Friday, June 23, 2017

Outlook Uncertain

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Well, of course by the time this is published it might be blowing a gale with torrential rain. I blame climate change. Yes hello, I'm Anthony Day and this is once again the Sustainable Futures Report.

Thank You
Thank you to my patrons, and you can find out more about becoming a patron at, and thank you to my listeners. This last week I have had more listeners than ever before, in fact in one week I've had more listeners than in some months. Most listeners are in the United States but the second largest group is of course the UK. Last week’s episode was accessed by people in 29 countries, the week before in 38 countries. These include Canada, Australia, Japan, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, The Netherlands, France, South Africa, New Zealand, Uganda and Brazil. Welcome to you all.

Other people are reading this blog, which is where you’ll find links to my sources. New location. It’s now at . No .com or, just . Neat, eh?

This week
We live in challenging times. There is much to be said about the UK political landscape, but for the Sustainable Futures Report I limit myself to sustainability and futures.

That doesn't rule out of politics altogether of course, because I am going to talk in more detail about the appointment of Michael Gove as Secretary of State for the environment and about the Juliana case against the US government. There will probably be something about Brexit in there too. Well it’s hard to ignore the most significant political event since the Second World War ended 72 years ago. 
Combustible ice is a hot topic this week. And self-drive cars? How about self-drive ships? And when is a hybrid not a hybrid?

But first, here’s a couple of organisations taking steps to reduce their impact on our planet. 

Fancy a Brew?
Carlsberg, the brewer, has a campaign “Together Towards Zero.” Their objectives are a zero carbon footprint, zero water waste, zero irresponsible drinking and zero accidents.

Their target for 2030 is 0% carbon emissions at their breweries and a 30% reduction in beer-in-hand carbon footprint. The beer-in-hand carbon footprint takes account of carbon emissions impacts beyond their operational control, such as agricultural production, transport logistics and retail refrigeration. It’s the carbon footprint of the supply chain. By 2030 they aim for a 50% reduction in water use, 100% improvement in responsible drinking and zero accidents at work. They’ve set intermediate targets for 2022, including cutting water usage by 25% by then, safeguarding shared water resources in high-risk areas and using 100% electricity from renewable sources at their breweries. 

Is this all a bit of a way off? Yes, but they’ve also looked at recycling and waste.

“In three years time,” they say, “you might be drinking beer from our new Green Fiber Bottle, made from sustainably sourced wood-fibre that is 100% biodegradable and bio based, generating zero waste. This is a cooperation between Carlsberg, ecoXpac, Innovation Fund Denmark and the Technical University of Denmark”

Have a look at their website where they link their policies to the sustainable development goals. (More about them in a future Sustainable Futures Report.)

Carlsberg have relocated their brewery from the centre of the city and the site is now part of a $2 billion redevelopment that is central to Copenhagen’s ambitious plan to be the world’s first carbon-neutral capital city within a decade.

Parts that Carlsberg can’t reach…
Meanwhile there is clear competition in the brewing industry. From Amsterdam Heineken announce: “Production of the most popular beers in Austria brewed at the Göss Brewery are now fully carbon-neutral. Since 2003 Göss Brewery started to continuously implement renewable energy in its processes. Energy supply is now 100% based on renewable energy and CO2 emissions from fossil fuels will be zero.
This goal has been achieved thanks to electricity from hydropower, biomass district heating, solar thermal energy and renewable energy from the newly built beer grain fermentation plant by BDI – BioEnergy International.

Brau Union Österreich CEO Markus Liebl said, "We are immensely proud that beer production at Göss will in the future be fully CO2-neutral thanks to the beer grain fermentation plant. This makes it the first carbon-neutral large-scale brewery in the world.”

I wonder when brewers will stop using that plastic mesh for holding beer cans together. That mesh that traps wildlife if it’s left lying around. Maybe I should ask them.

The Other Hybrid (1)
The other company that I wanted to talk about is Arla Foods, the dairy company. I saw one of their lorries on the street this morning carrying the message that it was a hybrid and therefore reducing co2 emissions. A diesel hybrid? Well, no. It’s a hybrid in a completely different sense. The trailers the hybrid. It has a refrigerated compartment for carrying 85 cages or 22 pallets of finished products and also a tank which will hold 19,000 litres of raw milk. The company found that they were sending one vehicle out to deliver the finished product and then another vehicle along much the same route to collect the raw milk. Now one vehicle, with a conventional diesel unit, can do both. Saves mileage, saves fuel and reduces co2 emissions. And they’ve been doing this since 2012.

It appears, though, that Arla have also been using a diesel-electric hybrid for deliveries within London. The Volvo FE Hybrid looks to be a plug-in hybrid with a 7-litre diesel engine and an electric motor. As the battery is charged by regenerative braking the vehicle is suitable for stop-start urban deliveries. From the Volvo website it appears to be a concept vehicle at the moment and not generally available.

Other Hybrids (2)
There’s a UK hybrid lorry around - the Tevva from Essex. It’s a series hybrid, and according to “Freight in the City”,  “In hybrid-speak, a series-hybrid powers the vehicle entirely by an electric drive-line, as opposed to a parallel-hybrid which has a conventional internal combustion engine working alongside the electrics.” My Prius is a parallel hybrid.

“Whereas a regular electric truck is limited in range by its battery capacity, a range-extended series-hybrid similarly leaves the depot with a fully charged set of batteries, which are then topped up as required by a combination of regenerative braking and a generator driven by a secondary power unit.

“In Tevva’s case this is a 1.6-litre turbo-diesel from a Ford Focus, but it could be whatever power source best serves your operation,” they say, “Diesel, natural gas, hydrogen or a small nuclear reactor, all you need is something to drive a generator in the way that suits you.”

Yes, I’ll pass on the nuclear reactor for the moment, thanks. There are just so few places where you can fill up with uranium. And the enriched stuff is just so expensive.

One interesting feature of this vehicle, which is still in development, is that the hybrid system is influenced by GPS. This means that if you are out on the motorway the internal combustion engine will be charging the battery which in turn drives the wheels. If you are in an urban area the system will switch to electric-only to eliminate emissions.

Although there is an eventual payback time of the £60,000 conversion cost, it’s currently about nine years, well beyond the service life of most vehicles of this type.

Other Hybrids (3)
Across the pond, while Elon Musk of Tesla is concentrating on making electric cars mass market, another firm is hoping to do the same for the trucking industry with an electric/natural gas hybrid.
Utah firm Nikola has revealed the 'Nikola One', which is capable of pulling a total gross weight of 80,000 pounds (36 tonnes) and offering more than 1,200 miles between stops.

It boasts six motors, has a hi-tech touchscreen cockpit - and can drive a convoy of five driverless trucks behind it.

Of course Mercedes has not been idle. It has a fully electric truck, designed to make thundering artics just a little bit quieter and greener.
The Urban eTruck has a 26-tonne payload, yet can travel up to 200 kilometres (120 miles) on one charge, according to the manufacturer. It has an electric rear axle with e-motors adjacent to the wheel hubs - and 700kg of lithium-ion batteries and hardware.
This remains a project for now though; series production is not slated to begin until early in the next decade – by which time battery costs should have plunged to €200 per kWh, while performance should have peaked at 200 Wh/kg.

Some ice with that?
Ice? Yes, I don’t mind if I do. No, not combustible ice.

Combustible ice?
Combustible ice is a frozen mixture of water and concentrated natural gas. Technically known as methane hydrate, it can be set on fire in its frozen state and is believed to comprise one of the world’s most abundant fossil fuels. 

Combustible ice is found all over the world under seabeds or in Arctic permafrost. Significant reserves have now been found in the South China Sea and have been extracted by both China and Japan.

This is good news for China because it can use the methane to replace dirty coal in its power stations. It’s good news for the Japanese, who have found this energy source close to their shores and can use it to replace nuclear power stations after the Fukushima disaster.

It’s not all good news, though. The reserves are vast; according to the US Energy Information Administration maybe as much as 2,800 trillion cubic metres. Methane is a greenhouse gas and is some 70 times more damaging than CO2, (depending on the time-period considered.) If only a small portion of these reserves were released by inexpert drilling, it could lead to uncontrollable global warming and climate change. 
Secondly, there are already territorial disputes simmering in the South China Sea. Competition for a new source of energy can only make this worse.
Thirdly, methane is a fossil fuel. Even if production and distribution are carefully controlled, it still produces CO2 emissions when it’s burnt. We should be developing renewables and managing demand, not exploiting more fossil fuels.

The official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that the fuel was successfully mined from beneath the South China Sea last Thursday. Chinese Minister of Land and Resources Jiang Daming declared the event a breakthrough moment heralding a potential “global energy revolution.” 


Litigation? It’s Child’s Play! (But the Trump administration is still not winning.)
I've been following the Juliana case for some months now. Avaaz, the international campaigning group, have just picked it up and decided it needs support. 

You’ll remember that this is a legal action by a group of children supported by Our Children’s Trust: tagline “Securing the legal right to a stable climate.” Their case is that the US government's negligence in allowing the exploitation of fossil fuels leads to pollution which limits the children’s life chances. 
I reported recently that the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the The American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) asked to be co-defendants because they considered that a judgement against the government would prejudice their businesses. The National Association of Manufacturers changed its mind and petitioned to withdraw when it realised that it would have to stand up and deny climate change if it were to defend the action. I learn that the API and the AFPM have also asked to  withdraw, leaving the government to face the action on its own. 

Government lawyers have now filed a "writ of mandamus" with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to review federal Judge Ann Aiken's decision from November, which denied the government's motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
A mandamus is considered a "drastic and extraordinary" remedy reserved for "really extraordinary cases," according to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. The administration essentially wants to leapfrog over a lower court in hopes of finding a more favourable ruling in a higher court.

Nevertheless, at a case review last week Judge Thomas Coffin said he expected the case to go to trial in late 2017 or early 2018.

Many people are watching the progress of this case. Juliana v. United States relies on a version of the public trust doctrine, which holds that the government is responsible for preserving certain natural resources for public use. In this instance, the resource is the country's "life-sustaining climate system," including the "atmosphere, waters, oceans, and biosphere.”

I will continue to watch this case and I’ll keep you posted. 

Ship Ahoy! No-one there.
In the Sustainable Futures Report we talk about sustainability and we talk about the future. According to Rolls Royce, autonomous ships are the future. The Autonomous Ship Symposium takes place in Amsterdam next week. Imagine a ship with no crew, operated from a control centre thousands of miles away but working automatically from minute to minute to plot the best route, avoiding other shipping and making its way around bad weather. The ship will have no crew and therefore no crew costs. No crew accommodation, either. And no crew for pirates to take hostage. If pirates do get on board, and it won't be easy, there will be no bridge and therefore no way for them to take control. 

An autonomous ship can make better use of space, can be more fuel-efficient and by feeding real-time data back to the shipowners can help them optimise the use of their fleet.

Rolls-Royce expect to see small vessels on local routes such as ferries to be largely automatic well within the next 10 years. Fully autonomous oceangoing cargo vessels should be at sea by 2035.

Over 80% of maritime disasters are reputedly down to human error. News this week came in of a collision between the USS Fitzgerald and a container vessel, with the loss of seven lives. An enquiry will determine the circumstances, but from the photographs it looks as though the two vessels were on converging courses. The collision was certainly not head on and it wasn’t broadside. Unless either of the ships had automatic collision-avoidance systems - unlikely on a containership - it looks like human error. 

We Don’t Need Experts
(According to Michael Gove)
And now the other political bit. Michael Gove has been appointed Secretary of State for the Environment following the election. Let’s look at his record. 
  • In 2011 he voted in favour of selling off all 635,000 acres acres of public woodlands and forest preserved by the Forestry Commission
  • In 2012 he voted against requiring the Green Investment Bank to explicitly act in support of reducing carbon emissions in line with the UK’s 2050 targets.
  • .In 2013 he voted against setting a target range for the amount of greenhouse gases produced and as Education Secretary he attempted to remove global warming from the geography curriculum. 
  • In 2015 he voted against requiring an environmental permit for fracking.
  • In 2016 he voted against reducing the carbon dioxide emission rate permitted in new homes.

Bonfire of the Regulations
Michael Gove is a principal supporter of Brexit, the U.K.'s departure from the European Union. His colleagues have identified Brexit as an opportunity - in their words - for a bonfire of the regulations. Not surprising then, that the president of the National Farmers Union writing to congratulate him on his new post urged him to re-authorise glyphosate. I'm not sure exactly what he means by reauthorisation because as far as I can tell there is no current ban on glyphosate although it is highly controversial. Glyphosate is a chemical compound which is a major component of herbicides such as Roundup and Weedol.

Manufacturers Monsanto give a number of reasons why glyphosate is environmentally friendly. For example, it is well known that ploughing releases carbon dioxide from the soil. This is avoided if weeds are cleared with herbicides rather than by ploughing. With less ploughing there are less CO2 emissions from diesel powered tractors. Monsanto have also developed Roundup-resistant crops. This means that the farmer can spray the field as the crop grows and only the weeds are killed.

On the other side academics are concerned that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic. So far the European Commission does not accept that this is a significant risk. Nevertheless glyphosate may persist in the soil and while it only works as herbicide by contact with the foliage it may be absorbed into the food crops and therefore into the food chain. These herbicides kill all forms of weeds including the habitats of all sorts of wildlife particularly at the insect level. Nevertheless, there are some signs of weeds becoming glyphosate-resistant like the crops. Short term successes may not be possible in the long-term.

Save the Bees
I’ve mentioned neonicotinoids before. These are pesticides used to protect crops such as oil seed rape, but are known to be dangerous to bees and other pollinators. At present their use is restricted by the EU. After Brexit the UK government can decide whether they can be used or not.

For 40 years the UK has worked with its European partners to develop standards and regulations which apply to all 28 member states. No one country can gain a competitive advantage by cutting corners to cut costs. Health and safety, food safety, environmental regulation, building regulations, product design, consumer protection and many other areas have been developed into regulations by British experts working with European colleagues. These regulations have been automatically incorporated into UK law. 

A major part of Brexit will be the Great Repeal Bill. This will cancel the laws which say that European standards apply in the UK, but will set up an alternative regulatory structure. It is clear that it will be impossible for Parliament to review all the legislation of the past 40 years so the new legislation will include statutory instruments. This means that the detail will be in the hands of ministers. Any or all of the regulations can be changed or abolished at the discretion of a minister, without parliamentary debate. The building industry is also on record as hoping that Brexit will loosen the standards they have to meet, both terms of environmental protection and construction standards. Let’s hope they think long and hard about fire regulations.

Of course we will have to respect European regulations for any products or services which we sell into Europe. We just won’t have a say in developing them any more.

Supporters of Brexit want minimal regulation and minimal taxation to boost business profits. Minimal taxation will of course mean minimal public services, and we have seen this week how that can play out in one of the richest boroughs in the world. 

Let’s Exit Brexit
The Prime Minister has been criticised for saying that no deal is better than a bad deal, but I agree with her. Let’s go for no deal at all, and stay just where we are; a leading member of the European Union.

And finally…
All right, no politics next time. Probably. But never underestimate  the consequences of the changes now under way.

I’m Anthony Day. That was the Sustainable Futures Report for 23rd June 2017.
There will be another next week. 

Just a footnote. Last year I suspended the Sustainable Futures Report for July, August and, unexpectedly, for September. Unsurprisingly the number of listeners dropped right off. This year I'm planning to suspend the podcast for August only, but episodes in July will be a bit shorter. Whatever happens there's always something new to report on the sustainable futures front.

And yes, that really is it! 

Bye for now.