Thursday, February 23, 2017

Greenwash Backwash Backlash

Published as a podcast on Friday 24th February on iTunes, Stitcher and

Hello. This is Anthony Day with your Sustainable Futures Report for Friday the 24th February. Welcome to listeners across the world - across five continents in nearly 100 countries. Thanks for listening: thanks for your feedback.

This week: more on the Greenpeace/HSBC palm oil story - and a different perspective. High speed rail and solar trains, a journey to the North Pole and we’re still waiting for a decision on Swansea Bay. Someone’s invented a robot that eats pollution, and what is a single-event upset?

As always, you'll find links to most of these stories below.

More about Greenpeace, HSBC and palm oil
I’m always grateful for feedback, so thank you to Ivana Jakubkova for taking me to task over my criticism of Greenpeace in the 10th February episode of the Sustainable Futures Report. You may remember that I was invited by Greenpeace to write to HSBC bank to complain about their financial support for companies that were devastating the environment in order to produce palm oil. I did so and received a detailed response from HSBC which made me wonder whether their actions were as bad as alleged. Then I got a message from Greenpeace thanking me for sending the letter to HSBC and urging me to forward a link to my friends. This link was for a video, based on a session with the Chief Executive of HSBC at the World Economic Forum in Davos, but heavily edited and intercut with scenes of forest devastation in order to promote the Greenpeace case. I wrote to Greenpeace and explained that I was unhappy with their position, particularly with this video. They wrote back and provided evidence to refute the responses which I'd reach received from HSBC. They did not, however, say anything about the video and that was withdrawn from the Internet earlier this week. Maybe I was not the only person who objected to it.

In the news this week HSBC have announced that they are doing more to distance themselves from the palm oil industry, which shows that the response that they sent to me was really only half the story.

The new policy will require HSBC customers to:
Commit to protecting natural forest and peat by June 30, 2017.
Identify and protect forests and peat in new plantations prior to commencing new development.
Provide independent verification of their NDPE commitments by December 31, 2018. (That’s No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation)

HSBC also announced that it will join the Banking Environment Initiative and the Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA), which is hosted by the World Economic Forum.

Greenpeace acknowledged the announcement as “a good first step”. 

The following day HSBC announced a loss of $3.4 billion in the fourth-quarter, leading to a 62% drop in profits for the year. Schadenfreude for Greenpeace supporters.

I aim to be impartial in the Sustainable Futures Report and I research everything that I write. If you think I’ve got it wrong, I may well have. No room for alternative facts here! Please let me know. I still think that Greenpeace were wrong to use their heavily-edited video. We will always need campaigners and watchdogs like Greenpeace, but there’s always a risk in overstating the case. The corporations that we may oppose have endless resources and will use any excuse to rubbish a whole campaign, even on the basis of a small inaccuracy.

One point that HSBC made was that if they didn’t invest in companies they would have no influence over their operations. If they withdrew their loans then other less scrupulous banks would provide the funds. We need to seek out those banks as well.

I’ve been asked to talk to MBA students at the University of Huddersfield next month, on sustainability and business ethics. I think I’ve got a case study.

Swansea Bay
I promised you an update this week on Swansea Bay.
Swansea Council and over 100 MPs are urging the government to give the go-ahead to the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, an installation designed to generate electricity from the rise and fall of the tides.

Sir Charles Hendry, independent inspector and author of the Hendry Review, also urged the government to give the project the green light after finding that it would create thousands of jobs and generate environment-friendly electricity for 155,000 homes for 120 years.
He described the project as cost-effective, technologically-sound and would bring "significant economic opportunity" in its wake. He said the government should adopt a "no regrets" policy towards it.
It was hoped that a decision would be included in next month's budget, but it seems that there may well be further delays. It is suggested that the Hendry report did not go into sufficient detail on value for money.

Old Sparky, energy columnist in the satirical Private Eye newspaper, is sceptical of the project. He is also sceptical of the planned nuclear power station at Hinkley C, and of course that's another story. Sparky's concern is the cost of electricity. If it is calculated on a 35-year life, like a nuclear-power station, it will be very expensive. However, the promoters are asking for the price to be calculated on a 90-year life and, as seen above, the Hendry report anticipates that it will last much longer than that. Old Sparky also says that even with the four other tidal lagoons planned around the coast the varying timing of the tides will mean that the scheme is never able to meet a constant base load. That's fair enough, but like Hinckley C, the complete five-barrage project will only account for 8% of the nation’s electricity demand. It has the advantage of being much quicker to build than a nuclear power station, there will be no fuel costs once it is in operation because the tides are free and therefore it will bolster UK energy security because there will be no fuel to import. For the moment, we are still waiting and we have been waiting for years. In the meantime you can see more about the project on their website at

High Speed Rail
The rail network in the UK is carrying more passengers than ever before. Following years of under-investment many parts are running close to capacity. Enter HS2, the high-speed line planned from London to the Midlands and eventually to the North. Many people, especially outside London, are unenthusiastic about the project. It looks too expensive and far too far into the future to be relevant. 

HSUK is an alternative scheme developed by two qualified and experienced railway engineers which claims to provide far better connections between the principal cities in England and Scotland and to cost £20 billion less. £20 billion less than HS2 plus HS3, the proposed east-west line from Liverpool to Hull. The HSUK engineers have modelled the scheme in three dimensions and worked out detailed timetabling. Have a look at their website: . You can download the brochure which includes the proposed network consisting of existing, new and upgraded lines. Here's what they say:

“HSUK fully supports the Government’s commitment to build a new generation of high speed lines. However, HS2 is the wrong solution in the wrong place. It will not provide the extra capacity and connectivity either to drive economic growth, or reduce transport CO2 emissions in line with the requirements of the 2008 Climate Change Act. HS2’s introduction threatens the fundamental integrity of the UK rail network.

“Neither the Government nor the 650 MPs in Parliament understand this problem, because their experts at the Department for Transport and HS2 Ltd do not understand the problem either, and have given them the wrong advice. “The wider British public sense much that is deeply wrong with HS2; it will cost too much, benefit too few and take far too long to deliver.
“This is why High Speed UK has been developed: it is different, better and cheaper than HS2.”

They continue:

“It is important to appreciate that High Speed UK is far more than just hopeful lines on a map; it is a complete design. It is the result of ten years’ work to design a better-connected and higher capacity UK rail network as a single holistic system. Its scope far exceeds that of HS2. Every straight, transition and curve has been mapped all the way from London to Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Teesside, Tyneside, Edinburgh and Glasgow. The HSUK scheme is ready for detailed design to start immediately. With much simpler construction along a far less controversial route following existing transport corridors, HSUK can be completed much more quickly than HS2 and HS3, at lower cost and to a higher specification.” 

Bold claims. It’s certainly worth a look. One thing that appeals to me is that HSUK plans to serve city-centre stations whereas HS2 will use new out-of-town stations, partly to keep its lines as straight as possible for the planned very high speeds. HS2 may have shorter station-to-station times, but overall journey times could be the same or even longer. If you think that HSUK is a good idea they urge you to write to your MP. Might be a bit late, as I hear the HS2 legislation is before Parliament this week.

Solar Trains?
But how should we power our trains, whatever route we choose? Can we connect solar photovoltaics (PV) directly to railways to power electric trains? The Guardian newspaper reports that the charity 10:10 ( and researchers at Imperial College’s Energy Futures Lab are working on it. If it’s feasible, using solar energy to power trains solves a number of problems. Already electric trains are one of the cleanest forms of transport, but they can only be as clean as the source of the electricity. An increasing problem for renewable energy generators is the structure of the national power grid. It was designed for electricity to flow one way, from a relatively small number of generating stations to a large number of consumers, both industrial and domestic. In some areas renewable energy cannot be accepted into the grid because expensive modifications would be needed. The ideal for any solar or wind installation is to have a consumer close at hand and able to use 100% of all electricity produced. Maybe trackside solar farms could feed directly into the railway’s power system, with no need for a grid connection. Even better, railways use direct current which is what PV panels produce. They use a similar voltage as well. At home, we have to have an inverter which changes DC to AC and a transformer to bring it down to 230 volts to match the grid. This process absorbs about 3% of the output. No such problems if the panels are supplying DC  direct to the user. Community Energy South, an umbrella group of renewable energy co-operatives is already working to identify promising sites where they could install a megawatt or two of trackside solar. Maybe such groups in other parts of the country should be doing the same.

The researchers see a major opportunity in India.
There they have over 25,000km of electrified tracks, and an electrification target of 2,000km of new tracks every year. And a lot of sunshine. Of course that raises the eternal question of what happens at night, but storage is rapidly developing. You may even remember Advanced Rail Energy Storage which I reported on on 6th May last year.

It consists of a very heavy train which travels slowly up an incline when there’s surplus electricity to power it, and then descends and generates electricity when it’s needed.

On a similar topic, solar farm specialist Lightsource has recently signed a 25 year power purchase agreement (PPA) with Belfast airport. This was enough to underwrite a neighbouring £5m solar farm, using a private wire to supply a quarter of the airport’s electricity needs.

Opportunity Knocks
Following last week’s Department of Missed Opportunities, here’s the Department of New Opportunities brought to you by Necessity, the Mother of Invention.

Remember the Samsung Galaxy note 7, the exploding phone? According to the i newspaper, Samsung have had to take back nearly 3 million of these phones after they were found to be unstable and could explode or burst into flames. This is equivalent to the contents of 28 shipping containers and the South Korean authorities have classed them as toxic waste and warned Samsung  to dispose of them responsibly or face fines. Greenpeace and the ├ľko Institute have worked out that these phones between them will contain more than 30 metric tons of cobalt, more than a tonne of tungsten, between 20 kg and 60 kg of palladium, more than 100 kg gold and more than 1,000 kg of silver. All of these are expensive and difficult to extract and tungsten and other metals found in the phones are classed as conflict minerals. They come from war-torn countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the mines are guarded by child soldiers. 

There have been calls on Samsung to recycle these phones which sounds a good idea and a step towards the circular economy to gladden the heart of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. In fact, Samsung will go one better, and rather than dismantling the phones for recycling they will remanufacture them, install them in new cases, provide them with lower capacity batteries which are expected to be safer and the units will be sold in India, Vietnam and other emerging markets. 

Wouldn’t it be a good idea to have a phone designed so that it could be repaired or all the modules like the processor, the battery or the camera could be changed or upgraded to suit the user’s requirements or to cope with software updates? Of course, this is no news to the developers of the Fairphone. They have had a phone just like this for some years and Fairphone 2 is now available for preorder. It’s modular, repairable and contains no conflict minerals. Check it out at  

RV Polarstern
Fancy getting away to sun, sea and sand? Well this trip won’t be for you. The Research Vessel Polarstern is setting off for a year-long voyage in the Arctic, where the sea will be frozen, there will be no sand except on the bottom of the ocean probably and by the end of the voyage it will be dark all the time.
Germany is going to sail its 120m-long research vessel into the sea-ice at the top of the world and just let it get stuck so it can drift across the north pole. Researchers hope to gather valuable new insights on the region where Earth's climate is changing fastest.

Last month the extent of Arctic sea-ice was the lowest ever recorded for a January (during the satellite era), with temperatures several degrees above the long-term average.
Prof Markus Rex will lead the so-called MOSAiC project - Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate:
"The decline of Arctic sea-ice,” he said, “is much faster than the climate models can reproduce and we need better climate models to make better predictions for the future.
"There is a potential that in a few decades the Arctic will be ice free in summer. That would be a different world and we need to know about that in advance; we need to know is that going to happen or will that not happen?”
Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Professor Rex, from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Potsdam, said: “The plan is to travel in summer when sea ice is thin and sea extent is much smaller.
We can travel along the Siberian coast and then make our way with our ice-breaker to the Siberian sector of the Arctic. Then we just stop the engines and drift with the sea ice.
“As the season proceeds the sea ice will grow and by late November we’ll sit in solid sea ice.
It will get colder; the ice will grow in extent and thickness. By then we’ll have set up a network of stations on the ice, some close and some 20 or 30km away.”

I understand that armed guards will be on hand to protect the researchers from polar bears. You must admire some people’s dedication to their science. 

TED Talk
Following last week’s item on Marine Anthropogenic Litter you might be interested in this TED talk. 
Jonathan Rossiter talks about a robot that eats pollution - and by the way, it generates electricity as well.

And finally - the single-event upset

Is your smartphone freezing or your computer crashing? Blame it on outer space. Also at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Bharat Bhuva, professor of electrical engineering at Vanderbilt University, explained that showers of cosmic particles from outer space are causing havoc with electronic devices. Millions of these particles strike your body each second, but despite their numbers, this subatomic torrent is imperceptible and has no known harmful effects on living organisms. However, a fraction of these particles carries enough energy to interfere with the operation of microelectronic circuitry. When they interact with integrated circuits, they may alter individual bits of data stored in memory. This is called a single-event upset or SEU. The damaged data is called a bit-flip.

If this causes a blue screen or makes your phone hang that’s one thing, but the consequences can be more serious.
In 2008, the avionics system of a Qantas passenger jet flying from Singapore to Perth appeared to suffer from a single-event upset that caused the autopilot to disengage. As a result, the aircraft dived 690 feet in only 23 seconds, injuring about a third of the passengers seriously enough to cause the aircraft to divert to the nearest airstrip. 

Ritesh Mastipuram and Edwin Wee at Cypress Semiconductor have calculated that a simple mobile phone should only have one potential error every 28 years. However, a person flying in an aeroplane at 35,000 feet (where radiation levels are considerably higher than they are at sea level) who is working on a laptop may experience one potential error every five hours.

In Belgium a bit flip in an electronic voting machine added 4,096 extra votes to one candidate. The error was only detected because it gave the candidate more votes than were possible. Just imagine if that happened to a computer in a restaurant and it ordered up, say, an extra 4,096 chicken portions. How would Deliveroo cope?

So perhaps it wasn’t the Russians who fixed the US election. Maybe it was little green men in outer space.

That's it for another week. I'm Anthony Day and you've been listening - and thank you very much for listening  - to the Sustainable Futures Report. There will be another one next week.

I'm heavily involved in organising a conference at the moment and I can't tell you anything about it, but it will be exciting and interesting and have a lot to do with sustainability. It may happen in the autumn but it may not actually take place until Spring 2018. I'll keep you posted.
In the meantime, if you have a conference and you need a chair or a keynote speaker or you have a webinar and you need a facilitator or you're planning an award ceremony and you want a host you know where I am. Drop me a line at  . If you have any comments or or suggestions or ideas that's the place to send them as well. Thank you for listening, thank you for your feedback. I look forward to hearing more in due course.

I’m Anthony Day.

Bye for now.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

It's All Up in the Air

Published as a podcast on Friday 17th February on iTunes, Stitcher and

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a bee? Is it a robot bee? Or could it be a flying car? 

Honey bees on brood comb
Yes, it’s Friday 17th February and here's this week’s edition of the Sustainable Futures Report with me, Anthony Day,  with bees and robot bees, with flying cars and robots to help you park. Was Einstein right? There’s more about diesel and  emissions tests and the implications of self driving cars for manufacturers. On the energy front Flamanville is in flames and Toshiba is in the news. The BBC is to measure the carbon footprint of every programme. Who said they were denialists? 

Transport News
In the US this week eighteen car companies have written to President Trump urging him to abolish the fuel efficiency target set by the Obama administration. The plan was that all new cars would have to achieve 54.5mpg by 2025. Quite a target, since the US gallon is some 17% smaller than the Imperial gallon used in the UK. This would save American motorists $1.7 trillion dollars over the lifetime of their cars but would cost the motor industry $200 billion over 13 years. 

In the UK a new pressure group, Doctors against Diesel, is calling on Prime Minister Theresa May to take action to get diesel vehicles off the road as soon as possible. Particulates and nitrogen oxides from diesel vehicles cause up to 40,000 premature deaths in the UK each year, but they also cause lung disease and health problems in children.  Just as well, then, that the EU has issued proposals for tighter controls for the testing of road vehicles. They make it quite clear that this initiative was partly driven by the Volkswagen scandal, when it was shown that cars from VW and certain other manufacturers had been programmed to give favourable results when running in a test environment. 
The briefing paper is on the EU website: 
The proposals are to tighten up the testing regime, make the testers completely independent of manufacturers and centralise control within the European Commission. According to the Commission, the expected reduction in non-compliant and unsafe automotive products on the EU market would deliver €13 billion of benefits a year, and the regulatory level playing field would benefit EU businesses.
There’s a long way to go before this becomes EU law and by then the UK may no longer be an EU member. Of course, any vehicles manufactured in the UK for sale in Europe will still need EU Type Approval.

There are some interesting statistics in the briefing paper. For example it starts by saying that the automotive industry is a major player in the European economy, accounting for 6.4% of gross domestic product and 2.3 million jobs in the European Union (EU). A chart shows that while Germany has the biggest car industry by value, the UK has by far the biggest automotive supply chain in Europe. In the UK there are 730 companies involved with vehicle or component manufacture: far more than France or Germany which each have fewer than 200. Presumably the UK exports components to Europe. Hopefully it will continue to do so after Brexit.

Just thinking aloud about self-driving cars. You can now get an app to use your ordinary car to help you find vacant parking space. This is improves the utilisation of parking spaces substantially and reduces the mileage involved in searching for them. When all car parks have been enabled for this technology the application will be integrated with your on-board satnav as standard. Now consider building this into a self drive car. The car will drop you at your destination and then go away and park itself. Consumers may decide that it's not worth owning a car when you can call one up whenever you want. In that case the only car that you need is the one that's nearest the door in the parking garage. These garages will no longer need access to each individual parking bay and there will be no need for pedestrian entrances, stairways or lifts. It has been estimated that the space required for parking in a given number of cars could be cut by up to 60%. And if the self-drive car becomes the taxi of the future, will we need them to be changed every three years? I’ve had my car for nearly 12 years and it’s as safe and reliable and performs as well as new. It’s also a hybrid, so it’s still far more economical than most newer cars on the road. If we treat our cars like taxis and not as must-have fashion statements to be upgraded nearly as often as a phone then we are going to need far fewer of them. Serious implications for a major industry. But much cleaner air.

Let’s Fly
Mind you, future may be the flying car, and it’s a lot closer than you think!

Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) announced on Monday that flying cars would be launched in the state in July this year. The flying car was exhibited at the World Government Summit in Dubai this week and the chief of the RTA said a summer start date for flights is envisioned.
The Ehang 184 (made in China) is fitted with a touchscreen to the front of the passenger seat displaying a map of all destinations in the form of dots. It has preset routes and the passenger selects the intended destination. The vehicle will then start automatic operation, take off and cruise to the set destination before descending and landing in a specific spot. A ground-based centre will monitor and control the entire operation.

Meanwhile in the Netherlands PAL-V have announced a vehicle which will not only fly but run on the road as well. According to reports it will achieve 31mpg on the road and have a range of 817 miles. That means it will need to carry 120 litres of fuel, which sounds like an awful lot for a two-seater three-wheeler. In the air the vehicle has a range of 310 miles.  At around $500,000 I don’t fancy going up in one any time soon. With all that fuel I don’t think I’d be very happy to be underneath one, either. 

Carbon footprints at the BBC

The BBC has announced that from April this year all of its TV programming within factual, comedy, drama, entertainment and daytime will have to track their carbon footprint using the Albert carbon calculator. This, says the BBC, marks its commitment to reducing its environmental impact and is part of its wider sustainability plan.

I hinted earlier that the BBC are denialists, which is not really fair. There is a problem, though, in that they always seek balance and give equal weight to both sides of the climate debate as though the credentials of both were equal. For example they may balance a former Government Scientific Advisor with someone like arch-denialist Lord Lawson. Lord Lawson has very strong views against the idea of man-made climate change and is presented as an expert. In fact he has no scientific qualifications and all he has to offer are unfounded opinions. The time has long gone for campaigners against smoking to be put up against smokers. That science is accepted. The same should be true of global warming.

Of course you could say, “Anthony Day has no scientific qualifications. Why should we take any notice of what he puts in the Sustainable Futures Report?” My answer is that when I quote facts I aim to quote them from people who are qualified to know the scientific truth. Wherever possible I include links to my sources and you can find them on the text version of the Sustainable Futures Report at

Energy News
A quick update on energy. As I said at the start, Flamanville has been in flames and Toshiba is in the news.

You will remember that Flamanville is the site of the new nuclear-power station being built to the same design as the proposed station at Hinckley C. As a result of technical difficulties it is seriously delayed and vastly over budget. There is already a nuclear power station operating on the site which is in Normandy, in Northern France, not far from the Channel Islands. Residents of Guernsey were concerned last week to see smoke rising from the site. An explosion injuring five workers had occurred and caused a fire. This had nothing to do with any part of the nuclear process, but the reactor was shut down in any case as a precaution. This comes at a time when there is controversy in France over the future of nuclear power. France has a higher proportion of nuclear electricity than almost any other country and has had to take all its stations down one after the other for extended maintenance following faults discovered as part of the construction process at Flamanville. There are proposals to cut back France’s nuclear power to 50% of national generation by 2025, from over 60%. Apart from the technical difficulties and the enormous cost of replacing the ageing nuclear fleet, it was pointed out that France has no uranium. 36% of the world’s uranium comes from Kazakhstan, with another 27% from Australia and Canada.

The news about Toshiba is that it plans to build no more nuclear power stations outside Japan. This follows news that its nuclear business, seen as its core activity, led to a $6.3bn write-down this week, and the resignation of Toshiba’s president. The company may be bankrupt: the story continues to unfold. This comes as unwelcome news to NuGen, the company responsible for building a new nuclear power station with Toshiba at Moorside in Cumbria. They say they are confident that the project will go ahead, but Toshiba has said that while it will continue to be involved in the development of the Cumbrian plant, it will not be willing to take on any construction risk. Delays seem inevitable and raise further doubts over the British government’s long term plans for keeping the lights on.

What about the Swansea Bay lagoon? We’ll talk about that next time.

The Bees
Albert Einstein is supposed to have said, “If the bee disappeared from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination … no more men!”

He almost certainly never said it: the earliest reference to the remark dates from the 1990s, some 40 years after the great man died. Also, it’s not true. Although bees and other insects are vital to the pollination of many food crops, the staples like wheat and other cereals are pollinated by the wind. 

I’m a beekeeper and I am very concerned that bees should be preserved. I'm currently nursing three colonies through the winter and looking forward to them pollinating all manner of plants and producing honey next summer. My reaction this week to the report in Cell Press of a robot bee was partly incredulity and partly anger.

Robot Bee
Yes, as the pictures in the paper showed, Japanese researchers have developed a drone-based unit which can carry pollen from flower to flower. The risk is that everyone will think that the panic is over, we don't need bees and we don't need to worry about them. The robots will do it all. That’s why I’m angry, because that’s just not true.

It seems that the unique element of this Japanese research was the creation of a gel which will pick up pollen and also allow it to be deposited on other plants. The picture in the paper showed the drone hovering over one of those enormous lilies that you get at weddings and other special occasions. A large flower with pollen-laden stamens which stick right out.

Now let's compare this with what happens in nature. In the height of summer each of my beehives will contain around 60,000 bees. Of these, some 20,000 will be regularly leaving the hives on foraging trips to collect pollen and nectar, and incidentally pollinating the flowers they visit. The rest of the bees have other duties within the hive. From this you can see that attempting to pollinate flowers by using drones is totally impractical. Quite apart from the number of drones that would be needed, will they ever build a drone small enough to pollinate apples and pears and cherries and oranges, and beans and peas, courgettes, raspberries, strawberries, aubergines, gooseberries, blackcurrants and all the rest? Drones will never manage to penetrate the tiny flowers of heather, and they will certainly never make any honey!

Threats to Bees
We probably won’t starve if the bees die out, but we will have a very plain diet. We need to take action to preserve them. What’s the problem? Colony collapse disorder is frequently mentioned; a situation where bees just abandon their hives and disappear. It happens widely among bee farmers in the US but seems to be less common here in the UK, at least among hobby beekeepers. It could be something to do with the way that bee farmers treat their bees in the US. They make much more money from hiring out their bees to farmers who need their crops pollinated than they do from producing honey. First is the almond harvest, so the hives are loaded onto trucks and driven across the country. The bees successfully pollinate the trees but almond trees produce very little nectar. The farmers feed them on corn syrup instead, which is not their natural diet. Once the almond blossom is over it's back on the truck for another journey to the blueberry fields or the apricot groves or whatever else needs pollinating. Typically they will be transported to at least four different locations in a season. As long as they can fly, they are worth money to the farmer. For the sake of hygiene, beekeepers in the UK will change the wax combs in each hive every two or three years. As I understand it, bee farmers whose main business is pollination just use the same frames until they fall apart.

Quite apart from how they treat their bees, beekeepers on both sides of the Atlantic are faced with pests and diseases. Varroa is a parasite which lives on bees, preferably on developing larvae, which means that when they develop these larvae may be infected or deformed. Twice a year, when there is no honey on the hive, we medicate the bees to keep the varroa down. Some of the bee diseases, but not many, can be treated. Veterinary medicines for bees are expensive and very carefully controlled, not least to make sure that the honey is never contaminated. In the worst cases all the bees in an infected hive must be killed to prevent them spreading disease to other colonies and then the hive is burnt. 

The latest threat comes from the Asian hornet. This is a non-native species which has been moving steadily northwards through Europe and a nest was found in the UK in 2016. The Asian hornet predates on honey bees. It hovers outside the hive and attacks and carries off bees. When it finds a hive it will recruit reinforcements from its nest and between them the Asian hornets will strip the hive clean. They also have a very nasty sting so they are a threat to the beekeeper as well as to the bees. Various traps and a range of baits are recommended to keep the Asian hornet under control. We will learn from experience in the coming season whether any of them works.

Probably the most controversial issue regarding bees is the question of neonicotinoid pesticides. Neonics are systemic, which means that they are applied to the seed as a dressing and their active ingredients are transferred into the sap of the plant and probably the nectar as well. Studies have shown that neonicotinoids can affect the nervous system of the bee and in particular its navigation, which means it may fly out and never find its way back. Studies have not yet shown whether bees can get a sufficient dose of neonicotinoids from foraging in treated plants to affect them in this way. Some say that we should adopt the precautionary principle and ban neonicotinoids until such research is complete. The farmers say that without such pesticides their crops, principally oil seed rape, are at risk. The problem is that if neonics are banned the farmers may go back to spraying, which could have a far worse effect on bees - and other pollinating insects. It is open to question how this issue will be resolved particularly post Brexit. Politicians need to take the best advice. Not just the loudest. Avaaz, the international campaign organisation, is currently urging people to lobby the Canadian government to ban neonics. Friends of the Earth has also been very active in this area.

Warm Bees in Winter
I mentioned earlier that I am currently nursing three colonies of bees through the winter. This amounts largely to leaving them to their own devices. I have wrapped the hives in wire netting to keep out the woodpeckers and I've put a grill along the front to keep out the mice. Normally, bees would live on the honey that they've gathered during the summer. I've pinched that, so in the autumn I gave them lots of sugar syrup which they took down and stored in the hive. When the weather gets cold the bees all cluster together around the Queen. They do this to keep her as warm as possible and they consume honey and shiver their wing muscles to develop heat. Unfortunately, if it gets very cold the bees remain tightly in their cluster and if they have consumed all the honey close by they can fail to access the honey in other parts of the hive and in the colony will starve. My job is to watch out for this, and if necessary to put sugar fondant in the hive directly above the cluster so that the bees can find it.

In a recent paper published in the International Journal of Biometeorology, author Derek Mitchell suggests that clustering is not a natural behaviour of bees and occurs only as an emergency response to cold temperatures. 
In his research he measured the temperature and humidity inside various types of hive - wooden hives, polystyrene hives and even a dung-coated straw skep. He also made a mock-up of a nest inside a tree-trunk, the sort of place where bees in the wild would naturally live. The results showed that the tree-trunk was by far the best insulated of them all, and that there was nowhere on earth cold enough - even in Siberia - to drive bees living inside a tree into a cluster. They were always able to maintain the ideal temperature and humidity, because the thickness of the wood retained the heat. Indications were that these conditions reduced the breeding success of the varroa mite by 98% and there was a smaller incidence of nosema, a common bee disease. The next best hive was the skep made of twisted straw and coated with dung. Behind that came the polystyrene hives and a very long way behind them came the traditional wooden hive which I and everyone I know uses. Given that the walls in a wooden hive can be less than 20mm thick, it’s a struggle for bees in winter to maintain their normal temperatures in excess of 30℃. Even in summer UK temperatures rarely reach 30℃, so the bees are having to expend energy, which could otherwise go into honey production, to keep the hive warm.

Derek Mitchell has built hives from 50mm Recticel, an insulating board used by the construction industry. He finds that this can give the same results as a nest within a tree. I’ve looked into building my own hives from this material, but the key thing with bees is that dimensions are crucial and I haven’t got the equipment for accurate cutting. Still, I may look into making covers for my wooden hives for next winter.

There has been controversy among beekeepers for years over whether it’s better to keep bees warm in winter. Mitchell’s research strongly indicates that it is. If we can remove one more stress factor from our bees by keeping them warm, maybe we can reduce the occurrence of colony collapse. And safeguard our apples and pears and all our other lovely summer fruit.

Here we are again at the end of another edition of Sustainable Futures Report. This is Anthony Day thanking you for listening and promising to be back next week with more news, opinions and ideas. Thanks for the feedback. It's been suggested that I should look at social issues relating to sustainability, and renewable energy, among other things. Keep the ideas coming and I’ll do my best to keep up. Oh, and do tell your friends to listen or look at the blog on There’s no charge. I make nothing out of this except the knowledge that I’m able to inform like-minded people.

That’s it then, for this episode of the Sustainable Futures Report. I’m Anthony Day and thanks for listening.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

It's not Cricket!

Find the podcast on iTunes or via from Friday 10th February

It’s Not Cricket! 

Cricket, (no the game, not the insect), could be at threat from climate change according to the MCC and the Climate Coalition. The government's White Paper on Brexit is published and Martin Baxter comments on the implications for the environment. News from Scotland about a lamp post which generates its own electricity and statistics from the SMMT about diesel cars. I also ask why marine anthropogenic litter is an issue for us all, whether Greenpeace has overstepped itself this time, I introduce another candidate for the Department of Missed Opportunities, and Sir David King warns that time is no longer on our side.

Yes, hello, this is Anthony Day with your Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 10th February. Welcome to all listeners in 40 countries across five continents. And a particularly special welcome to my listener in Haiti.

Brexit White Paper
The British government has published its Brexit White Paper setting out its “vision of what we are seeking to achieve in negotiating our exit from, and new partnership with, the European Union”.

Martin Baxter, Chief Policy Officer at IEMA, gave us his thoughts about Brexit and environmental legislation in the Sustainable Futures Report for 21st January. Now the White Paper is out he has some points to add and you can read his post on LinkedIn. The issues I picked out of his piece were 
  • it’s not clear whether post-Brexit laws will be amended or repealed by Parliament or whether this power could be delegated to Ministers. This could have implications for environmental quality standards.
  • Nevertheless, it looks as though we will retain a link to European standards through BSI via CEN, the European standards body which isn’t an EU institution, but does accept mandates from the European Commission. 
  • The Government has re-stated its commitment to enhancing natural capital over a generation. We’re still waiting for Defra's 25yr environment plan to provide more on this - any day now.
  • The Government re-states its commitment to the Climate Change Act 2008 and links this to support for international work to drive climate ambition.
  • The White Paper is silent on air quality – save that existing EU targets will be incorporated into UK law through the Great Repeal Bill. The government has recently been prosecuted (twice) for failing to meet these targets so we can only hope that in adopting them it intends to respect them.

As I said, the full text of Martin’s summary is on his LinkedIn page.

Wind-powered Lamp-posts
News from Scotland this week that IT company, NVT Group, has joined forces with Own Energy Solutions to develop wind turbines which attach to lamp-posts. They foresee 'huge export potential’, in addition to the two million lamp posts in the UK which could be suitable for conversion. Metered, clean energy could be fed directly into the National Grid and the company said that as a result, each suitable lamp-post conversion would save half a ton of carbon being released into the atmosphere. I spoke to NVT and asked them how the units would cope with turbulence from passing traffic and whether they would be made in Scotland. They agreed to get back to me, but had not done so by the recording deadline. 

The report reminded me of the lamp posts which I wrote about in my 2007 book, Will Climate Change your Life?
These were in Woking, Surrey, in the UK, and they not only had vertical wind turbines but also solar panels. They were designed to store enough energy in batteries to keep them running for 5 days in cloudy, windless conditions. Woking does not seem to have rolled out a large number, but manufacturers EETS tell me that the product, the Hybrolight, is still available and each one is individually designed for its specific location. While the NVT units appear to require a grid connection, the Hybrolight can be totally free-standing and operate without an external power supply. In the 10 years since I wrote about these lamps we have seen dramatic developments in batteries, LED lights and solar PV technology, coupled with dramatic falls in costs. I’m sure there’s a bright future for this idea.

End of the road for diesel?

According to the Telegraph a scrappage scheme for diesel cars could be introduced within months as part of a plan to lower emissions and improve air quality across the country.

Apparently work is under way by officials in the Department for Transport and Defra on a scheme to offer cashback or a discount on low-emission cars if people trade in their old polluting vehicles. 

Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, reportedly told industry experts that he supports plans for a scrappage scheme, but that it must be properly targeted.
It follows a dramatic warning earlier this month after a number of London boroughs issued black alerts for toxic air quality and the city's Mayor was forced to call on people to stay indoors and put off exercise until the levels improved.  Westminster council introduced a 50 per cent surcharge on parking for diesel cars in a bid to drive them out of the borough.

The bad publicity has also hit diesel sales. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) reports that while overall car sales increased by 2.9% in January, sales of diesel cars were down 4.3% on the same month last year. Sales of alternative fuel vehicles - pure electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid - rose by nearly 20%, but that’s easily achieved from a very low base. To put things in perspective, of the 175,000 new cars registered in January 7,300 were alternative fuel vehicles, but only 1,010 were pure electric. For the moment at least you should always be able to find a vacant charging point.

Marine Anthropogenic Litter
What is Marine Anthropogenic Litter and why should it concern us? In a recent presentation Dr Lucy Woodall of the Department of Zoology at Oxford University explained that it is pollution of the seas with the waste that we humans create. It’s easy to believe that all this pollution comes from shipping, but that’s far from the truth. In fact, almost anything which gets in to a watercourse ends up in the sea. That can be a plastic bag which blows into the river, a cigarette end washed into the gutter, agricultural run-off or industrial waste. Most of the material polluting the oceans starts on land. The oceans are becoming the world’s rubbish sink, with vast areas of rubbish swirling in the gyres, the circular currents in the southern oceans.

Pollution comes in various forms. Degraded plastic is a common sight on beaches, but micro-plastics, where plastics are eroded into minute particles or nurdles (lovely word) which are fragments of plastic raw material, can be a more serious threat. Plastics are generally considered inert, so they may be untidy but perhaps not dangerous. However, they may not be so benign. Of course as bags or ropes they can trap or choke sea creatures. Some chemical pollutants are hydrophobic and float on the surface of the water. Now they can be absorbed by the floating micro-plastics and then maybe ingested by fish. Eventually the contaminated micro-plastics may sink, taking chemicals to the bottom of the ocean to places where they would never normally reach.

Abandoned fishing gear can trap fish; floating plastics can form wind-blown rafts which can carry chemicals and organisms thousands of miles from their source to contaminate distant lands. Every fish we eat is likely to contain some micro plastics. There’s no data yet on how this will affect us or whether there is a safe daily helping of fish.

But there’s good news! There are many positive initiatives towards cleaning up the oceans, or at least preventing the the problem from getting worse. They’re all good ideas, but they probably need to be geared up 10-fold or more to have a significant impact. They include 
  • Baltimore’s “Mr. Trash Wheel” combining old and new technology to harness the power of water and sunlight to collect litter and debris flowing down the Jones Falls River.
  • Banning plastic micro-beads from cosmetics and cleaning products
  • Banning plastic shopping bags
  • Rubbish-catching barges on London’s River Thames
  • MARPOL - the marine pollution convention governing shipowners.
  • The Sea Bin - a floating rubbish collector
  • One less plastic bottle - a campaign to remind you to take a bottle of water from home, rather than buying a new one every time
  • The Project Ocean Partnership, which includes among others the Zoological Society of London, Selfridges, Greenpeace and the Marine Reserves Coalition. They say: “By 2025 there will be one tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish in the world’s oceans if nothing changes.” 

There’s a clear message about plastic here. It’s in almost everything we use or wear. There’s a link here with the circular economy which I’ve mentioned in previous episodes. In the circular economy there is no waste: everything that is discarded becomes raw material for new production. If we re-use all our plastics we stop adding them to our waste stream, but much needs to change before that can happen. The fundamental issue is assigning responsibility for pollution. At present manufacturers have no responsibility for the disposal of their products - that’s the consumer’s problem. Manufacturers have no obligation to make their products capable of recycling or repair. Planned obsolescence is alive and well. If the consumer doesn’t throw the product away the consumer won’t be buying a new one. There are clear commercial pressures. After all, making, distributing and selling a new one supports jobs. 

Solving this problem will need government intervention. We need to make it more expensive to throw things away. We need more plastic recycling facilities. Nearly all plastics can be recycled, but if there are no local facilities it’s rarely cost-effective to send them away for recycling - and the transport involves a carbon footprint. Despite this, there are simple things we can do and signs we are doing them. Now where’s that plastic water bottle I’m going to refill?

Climate Change is not Cricket

Lords, the home of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), announced this week that it had become the first cricket ground in the country to run on 100% renewable energy. The new Warner Stand, which will be opened in April 2017, is symbolic of MCC’s sustainability drive. This innovative structure, designed by architects Populous, includes photovoltaic roof panels for electricity generation and a state-of-the-art water collection and recycling system.

At the same time, new figures revealed the increasing disruption to cricket caused by extreme weather patterns. Extreme weather in December 2015, which has been linked to climate change, caused more than £3.5 million worth of damage across 57 cricket clubs. Two cricket grounds, at Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire and Appleby Eden in Cumbria, remain unplayable.

The announcement at Lords launched the annual ‘Show The Love’ campaign from The Climate Coalition, and the publication of its ’Weather Warning’ report highlighting how extreme weather conditions are affecting some of Britain’s favourite places - from gardens to local pubs, rivers to our parish churches, iconic cliffs to woodlands. As well as cricket grounds.

Department of Missed Opportunities

I’m afraid this launch by the Climate Coalition qualifies for this week’s referral to the Department of Missed Opportunities

The Climate Coalition launched its #ShowTheLove campaign with a new video on YouTube (full link on the blog at .) “This is a love song,” they say,  “like you've never heard before. It is the sound of the nation, of people across the country coming together to #ShowTheLove for the life they hold dear and want to protect from climate change.” 

It’s certainly a piece of art with memorable photographs, poetry, music and celebrity cameos, but I wonder whether it will actually change anything. It closes with this message on the screen: “Climate change is threatening the things we love but it's not too late to protect them if enough of us show we care.” This stays on the screen for 5 seconds which is barely enough time to read it and then the website address appears, and shows up for even less time.  In case you missed it, it’s which redirects to And this is a lavish website, but it’s not clear what it is or what it’s for - at least not at first sight. It reminds me of an article by Malcolm Gladwell who wrote about something like the curse of too much knowledge. For example, if you work in an organisation that uses jargon every day it becomes second nature and blindingly obvious, but it’s easy to forget that it means nothing at all to outsiders. I’m sure that whoever created this website knows what it’s about, but I don’t. 

And then there’s that report,“Weather Warning”, but I couldn’t find it on the Climate Coalition website. On the fortheloveof site there’s a news link. But the top story is “Historic Climate Deal reached in Paris”. Yep, that was in December 2015. Nothing about any report. Then I eventually found the Weather Warning report behind a link called “Special Places Report”. 

When I finally got into the report I found the foreword had been written by Professor Piers Forster, Director, Priestley International Centre for Climate at Leeds University. 

You may remember him from the episode “Can we trust the IPCC?”, which appeared on this podcast on 10th November 2014. No? Oh, well it’s still available.

Anyway, it’s a detailed and well-presented report with a dozen case studies about special places in Britain under threat. It ends with reasons to be cheerful and on page 34 it tells us “the Show The Love campaign is encouraging people from all walks of life to show they care by wearing and sharing green hearts in the week of 7th-14th February to stir feelings, spark thoughts, begin conversations and show politicians that we are passionate about protecting our world - not just for ourselves, but for generations to come.”

A very important message, but tucked away at the back of a report which itself was almost impossible to find. And where can I get a green heart? From the website of course, but there’s no link from the home page to the green hearts page - you can only find it by googling. And when you’re there, it’s a guide to make your own. Do let me know if you see anyone wearing a green heart this week.

Dealing with climate change is a very difficult but vitally important message. The Climate Coalition has clearly put a lot of effort into all this, but I don’t think it’s worked. It’s an urgent message. 

Energy Voice 
reports that Sir David King, former chief government scientific advisor, said this week that time is no longer on our side. “In a worst case scenario,” he said, “some of mankind’s greatest cities could flood, economies could collapse and millions of people be left starving to death.
“The risks of global warming are really quite severe. If we don’t manage this problem we are going to be faced with quite dramatic challenges to all of our economies.
“We could see sea level rises in the region of metres if we are very unlucky – and we have to look at the possibility of being very unlucky.
“Cities that are based on coastlines – Calcutta, Mumbai, Shanghai, New York and London – these are all at risk if sea levels rise.” He was speaking at the Energy Institute in Aberdeen, and went on to say, “Quite frankly it took us 21 years to get that agreement in Paris. We really have wasted an awful lot of time. Time is no longer on our side. We need to move on this and we need to move on this quickly.”

It’s generally impossible to motivate people with bad news. But Sir David cited money, the great motivator.
He claimed that the marketplace for innovative technology to decarbonise the energy industry was worth trillions of dollars over the coming decades.
He added: “We really need to be shifting away from fossil fuels to provide all of the energy that we need.” (Opportunity for wind-powered lampposts here!)
“We have to replace that with renewable energies, energy storage, smart grids – new clean technologies coming through to the market place.
“My message”, he concluded, “is that this new marketplace is the new wealth creating opportunity for the global economy.”

Greenwash backwash
Are you a member of Greenpeace? I'm not, although I do support some of their campaigns. I had an email recently inviting me to write to the bank HSBC to complain about their support of the palm oil industry. I did so, because I am aware that in Indonesia the industry has caused destruction of forests and widespread burning is causing soil erosion, atmospheric pollution, dispossession of local inhabitants and destruction of wildlife habitats. I got a detailed letter in response and it's made me think very hard about whether HSBC was as bad as Greenpeace claimed. Greenpeace also sent me a link which I could forward to my friends. (I didn’t.) I looked at it and it was a video of Stuart Gulliver, HSBC Group Chief Executive being interviewed at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos. The footage was intercut with shots of construction equipment destroying forests and it made HSBC look very bad and complacent. I sought out the original video from the World Economic Forum and viewed the complete interview. It doesn't do Greenpeace any favours and demonstrates how they have distorted things through selective editing. If you want to check it for yourself, the video is called A New Chapter for Climate Action at and the section in question comes about 9 minutes before the end. I’m all in favour of protest, but only when it’s justified and founded on fact. I’ll certainly think twice before responding to the next appeal from Greenpeace.

And finally,…
And so here we are again, at the end of another episode of the Sustainable Futures Report. I started this week concerned that I would have nothing at all to write about but it just goes to show that stories about sustainability bubble up all the time. There will be more next week. If there is anything in particular you'd like me to focus on drop me a line.

Thank you across the world for listening. This is Anthony Day,  and as I said before I'm always available to chair your conference, host your awards ceremony, facilitate your webinar or deliver a keynote speech. But for the moment, until next week, that's it.