Friday, December 21, 2018

The Carrington Event and COP24

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This is Anthony Day with the last Sustainable Futures Report for 2018. It's Friday, 21 December and only about 2 1/2 shopping days left to Christmas. I promised to tell you about the Carrington Event but before I do that let's get up-to-date on COP24. Last Friday I said that the conference would draw to a close as the Sustainable Futures Report was published. In fact that didn't happen. Discussions went on far into the night, continued into Saturday and a final communiqué was not issued until Sunday. It must have been with a sense of relief, but the chairman of the event showed that Mrs May is not the only one with nifty moves as he danced on the table in celebration.
What has it all been about, and what is there to celebrate? COP24 is part of the annual series of United Nations climate change conferences. The objective of this one was to review the situation following the signing of the Paris Agreement at COP21 in 2015 and to set the path for achieving its goals.

As I reported two weeks ago, Sir David Attenborough opened the conference with a warning. 
“Right now,” he said, “we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years.
Climate Change. 
“If we don’t take action the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.” 
It’s generally agreed that to stop climate change or at least to slow it down and avoid its most serious consequences we need to cut global emissions of greenhouse gases and in particular of CO2. COP24 produced a rule book setting out regulations that will govern the nuts and bolts of how countries cut carbon, provide finance to poorer nations and ensure that everyone is doing what they say they are doing.
It took long, hard-fought negotiation. At one stage Mohamed Nasheed, the former president of the Maldives, and now their lead negotiator, made an impassioned plea for urgent progress on cutting carbon.
"It's just madness for us to allow global CO2 levels (in the atmosphere) to go beyond 450 parts per million, and temperatures to shoot past 1.5 degrees," he told a press briefing last Thursday.
"That can still be prevented. If we come together on the basis of the emergency facing us, we can do it.
"Every country at this summit will have hell to pay if we don’t.”
Antonio Guterres, UN secretary-general, flew back to Poland to try and push COP24 to a successful conclusion.
He warned negotiators that failing to increase efforts on climate change would be "not only immoral but suicidal" for the planet.
Morally Unacceptable
Finally getting 196 nations to agree was some achievement, and it was achieved more than a day later than intended. Nevertheless it was seen as an unwelcome compromise for some. Quoted in The Independent, Jennifer Morgan, executive director at Greenpeace International said, “People expected action and that is what governments did not deliver. This is morally unacceptable.” She warned that the agreement lacked ambition and clarity on key issues, including financing for climate projects for developing countries.
The Youth View
CNN reported that Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old student from Sweden, captured the attention of the world when she shamed climate change negotiators.
"You are not mature enough to tell it like is," she said, "Even that burden you leave to us children. But I don't care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet.”
IPCC Sidelined
The IPCC report on the impacts of a temperature rise above 1.5C, made headlines when it was launched last October and the intention was to officially welcome it at COP24 as part of the conference proceedings. You’ll remember that the report stated that a 1.5℃ increase was the maximum safe level, but that the world was currently on course to 3℃. In the event, the welcome was opposed by fossil-fuel producers the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait. The final statement compromised by acknowledging simply that the report had been submitted in a timely manner.
Carbon Credits and Compensation
Key points at issue in the discussions were the management of carbon credits and the compensation to those developing countries already affected by rising sea levels due to climate change. Developed nations were afraid that compensating such countries would be an admission of liability and leave them open to legal claims for damages.
The issue of carbon credits remains unresolved. Emitting nations like the US failed to agree and Brazil which would claim credits for the largest carbon sink in the world, the Amazon rainforest, was also unable to reach agreement. Whether a market-based carbon trading system is an appropriate solution is questioned by many. These issues have been deferred to next year’s conference.
The Guardian’s view on COP24 is that while climate talks continue, there is hope. Yes, but we’ve been talking since the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. To be fair we’ve been acting as well, just not enough.
COP25 will take place in Chile in November 2019. Brazil withdrew its offer to host the event. Hardly surprising in view of President-elect Jair Bolsonaro’s climate scepticism.
And the good news…
Some good news is that although President Trump has committed to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement, this cannot be done before 2020 for legal reasons. Meanwhile many US states are adopting policies in line with the Paris Agreement, regardless of Federal policy.

And so to the Carrington Event..
On 2nd September 1859 telegraph operators found sparks coming from their equipment. One man received a shock which threw him across the room and in other places the paper caught fire. In several telegraph offices they disconnected the batteries, but then found that they could send messages as normal. The line between Portland and Boston operated like this for two hours. At the same time a massive aurora was seen in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Of course the aurora is normally only seen in polar latitudes, but now it extended to the tropics.
Sunspots and auroras
A day earlier British astronomer Richard Carrington was monitoring sunspots and tracing them on a screen. Suddenly he saw two intensely bright areas, and rushed out of the room to get someone else to come and have a look. By the time he got back they had gone.
What he had seen were solar flares associated with a Coronal Mass Ejection: an eruption on the surface of the sun. Visible light from the flares travelled to the earth and arrived after 8 minutes and 20 seconds as it always does. The highly magnetised plasma, driven by the solar wind, took some 17 hours to arrive. As it met the Earth’s magnetic field it generated auroras so powerful that people could see to read by them. Others thought the world was ending and were seriously overcome. 
In 1859 electricity was uncommon and telephones were unknown. Messages were sent in Morse code along copper wires. These wires became collectors as the solar storm hit, providing enough power to run the system or in some cases to cause injury and damage.
Could it happen again?
The obvious question is could it happen again? And the answer is yes, it already has. On March 13th 1989 a solar storm hit the Earth. This time it took two and a half days to arrive after the solar flare was seen. The storm was smaller than the Carrington Event but still caused brilliant auroras and disrupted radio reception. Some people thought nuclear war had started and that radios were being jammed by the Russians. In the 130 years since 1859 a massive electricity infrastructure had been built and every wire was affected by the magnetic cloud engulfing the Earth. In Quebec it was too much for the electricity grid which tripped, and much of the province was blacked out for 9 hours. A number of satellites were also disabled for a time.
In 2012 a Coronal Mass Ejection every bit as big as the Carrington event occurred, but fortunately on a side of the sun facing away from the Earth, so everything was ejected harmlessly into space. Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado, along with colleagues from NASA and other universities, published a seminal study of the storm in the December 2013 issue of the journal Space Weather.  Their paper, entitled "A major solar eruptive event in July 2012," describes how a powerful coronal mass ejection (CME) tore through Earth orbit on July 23, 2012.  Fortunately Earth wasn't there.  Instead, the storm cloud hit the STEREO-A spacecraft.
According to NASA…
“Extreme solar storms pose a threat to all forms of high-technology.  They begin with an explosion--a "solar flare"—in the magnetic canopy of a sunspot.  X-rays and extreme UV radiation reach Earth at light speed, ionizing the upper layers of our atmosphere; side-effects of this "solar EMP" (electro-magnetic pulse) include radio blackouts and GPS navigation errors. Minutes to hours later, the energetic particles arrive.  Moving only slightly slower than light itself, electrons and protons accelerated by the blast can electrify satellites and damage their electronics. Then come the CMEs (Coronal Mass Ejections), billion-ton clouds of magnetized plasma that take a day or more to cross the Sun-Earth divide.  Analysts believe that a direct hit by an extreme CME such as the one that missed Earth in July 2012 could cause widespread power blackouts, disabling everything that plugs into a wall socket.  Most people wouldn't even be able to flush their toilet because urban water supplies largely rely on electric pumps.”
It’s all based on the simple physical fact that if you bring a magnetic field close to a conductor and away again it induces an electric current in that conductor. That’s why telegraph operators were able to continue to work even after disconnecting their batteries; the fluctuating magnetism of the solar storm induced current in the telegraph wires. A very big magnetic field induces a very big current. I’m not sure that unplugging things from the wall will necessarily save them. Reports at the time of the Carrington Event talk of currents induced in the Earth itself. Your smartphone has conductors in it; so does your laptop, all your kitchen appliances, your TV - even your car. Power surges can destroy delicate electronics.
Safeguarding the Infrastructure
One of the major vulnerabilities is large electricity transformers at substations and power stations. If these cannot be successfully disconnected and shielded in the face of a solar storm an induced power surge in the overhead lines could cause them to be irreparably damaged. Some of these units cost millions of pounds and would take months, if not years, to replace. 
And again?
In February 2014, physicist Pete Riley of Predictive Science Inc. published a paper in Space Weather entitled "On the probability of occurrence of extreme space weather events."  In it, he analyzed records of solar storms going back 50+ years.  By extrapolating the frequency of ordinary storms to the extreme, he calculated the odds that a Carrington-class storm would hit Earth in the next ten years.
The answer: 12%. Roughly 8:1 against. Let’s hope he’s wrong. 
Other scientists have calculated that nothing like the Carrington event had occurred in the preceding 500 years, but while a repeat event may be likely to happen there is no way of calculating exactly when it might happen again. 

And that’s it for 2018
I’m going to leave it there for 2018 and wish you a very merry Christmas. But I don’t want to leave on a pessimistic note, so here’s a story I brought you back in March.
A farmer near Aberdeen in Scotland was concerned that a non-native mammal had invaded his land. He called the police and told them that he thought that he’d seen a tiger. The police asked all the local zoos to check whether they had lost a tiger and they sent an armed response unit. They cornered the suspect in a barn and discovered it was a very large cuddly toy. 
Happy Christmas! 

As I finish this I’ve just been asked to go on Talk Radio to talk about the latest government green policies and then I’m off to record an interview for the first episode of 2019. I’ll publish that around the middle of January, and I might publish the Talk Radio interview as a special bonus just before.
I’m Anthony Day.
That was the last Sustainable Futures Report for 2018.

Did I say Happy Christmas?

Friday, December 14, 2018

Another Year

Find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, SoundCloud or via www,

Hello, good morning and welcome. I'm Anthony Day, this is the Sustainable Futures Report and it's Friday, 14th December 2018. Yes, less than two weeks to Christmas so I hope you’ve got all your cards written and presents bought. 
This week as promised I shall look back at the 22 episodes published this year and pick out some themes, stories and updates.
Sustainability is an immensely broad issue and climate change must come at the very top. Among other things this year I’ve also looked at waste, population, and low carbon solutions for transport and energy. CoP 24, the United Nations climate change conference, comes to an end today although of course at the time of recording it's still going on. I'll update you on what was finally decided next week, but apparently the major contribution of the United States to the event was the promotion of the continued use of coal. This was initially met with disbelieving laughter and then drowned out by protesters complaining about the damage caused by fossil fuels from both production and use.
The big climate news this year was the IPCC report warning that we have only 12 years before reaching the tipping point when we will be unable to prevent catastrophic climate change. Actually that's not exactly what the report said. Certainly none of what I read quotes the 12 year figure. It does talk about 2030 as the deadline which of course is 12 years off, just. I'm concerned that the way it's being reported gives people a false sense of security and they'll think that they don't really have to worry about anything for 10 years or so. Of course what the report actually says is that we need to take urgent action now. Interestingly that's more or less what Lord Stern said in his report, and that was published in 2006.
Floods and Fires
2018 has seen extreme weather events across the world. In June and July there were wild fires in California, in northern England, in Greece and in Sweden, even above the Arctic Circle. Floods in Japan killed more than 200 people and then in the September Japan was hit by a typhoon. In Italy extreme rain led to flash floods which washed down a gorge and swept 11 hikers to their death. In October flash floods killed 10 people in France and at the same time hurricane-force winds hit Portugal, uprooting around 1,000 trees and leaving 300,000 people without power. Sydney, Australia, had torrential rain and destructive flash flooding in November.
Melting Ice
In the Arctic the warm weather led to ice melting and water seeping into the Global Seed Vault on Svalbard. You’ll remember it’s a long-term seed storage facility which represents the world’s largest collection of crop diversity. Fortunately, "The seeds in the vault have never, ever been at any kind of threat," said Maria Haga, executive director of the global Crop Trust. The Norwegian government is making repairs.
At the other end of the world the city of Cape Town in South Africa warned that it would run out of water on 21 April as the result of continuing drought. In the event that did not happen, although stringent rationing had been introduced and thousands of plastic jerrycans were sold as people prepared to stock up. Just in time, the rains came and farmers up country were also persuaded to release some of the water held in agricultural reservoirs. Cape Town is safe, although rationing and strict water management remain.
Wilder Fires
Wildfires returned to California in November. The biggest, called The Camp Fire, killed more than 85 people and destroyed18,000 structures. It’s estimated that the CO2 released by the fires was equivalent to the total CO2 emitted in the state from power generation. The 2018 wildfire season was the most destructive on record. President Trump blamed the extent of the fires on poor forest management. To the surprise of the population of Finland he suggested that that country avoided fires by raking their forests and keeping them tidy. But then, Trump is a well-known climate sceptic. When the Fourth National Climate Assessment prepared by the U.S. Global Change Research Program warned of serious economic consequences from climate change the president’s response was, “I don’t believe it.”
Glaciers on the Move
Last week I spoke about the effect of climate change on the polar ice caps and the effect of the polar ice caps on climate change. Accelerated melting raises sea levels and retreating ice exposes areas of the ocean which absorb heat, unlike the ice which reflects most of it back. News from the BBC this week of a NASA report that satellite images show that Eastern Antarctic glaciers are moving more quickly as they slide towards the sea. Addressing the  Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), Dr Catherine Walker from Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center said that the glaciers had speeded up by about 3% compared to 2008. The cause of the melting seems to be warmer water coming up against the glaciers as they reach the sea. The changes that are occurring are still quite subtle, and they are only really discernible because of the new automated computer tools that will search through the millions of satellite images taken of Antarctica. Research continues. 

It’s a Waste
Another major story this year has been waste, in particular plastic waste. A programme by David Attenborough revealing the devastation caused by plastics in the ocean caught the public imagination. We learnt that about half of the plastic in the ocean is lost or abandoned fishing gear. We also learned about microparticles. These come from some toothpastes and other toiletries, although they are being banned in the number of markets. The other source is other sorts of plastic which gradually break down as they decompose. These microparticles can absorb other pollutants as they float on the surface of the sea and then can sink to the depths of the ocean taking this pollution with them to infect deep-sea life. Otherwise microparticles can be absorbed by fish and other marine organisms. This can lead them into the human food chain but it's also been demonstrated that they can change the behaviour of some shellfish. For example, winkles can lose their fear of predators, which means whole populations become easy prey for crabs, changing the ecological balance.
Plastic waste has maintained a high profile throughout the year. There are ways of cleaning it up, but the long-term solution must lie at the production end so that the plastics used do not pollute or can be easily recycled. We need to continue to promote the circular economy.
Linking Cans
One of the most notorious articles of plastic waste is the mesh that is used to hold beer cans together. Once discarded any animal that gets trapped in it can find it impossible to free itself. Disturbing examples are widely to be found in the media. Many drinks companies have committed to abandoning this mesh and instead they will hold their cans in fours or sixes by using adhesive blocks to stick them together. Good idea, but I haven't seen them on the supermarket shelves yet.
In May I met Simon Jordan, founder of #5thingsclear. Simon says we must stop closing our eyes to litter and expecting that others will clear it up. #5thingsclear calls on you to pick up five pieces of litter every day and take it away for proper disposal. Sadly litter is all too prevalent wherever you go, so that shouldn’t be too difficult. Picking up 5 things is a start, especially if we all do it. “Only you,” he said, “Can make the change. Action trumps hope.”
Refill is an organisation setting up a network of places where you can fill your water bottle free of charge. Re-using a bottle means you avoid single-use plastic bottles, and some re-usable bottles are designed to keep your water cool as well. There’s an app, so wherever you are it shows you where your nearest refill point is.
I have a reusable coffee cup. Sometimes I remember to take it with me. Most coffee bars give a discount these days if you use your own cup, so it doesn't take long for it to pay for itself. There is a problem in that once you've used it you're carrying around a dirty cup. I've never asked a cafe whether they would wash it for me before refilling, but if they did I could have several coffees in a day and avoid single-use cups.
Recycled watch
In September Climate Action told us about a new solar-powered watch made from recycled plastic bottles. “Two French designers are leading the way to reducing plastic pollution,” they say, “by creating a watch made from recycled bottles. The new eco-friendly watch is named ‘Awake’. It is made from plastic waste, recycled stainless steel and is powered by solar energy.” 
Apparently this watch will cost about $300. I must admit I’m tempted, although my £65 watch still works perfectly well. If I were to buy a new watch it would be nice to think that it’s been made with minimal impact on the environment. I think the new watch’s main contribution will be to make people remember that recycling is important.
Walker of Shame?
The people’s plastic police picked on Walker’s, the popular crisp manufacturers. Walker's crisps are packaged in bags made of plasticised foil which is extremely difficult to recycle. Hundreds of people started sending the bags back to Walker’s, using the customer service freepost address. Many of them just sent the packets which caused a lot of disruption to the post office which urged them to at least put them in envelopes. Walker’s have responded and this week announced that they have set up a network of collection points across the country. They have developed a partnership with TerraCycle which specialises in recycling difficult materials. In fact it claims that it can recycle anything. According to the website you can help fund charities and schools each time you recycle your crisp packets. Walker’s say that they are committed to using 100% recyclable packaging by 2025.
Other potato crisps are available. 
Two Farmers offer crisps in a range of flavours. On their website they say: “In a pioneering move for the crisp industry we package our crisps in 100% compostable bags. These will completely break down in a home composting environment in 26 weeks. We also package into recyclable tins.” So you know where to go if you can’t wait for Walker’s until 2025.
The British government said it would do something about plastic in the budget. When it came to it there were no new taxes. The government said it would consult.
Energy, clean energy, is the most frequently recurring story in the Sustainable Futures Report. There are the ongoing sagas of the Hinkley C nuclear power station and the Swansea Bay barrier. Hinkley C carries on much the same as it did at the start of the year, way behind schedule, way over budget and extremely costly once it goes into production. The nuclear industry is not a happy place at the moment following a rumoured decision by Hitachi to pull out of the planned nuclear power station at Wylfa in Wales. The company’s share price rose 3% on the news, even though it will have to write off expenditure to date of nearly £2 billion. Bad news for the British government, though. It looks as though it may have to rescue the scheme with public money - something it vowed never to do. And it comes after Toshiba walked away from another proposed nuclear plant in Cumbria, which will now almost certainly not be built.
… and Tides
The Swansea Bay tidal barrage has its own set of problems. It has always been difficult to make the sums add up and the only way that the electricity price per unit can be calculated at anything near a reasonable level would be by looking at an extremely long expected life. The other issue is the problem with construction which will require thousands of tons of rock. The preferred source of this it is a quarry in Cornwall, but this is currently in an area of outstanding natural beauty and locals are horrified at the scale of expansion that would be needed. There are also questions over the financial structure, with ownership of the quarry and the barrier appearing to be in the same or closely related hands. On the one hand the present government has said that the barrier will not be built. The Labour opposition says that when it comes to power the barrier will be one of its first priorities. If it does come to power any time soon I think it will have more pressing matters to deal with.
The long hot summer in the UK generated a lot of solar energy and wind power made a significant contribution as well. For several months no coal was used for power generation. Still a long way to go to make the UK independent of fossil fuels for electricity generation. There is still much investment in gas fired power stations. Pity we don't have the level of sunshine that they get in Australia. In March, Elon Musk, he of Space-X and the Tesla electric car company, announced that he would give free solar panels and Tesla Powerwalls (batteries) to 50,000 homeowners in South Australia. The deal is that he sells the electricity to the homeowners for about 30% less than they are currently paying, he links all the systems together to make a virtual power station and he sells the surplus electricity to recoup his costs.
Fracking has been in the news as after months of protest the go-ahead was given for franking operations to begin near Preston in Lancashire. The process has been halted several times because of earth tremors. The latest and greatest at 1.5 on the Richter scale was reported just this week. It came just after operations had been resumed after a month-long suspension following earlier tremors.
Liquid Energy
Other energy stories that came up included the idea of a pumpable liquid to fuel electric cars. Too good to be true? Researchers Cronin, Chen and Symes say in the abstract from their article in the Nature Chemistry journal “we present a polyoxoanion, … that can act either as a high-performance redox flow battery electrolyte… …or as a mediator in an electrolytic cell for the on-demand generation of hydrogen.” It seems that this new process could be used in electric car batteries. The exhausted electrolyte liquid would be drained out and replaced with a new energy-rich batch. If this could be done as quickly as refuelling a petrol or diesel car the range anxiety problem with electric cars - the worry that the battery will run out and take hours to recharge, leaving the driver stranded - will be solved at a stroke. Of course there will be a few issues to be ironed out…
Leading the Charge
Other suggestions for charging up electric cars are to do it on the move, either with rails embedded in the road surface or with induction coils underneath.
The Bigger the Battery
Battery capacity is a key issue for electric vehicles. Energy to weight and energy to volume must be maximised. In April the University of Illinois announced that it had created a lithium air battery which could hold five times more energy than a conventional lithium ion battery and had been successfully charged and discharged 750 times.
They say it will take more work to create a commercial version of the battery but if they achieve this it will be a game changer. Research continues.
News from Canada
A major energy story continues in Canada. Alberta has vast reserves of hydrocarbons in its tar sands and wants to export crude oil to Asia through the Port of Vancouver. Vancouver is in British Columbia, and for the moment the provincial government is blocking the construction of a new pipeline to carry the oil from Alberta to the port. There are fears of pollution and desecration of the tribal lands of indigenous people and concerns about the passage of oil tankers through the difficult channel to the sea. I strongly recommend that you go to the blog at and follow the Globe and Mail link. 
 This is one of the best visual presentations that I’ve seen, and not only shows how the pipeline will reach the coast but highlights the risks involved in shipping the oil out.
At the moment the project seems to be stalemated, but in the light of the IPCC report we have to stop exploiting fossil fuels. Galling as it is - and highly significant for employment in Alberta - the best course for the planet must be to keep the tar sands in the ground.
22 episodes, about 70,000 words and 300 stories this year. I haven’t done them all justice, I’m afraid, but there will be another episode of the Sustainable Futures Report next week. Let me leave you with a reminder of the people I’ve interviewed this year, the books I’ve reviewed or come across and the TED talks that you really should watch.
In July I spoke to Martin Baxter of IEMA about the future of environmental regulation in the UK after Brexit. Also in July Kristina Joss, Head of Salterbaxter North America, a leading sustainability agency,  spoke about aligning business goals with the SDGs. I was also interviewed on Talk Radio by Mike Graham about adapting to climate Change. I was interviewed again on Talk Radio, this time by Julia Hartley Brewer about carbon dioxide. Do you remember that back in the summer there was a shortage of CO2 which affected the brewers and the soft drinks industry? The popular query seemed to be “If there’s all that CO2 out there causing climate change, how can there be a shortage?” I tried to explain.
Hal Harvey, author of Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy, spoke to me in October. His book is available now. Something for the Christmas stocking? It was the turn of Professor Jon Gluyas of Durham University later in October to talk about carbon capture and storage. 
Clive Wilson gave me an interview in September about his book, Designing the Purposeful World.
Books for your Christmas list should include 
  • Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy, by HalHarvey.
  • Designing the Purposeful World by Clive Wilson
  • And  “A Circular Economy Handbook for Business and Supply Chains” by Catherine Weetman and published by Kogan Page.
There’s a special offer for Sustainable Futures Report listeners on Catherine’s book. Go to - the full link is on the blog -, and use the discount code  CIRCULAR20 which she assures me makes it even cheaper than at Amazon.
This year I’ve also read,
  • This Changes Everything and
  • No is not Enough - both by Naomi Klein
  • Out of the Wreckage by George Monbiot and
  • Moneyland by Oliver Bullough is scary account of the world in which we now live and try and get our sustainability messages over.
TED Talks
If you’ve time for a TED Talk, search out Naomi Klein and Andrew Dent.
Before I close, 2018 has not been too good for VW the car company. It’s been scarred by the dieselgate scandal and then it was found that the company had been testing the effects of diesel emissions on monkeys. It stirred up a storm in Mexico, too. Apparently, Volkswagen is curbing the use of hail cannons outside its factory in Puebla, Mexico, after it was accused by local farmers of causing a drought in the region, leading to heavy losses of crops.
VW used the cannons to protect newly-built vehicles from hailstone damage. The devices emit shock waves into the sky, which are believed to prevent the chunks of ice from forming, but there’s a lack of scientific evidence that the cannons actually impact weather conditions and minimise hail, and their legitimacy has long been criticised. Still, farmers in Puebla claim that the cannons have led to a lack of much-needed rainfall. The hail cannons are “affecting the Earth’s cycles,” said Gerardo Perez, a leader of the farmers. When the devices blast away, “the sky literally clears and it simply doesn’t rain,” he said. To cover the crop losses, the farmers are demanding that Volkswagen pay nearly $4 million in compensation.

And that’s it..
…for this week, but there will be a final episode for the year next Friday 21st December when I’ll talk about the outcome of CoP24. Meanwhile, do you remember this song? I first played it in March. It’s called “Goodbye Beautiful World” but are we down hearted?
I'm Anthony Day and I'm still optimistic.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report and there'll be another next week.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Water - and COP24

Find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, SoundCloud or via www,

Hello and welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report. I'm Anthony Day and this is the edition for Friday, 7th November 2018.

This week I wanted to make water my theme. We’ll come to that, but the big news of course is COP24. It's the annual United Nations climate change conference held this year in Katowice, Poland. It's ironic that as the conference opened President Macron of France, faced by the increasing violence of the gilets jaunes protests, agreed to suspend the planned increase in diesel prices which were intended to protect the planet by reducing demand and reducing emissions.
Meanwhile, the opening keynote speaker was television naturalist Sir David Attenborough whose message was widely reported.
“Right now,” he said, “we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years.
Climate Change. 
“If we don’t take action the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.” 
He went on to explain, 
“At this crucial moment, the United Nations has invited the world’s people to have their voice heard, by giving them a seat. The People’s Seat; giving everyone the opportunity to join us here today, virtually, and speak directly to you the decision makers….. 
“…The world’s people have spoken. Their message is clear. Time is running out.
“They want you, the decision makers, to act now. They are behind you, along with civil society represented here today. 

“Supporting you in making tough decisions but also willing to make sacrifices in their daily lives. 
“The People have spoken. Leaders of the world, you must lead. The continuation of our civilisations and the natural world upon which we depend, is in your hands.”
He explained the UN’s This is an interactive app based on Messenger and when you click on the Get Started button it comes back with this personalised message:
“Anthony, you have the power to tackle climate change. Small changes can make a big difference if we all work together. The United Nations has identified 10 key actions that you can take in your daily life and record here. Our collective actions from around the globe will be presented to world leaders at the UN Climate Summit in September 2019.”
The 10 actions, with detailed explanation of each, are:
Eat meat-free meals, turn the lights off, drive less, use energy saving light bulbs, refill and re-use, have a 5-minute shower, buy local produce, bring your own bag, unplug, recycle. 
Simple enough, and small enough individually, but if we all do it there is vast strength in vast numbers. Not sure that I will go back to the site to record all my actions, though. Will people do that?
The People’s Seat
The People's Seat which Attenborough mentioned is a new UN campaign that will allow people from around the world to watch and have their voices heard during the climate summit COP24 which is now on. To do that you tweet using hashtag #takeyourseat. This use of Twitter along with the on Messenger is presumably aimed at a younger demographic. Apparently the campaign has been running for a while and if you google People’s Seat you’ll find messages about climate change from all over the world. 
The conference continues until next Friday 14th December, so I’ll comment on it again after that.
Oh, by the way, Katowice, where the conference is being held, is in the heart of Polish mining country. JSW, a majority state-owned corporation and the European Union's largest producer of high-quality coking coal is one of the major sponsors of COP24.

Let’s talk about water.
Water is one of the main issues of sustainability. Clean water part of the United Nations sustainable development goals. It's crucial to life and it's bound up in so many ways in the cause and effects of climate change.
Today I want to look again at how water affects us all. From the polar ice caps to the thermohaline circulation and the Gulf Stream; from floods to droughts to mudslides.
Polar ice 
First, let’s look at the poles. At both the North and South poles there are major masses of ice. The principal difference is that most of the Arctic ice is floating on the sea, so that if it melted it would not change sea levels. This is similar to the ice cube in your gin and tonic which may melt but won't cause your drink to overflow the glass. There is a significant amount of ice covering the Greenland landmass, and this would add 7 metres to sea level if it melted. 
In the Antarctic the ice sits on land. The Antarctic icecap contains about 90 percent of the world's ice and 70 percent of the world’s fresh water. Antarctica is covered with ice at an average of 2,150 metres thick. If all of the Antarctic ice melted, sea levels around the world would rise about 61 metres. 
Ice Loss
We talk constantly about global warming, so how likely is it that this ice will melt? Stuff, a magazine based in New Zealand, warns that Polar ice sheets may 'collapse' even if global warming is limited to the Paris Agreement target of 2℃. It quotes an article in Nature Climate Change which predicts that the threshold for irreversible ice loss in both Greenland and Antarctica is somewhere between 1.5 and 2C global mean warming. 
We're already at a bit more than 1C warming.
Professor Christina Hulbe, from the University of Otago School of Surveying, said the work had "one clear message: we are very close to triggering irreversible change in Earth's polar ice sheets”.
Faster Melting
In June this year, analysis showed that the rate of melting in Antarctica had tripled since 2012. Associate Professor Rob McKay, from Victoria University of Wellington's Antarctic Research Centre, said after the tipping points were reached at each polar ice sheet, "retreat potentially becomes unstoppable”. The more we overshoot the 1.5C target, the more rapid this accelerated ice sheet melt will be, but it won't happen overnight. It’s expected to take hundreds or thousands of years. 
Rising Tides
No grounds for complacency. As long as Antarctic ice is melting, or just slipping off into the sea as icebergs, sea levels are rising.
The National Geographic reports that the annual rate of rise over the past 20 years has been 3.2 millimetres a year, roughly twice the average speed of the preceding 80 years. Even 32mm per decade doesn’t sound a lot, and it isn’t very much in calm conditions. However, let’s take an example.
Let’s assume that the Thames Estuary has an area of about 700km2. That’s 700,000,000m2. If the sea level rises by 32mm in 10 years that’s an extra 22m tonnes of water. When there’s a storm surge or a high wind driving up the river that’s an extra 22m tonnes of water pushing against the Thames Barrier or flooding into coastal towns. Now consider how much more water there will be across the oceans of the world as sea levels rise. The total area of global oceans is about 360mkm2. You can do the maths.
Things could be much worse. NASA predicts that sea levels could rise by 65cm by the end of the century and says that that could be a conservative estimate. It seems that the difference is accounted for by the expansion of water as the world warms, and by differences in modelling techniques. Ice-melt prediction is a relatively young science. Some researchers believe that the Greenland Ice sheet will completely melt by 2100, releasing enough water to submerge London. And if that happens many other cities and countries will be affected as well.
Wet Feet?
According to the US ocean service, in the United States, almost 40 percent of the population lives in relatively high-population-density coastal areas, where sea level plays a role in flooding, shoreline erosion, and hazards from storms. Globally, eight of the world's 10 largest cities are near a coast. The UK Climate Projections report, issued last month by the Met Office, warns that the most serious consequences for the UK will be increased flooding. Environment Minister Michael Gove (at the time of writing) says that flood defences can only go so far, and some areas will have to be permanently evacuated.

The Oceans
The water in the oceans is in constant flux. There are local currents driven by the wind but there is a much larger flow called the thermohaline circulation. The North Atlantic current, including the Gulf Stream, flows from the Caribbean to the northeast above Scandinavia. As it reaches the higher, colder latitudes it begins to freeze, and as the ice forms the salt in the water is left behind, making it denser. Denser water sinks to the bottom of the ocean and begins to flow south across the ocean bed. On the surface, more water is drawn in to replace the water that has sunk. This is the start of the thermohaline circulation: thermo, relating to the heat and haline, meaning saltiness.
Slowing Down
Forbes Magazine reports on the work of researchers at the Swire Institute of Marine Science and the University of Hong Kong. They studied sediment and fossils off the coast of Canada to reconstruct ocean circulation in the past and to compare it with where it is today. The team, which published its findings in Geophysical Research Letters, found a dramatic weakening of ocean circulation during the last century. The concern is that increasing numbers of icebergs flowing off Greenland are changing the salinity of the water and effectively creating a freshwater cap. This is slowing down the sinking process, which in turn slows down the current, and could eventually block it. 
Why does this matter?
The clue is in the thermo bit. The current crossing the Atlantic is bringing warm water, which affects the climate. It’s the reason why winters in London are much milder than those in New York, even though London is 11 degrees of latitude further north. A slowing of the current could perhaps have been the cause of the Little Ice Age in Europe. This period, lasting from around 1300 to 1850 AD marked bitter cold conditions, famine, drought, and widespread population decline. Nobody can say for sure. Equally nobody can say when or whether it will happen again. If you believe in the precautionary principle, it’s another strong argument to take every measure to attempt to keep global warming down to 1.5℃ or less.
More to come
There’s an awful lot more about water. I haven’t discussed clouds, or floods, or droughts, or drinking water or sewage, but I’m going to leave those topics for another time.

There is a vast amount of information on the web and you’ll find a selection of links on the blog at .

And in other news…
I got a press release this week from the Group of 78 (G78) which apparently is a non-governmental organization, founded in 1981, dedicated to the promotion of a progressive foreign policy based on principles of sustainable peace, justice, and global survival in the face of contemporary challenges. Its report Meeting the Climate Challenge: Accelerating the Transition to a Post-Carbon World, G78 Conference Report and Policy Recommendations, is the outcome of a policy conference held in Ottawa September 28-29.
Anyone can become a member of G78 and the number refers to the 78 Canadians who originally set up the organisation. 
The report and the press release call for stronger international actions to avert catastrophic climate change. G78 hopes that international leaders and decision-makers will commit to such actions at the UN’s COP24, which is currently in session. I hope so too, and I’ll report on that in the Sustainable Futures Report for 21st December.           
CO2 Up
 Action is certainly needed. The BBC reports that CO2 is sharply up in 2018 due to the use of cars and coal. China is boosting the use of coal to drive its economy. In other areas, including the UK, gas prices have risen making coal more competitive for generating electricity. In the UK the chancellor froze fuel duty for the 9th year in a row recently. Cars are getting bigger and drivers have little concern for fuel economy or emissions levels. They can perhaps be forgiven for being sceptical about all this after the diesel-gate scandal - the deliberate modification of cars to defeat emissions tests. Meanwhile, as I said at the beginning, President Macron’s attempt at cutting fossil fuel use by raising prices led to two weeks of riots in the streets across France and he’s had to back down. 
We live in difficult times!
And finally…
That's it for another week.
Thanks for listening and thanks to my patrons for all their support. You can find out about being a patron at 
Patron Iain Duke got in touch and suggested I should look at the conflict between development and ecological footprint reduction. Thanks, Iain, I’ve got that down for early next year. And if you’ve got any ideas or opinions on that please share. I’m on
Next week I’m going to have a look at all the topics I’ve covered in 2018 and see whether there are any significant updates you should know about. On 21st December I’ll look at what happened at COP24 and I’ll also talk about the Carrington Event. Could it happen again?
That’s it for this week.
I’m Anthony Day.

That was the Sustainable Futures Report.