It’s not the Bees’ Knees!
No: it’s the Sustainable Futures Report. Hello and welcome to this edition for Friday, the 17th of July. I’m Anthony Day. Let me start with the news that Rachel Maurice has become the latest patron and Silver Supporter of the Sustainable Futures Report. Welcome Rachel. More about being a patron later.
Odds & Ends
It’s another week of odds and ends. It’s Bees’ Needs Week - there’s an apology from a campaigner for the climate hoax (buy his book and learn more) - it’s the sun, stupid, not CO2 - alternatives to plastic, to food and to economic growth - green recovery or environmental endgame? - and finally, why the horrible, hated fossil fuel industry could be crucial to a clean energy transition. But first, this is what I think.
Apart from my wonderful patrons who support the Sustainable Futures Report every month, this podcast is brought to you without advertising, subsidy or sponsorship. That means I can say exactly what I think. Agree, or disagree, I always welcome your feedback. But be aware that I shall treat anything you share with me as being in the public domain, unless you specifically advise me otherwise. My view is that there is a climate crisis demanding urgent action, which is being largely overlooked by world governments who are paying lip service to the problem and certainly taking some actions, but not nearly enough. On the other hand there are those, and there are many of them, who claim we’ve got it all wrong and are wasting time and money fruitlessly. I don't cover their views to any great extent in the Sustainable Futures Report. Is that because I’m as biased and bigoted as they are, just in the opposite direction? I hope not. My guiding light is the precautionary principle. If there’s a strong body of evidence which suggests that there’s a high probability that something nasty could happen, I think it's a good idea to take precautions. For example I won't be going out to the pub any time soon, with or without a face mask.
Watch this Video
And I'd like to draw your attention to a YouTube video called “The most terrifying video you’ll ever see.” This has been around since 2007 and you may well be one of the millions of people who have already seen it. It quite simply looks at four possibilities based on two assumptions which nobody can argue with.
First assumption: there will either be, or there will not be, a climate crisis.
Second assumption: we will either take action, or we will take no action.
That leads to four scenarios:
- No action, no crisis - we all live happily ever after.
- Crisis is real, we’ve taken action - everyone is safe.
- Crisis is real, we’ve taken NO action - disaster for all. And finally,
- We’ve taken action but there’s no crisis. That one reminds me of a cartoon I once saw of an apoplectic gentleman shouting, “What do you mean no crisis? We’ve spent all this money and all we’ve got is a better world!”
My view is that the risk of not acting is just not worth taking. It reminds me of another cartoon, where a businessman is addressing a board meeting, “Undoubtedly, gentlemen, £50trillion is a great deal of money. But you have to recognise that it’s not real money - and it’s not ours.”
We can afford it
Seriously though, the vast deficit budgeting undertaken by governments in the present crisis demonstrates that money can be created when the need is great enough, and that markets have the confidence to advance that money.
An Apology. (None required?)
And what about the naysayers? I think my time could be better used by keeping you informed of what is being done to mitigate or adapt to the climate crisis, and what is being done to concentrate the minds of governments, and to demand action. Having said that, listener Ian Jarvis - why not become a patron, Ian? - draws my attention to two articles. The first is by Michael Shellenberger, who has been an environmental activist for some 30 years but now “feels an obligation to apologise for how badly we environmentalists have misled the public.” He’d also like you to buy his book. I shared his article with Dave Borlace. You may remember that I’ve mentioned Dave before. He does a weekly video on climate, sustainability and related issues. Each is an in-depth analysis of a particular topic; unlike the Sustainable Futures Report which generally contains five or six or more stories. Anyway, he came back with a very balanced response to the article. You’ll find that, and a link to the original article, on the blog. It’s at www.sustainablefutures.report.
It’s the Sun, Stupid!
Ian also shared an article from Nexus Magazine. That’s also linked on the blog but I’m afraid it will cost you $1.50 to download. The thesis of author Jamal S. Shrair is that climate change is nothing to do with CO2, it’s all caused by the motion of the sun in relation to the centre of the galaxy. He tells us that “due to the fundamental defects in the current laws of physics, the most important facts about our own star and planet are not understood. Thus, one should not be surprised that climate science is ruled by corrupt politicians and power-hungry individuals. Make no mistake about it, the Sun is misunderstood, not only with regard to the process responsible for its primary energy source, but also with regard to its motion and relationship with our planet.”
I’m afraid I stopped reading shortly after that. I’d prefer to devote my time to taking precautions against a climate crisis rather than assess the credibility of those arguing against an overwhelming scientific consensus. You can read it if you want - the link is there. Examine the sources, including the Telegraph, which he cites to back up his conclusions. You may come to agree that “Revealing the truth about the Sun is the most powerful blow that can be delivered to the global corruption, fake and anti-science trends. Furthermore, and most importantly, the exploration of the cosmos and the opening of the gate of heaven cannot be realised without knowing the physical reality of our star.”
Meanwhile back on Earth…
In an article on medium.com Sam Westreich, PhD warns against compostable plastics. He says that it's a nice idea, but not one that really works in practice. The problem is that such plastics are made from different materials, so they cannot be recycled with other petroleum-based plastics. They are typically separated out at plastics recycling plants and sent off to landfill. In landfill there is not the air, the water, or the heat to develop the composting process, so they just lie there indefinitely. Back garden compost heaps may provide water and air, but they rarely reach the temperatures required to break down these plastics. Westreich recommends using glass or aluminium instead: both materials that can be recycled and reused.
Every little helps…
…is a refrain we frequently hear. Many people are doing small but important things to reduce our impact on the planet, like Bristol Food Producers, brought to my attention by Silver Supporter, Manda Scott. It’s a federation of farms and small-scale food producers who work together towards the objectives of:
- Increasing productive land
- Improving fairness and efficiencies for smaller food producers
- Improving access to markets
- Collaborating on learning
Similar initiatives are being planned for other areas. This sort of activity is vital and deserves our support. Every little helps, but every little is by no means enough. It is only governments which can take measures sufficient to deal with the climate crisis. We must never lose sight of the big picture or fail to continue to hold the government to account.
Limits to Growth
There are increasing questions about the role of growth as society’s overriding objective. If you read The Spirit Level by Wilkinson and Pickett you will learn that it is not wealth that determines happiness and satisfaction with life, it’s the level of inequality. The hyper-rich have become even richer in the last 30 years. When we are urged to go out and buy things to get our lockdown economy going again, things which we haven’t needed for the last three months, pause and consider whether we are doing this for ourselves or for the sake of the corporations and their owners. Should we look at re-organising society?
Not for Profit
Manda Scott also shared a link to How on Earth: Flourishing in a Not-for-Profit World by 2050, by Hinton and Mclurcan. “This book,” they say, “presents both a critique of the current economic system and a vision for a more sustainable economy; one that serves people and planet.” Their vision of reorganising society champions the not-for-profit organisation and they say, “The decisions we make and the ways we choose to direct our energy can profoundly influence the formation of a future that would truly sustain us. How we will shape the post-capitalist world is up to all of us.” So don’t buy what you don’t need, and ideally buy it from a co-op or a charity shop.
Although the theme of the UK’s post lockdown recovery plan has been summarised by the PM as “Build, Build, Build”, some are taking a more nuanced approach. A report from UK100, a network of over 100 mayors and local leaders from across the country, urges the chancellor to spend not £2bn but £5bn on energy-saving measures as part of a green recovery.
UK100’s director Polly Billington said: “If ministers are to meet their manifesto promise on energy efficiency in our homes, which are some of the leakiest in Europe, they need to kickstart a renewable revolution. This would help hard-pressed consumers save on their fuel bills, support hundreds of thousands of jobs and protect the environment.
“£5bn now would unlock £100bn to rescue the UK economy and deliver on the Prime Minister’s ambitions of levelling up and meeting Net-Zero. The Chancellor’s statement, while welcome, should have had far more front-loaded investment.”
I believe there will be yet another financial statement in the autumn, so maybe the chancellor will address it then. Before that, one of my contacts has a meeting with BEIS next week, to find out the exact scope and regulations of the new scheme for insulating homes. I’ll keep you posted.
UK100 claims that the move could create 300,000 jobs, but to avoid costly mistakes that workforce will need to be trained. Installation is no longer just about lagging the loft and filling cavity walls. Most of that should be done by now, (although some say cavity wall installation is a mistake, but that's another story.) Retrofit insulation involves filling under-floor voids and fixing insulation panels to internal walls. It needs to be done in the right way, with the right materials to avoid creating cold bridges or fire traps. Training, and accreditation of installers and supervisors, is key. We’ll also need to train skilled tradesmen across the country to replace gas boilers with heat pumps.
Meanwhile Roger Hallam, a leader of Extinction Rebellion, has published a video entitled “Pivoting to the Endgame”. Few people will watch a one hour 20 minute video so I'll attempt to summarise the main points which I believe are very important. He also feeds in the throwaway line that he expects global warming to reach 5° C and that extinction is therefore assured. It's worth re-reading Six Degrees by Mark Lynas who looks at the scenarios for each degree and predicts the worsening consequences. 5℃ is pretty bad.
Roger Hallam tells us that while the climate crisis is clearly an extreme risk, very few people take it seriously because it is perceived as remote. Humans assess risk depending on how close it is to them in time or space. For example, if 1,000 people die in China tomorrow it will probably make a footnote on the news. If 1,000 people die in Italy tomorrow, many more people will hear about it. If 1,000 people die in the UK it will make the front page for days. If 1,000 people die in your town tomorrow you will be talking about it and probably be traumatised by it for months and years to come. In all cases the size of the tragedy, 1,000 deaths is the same. Humans also have a herd instinct - it’s the safety in numbers principle. Nobody really wants to step out of line. Some groups will form at the extremes, like XR, although even then not at the extreme that will cause effective change. XR in any case has a middle class problem. The honest and dedicated supporters believe earnestly in the movement’s objectives, but they won’t act because they fear for their reputations, their mortgages, their jobs and their family responsibilities. In any case history shows that fundamental societal change, or revolution if you like, does not happen unless everyone sees and accepts the dangers of not changing, and there is a triggering event. The herd instinct pushes people back towards the postmodern truth which the majority accepts. Institutional inertia means that, for example, Kings College supported Roger Hallam’s hunger strike but nobody actually joined his action. Nobody wants to be seen as abnormal, which is why both the Labour Party and the Green Party have softened their policies on the climate, back towards the popular truth. (No matter that that truth isn’t actually true.)
The meek will not inherit the earth - they’ll get elbowed out of the way!
The First World War provided the disruption which led to the Russian Revolution. The reformers who had been calling for change for decades took over but were rapidly replaced by the extremist Bolsheviks bringing violently radical change. In 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed a similar scenario played out. The reformers tried to set up socialism with a human face, but were overthrown by extreme capitalists. Roger suggests that when the climate crisis comes and the UK state collapses the Green Party will take over, but will itself be displaced by radicals and extremists, who could come from right or left.
What will bring this collapse about? The trigger will be a disaster which could be another financial collapse or may be an environmental crisis. It needs leadership. Given the right conditions a prophetic leader can change the views of the herd diametrically, and once they have changed to follow him, everyone will stay with the herd.
Where do we go from here?
It seems to me that Roger is suggesting that nothing can be done until some type of catastrophe concentrates the minds of the whole population. That seems to be counsel for sitting and doing nothing. XR nevertheless has a big event planned for 1st September and has also launched a new political party, to very mixed reviews. More about those in a future episode. By the way, Boris Johnson thinks XR should dedicate its 1st September event to celebrating all the amazing things that the government is doing to tackle climate change. Link to a short video on the blog.
It wouldn't be the Sustainable Futures Report without some comment on energy. Here are some points following up last week’s interview with James Spencer.
I first met him when he made a presentation in 2013. He said then that “only fossil fuel companies had the scale and understanding to deal with global energy requirements and that paradoxically, they would therefore become the world’s major green players.”
We can’t deny that for the moment every single one of us uses the products of the fossil fuel industry every day. That must change, but a renewable energy infrastructure will have to be every bit as extensive as the existing energy infrastructure, so it maybe makes sense to convert it rather than attempt to replace it from scratch.
On the blog you’ll find a link to a McKinsey interview with Martin Neubert of Orsted.
- Twelve years ago, this Danish energy company made most of its money from fossil fuels. It still trades gas, but today, it’s the world’s leading offshore-wind power producer.
- Germany’s biggest polluter (RWE) is North America’s second largest renewable player
- BP continues to be the world’s largest solar power supplier.
Clearly there’s a transition in progress. We need governments to speed it up by introducing taxes on carbon, and regulations which mean that corporations who are moving towards net zero are not undercut by competitors who take a less responsible attitude to the environment.
It’s the Bees’ Needs. No, the Bees’ Needs. It’s Bees’ Needs Week. Apparently, this is the fifth year of the event but I'm sorry to say that as a beekeeper the other four years have passed me by. The idea, an initiative from DEFRA, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, is to raise public awareness of the importance of bees, and of other pollinators for that matter. While cereal grains are pollinated by the wind, most fruit is pollinated by insects. Pollination is by far the most important value created by honeybees; it far exceeds the value of the honey. Pollination is estimated to be worth £500 million in the UK alone.
So what should you do to help the bees? Well, first of all, if you have a garden you should grow more flowers, shrubs and trees. Apart from that, just let it go wild, and whatever you do don't mow the lawn too often. That's my kind of gardening.
Seriously, though, we beekeepers could do with your help in bridging the June Gap. You'll have to remember that for next year. What happens is that the bees start the year with the spring flowers, raising brood and expanding their colonies. Come June, most of the spring flowers are over and many of the summer flowers have not come into blossom. Bees have been known to starve in June, or to abandon larvae which they cannot feed. If you can plant flowers which bloom in June you'll be doing us and the bees a great service.
And that’s it…
…for this week. I mentioned at the start that Rachel Maurice is our latest patron and Silver Supporter. Support from her and her fellow patrons helps me cover the cost of hosting, of the website which is coming very soon and for having interviews transcribed. Patronage starts at $1/month and all contributions are most welcome. If you have any thoughts, ideas or suggestions I’m always keen to hear and you’re sure to get a reply even if you’re not a patron. Patrons get priority of course. You’ll find the details of becoming a patron at www.patreon.com/sfr.
I’m Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report
I’m thinking about next week’s episode already.
My View - and others
The most terrifying video you’ll ever see
Change of mind
Comment from Dave Borlace on the “Apology” article
It’s hard to tell, but it looks like it’s written by Michael Shellenberger, who for about a decade has been on a one-man mission to convince the world to employ nuclear power at large scale in as many locations as possible as quickly as possible. There’s a TED talk that he did some years ago that you’ll find very easily, if you haven’t already watched it.
I’ve had a read of his comments and overall, to be honest, I’m pretty ambivalent about them.
I can understand many of his frustrations, and I actually agree with some of them, especially his objection to the silly ‘sound bite’ statements that politicians and climate activists do sometimes make in the press. But I can also see that he has, either unwittingly or deliberately, employed the age old trick of propaganda experts, which is to lump in one or two demonstrable truisms with a load of other assertions and suppositions that mould the argument to suit his aims (in this case, presumably “Please buy my book…”)
Like him I also get frustrated with the Jem Bendall, Guy McPherson, near term human extinction brigade. I agree with him that the evidence does not support human extinction in the 21st century, and certainly not in the next 11 years as AOC mistakenly suggested. Nor has the IPCC ever suggested that this is remotely possible. But to highlight the overly exuberant, and certainly misguided rhetoric of a young woman flushed with the rush of adrenaline that accompanies one's first success at winning political office, and then conclude that this single erroneous statement disqualifies all the other consensus science built up over decades, looks like a cheap sensationalist tactic to sell his book. We may not be imminently facing extinction as a species, but hundreds of million of vulnerable people around the world will lose their lives prematurely in this century as a direct result of climate change and its various knock-on consequences.
I am quite sure Shellenberger is frustrated with the IPCC. On one level I can understand this. All evidence, both anecdotal and chronological suggests that the IPCC is a pretty dysfunctional bureaucratic institution struggling to present the science whilst walking the fine line of international legal and political consensus. Although from what I can gather, their committee-led approach tends to ramp down the worst predictions to the lowest possible data point rather than ramping it up to the highest, so if anything their prognosis is probably a little less severe than the likely reality.
And on his main point about renewable technology essentially being a massive waste of time and possibly even some sort of left-wing conspiracy? Well, it’s not 'climate alarmists' who are pushing solar panels and wind turbines onto electricity grids. The long-established capitalist market is doing that, because renewables are simply better products at a cheaper price.
I would argue that It's not rocket-science, and it's not some sort of pseudo-psychological ideological battle between the left and right. Most if it is just driven by engineers who understand the sometimes very boring nuts and bolts of how things work. If Shellenberger really wants us to believe that the only correct energy transition is from wood to coal to gas to uranium, then I have to question whether he has a secondary agenda and whether his motives are based in good faith.
But as the old saying goes..."time and tide wait for no-one", so while people like him pontificate about what they regard as the hysteria of other people, and speculate about how they think the world's energy needs should be catered for in the future, two significant events continue to trundle on each day back in the Real World.
1. Human induced CO2 emissions continue to warm our atmosphere and cause our climate to change in a manner, and at a rate, that is remarkably similar to the patterns that have been predicted by climate scientists since James Hansen first sat before Congress in 1985.
2. Renewable energy technologies like wind and solar, together with grid scale energy storage solutions and distributed energy storage sources like electric vehicles, and smart 'Internet of things' devices that have batteries that can also feed energy into the grid as well as draw from it, continue to take market share away from fossil fuel and make large scale, long term investment in centralised nuclear facilities simply unnecessary, regardless of the ‘why's and wherefores’ of whether that technology is acceptable or otherwise. And by the way, an area of land 100 miles long x 100 miles wide could house enough solar panels to power the entire planet, so I don't know where he gets his numbers from. And that's assuming we don't utilise the millions of square metres of free space on people's roofs around the world for panels.
For what it’s worth, I actually happen to think that Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMRs) might play a useful transitional role over the next two to three decades in provision of base load power for some of the world's larger urban centres, but the suggestion that wind and solar are some kind of dead-end con-trick is just daft, and arguably delusional.
So I certainly won’t be bothering to respond, although I'm quite sure plenty of others will.
Shellenberger’s views are well known and well documented so I suspect his book will be nothing new.
Sorry if that sounds a little bit withering and dismissive, but I do believe we need to focus on championing the real solutions that are actually being funded and built at scale today.
Alternatives to growth
The End Game