Friday, November 15, 2019

The Carbon Offset Question

The Carbon Offset Question

Can carbon offsets make your activities carbon-neutral? That's the main theme of this week’s Sustainable Futures Report. Yes it's Friday, the 15th of November and I’m Anthony Day. Welcome to this episode and thank you for listening.
This Week
Carbon offsetting has been in the news this week and I've been working on an analysis of the pros and cons for a client. What's the answer? Well, it's certainly not simple as I shall attempt to explain. And then, in other news, I look at the Shell Prélude, the Aramco share offer, a new oilfield in Iran, tree planting in Turkey, and what looks like a U-turn on fracking in the UK less than a week after a moratorium was announced. And in Australia the extent and intensity of the wildfires almost defies description. Is climate change to blame?
The Carbon Problem
For centuries prior to the Industrial Revolution greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere - mainly CO2 - were at about 280ppm (parts per million). By 1990 the level had reached 354ppm and 405ppm by 2017. The earth emits and absorbs CO2 naturally, and has kept the level in balance for the last 10,000 years. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution humanity has been adding more GHG to the atmosphere than the world can absorb, by burning fossil fuels and by managing the land. The concentration has grown and continues to grow. The more CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the stronger the greenhouse effect drives global heating. At the time of the Paris Agreement scientists warned that increasing GHG would lead to a catastrophic rise in global temperatures and every effort should be made to limit it to 2℃ or even better, 1.5℃. 
Many activities and industries lead to the emission of CO2 - from driving to flying to generating electricity to heating the home to manufacturing to ploughing the land and cooking the lunch. Some of these things can be done more efficiently, but some of them will always emit CO2. Hence the idea of offsets.
The theory of offsets says that if you emit CO2 but sponsor an activity which reduces emissions by an equivalent amount then your activity is carbon-neutral. In 1997 the UN established the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which promotes and validates offsetting projects, principally in developing nations. The CDM sells Certified Emissions Reductions (CER) at so much per tonne, depending on the type of project, and individuals and organisations buy these to offset their emissions. So far, so good.
The problem with these schemes is that they are what I define as “preventive”. For example, an offsetting project could involve providing communities with efficient cooking stoves to replace polluting open fires. The amount of CO2 emitted by the community is cut. An emitter buys a CER which represents that reduction and the money goes to pay for the new stoves. The problem is that while the project emits less, the emitter still emits the same amount, so there is a net increase in atmospheric CO2. Nevertheless, the UN considers that an organisation which buys enough CERs to match its emissions is carbon-neutral.
Contrast this with an offset scheme which plants trees. Trees do absorb carbon and lock it away, although the “average” tree takes 30 years to absorb one tonne. In this scenario, if you emit 1t but plant enough trees to absorb 1t then the net effect on atmospheric carbon is zero. You are truly carbon-neutral. I call such schemes “extractive” because they physically remove CO2 from the atmosphere. There are currently no forestry schemes approved by the UN’s CDM. Undoubtedly there are problems with relying on trees. While it takes 30 years to absorb 1t, a return flight to NY emits nearly 2t in a matter of days. The trees need to stand for 100 years or more - the time that CO2 persists in the atmosphere - but there are examples of plantations cut down and burnt well before that and of trees sold more than once. Then there’s the question of “additionality”, which applies equally to preventive schemes. Would these trees have been planted anyway? Has your contribution truly made a difference?
Something in the Air
This week BBC Panorama looked at emissions and offsets in the aviation industry. If you have access to iPlayer it’s well worth watching. As the UK gets its emissions under control, aviation is set to account for the largest proportion. Aviation is expected to quadruple worldwide and with zero-emission planes away over the distant horizon, emissions will grow as well. What will they do? 
Where there’s muck there’s fuel
A spokesman from Velocys explained how they were making aviation fuel from household rubbish, and claimed that this was delivering an aviation industry with net zero carbon emissions, although a professor from Manchester Metropolitan University suggested that the industry would not have the capacity to displace fossil-fuel kerosene for decades. And how does this new fuel achieve carbon neutrality? I think it must take into account the fact that rotting household rubbish generates methane, a GHG many times more potent than CO2. The new fuel burns with exactly the same emissions as conventional fuel, but if the methane has been eliminated in the process then net emissions are reduced. There will still be emissions. There will still be a net addition to atmospheric GHG. It’s not carbon neutral. To me it sounds a bit like the logic which says that Drax power station is now one of the cleanest sites in the country, even as they desperately try to get Carbon Capture and Storage to work.
Forest Flyers
If you fly RyanAir you are given the opportunity to donate £1 or €1 towards protecting the environment. The company invests in a project to monitor whales, a project to provide clean cooking stoves to villagers in Uganda and is growing forests in Portugal and Ireland. All these are good things, but only the forests are true offsets and the people at the BBC calculated that Ryanair’s forests would absorb only 0.01% of its emissions. Apparently, to absorb it all would take an area of forest equivalent to 12% of the UK. 
In a Word
A remark from a representative of IATA , the International Air Transport Association, summed it up for me. He said, “Flying is not the enemy: CO2 is the enemy.” That sounds to me a bit like the mantra of the US National Rifle Association: “Guns don’t kill people: people kill people.”
Avoiding Complacency
The major problem with any offset scheme is that it gives people a false sense of security. It is tempting to believe that as long as you buy enough offsets you can go on flying, driving, turning up the gas central heating and lounging under your patio heater as much as you like.
That’s just not true.
Act Now
What can we do? We can fly less, obviously. Drive less and drive a smaller car if you can. Insulate your home and/or keep it at a lower temperature. Eat less meat. Reduce, re-use and recycle. Governments have an essential role. If there’s no public transport people have to drive. Governments could subsidise home insulation. It will keep people warm for a lower cost and reduce our dependence on energy, including imported coal and gas. It would also create jobs and deliver tax revenues. 
I wrote a book many years ago with the subtitle “How to drive a 4x4 and still save the planet.” 
“How do you do that?” people asked me. 
You drive it very, very slowly or not at all.
And in other News…
The major news has got to be the wildfires in Australia. The fire season has come early, the fires are covering a wider area and are more intense and some say it will be months before they are all dealt with. Meanwhile it is still Spring in Australia: the hotter summer months are still to come.
Inevitably the question, “Is climate change to blame?” Has been raised. Prime Minister Scott Morrison came to power in the surprise result to an election earlier this year, defeating his opponent who was urging the nation to do more about climate change. When asked about it this week Morrison sidestepped the question while when asked the same question, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters: "Honestly, not today.” Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack dismissed climate change as the concerns of "raving inner-city lefties" who were ignoring the needs of rural Australians.
Not a really useful debate.
Fossil Fuels
Of course the Australian economy is heavily dependent on fossil fuels. It’s the largest exporter in the world of coal, accounting for nearly 40% of global coal exports. Floating 125 miles offshore is Shell’s Prelude, the largest ship in the world, which contains a complete gas processing plant. It’s anchored above the gas well and can process and offload product directly into tankers. There’s no need to ship the gas ashore for processing and no need for harbour facilities to load the tankers. It can process 5.3 million tonnes of liquefied products per annum, but at a reputed cost of some $12bn they will want to keep it operating for many years to recover the investment.
More Oil  
There’s immense money in oil. Oil shares are the bedrock of many a pension scheme, giving reliable returns, year after year. The global economy is founded on oil and even though we are poisoning the planet with GHG emissions we can’t stop using oil overnight. In fact transitioning away from it in 20 years would be difficult and in 10 years near impossible. Imagine the social breakdown if transport just stopped. No way to get to work, no deliveries of food to the shops, no ambulances and no supplies to hospitals, and all the other things that wouldn’t happen. We do need to make a start on this transition, though.
Share Offer
Meanwhile Saudi oil company Aramco is offering investors a share in the company. Aramco is reportedly selling between 1 and 5 percent of its equity with a target valuation of the whole company of between $1.3 trillion and $2 trillion. This makes it the largest offering of its kind, ever. Aramco is the world’s most efficient and most profitable oil producer. Who wouldn’t invest? Well I know a lot of ethical investors wouldn’t. In fact in a letter sent last month to bank chief executives, including the bosses of HSBC and Goldman Sachs, 10 environmental groups warned that the listing would hinder the battle against greenhouse gas emissions and human rights abuses.
The environmental non-governmental organisations, including Friends of the Earth US, and Oil Change International, warned that the listing would lead to “the biggest single infusion of capital into the fossil fuel industry” since the Paris climate accord in 2015.
The letter also raised concern over the banks’ eagerness to help raise billions of dollars for Saudi Arabia, “given the horrendous human rights record of the Saudi regime”. 
And in Iran
Oil is money and oil is power. This week President Hassan Rouhani of Iran announced that the country had discovered a new oilfield containing 53 billion barrels. This increases its reserves - already large - by about 30%. The president said this would strengthen the country’s position in the face of ongoing American sanctions.
With such high stakes it’s little wonder that climate deniers are continually pushing their agenda and opposing regulation. One of the world’s leading climate experts, Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, complains that there is a move to confuse and to deflect people from what’s important. Yes, it’s a good thing to change diets and travel choices and to turn down the heating at home but that does not remove the need for action by governments and radical policy changes.
It’s 10 years since thousands of emails were hacked from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit and made public. They were selectively misinterpreted and used to claim that scientists were falsifying the figures and that climate change, if not a hoax, was vastly exaggerated. This all came out just before the Copenhagen Climate Conference (COP15), long considered one of the least successful. Whether the conference was actually damaged by the campaign is still in dispute, but this won’t have upset the deniers. It is a constant battle to counteract those who want to rubbish and confuse climate science, not helped by the fact that nothing in science, as in life, is ever 100% certain.
Apparently there is nothing certain about fracking. We did hear last week that the government had introduced a moratorium on fracking in England, bringing it in line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, amongst other countries. On 4 November, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) published a response to a consultation on shale gas exploration which appears to contradict the new policy. It warns firms that the Government is generally opposed to fracking but does not rule out accepting new applications.
The government’s response to the findings of the consultation document says: "It should be noted that the Government has made clear that on the basis of the current scientific evidence, and in the absence of compelling new evidence, it has taken a presumption against issuing any further Hydraulic Fracturing Consents. While future applications will be considered on their own merits by the Secretary of State in accordance with the law, the shale gas industry should take the Government’s position into account when considering new developments.”
Plus ça change, as I’m told the French say, plus c’est la meme chose. Although we probably won’t be allowed to say that after Brexit.
Before I go…
Good news from Turkey. This week the citizens got together and planted 11m trees in one day. By planting 4.5B saplings over last 17 years, said President Erdogan, the breadth of Turkey’s forest has expanded to 22.6M hectares.
That should lock up quite a lot of carbon.
And Finally…
Have you seen the Sainsbury’s Christmas Commercial? No, I didn’t mean to either, but these things can be hard to avoid at this time of year. I noticed that the horse-drawn delivery van was emblazoned on all sides with the legend “Zero Emissions”. I wonder what they fed the horse on to achieve that.

And with that thought I leave you. I'm Anthony Day and that was the Sustainable Futures Report.
I’m sure there will be another one next week. If you’ve any ideas as to what it should be about please get in touch via 
Thanks for listening, thanks for being a patron and thanks in particular to James Spencer for supporting the research behind this episode.
Until next time.

Offsets and Warming
GHG levels’s-greenhouse-gas-index-up-41-percent-since-1990
'Greta Thunberg effect' driving growth in carbon offsetting

Shell Natural Gas
More Oil
Bidding for 'milestone' sale of Aramco shares set for next week
New oil in Iran
Climate change deniers’ new battle front attacked

Climategate 10 years on: what lessons have we learned?
Fracking Consultations
Turkey plants trees

Sainsbury’s Christmas Commercial

Friday, November 08, 2019

It's Later Than You Think

It’s Later Than You Think

Another week, another Sustainable Futures Report but still the same Anthony Day. Well, a week older, but more or less the same. It’s Friday 8th November. Soon be Christmas. Soon be the general election, but I’m going to try not to talk about that.
I call this episode “It’s later than you think”, but really it’s later than you want to think. We’ve had warnings for years about the climate crisis but as a global population we’ve been postponing serious action. Now, at the 11th hour plus 59 minutes there’s the World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency. This one is serious. (As if the others weren’t.)
In other news I’ll be talking about the moratorium on fracking, a citizens’ assembly, a new coal mine, smog in Delhi, why Trump may pull federal aid funds from California fire zones, why it could be the end of the runway for some private planes and why you may need more than wellies in Dublin. Finally Dr Matt Winning tells us about his work as a climate researcher and his other life as a stand-up comedian.

World Scientists’ Warning
This week the Alliance of World Scientists (AWS) has issued a climate emergency warning. The AWS is a new international assembly of scientists, which is independent of both governmental and non-governmental organizations and corporations. It claims 23,000 members across 180 countries. Here’s the opening part of their statement:
“We scientists have a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat. In this paper, we present a suite of graphical vital signs of climate change over the last 40 years. Results show greenhouse gas emissions are still rising, with increasingly damaging effects. With few exceptions, we are largely failing to address this predicament. The climate crisis has arrived and is accelerating faster than many scientists expected. It is more severe than anticipated, threatening natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity. We suggest six critical and interrelated steps that governments and the rest of humanity can take to lessen the worst effects of climate change, covering 
  1. Energy, 
  2. Short-lived pollutants,
  3. Nature,  
  4. Food, 
  5. Economy, and 
  6. Population. 
Mitigating and adapting to climate change entails transformations in the ways we govern, manage, feed, and fulfill material and energy requirements. We are encouraged by a recent global surge of concern. Governmental bodies are making climate emergency declarations. The Pope issued an encyclical on climate change. Schoolchildren are striking. Ecocide lawsuits are proceeding in the courts. Grassroots citizen movements are demanding change. As scientists, we urge widespread use of our vital signs and anticipate that graphical indicators will better allow policymakers and the public to understand the magnitude of this crisis, track progress, and realign priorities to alleviate climate change. The good news is that such transformative change, with social and ecological justice, promises greater human wellbeing in the long-run than business as usual. We believe that prospects will be greatest if policy makers and the rest of humanity promptly respond to our warning and declaration of a climate emergency, and act to sustain life on planet Earth, our only home.”
A link to the full text of the paper is on the blog.
This week of course is when President Trump’s America begins the process of withdrawing the country from the Paris Climate Change Agreement. 188 countries signed up but the world’s largest emitter has decided to leave because compliance “punishes the United States”.
In Other News…
No Fracking
The big news in the UK is a moratorium on fracking. This brings England in line with Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France and many other countries across the world. It is, however, a moratorium not a total ban, so if the present government were re-elected they could allow fracking to restart. Fracking is highly unpopular in the areas where exploratory drillings have taken place and the sites have been beset by determined civil protest. Opponents are concerned that fracking will release dangerous levels of methane and that water used in the operations will contaminate drinking water. Fracking produces natural gas, a fossil fuel, at a time when every effort is being made to phase fossil fuels out. In the US activists have monitored levels of methane leakage at fracking sites and found them to be well in excess of levels reported by the companies. At that level, fracked gas is producing more emissions than coal.
Jeremy Leggett - I’ve mentioned him a few times - has produced a detail analysis of fracking. He reports that nobody in the US has made money from it and describes the way that the companies are chasing returns by pouring more and more money into it as a Ponzi scheme. Remember Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme? He used money from new investors to pay out high returns. As long as there was a constant stream of new investors everyone was happy. When that stopped they found there was nothing left. Leggett reports that fracking firms are borrowing money to pay the interest on existing loans. He fears that the industry’s collapse could trigger the next global financial crisis. Find his report - presented as a slide show - at
Deep Coal
In the same week as the UK government announced a halt to fracking it gave its approval to a new deep coal mine in Cumbria, Northwest England. At first sight it seems perverse to expand production of coal, the dirtiest of the fossil fuels. This particular mine will produce metallurgical coal for steelmaking, both for export and replacing imports. Greenpeace says electricity should be used for steelmaking, but industry experts say that’s not how it works. 
The mine will generate 500 new jobs with as many as 2,000 other in the supply chain.
If we are going to make steel we are going to need coal. Can carbon capture and storage be adapted to the industry?  Maybe in the UK, as indicated on the West Cumbria Mining website. The risk is that this coal will be exported to nations with little or no emissions regulations and UK products made to exacting environmental standards will be priced out of the market.
There’s nothing simple in sustainability.
A very difficult call for the local planners but in the end they found in favour of the mine and the government supported them against objectors. 
Citizens’ Assembly
One of XR’s demands has been for the establishment of a citizens’ assembly. I complained last week that the government under Theresa May had promised such a body but that nothing had happened. Everything’s changed. Now a cross-party parliamentary group formed of six committees representing different government departments, has just announced that it will approach 30,000 households and invite people to become assembly members. The invitees to Climate Assembly UK have been selected at random from across the UK. From those who respond, 110 people will be chosen as a representative sample of the population.
They will meet over four weekends from late January in Birmingham, and will discuss topics ranging from transport to household energy use.
XR gave the move a very cautious welcome and explained that the proposed assembly did not meet their expectations. 
“We’re pleased that 30,000 people will be receiving a letter in the post inviting them to take part in a Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change,” they said,  “We hope they respond so that they have a chance of participating in this important Citizens’ Assembly.” 
More specifically they say:
  • We are devastated that this Citizens’ Assembly will only be addressing how to reach net zero emissions by 2050. 
  • We would urge the organisers to ensure that the members of the Assembly are presented with evidence as to why 2050 is inadequate.  
  • This Citizens’ Assembly is advisory, toothless in other words. 
  • The Citizens Assembly must be founded in climate and ecological justice. 
  • Where is the select committee representing DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)? Why are they not involved in this? 
  • Extinction Rebellion demands a Citizens’ Assembly that is endorsed by government and has real decision-making power.
XR’s detailed response can be found on their website - link on the blog.

Net Zero Review 
This week the UK finance minister or Chancellor of the Exchequer as we prefer to call him, launched a review to determine how the UK would end its contribution to global warming.
“The Net Zero Review,” said the Chancellor, “will assess how the UK can maximise economic growth opportunities from its transformation to a green economy.”
“The UK is leading the way on tackling climate change as the first major economy to legislate for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.”
I’ve just been doing some research into carbon offsets, and I’m concerned about what net zero emissions actually means. I have serious doubts that it’s achievable. I’ll do some more research on that and get back to you. I’ll read the terms of reference for the Net Zero Review as well. 
They say, “The review will also consider how to ensure we can cut our emissions without seeing them exported elsewhere.” That’s very important, because in the past the UK has not been the only country to claim massive emissions reductions while ignoring the fact that it has been importing goods which used to be made at home in factories which have gone.
I was also a bit concerned that it was the Chancellor of the Exchequer who made the announcement. Does this mean that we’re going to do it as long as it doesn’t cost too much? I know we don’t have a Department of Energy and Climate Change any more, but shouldn’t the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy be taking lead on this? And what about the aforementioned DEFRA, given that land management and use contribute as much to emissions as electricity generation?
Air Quality
Reports from Delhi this week reveal that the city is shrouded in smog with atmospheric pollution some 10 times safe levels. The city always has a bad atmosphere, but the present crisis has been caused by firecrackers set off to celebrate Diwali and by farmers burning stubble in fields surrounding the city. In an attempt to improve things the government has announced that vehicles can only use the roads on alternate days, depending on whether their registration number is odd or even. Many drivers drive anyway and take the back roads to avoid being stopped. They probably drive further and make the problem worse. At least one politician decided to take his car out on the wrong day and defy the ban on principle.
It’s not just air quality. Women bathing in the river to give thanks to the sun god - which they couldn’t see - found the water thick, oily, smelly and shrouded in layers of foam. Like many developing countries, India seems to have regulations, but no effective enforcement.
Private Jets
The Labour Party is exploring plans to ban private jets from UK airports from as early as 2025 should it win the election, in the party’s latest broadside against the super-rich. It will undoubtedly improve air quality, at least to some extent, but it will be an impossible battle to win and there are so many other issues that a government should surely be focussing on. The prospect of electric planes for short journeys looks increasingly realistic. Maybe better to concentrate on supporting R&D in that area.
The poor air quality in Delhi has led to flights being diverted from the city. Fortunately air quality, though poor, is not yet as bad as that in London.
In California people are recovering from wildfires which have burned for weeks, damaging property and driving people from their homes. President Trump has threatened to withdraw federal aid from the state, blaming the (Democrat) governor for poor forest management. The governor responded by calling the president a climate change denier. Regardless of their spat I would have thought that top priority should be cleaning up after the fires and withholding aid money can only hurt the residents of the state.
Writing in Forbes Magazine, Michael Schellenberger suggests that the fire situation is not nearly as simple as it might appear, and might have nothing at all to do with climate change. The New York Times reports that the fires this year might have been spectacular but were not as bad as last year when 86 people were killed.
Quoting Dr. Jonathan Keeley, a US Geological Survey scientist, Schellenberger explains how different fires take hold in different locations. There are the forest fires and there are the fires which burn on shrublands closer to the coast. Few people live in the forests and fires are natural. Regularly burning the forest floor litter keeps it clean and keeps fires small. Over the last 100 years the US fire service has been quick to put out forest fires and so the quantity of leaf litter and fallen branches has grown. When this catches fire the fire has more fuel and so is more intense. Forests can withstand small fires. Major fires wipe them out and leave shrubland.
In the populated areas nearer the coast, fires have caught the undergrowth and the 70mph winds have driven the flames over wider areas. Many have been started by faulty power lines and others by careless people. Keeley believes climate change has little to do with it.
“I don’t think the president is wrong about the need to better manage,” he says. “I don’t know if you want to call it ‘mismanaged’ but [the forests] have been managed in a way that has allowed the fire problem to get worse.”
So on this occasion the president is not totally wrong, but it’s hard to blame the present governor for policies that have been in place for 100 years.
Storm Surge
Listener Paul O’Mahony draws my attention to an article in the Irish Times. Prof Peter Thorne of Maynooth University says it’s only a matter of time until the elements combine for a devastating storm surge which will leave thousands of homes, businesses and landmark buildings in Dublin under water. If a storm-force onshore wind coincided with a high spring tide water from Dublin Bay would surge into the River Liffey while it was in full flow from the Wicklow mountains.
“The combination of water trying to escape and water being pushed up into the river means it will end up moving sideways,” he said. The Liffey would “over-top into the surrounding areas” resulting in major flooding in the city centre. 
“There would be hundreds or thousands of properties basically – residential, commercial and government properties – that would be under water for a considerable length of time, with all the implications that that has.”
Of course Dublin is by no means the only city vulnerable to storm surges: many of the world’s major cities are on coastlines or estuaries. Sea level rise is measured in millimetres per year, but multiplying that by the vast area of the oceans’ surface gives an awful lot of water. Water to be added to the surge when wind, rain and tides coincide.
Professor Thorne expects to see such a surge within his lifetime. He’s 40 years old.

And now here’s Dr Matt Winning, climate researcher and comedian.
Thanks, Matt.
And Finally,
Sailing Off to Madrid
Greta Thunberg, tireless teenage climate activist, set sail for America back in August in order to attend the UN COP 25 climate conference in Chile next month. Now it’s announced that the venue’s changed and the event will take place in Madrid. Anyone sailing that way? Apparently Greta’s looking for a lift. 
But Before I Go,
As I prepare this episode for publication news comes in that XR have won in court. They challenged the use of Section 14 of the Public Order Act by the police during the October rebellion. The police applied it to the whole of London, but the judge agreed with XR that it could only be applied to individual demonstrations, not a wide geographic area. It’s suggested that those arrested could now sue the police for false imprisonment.
You’ve got to sympathise with the police. They are being caught in the middle because XR believes that only by over-stretching police resources can the government be made to listen. While much of the policing in October was low-key and almost friendly, allegations of heavy-handedness, particularly against disabled protesters, must be investigated.
And that’s it…
…for another week. I’m Anthony Day, that was the Sustainable Futures Report and thank you for listening.
As you know, the Sustainable Futures Report comes to you without advertising, sponsorship or subsidy. I do benefit from the generosity of my sponsors. They pledge to donate a monthly amount, from $1 upwards, which helps to cover my hosting and transcription costs. If you are already a patron your support is much appreciated. If not, you could sign up at If you do, you’ll get a shout-out, a unique metal badge and my sincere gratitude. I’ll also give priority to any issues you think I should address and you’ll usually get each episode at least one day in advance of Friday publication.
That’s it for this week. There will be another Sustainable Futures Report next week. I wonder what it will be about.


Alliance of World Scientists

Government under fire for approval of new coalmine in Cumbria
Citizens’ Assembly

Net zero review

Air Quality
Flights diverted in Delhi as toxic smog hits worst levels of 2019
Delhi residents engulfed in pollution blame authorities for inaction
Call for ban on UK private jets by 2025 as flight traffic soars

Storm Surge

Chile climate pullout prompts tears from young activists sailing Atlantic

Friday, November 01, 2019

What next?

What Next?

Hello and welcome… 

…to the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday, the 1st of November. Despite protests and promises the United Kingdom is still part of the EU, and that is the last that you will hear of Brexit or of the election in this episode.
I’m Anthony Day and let me start by thanking you for listening and for thanking my patrons for their continued support. Dan Stanley is a UN Accredited Climate Change teacher working in the North of England. Thanks for your feedback, Dan. Good to hear from you!
This Time
This time I’ll be talking about the growth in renewable power including signs that France may prioritise renewables over nuclear, climate rules for corporations, forces behind climate denial, plumbing the depths of abandoned coal mines and some news and comment on climate science. 
Wild Weather
California Ablaze
But first, news from California. “This is a worst-possible wildfire scenario for Southern California,” according to “Every year, climate change makes a “catastrophic” fire like this one more and more likely.” The article continues, “The wildfire that smashes all of California’s previous notions of “the worst that could happen” begins with an illegal firecracker set off by campers in the San Bernardino National Forest. Patches of this forest, near the spa city of Palm Springs, have burned many times before. But this fire becomes monstrously big in a matter of hours because a severe, multi-year drought and an extra-long hot summer have left an unprecedented number of trees and shrubs bone dry, defenceless to flame.”
CBS reported that in Northern California, the massive Kincade Fire had grown to more than 76,000 acres, although by Wednesday evening, it was 45% contained. It had damaged or destroyed about 200 homes and other buildings.
According to USA Today some 200,000 people have been forced to leave their homes. Many others were without power after Pacific Gas & Electric shut off electricity to millions of people in an effort to prevent new blazes. Fallen power lines or faulty equipment have been the cause of fires in the past. The utility company has shut off the electricity from some areas, explaining that it cannot risk being held liable for the damage caused by fires started by its equipment. It’s not clear how long these cuts will continue.
Meanwhile 70mph winds across the state have driven the flames across widening areas.
CBS Los Angeles cites a report from the NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which predicts that winter will be warmer and drier than usual in California. Presumably a fire risk will remain.
One piece of good news is that a flock of goats chewed away enough undergrowth to create a fire break which protected the Ronald Reagan Library from going up in flames.
Australia Too
Not so lucky were koala bears, many of whom are believed to have been wiped out by fires on Australia’s east coast this week. Of course the koalas made the headlines, but other wildlife and their habitats will also have been destroyed. reports that smoke from the fires has reached Sydney, and New South Wales (NSW) State Department of Environment has triggered a health alert.
"If it's smokey and you have a chronic respiratory or heart condition, it's important to avoid all outdoor physical activities as much as you can," the Deputy Director of NSW Environmental Health Watch Dr Richard Broome warned on social media.
It’s early spring in Australia, but temperature records are already being broken.
And in Japan…
No wildfires, but Typhoon Hagibis triggered floods and landslides as it battered the country with wind speeds of 225km/h (140mph) earlier this month. You may remember that it disrupted the Rugby World Cup, but at least nine people were reported dead as the country recovered from its biggest storm in decades. In the town of Hakone near Mount Fuji more than 1m (3ft) of rain fell over two days, the highest total ever recorded in Japan over 48 hours.
Japan suffers about 20 typhoons a year, but Tokyo is rarely hit on this scale.

So, more extreme weather. Can anyone seriously deny that the climate is changing? Well, yes, actually.

For example, The Guardian Newspaper reveals that Conservative MPs in the UK are almost five times as likely to vote against climate action as legislators from other parties. They based this on an analysis of 16 indicative parliamentary divisions over the past decade. They found that the Tories also registered many more donations, shares, salaries, gifts and tickets to sporting events from fossil fuel companies, petro-states, aviation companies and climate sceptics.
Oil Companies
A joint analysis by the Guardian and InfluenceMap, a non-profit lobbying watchdog, reveals that Oil and gas companies are spending millions of dollars on campaigns to fight climate regulations at the same time as touting their dedication to a low-carbon future.
Their global PR campaigns on social media promote a commitment to a green, low-carbon future, but across the US in particular, specific local campaigns are obstructing tighter regulations on fossil fuel extraction.
In many cases, oil and gas companies are using direct advertising but some targeted lobbying appears to be more opaque. It is channelled through so called “community” groups – which are being funded by fossil fuel companies.
Columnist George Monbiot reports that some oil companies argue that they are not responsible for our decisions to use their products. Climate damage is therefore our own fault. I can understand, though not accept this position. Climate activists are frequently criticised for not living a carbon free life. The problem is that the society and infrastructure we live in makes that next to impossible. We can change, but we can only achieve real change if governments and the fossil fuel companies work with us to achieve change. There’s little sign of that from the oil industry, an industry with immense resources and some of the brightest minds which could surely lead the world in imagining and implementing change. This would be good for the continued existence of the human race and of the oil companies -  though not as oil companies - as well.
More research from The Guardian reveals that global carmakers are among the leading opponents of action on the climate crisis, according to exclusive analysis of the way major corporations frustrate or undermine initiatives to cut greenhouse gases. The research shows that since 2015, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, Daimler, BMW, Toyota and General Motors have been among the strongest opponents of regulations to help countries meet the 1.5C warming limit in the Paris agreement.
SUV drivers
This comes amid reports that while transport is a major emitter of CO2, the move towards SUVs, sports utility vehicles, has made the situation worse. These vehicles are much larger than many cars, far less fuel efficient and have high emissions levels. In the UK, the government’s revision of the road tax bands in 2017 has more or less removed any disincentive to owning a large, polluting car. If global SUV drivers were a nation they would rank as the 7th largest CO2 emitter.
Well done the lobbyists!
Corporate Climate Rules
The governor of the Bank of England has warned major corporations that they have two years to agree rules for reporting climate risks before global regulators devise their own and make them compulsory.
Mark Carney said progress had been made by many of the largest banks and energy companies to harmonise how they report their risks, but added: “Progress in both quantity and quality is uneven across sectors.”
Maybe this will rein in some of the exaggerated claims from so-called “green” organisations and make shareholders more aware of the risks their investments could be subject to.

Fake Science
There are powerful voices ready to deny climate science, not least in the White House, as detailed in a report by the National Task Force on Rule of Law and Democracy.
“There are now “almost weekly violations” of previously cherished norms, the report states, with the current administration attempting “not only to politicise scientific and technical research on a range of topics, but also, at times, to undermine the value of objective facts themselves”.
The report echoes complaints by a number of former federal government officials who claim their work on areas such as the climate crisis and pollution standards was either sidelined or subverted by the Trump administration as part of its zeal for environmental deregulation.
In the UK, of course, climate activists have been called “uncooperative crusties” by the Prime Minister, and his latest withdrawal bill permits environmental legislation to diverge from European norms. The indications are that the fight to persuade legislators to take sensible action will be long and hard. Interestingly, many of those denying the climate crisis are the same people who are urging the UK to leave the EU. Do they deal in facts?
Let’s look at Energy
It’s never far from the Sustainable Futures Report.
According to Climate Action, a new report has found that renewable energy has the potential to increase by up to 50 per cent over the next five years. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has found that global renewable power capacity is set to expand with the installation of solar PV systems on homes, commercial buildings and industrial facilities transforming the way electricity is generated and consumed. 
“Renewables are already the world's second largest source of electricity, but their deployment still needs to accelerate if we are to achieve long-term climate, air quality and energy access goals,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director.
I reported a while ago that while the total amount of electricity produced by renewables was constantly growing, it remained at much the same proportion of total energy because energy demand was growing. Renewables were simply making up what nuclear and fossil fuels were unable to supply. This constant emphasis on managing supply is now having major implications for the power infrastructure, which risks overloading. A solution is Demand Side Management. I intend to bring you more on that shortly.
And in France…
France is know as a nuclear state, producing some 75% of its electricity from nuclear reactors - more than any other country in Europe and probably the world. Will it build a new generation as these stations reach the end of their lives? The decision has not yet been made, but euronews reports that France could yet pursue a long-term strategy of 100% renewable energy, following remarks made by Environment Minister Elisabeth Borne on Europe 1 radio. The CEO of EDF, which runs all the reactors in France and is building the new UK reactor at Hinkley C, had said that it was clear France was preparing to build new reactors.
“EDF does not determine French energy policy,” the minister said, pointing to France’s previously announced policy on reducing nuclear power to 50% of the electricity mix by 2035 while increasing the contribution of renewables.
It may be that the new citizens’ assembly established in France will have a view on energy policy. A sample group of 150 French citizens — from unemployed people to pensioners and factory workers — will this week begin advising the French president Emmanuel Macron on how France can cut carbon emissions to tackle the climate emergency.
The panel was chosen by selecting people, aged from 16 to over 65, from towns and villages across France. More than 25,000 automatically generated calls were made to mobile numbers and landlines to find a representative “sample of national life”.
Coming from various backgrounds and professions, the citizens are not experts on environmental issues but are expected to have views on the difficulties of combating the climate change and to offer ideas. They will be asked to consider the role of individuals, and society as a whole – covering housing, work, transport, food, shopping and methods of production — and suggest solutions for cutting emissions, which will be put before parliament.
One of Extinction Rebellion’s demands is the establishment of a citizens’ assembly in the UK. One was promised by the Theresa May government, but nothing has been heard of it recently.
Underground Power
The perpetual problem with renewables is intermittence. Solar panels produce nothing at night or when the sun goes in: wind turbines fall silent when the wind drops. At other times there can be far more energy produced than can be used. The solution is storage, but lithium batteries are expensive and so are pumped storage schemes. Now an Edinburgh start-up presents Gravitricity. The idea is to use surplus energy to winch weights up to the top of disused mine shafts and drop them down again at times of demand. As they fall, the weights will turn pulleys which will drive generators. The number of weights and the speed at which they fall will be varied to match output with demand. Imperial College London estimates that the system will have half the cost of lithium batteries of the same capacity.
Also looking down a hole for energy are the people at the Eden Project in Cornwall, southwest England. Cornwall is notorious for high levels of background radiation from the granite rocks which underly much of the county, but this initiative is focussed on geothermals.  The Eden Project consists of a number of giant biomes containing specimen plants from different climates around the world. The plan is to drill some three miles into the earth’s crust and extract heat. This first well will initially supply a heating system for Eden’s biomes, offices and greenhouses. It is intended to pave the way for the second phase – another well almost three miles deep and an electricity plant.
Completing the second phase will mean Eden will be generating sufficient renewable energy to become carbon positive by 2023, and it aims to be able to provide heat and power for the local area.
Drilling will start in 2020. A major part of the investment is provided by the EU. At the moment.
Scientific Stories
Pacific Heatwave
From NBC News comes the message that a vast heat wave is endangering sea life in the Pacific Ocean. 
A vast region of unusually warm water has formed in the northeastern Pacific Ocean, and scientists are worried that it could devastate sea life in the area and fuel the formation of harmful algal blooms.
The broad swath of warm water, now known as the Northeast Pacific Marine Heat Wave of 2019, was first detected in early June. Data from weather satellites and buoys show that it measures six to seven times the size of Alaska, which spans more than 600,000 square miles.

Given its size and location, the marine heat wave rivals a similar one that arose in 2014 and persisted for two years. That heat wave, known simply as “the blob,” occupied roughly the same region of the Pacific and became known for triggering widespread die-offs of marine animals including sea birds and California sea lions.
It's likely that global warming will exacerbate heat waves in the future, given the excessive amounts of heat that oceans have absorbed in recent years.
“With this trend of overall warming, climate change will likely make marine heat waves more intense and more frequent,” said Nick Bond, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Picturing the Future
Jonathan Foley, writing for Medium, describes his three most important graphs in climate change. The first shows greenhouse gases and makes the point that while CO2 is by far the most important it is by no means the only greenhouse gas released by human activity. He also reminds us that we’ve known about the greenhouse effect since 1830.
The second chart breaks down greenhouse gas emissions by source. You might be surprised that transportation yields only 14%. The biggest emitter is electricity generation at 25%, closely followed by food and land use at 24%.
The third graph looks at where human-produced CO2 emissions end up. About 45% of the emissions stay in the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. But the remaining 55% are absorbed by the oceans and by land-based ecosystems. These natural carbon sinks have greatly reduced climate change from what it would have otherwise been, absent these carbon absorbing processes. The question is: Can we somehow enhance these natural sinks, or add to them with engineered devices?
This perspective emphasises that it’s not just energy that we need to concentrate on if we want to green our planet and seek net carbon neutrality - food and land use are equally important.
We’ll need to change
When has change not been on the agenda? 
A report from Imperial College London says that the UK government must tell the public that small, easy changes will not be enough to tackle climate change. In a submission to the Committee on Climate Change it says an upheaval in our lifestyles is the only way to meet targets. We must eat less meat and dairy, swap cars for bikes, take fewer flights, and ditch gas boilers at home.
I wonder what Julia Hartley - Brewer would say about that. Oh, I know what she’d say.
And Finally
All right, I admit it, I read The Guardian. But I read other newspapers as well and I pick up my leads from the press and news websites, and by setting up Google alerts on particular topics. I get leads from listeners, too. Whenever possible I try and go behind the newspaper story to find the original report or source. It doesn't always say what the journalists report! The Guardian is quite accurate however, and committed to giving the climate story wide coverage.
In Hot Water
Before I go, let me go back to a story from a few weeks ago about the Mixergy system, which is a smart hot water tank that's networked as part of the internet of things. It is smart because it is designed to heat only the water you need and can be programmed to have that water available at the time you need it. I was a bit sceptical about it.
Patron Tom de Simone writes 
“You mentioned the Mixergy hot water tank and whether we should be looking at boiling water on demand near the taps rather than have a central tank and allow heat to be lost through the pipes.

There are existing point-of-use solutions like Zip taps, but they are best suited to kitchen and bathroom sinks. Obviously one issue is that they're quite expensive, and you would need a unit in each place where hot water is needed. Plus, I don't think they would be powerful enough to fill a bath in a reasonable amount of time, so would still need to look for another solution there!
“I think the Mixergy tank is a particularly attractive option if paired with rooftop solar (PV or thermal). Then you can use excess solar energy to heat your water and keep your bills down. In addition to that, if you have an economy7 electricity tariff or similar, you can get extra heat for cheap overnight, ready to use the next day! One of the great things about the Mixergy tank is that it learns your usage patterns and tries to top up overnight with just the right amount. I would feel less bad about energy wasted in pipes if it was being generated renewably to start with :)”
Good points - thanks Tom. What do we do about the wasted water, though? I’ll leave you to think about that until next week.
Yes, that was the Sustainable Futures Report and I'm Anthony Day. Thanks again for listening, thanks again for being a patron, and if you’re not and you'd like to be a patron have a look at Your support is invaluable.
Remember, the full text of this episode with extensive links to sources is on the blog at
Next week we’ll hear climate researcher Dr Matt Winning explaining how he presents the climate crisis through stand-up comedy.
That's all for this week and there will be another episode next week.
California and extreme weather
Goats make firebreak
Power cut
Australia fires


Growth in Renewables
French citizens' panel to advise on climate crisis strategies

How UK's disused mine shafts plan to store renewable energy

Eden Project to begin drilling for clean geothermal energy

Climate Rules
Corporations told to draw up climate rules or have them imposed

Today we pledge to give the climate crisis the attention it demands

Tory MPs five times as likely to vote against climate action

Fossil fuel firms' social media fightback against climate action

Exclusive: carmakers among key opponents of climate action

The big polluters’ masterstroke was to blame the climate crisis on you and me

Trump administration's war on science has hit 'crisis point', experts warn

Revealed: the 20 firms behind a third of all carbon emissions

Scientists’ view

Big lifestyle changes