Friday, September 28, 2018

How Smart is your Smart Meter?

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Yes it's Friday again already, Friday, 28 September. This is the Sustainable Futures Report and I'm Anthony Day.
Welcome to all my listeners, welcome to all my patrons and a special welcome to the latest patron, Tom de Simone. Thanks Tom! Tom popped across to and signed up to make a monthly contribution towards my costs in hosting this podcast. Your unique enamel Sustainable Futures Report badge is in the post. A badge like that could be yours too.
How smart is your smart meter?
How smart is your smart meter? This week I'll tell you about my PhD research into smart meters and why I’m not doing it any more. I did learn quite a lot as I shall explain later. OPEC tells us that they expect oil production to rise dramatically in the next five years, so if that's true I presume we can kiss goodbye to the Paris agreement. Why not avoid oil and buy an electric car? We ordered one last week. Unlike other electric car owners we won't be taking it to the Middle East. Why would we? Listen on and you’ll find out. The answer to heating British homes and indeed homes in other countries could lie in the coal mines. But it has nothing to do with coal. First of all though, let's talk about sustainability and survival. Specifically about the survival of food plants on earth.
Arctic Underground
Deep inside a mountain on a remote island in the Svalbard archipelago, halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, lies the Global Seed Vault. Well above the Arctic Circle, it’s a long-term seed storage facility, built to stand the test of time — and the challenge of natural or man-made disasters. The Seed Vault represents the world’s largest collection of crop diversity. There are nearly 2,000 gene banks or seed banks across the world, but the Svalbard facility is the largest and designed to be the most secure. Apart from everything else, it is so cold there that everything can remain frozen without the need for energy. The vault is 100 m within the mountainside in an area which is geologically stable and well above sea level even if sea levels rise significantly. If there is an international disaster: for example a disease which wipes out a particular crop across the world, there will always be seeds in the vaults to allow crops to be replanted. The other purpose of this collection is to preserve plant diversity when agribusiness is focusing on crops of fewer and fewer varieties.
Even in this Arctic location climate change makes its presence felt and ABC news reports that the permafrost is weakening and because more rain is falling than previously, water is leaking into the access tunnel. The Norwegian government is spending $17 million on repairs.
"The seeds in the vault have never, ever been at any kind of threat," said Maria Haga, executive director of the global Crop Trust, one of three organisations that manage the vault. 
"We've had a bit of water in the tunnel leading into the rooms where we've had the seeds, but far away from the seeds." 
Changing Climate
Norwegian Polar Institute international director Kim Holmen said the pace of climate change in the Arctic was dramatic. 
"We are seeing temperatures going up, the winter time temperatures tremendously. We see less ice on the ocean, no ice at all on the fjords when there should be," he said. 
"We see snow melting earlier in the spring, glaciers thinning, eco-systems changing. "If you doubt that climate is changing, please visit the Arctic. 
"It is changing very much here, consistently warming. The only explanation that my scientific understanding can find today is that it is due to human-induced change of the atmosphere." 
World Oil Outlook 2040
Didn't I read somewhere that burning fossil fuels leads to emissions which cause global warming and climate change? Fossil fuels like oil? It's a bit worrying then to read a headline in The Guardian: “OPEC predicts massive rise in oil production over next five years”. They are referring to the latest report from OPEC, (Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries), the World Oil Outlook 2040. 
What the report actually says is that demand for oil is expected to rise to 104.5 mb/d by 2023, which is an average growth of 1.2% per annum and the growth rate is declining. By 2040, 22 years from now, demand is expected to rise slowly to 111.7 mb/d. Hardly a massive rise over 5 years, but the total rise over the 23 years from 2017 runs to 14.9%. Much of this increase is put down to the growth in transport, and while OPEC believes that electric vehicles will affect the demand for oil they do not expect EVs to account for more than 13% of the global vehicle fleet by 2040. 
Any increase in oil use is worrying when the Paris Agreement calls for dramatic emissions reductions by 2050. Increases can only be held back if governments take action, and simply depressing demand by taxes or regulations will be politically unacceptable to say the least. We need leadership to promote alternative fuels and alternative transport models, but for the moment politicians on both sides of the Atlantic seem to be consumed by other things, and to consider that environmental issues are low priority. 
Alternative Transport
Talking of alternative transport, we ordered an electric car last week. It won’t come until December and I’ll tell you all about it then. 
This week City AM reported that car-sharing service Turo, which matches renters with car owners, hopes to sign up many of the UK's 30m cars after it launched to the general market on Tuesday. Turo is already established in the US where owners can list their cars and receive 75% of the fees charged for each journey. Turo takes care of the insurance and responsibility for any damage and says it pre-vets all renters. It’s a great way to make money out of an asset which may be essential but sits idle for most of the time. Initially Turo UK will concentrate on London (quelle surprise!) but aims to expand across the country. I was going to sign my car up until I found they wouldn’t list anything over 10 years old. My Prius will be 13 next month. Even more economical than ever.

Go East, EV Driver
If you like electric cars maybe you should sign up for the Global EV Road Trip in the UAE and Oman in January next year. The organisers say: 
“During previous events we have had Tesla, the Chevrolet Bolt EV [that’s the Opel Ampera-e in Europe] and Renault Zoe. Every year we bring on new models that are available in the market and we aim to have as many as possible. You will have a dedicated car which becomes your car for the road trip. You will mainly drive this car however you will have many test drive opportunities of all the other cars.
Regarding cars preferences, it's first come first served. Book your seat now so that you can select which car you'd like!”
The full trip costs just under £2,000, with your flights on top. I can’t help thinking that the emissions from the flights alone will probably wipe out the savings from any electric car you might have at home. Don’t let me stand in your way. Just go to And do send us a postcard.
Energy from No Coal
Energy, of course, is not just about electricity. In 2015 the total primary energy demand in the UK was 202.5 mtoe and some 29% of this was used for space heating. Almost all of that was generated directly or indirectly from fossil fuels. In fact 50% of all gas used in the UK is used for heating, and since 2004 we have been net gas importers.
Last week I was at an event in Leeds where I met Professor Jon Guylas of Durham University. He explained to me how together with Assistant Professor Charlotte Adams and team he was working on the potential of extracting heat from geothermal resources. In theory geothermal energy is available to everyone, because wherever you are in the world if you drill into the earth’s crust the further you go the hotter it gets. Getting the heat out requires a fluid to carry it. Water is ideal. One source of warm water is flooded coal mines, of which there are many in the UK. Coal mines tend to be near communities, the former mining communities, so the heat can be easily transferred into district heating systems. Of course the water in coal mines is not typically boiling hot, in fact it’s only about 14-16℃, but a heat pump can raise the temperature to useful levels.
If I were writing this on a page I would now put in a side panel to explain what district heating and heat pumps are, and you can ignore this if you know already. However I can’t do this in a podcast so bear with me while I remind those who may have forgotten.
District heating is very common in the US, in Europe and particularly in Eastern Europe and Russia. Very hot water mains are laid in the streets and spurs led off to each property. In almost every UK house there is an individual boiler but every house in a district heating scheme has a heat exchanger, (like one radiator inside another), where the very hot water heats water for domestic taps, showers and radiators. I read somewhere that the system worked so well in the former Soviet Union that the only way to control the heat in mid-winter was to open the windows. I understand that control systems have since been improved and they are now using quite a lot less energy. 
A heat pump works like a fridge. It extracts heat and pumps it out via a radiator. Put your hand down the back of your fridge if you don’t believe me. A heat pump could power a district heating system by extracting heat from a flooded mine. Typical efficiency yields 4:1. In other words, every kWh of energy put into running the pump yields 4kWh of heat.
On the blog there’s a link to an article by the Durham team explaining all about this. They also published an article: “Keeping warm: a review of deep geothermal potential of the UK”, which appeared in the Proceedings of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers Part A, Journal of Power and Energy. 
Here’s a quotation from the abstract:
“The consequences of developing a substantial part of the UK’s geothermal resource are profound. The baseload heating that could be supplied from low enthalpy geothermal energy would cause a dramatic fall in the UK’s emissions of greenhouse gases, reduce the need for separate energy storage required by the intermittent renewables (wind and solar) and underpin a significant position of the nation’s energy security for the foreseeable future, so lessening the UK’s dependence on imported oil and gas. Investment in indigenous energy supplies would also mean retention of wealth in the UK.”
I will monitor this important story and keep you informed of developments.
Smart Metering
How Smart is your smart meter? Earlier this year I started researching for a PhD at the Leeds Sustainability Institute of Leeds Beckett University. I’ve subsequently withdrawn from the course, for reasons explained later, but in the relatively short time that I spent on this assignment I did find out quite a lot about smart meters.

The UK has a plan to install 53 million smart meters into domestic and commercial premises by the end of 2020. Some 13 million are now in place, so the chances of completion on time are small. A smart metering system consists of an electricity meter, a gas meter, a communications hub and a visual display. The communications hub sets up a wireless network allowing it to communicate with the gas and electricity meters. It uses separate wireless communications to contact the electricity supply network. The visual display shows near real-time consumption of gas and electricity, either separately or combined. This can be shown as kWh, financial cost or carbon emissions created, for now, today, this week, this month or this year. The user can set up a budget for comparison and the display will show green, amber or red symbols depending on how much energy is being used. 
There are two principal benefits claimed for smart meters. The first is that consumers will change their behaviour in response to information from the data displayed. For example, if red lights show it is expected that they will reduce consumption. In other markets, though not widely in the UK at present, there are variable tariffs for different times of day. Consumption at times of peak demand will be more expensive - more red lights - so consumers will be encouraged to switch things off. This helps generators to balance the national load. If consumers do reduce consumption at peak times then generators can reduce the number of expensive power stations idling for hours on standby just to meet a peak which may last only minutes. At the moment, however, there is scant evidence that consumers do cut their consumption when made aware of how much they are using. An exception to this was shown by a study of users of prepaid meters. Such people are used to making every penny count.
The second benefit is to both the energy companies and the consumer. By using the meters to monitor consumption remotely there is no need, or cost, to send someone to the property to read the meter. This means an end to estimated bills and fewer calls to customer service to dispute them. Consumers receive their bills promptly and accurately and are no longer surprised by massive estimated bills issued because the meter reader could not get access.
So far so good.
The vast majority of the 13m meters installed so far are called SMETS1. A version called SMETS2 is just starting to roll out, but at this stage they number only in the hundreds. The British government urges consumers to request a smart meter and take back control of energy costs. It also urges consumers to seek the best deal and switch from supplier to supplier. Unfortunately if a consumer has a SMETS1 meter and switches suppliers the meter goes dumb. It cannot send data to the new supplier, which now has to send someone round to read the meter again. The visual display no longer knows what tariff applies so can no longer show the cost of energy or accept a budget. Consumption per day, per week, per month or per year only goes back as far as the date of the switch. This is not a problem with SMETS2 meters and there are plans to upgrade the software on the SMETS1 meters to solve the switching problem, but no date is yet known.
Consumers in the UK do not have to accept smart meters: they have the right to refuse. This is probably a good idea, given what happened in the Netherlands. The Dutch government made smart meters compulsory, but the Dutch Committee for the Protection of Personal Data advised that this was likely to conflict with privacy laws and the Consumers’ Association published a report that the rollout of the meters could infringe the European Convention on Human Rights. There was criticism of the specification of the meters from the Dutch Applied Research Institute and the whole issue became a matter of hot public debate. The government was forced to accept an amendment to the legislation allowing citizens the right to refuse.
There is opposition to smart meters for many reasons. Concerns include that marketing organisations could use the data to profile and target consumers or that within a household one individual could closely monitor the activities of others. Consumers have also claimed that burglars in possession of the data could identify unoccupied properties, stalkers could track their victims, law enforcement agencies could detect illegal activities or validate alibis (“I was at home all evening”), and the information could even be used in custody battles or landlord-tenant disputes. 
How realistic this actually is, is open to question. The meters do not send data to the central system in real time; it is typically stored and uploaded once per day. UK consumers can request that it is uploaded only once per month. Data protection rules prohibit the use of the data for any reasons apart from billing and management of the power infrastructure. If criminals wanted to access real-time data from a meter to determine whether or not a property was occupied they would have to hack directly into the smart meter and persuade it to release information which they would then have to interpret. Sounds difficult to me.
There are pressure groups determined to stop smart meters, like They are concerned about dangers from radiation and in the US utility companies have been hit with multi-million dollar class action lawsuits from people who have had the meters installed in their homes and claim that they are damaging their health. Others are concerned about the technical aspects of the meters and whether they are influenced by the power factor (technical term, you’ll have to google it) and therefore over-record and overcharge.
No Smoke…?
There is also a worrying report that two senior officials in regulator Ofgem, the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets, raised concerns about problems including the smart meter project and were threatened with imprisonment. They allege they were bullied, treated unfairly and sidelined to such an extent they felt compelled to bring their grievances to an employment tribunal.
They say they were told they would not be allowed to reveal to the tribunal, or anyone else, the concerns they had.
One said, “Specifically I was told that if I told the truth, my career with Ofgem would be finished.”
All is clearly not well with the smart meter roll-out. If I can find out more I’ll keep you posted.
And Finally…
So why did I give up the PhD? I wanted to study why climate change deniers were getting more attention from policymakers than scientists with verified research. It was pointed out to me that this was not an appropriate study for a PhD and in any case would be impossible to verify. It became clear that I had misunderstood what a PhD is about. It's a training in academic research which happens to focus on a very small area in very great depth. The area I eventually chose was the issue of smart metering. I've come to the conclusion that I didn't want to spend a further five years studying this because my interests are so much wider. I'm grateful to my supervisory team at Leeds Beckett University who educated me about the scope and purpose of the PhD, introduced me to academic rigour, and explained about plagiarism and research ethics. I've learnt that one must never have an opinion, only facts which are derived either from the peer reviewed research of others or from one's own research. Actually there is one opinion that you're allowed, which is that further research may be necessary in this field.

So that’s it.
Yes, that’s it for another week. I must make clear that all the stories in the Sustainable Futures Report have certainly been assembled without academic rigour. The message then, as seen on many investment self-help sites, is DYOR. That’s do your own research, and as always I provide links to my stories on this blog at to give you a starting point.
I’m Anthony Day.
Many thanks to you for listening, particular thanks to patrons for supporting and special thanks to Tom de Simone for being our very latest patron. You too can be a patron if you hop across to
That was the Sustainable Futures Report and there'll be another one next month. In fact there will probably be another one next week because of course next Friday is 5th October. Between now and then enjoy everything you're doing and if you have any ideas, suggestions or comments contact me at 
Special Offer!
Just before I finally go, I have a special offer for you. You remember that I reviewed Catherine Weetman’s book on the circular economy last time? She’s offering a special 20% discount to Sustainable Futures Report listeners. 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.
And that really is all!

Bye for now.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Coming Round

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Hello and Welcome

Hello and welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 21st September. Yes I'm working back up to producing weekly editions once again. I'll explain why in the next episode.
Yes this is Anthony Day and welcome once again to the Sustainable Futures Report. As I say every time, a special welcome to my patrons whose regular contributions cover the costs of hosting this podcast. Welcome, and thanks again to you all.
If you would like to become a patron you'd be more than welcome and all you have to do is pop across to and sign up.
This week
This week I review an important book on the circular economy, there is energy news on nuclear, gas and coal, the BBC fesses up, Saturn may have rings but Carlsberg is getting rid of them, extreme weather is still battering many parts of the world and can Walmart afford sustainability?
Remember, there are links to all my sources on the blog, which is available from Friday morning at
Climate Change
But first, climate change is an issue but what can you and I do about it?
Last time I reported that scientists believe we could be as little as 3 years off the climate change tipping point. Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the authors say: 
“Collective human action is required to steer the Earth System away from a potential threshold and stabilize it in a habitable interglacial-like state. Such action entails stewardship of the entire Earth System—biosphere, climate, and societies—and could include decarbonization of the global economy, enhancement of biosphere carbon sinks, behavioral changes, technological innovations, new governance arrangements, and transformed social values.”
What can we do about it?
In each episode of the Sustainable Futures Report I complain about how little is being done to address the problem or to take it seriously, but perhaps it’s time I came up with some suggestions about what you and I can actually do about it. It’s easy to blame governments or other people, but it’s not enough. Yes, let’s put pressure on governments and corporations and keep the debate on carbon emissions and resource depletion in the front of public consciousness, but what should we ourselves be doing? Do you remember reduce, re-use, recycle? Let’s reduce the amount of plastic we buy. In fact many people are doing just that. However the sad fact is that refusing plastic drinking straws is a good thing to do but it won’t save the planet, any more than that watch made from recycled materials, that I featured last time, will. More about all that from George Monbiot later on.
Now if you delayed replacing your car by a year, or even more, you’d start to make a difference. Every new car starts as raw materials - iron ore, chemical feedstock for the plastics, rare earth metals for the electronics, sand and silica for the glass. If you don’t buy a new car none of that material has to be used. More important is the energy used in every stage of the manufacturing process, from the diggers which extract the ores, the refineries which produce the chemicals, the kilns which produce the glass to the energy which keeps the production lines rolling and powers the assembly robots. In the present state of things, most of that energy has a carbon footprint. And the benefit of all that energy is wasted when your car is scrapped. Your new car makes a significant contribution to global warming and carbon emissions even before you drive it out of the showroom, just by being built. So let’s reduce, and reduce significantly by thinking carefully about delaying big-ticket purchases like cars, domestic appliances and so on. But there’s more.
Repair, remake, redesign, rethink 
Repair, remake, redesign, rethink is the subtitle of a new book by Catherine Weetman. It’s called “A Circular Economy Handbook for Business and Supply Chains”, published by Kogan Page (ISBN 978-0-7494-7675-5). You will have come across the idea of the circular economy in previous episodes of the Sustainable Futures Report. The idea is that all production and manufacturing exists in a closed circuit. When a product nears the end of its life it may be refurbished, repaired or re-manufactured and ultimately disassembled into it all its component materials. As in nature, there is, theoretically, no waste in the circular economy. Everything for which there is no further use becomes the raw material for the next production cycle. Catherine quotes Professor Walter Stahel who said “…the goods of today become the resources of tomorrow at yesterday’s prices.” 
Sounds too to be true? To some extent it may be, but there is a tremendous amount of work which can be done to develop the circular economy before we get anywhere near theoretical limits.

Why a Book?
As I said in the last episode, all information exists somewhere on the web in reach of a search engine. The difference with a book is that the author has done all the research, verified the content and put it into a logical sequence for us to use. Catherine Weetman has carried out detailed research so that each chapter of her book ends with an exhaustive list of academic references and a list of further resources. Nonetheless this is a practical book, not an academic thesis. Apart from research, Catherine Weetman writes with experience from working on logistics and project management in food, fashion and supply chains for some of the UK’s biggest household names. 
Her book is written in a clear and understandable style and has charts and tables and a wealth of case studies. It starts with a guide on How to Use this Book, which is always useful. Divided into four parts, it leads off with an overview so you’re left in no doubt about what the circular economy is, while Part 2 describes how businesses in various industries have adopted circular economy principles. Part 3 looks at the implications for supply chains and Part 4 is devoted to implementation. 
The circular economy is an essential part of achieving and maintaining a sustainable world, so I like the way Catherine puts everything in context with case studies and real-world examples. We learn how Ford is working with HJ Heinz to use fibres from tomato skins as a bioplastic material, replacing petrochemical plastics and stopping the tomato skins being wasted. We learn how global water usage has grown at more than double the rate of population growth in the last century, and goes on growing. We learn how crops grown to feed people directly take up just 4% of the world’s available land surface, whilst crops to feed cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens account for 30%. We learn how resources - technical, energy, water and biological - are impacted, and some would say unsustainably impacted, by different industries across the world. Case studies and examples from food and agriculture, fashion, consumer electronics and industrial manufacturing show how the circular economy is potentially at the heart of a sustainability revolution and of fundamental changes to our lifestyles and expectations. It’s about doing more with less. It’s about sharing resources in a different way to achieve a different and probably better standard of living. 
Who’s it for?
This book is as much for the managers who have never heard of the circular economy as for those who deal with it every day. Every business is at the crossroads of numerous supply chains and if the organisations upstream or downstream of your business decide to implement circular economy principles you’re going to have to adapt, or you will find business more difficult or more costly to do. As I said in The Green Supply Chain, if you’re the weakest link your customers and suppliers are likely to work round you, and suddenly your market is gone. A Circular Economy Handbook for Business and Supply Chains is an essential reference for those already involved, and forewarns and forearms those who haven’t been hit by it yet. It’s not bedtime reading, nor would I expect anyone to read it from cover to cover, but buy this book and dip into it. It’s not only useful, much of it is fascinating. It will broaden your outlook and you might find out how your competitors could be overtaking you.
Special Offer!
Catherine Weetman is offering a special 20% discount to Sustainable Futures Report listeners. Go to, and use the discount code  CIRCULAR20 which she assures me makes it even cheaper than at Amazon.
The Competition
Talking of competitors overtaking you, I read that China and the European Union (EU) signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Circular Economy Cooperation at the 20th EU-China Summit in Beijing on 16th July. Of course the UK won’t have to worry about that after Brexit next year, which is just as well as we will have plenty of other things to worry us by then!
CHINA - EU circular economy
Hinkley C
Moving on to energy and our old favourite Hinkley C. The CEO of the French nuclear group Framatome said recently that the start-up of the UK’s first European pressurised reactor (EPR) at Hinkley Point C in 2025 was feasible. Framatome used to be called Areva, a troubled engineering company involved with other EPR projects in Finland, France and China, all of which are over budget and seriously delayed. When EDF signed the Hinkley Point deal with the UK government in 2012, Vincent de Rivaz, the CEO of EDF Energy at the time, said UK households would be cooking their Christmas turkeys with electricity generated at the reactor in 2017.  Only 8 years late, then. So far.
The project is led by EDF Energy with investment from China and backing from the UK government. There has been strong criticism of the government for guaranteeing an indexed-linked price for the electricity from the plant at more than twice the current rate. As renewable and battery prices fall many see the plant as an expensive white elephant, but with 3,100 people employed on the site it would be a brave politician who called a halt.

Coal Comeback
In other energy news The Guardian reports that a coal comeback could drive up UK energy emissions. It’s a simple question of market economics: Coal plants have become more economic to run than their gas counterparts in the past month because wholesale gas prices have hit 10-year highs. A report from Imperial College warns that coal-burning in September is adding an extra 1,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions to the UK’s total, threatening its reduction targets.
And in Germany…
Meanwhile in Germany dozens of protesters have occupied 60 treehouses, some as high as 25 metres off the ground, since 2012 in an attempt to protect the ancient Hambach forest from being felled to make way for the expansion of an open-pit coal mine. The authorities have now decided to drive them out so that RWE can enlarge its existing lignite mine. 
Hambach is an ancient forest and home to some rare species but RWE owns it and intends to fell it and has the force of the law behind it. Lignite, of course, is a particularly dirty type of coal and it is ironic that a government-appointed coal committee is due to announce an end date for the coal industry by the end of the year. The government is under pressure to reduce emissions in line with the Paris agreement but has had to rely more on coal since it decided to phase out nuclear by 2022, following the Fukushima disaster.
Across the Pond
Meanwhile, some good news from across the pond. Courthouse News reports that the state of Oregon can continue rating fuels based on their greenhouse gas emissions despite claims by oil and gas companies that the program is unconstitutional. The American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, American Trucking Associations, and Consumer Energy Alliance sued the state environmental commission in 2015, asking a federal judge to block Oregon’s Clean Fuels Program on the basis that it is unconstitutional, unenforceable and discriminatory.  Under the program, regulated businesses must keep the average carbon intensity of all transportation fuels used in Oregon under an annual limit. Fuels with carbon intensity below the limit generate credits for the businesses, while those above the limit result in a deficit.
U.S. District Judge Ann L. Aiken refused, finding the Oregon program was nearly identical to a California program that the Ninth Circuit had previously approved.
The case went to appeal, but a divided panel of Ninth Circuit  judges ruled in Oregon’s favour.
You may remember that Judge Ann Aiken has been prominent in the Juliana case. This is an action by a group of young people against the president and the US government, claiming that their life chances are damaged by the government’s failure to prevent fossil fuel companies from polluting the environment in which they live and by contributing to the causes of climate change. Despite repeated calls by the government for the action to be struck out, the case goes on. And on. Some of the young people are not so young these days.

Wind in the Desert
A recent paper from the University of Illinois suggests that we should consider building wind and solar farms in the Sahara Desert. Do you remember Desertec? It was a plan to build solar farms in the Sahara and to transmit the energy to power Europe. The Desertec Foundation still exists and is still promoting the idea and you can find all about it at The Illinois research is about a lot more than just cheap renewable energy. Postdoctoral researcher Yan Li and his colleagues found that a massive wind and solar installation in the Sahara Desert could have beneficial climatic and ecological effects, as well as supplying power to Europe and the Middle East. Their climate-modeling study found that such an installation in the Sahara Desert and neighboring Sahel would increase local temperature, precipitation and vegetation. Overall, the researchers report, the effects would likely benefit the region. 
Co-researcher Eugenia Kalnay at the University of Maryland, said, “We found that the large-scale installation of solar and wind farms can bring more rainfall and promote vegetation growth in these regions. The rainfall increase is a consequence of complex land-atmosphere interactions that occur because solar panels and wind turbines create rougher and darker land surfaces.”
Colleague Safa Motesharrei added, “The increase in rainfall and vegetation, combined with clean electricity as a result of solar and wind energy, could help agriculture, economic development and social well-being in the Sahara, Sahel, Middle East and other nearby regions”
Seems like a win-win to me.

Walmart and sustainability

I came across an article about Walmart and sustainability in The Conversation. The impetus came from the Chief Executive wondering what sort of world his granddaughter was going to inherit. How could they make Walmart a more sustainable organisation and reduce its impact on the planet? Some things proved relatively easy to do.
The efficiency of its fleet of trucks doubled within a decade. Walmart converted 28 percent of the energy sources powering its stores and operations globally to renewables and the company diverted 78 percent of its global waste from landfills, instead finding ways to recycle, reuse or even sell the garbage. Its goal is to eventually get to 50 percent renewables and zero waste in Canada, Japan, the U.K. and U.S. by 2025.
The other side of things is the sustainability of the products that it sells to its customers. There were two problems here: the first might not apply in Europe but certainly applied in the US. It was a problem of definition. Almost any product could be labelled sustainable because there were no standards against which sustainability had to be judged. This backfired on the company. For example, a promotion of Campbell’s soup with a green “Earth Day” label instead of its customary red one generated external criticism and accusations of “greenwashing.” 
The other problem was cost. Sustainable and organic and responsibly sourced products typically sell at a premium and there was very little room for premium priced products at Walmart which aims at the keenest possible prices. Its consumers were uninterested or unable to pay higher prices for the sake of sustainability.
This led Walmart to focus less on consumers and more on suppliers. If it could just make sure its products were more sustainable or at least that it was able to offer more options – without a meaningful increase in price – it could go a long way toward achieving its goals. And consumers wouldn’t even realize they were helping make the world a better place.
It took years of work with suppliers, but a 2014 study found that Walmart was the top-cited retailer driving suppliers’ investments in product sustainability, with 79 percent identifying the retailer as influential.
Walmart’s efforts showed that balancing cost and sustainability is possible but difficult to implement. For companies, labelling a low-cost product as “sustainable” makes it harder to justify charging a higher price for a similar good that bears that label. And retailers would prefer not to waste limited shelf space providing those options.
Supermarket chains have immense power. Let’s hope others will continue to use it to promote sustainability.
Plastic pollution is still on the agenda and good news comes this week from drinks brand Carlsberg. Many brewers send out their drinks in packs of four, six or more where the cans are joined together with plastic yokes. This plastic is notorious for being one of the worst dangers to wildlife when it is thoughtlessly discarded. Birds, fish and marine mammals can all get caught in it and rarely manage to get free. Carlsberg's solution is to glue the cans together. If you want to release a can you just twist it to break the bond. They are even using glue which can be recycled along with the can. Additionally, Carlsberg announced new caps which remove oxygen to make the beer taste fresher for longer; a switch to Cradle-to-Cradle certified silver inks on its bottle labels to improve recyclability; and a new coating on refillable glass bottles to extend their lifespan.
Carlsberg will extend its Snap Pack to its other brands and the signs are that other brewers will follow suit. As a consumer you can make your choice and influence their decision. Look out for Snap Packs towards the end of this year.

Paved with Good Intentions
The Road to Hell, they say, is paved with good intentions. The roads to sustainability is sometimes paved with unforeseen consequences. George Monbiot, writing in The Guardian, recounts the story of a request to Starbucks and Costa to replace their plastic coffee cups with cups made from corn starch which was retweeted 60,000 times, before it was deleted. 
Monbiot goes on, and I quote: “Those who supported this call failed to ask themselves where the corn starch would come from, how much land would be needed to grow it, or how much food production it would displace. They overlooked the damage this cultivation would inflict: growing corn (maize) is notorious for causing soil erosion, and often requires heavy doses of pesticides and fertilisers.
The problem is not just plastic: it is mass disposability. Or, to put it another way, the problem is pursuing, on the one planet known to harbour life, a four-planet lifestyle. “Regardless of what we consume, the sheer volume of consumption is overwhelming the Earth’s living systems.
Don’t get me wrong,” he says, “Our greed for plastic is a major environmental blight, and the campaigns to limit its use are well motivated and sometimes effective. But we cannot address our environmental crisis by swapping one overused resource for another. When I challenged that call, some people asked me, “So what should we use instead?”
The right question is, “How should we live?” But systemic thinking is an endangered species.”
No, nothing is as simple as you think. But at least we must keep thinking. Read the rest of that article. You’ll find the link on the blog at Do read it if you get the chance, but here’s another brief quotation from it: 
“The BBC’s approach to environmental issues is highly partisan, siding with a system that has sought to transfer responsibility for structural forces to individual shoppers. Yet it is only as citizens taking political action that we can promote meaningful change.
The answer to the question “How should we live?” is: “Simply.” But living simply is highly complicated. In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the government massacred the Simple Lifers. This is generally unnecessary: today they can safely be marginalised, insulted and dismissed. The ideology of consumption is so prevalent that it has become invisible: it is the plastic soup in which we swim.”

Mea Culpa BBC
George Monbiot is not alone in criticising the BBC and it has finally admitted mistakes over its coverage of climate change. The problem has long been an issue of false balance. On many current affairs programmes climate scientists have been followed by denialists, notoriously Lord Lawson who has no scientific background in the field and who has been shown to deliberately quote false information. Now Fran Unsworth, the BBC’s director of news and current affairs has issued a briefing note to producers warning of the problem. “To achieve impartiality, you do not need to include outright deniers of climate change in BBC coverage, in the same way you would not have someone denying that Manchester United won 2-0 last Saturday. The referee has spoken.”

And finally, the weather.
I reported last time about extreme weather events around the world and it seems that they continue. After the floods, the heatwave and the typhoon, Japan has suffered a major earthquake. Nothing to do with climate change, of course, but another blow to a nation already devastated in many areas.
The Philippines were hit this week by Typhoon Mangkhut and at the time of writing 81 people were dead and many more missing. Dozens are feared dead after a landslide engulfed a building where miners were taking shelter.
Hong Kong
The storm moved across to Hong Kong which was left reeling by ferocious winds of up to 173 kilometers per hour (107 miles per hour) and gusts of up to 223 kph (138 mph).
The storm tore off roofs and scaffolding from skyscrapers, shattered windows, shook high-rise buildings and caused serious flooding in low-lying areas as waves of more than three meters (9.8 feet) lashed the coast. 54 people are known to have died.
As Typhoon Mangkhut approached, China evacuated 3 million citizens from southern towns. As the storm passed on the South China Morning Post reported that the Guangdong government estimated the direct economic losses for the province were at least 4.2 billion yuan. That’s about £450m or more than half a billion US dollars. 
Across the world Hurricane Florence has been moving steadily across the United States. As it made landfall it was downgraded to a category 1 storm and it is suggested that that gave people a false sense of security. Regardless of wind speed, as the storm moves up the East Coast it brings torrential rain, storm surges and flooding. 30 people have already died. Citylab reported on Tuesday that Hurricane Florence battered the Carolina coasts with heavy rain, strong winds, and a devastating storm surge over the weekend. But even after the rain had dissipated, it still presented a danger from disastrous flooding, which the North Carolina Department of Transportation warned would still get worse in the days to come.
I don't know whether the storm will get across to California, but heavy rain would be useful to quell the wildfires burning in that state. On 31 August it was reported that the fire was under control but by 6 September reports were coming in that it had spread to cover 23 mi.².
I haven't been able to find any reports dated since 10 September, but Mercury News recorded on that date that a 45-mile stretch of Interstate 5 which runs from Mexico to Canada, was still closed because of the fire. The fire had destroyed abandoned cars and trucks along the road, although it seems that the occupants managed to escape.

Bad News for the Climate
And that’s it for another episode.
I didn't want to end with all this bad news, with these stories about all this exceptional weather but the implication must be clearly that climate change is real, that climate change is serious, and that climate change should be the number one concern of all governments. Let's share that with our political representatives: let's hold them to account. Let's try and focus them on the long term and the not so long-term future of ourselves on this planet. Good luck with that, given how governments throughout the world are obsessing about short-term issues.
Well, as I say, that's it for another episode of the Sustainable Futures Report. Another bumper episode running to over 4,500 words this time. I hoped you enjoyed it. I hope you found it interesting and I hope that you will let me have your ideas for the topics that I should investigate and cover in future episodes or pieces that you would like to contribute yourself. I've got some ideas for the next episode and I'm planning to publish on 28th September as we get back to a weekly routine. I’ll explain why then.
And that really is it…
So for now this is Anthony Day saying thank you for listening, saying thank you for being a patron if you are, and you know where to go if you're not.
Yes I'm Anthony Day, contact me at with your suggestions and ideas.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
Bye for now