Friday, June 09, 2017

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Trump?

Find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher or via

Well, not me.

Hello, I'm Anthony Day and this is the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday, 9th June. Today is the day when we know the result of the UK parliamentary election. At the time of recording I have no idea. Weekend polls showed a wide range of predictions. It's all over now for another five years. Or is it? 

Elsewhere Donald Trump has finally decided to break with Paris and repercussions were felt as far away as Pittsburg. He's still being pursued by Juliana and really didn’t appreciate Emmanuel Macron giving him a hand. Al Gore is making last-minute changes to his latest film, Ellen MacArthur is offering a prize, Robert Llewellyn is leading the Great Village Green Crusade and beavers are beavering away, maybe soon in a swamp near you. Cities are getting hotter; let’s store that energy. What’s the carbon footprint like in your part of Europe, and Beans or Beef? Your choice could save the planet.

Farewell to Paris
As you’re well aware, President Trump has been making the headlines and of course he'd have it no other way. He made his first foreign trip and didn’t really enjoy it. He didn’t get on well with the other leaders of the G-7 Nations. He didn't seem to get on well with the Pope and some suggested that he wasn't getting on well with his wife, but that's another story and way beyond the scope of the Sustainable Futures Report. At the G-7 conference all the other leaders urged him not to withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Agreement as he had hinted that he would. When he met the new President Macron of France he attempted to deliver his alpha male bone-crusher handshake only to find that Macron is a fitness freak who grasped his hand firmly and wouldn't let go until the knuckles had gone white. The other thing that annoyed Trump about Macron came after he had returned to the US and announced that he would indeed withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Amid the clamour of international condemnation Macron’s message was that the Paris Agreement was the only way to make the planet great again. Nearly 200 nations signed the Paris Agreement so Trump’s withdrawal is a diplomatic slap in the face to almost every country on earth. And the Pope. China and India and the European Union all said that they stand firm on their commitments to reduce carbon emissions and work towards protection of the planet. Even Kim Jong-un of North Korea sent Donald Trump a rude message about it. Fortunately it wasn’t wrapped round a missile.

How serious are the consequences of Trump’s decision? You have to ask how effective it will actually be. Donald Trump said that he was elected to represent Pittsburgh not Paris. The mayor of Pittsburgh responded that 80% of the people in Pittsburgh had voted for Hillary Clinton not him  and that his decision would be disastrous for the planet and for cities like Pittsburgh. Some 60 cities across the United States have said that they will continue with their emissions reduction plans. Major corporations have denounced the decision to repudiate Paris. Donald Trump wants to protect the coal industry and bring back mining jobs to his supporters in the rust belt. The truth is that it is economics, not regulation that will drive the market for coal, and cheap shale gas from fracking is driving coal out. 

Am I worried by Trump’s action? No. Not only is the global community firmly set on fulfilling the Paris agreement, large parts of industry and the public sector in the US are set on it as well.

An Inconvenient Sequel
Al Gore’s latest film, An Inconvenient Sequel, is scheduled for release next month. The word is that he’s busy changing the ending following Trump’s announcement.

Remember Juliana?
The US government is still defending the Juliana case. Do you remember that a group of children has taken the US government to court for damaging their future health and prospects by failing to control greenhouse gas emissions? The American Petroleum Institute (API), The American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) all demanded to be co-defendants with the government on the grounds that the action could damage their businesses. There then followed attempts to get the action struck out or referred to other courts, all of which failed. The NAM, presumably similar to the UK’s Confederation of British Industry, is now petitioning the court to be allowed to withdraw. They seem to have realised that the only way they can defend their position would be by robustly denying climate science, which is no longer the view of their members. Even Exxon the oil company has criticised withdrawal from the Paris agreement, so maybe it won’t be long before the API and the AFPM back down to leave the US government to defend the case alone.

News from the North
They do things differently north of the border in Canada. Silver Supporter (and there’s more about that at Silver Supporter Eric de Kemp draws my attention to , a group of academics researching and commenting on sustainability in Canada. They have just produced a report: Re-energising Canada: Pathways to a low carbon future. Canada has a much higher than average per capita emissions level and it also has very significant investment in fossil fuels through the oil sands industry. There will be no easy answers to the low-carbon question. The report runs to some 60 pages and looks in detail at many aspects of both the supply and the demand issues. Eric points out that it’s a bit light on technical solutions; the assumption seems to be that technology will arise to meet the needs. Nevertheless, it’s a useful analysis with lessons for all other countries which support the Paris Agreement. “Canada needs to make the shift from an oil-producing country to a renewable energy leader” is the headline. You can download the report from the website.

The Great Village Green Crusade
Did you catch Robert Llewellyn on BBC4 last week? He’s been leading the Great Village Green Crusade, a two year campaign to bring renewable energy to the Cotswold village where he lives. It’s on the BBC iPlayer, but only for another three weeks or so. It was described as “The Archers meets The Inconvenient Truth.”  Apologies to international listeners who have never heard of The Archers. The programme charted all the twists and turns in his progress. It demonstrated the technical and regulatory and political barriers that had to be overcome. As part of his research he visited Las Vegas in the US where he found that all municipal buildings and street lights are powered by solar. He found, too, that the major casino chains had installed solar panels on acres of roofs so that they could no longer be held to ransom by private power companies. Temple Guiting, the village where Llewellyn lives, now has solar power contributing 10% of the electricity that it uses. It’s a start. And Temple Guiting is now twinned with Las Vegas.

New Plastics Economy Initiative Prize
Ellen MacArthur is a round-the-world, single-handed yachtswoman. On her voyages she was horrified by the pollution she found in the oceans and she warns that on present trends there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.  So much plastic is single-use and sent to landfill - or gets dumped or washed into the sea. (Just think about all the plastic you’ve thrown away today.) The Ellen MacArthur Foundation promotes the circular economy; the system for reducing, reusing, repairing, remanufacturing and finally recycling everything we use. In nature there is no landfill; everything decomposes and is reabsorbed as life goes on. The New Plastics Economy Initiative is led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in collaboration with a broad group of leading companies, cities, philanthropists, policymakers, academics, students, NGOs, and citizens. There’s $2m in prizes for designers, scientists, entrepreneurs, and academics who can create a plastics system that works. People who can find ways of distributing goods to people without using plastic and find ways of making all plastic recyclable. Watch the video at and get thinking. By the way, don’t nibble any Pringles while you’re at it. They come in a cardboard container with a metal base, a metallic lining and a plastic lid. It’s impossible to recycle it.

Those Beavers...
A while ago I mentioned that beavers had been reintroduced into Devon in southwest England. The plan was that they should chop down trees and build dams and block rivers and create swamps. Devon Wildlife Trust reports on the effects this has had. Find the details at

Apart from a marked boost to wildlife and biodiversity in the area, a significant consequence of the project is the slowing down of flood water. Much damage to property in floods is caused by the rapid rise of water levels. Fast-flowing flood waters also scour fields and carry away the topsoil. Topsoil is crucial to agriculture. The structure, the nutrients and moisture retention are all essential to growth and once topsoil is washed away it’s difficult if not impossible to replace. Beaver dams can help to preserve these soils and beaver re-introduction is now being considered for other parts of the UK. 

…and those Beans
Talking of agriculture, our correspondent Helen Harwatt who appeared on the Sustainable Futures Report on 31st March has co-authored a report on Substituting beans for beef as a contribution toward US climate change targets. The authors used the targeted Greenhouse Gas GHG reduction for 2020 as a reference and applied published Life Cycle Assessment data on GHG emissions to beans and beef consumed in the US. They calculated the difference in GHGs resulting from the replacement of beef with beans in terms of both calories and protein. Their results demonstrated that substituting one food for another, beans for beef, could achieve approximately 46 to 74% of the reductions needed to meet the 2020 GHG target for the US. In turn, this shift would free up 42% of US cropland (692,918 km2). While not currently recognised as a climate policy option, the Beans for Beef scenario offers significant climate change mitigation and other environmental benefits, illustrating the high potential of animal to plant food shifts. There’s a link to the full report on the blog; 

How deep is your footprint?
A new article in Environment Research Letters shows how carbon footprints vary across the European Union. This study develops an inventory of carbon footprints associated with household consumption for 177 regions in 27 EU countries, thus, making a key contribution for the incorporation of consumption-based accounting into local decision-making, rather than relying on a national one-size-fits-all policy. The average household carbon footprint in the UK is among the highest in Europe - way ahead of France, Germany and Spain, and the highest UK footprints are found in the SouthWest. 

Warming Up
Globally, cities are getting hotter, and scientists warn that the “urban heat island effect” could offset successful mitigation of climate change in other parts of the world. The urban heat island effect is caused largely because concrete, stone and road surfaces tend to absorb considerable amounts of energy from the sun. It even enables olives to be grown next to a south-facing stone wall as far north as Aberdeen in Scotland. 

Writing in the journal Nature Climate Change, the researchers, from Sussex University, Mexico and The Netherlands, suggested pavements should be redesigned so they reflect more of the sun’s energy while “cool” roofs, which are coated with reflective paint, could be fitted to properties. Not sure how this will work with solar panels. 

They report, “Between 1950 and 2015, 27 per cent of cities and 65 per cent of the urban population warmed more than the world average (about 0.6C), but limiting the urban heat island through city adaptation plans can significantly amplify the benefits of international mitigation efforts.” Without such measures they claim that the economic and health effects on the worst-affected cities could cost them as much as 11% of GDP by the end of the century. 

Storing Energy
Talking of heat, let’s not waste it. 
The Hockerton Housing Project is an established development of eco-homes for sustainable living. In a recent email Simon Tilley from the project pointed out that not all energy is electricity and that Hockerton stores heat. “We store approximately 7500 kWh of heat in each of our houses yearly with very low impact, maintenance and running costs,” he said. “A house with this much storage and super insulation can rely on passive heat gains to keep warm in the winter making massive energy savings compared to standard house.” 

The project is keen to share experience and expertise and a technical fact sheet is available from their website. They offer consultancy on Ecohome design and development, renewables asset management and water harvesting and treatment. You can book a tour and visit the project to see how everything works in practice.

There’s still activity on the electrical storage front of course. Headlines from consultants McKinsey & Company this week: “Battery storage: the next disruptive technology in the power sector.”
“Low-cost storage could transform the power landscape,” they say. “The implications are profound.”

In their article they point out that lithium-ion battery packs cost less than $230 per kilowatt-hour in 2016, compared with almost $1,000 per kilowatt-hour in 2010. This starts to make it economical for consumers to store energy that they generate from solar panels rather than sell it back to the grid. Commercial and industrial users may start using storage to cover their peak demands, thus allowing them to avoid peak tariffs. Together, these changes are likely to lead to a static or declining demand for power from the utilities. And yet they will still have the overhead of the national power grids - grids which urgently need investment to match changing demand patterns and distributed generation. This is a global issue, but in the UK the promise from all political parties to cap energy prices will make things even more difficult for the utilities.

And finally, 

A Footnote on the Brexit debate. Whichever party wins, they are both currently committed to negotiating the UK’s exit from the EU. 
Consider this. 
The chairman of the Confederation of British Industry addressed a meeting recently and he spoke of the example of a computer chip made in Cardiff in South Wales. The chip, he said, is bought by a company in Germany. The metals inside it are sourced from South Africa and Turkey, using free trade agreements that the UK has through its EU membership. Some of the plastics inside it are processed in Poland and Spain. Engineers from France, Croatia and Hungary worked alongside Brits in Cardiff to design it. When finished, it is packaged by a worker from Bangor, Wales, and delivered to the port by a driver from Slovakia. The chip has been made to European standards, its design protected by a Europe-wide trademark. It was insured with a financial package covered by EU passporting and, when incorporated into a machine and put it in the shop, it will meet Europe-wide levels of consumer protection. In other words, for that chip, and the British company that makes it, to remain as competitive as today, we need: three new trade deals, free movement of the EU citizens, three new sets of internationally approved regulatory and copyright standards, and an agreement on EU financial services passporting. Quite a challenge. Nobody has yet explained to me how the benefits of Brexit will offset all this complexity. In fact nobody has yet explained to me any benefits of Brexit.

Become a Patron
I’ve mentioned Patreon. That's  where you can sign up to support the Sustainable Futures Report. Of course, I'm not the only sustainability guru on that site and I'd like to draw your attention to Climate State. The address is If you're interested in the detail and the science of climate change you'll find a lot of detailed articles on that site. You may have to sign up to get access, but at only one dollar per month it's got to be good value.

And finally, finally…
A key item of news this week was the embargo of Qatar by other Middle East states. This includes prohibiting Qatari aircraft from their airspace and excluding Qatari ships from their ports. Remember, the UK imports about 50% of the natural gas that we use and a very significant proportion of that comes from Qatar. Probably not much of a problem during the summer when demand is relatively low, but watch this space to see what happens as we approach winter. Gas is not only used for home heating. More and more it’s used to generate electricity.

That’s another Sustainable Futures Report in the can, and not a single joke about covfefe. Thank you very much for getting this far - I know there are many other important things to think about as the election results roll in.

As far as I can tell at this stage, it will still be legal to publish another Sustainable Futures Report next week. I hope you’ll still be listening - maybe as my latest patron at

I’m Anthony Day, and don’t forget that if you need a conference chair, a host for your awards night or a keynote speaker for your event I still have a few dates free in the diary. Get in touch.

No comments: