More Loose Ends
Hello, welcome, this is the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday, 4 October and I’m Anthony Day. Today I'm tying up more loose ends and bringing you stories which I haven't had time to cover over the last few weeks.
You'll hear about system change, about protests, prosecutions and protests to come, about energy: oil, gas and hot water. Can we over engineer our climate solutions? I'll talk about stormy weather, a fishy tale about plastic, a green new deal and the circular route to climate salvation. And in other news there's a flying car, rare metals and does eating red meat really affect our health?
The general consensus in the scientific community is that we need to make rapid and radical changes in order to meet the challenges of climate change. We'll need politicians across the world of immense calibre to unite and lead people to accept and implement these changes.
Consultancy Vivid Economics is working alongside Energy Transition Advisors and the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment on a project called the Inevitable Policy Response (IPR). It is aimed at investors, but through investors will impact all areas of business. They say:
“Government action to tackle climate change has so far been highly insufficient to achieve the commitments made under the Paris Agreement, and the market’s default assumption appears to be that no further climate-related policies are coming in the near-term. Yet as the realities of climate change become increasingly apparent, it is inevitable that governments will be forced to act more decisively than they have so far.
“The question for investors now is not if governments will act, but when they will do so, what policies they will use and where the impact will be felt. The IPR project forecasts a response by 2025 that will be forceful, abrupt, and disorderly because of the delay.
In anticipation, PRI, Vivid Economics and Energy Transition Advisors are building a Forecast Policy Scenario which lays out the policies that are likely to be implemented up to 2050 and quantifies the impact of this response on the real economy and financial markets.”
There is a wealth of information on the website - link on the Sustainable Futures Report blog - including scenarios and toolkits.
Despite criticism, maybe the Labour Party was not so far out when its conference last week voted to aim for net Zero Carbon emissions by 2030. This won’t be easy and was certainly not popular with all delegates. Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite trade union which provides the largest contribution to the party, rejected the whole idea complaining that all petrol and diesel cars would have to be confiscated in 2030 and that families would be limited to taking only one flight every five years. The truth is that we will have to make changes, but doing things differently doesn't necessarily mean they will be worse. Of course, we are delaying action until the very last minute and things like infrastructure changes which can take 10 or 20 years from planning to completion will not be ready for 2030 and things may be more difficult until they are. It’s a consequence of starting late, and a reason why we are going to need supremely able politicians to lead us forward. (Anyone seen any supremely able politicians recently?)
Two weeks ago we saw around 6 million people around the world supporting the school strikes. Greta Thunberg was prominent at the United Nations climate conference. “This is all wrong, I shouldn’t be up here,” she said, addressing the General Assembly and shaking with rage. “I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. You have stolen my dreams, my childhood with your empty words. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line.” It was ironic that the more she criticised the world leaders the more they applauded.
Protest goes on and protest has its consequences.
In Germany, a group of villagers living on the edge of one of Germany’s biggest surface coalmines have vowed not sell their properties to the energy company RWE, and to mount a legal challenge against any attempt to oust them from their homes. They announced at a press conference in Düsseldorf on Monday they would refuse an expropriation agreement with RWE under which the energy company would pay to resettle them.
This would mean the company would have to apply to the regional government for formal permission to dispossess the residents. But the villagers said they would then challenge this in court.
They dispute has been rumbling on some 10 years, but perhaps the villagers have a better chance of success given that Germany has announced that it will phase out coal by 2038. In fact coal presents a diminishing proportion of electricity generation across the world. Arguably it is particularly important that this mine should be stopped because it produces lignite, which is the dirtiest form of coal.
Protest goes on.
The Juliana case which I’ve mentioned many times on the Sustainable Futures Report is still weaving its way through the American court system. 21 plaintiffs accuse the federal government of violation of the constitutional rights not just of their generation but also of future ones. Now aged 11 to 22, they accuse federal officials and oil industry executives of knowingly creating a national energy system that causes climate change, despite decades of evidence that carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels destabilise the environment. Officials did not merely fail to regulate and restrain bad actors, they argue, but actively facilitated their endeavours, thereby violating citizens’ constitutional rights to life, liberty and property while also jeopardising essential public resources.The plaintiffs filed their complaint in 2015, nearly 10 years ago.
Protest goes on and protest has its consequences.
Back in April Extinction Rebellion’s protest attempted to close down in London over a period of two weeks. More than 1,000 people were arrested, including Zoe Cohen who appeared on this podcast a few weeks ago. She has already appeared in court to plead not guilty and faces trial on 22 October. Although the charges are nearly all for the minor offence of obstructing the public highway, instead of issuing warnings the police are aiming to prosecute everyone. Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP, said people who were prepared to taken part in nonviolent direct action were showing more “climate leadership than government ministers”.
She said: “In the future, it won’t be those peacefully blockading bridges or blocking roads that history judges badly. It will be those who shut their eyes and blocked their ears. The failure to avert the climate catastrophe is the greatest moral failure of our time and people from all generations and all walks of life have had enough of those with power failing to act.”
Mike Schwartz of Bindmans, one of the defence lawyers involved in the XR cases, told the Guardian earlier this year the crackdown by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service appeared to be “a deliberate and expensive” attempt to “browbeat those in society most motivated to do all they can, peacefully but firmly, to mitigate environmental collapse”. He added: “The proportionality and altruism of the community’s actions is in stark contrast to the face-saving short-termism of the authorities.”
Protest Goes On
Extinction Rebellion will nevertheless be back next week. From next Monday, 7 October and for the following two weeks they will attempt to blockade Westminster until the government meets their demands. These are for the government to tell the truth about the climate crisis, to take action to halt biodiversity loss and achieve net zero carbon by 2025 and to establish a citizens’ assembly on climate and ecological justice. Zoe Cohen will be there and she tells me she will be arrested again if necessary. I will be there, on the Monday at least. I don't have the courage to be arrested but I'll take my recorder and get the reactions and reports of those who take part.
Let's talk about energy
There is news that the latest offshore wind farms can deliver power below the current market price, and well below half of the price guaranteed to the Hinckley C nuclear-power station. Plans include the establishment of new wind farms on Dogger Bank, a large shallow area in the middle of the North Sea. these could produce some 3.6 GW, roughly equivalent to two conventional power stations.
Comment on Comment
This month’s newsletter from the Portland Group explains how the role of coal in electricity generation is declining sharply, even though the absolute amount consumed is growing, at least in some markets. Gas is taking an increasing share of generation. This is a fuel with much lower emissions than coal and with no particulates. Director James Spencer writes about the dilemma between the need to cut emissions and the increasing use of gas, which while it is cleaner is still a fossil fuel emitting greenhouse gases. “Businesses such as Portland”, he says, “have to deal in realities rather than ideologies.” I strongly resent his characterisation of environmentalism as an ideology. It makes it sound like some sort of life-style choice rather than the largest body of peer-reviewed science the world has ever seen. Yes, the real world is powered by oil, and we will need oil tomorrow, and next week and next year. We will need gas, too, to generate our electricity and heat our homes but we know that business-as-usual is not sustainable and while we have to fuel the infrastructure that that we have, the replacement or redesign of that infrastructure has to be our priority. Eventually, ideally sooner rather than later, oil will go the same way as coal. I hope that Portland is planning for that day.
The newsletter also comments on nuclear power. “Here is a known and efficient energy source,” he says, “that has seemingly been written-off, despite the fact that it contributes precisely zero CO2 into the atmosphere. Portland is neither an expert on, nor a cheerleader for, the nuclear industry, but can it really be sensible to walk away from this endless source of energy?” I have some sympathy with this point of view. Nuclear power is indeed clean and emissions free in operation, but don't forget the significant carbon footprint involved in the construction and the decommissioning process. And although nuclear is supposedly established technology hardly an episode of this podcast goes by without me commenting on the delays at Hinckley C and the technological problems at its sister station under construction at Flamanville in Northern France. Both of these units are way over budget and years, almost a decade, behind schedule. As I commented above, the electricity price guaranteed to Hinckley C is more than twice the costs now being achieved by wind power. Toshiba has pulled out of nuclear power. Hitachi has abandoned plans for a nuclear station in North Wales. Nuclear may make technical sense but it seems to be far from making economic sense.
Also on the energy front I read a recent article about smart water tanks. We've all heard of smart meters which are supposed to nudge consumers into using energy more efficiently. Now welcome the smart water tank which does it all for you.
The Mixergy water tank is 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. It’s a heater for domestic hot water and can be powered by electricity, a gas or oil boiler or a heat pump. Because it is networked as part of the internet of things it can be monitored and controlled remotely. The manufacturers describe the advantages for sheltered housing projects. Their system can ensure that every resident has the hot water they need at the temperature they need without risk of scalding. They mention a pasteurisation cycle, which I presume is a measure to eliminate the risk of Legionnaire’s disease.
As a domestic user you can have your very own Mixergy unit, and what’s more, you can monitor it and control it from your smartphone.
The key advantage that these units have is that they can monitor energy prices and choose to heat when prices are most favourable. Low prices exist at times of low demand, so these units will not be using power at the peaks, helping to smooth the load on the grid. Unlike a smart meter, which relies on the consumer to turn things on and off, your Mixergy tank does all this automatically.
So far, so good, but I do feel that this solution is somewhat over engineered. I certainly don't fancy the idea of having to monitor my hot water system on my phone. More importantly, I question the whole idea of having a central source of hot water, whether it's a combi boiler or a Mixergy tank. Such systems always have the pipework problem. By this I mean that you have to run the tap until the water has made its way along the pipes from the boiler or tank to your sink, bath or shower. This wastes water and the very production of clean drinking water has a carbon footprint, quite apart from the energy needed to heat it. Once you have finished and turned off the tap the pipe between the boiler and your tap is full of hot water which gradually goes cold. A total waste of energy. We should surely be looking at instant electric showers and instant electric water heaters for sink, bath and basin. Have a look at mixergy.co.uk and see what you think.
And now to the weather. Large parts of United Kingdom recently had quite a lot of rain. When I look out of my window onto the River Ouse I see that the riverside path is under about a metre of water and the river is about four times its normal width. By the colour of the water it looks as though even more topsoil is being flushed out into the North Sea. More heavy rain is forecast for this weekend as that hurricane weakens and makes its way across the Atlantic. Generally, weather in the UK is an inconvenience. Elsewhere it can be far more serious. We have to be very careful not to say that these weather extremes prove that climate change is happening, but we can certainly say that if climate change predictions are correct these are just the sort of weather events which we would expect.
Experts have warned that a section of the Planpincieux glacier on Mont Blanc is at risk of collapsing.
According to the Safe Mountain Foundation, 250,000cubic metres of ice could break from the rest of the glacier.
"If this volume of ice fell down, it would reach the valley floor in 80 seconds," Stefano Borrello, 42, public work counsellor of the Aosta Valley, told Al Jazeera.
"These phenomena once again show that the mountain goes through a phase of strong changes due to climate factors," Stefano Miserocchi, the mayor of the nearby city of Courmayeur, said in a statement.
"Therefore, it is particularly vulnerable.”
In India more than 100 people have died in flooding in the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where vast areas have been inundated by delayed monsoon rains. In Uttar Pradesh, 93 people have died due to the incessant rains, which has caused homes to collapse and led to an increase in snake bites. Dozens of people have also died in Bihar, where boats have been deployed to rescue stranded residents.
Experts blame a lack of urban planning and poor drainage systems, which have been unable to cope with sudden and incessant rains over recent days.
Anand Sharma, of the India Meteorological Department, said Bihar had experienced a deficit of monsoon rains until last week, when heavy rains returned levels to normal.
A major cause of the flooding was the lack of natural drainage in affected areas, he explained. “Natural drainage has been destroyed, natural ponds have been destroyed, people have built their houses on the flood plains. These are the problems because once you destroy the natural drainage, water doesn’t find a place to go out. It leads to flooding,” he added.
Warnings continue. The IPCC’s latest “Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate” warns that “Choices made now are critical for the future of our ocean and cryosphere”. The cryoshpere is apparently the regions of the earth, like the poles and mountain tops, which are covered in ice.
“The world’s ocean and cryosphere have been ‘taking the heat’ from climate change for decades, and consequences for nature and humanity are sweeping and severe,” said Ko Barrett, Vice-Chair of the IPCC. “The rapid changes to the ocean and the frozen parts of our planet are forcing people from coastal cities to remote Arctic communities to fundamentally alter their ways of life,” she added.
“By understanding the causes of these changes and the resulting impacts, and by evaluating options that are available, we can strengthen our ability to adapt,” she said. “The Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate provides the knowledge that facilitates these kinds of decisions.”
Extreme sea level events that used to occur once a century will strike every year on many coasts by 2050, no matter whether climate heating emissions are curbed or not, according to the report.
Half the world’s megacities, and almost 2 billion people, live on coasts. Even if heating is restricted to just 2C, scientists expect the impact of sea level rise to cause several trillion dollars of damage a year, and result in many millions of migrants.
There’s a link to the full press release and the report on the Sustainable Futures Report blog.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), says the five-year period from 2014 to 2019 is the warmest on record. Sea-level rise has accelerated significantly over the same period, as CO2 emissions have hit new highs. The WMO says carbon-cutting efforts have to be intensified immediately.
As I reported previously, Prof Sir David King, former chief scientific advisor to the UK government, says he's been scared by the number of extreme events, and he’s called for the UK to advance its climate targets by 10 years. On the other hand UN's weather chief has said that using words like “scared” could make young people depressed and anxious. It’s the perpetual dilemma. If you over-emphasise the risks people may well become depressed, fatalistic and demotivated and if you don’t emphasise enough, people will believe that there is no problem and that they don’t need to do anything. Balance is key and it’s also very difficult to achieve.
And are we making progress?
Some say yes but not enough. According to Arabesque Asset Management more than a third of the world’s top 200 companies still do not disclose their greenhouse gas emissions, despite rising concern that urgent action is needed to avert dangerous levels of global heating. The organisation has developed an analysis tool - S-Ray - which analyses the sustainability of companies across the world and is freely available to all.
Andreas Feiner, chief executive of Arabesque S-Ray, said companies “may appear to be taking steps to reduce their impact on climate change”, but many are choosing to keep the full scale of their emissions under wraps to avoid losing investment.
“Arabesque’s temperature scores should help make investment more transparent by assigning a 3C increase to companies that fail to disclose their climate emissions,” he said. A warning to investors.
A report from the Global commission on Adaptation warns that “Climate change is upon us, and its impacts are getting more severe with each passing year. Global actions to slow climate change are promising but insufficient. We must invest in a massive effort to adapt to conditions that are now inevitable: higher temperatures, rising seas, fiercer storms, more unpredictable rainfall, and more acidic oceans.”
“Specifically,” they say, “our research finds that investing $1.8 trillion globally in five areas from 2020 to 2030 could generate $7.1 trillion in total net benefits. In other words, failing to seize the economic benefits of climate adaptation with high-return investments would undermine trillions of dollars in potential growth and prosperity.”
In the face of all these warnings are you surprised that I’ll be supporting XR down in London this week?
And in other news…
Fast food chain Burger King UK will no longer give away plastic toys with children's meals, amid pressure to reduce plastic waste. The chain is also encouraging customers to bring in old promotional plastic toys, which it says it plans to melt to make other items.
MacDonalds, believed to be the world’s biggest distributor of plastic toys through their Happy Meals, have no plans to stop giving them away. However in future children will have a choice between a toy or a piece of fruit.
Still on plastic, Lucy Hughes, 23, a recent graduate in product design from the University of Sussex, has developed a bio-plastic made of organic fish waste that would otherwise end up in landfill. She has received a James Dyson award.
Her biodegradable and compostable material called MarinaTex, can break down in a soil environment in four to six weeks and be disposed of through home food waste collections. Although it looks and feels like plastic, initial testing suggests it is stronger, safer and much more sustainable than its oil-based counterpart.
Green New Deal
The Green New Deal, an idea originally thought up in the UK, is now reaching prominence in the run-up to the next US presidential election. Bernie Sanders has declared the climate crisis a national emergency and launched his version of the deal – a $16.3 trillion plan that includes massive investment in renewable energy, green infrastructure for climate resilience and money for research. It's an idea which was also mentioned at the recent Labour Party conference. To be honest it’s an idea which needs review in much more depth than this. I'll aim to cover it in detail in a future episode.
As leaders from around the world gathered in New York for the recent Climate Week NYC, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in collaboration with Material Economics, launched Completing the Picture: How the Circular Economy Tackles Climate Change. The paper reveals the need for a fundamental shift in the global approach to tackling climate change.
Moving to renewables can only address 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions, they say. To achieve UN climate goals, the paper highlights the urgent need to tackle the remaining 45%, and demonstrates the potential of the circular economy by looking at five key areas - steel, plastic, aluminium, cement, and food.
Adopting a circular economy framework in these areas can achieve a reduction totalling 9.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2050. This is equivalent to eliminating current emissions from all forms of transport globally. These examples provide a clear message to other industries – such as fashion, electronics, and packaging – of the value the circular economy can offer.
Diet shift, emerging innovations, and carbon capture and storage are the final pieces required to complete the picture of how the world can achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
Completing the Picture: How the Circular Economy Tackles Climate Change brings an important missing piece to climate change solutions, demonstrating that by building a thriving and resilient economy - businesses, financial institutions, and policymakers play an essential role.
“Switching to renewable energy plays a vital role in addressing climate change,” said Dame Ellen MacArthur, “but this alone will not be enough. In order to achieve targets on climate, it is critical that we transform how we design, make, and use products and food. Completing the picture through a transition to a circular economy can enable us to meet the needs of a growing global population, while creating a prosperous and resilient economy that can run in the long term.”
There’s a new flying car. Terrafugia plan to deliver their first models to customers this year. It's a two seater, and the wings fold up so that you can drive it on the road. You need an airstrip to take off, and you also need a pilots licence. It's expected to be popular in the United States where it will compete with short-haul flights both in terms of cost and convenience. Writing in Medium: Technology, Mark Langer compares it with the Nissan Leaf electric car. He points out how far electric cars have come since the original Leaf was launched and he sees a similar development in the flying car. We'll see. I think this raises all sorts of questions about safety and about the need for travel. The Chinese flying cars planned for Dubai are completely autonomous. I think I’d feel safer in one of those. But I do think the Terrafugia looks really nice in the video. There’s a link on the blog.
What to eat?
Are you going to have something to eat after this? A nice steak, perhaps? But isn't red meat bad for you? A new report out this week causes all sorts of controversy. Scientists have reviewed the data which was analysed to show that red meat and processed meat were bad for you and they claim that the evidence is too small to be significant. Of course while the health implications may not be as serious as previously thought, don't forget the effect on the environment. Sheep and cattle are ruminants and as they digest their grass they produce quantities of methane which are a significant proportion of the greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere by human activities. We've already heard about attempts to reduce methane by feeding cattle on seaweed and there's a report in the paper today about breeding sheep with the same objectives in view. Nicola Lambe, a sheep geneticist at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), said: “The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is a global issue requiring a transnational and transdisciplinary approach.” A nice example of nominative determinism there.
I wonder if these new sheep will taste different. Best solution is probably not to eat red meat, or at least to eat less of it.
In a previous episode Alice Courvoisier presented “The Wonders of Rare Metals.” She’s now published her talk on her blog at www.ethicsinstem.blogspot.com
And that’s it
And that's it for another episode of the Sustainable Futures Report, one of the longest to date. I'm Anthony Day and I'd like to thank you for listening, for being a patron if you are, and for your comments by email and social media. Your feedback is welcome and much appreciated. It's nice to know that there's someone out there listening otherwise why should I do it?
This episode has contained a lot of different stories and there are extensive links to my sources on the blog. I'd be interested to know whether you like this format or whether you would prefer me to look at just one or two stories in greater depth. All suggestions welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org.
There will be another episode next week. Several organisations have contacted me suggesting that they should be interviewed so we'll see where that goes. In any case it's unlikely that I shall have done an interview with them before next time, but as I told you, I will be in London with Extinction Rebellion next week and I'll bring you some comments from the demonstrators there. I hope.
So that's it for this week. I'm Anthony Day and thanks again for listening.
Len McCluskey on 2030
All petrol and diesel cars confiscated by 2030. Families only allowed one flight every 5 years.
Protests, plans, prosecutions
Climate crisis: 6 million people join latest wave of global protests
The demonstrations come after environmental activist Greta Thunberg called for students to strike.
If world leaders choose to fail us, my generation will never forgive them
'Enough is enough’: biggest-ever climate protest sweeps UK
‘Listen to the scientists’: Greta Thunberg urges Congress to take action
'Human rights before mining rights': German villagers take on coal firm
Bad ancestors: does the climate crisis violate the rights of those yet to be born?
Scores of Extinction Rebellion protesters face London courts
New windfarms will not cost billpayers after subsidies hit record low
Centrica to use customers' hot water tanks to stop blackouts
Extreme sea level events ‘will hit once a year by 2050’
India: scores dead as late monsoon rains inundate northern states
Most of world's biggest firms 'unlikely' to meet Paris climate targets
World 'gravely' unprepared for effects of climate crisis – report
And in Other News…
Scaling back: graduate invents plastic alternative from fish waste
Green New deal and Phosphate shortage
Green New Deal
Phosphate fertiliser 'crisis' threatens world food supply
Uproar after research claims red meat poses no health risk
The Wonders of Rare Metals
Alice’s blog: www.ethicsinstem.blogspot.com