You can find the latest episodes of the Sustainable Futures Report at www.sustainablefutures.report
Friday, October 23, 2020
Hello and welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday, 23rd October. I’m Anthony Day.
|Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash|
Apparently it may take 700 years to improve the nation’s housing stock (shame that the grant scheme I mentioned last time ends next March), CCS is in the news again and so are Greta Thunberg and Erin Brockovich - remember her? COVID is a disaster like we’ve never seen, but amid reports of collapsing ecosystems are we missing the big picture? There’s more extreme weather. Are you in the (hyper)loop? And watch your language. A recent article suggests our choice of words is crucial when describing the climate crisis.
Ecosystem collapse - that’s a fairly stark use of language.
Insurance giant Swiss Re warned this week that one fifth of countries worldwide are at risk from ecosystem collapse as biodiversity of the world’s nations declines. 55% of global GDP depends on high-functioning Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (BES) and major economies in Southeast Asia, Europe and the US are exposed to BES decline.
The report finds developing countries that have a heavy dependence on agricultural sectors, such as Kenya or Nigeria, are susceptible to BES shocks from a range of biodiversity and ecosystem issues.
Among G20 economies, South Africa and Australia top the rankings of fragile BES. The well-known impact of water scarcity is a driver for these countries, alongside factors such as costal protection and pollination. Brazil and Indonesia enjoy the highest percentage of intact ecosystems within the G20, however, the countries' strong economic dependency on natural resources highlights the importance of sustainable development and conservation to the long-term sustainability of their economies. At the moment the Bolsonaro government in Brazil seems to be pushing strongly in the opposite direction.
The report highlights several real-life cases of how BES impacts economies. For example, the destruction of the Aral Sea, which led to economic collapse and mass migration from the surrounding coastal area, provides an extreme illustration of how the collapse of an ecosystem can affect a local economy. You may remember that a river was diverted in order to irrigate cotton fields. As a result the Arial Sea, previously a rich fishing ground, almost totally dried up. Other examples include the economic impacts of invasive species, nutrient run-off and algal blooms or the effects of the loss of pollinators on the agricultural sector. Global medical research is also very much at threat from the decimation of rainforests, as almost 50% of all medicines are sourced from natural resources within this habitat.
The Swiss Re BES Index provides guidance for governments. Governments must recognise the value of ongoing economic diversification combined with conservation and preservation efforts.
The government’s UK Biodiversity Indicators Report 2020 shows that the country is in line with international trends. 14 out of 24 indicators show long-term decline.
The government’s 2019 State of Nature report showed that in 2018/2019, government funding for UK biodiversity was 0.02% of UK gross domestic product. “One thing that jumps out is the rather worrying decline in public sector spending on biodiversity,” said Prof Richard Gregory, head of monitoring conservation science for RSPB. “With the climate and biodiversity crisis, nature-based solutions are part of what we should be doing, so it’s crazy we’re not investing in this.”
Natural England, which is sponsored by Defra, has seen its budget cut by £180m since 2008, and continued cuts are having a huge impact on the protection of habitats, conservationists warn.
A Guardian editorial last week included the comment,
The UK government requires an environmental sense of purpose that specifies the appropriate ends for economic activity. The economist Kate Raworth has pointed out that a failure to do so has left a gap, which politicians fill by maximising national income. They are not obliged to ask if additional economic growth is sustainable. Governments ought to confront whether the growth of real GDP is too destabilising for global ecosystems. For decades the planetary boundary for resource use has been exceeded because conventional economics has encouraged political leaders to concentrate on goals that are largely irrelevant to human welfare.
The article continues,
Preparations for the postponed Cop26 climate summit, to be held in Glasgow, are the ideal way for Britain to take a lead in a global discussion. Boris Johnson should use the platform to frame UK policy proposals boldly in terms of their impact on people and the planet, not just the economy.
Yes, what about COP26? We’re just a couple of weeks off the original November date for the conference, now postponed for 12 months. In view of the many meetings and major conferences now going ahead online, that postponement looks shortsighted. COP26 will be the five-year review of the global nations’ progress towards the Paris agreement targets. Already the general consensus is that on present performance the targets will be widely missed. It's not as though we have plenty of time to deal with the problem. Typically such a major international conference is preceded by months of diplomatic activity led by the host country. The UK is the host this time with business secretary Alok Sharma as conference chair. Let's hope he uses the next 12 months wisely, although there’s still that rumour that former prime minister Theresa May will take over the role from him.
Meanwhile, in Other news…
Carbon Capture & Storage
Whatever we do, some parts of our economy will be burning fossil fuels and emitting GHGs and other pollutants for several years to come. If we have to use fossil fuels let’s at least try and minimise the damage. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) has been seen as the solution for years, but like fusion energy it’s just not quite ready yet. In fact Grist reports that the International Energy Agency (IEA) has said that achieving our emissions targets will be impossible without CCS.
In a recent deal, a consortium including Amazon and Microsoft invested in CarbonCure Technologies, a Canadian firm seeking to slash the carbon dioxide emissions of concrete. And concrete production is a very significant producer of emissions.
CarbonCure works with nearly 300 concrete producers to inject captured CO2 into their product. The injected gas chemically transforms into limestone, reinforcing the concrete. Amazon will use the concrete in its buildings, including its vast new headquarters in Virginia.
“The funding from Amazon will be critical to rapidly scale up the solution we’ve developed,” said Christie Gamble, the director of sustainability at CarbonCure.
Carbon capture is still in its infancy — there are only about 20 projects in commercial use worldwide, according to the IEA — but billions of dollars in investment is flowing into the sector. Microsoft has announced a “moonshot” climate plan that will involve direct air capture of CO2 and biomass energy carbon capture and storage, where wood chips are burned and the resulting carbon is injected into rock formations.
Norway is launching a full-scale carbon capture and storage project, named Longship after the Viking vessels, while a direct air capture project for the Permian Basin in the southwestern United States is doubling in size and aims to suck up 1 million tons of CO2 a year.
Just to put things into perspective, the US Geological Survey estimates that the global emissions of energy-related carbon dioxide totalled 32.5 billion metric tons in 2017, and of course it’s risen since then.
The U.S. government is pitching in, recently awarding $72 million to two dozen different carbon capture initiatives.
Carbon capture can’t come soon enough, but there’s a long, long way to go.
Net Zero Heating
The UK Energy Research Centre has just published a briefing paper entitled “The pathway to net zero heating in the UK”. They say,
“Meeting the UK government’s net zero emissions goal for 2050 will only be possible by complete decarbonisation of the building stock (both existing and new).”
“..Almost all of the UK’s 29 million homes will require upgrading by 2050, that is about 1 million homes per year, and is equivalent to more than 19,000 homes per week. Current retrofit rates are inadequate for achieving even a significant portion of the required level of decarbonisation to meet the 2050 targets.
“The replacement of fossil fuel-based heating systems is happening at an even slower pace. In 2018 only 27,000 heat pumps were installed in the UK and the vast majority of new build homes were connected to the gas grid. As a result, the proportion of homes heated by gas is increasing.”
There was a record rise last year in the number of new gas boilers installed, showing that the UK is going in the wrong direction.
They say, “In 2018 only 27,000 heat pumps were installed in the UK and the vast majority of new build homes were connected to the gas grid. As a result, the proportion of homes heated by gas is increasing.”
Gas is a fossil fuel, so it is essential to eliminate its use as far as possible if we are to meet our 2050 net zero targets. Heat pumps work like a fridge in reverse. Running on electricity, they extract heat from the air or from the ground and pump it into your home. If homes are built to a high insulation standard, higher than currently required, a heat pump is appropriate, but they do have disadvantages which make them unattractive in existing homes. First, they are far more expensive than gas boilers. They work at a much lower temperature than gas boilers so they are ideal for underfloor heating but radiators have to be much larger to be effective. A heat pump cannot deliver instant hot water so a hot water storage cylinder is required. The total installation will take up much more space than a gas boiler. Although these pumps are far more efficient than boilers in that they extract heat from the environment, not from the electricity that they are powered by, with electricity being more expensive than gas the running costs are likely to be similar.
The report says, “It is extremely unlikely that heat decarbonisation will be achieved without significant policy interventions. Fundamentally it is important to recognise that the speed and scale of the required heat transformation means that relying on consumer led schemes such as the RHI and the planned Clean Heat Grant, are not sufficient. Incentives for consumers need to be part of a suite of policy measures based around skills, financial support and packages, local area-based planning approaches and cross-industry strategy will be needed.”
It’s been calculated that at current rates total decarbonisation of the UK housing stock would take 700 years, but to be fair, in last week’s interview Simon Ayers of TrustMark pointed out that government had a manifesto commitment to substantially increase investment in retrofitting insulation and the installation of heat pumps. We hope this will follow on when the Green Homes Grant scheme ends in March 2021. Apart from anything else, it will be a job-creator.
Reduce, Re-use, Recycle.
A while ago I reported that the Chief Executive of IKEA, the furniture company, predicted that we were reaching “peak stuff” and that we would stop, as consumers, just buying things and concentrate more on services. Now he's gone a step further and announced that the stores across 27 countries will start taking back their products for resale or recycling. You get a voucher to spend in the store in return, for up to 50% of the price. The scheme will be launched on Black Friday, and the company say, “By making sustainable living more simple and accessible, Ikea hopes that the initiative will help its customers take a stand against excessive consumption this Black Friday and in the years to come.”
The scheme is not totally simple. You start by making an online offer, and if it’s accepted you must return the item, fully assembled, to the store. Not all products qualify, although the popular Billy bookcase is specifically mentioned.
There are reports that department store John Lewis is considering a similar scheme.
Could this be the start of a true circular economy?
Listener James Spencer tells me about clean air in Leeds. According to transport journal Route One the city of Leeds in northern England intends to formally abandon plans for a clean air zone (CAZ).
Cllr James Lewis, LCC Deputy Leader and Executive Board member with responsibility for air quality said, “When we consulted on the CAZ in 2018, we said that we hoped that nobody would be charged because businesses would switch to less polluting vehicles before the charging system took effect. That is exactly what has happened.
“We have achieved the aims of the CAZ without having to charge a single vehicle. If Leeds were to introduce a CAZ today, only a fraction of vehicles would be affected. The vast majority of businesses are now using cleaner vehicles than they were just a few years ago.”
Due to the centralised nature of administration in the UK, any such decision will have to be approved by the government in London.
Do you remember Erin Brockovich? The eponymous film was based on the true story of her role in a lawsuit against Pacific Gas and Electric over alleged contamination of drinking water. In real life Erin Brockovich is still campaigning. According to The Hill she’s warning that America is now in a water crisis far worse than people realise.
She says, “We are in a water crisis beyond anything you can imagine. Pollution and toxins are everywhere, stemming from the hazardous wastes of industry and agriculture. We’ve got more than 40,000 chemicals on the market today with only a few hundred regulated. We’ve had industrial byproducts discarded into the ground and into our water supply for years. This crisis affects everyone – rich or poor, black or white, Republican or Democrat. Communities everywhere think they are safe when they are not.”
Her new book is called Superman’s Not Coming. Even as this new book seeks to bring attention to the quality of the US water supply, the quantity of water is dwindling as climate change causes both droughts and floods that exhaust America's infrastructure. As wildfires rage across the West Coast, the East Coast is bracing for hurricane season. And Brockovich doesn’t have much faith in the government to come to the rescue either.
“These issues start with tiny seeds of deception that add up over months and years to become major problems. Our resources are exhausted. Corruption is rampant. Officials are trying to cover their tracks. People are not putting the pieces together when it comes to the severity of this crisis. I’ve got senators and doctors calling me, asking me what to do,” she says.
She’s created a Community Healthbook to allow individuals and community groups to "report and review health related concerns and community environmental issues by geographic area and health related topic.”
It’s a community-led initiative. Find it at communityhealthbook.com where you can see some graphic pictures of dirty water. At the moment it’s exclusively for the US, but maybe it’s an initiative worth copying in other countries.
Another big name in the news - when is it not? – is Greta Thunberg. There’s a new film out about her - I am Greta. I don’t know where you can watch it given that cinemas are all closing, but there’s a link to the official trailer below.
Smart Cities World reports that Virgin Hyperloop has picked West Virginia for a futuristic transport test centre. The company claims reports That the Hyperloop Certification Centre will create an entirely new ecosystem, creating thousands of new jobs across construction, manufacturing, operations, and high-tech sectors.
“As we look to emerge from the Covid-19 crisis, it’s clear that we need a 21st century solution that will propel us forward, allowing us to not just rebuild, but actually evolve,” said Jay Walder, CEO of Virgin Hyperloop.
If you remember, hyperloop is a high-speed passenger transportation system which sends vehicles along tubes at extremely high speeds. Powered and suspended by magnetic induction, the cars, or pods, don't touch the sides. It’s an idea suggested by Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX, and his original design envisaged a speed of 760mph which would give journey times of 35 minutes for Los Angeles to the San Francisco Bay Area or 18 minutes for London to Manchester. A 2017 article in Metro reported a contract for a 90-mile hyperloop from Dubai to the capital of the UAE which would be complete by 2020. It appears that the project is still live but no date for completion is currently available.
I feel bound to ask who is hyperloop for and what is it for? Answers on a postcard, please. Or send me an email if you can explain why a hyperloop is a good idea. Or HS2, for that matter. Even if there’s a logical justification for them - which I doubt - should we be giving such projects priority in this time of climate emergency?
We’re warned that extreme weather is a consequence of the climate crisis. True to form, and on the heels of a succession of hottest years on record we now come to the the wettest day on record. According to the Met Office, Saturday 3 October was the wettest day for UK-wide rainfall since records began in 1891. The downpour followed in the wake of Storm Alex and saw an average of 31.7mm (1.24ins) of rain across the entire UK.
The total amount of water was enough to exceed the capacity of Loch Ness - the largest lake in the UK by volume. Fortunately there were no reports of fatalities. When Storm Alex hit parts of Italy and France a number of people lost their lives.
Watch your Language
Writing on medium.com Tabitha Whiting urges us to be careful with our choice of words when discussing climate issues. “Change” is the first one she picks on. It’s too neutral and insubstantial. Trouble is that alternatives like “crisis” and “emergency” suggest short term problems that can be quickly overcome. Over-using them dulls their power.
Avoid talking about believing in climate change, she advises. Belief implies the possibility of debate and disbelief, but the climate crisis is a scientific fact. Then there are goals, like the Paris Agreement goals. They’re too impersonal. Look instead at the human consequences of failing to meet those goals.
Fighting climate change? Well it’s a fight we’ve picked ourselves. We are the ones who have destabilised the climate with our massive emissions. If we stop that, the climate will stop defending itself. Eventually.
Finally “neutral” as in “carbon neutral”. She describes it as a classic greenwashing term. Organisations from supermarkets to governments claim to be at or on the way to carbon neutrality. That may only mean that they are emitting at the same level as they have always done, but now they are buying offsets. I’ve discussed offsets extensively in the past and I have to agree with Tabitha Whiting that we’re deluding ourselves if we really believe that offsets are the answer. The science on that point certainly leaves plenty of scope for disbelief in the effectiveness of offsets.
And that’s it…
…for another week.
Thank you for listening, thank you for being a patron, if you are, and thank you for sharing ideas. Keep them coming.
There will be another Sustainable Futures Report next week. Keep safe and well until then.
I’m Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
Until next time.
Zero Emissions Homes
Fifth of countries at risk of ecosystem collapse, analysis finds
UK on course to miss most biodiversity targets
Boris Johnson's Cop26: ask if GDP growth is sustainable
Friday, October 16, 2020
Green Homes: Warm Homes
Hello and welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday, the 16th of October. I’m Anthony Day. This week I'm talking about green homes and warm homes: specifically the government’s Green Homes Grant. In a moment there’s an interview with Simon Ayers, CEO of TrustMark. To qualify for the grant, homeowners must use a TrustMark registered business to carry out the work. Now of course I realise that at first sight this will be relevant only to people in England, but stay with me, because warm and energy-efficient homes and quality installation must be of interest to us all.
Also today I’ll be introducing Alex Brown, our latest gold patron. I’ll be talking about what the expert said when he came to look at the energy efficiency of our home. And finally, people in a remote area of Scotland are preparing something out of this world.
First let me welcome Alexander Brown our new Gold Patron. He tells me that he’s in line for president of the gardening club at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and has plans to build a vertical farm on the premises. We’ve looked at vertical farms in the past. Do please keep us in touch with your progress, Alex. And if anyone has experience of this to share please do get in touch. email@example.com
Whole House Survey
Andy Walker of Sure Insulation came round this week to assess how energy-efficient our home is. You know how builders go tssss? You know something’s going to be expensive. I was quite confident, because we had extensive renovations done to the property in 2004 and 2008 and so everything was up to the current standards at the time. Standards have moved on a lot since then.
Insulation not heating
What we learnt was that before looking at ways of improving the heating system the priority must be stopping the heat from leaking out of the house. A house built or retrofitted to the Passivhaus house standard typically uses less than £100 worth of energy p.a. for all heating, lighting and cooking, because it is highly insulated. Houses can be retrofitted to that standard, although it’s expensive and usually very disruptive.
We learnt that the most cost-effective measures are insulating the walls, floors and ceilings, but they are also the most disruptive. Cladding the walls and filling voids below floors means you will usually have to re-plaster and redecorate and you may have to replace floorboards. The project must be expertly designed, because imperfect installation can lead to cold bridging or the ingress of water. Ventilation is also crucial. Ventilation units with heat recovery keep the air fresh without cold draughts.
In our case we have solid floors, so difficult to insulate. We also have a large area of glass and a large single-glazed bay window. Argon-filled double or even triple glazing will be the solution here. We’ll also look at curtains and blinds. Walls will be for another day.
If I can get a grant for these improvements I’ll need to employ a TrustMark registered business.
I was very pleased to have the opportunity to talk to Simon Ayers, CEO of TrustMark, earlier this week. Here’s what we discussed.
Interview text to follow
Many thanks to Simon Ayers, CEO of TrustMark. You’ll find TrustMark at trustmark.org.uk and links to the Grant Scheme and the simple energy advice site are below/on the blog at www.sustainablefutures.report . That, incidentally, is the link to my new website which will go live in the next few days to provide blog and podcast in one location.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise is backing the construction of a missile launch site in the far north of Scotland. There are many planning hurdles to cross and environmentalists to placate before this can become a reality but it appears that the plan is to use the site to put small satellites into Geo-stationary polar orbit. This comes at a time when the government admits that its plans for a homegrown alternative to the European Galileo GPS system, from which the UK will be excluded post Brexit, has failed after the expenditure of £64 million. Undeterred, Alok Sharma the business secretary has authorised expenditure of £400 million on the purchase of OneWeb, a satellite firm which entered bankruptcy earlier this year, despite warnings from his most senior civil servant that it may not represent good value for public money. OneWeb has no navigational capabilities. It’s been compared by the i-newspaper to a ferry company with no ships.
The UK’s share of the Galileo investment, from which we will not now benefit although it’s been paid, is estimated at £1.2 billion.
Are we all living in the same world? Let’s hope that Sharma makes a better job as chair of COP26, although as I write there’s a rumour that former UK prime minister Theresa May will take over the role. Let’s hope that….well let’s just hope.
And that’s it…
Well I think that's about enough for this week. Thank you once again for listening - especially my patrons both new and long-standing. If you’d like to join them all the details are at www.patreon.com/sfr. Links to all these stories are below.
The will of course be another Sustainable Futures Report next week. I already have masses of items stored up. I believe that the IMF and the World Bank are having big meetings so they will probably feature.
While I firmly believe that the climate crisis is the greatest crisis facing humanity, I don't underestimate the extreme stresses and strains which many people are experiencing as a result of the present pandemic. I sincerely hope that you are safe and well and will continue to be so.
I’m Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
Until next time.
Green Homes Grant: homeowners frustrated by lack of installers
Residents of remote peninsula face up to its future as spaceport
Friday, October 09, 2020
Hello, I’m Anthony Day.
It’s Friday 9th October and in this week’s Sustainable Futures Report I’m looking at Project Drawdown, mentioned by Blair Sheppard of PwC in last week’s report. The UK prime minister this week set out his view of a green future and laid great emphasis on offshore wind. There’s good news and bad news on waste, and there are carbon-saving claims which may not be all they seem to be. The UK aims to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but also plans to open a new coal mine. Bill Gates is pessimistic about tackling climate change, Greenpeace is dropping rocks and the Earthshot Prize is announced.
Meanwhile, as weeks of wildfires come to an end in California there are forests still ablaze as far apart as Brazil and Ukraine and Storm Alex brings floods and fatalities to Italy and France. Last year Australia suffered its worst wildfires. Their 2020 wildfire season is just beginning.
Last week we mentioned a book called Drawdown. In fact there’s much more than a book. Founded in 2014, Project Drawdown is a nonprofit organisation that seeks to help the world reach “Drawdown”— the future point in time when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline. The Drawdown Review, just published, defines drawdown as a critical turning point. The review is the first major update since the original book was published in 2017.
The authors believe that drawdown, a far more demanding target than net zero, can be achieved by 2050 or even by the mid 2040s. They summarise 10 aspects of the project.
- We can do it. While governments and corporations are taking action, it’s nowhere near the speed or the scale required and emissions are continuing to rise. Nevertheless, many of the means to achieve the objective already exist.
- There’s no silver bullet. There’s no one simple solution. Success depends on coordinating the interdependencies between communities, industries, organisations and nations.
- Climate solutions have other benefits. For example clean air improves public health and green investment creates jobs.
- There is financial justification. The savings from doing things differently will outweigh the costs. This may involve the abolition or scaling back of existing industries. Unlike the UK coal communities in the 1980s, there must be a just transition.
- We must cut the use of fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas, which account for two thirds of global emissions. We must stop the subsidies to these industries.
- At the same time as reducing the sources of emissions we must reinforce the natural carbon sinks like wetlands, peat bogs and forests.
- We’re missing opportunities. For example to cut food waste, to move towards a plant-rich diet, to better to control refrigerants - some of the most powerful greenhouse gases - to spread reproductive healthcare and education more widely.
- The deployment of capital and policy will accelerate the process.
- The project involves many millions of leaders at all levels. Just as there is no single silver bullet, no single leader can make this happen. People in all levels in all organisations across the world must be informed and inspired to work towards the common purpose.
- Finally the aim must be to make possibility reality. When Greta Thunberg addressed the US Congress she said, “You must unite behind the science. You must take action. You must do the impossible. Because giving up can never ever be an option.”
Sources and Sinks
The review then moves into detailed solutions which will reduce sources and support sinks. It starts by defining sources of emissions and existing sinks.
The big three for emissions are electricity generation (25%), food production (24%) and industry (21%), followed by Transport at 14%, Buildings (6%) and everything else(10%).
On the other side, 59% of emissions remain in the atmosphere, 24% are absorbed by plants and 17% by the oceans.
The review looks at each of these categories in turn and in detail, and explains the actions that must be taken. The final section looks at social change and considers how climate change measures can improve society, with particular emphasis on health and education.
In the closing pages they say, “…what may be politically unrealistic at present is physically and economically realistic, according to our analysis. There is a path forward for the world. The question is how to bring physical, economic, and political possibility into alignment.”
UK prime minister this week addressed his party conference with the slogan “Build Back Greener”.
How far will his government go towards making the changes required for Drawdown? Let me quote from his speech:
“I can today announce that the UK government has decided to become the world leader in low cost clean power generation – cheaper than coal, cheaper than gas; and we believe that in ten years time offshore wind will be powering every home in the country, with our target rising from 30 gigawatts to 40 gigawatts.
“We will invest £160m in ports and factories across the country, to manufacture the next generation of turbines.
“And we will not only build fixed arrays in the sea; we will build windmills that float on the sea – enough to deliver one gigawatt of energy by 2030, 15 times floating windmills, fifteen times as much as the rest of the world put together.
“Far out in the deepest waters we will harvest the gusts, and by upgrading infrastructure in such places as Teesside and Humber and Scotland and Wales we will increase an offshore wind capacity that is already the biggest in the world.
“As Saudi Arabia is to oil, the UK is to wind…
“This investment in offshore wind alone will help to create 60,000 jobs in this country – and help us to get to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
“Imagine that future – with high-skilled, green-collar jobs in wind, in solar, in nuclear, in hydrogen and in carbon capture and storage. Retrofitting homes, ground source heat pumps.
“…this government will lead that green industrial revolution.”
Short on Detail
The general comments to the whole of Mr Johnson's speech were that it was broad on vision but short on details. Beyond offshore wind power, virtually nothing was said about achieving climate goals. Of course the installation of the wind turbines he described would be a substantial step towards net zero.
Aurora Energy Research calculates an investment of £50 billion would be needed to get to the point of powering the whole nation from wind by 2030. Quite a lot more than the £160 million that the Prime Minister mentioned. Of course it is not intended that the public sector should fund this development, so that amount can be seen as a catalyst invested in improvements to infrastructure. Although we lead the world in offshore wind, we do not manufacture the turbines. They have to be imported. To achieve the targets it will be necessary for the equivalent of one turbine to be installed every weekday for the whole of the next ten years. An important role of government will be to ensure that new seabed licences are rapidly delivered, as well as contracts to purchase the power that will make the turbines viable.
Writing in Private Eye magazine, Old Sparky reports that there is controversy in Suffolk over plans by Scottish Power Renewables to build infrastructure to bring ashore the power from a new offshore windfarm. There will be a 6 mile cable corridor and two large new substations. These works would cut across a stretch of Heritage Coast, an area of outstanding natural beauty, a special protection area and a site of special scientific interest. Close to the site is Sizewell where the existing nuclear power station already has a massive grid connection. Locals do not understand why Scottish Power Renewables does not use this as its connection point. A large increase in the number of offshore windfarms can only make problems like this more common.
The Conservative party is of course politically opposed to onshore wind power. While winds may be stronger out at sea, the construction of windfarms on land is cheaper, maintenance is easier and grid connection is generally simpler. But not politically acceptable.
Yes, there’s news about waste. First, The Guardian reports that a super-enzyme that degrades plastic bottles six times faster than before has been created by scientists and could be used for recycling within a year or two. They are also developing a version which could deal with cotton and combining the capabilities of both in a single organism could permit the recycling of multi-fibre fabrics containing both cotton and polyester.
Hazardous waste returned
The bad news on the waste front comes from Sri Lanka, which returned 21 containers of hazardous waste to the UK last week. The shipment had been described as mattresses, carpets and rugs for recycling but was found to contain plastic and polythene waste. This is not the first time that waste has been returned to the UK. The whole issue is problematic, with local councils short of space for landfill and with limited recycling facilities receiving a constant stream of refuse for disposal. Brokers offer to ship the material abroad, insisting that everything meets the relevant regulations. Councils have no money to send inspectors to these remote locations to verify this and all too often organised crime takes the money, takes the waste and dumps it.
Reduce, reuse, recycle. We can tackle this problem if we can redirect consumer spending to services rather than goods and if we can redesign products so that they can be absorbed into the circular economy and be repaired, refurbished, remanufactured, repurposed and eventually reduced to their component materials for recycling.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation continues to promote the circular economy. After Brexit the UK will presumably no longer be involved in the European Circular Economy Action Plan. It will be interesting to see what the government puts in its place.
Fires across the world
36 people died in California’s wildfires which burned some 2 million hectares. President Trump blamed it all on poor forest management and said he didn’t think that science knew about global warming.
More than 17,000 wildfires have been recorded since the start of the year in the Pantanal, Brazil’s tropical wetlands. Thousands of animals, from jaguars to crocodiles have died. The Amazon, too, has seen an exceptional year for fires. The Pantanal is home to 656 species of birds, 159 species of mammals and 98 species of reptiles. After the fires, those animals that survived found there was nothing to eat. Volunteers are trying to bring them food and to rescue and treat injured animals. One volunteer said, “Some people have been saying that there are fires in the Pantanal every year. Yes, it’s true that every year, there are a few isolated fires. But they are controllable. This year, the fires were out of control. We’ve never seen so many animals die. The worst-affected were the reptiles and the amphibians. They usually seek refuge in holes in the ground. And then when the fire comes, they end up trapped.” An international disaster, but surprisingly little media coverage.
The New York Times reports an added dimension to wildfires raging in Ukraine. Because the area is a war zone the flames are setting off abandoned ordnance. Firefighters are at risk from landmines set off by the heat and they cannot use aircraft to douse the flames for fear that they will be shot down.
At the other extreme, parts of Italy and France have suffered Storm Alex, with severe floods causing death and destruction to property. A macabre twist to the story came when floodwaters washed corpses from their graves.
And In Other News…
Inequality is a growing problem. According to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report the top 1% of the world’s population own 44% of the world’s capital. A report from the Stockholm Environmental Institute and Oxfam shows that over the 25 years to 2015 that 1% have been responsible for 15% of global emissions while the poorer 50% of global population accounted for only 7%. That’s 74 tonnes per head per annum for the rich and just 0.69 for the poor. Oxfam’s conclusion is that while there is clearly a limited carbon budget, a limit to the total emissions that can be released without causing irreparable damage to the planet, such emissions as remain should come from activities helping the poor and not indulging the rich.
A company that produces meatless products has been running television commercials with the tagline:
“If you care about climate change, take a step in the right direction with new Quorn…”
The implication was that by using the product consumers were reducing their carbon footprint.
Complaints were made to the Advertising Standards Agency who ruled that the advertisement should be withdrawn because it was misleading consumers - although it had been on screens for at least four months. No basis was given to justify the claim in the advertisements that consumers would reduce their carbon footprint by using the product. The manufacturers were naturally unhappy because they had received carbon footprint certification from the Carbon Trust and they said they were consequently obliged to continually reduce their carbon footprint. Good intentions, but they overstated the case. There’s a narrow line between truth and greenwash.
Greenpeace dropping rocks
Greenpeace has been dropping large boulders on to Dogger Bank in the North Sea. The area is nominally protected, but Greenpeace are taking this action to prevent trawlers from fishing there illegally. Bottom trawlers scour everything from the seabed and cause massive destruction. While this is permitted in some places, Greenpeace are laying these rocks to prevent trawling in what is designated a protected area. They undertake to remove these rocks if the government enforces the regulations. The response from the Ministry is that they will be better able to take action after Brexit. To emphasise their point, this week Greenpeace delivered a sculpture to the office of the Department for Food and Rural Affairs. It takes the form of a 1.5 ton rock and it will take a crane to remove it.
News from Cumbria this week that the council has approved the development of a new deep coalmine. I’ve reported on this in the past and I thought it was refused and all over, but apparently not. The mine will produce metallurgical coal for use in steel mills and chemical plants, and not for power stations. In any case almost no electricity is now generated from coal.
The mine’s output will displace imported coal and a strong argument from the operating company is that if we need this coal, better that it comes from British mines and supports British jobs. Is there any way of making steel without coal? Can the CO2 be captured from the steelmaking process? Get in touch if you know the answer.
The project still has to receive government approval, and according to the Guardian that will come from the Housing Minister, Robert Jenrick. Seems odd that the housing minister has that responsibility.
In an interview this week with Bloomberg Bill Gates said “The pandemic illustrates that government didn’t look out for us despite the warnings that were out there. Climate fits that same paradigm. Sadly, the problem gets worse and worse, and there isn’t a solution like a vaccine where you can spend tens of billions of dollars and bring it to a close. No, climate change is much harder. The damage that will be done every year will be greater than what we’ve seen during this pandemic.”
And Finally, some are more optimistic.
Prince William has launched The Earthshot Prize to incentivise change and help to repair our planet over the next ten years.
The announcement says, “Taking inspiration from President John F. Kennedy’s Moonshot which united millions of people around an organising goal to put man on the moon and catalysed the development of new technology in the 1960s, The Earthshot Prize is centred around five ‘Earthshots’ – simple but ambitious goals for our planet which if achieved by 2030 will improve life for us all, for generations to come.
“The five Earthshots unveiled today are:
- Protect and restore nature
- Clean our air
- Revive our oceans
- Build a waste-free world
- Fix our climate
“Each Earthshot is underpinned by scientifically agreed targets including the UN Sustainable Development Goals and other internationally recognised measures to help repair our planet.”
You can see videos explaining each Earthshot on the website.
Every year from 2021 until 2030, Prince William, alongside The Earthshot Prize Council which covers six continents, will award The Earthshot Prize to five winners, one per Earthshot. The £1 million in prize money will support environmental and conservation projects that are agreed with the winners.
If it does nothing else, Earthshot will help to keep the climate and environmental challenges in the public eye.
And that’s it…
…for another week.
I’m Anthony Day and that was the Sustainable Futures Report. Thank you for listening, and if you are, thank you for being a patron.
There will be another Sustainable Futures Report next week.
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Rubbish sent back
Corpses washed from cemeteries in France-Italy floods
Stockholm Environment Institute
World's richest 1% cause double CO2 emissions of poorest 50%
Artist's 1.5-tonne protest over illegal fishing
PM to unveil plan to power all UK homes with wind by 2030
What did Boris Johnson's speech really mean?