Friday, September 29, 2017

The Truth


Hello and welcome once again to the Sustainable Futures Report. I’m Anthony Day and it’s Friday 29th September.
Welcome to you all, welcome to my patrons and a particular welcome to those of you in Australia. After the US and the UK, the largest number of listeners seems to be in Australia, closely followed by Canada. Hello to you in Canada as well. I’ll be in Australia in December, so just supposing I’ll be in your part of the country let me know if you’d like to get together for a chat about sustainability. Contact me about that or about anything else sustainable at
This Week
The Met Office says the slowdown in global warming is over, but does everyone believe it? Is climate change a really urgent issue? Carbonbrief takes issue with the Daily Mail over this. Are we doing enough recycling? The Marine Conservation Society sees straws in the wind, but sadly they’re plastic. The British government announces a Green Finance Taskforce. Haven’t I heard of something like that before? And then there’s the Green Supply Chain. Listen up before you eat that chocolate! Sustainability, or at least renewable energy, seems to be becoming a political football down under, and they’re growing salads down underground. Hot news from the Sahara on the energy front. Energy from there might help us replace all those diesel cars which got another bad press this week. Or maybe we’ll get it from a new solar plant, plus batteries, just commissioned nearer to home.
And would you rather trust Boris or Matilda?
The Truth
The truth is not always clear and may often not be what people want to hear. It's been said before that constantly repeating a lie doesn't make it true. The sad fact though, is that constantly repeating a lie makes some people more ready to accept it as truth. Last week the UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, repeated the claim that after Brexit there would be an extra £350 million, some of which  could be spent on the National Health Service. This claim was originally made during the Brexit referendum campaign and strongly disputed. This time it was described as an ‘egregious misuse of statistics’ by the head of the Office of National Statistics, Sir David Norgrove, but there are still many people prepared to believe it.
Last week the Daily Mail claimed that: “Fear of global warming is exaggerated, say scientists: Experts now have longer to reduce amount of fossil fuels we burn”. This was not a lie, but it was a misunderstanding of the facts which, incidentally, fitted the Daily Mail’s agenda. It was based on an article in Nature Geoscience, and the authors responded angrily via to complain that it was a total misrepresentation. Looking at the comments on the Mail website, many people took the article as gospel and further proof in their eyes that climate change is a hoax. They are unlikely to read about the response in the pages of the Mail. If they do track down the report they will find that it is a complex piece of work, and that the full document is behind a paywall.
My point is that if you believe, as I do, that sustainability and climate change and all the related issues are important and require urgent action it’s very difficult to get the message across. Quite apart from politicians and the mainstream press each with their own axes to grind, we now have social media and fake news and stories crossing the world and read by millions in minutes without provenance, proof or verified facts. Fake news frequently hits the headlines. Expert corrections hardly ever do.
Sir David Attenborough was quoted this week saying: “All we have to do is keep declaring the facts as we see the facts, and producing the evidence whenever we can”

There’s No Slowing Down
Meanwhile, the Met Office reports that while a slowdown in the rise of average global temperature had been observed in the recent temperature record, with the last three record years, this slowdown has ceased. The slowdown in global warming is over. Professor Adam Scaife, head of monthly to decadal prediction at the Met Office Hadley Centre, said that with 2015 and 2016 exceeding the 1°C threshold above pre-industrial Global Mean Surface Temperature, there was increasing pressure on limiting global warming to a 1.5 °C warming threshold, as agreed in Paris in 2015. So far 2017 has also exceeded the 1 °C threshold, although the Met Office has forecast that 2017 is unlikely to be a record-breaking year as temperatures this year have not been influenced by El Niño conditions.

The Last Straw
There’s been a lot of comment about plastic pollution and particularly plastic bottles recently. The plastic pollution coalition is now campaigning against plastic drinking straws. Plastic straws have the same problems as other plastics. They’re persistent, and unless they have been burnt every straw that was ever made still exists somewhere on earth. Plastic straws are too small and fiddly to be collected up for recycling so they tend to be sent to landfill or just thrown away. It’s estimated that more than 500m of them are used in the US every day. That’s nearly two for every man, woman and child in that country, but when you think about it, many drinks are served with two straws whether you ask for them or not. The key question then is do you need two straws, or any straws, in your drink? If you really do, biodegradable straws are available. Of course they are more expensive, but what price the environment?
UK pub chain JD Wetherspoon has confirmed that from January 2018, all its 900 pubs across the UK and Ireland will no longer use single-use plastic straws. They will only add a straw if specifically requested - and then it will be a biodegradable one.

Water Plants
An update on hydroponics. I featured Bowery Farming in New York earlier this month. They have developed a vertical farm in an industrial unit to grow salads in totally controlled conditions. They can guarantee quality and minimise delivery distances because they are close to their customers in the city.
Now I’ve come across Growing Underground, which is producing salad crops in a similar way in disused railway tunnels in Clapham, southwest London. It seems to be an altogether bigger operation, with a wider range of products and customers. They offer to supply wholesale through New Covent Garden Market and plan to make their produce available through Ocado and other online retailers from January 2018. 
Is this the future of agriculture? It certainly has its attractions. The yield per acre can be greater than traditional agriculture, pests can be excluded, nutrients can be accurately delivered to each plant and any agricultural run-off can be managed long before it gets anywhere near the water table. But when you consider the need to feed 7.4bn people world wide, and the reliance on major crops like wheat and rice which are unsuited to hydroponics, industrialised salad production will probably only ever be a niche product, albeit an important one.

Meanwhile, Down Under…
Turning to politics, the Guardian newspaper reports that former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott says that dumping clean energy targets would help the Coalition win the next election. Abbott has campaigned on energy issues before, and used it as an issue to defeat rival Julia Gillard in a previous election. His chief of staff admits: “Along comes a carbon tax. It wasn’t a carbon tax, as you know. It was many other things in nomenclature terms but we made it a carbon tax,” Peta Credlin told Sky News in February 2017. “We made it a fight about the hip pocket and not about the environment. That was brutal retail politics and it took Abbott about six months to cut through and, when he cut through, Gillard was gone.” Surely some things are too important to play politics with. The average Australian has one of the largest carbon footprints in the world. Not likely to change any time soon. 

…and At Home…
By contrast, this week the British government announced its Green Finance Taskforce. It says:
“To build on the UK’s global leadership in the sector, BEIS and HMT will be co-hosting a Green Finance Taskforce that will bring together senior leaders from the financial sector. This Taskforce will work with industry to accelerate the growth of green finance, and help us deliver the investment required to meet the UK’s carbon reduction targets. The Terms of Reference will be published following the first meeting in late September.
Proposals announced today [18th September 2017] will build on the UK’s global leadership, including development of world’s first green financial management standards with the British Standards Institute.
The transition to a low carbon economy offers Britain a multi-billion pound investment opportunity, creating high-value jobs and boosting exports.

But didn’t we use to have a Green Investment Bank? Oh yes, but the government sold it to the Australians.

Outlook Sunny for Energy
In Tunisia a company has just filed a request in the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Renewable Energy for the authorisation of a 4.5GW solar energy export project destined to fuel Europe. It’s a solar farm in the Sahara Desert.
The technology that will be used is Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), using parabolic mirrors to heat a tower containing molten salt that in turn heats water to generate steam to run a turbine- a technology that has seen significant cost reductions in the past few years. The beauty of using molten salt is that it’s a heat store, so the station can produce clean energy 24/7. I suspect that the mirrors will be cheaper and longer-lasting than PV panels and using molten salt as an energy store is likely to be much cheaper than using batteries. 
The plan is to deliver the power by submarine interconnector cable to Malta, and then to France. There may also be a direct link from Tunisia to Italy.

A more conventional solar farm opened in the UK this week, billed as the UK’s first subsidy-free solar power plant. It’s in Bedfordshire, has photovoltaic panels with a capacity of 10MW and 6MW of batteries.

Cleaning Cars
Diesel cars came in for criticism again this week. We’re well aware of the efforts of VW and others to falsify emissions test results by using specially programmed engine management software. Now there are complaints that the official tests are unrelated to real-world driving conditions. Independent testing has shown that some cars in slow-moving traffic can emit up to 118% more nitrogen oxides than their official rating. So is the electric car, maybe running on solar energy from the Sahara, the answer?

Time to Tip?
Mining company BHP-Billiton said this week that 2017 would be the tipping point for electric cars. They predicted 140,000,000 electric vehicles would be on the world’s roads by 2035. Interesting for them, because electric cars use four times as much copper as internal combustion cars. But this 140m is still only about 8% of the world’s vehicles, which sounds an unambitious number if we are going to meet global emissions targets.
And where are we going to get these electric cars from? James Dyson, the vacuum cleaner man, said this week that he was investing £1bn in developing an electric car and had another £1bn for the manufacturing plant. His car would compete with the Tesla and come to market in 2020.
Do you remember the last vacuum cleaner company which manufactured electric cars? Hoover built the C5 for Sir Clive Sinclair. I wonder what happened to them. 

More on the Green Supply Chain
I’ve spoken in the past about conflict minerals - tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold: the 3TGs. They come from violent areas of the world, sometimes from mines guarded by child soldiers, and end up in our smartphones and other electronic devices. At least they did, but the major manufacturers have committed to do everything they can to end this trade, although traceability is not yet perfect. Depending on supplies which in turn depend on violence and exploitation is not good business and not good PR. That’s why it’s important to keep your supply chain as green as possible.
There are now doubts over the integrity of the supply chains for completely different  industries. Not about violence and exploitation, but about environmental damage. The first case is chocolate. The major producers of cocoa beans are Ghana and Ivory Coast in West Africa. 
Ivory Coast is losing its forests at a faster rate than any other African country – less than 4% of the country is covered in rainforest. Once, one quarter of the country was covered in rainforest. Farmers are cutting down the trees and planting cocoa beans. They are cutting the trees down gradually so as to leave shade for the new plants, but the deforested areas are getting gradually bigger. Without shade the cocoa plants cannot survive, so after a very few years the land becomes useless and may be on the way to desertification. Gone is the forest which preserved wildlife and acted as a carbon sink. It sounds trite to say “Once it’s gone it’s gone,” but it’s no less true for all that. The chocolate companies say they are aware of the situation and are doing their best to avoid unsustainable supplies. Are they doing enough?

Greenpeace is campaigning. Whenever was it not? This week it’s about toilet paper. They claim that the supply chain of manufacturer Essity extends into the Great Northern Forest, a massive area of woodland extending from Scandinavia to China and easternmost Asia and across the northern regions of North America. According to a report by Greenpeace, Essity is sourcing timber from protected parts of this forest in northern Sweden for the manufacture of Velvet luxury toilet tissue. While the Velvet brand claims to be environmentally responsible by planting three trees for each one felled, Greenpeace says that by planting non-native species it is destroying the wild-life habitat and in turn threatening the survival of the tribes which live in these remote northern regions. A luxury for some means the future for others is just being flushed away.
Oh, and apparently Velvet isn’t the only brand implicated in this.
As always, there are links on the blog at so you can read the background to these stories. 

We are coming to the end of this week’s episode of the Sustainable Futures Report. I'm Anthony Day and I'd like to thank you for listening. If you’d like to show your appreciation don't forget Patreon. Go to to find out more.
And finally…
I asked at the beginning of this episode whether you would rather trust Boris or Matilda. “Who’s this Matilda?” you ask. Victorian poet Hilaire Belloc explains.

Matilda told such Dreadful Lies, 
It made one Gasp and Stretch one’s Eyes;
Her Aunt, who, from her Earliest Youth, 
Had kept a Strict Regard for Truth, 
Attempted to believe Matilda: 
The effort very nearly killed her
And would have done so, had not she 
Discovered this Infirmity. 
For once, towards the Close of Day,
Matilda, growing tired of play, 
And finding she was left alone, 
Went tiptoe to the telephone 
And summoned the Immediate Aid 
Of London’s Noble Fire-Brigade. 
Within an hour the Gallant Band 
Were pouring in on every hand, 
From Putney, Hackney Downs and Bow, 
With Courage high and Hearts a-glow 
They galloped, roaring though the Town, 
"Matilda’s House is Burning Down" 
Inspired by British Cheers and Loud 
Proceeding from the Frenzied Crowd, 
They ran their ladders through a score 
Of windows on the Ball Room Floor; 
And took Peculiar Pains to Souse 
The Pictures up and down the House, 
Until Matilda’s Aunt succeeded 
In showing them they were not needed 
And even then she had to pay 
To get the Men to go away! . . . . . 
It happened that a few Weeks later 
Her aunt was off to the Theatre 
To see that Interesting Play 
The Second Mrs. Tanqueray. 
She had refused to take her Niece 
To hear this Entertaining Piece: 
A Deprivation Just and Wise 
To Punish her for Telling Lies.
That Night a Fire did break out- 
You should have heard Matilda Shout! 
You should have heard her Scream and Bawl, 
And throw the window up and call 
To People passing in the Street- 
(The rapidly increasing Heat 
Encouraging her to obtain 
Their confidence)-but all in vain! 
For every time she shouted "Fire!" 
They only answered "Little Liar!" 
And therefore when her Aunt returned, 
Matilda, and the House, were burned.

A cautionary tale. Be sure your lies will find you out.

Till next time!

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Four-Ton Life

Find the Sustainable Futures Report  on iTunes or here.

It’s Friday 22nd September, I’m Anthony Day and this is the Sustainable Futures Report. Welcome to listeners across the world and a special mention to my patrons. If you too would like to be a patron, please keep listening.
This week’s episode is devoted to an interview. My guest today is Professor Karl S. Coplan who is professor of law at the Pace University, White Plains, New York and he's also director of the Environmental Litigation Clinic. Karl enjoys an American lifestyle on a four-ton carbon budget. Among other things he’s going to tell us how he does it.
Before we start, just a word of warning. In this interview you’ll hear Karl refer to carbonfootprint-dot-org. Unfortunately that appears  to be a malicious site. The one you want is 

ANTHONY: Karl thank you very much for joining us today. Would you like to start off by telling us a bit about your work at the Environmental Litigation Clinic.?
KARL: The Environmental Litigation Clinic is part of Pace Law School and we train law students to be lawyers and perform a public service by basically having them take on environmental enforcement cases and pollution control cases on behalf of our primary client which is the Hudson River keeper. And so, our primary focus is been cleaning up the Hudson river and a lot of cases enforcing the Clean Water Act against industries and municipalities that were operating in violation of the permits; cleaning up hazardous waste sites, but I’m also involved in larger planning issues; power-plant issues, anything that affects the water quality and the recreational opportunity in the community of the Hudson river basically.
And then through that I've been involved and the clinic has worked with other water keeper organizations around the country and around the world. Though our focus is in New York, we've involved in cases, involved mountain-top removal mining in Kentucky and even years ago on stopping the naval bombing exercises on the Island of Vieques in Puerto Rico. And so I'm also on the board of water keeper alliance and services treasure, so I work with water keeper organizations around the world.
ANTHONY: Okay, well there’s quite a wide range of things and I noticed from your page on the university website that you've done a lot of publications in quite a lot of different areas. We first got in touch when Kim Nicholas and Seth Wynes from the University of British Columbia published a guide to cutting your carbon footprint [see Sustainable Futures Report 21st July 2017] and they set out the four things that you should do which were;
  1. Have fewer children.
  2. Get rid of the car.
  3. Avoid air travel.
  4. And eat a plant-based diet.
Now that caused quite a lot of controversy and you certainly picked it up and you wrote about it on your blog which is . Just back-track on that and explain to people that may not be aware of the controversy what that was all about?
KARL: Well, first off I think Kim Nicholas and Seth Wynes did a great public service by pointing out kind of how environmentalists and government agencies working on climate change are focusing too much on these small ticket items and ignoring the big ticket items. But where I disagree with them with a controversy is, as they came up with a number for the impact of having one child in a developed world which is just completely a fantasy and I'll explain why in a moment and way too high. And I think that's a disservice because people who care about climate change, but have not focused on the details and the numbers of how things compare. Look at this chart, I'm sure I printed it out, you probably cannot see it there, but there's a chart where that number for having one child is just enormous compared even to giving up air travel or giving up your car. And that’s misleading because that number they come up with 60 tonnes per year is not a real number, there's no year in which you add 60 tonnes by having one child.
Unfortunately, if it was simply have fewer children in the developed world, that might be one thing, but the implication seems to be that if you’re having any children at all right, even if it's your first child, that's somehow even more irresponsible than getting on a plane 12 times a year. And I think that actually disserves the climate cause because people outside the climate movement look at that and say; oh my God, these climate activists, they are telling us that we should just stop having children. So let's end civilization, let's have no more human beings on the planet, because that's the only way to solve climate change and forget about it because you're actually never going to be successful, you're never going to have a political movement that is based on ''have no children ever again''.
So I think that's really a disservice and it also makes it look if you actually haven't reduced your flying. So you're a childless person who hasn't reduced their flying, so see I'm better than the people who don't fly but have a child because their impacts are huge. But those impacts just have nothing to do with the actual underlying paper calculating the impacts of having one child in a developed world and are really misleading I mean it. It's a challenge actually when you're trying to get down to the numbers of your carbon footprint because at some level it becomes an accounting problem. You get on an airplane and some people say the impact of me getting on an airplane is zero because that airplane was flying anyway, which means that airplanes have no climate impact, but that's not true, we know it’s not true. And so they did an accounting trick in this chart which had a result of making the impact of one child many multiples of what it really is under any normal accounting process.
ANTHONY: Well, I did ask Kim Nicholas and Seth Wynes if they would appear, but they were unavailable. But we're all aiming at the same thing; we all want to cut carbon footprints, now you say that you can live well on a 4 ton carbon budget, which is quite ambitious really because the average American is pushing nearly 20-22 tons I think.
KARL: That's right.
ANTHONY: And a lot of people say “Oh, four tons, well that means you must be living in a tent by candlelight and eating grass”, but I don't think you are. But what do you do, how do you achieve this level?
KARL: I think actually if you're trying to reduce your carbon budget, it will be just like if you are trying to reduce how many calories you eat in a day. The best thing you can do is start keeping track and so when you make choices in life you know what the actual impact of that choice is and how that fits into your diet. If it's a calorie restricted diet or under your carbon budget if you’re trying to live on carbon budget. And so when I looked at it and drill down and really you can tell, I like to look behind the supervision numbers and see what's behind them. It became obvious to me that the big ticket items in my life before I started doing this were; getting to work on a regular basis, heating my house, electricity consumption and air travel. This has been, I can’t say I’ve one day had a big awakening, I've been environmentally conscious for decades, but it really came about 10 years ago; I went on sabbatical and started thinking and used the time to think a little about what could I do to improve my own footprint and that's when I kind of thought air travel is a big one. When I look at it at the end of the year, my 4 ton carbon budget, a quarter of that goes to heating my house with natural gas. And even that, now I've reduced it to about a ton, but a typical house in the New York area heated with natural gas even if you've got every energy efficiency improvement would actually work out to be more like 3 tons per person in the house.
And so I do some things, like I do keep the temperature lower in the house and I do supplement it with a wood stove, but that's one thing I can do. The other thing is, got rid of my gas powered car, actually for several years I didn't own a car at all, but about a year or two years ago now, believe it or not electric cars became so cheap. I know it's hard to hear me say that, but the little Smart car; I don't know if you've seen them, they were big in Europe before they came to the States.
ANTHONY: That's interesting because Smart launched an electric car and then they discontinued it, but now they've re-launched the Smart range as electrics. So you have one of those, one of the first ones?
KARL: I've got one of those and only it costs me $130 a month for a lease and it’s a wonderful little car and it has plenty of range to get to work and back. And then again, right now there are some really simple things to do that may cost you a little bit, actually don’t cost much at all. So I found out that many people put solar panels on their house; my house is in a wooded area so there’s not enough sunlight really to justify that and having them professionally installed. But you can get a renewable energy contract where basically buying the energy from in my case wind generation, but they are a combination of wind and solar and of course hydro has its own environmental problems too. But right now you can count that as zero carbon impacts when you’re buying electricity from a green source. And in the United States, almost all electrical consumers now have the option of choosing their electric source and so that’s another very simple thing you can do that reduces that impact. And with an electric car and a renewable energy contract, all of a sudden getting to work is now zero on my carbon budget.
ANTHONY: Right, but what if you want to go longer distances, I mean if you want to go to remote places in the States, it is very difficult to do it without air travel, isn't it? And even electric cars won't take you very far.
KARL: That's true and so in living well on my 4 ton carbon budget, I really try to get my daily impacts pretty much down to zero or very close to it, which means I have some carbon budget to use on some luxuries. And so we have a little cabin up in the mountains about a 4 Hour drive from here, my electric car won't make it there. We have a Hybrid, my wife's car is a Hybrid, it's 50 miles per gallon and I can't convert that into kilometers.
ANTHONY: No, in the UK we're still on miles per gallon, but our gallons are different size to yours.
KARL: Do you go a little further on one of your gallons?
KARL: So that ends up being a significant part of my actual carbon budget for a year as we do get to go places that way. I can usually get away with one either transcontinental or I haven’t been to Europe a little while, a transatlantic flight per year and still stick to my 4 ton budget, but that's a limit. You know the other thing actually that can be a big one is meat eating, and so but I still like some beef every once in a while, but I just limit it and say if I'm going to have a steak, that 12 ounces of beef which works out to something like 20 pounds of carbon dioxide, that goes on my budget and I'll do it when it's really worth it, but not every day.
ANTHONY: Right, so you haven't gone vegan like Al Gore?
KARL: No, I'm impressed and I respect people do and you know it’s funny how even among environmentalists people look at me and say you know, what difference are you making, you reduced your own footprints, but somebody else is still on the plane and you know you’re not going to stop climate change with individual action. And I look at them and say, when you meet a vegetarian, do you tell them why bother, that cow was still going to be slaughtered anyway? Of course not, it's right because, once you recognize as a personal matter that fossil fuel consumption is part of an entire system that is going to cause extreme devastating impacts on human beings and the environment around the world, then this is a personal matter. You say, I want to not participate in that system any more than actually necessary to have a decent life, right. And as to me it’s very much like vegetarianism, we can call it climaterianism and have that same kind of philosophy.
ANTHONY: Just going back to your lifestyle, what do you do in your spare time? You find things you can do which don’t actually significantly impact your carbon footprint.
KARL: As I said we go up to the mountains and then we go cross-country skiing or hiking in the mountains. I’m very lucky and I've been a sailor, sailing is one of my hobbies since I was a teenager in high school and so we actually have a sail boat that we've sailed transatlantic on a couple of times. I know not everybody can do that, but the money I saved by not buying a big car right and not having a big house more than means that I can have a luxury like a sail boat in my life and that's when we want to go on big adventures, that’s what we do. Two years ago we sailed from New York to the Azores in Spain and Iberia and came back via Dakar in Senegal and the Caribbean and nobody can say I've got a ……?
ANTHONY: Well, it's not what most people will expect from a 4 ton carbon level at all, now that's really interesting. There are concerns of course I'm afraid with the current American administration, they've decided to turn their backs on the Paris Climate Accord and we've seen in these last few weeks these terrible hurricanes in Florida and in Texas. And the response from the EPA was, this is no time to talk about climate change, but do you think that public opinion is going to force them to start thinking seriously?
KARL: I think we're moving in that direction, I think we are and you know it is going to take unfortunately; it may take a humanitarian crisis in the developed world. We're talking about Harvey and Irma which had casualties in United States that are numbered in dozens. But at the same time there were floods in Asia which killed thousands of people and it barely got a mention on the world media and certainly United States media. And so, unfortunately you know the developed world as the biggest emitters of carbon and the ones that will have to be the leaders in doing something about it, unfortunately, I'm afraid our political system and human nature and the nature of human political systems - you'd like to think it could be proactive, but it usually takes some kind of obvious crisis. And so, Irma and Harvey will keep the conversation going and that’s good and I think I have no hopes for the Trump administration, though Donald Trump has so little in the way of actual beliefs of his own, you just never know what's going to come out of him. I mean at one point he was saying that it was his proposal that in the wall he wants to build with Mexico he'll put solar panels on it, I don't know if you heard about that.
ANTHONY: Yeah I read about that, I thought to myself, they'll have to put the panels on the Mexican's side, so will they be allowed to go into Mexico to maintain them.
KARL: I don’t know, I could picture it to get the angle on the sun they'd have to be leaning over to the US's side so they're facing towards the angles of the sun, but I don't know. I could get behind the wall on that if they were going to put that much solar infrastructure in, so you just never know what's going to come out of this administration, but there's no reason to be hopeful on the Federal US political level. But that is in a way there's a reaction to it that is hopeful that people said; wow, we didn't know it will be this bad. Somehow in November 2016, we didn’t realize that it was a choice that was going to take us out of the Paris Accord. And so there’s hopefully a chance for a backlash that will get climate back on the map and on the map for the first time. And if hurricanes get people talking about it, I think that’s a good thing.
I've got to say the little bit of irony there; I’m actually married to a geophysicist who's involved in climate issues, my wife is Robin Bell; she's the President-elect of the American Geophysical Union and she is involved in Antarctic ice research which is her primary research focus, but in trying to figure out whether you can pin Irma and Harvey on climate change, you can't say that those hurricanes were caused by climate change. You can say sea level is higher definitely because of climate change. You can say that the kind of thing that there is a good chance we'll see from climate change. I like to be very strictly scientific, that’s maybe I'm not the best advocate because I’m not going to exaggerate. Scientific community is very certain that climate change is going to happen, the temperature is going to rise, sea level is going to rise, ocean acidification is absolutely happening, they don’t agree that it's going to result in more or stronger hurricanes. The people who are hurricane specialists basically say that warmer oceans tend to make stronger hurricanes, but a warmer upper atmosphere at the same time might suppress hurricanes and they can’t really say.
Yes, some scientists will come out and say yes you can say that Harvey was wetter because of climate change, but that's unlike the actual fundamental conclusion that climate change is happening, it's devastating and it's human caused. There is no scientific consensus on the relationship between climate change and hurricanes, so it's kind of the little ironic that this might be what gets us talking about climate change, but the one thing that scientists don’t actually agree about might be the thing that gets us talking about climate change and I guess that’s a good thing.
ANTHONY: Is there anything in particular that you'd like to add while we're on? 
KARL: I think that the climate movement in a way has to get over its own challenges, which is the risk of being more of a value-based movement rather than a grievance-based movement, which is more about kind of virtue signalling rather than actually addressing a problem. And I think to me, I get more grief for making a big deal about living on carbon budget from environmentalists than I do from the handful friends I have who are kind of conservative you know not really right wing, but conservative free-market economics, even Trump voters I do know a couple. I'd say the people I know who are considerable Trump voters types they respect me for living according to my beliefs and my firm belief that climate change is real and that we're all responsible. I think my environmentalist friends, many of them feel like I’m trying to out-ideal them and they're a little put off.
I mean I heard another environmental law professor saying; I'm not going to give up flying and you're ridiculous for giving up flying because that’s not going to solve the problem. But I actually think it does, but until climate advocates walk the talk and show that they personally believe that climate change is such an important issue with such huge ramifications, they are willing to change their own life and give up things that are important to them, then I don't think we have much credibility. And that’s why I think that individual action just like cities are committing to the Paris agreement even while the United States as a nation has pulled out of it or is pulling out of it, I think individuals should have their own Paris agreement. Here are the voluntary actions I’m going to take that are consistent with the world meeting a 2°C limit on climate change and I'm going to take them now even though I'm under no legal obligation to do it and the government systems haven't come into force yet to make me do it.
ANTHONY: Do you think that individuals like you, governments, and countries will actually do enough in time to stop the worst consequences of climate change?
KARL: I don't want to make a prediction. I hope so, if I think too hard about it, it's very depressing, but I know what I can do as an individual and to try and say; you know you can live a good life with a modest climate budget, carbon budget that fits within a global framework that will get us there. And in a way we have to redefine the good life so that people understand that you can have a great life, but it does not necessarily mean flying, guess what, that's something that's not sustainable.
You know if you and the work you’re doing, strikes me that there could be some organizing done here, there’s room for more organizing. People taking that kind of individual action, I haven't personally been involved much in because is not my personal style to be in that kind of demonstrative public direct action, which I think has a place in raising public awareness, but I don’t think it's ultimately going to carry the day. I'm a lawyer who might be representing people who were arrested for blocking a pipeline, but I'm not the kind of person who's likely to camp out on the pipeline myself.
But it seems to me that there is room for more organizing and I know there's a handful of people that I've just come across through Twitter and the Internet that are doing similar things. I don't know if you've come across Peter Kalmus who's a climate scientist up in California. I'll tell you, I've got my own book project on this which it's still out to some publishers which I hope I'll find a publisher for. He's got a book that's out called ''Being the Change''. I think I tried emailing him and didn't get a response, but if there is room for organizing people to turn...I can see a picture where there could be like a social media connections and just like people brag about their fitness, their exercise, the Fitbit - you know it goes on the internet; this is how far I ran today and how many calories I burned.
If you could get the similar bragging about carbon footprint, even if it just starts with a handful people, if that gets to be something they're aware of because I think the one thing I would try and get people to do, the number one thing is ''just be aware''. Just once a year, go to ; I have problems with each of the online calculator including , but figure out what your footprint wants from you, take a look at what your big-ticket items really were. Look at your footprint as an environmentalist compares to the average US or average world's footprint. Because I think actually United States environmentalists probably on average have a higher footprint than the average American, which is really a scandal in a way.
ANTHONY: Well Karl, thank you very much for sharing your ideas with us, I think this will probably raise quite a lot of controversies and questions and I'm very grateful for your time. I'll put links to your Facebook page and your blog and so on on the blog version of this and thanks again.
KARL: Thank you very much; it was great to talk to you.

My guest was Karl S. Coplan, professor of law at the Pace University, White Plains, New York and Director of the Environmental Litigation Clinic. His blog is at , you can find him on Facebook and he tweets @kcoplan.
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Next week I’ll be back to sustainable current affairs, but there are more interviews in the pipeline and in November, for the first time ever, there will be a guest presenter.
For now this is Anthony Day signing off, thanking you for listening and why don’t you go to and see what changes you can make?

Let me know how you get on!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Don't Shoot the Storm!

The podcast is here.

Hello I’m Anthony Day and you’re very welcome to this latest edition of the Sustainable Futures Report. A special welcome and thanks to all my patrons.
This week
Shooting the breeze or shooting the hurricane. Is that a good idea? We’ll find out. Whatever you do, don’t mention climate change. At least not at the EPA, although perhaps you should mention it in the confessional and it may be brought up in court. Of course if you’re the British government losing court cases doesn’t seem to matter, even if the United Nations calls you to account. When the UN complained about insufficient action to improve air quality it was not a nice atmosphere. Careful how you cross the road! Carbon Tracker believes that those electric cars could be arriving more quickly than you thought, although Shell is not so sure. More on Hinkley C. Free solar panels for social houses. It’s all in this week’s Sustainable Futures Report. And crunchy insects, too.
Protecting Irma
“Don’t shoot at Hurricane Irma” That’s a message from the Florida Pasco Sheriff’s Office. Why would anyone want to shoot a hurricane anyway? It seems that a bored 22-year-old, Ryon Edwards, posted the idea on Facebook - “show Irma that we shoot first” and at the last count it had 54,000 likes. 
“Don’t shoot at Hurricane Irma” urged the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bullets fired into the air can return to the ground at a pace of over 200 feet per second, a speed “sufficient to penetrate the human skull and cause serious injury or death”.
But why worry anyway? 
Florida-based Rush Limbaugh, host of the most popular radio show in the US was telling his listeners that the hurricane was a hoax and it wouldn’t make landfall in any case. He is a notorious climate change denier who has declared, “The views expressed by the host of this program [are] documented to be almost always right 99.8 percent of the time.” Seems to have got it wrong this time however. Others would say that trying to fit facts to his personal agenda makes him wrong most of the time. His show did not air last Friday apparently because he was travelling out of South Florida, destination unknown. Whether his listeners fled the storm after he had assured them that there was nothing to worry about, is not altogether clear. 
Inappropriate Time
The head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt,  the man who says he "would not agree" that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming, said it was an inappropriate time to discuss what role climate change may have played in the recent hurricanes. 
On the other hand Pope Francis has warned that history will judge world leaders who do not act, saying that the recent storms meant the effects of climate change could be seen "with your own eyes". Some may say that that stretches the science too far, but others embrace the precautionary principle. If we can develop a low-carbon economy, if we can do this while improving living standards and jobs, if by doing this we can reduce the effects of climate breakdown, why wouldn’t we?
Going to Law…
Elsewhere in the media the voices are becoming more strident and demanding that we accept that these disasters are inextricably linked to climate change. Client Earth - lawyers committed to securing a healthy planet - say that there is likely to be more and more litigation against fossil fuel companies and others for their contribution to climate breakdown. We’ve already been following the Juliana case in the US on the Sustainable Futures Report, where a group of children are suing the government for prejudicing their life chances by allowing corporations to pollute the environment with carbon emissions. Coastal communities in California are suing over sea-level rise: Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, which killed 7,000 people, have also taken to law.
Read more at: 
…but will it help?
My view is that sadly all this litigation will be little more effective than firing bullets at the storm. Never underestimate the capacity and the resources of the fossil-fuel industries. Never underestimate the ruthless determination of industries fighting for survival. Never underestimate the capacity of the legal system for dragging things out and out and out. Time is what we lack. We need to cut global carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. That means achieving substantial cuts by 2020, by 2030 and more by 2040. That means starting now.
I know that 195 governments signed up to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, but I also know that while emission rates for 2015 were the same as 2014, they were still the same for 2016 as well. They are flat-lining. They are not growing. Well, true. The rate at which we are adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere is not increasing but we are still adding GHG to the atmosphere every year. Only urgent and radical action can slow the rate by enough to achieve our targets.
Cutting the Carbon
In practical terms, what can we do? Transport is a major generator of emissions. If we can’t persuade people to use public transport, although with the right investment maybe we could, we could incentivise people to use more efficient cars. In the UK we had a system which taxed cars on the level of emissions they produced. Until this year, 2017. Now all cars, apart from pure electric, pay the same road tax each year. Our former Chancellor of the Exchequer also abolished the so-called fuel tax accelerator, a measure designed to increase fuel tax year by year ahead of inflation to discourage waste and reduce emissions.  He went further: for several consecutive years he held UK fuel duty at the same level. Even when the oil price fell and he could have hidden a duty rise he did nothing. Apart from forgoing the extra tax revenue which had to be made up elsewhere he fostered the attitude which says, “If you can afford the car you can afford the petrol.” No-one seems to care whether the earth and future generations can afford the pollution from burning all that petrol. (And don’t mention diesel.)
Electric cars arriving…
The good news is that electric cars, which will transform pollution levels from the vehicle fleet, are very much on the horizon. Reports from Carbon Tracker suggest that electric cars will take over much more quickly than expected, so that there will be no growth in oil and coal after 2020. And that’s only three years off. Of course electric cars are currently only 1% or less of the global fleet. Time was when diesel cars had that level of penetration, but as diesel engines became as quiet and refined as petrol and delivered more miles to the gallon their sales took off. Electric cars launching next year will have a 200+ mile range. Maybe that will be their tipping point.
how soon?
Last week, oil company Shell argued that the fuel savings from the efficiency improvements in internal combustion engines would outweigh those from electric vehicles threefold.
The company believes oil demand will not peak until the mid-2030s, despite expecting electric and plug-in hybrids cars to make up 35% of new car sales by then, up from 1% now.
“For peak oil demand to come radically earlier than the early 2030s, there has to somehow be a demand change, and it’s not going to come from electric cars,” said Guy Outen, Shell’s executive vice-president of strategy and portfolio.
But the company’s actions may tell a different story. It is hedging by shifting its portfolio increasingly away from oil towards gas, which can also supply the new power stations that electric cars will need.
Falling prices…
Electricity generation is another source of carbon emissions, from stations burning coal, gas and biomass. And don’t forget the increasing number of back-up generators around the back of supermarkets and other buildings. They run on diesel.
News this week is that wind-power is cheaper than nuclear. Next week the government will invite bids for the supply of electricity and it is expected that offshore wind farm operators could ask for as little as £80 or even £70 per MWh. This is significantly cheaper than the £92.50 (indexed for 30 years) that the government has committed to pay for output from the new nuclear station at Hinkley C. You’ll remember from previous podcasts that Hinkley C is a nuclear station to be built to an unproven design by French company EDF and financed in part by the Chinese. 
…and rising costs?
At a cost of at least £20billion - and some predict £50billion - the project will be the most expensive in the world. One of Mrs May’s first actions as prime minister was to put the whole scheme on hold, only to give it the go-ahead a few weeks later.
EDF is building a station to the same design at Flamanville in France and although years late it was expected to come on stream next year. It now seems that start-up will be delayed until 2019 and the plant will have to close for repairs in 2024 unless the French nuclear inspectorate can be convinced that the castings that make up the reactor vessel are safe. Tests on these components are part of the reason for the delays.
Should all technical problems be overcome, Hinkley C, which is already 18 months behind schedule, could be in production just before 2030. Wind farms, on the other hand, take only 4-5 years to develop and build. They have no fuel costs, rely on proven technology and create no waste.
Greenpeace is urging the government to rethink their energy policy. You can sign a petition on the Greenpeace website. 

Outlook Sunny
There’s been some good press for the government on the energy front with the announcement that tenants of 800,000 social houses are to get free solar panels. The scheme is led by renewable energy supplier Solarplicity and funded by Dutch bank Maas Capital. The extent of the British government’s involvement seems to be negotiation of the loan by the Department for International Trade and a photocall by Minister Greg Hands. 
The way it will work is that tenants will get the panels installed at no cost to them and Solarplicity will provide them with electricity on a tariff significantly cheaper than those available from the Big Six suppliers. Typical savings of £240 per household per year are promised. The installations will be paid for from revenue from the tenants, from the government’s feed-in tariff as paid to all solar panel owners and from payments for any unused power sold back to the grid. A new army of installers is to be recruited, principally from among ex service personnel. Since many solar installation companies collapsed as a result of short-term changes to government tariffs there will be no alternative but to recruit and train new installers.
Clearing the air - or not
Sadly the British government is never far from censure. It was criticised again this week for lack of action to address air pollution, in spite of losing twice in the courts and being ordered to implement effective measures. This latest criticism came not from the EU but from the United Nations’ (UN’s) special rapporteur on human rights related to toxic waste, but this government increasingly seems to believe that it can do what it likes regardless. This week it has pushed through measures to give it a majority on all of the parliamentary committees, despite the fact that it does not have an overall majority in Parliament.
Brexit means...?
Criticism of the government as well over the effect of Brexit on environmental legislation from campaigning lawyers Client Earth. Their argument is over the consequences of the Great Repeal Bill, the legislation that will remove EU law from the UK as part of the Brexit process. We are talking about replacing a body of legislation that has taken over 40 years to build up, and the government is planning a comprehensive transfer of the regulations into English law, but allowing ministers to amend the detail at their discretion and without the approval of Parliament. The regulation of clean rivers, clean beaches, countryside and wildlife could be varied without debate. This principle extends across a whole swathe of issues; effectively allowing ministers to make law in all areas. Unsurprisingly, this has caused uproar in all parts, but so far the Great Repeal Bill is proceeding steadily towards the statute book. Will Members of Parliament wake up before it’s too late?

Law of Unintended Consequences Department
Why are hundreds of mature trees being felled in Sheffield, London and other cities? Constant pressure from government in the name of austerity forces local authorities to contract out more and more services. In Sheffield it was decided to pass the management of city trees to service company Amey for the next 25 years. Amey have realised that newly-planted trees take far less maintenance than mature trees; hence they chop down mature trees and plant saplings. Even rare species have gone without protest from the council, although there has been loud protest from community groups. The reason why the council has not stepped in to protect any of the trees lies in the small print of the 25-year contract. If the council requires that any trees should be preserved then the agreement says that the responsibility for maintaining those trees reverts to the council.
A scientific analysis of tree values estimates that trees worth some £66m have so far been felled under the so-called Streets Ahead programme. And that’s in Sheffield alone.
What about Pete?
And if we’re not preserving trees, what about gardening? The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Wildlife Trusts, Plantlife and Friends of the Earth wrote a joint letter to the press this week:
“The importance of our remaining peatlands to people and planet is hard to overstate. They are the unrivalled kings of carbon storage. Known peatlands cover about 3% of the world’s land surface yet store twice as much carbon as all of Earth’s standing forest and provide a haven to unique wildlife – from threatened wild flowers through dragonflies to curlews. Yet 2m cubic metres of peat are sold annually for us to plant begonias and tomatoes.”
I saw a bag of growing medium in a garden centre the other day. On the bag it said, “The peat contained in this product was not harvested from a site of scientific interest.” So that’s all right then.
Refreshment Break
Ok - let’s take a break. Fancy a drink - and maybe a snack? Across the globe some 2bn people regularly eat insects. They are far more efficient at creating nutrition than cattle, sheep or poultry. Now the Swiss Coop store, or at least 7 of its 2,500 branches, are selling insect balls and mealworm burgers. The story is that they are doing this legally because there are now specific regulations to cover insects as human food in Switzerland. There are no regulations on this within the EU and a quick search shows that such products are readily available on line. Here’s the description from one supplier’s site: 
  • Whole dehydrated mealworms, seasoned with Garlic & Herbs, Sesame & Cumin or Impérial Soy flavour. 
  • Ready to eat as a snack or to share with your friends, it will be a perfect way of discovering the goodnesses of edible insects.
  • Delicious and healthy snacks with seasoned and dehydrated insects.  Jimini's mealworms are farmed in Europe and cooked in France with natural seasonings.
  • High source of protein!
  • Available to buy as 3 boxes (18g each). 
  • Best kept in a cool dark place. Use within 3 days after opening. 
  • This product has a shelf life of 10 months. 




And jiminis do sell crickets.


No, actually that was a potato crisp.

You won’t catch me eating insects. Not when those three 18g-boxes cost £18! That’s about $24 US or €20.
Until next time
That brings the Sustainable Futures Report to a conclusion for another week. I'm Anthony Day and thank you for listening. Special thanks to my patrons for their continuing support. You too can be a patron - just go to 
I’m already thinking about next week’s edition and I've been approached by organisations that want to talk on the podcast about fusion energy and about copper, so they may well appear in due course. If you have a particular interest that you’d like me to follow up or that you would like to talk about on this podcast, please get in touch. As always I’m at I've got some other really interesting items coming up over the next few weeks. All will be revealed shortly.

I'm Anthony Day. Here's hoping you have a really good week and we'll catch up again next Friday.