food.
Let’s leave the government for the moment and look into something else. You've probably got a smartphone, you may have a smart meter, you may have a Smart car, you’ll have heard about smart grids and smart appliances. Smart cities world reports on smart sewers.
The article is about Kansas City, where special assistant city manager Andy Shively says, “A smart city starts eight feet below the ground and goes up from there.”
Kansas City is located in the geographic heart of America and boasts the world’s largest smart sewer sensor network. It includes nearly 300 sensors deployed on the underside of rugged manhole covers across a vast 2,800-mile sewer pipe network covering 318 square miles.
A real-time decision support system created by tech company EmNet will dynamically control the flow of water to help prevent combined sewage from entering the Missouri River.
The system uses in-line gates to maximise storage in the sewer system during heavy rains, much the same as smart traffic lights work during rush hour. The $1.2 million (£0.9 million) smart system will help prevent the construction of costly deep tunnels and pumping stations. “We’ll use what’s already built to hold the flow,” he said.
The sensors act as a type of flow meter that works like sonar, measuring the flow and depth of the water in any given spot. Shively met EmNet five years ago, after founder Luis Montestruque converted artificial intelligence (AI) technology that was originally used to help locate snipers firing on troops in combat and to track enemies in GPS-denied areas. It was based on collecting data from IoT devices, which were named ‘Smart Dust’.
The system is linked to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration weather forecasts and has been highly successful in its first year.
Which is just as well, as Kansas City is under the gun from the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection to prevent combined sewer water and stormwater from entering the Missouri River.
Talking of stormwater, every week I report on more extreme and life-threatening weather across the world. This week, lives lost in Wales, Portugal and France.
Meanwhile in Florida 22 lives have been lost to Hurricane Michael. Lives were lost in Georgia as well, and whole cities razed to the ground.
The president says…
President Donald Trump spoke to CBS 60 Minutes about climate change. One of the things that he said was, “I’m not denying climate change, but it could very well go back.”
“I think something’s happening. Something’s changing and it’ll change back again,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a hoax. I think there’s probably a difference. But I don’t know that it’s manmade. I will say this: I don’t want to give trillions and trillions of dollars. I don’t want to lose millions and millions of jobs.”
An article in the New York Times analyses each of his statements in detail. Find the link on the blog.
National Grid Winter Outlook
This winter’s weather will test our national energy infrastructure once again. National Grid’s latest Winter Outlook Report is much more confident than in recent years. In March this year National Grid was forced to issue a gas deficit warning for the first time in eight years after Europe was gripped by a cold snap, dubbed the “Beast from the East”, and after several pieces of gas infrastructure suffered outages.
National Grid is confident that there will be enough gas this time, partly because Norway’s new Aasta Hansteen field comes on stream shortly, but worryingly it says, “As global gas prices have risen, it is likely that coal will replace gas in the generation merit order for some of the winter.”
Staying with energy, there’s news from Flamanville.
You’ll remember that that is the site in France where EDF is building a nuclear power station to the new design which will be used at Hinkley C in the UK. Like the Hinkley plant, Flamanville is way over budget and years behind schedule. There has been an ongoing investigation by the French nuclear inspectorate over concerns that the integrity of the steel in the reactor vessel is prejudiced by containing too much carbon. The inspectorate has now agreed that the reactor can be commissioned, but the lid must be replaced when the first fuel change occurs in 2024. I believe that this will require demolition of part of the reactor building, so expect a significant outage period and further increased costs.
We are assured that lessons have been learned, so such issues will not affect Hinkley C.
Scottish Power has put all its eggs in one energy basket. It is selling its hydro, pumped storage and gas generators to Drax and will supply only wind-generated electricity in future.
I understand that BBC Radio’s File on 4, a documentary series, presented a highly critical review of UK energy policy. I have yet to listen to it - maybe something for next week’s episode.
In the US the Juliana case rumbles on. This relates to a group of children suing the president and the government for allowing fossil fuel companies to produce products which emit harmful emissions and threaten their life chances. The latest ruling is that the president cannot be a party to the case, but the government is still in the frame and all efforts to have the case struck out have failed.
Some of the children who started the case in 2015 are not children any more. Didn’t somebody once say that justice delayed is justice denied?
A few final thoughts
Apparently you can now pay for your parking in Leeds with plastic bottles. For every bottle you take back for recycling to CitiPark you will receive a £.20 voucher. It costs £19.50 to park there for the whole day, so for that you will need around 95 bottles.
Following up on the IPCC report and the sustainable development goals; there is a chart at the back of the report which shows the potential trade-off between the mitigation options and the sustainable development goals.
The controversy over Walker's crisps being packaged in bags which cannot be recycled: a firm in Worcester has developed a biodegradable crisp packet which can be composted and will disintegrate in six months.
And that's it for another week.
Thanks again to my patrons for their continuing support and thank you for listening. In addition to iTunes, Spotify and Stitcher I will also put this episode on SoundCloud. Not many hits there so far, but we'll see how it goes. And don't forget, links to the sources for all these stories are, as always, on the blog.
I'm Anthony Day and if you have ideas, questions or suggestions please let me have them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
That's it for now.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.