Friday, December 13, 2019

Biomimicry - Nature Shows the Way

Biomimicry - Nature shows the Way
Image by Couleur from Pixabay

Hello and welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday, the 13th of December. There is no news of the general election results because I wrote this before the polls even opened. 
This Time
Aside from election news, on the sustainability front Australia is still ablaze, COP25, the UN Climate Conference, draws to a close this week with criticism and complaints, Greta Thunberg says the school strikes have achieved nothing and some in Scotland are having a grouse - about grouse moors. But apart from all this, whatever we do to our world we are going to have to live in it and it’s important to make the very best of it. There are lessons we can learn from Nature. I recently heard a presentation by Richard James MacCowan who is the founder and managing director of Biomimicry UK. In the conference brochure it said:
“Richard is a real estate consultant and designer having worked across Europe on projects from billion-dollar asset transfers to new developments. His passion for all things biomimetic and problem-solving started in his youth, and it has never stopped since then. This has led to unexpected clients and opportunities with the BBC, luxury hotels and even running a workshop in a nudist colony in the Balkans!”
He never told us about that in his presentation, but I was able to catch up with him later and we discussed a whole range of things.

Richard MacCowan of Biomimicry UK. Find out more on his website: 

Australia Ablaze
We need nature, but nature in some parts of Australia is under severe threat. The fires that I reported weeks ago are still burning and are now being called too big to put out. They are covering an area equivalent to the size of greater Sydney, and they are not that far from Sydney. Temperatures were expected to reach 43C during the week. The city is choked with smoke and air quality has exceeded "hazardous" levels on several occasions. This has led to a 10% rise in hospital admissions, while paramedics have treated hundreds of people for breathing problems. There are air quality problems from bushfire smoke in Adelaide as well.
Firefighters say there is no hope of putting the fires out because everything is so dry. All they can do is wait for rain, which is not expected before late January or February. We spoke about water vapour last time and how warmer air can hold more of it. This means that when it finally condenses into clouds and then turns into rain the downpours are excessively heavy. But on the other hand it means that where clouds rise to heights which would normally trigger rainfall it's not cold enough, so the clouds move on leaving drought behind them. As we warm the atmosphere we change weather patterns.
All these fires must be putting tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, but at the same time they are killing wildlife and destroying habitats. For those creatures that survive there may be no insects or plants or prey left to live on.
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison, has consistently said there was “no credible scientific evidence” linking climate change with the fires. This has been rejected by climate scientists, who have said politicians are “burying their heads in the sand while the world is literally burning around them”. The Climate Change Performance Index rates Australia’s climate policies as the worst in the world, coming 57th out of 57 countries.
As we learnt recently, Australia accounts for 37% of world coal exports. Shutting the mines would devastate the economy overnight. Equally, shutting the mines would not stop climate change or the droughts or the fires. It’s a necessary but not sufficient action for controlling the climate crisis, which depends on actions by governments and corporations across the world. The effect of humanity on the environment has built up over the last 200 years or so; and particularly in the last 50. The effect of cutting CO2 emissions and extracting CO2 from the atmosphere will take centuries if not millennia to work through. Somehow we need to sell the necessity of immediate action to deliver long-term security but no immediate return. You can understand why politicians would prefer to believe that climate change is not happening.
It’s not just in Australia that the mining industry is resisting calls to curtail its operations. Friends of the Earth warn that the international Energy Charter Treaty could be used by fossil fuel companies to challenge countries’ climate regulations. The original objective of the treaty was to protect western energy companies as they started to invest in former Soviet states, and the organisation is certainly not without teeth. The most notorious case, involving the Russian Yukos company, ended with a $50bn judgement. 
COP25 closes this week, after this edition has been published, but already there’s much news. The general message is that not enough is being done quickly enough and corporations and countries are dragging their feet, if not deliberately hampering progress. 
Johan Rockström, joint director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said, “We are at risk of getting so bogged down in incremental technicalities at these negotiations that we forget to see the forest for the trees” An example is the position of China, Saudi Arabia India and Brazil on the use of the term “climate urgency”. They claim that since the phrase has not been used in the past it cannot be used now. Other delegates are frustrated at this insistence on a triviality in the face of the science, of the shrinking time to act and the realisation across the world of this emergency.
In 2015, countries signed up to the Paris agreement and are due to put new plans on the table to run from 2020. The richer countries were supposed to undertake specific carbon cutting actions in the years between 2015 and 2020, but many haven't yet achieved these targets. Negotiators have ignored the central question of increasing country pledges to cut their carbon and concentrated instead on protecting national interests.
Carbon Markets
There are two contentious issues: loss and damage, and carbon markets. The conference is setting out to establish a new scheme for carbon trading but some countries, notably Brazil, want to carry forward carbon credits that were generated under previous schemes. This would limit the efforts needed by Brazil to meet its targets, but it is claimed that these old credits do not in fact represent real carbon reductions, so their use is not justified. If old credits are allowed there is little point in having a new scheme. 
Loss & Damage
Loss and damage has been on the agenda since the conference opened. Poorer and developing countries affected by sea-level rise or major storms that have a climate component are looking for support and assistance from richer countries. Richer countries are afraid of being held liable for billions of dollars indefinitely.
It’s Time
You’ve probably heard that Greta Thunberg has been nominated as Time Magazine’s person of the year 2019. It’s as much about Time Magazine as about Greta, but the publicity must be welcome for the climate cause. In the past Greta has been dismissive of praise and awards. What she wants is action. Speaking at the summit in Madrid this week, she urged world leaders to stop using "creative PR" to avoid real action. She also said that the school strikes for the climate over the past year had “achieved nothing” because greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise. In the four years since the Paris Agreement global emissions have risen by 4%. Meanwhile delegates at the conference focus on the wording of the documents rather than the urgency of the bigger picture.

Greta complained as well about the criticism of activists and the abuse she has received. Petrolhead Jeremy Clarkson surprised everyone when he said that climate change must be real because he found that he couldn’t take a boat up the Mekong River in Cambodia because parts of it had dried up. It didn’t take long for him to revert to type and say that Greta should shut up and go back to school. She told activists in Madrid that we needed more activists, that school strikes could stop if governments took action and she hoped that there would be a positive outcome from COP25, as ministers from across the world arrived for the final stages of the summit. She didn’t look optimistic, but she always looks determined.
At the other end of the age range, 82-year-old actress Jane Fonda has joined the climate activists and been arrested four times. She says that she’s inspired by Greta Thunberg and that climate activism has helped lift her depression which followed the election of Donald Trump.
Grouse Moors
The United Kingdom lies a few hundred miles north of Madrid, and large areas of northern England and Scotland are pretty barren. There are very few trees and much of the landscape is bog and heather populated by sheep. Although this countryside has looked like this for 200 years or more, it’s not natural. It’s managed like this for grouse shooting, an activity which uses 13% of the land area of Scotland but contributes a negligible amount to Scotland’s economy. A report from Revive, the coalition for grouse moor reform, claims that continued management of this land as grouse moors will maintain a large area of Scotland’s land in an impoverished state. It’s treated with pesticides, contaminated with lead shot and parts are burned each year so that the heather puts out new shoots that the grouse feed on. This close-to-sterile landscape could be returned to scrub and woodland, with habitat for a wide range of wildlife, opportunities for year-round leisure activities and managed forestry with associated jobs. The trees would be a carbon sink, but protecting the peat bogs, already a massive carbon sink, would be far more important. To achieve this, of course would need political will and cooperation from those that own the land. Politicians may well choose easier battles to fight.
I fear the Scottish landowners would be every bit as obdurate and obstructive as the coal companies.
And Finally,
Some good news. Well, reasonably good news anyway. The Times reports that the UK market share for greener cars rose above 10 per cent for the first time in November, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. Demand for hybrids rose by 15 per cent to 7,038 compared to the same month last year; plug-in hybrids increased by 34.8 per cent to 4,362; and battery electric cars rose by 229 per cent to 4,652. 229%! But then that’s a very low base. And that’s just 4,652 vehicles out of a total of some 160,000. And is the car, petrol or electric, the way to go?
I think that’s a question for another time.
And that’s it…
…for another Sustainable Futures Report.  Remember that links to the sources for all of these stories are on the blog - or will be by Friday.
Next week I’ll bring you a more measured response to the results of the UK election, to the outcome of COP25 and there’ll be a look at how we can adapt to the climate change already built into the system. That will be my last episode of 2019, bringing us up to 45 editions for the year, so you won’t be surprised that there will be a break in January. I’m aiming for a 3rd January episode, although precious few have come back with 100 words on what we should do in 2020. Send me your ideas!  Before Christmas if you possibly can.
If you’re contemplating a New Year’s Resolution (OK I know Christmas hasn’t even started yet!) But if you are, why not become a patron of the Sustainable Futures Report. Details at Makes an ideal Christmas present, too.
Right, that’s enough for this time. 
But before I go, 
lest we forget, XR hunger strikers are now in their third week with nothing but water and vitamins.
Some people have immense courage and they’re doing this for you and me.
I’m Anthony Day
That was the Sustainable Futures Report
I’ll be back next week in time to wish you a Merry Christmas.


Australia fires: blazes 'too big to put out' as 140 bushfires rage in NSW and Queensland
Sydney's air 11 times worse than 'hazardous' levels as Australia's bushfires rage
Energy treaty 'risks undermining EU's green new deal'


UN climate talks failing to address urgency of crisis, says top scientist

Greta Thunberg says school strikes have achieved nothing

Jane Fonda on joining the climate fight: 'It's back to the barricades'

Close Scottish grouse moors to help climate, report urges


Hello and welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday, the 13th of December. I was planning to stay up late tonight so that I could incorporate the result, or at least the trend, of the general election in this episode. Then I realised that by the time you listen to this you will know far more than I might do at midnight on Thursday. So we’ll talk about the election next time. I hope you get this on Friday. BT are about to cut our internet off - maybe for as much as 24 hours the man’s just told me. I’m sure I’ll find a way.

Friday, December 06, 2019


#Time for action

Welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday, the 6th December. I'm Anthony Day. First of all a big welcome to my latest gold patron Paul O’Mahoney. Welcome Paul, thanks for listening; thanks also for recommending this podcast to other people. Your special edition Sustainable Futures Report enamel badge is in the post.
This Week
COP25, the UN Climate Change Conference, started this week in Madrid under the Presidency of the Government of Chile and with logistical support from the Government of Spain. Big beasts on the financial scene, like Christine LaGarde and Mark Carney are entering the climate debate. As coal becomes uninsurable fossil fuel lobbyists redouble their greenwash and VW has its day in court to answer the emissions scandal. There’s a lack of clarity in a recently-released report on fracking, Simon Tilley tells us a story - not for the faint-hearted - and Greenpeace has served up a turkey - but hopes that you won’t.
COP25 continues until next Friday 13th December. Yes, it’s the 25th COP - the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC.
Tipping Points
As Greta Thunberg sails in to Portugal on her way to Madrid the journal Nature publishes an article headed: 
“Climate tipping points — too risky to bet against” 
“The growing threat of abrupt and irreversible climate changes must compel political and economic action on emissions,” it says. The article goes on to identify and analyse the threats: ice collapse in Greenland and Antarctica leading to sea-level rise, droughts in the Amazon, the slowing of the Atlantic Circulation and Gulf Stream, dying coral reefs and thawing permafrost.
It's not a very long article and I recommend you read it. You'll find the link on the Sustainable Futures Report blog which is at  
In closing the authors say,
“In our view, the evidence from tipping points alone suggests that we are in a state of planetary emergency: both the risk and urgency of the situation are acute. 
“We argue that the intervention time left to prevent tipping could already have shrunk towards zero, whereas the reaction time to achieve net zero emissions is 30 years at best. Hence we might already have lost control of whether tipping happens. A saving grace is that the rate at which damage accumulates from tipping — and hence the risk posed — could still be under our control to some extent.
The stability and resilience of our planet is in peril. International action — not just words — must reflect this.”  
COP25 Opens
This is the context in which COP25 starts. The authors of the Nature article are by no means alone in saying that we are perilously close to the tipping point and that this is the opportunity for the world to take decisive action. 
It's the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement. Back in 2015 all the signatory countries were given five years to report back on the progress they were making against the targets. This then is the final COP before 2020 when all countries must submit their revised plans for achieving their Paris obligations.
Not enough
However, the commitments agreed in Paris in 2015 were insufficient to achieve the 2℃ target maximum warming, although it was generally agreed that they would keep warming below 3.5℃. In the five years since Paris scientists have reported that climate events are occurring faster and are more intense than expected, and that 1.5℃ should be the new target.
The UN warns that currently, not enough is being done to meet the three climate goals: reducing emissions 45 per cent by 2030; achieving climate neutrality by 2050 (which means a net zero carbon footprint), and stabilising global temperature rise at 1.5°C by the end of the century. 
All this will be discussed over the next 10 days.
Fight to the Death
In the opening sessions President Hilda Heine of the Marshall Islands explained how her Pacific nation had been fighting rising tides, and how powerful swells averaging 5m (16ft) washed across the capital city, Majuro, last week.
She said the nation was in a "fight to the death" after freak waves inundated the capital.
To-do list sets out four things that countries should do: 
  1. Step up ambition - commitments must be strengthened.
  2. Make progress on outstanding rules - like carbon markets
  3. Assess loss and damage  - This includes losses and damages that go beyond what countries and communities can adapt to or recover from, such as loss of cultural heritage, land, lives and livelihoods.  
  4. Advance finance and capacity-building. Developing countries — particularly those most vulnerable to climate change — cannot step up climate action without financial support from developed ones.
New commitments must be set out at COP26, due to take place in Glasgow a year from now. Messages coming from COP25 indicate that those commitments must be formulated and implemented as a matter of urgency. The conference tagline is #timeforaction.
US Angle
President Trump has withdrawn the US from the Paris Agreement claiming it will damage his nation’s competitive position. Nevertheless there is a US delegation and one of the most significant messages as the conference opened came from Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives. The US will take action on greenhouse gases and engage with other countries on the climate emergency despite Donald Trump’s rejection of international cooperation.
“We are outraged by the dithering and retreat of one of the most culpable polluters from the Paris agreement,” Lois Young, Belize’s permanent representative to the UN and chair of the Alliance of Small Island Developing States, told the conference.
“In the midst of a climate emergency, retreat and inaction are tantamount to sanctioning ecocide. They reflect profound failure to honour collective global commitment to protect the most vulnerable.”
More from COP25 next time. There’s links on the Sustainable Futures Report blog to the COP25 site and to the live webcast.

An article from Common Dreams complains that some of the biggest sponsors of COP25 are some of the world’s biggest polluters.
While pollution from coal may slow down because new schemes are considered uninsurable, not that that’s holding coal development back in China, the fossil fuel lobby is desperately lobbying. A report from lobbyist watchdog InfluenceMap has found that although some investors support the EU’s “green labelling” rules, 98% of Europe’s 50 largest investors are members of lobby groups trying to weaken the proposals. Elsewhere they are targeting regulations on emissions, shipping, vehicles and aviation, as well as on electricity and clean power, carbon taxes and low carbon energy.
InfluenceMap points out that the asset management sector plays a pivotal role in the financial system given the vast portfolios the leading players manage, their interactions with companies in the real economy and power in shaping government policy as a key economic sector in its own right. Their analysis shows the sector as a whole is not demonstrating the kind of leadership at present, through any of these levers, that the recent escalation in the urgency of climate change would apparently warrant. 
Asset Managers dragging feet
The portfolios held by the 15 largest asset management groups remain significantly misaligned with the targets of the Paris Agreement even under the fairly conservative IEA ‘Beyond 2 Degrees’ Scenario (B2DS) within the key [motor], electric power and fossil fuel production sectors, (with aggregate market values of at least US $8 Tn in widely held listed companies). This misalignment is reflective of the fact that the majority of companies in these sectors are very far from aligning their business models to meet the goals of Paris and that the 15 leading players all hold diversified global portfolios of equities often using index driven strategies.
By this last phrase I assume they mean that managers are making decisions purely based on the numbers, without taking account of the operations or consequences of the organisations that they have invested in.
Black Marks for BlackRock
BlackRock, an investment company with $7trn under management has been accused of greenwashing. BlackRock is certainly engaging with the climate issue. The allegation is that it’s just not pushing very hard. Rival fund manager Sir Christopher Hohn says that BlackRock backs only about 10% of climate-related resolutions tabled by shareholders, whereas big European names such as Legal & General and UBS are in the 80%-90% range. These two, plus Allianz, are the only ones taking climate change seriously. Sadly they seem to be in a minority.
Vorsprung durch… [whatever the German word for fraud is]
The cynicism and irresponsibility of some businesses is epitomised by the VW emissions scandal. It’s taken 4 years, but lawyers representing more than 90,000 motorists will accuse the carmaker Volkswagen of fitting some of its most popular models with an emissions defeat device, in the biggest class action of its kind in the UK. 
In the US the company has already pleaded guilty to criminal charges and paid out $4.3bn in civil and criminal penalties. In Europe, however, VW is still denying that the software it used was an illegal defeat device – despite German regulators having ruled in 2015 that it was designed to cheat emissions tests. If the UK action succeeds, drivers will presumably receive compensation. It’s not clear what will be done about the damage to the environment.
And in other news,
Financial Reports
Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank,  has said that it should do more to help tackle the climate emergency, as she comes under pressure from MEPs to step up action against global heating.
In a strong hint that she would move the ECB beyond its traditional remit of controlling inflation, Lagarde said the bank would incorporate the climate threat into both its economic forecasts and in its capacity as watchdog of the financial system. Could we see a move away from chasing GDP and growth towards targeting human happiness and wellbeing? A lot of people would hope for that, but I think it will be a while yet.
More evidence that the climate crisis is being taken seriously at top levels comes as Mark Carney, retiring governor of the Bank of England, has been appointed as UN special envoy for climate action and finance. His main focus will be on mobilising private finance to invest in schemes that will help achieve the Paris climate agreement goal of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C. 
He said: “The disclosures of climate risk must become comprehensive, climate risk management must be transformed, and investing for a net-zero world must go mainstream. The Bank of England, the UK government and the UK financial sector can play leading roles in making these imperatives happen.”
Let’s hope we can see carbon reporting becoming part of an organisation’s statutory reports, defined and audited to accounting standards.
Carney has previously spoken out about the need for change, warning in October that the global financial system was backing carbon-producing projects that would raise the temperature of the planet by over 4C.
Fracking is once more in the news. The British government has released a report on fracking which apparently was drawn up in 2016. This is the redacted version. Line after line, even page after page is totally blacked out. In fact the only page which has no redactions on it is the title page. If you've got something to hide this is surely a really good way of drawing attention to it.

And now…let me tell you a story.
I received this recently from Simon Tilley and he’s agreed that I can share it with you. This is what he said:
“I don’t know about you, but most of my bad dreams seem to involve helplessness. Here’s one: I’m a tall chap on a coach going down a motorway. I’ve got the seat just behind the driver, with plenty of legroom, and I’m comfortable, even serene. Then I become aware that in the distance just over the hill there’s a pile-up. The driver hasn’t noticed - indeed he’s actually accelerating a bit.
I do nothing; I’m sure he knows what he’s doing. But as we get closer, I see it is quite a big pile-up, and he still doesn’t seem to have noticed. I wonder whether I should speak up. In the end I say, in a conversational tone: ‘Looks like there’s a bit of a prang up ahead.’ He makes no reply. I repeat myself a bit louder, and two things happen. He says ‘It’s just a bit of congestion’ and one of my fellow passengers nudges me and points to a sign saying: ‘Do not speak to the driver while the vehicle is in motion.’ ‘Please be quiet,’ she says, ‘it’s not safe to speak to the driver and you’re upsetting my friend.
’You know how these things go; no one else appears to have clocked what is becoming a really obvious disaster up ahead or, if they have, seem oblivious to the danger. They go on chatting and reading and sleeping, and when I try to get their attention, they just look at me as if I were a television. And the coach continues to accelerate...
I’m screaming now, pointing ahead: ‘For God’s sake, stop! Brake! Brake hard!’
Amazingly no one seems to hear. One or two of the other passengers are looking at me with mild, bovine interest, but most are remonstrating with me for disrupting their journey. We reach the prow of the hill and I notice brake fluid escaping onto the road…the hill starts to descend quickly…..And then, with about a hundred yards to go before we pile into the destruction ahead, the driver applies the brakes but they are soft and spongey, we start to slow but far too little and too late………....
This is where I wake up, to that overwhelming feeling of relief that it was just a dream.
I usually ask myself what led up to that dream. Often there’s a logical explanation, based somewhere in reality. When you’re asleep, your brain sorts stuff you’ve been dealing with, re-runs it by and sorts out my emotional response while you’re offline. I went on a coach to London recently for the last People’s Vote march, and I’ve been reading a book about climate breakdown, (There is No Planet-B by Mike Berners-Lee) so that explains that.
Except, of course, that isn’t really a dream. When I wake I don’t get a surge of relief, just a feeling of despair at the reality: the clear and unanswerable fact that we are on the brink of irreversible climate breakdown; the knowledge that, in their anxiety not to be alarmist the media sits quiet, our scientists understated the danger and the ongoing complacency of some of our politicians is obvious, even when faced by the reality of fires in California and Australia, famine in South Sudan and floods in Fishlake. And I wish I’d pushed the driver out of the way and taken over the steering wheel myself earlier. The brow of the hill and the leaking brake fluid must have represented a tipping point beyond which we can not retreat. These are approaching but we don’t know when.

Everything I have done over the last two decades in Hockerton Housing Projector have been Reasonable and Proper. I’ve written articles, spoken to the media, talked with friends and family, had polite meetings with my MP, written letters and signed petitions. All to no avail. So, I fear, perhaps it’s not time to stay polite, but get arrested. And dare to dream of a hopeful future. Nonviolent direct action is starting to turn the tide, but we don’t have long.

Every action we take counts, where we bank, where we shop and for what, how we vote and what we choose to eat, how high we have the heating and how far we travel. A better future can be envisaged but we need to act and act to make it happen now.”
That piece was written by Simon Tilley, Director of the Hockerton Housing Project.
If you want to find out about some practical steps you can take especially if you’re interested in low energy housing, environmental education and or renewable energy you can contact Simon via links on the Sustainable Futures Report blog. You’ll also find a link to Hockerton’s videos on sustainability.
That story is certainly something to think about. I've been thinking, too, that a lot of what I bring you in the Sustainable Futures Report seems to be negative worrying and concerned with things that are going wrong and how little is being done about it. Actually attitudes are changing significantly.
Best Practice and Changing Attitudes
About 3.5 years ago I promoted and hosted the Sustainable Best Practice Exchange and from that I launched the Sustainable Best Practice Mastermind group. It sank without trace. Last week I was at a sustainability event and I mentioned my failed attempt to a couple of the speakers. Immediate interest. Maybe I was ahead of my time in 2016. Maybe this time it will work. I’ll keep you posted. The truth is that attitudes and awareness have changed dramatically in the last 12 months. XR is one reason for this, but people and governments and corporations are beginning to pay more than lip service to the climate situation. There’s a long way to go, and a lot of people still to convince, but this growing realisation that something must be done can only be good. 
At the same time as promoting the actions needed to mitigate and slow down climate change - which can sound really negative -  we should also be looking at how we can cope with and adapt to the changes that are inevitable. Remember, in the Nature article that I quoted at the start of this episode the authors said, “…the rate at which damage accumulates from tipping — and hence the risk posed — could still be under our control to some extent.” In future episodes therefore I’m going to bring you ideas from people with techniques and systems to help us live with the changes that are already locked into the climate.
And finally,…
It’s a Turkey!
Not to be outdone by the supermarkets, climate campaigners Greenpeace have issued their own Christmas video. It pits a turkey against a potato and makes the point that many turkeys are fattened on foods from abroad. Food like soya, grown on farms cleared from the South American rainforests. I’ve put a link to the video on the Sustainable Futures Report blog, but you really wouldn’t want to watch it. It’s an absolute turkey.
And that’s it…
For another week. As always, my grateful thanks to you for listening, especially if you’ve got this far, for your ideas and - if you are - for being a patron. And if you’re not, explains what you’re missing.
The next episode will appear on Friday 13th December, when we’ll know the result of the UK General Election. Except that I’ll have to record and publish the Sustainable Futures Report long before the polls close, so I won’t be able to comment on the result. Anyway, we don’t do politics on the Sustainable Futures Report do we? All I would say is: vote for a party that understands the climate crisis and is committed to doing something sensible about it. Not that it will make much difference under our wonderful first-past-the-post electoral system.
I’m Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
Until next time!

Climate tipping points
Flooded Islands - and the BBC video guide to COP25
Top emitters must act
Emitters sponsoring
4 Key Tasks
US Congress commits to act on climate crisis, despite Donald Trump
Conference site

Coal power becoming 'uninsurable' as firms refuse cover
Fossil fuel lobbyists push to dilute EU anti-greenwash plan
Volkswagen emissions scandal: class action begins in UK
BlackRock's Larry Fink must think again over tackling climate crisis
UN appoints Mark Carney to help finance climate action goals
Lagarde: ECB should do more to tackle climate emergency

'Black wall' of redacted pages as fracking report finally released

A Christmas Story
Mr S Tilley, CEng MEng MIMechE
Director, Hockerton Housing Project Trading Ltd

Hockerton Housing Project : bringing sustainability to life
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Hockerton’s videos on sustainability please click here.

Greenpeace Christmas video - important message but the video’s a bit of a turkey.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Offsets - taking it easy(Jet)

Offsets - taking it easy(Jet)
Hello and welcome to another edition of the Sustainable Futures Report.
I'm Anthony Day and this is the episode for Friday, the 29th of November. The week before last I was talking about carbon offsets - and all of a sudden everybody else is talking about carbon offsets, even Julia Hartley Brewer. You’ll hear her later. easyJet tells us that Tuesday 19th November was a historic date - was it though? And listener Ian Jarvis asked some pertinent questions which I’m going to try and answer.
First of all, why was 19th November historic? easyJet says that it’s because from then on the fuel for all their flights will be carbon-offset. In their announcement they didn’t claim that their flights were carbon-neutral, but the press didn’t hesitate to claim that for them. ITV, CNN, one mile at a time and euro news - among many others - put carbon neutral in their headlines. In fact, if you googled easyJet and carbon neutral you found a paid advertisement at the top of the page offering easyJet’s net-zero carbon flights. It’s gone now, but I copied it and you’ll find it on the Sustainable Futures Report blog. 
So is it true? Is the airline carbon neutral? Absolutely not. It’s the worst kind of greenwash as many in the media and the Twittersphere have rushed to point out. It’s not just greenwash, it’s irresponsible, because people who just read the headline will think it’s OK to fly. They will think that easyJet is carbon neutral so they can fly as much as they like without affecting the planet. The problem is that easyJet’s offsetting is not carbon-neutral. 
Yes, they will invest only in schemes accredited by The Gold Standard or Verified Carbon Standard, and these bodies will confirm that the schemes are properly operated. Despite all this, supporting wind energy production and safe water provision and similar schemes does not reduce the amount of emissions in the atmosphere by any amount at all. I’ve covered this before so I’ve put a detailed example at the end of this episode. Yes, easyJet is investing in preventing deforestation, but that does not have a neutralising effect either. It’s only if you plant new trees which actually absorb carbon as they grow or have some sort of mechanical systems with extract CO2 from the air that you can reduce the overall amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. An average tree takes 30 years to absorb a tonne of carbon. An average weekend in New York adds takes a few days to create emissions about twice that. Mechanical CO2 extraction is little more than a fantasy at present.
The conclusion is that the cleanest aircraft is the one that never takes off. Selling that idea is next to impossible. People are used to air travel as the cheapest form of travel once you get over a few 100 miles. It’s cheap for the passenger but at a staggeringly high price for our children.
I ran a conference in Edinburgh last weekend. Where shall we go next year? came the question. Manchester? York? Cork? Top choices were somewhere in Spain or maybe Marrakech. Flights to Marrakech are advertised at £100 or less. I could make the journey by train, but the ferry from Algeciras to Tangier on its own would cost about £100 and the journey would take two days. Hard choices.
I won’t fly to Marrakech so I hope we end up somewhere near a railway station in Spain.
Those Questions
Water Vapour
Ian Jarvis asks, “What about the role of water vapour in global warming? Isn’t it by far the most important greenhouse gas and shouldn’t we be controlling it?”
Well, yes and no. Water vapour is indeed a very potent greenhouse gas, but it differs from the others in one important way. All the others remain as gases in the atmosphere at all times. Water vapour traps heat like any other greenhouse gas, but also condenses into water droplets at times, making clouds. Clouds can have a warming effect: you’re less likely to get a winter frost overnight if there’s cloud cover. Clouds also have a cooling effect: they reflect sunlight - and heat - back into space.
We do not directly affect the level of water vapour in the atmosphere but we do affect it indirectly. By warming the atmosphere through the effect of man-made gases we increase the capability of the atmosphere to hold water vapour, and the warmer the atmosphere the less that vapour will condense into clouds. The more we contribute to global heating the more water vapour and the more water vapour the more global heating. It becomes a self-reinforcing feedback loop.
There are suggestions for a fleet of ships roaming the oceans spraying water into the air to encourage the formation of clouds and the dimming effect. It might work. Who would pay for it? Might it affect the weather, and with more effects in some countries than in others? If we try this experiment on the earth and it all goes wrong we won’t have a second chance.
Ian also asks, “Could we use faster-growing plants than trees to lock up carbon?” He suggests hemp and bamboo which can yield two crops per year. They can be transformed into paper or cloth. 
One of the issues with offsetting is that the carbon needs to be locked up for at least 100 years, because that’s about the time it takes for CO2 to be absorbed by nature. Even if the hemp and bamboo are processed into other products, they are unlikely to last as long as that. And if the fields need clearing and replanting twice a year it needs to be done without fossil fuel powered machinery. Trees need management, but far less than semi-annual crops. 
Land Management
“What about the good old meadow?” asks Ian. “I read some years ago that even a lawn absorbs a quantity of CO2 but for the life of me cannot recall any figures or other details.”
In August this year the IPCC published Climate Change and Land, a Special Report on Climate Change, Desertification, Land Degradation, Sustainable Land Management, Food Security, and Greenhouse gas fluxes in Terrestrial Ecosystems. 
They say:
“Land is both a source and a sink of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and plays a key role in the exchange of energy, water and aerosols between the land surface and atmosphere. Land ecosystems and biodiversity are vulnerable to ongoing climate change and weather and climate extremes, to different extents. Sustainable land management can contribute to reducing the negative impacts of multiple stressors, including climate change, on ecosystems and societies.”
“An estimated 23% of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (2007-2016) derive from Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU).”
I’ve only skimmed the document, but the major concern is that climate change leads to the degradation of the the land. It urges that action should be taken to protect the land and explains that this can help with both mitigation and adaptation. 
Ian’s lawn will certainly do more to absorb CO2 than bare earth, and even more still if he plants trees instead of grass. There’s a link to the full text of the report on the Sustainable Futures Report blog. 
The Guardian reports that Global heating is “supercharging” an increasingly dangerous climate mechanism in the Indian Ocean that has played a role in disasters this year including bushfires in Australia and floods in Africa.
Scientists and humanitarian officials say this year’s record Indian Ocean dipole, as the phenomenon is known, threatens to reappear more regularly and in a more extreme form as sea surface temperatures rise.
Of most concern are years in which the sea surface off the coast of Africa warms up, provoking increased rains, while temperatures off Australia fall, leading to drier weather.
It is similar to El Niño and La Niña in the Pacific, which cause sharp changes in weather patterns on both sides of the ocean.
The Production Gap
The Production Gap is the discrepancy between countries’ planned fossil fuel production and global production levels consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C or 2°C. A new report by academics from the Stockholm Environment Institute, the Centre for International Climate Research and others working with the United Nations Environment Programme examines the current global position. They say:
“Though coal, oil, and gas are the central drivers of climate change, they are rarely the subject of international climate policy and negotiations. This report aims to expand that discourse and provide a metric for assessing how far the world is from production levels that are consistent with global climate goals.”
A chart on the first page of the website shows that global emissions are currently around 30 GtCO2 per annum and on course to reach 40 GtCO2 by 2040.  To hold the temperature rise to 2°C means cutting emissions below 20 GtCO2 by that date. To achieve 1.5°C needs a cut to some 12 or 13 GtCO2. Key findings of the report include: 
“Governments are planning to produce about 50% more fossil fuels by 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 2°C and 120% more than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C.”
“The global production gap is even larger than the already-significant global emissions gap, due to minimal policy attention on curbing fossil fuel production.”
“Several governments have already adopted policies to restrict fossil fuel production, providing momentum and important lessons for broader adoption.”
This is another report which analyses the present situation and warns how business as usual will drive the world to destruction in only a few years. 
“International cooperation plays a central role in winding down fossil fuel production,” they say.
Some 190 countries came together in 2015 to sign the Paris agreement on controlling emissions and keeping global temperature increases below 2℃, yet their current policies will drive temperatures way higher than that. The risk is that the longer we continue to increase emissions in the atmosphere the greater the chance of setting off unstoppable feedback loops. Water vapour is only one example: methane released by melting permafrost and warming oceans is another.
Chinese Coal
Meanwhile in China coal-fired power stations delivering 42.9GW were opened in the 18 months to June. This substantially exceeded the 8GW of coal-fired capacity retired elsewhere in the world.
Christine Shearer, an analyst at the NGO Global Energy Monitor, said: “China’s proposed coal expansion is so far out of alignment with the Paris agreement that it would put the necessary reductions in coal power out of reach, even if every other country were to completely eliminate its coal fleet.”
“China has a strong advantage that it is a global leader in solar and wind power, and last year it sold more electric cars than the rest of the world combined. China can become the world’s foremost clean energy superpower,” said Jeanett Bergan, the head of responsible investment at Norway’s largest pension fund, KLP.
At the moment China continues to be the largest developer of coal power both at home and throughout the world. It will take immense international pressure to persuade it to change course, pressure which is unlikely to come from the US or from Russia, and there aren’t any other countries strong enough to be heard. It is worrying, because a response I get all too often is, “Why should I do anything when anything I do is wiped out many times over by emissions from China?”
Good question, but at the very least, we have to lead by example.
Of course nuclear power is clean, or at least emissions-free, once it’s in operation. The Financial Times reports that continued delays at the new plant at Flamanville are trying the patience of the French president. France has the biggest fleet of nuclear stations in Europe, many of which are coming up for retirement. The question is whether they will be replaced or supplanted by renewables. In the meantime new stations are not to be built until the Flamanville plant is up and running to prove that its new design can work. 
Last week there was a 5.4 earth tremor in the Rhone Valley where four nuclear stations and a fuel processing plant are located. It was not strong enough to do damage, but three off the stations have been closed for safety checks. Another question mark hanging over France’s nuclear future. 
And Finally…
Oxford Dictionaries declares 'climate emergency' the word of 2019. (Isn’t that two words?) Anyway this must reflect the fact that we’re hearing about it and thinking about it more and more. Let’s hope that in 2020 those with the power will stop thinking and start acting.
Before I go…
I’ve added a couple of footnotes about types of offset and easyJet and my latest conversation with Julia Hartley-Brewer on Talk Radio.
Types of offset
There are two types of offsets - extractive and preventive. Extractive offsets take emissions out of the atmosphere. Preventive offsets stop emissions being added to the atmosphere. They stop the level rising, or rising as fast, but preventives do nothing to reduce the existing level.
As an example, think of a bath half full of water. The water represents the emissions. If both taps are running the level will rise. If you take the plug out and the pipe is large enough the water will run out as fast as it’s pouring in. The level of water will not rise and the inflow is neutralised.
That’s an extractive offset. The plughole represents the trees which can absorb CO2 as they grow. You’ll need a lot of trees.
Now consider that the bath doesn’t have a plug, so the water’s not flowing out. easyJet operates one tap and a community in Africa operates the other tap. easyJet offers to pay the Africans to turn off their tap. The flow of water, or emissions, is cut, but the level in the bath continues to rise, albeit more slowly. The water from easyJet’s tap, its emissions, continues to flow. This is a preventive offset and it does not deliver neutrality.
One Engine
More on easyJet. It says it will save fuel by using only one engine when taxiing. That will represent a minute proportion of the total fuel used on a flight and will it really be a saving? Surely it takes just as much energy to push the aircraft along the taxiway, so that one engine must have to push twice as hard!

Now here’s my chat with Julia.

Will I ever persuade her to fly less?

As I close I notice there’s a Channel 4 debate on the climate crisis tonight, featuring all the political parties except the Conservatives and the Brexit Party who have declined to take part. I believe that there will be a similar debate in my local constituency later this week, also without a Conservative representative. Make of that what you will.

And that is it for this week, but before I go thanks for listening, thanks for your ideas, thanks for being a patron - if you are - send more ideas to and there will, I’m sure, be another Sustainable Futures Report next week.
Bye for now!


Can carbon offsets tackle airlines’ emissions problem?
Ian’s questions
Global heating supercharging Indian Ocean climate system
Fossil fuel production on track for double the safe climate limit

China's appetite for coal power returns despite climate pledge

Oxford Dictionaries declares 'climate emergency' the word of 2019


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