Friday, November 30, 2018

All the Lovely People

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My Dilemma

I have a dilemma. I have a choice between meeting my deadline for a new Sustainable Futures Report every week and providing you with in-depth analysis of the topics that I cover. Inevitably most of my coverage is superficial, but I certainly can't afford to trivialise these very important issues. This week I'm looking at population, and like many other sustainability issues it is broad, deep and complicated. Today's episode therefore will take a top level view, but if it's something you'd like me to go into in more detail, or if you can contribute your knowledge and ideas to the debate, please get back to me. It’s  as always.
Yes, I’m Anthony Day with your Sustainable Futures Report for Friday the 30th of November. Less than a month to the Christmas consumer-fest. Welcome and thank you all for listening.
Population. It's another elephant in the room. We know we need to do something about it. We know we need to do something about plastic. We’ve had dire warnings from the IPCC of the very present dangers from climate change, and we know we need to do something about that. But many people are concerned about family, housing, jobs, the cost of living and declining public services. Do we really have to worry about population as well? It’s the perennial question: “What can we do?” At the very least we should all have an opinion. Governments have a role in this. We need to hold them to account.
Let’s talk about numbers. First of all I'd like to draw your attention to a website. It’s Just have a look at it and watch world population growing before your eyes. I remember that when I was at University there was a slogan going around: “Whatever your cause it’s a lost cause unless we limit population.”  At that time, world population was around 3.5 billion. Now it’s almost up to 7.7 billion; more than double. It’s actually trebled in my lifetime. These figures are based on UN statistics, and on the website there’s a lot more detail than just the absolute numbers. The first thing you can see is that the birthrate exceeds the death rate, and as long as that continues then population will continue to grow. It's currently growing at about 1.09% per annum globally, and while that rate of increase is slowing, it's still a rate of increase. United Nations estimates that world population will reach 8 billion by 2023, 10 billion by 2056 and exceed 11 billion by 2100. These are estimates within a wide range. At least this slowing growth rate means that it will take 200 years for the population to double again - if that were feasible.
Developed Countries
Looking at the Worldometer website you can see that developed countries like the US, UK, France, Germany and Italy have birth rates of between 1.4 and 2 children per woman, which is replacement level or less. The populations of these countries, apart from Italy, are still growing, even after adjusting for migration. The average growth rate for these five is less than 0.4% per annum. If the birth rate is below the replacement rate but population net of migration is still growing, the only conclusion must be that this growth occurs because people are living longer in these countries. 
Developing Countries
Compare this with some developing countries. I’ve chosen Nigeria, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Populations here are all growing, at an average rate of 1.9%, compared with less than 0.4%. China is the lowest, growing at 0.39%, but the rest are growing from just over 1% to 3.3%. The average number of children per woman in the developed world is 1.7, but in these developing countries it is 3.5, with the DRC at 6.4. 
(Sorry about all these figures. You can find them on the blog, and the source is the UN via the Worldometers site.)
It’s interesting to see a reverse correlation between the birthrate and the median age of the population. In most cases, the lower the median age, the higher the birthrate. For the developed countries within my sample, with an average birthrate of 1.7, the median age is 42 years. For the developing country sample with an average birthrate of 3.5, the median age is 26. In the DRC with the birthrate of 6.4, the median age is only 17.
Health and Longevity
Increased longevity is one factor in increasing world population. As developing countries develop and healthcare improves, longevity will increase here as well. Infant mortality and the survival of babies beyond their first year will also improve. In the short term this may give a boost to population, but studies have shown that once people are confident that their children are likely to survive their families get smaller.
What’s the problem?
As population grows, what’s the problem? The campaign group Population Matters tells us simply that:
 “Our population has become so large that the earth cannot cope.” 
As there are more mouths to feed there is more pressure on the land to produce food. There is more pressure on resources to provide the goods and services that an increased population demands. One of the most significant pressures comes not just from absolute numbers but from the expectations of world citizens. According to the OECD the size of the “global middle class” will increase from 1.8 billion in 2009 to 3.2 billion by 2020 and 4.9 billion by 2030. These are the people who expect to drive cars, have a refrigerator and a television and to carry a mobile phone. Many want to eat a Western diet. Population Matters estimates that we are already using 1.7 times the total output of the earth, in terms of food and resources. We are using it faster than it can be replaced, and in some cases we are causing damage that can never be undone. It’s unsustainable.
What’s the Solution?
The solution, according to them, is smaller families, even in Western countries where population is beginning to decline. It’s a very hard sell. As they say on the website, 
“To have or not to have children is a fundamental human right that everyone should be free to exercise without judgment or criticism.” 
It’s also a human right that only a small part of the population can exercise at a given time. 
An Academic View (or two)
I’ve commented on the work of Kim Nicholas and Seth Wynes in the past. They calculated that having a child increased your carbon footprint by a massive 60 tonnes per annum and was much more serious than driving a car or travelling by air. As Professor Karl Coplan said on the Sustainable Futures Report for 22nd September 2017, 
“I think that actually disserves the climate cause because people outside the climate movement look at that and say; oh my God, these climate activists, they are telling us that we should just stop having children.” 
At the time they published their work, Nicholas and Wynes were widely criticised for misinterpreting the papers on which their analysis was based. Unfortunately their conclusions have been widely shared - including by Transform, the journal of IEMA. I asked Nicholas and Wynes for an interview back in 2017 but they said they were not giving interviews, at least not to me.
Family Planning
Population Matters is promoting family planning in developing countries. The US of course has now withdrawn funding from its own work in this field. Will family planning have a sufficient effect in time?
Population Matters justifies its call for smaller families in developed countries on the grounds that these children will have a far larger impact than children in poor countries. For example, they estimate that a child in the UK will have 70 times the impact on the planet that a child in Nigeria will have. You can't argue with that, so the whole debate comes back to the use of resources and the creation of waste and emissions, and indeed the campaign urges everyone to cut back. There are many ways which we can enjoy our current lifestyle with a much lower use of resources and with less pollution. We can help developing countries to use these techniques and raise their standard of living in a sustainable way. But for all this to happen we need politicians to take a lead, to take a long-term view, to control those corporations damaging the planet for short-term profit by things like destroying forests, polluting the seas and burning coal. In my view we all have to have an opinion. We each have to do what we can to ensure that our individual lifestyles minimise our impact on the planet. We have to share our ideas and demand that governments act.
And you?
What do you think we could or should do about population?

In Other News…

News from Canada. 
Rex Murphy writing in the National  Post says “Lewis Carroll (you know, the one who wrote Alice in Wonderland) is alive and well, and writing Canada’s energy policy.”
Murphy is concerned that the nation is not making full use of its energy resources and of course this turns to a great extent on the dispute between Alberta and British Columbia. As I have previously reported, Alberta has vast reserves of oil from its tar sands deposits and wants to export them through the Port of Vancouver. Vancouver is in British Columbia and the province of British Columbia does not wish to permit pipelines to cross its territory. Among other things, environmentalists are very concerned about the prospect of large numbers of oil tankers making their way along the hazardous passage from the port to the open sea, particularly in winter.  
Murphy says: 
“Until there are pipelines (plural) built and oil flowing to international markets there should be no talk of the so-call carbon tax — the energy tax. Until the crazed circumstance of the blockade on Alberta energy is resolved, all talk of “reducing carbon emissions” and the pretence of meeting our Paris “commitments” should be shelved. Fix the home front first, and then if some wish to attend to the dubious goals of planetary salvation, let them at it.”
This is clearly not someone who has read the IPCC report, or if he has, he doesn’t believe it. I think it was St Augustine who prayed, “Oh Lord, make me pure - but not yet.” 
OK Mr Murphy, let’s cut emissions, but not yet. Oh dear, it’s too late.
U.S. Global Change Research Program
Earlier this month the U.S. Global Change Research Program produced its Fourth National Climate Assessment. It states: 
“Climate change creates new risks and exacerbates existing vulnerabilities in communities across the United States, presenting growing challenges to human health and safety, quality of life, and the rate of economic growth.” 
It goes on to explain the many ways in which the nation will be affected, from the economy to water, to health, to agriculture, to tourism.
The report says that the economic impact of climate change would be devastating. Questioned on this, President Trump said, “I don’t believe it.”
A footnote to last week’s episode. An official report from Brazil says that deforestation in the Amazon in the 12 months to July 2018 was the worst for 10 years. Environment Minister Edson Duarte said illegal logging and an upsurge in organised crime was to blame. 
On 1st January president-elect Jair Bolsonaro will take office, and is expected to have a much more relaxed attitude to the protection of the rainforest.
France in Yellow
In France, the yellow vest or gilets jaunes protest continues across the nation. What started as a protest against increased fuel prices has developed into a demonstration against low incomes and the high cost of living. It continues across the whole country. President Macron introduced the price increases as a measure to reduce carbon emissions. So far he is standing firm and has not blinked yet.

More news about micro plastics. A report from the Royal Society has found that these particles can change the behaviour of certain shellfish which absorb them. They no longer recognise threats and become easy prey for crabs, leading to an imbalance in the food chain. According to Paul Morozzo, of Greenpeace, “we’re dumping an extra truckload of risk into the sea every 60 seconds.” 
I was also intrigued to see a comment in the article which said that micro plastics are now even found in honey. I can't imagine how bees come into contact with micro plastics, except perhaps through the water which they pick up from puddles and ponds.
Extreme Weather
More extreme weather, this time from Australia. The BBC reports that Sydney has experienced its wettest November day since 1984. 91mm of rain fell in 90 minutes, and high winds and flash flooding led to two deaths. 8,000 homes and businesses lost power. Airports were closed and vehicles crashed.
While the storm was intense, it was highly localised. Other parts of the state in the grip of drought got no rain at all.
In the US the Juliana case rumbles on but the Pacific Standard asks whether it will ever get to court. The government has continually blocked it, but has not succeeded in getting it dismissed. A date for trial is still to be set.
Meanwhile in Canada a similar case has emerged. ENvironnement JEUnesse (ENJEU),[that’s a French pun] a Quebec-based environmental education group, announced this week that it had applied for authorization for a class action suit on behalf of all the citizens of Quebec under the age of 35. It challenges the Canadian government for insufficient action on climate change. Like the Juliana case, it is expected to take several years to play out.
Nuclear Power
You remember that nuclear power station at Hinkley C? There is news from Flamanville where another nuclear plant is being built to the same design. It’s way over budget and years behind time and one of the key issues in the delay has been questions over the integrity of the castings of the reactor vessel. There were concerns that the metal contained too much carbon and would therefore not have sufficient strength. After extensive investigations which have taken years, the nuclear inspectorate in France has authorised the plant to begin operation. Now environmentalists, including Greenpeace France, have filed a lawsuit to block this authorisation.
Although Hinkley C will use the same design as Flamanville, the castings for the reactor vessel have not yet been produced and there is no suggestion that they will have the same problems as those at the French site. Experience is a wonderful teacher. Well, it is in many cases. The experience of Flamanville and a similar site in Finland being massively over budget and years behind schedule seems to have been overlooked when Hinkley C was reviewed in 2016.

And finally…
COP 24, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, is taking place in Katowice in Poland. Preliminary events have begun and the Official Opening Ceremony takes place next Monday 3rd November. COP21 in 2015 was where the Paris Climate Change Agreement was negotiated. It will be interesting to see what comes out of COP24. I’ll keep you posted.
And that’s it…
Yes, it's the end of another episode of the Sustainable Futures Report. Thanks again for listening and, if you are, thanks for being a patron. If you're not well you can find out about it at It's December next week and we are getting increasingly close to Christmas. There will be at least two, and probably three more episodes before the end of the year, although after that I’m planning a break until the middle of January.
I'm always open to feedback and in particular I'd be interested in your comments on what I said today about population. Like all the topics which I address, it is a vast subject and I've only scratched the surface. If you have opinions or expertise on any aspect of this or indeed on any aspect of sustainability, I'm always keen to hear from you. Drop me a note at
Yes, that's it.
I'm Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report. 

Until next time.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Climate of Apathy

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Yes it's Friday
Yes I’m Anthony Day
Yes it's the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday the 23rd of November.
More listeners
Thank you all for listening. September's figures were more than twice those for August; October was 40% up on that and November is steaming ahead. This podcast is available on iTunes and all major podcast platforms. The text with links to all my sources is at . I've been doing it on and off now for over 10 years and have settled in to a weekly pattern. I have to say that I may miss a couple of weeks over Christmas but I expect you'll have other things on your mind.
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Valued listeners
It really wouldn’t be worth doing this without knowing that Catherine, Eric, Fred, Iain, Imogen, John, Kasper, Manda, Mark, Michael, Per-Mattias, Richard, Shane, Shelagh, Tom and Tomas, along with many others are all out there listening.
This Week
As promised, this week’s episode is about climate change - by far the most important issue facing us now, although it's far from the forefront of politics and it doesn’t seem to excite the media very much. I talk about what we should do. What the Climate Change Commission suggests we should do. What Extinction Rebellion (who they?) demands we should do. What the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change wants us to do. And there’s a reminder from the IPCC of what will happen if we don’t do anything, or don’t do it quickly enough. There are some notes on coal, oil and wind, and bad news from the Amazon. There’s news from France that people may not think that what’s good for the climate is good for them.
Climate Action or Apathy?

I've quoted from George Monbiot, the Guardian columnist, many times and a recent article of his has stimulated a lot of the research put into this episode. I strongly recommend you read it and as always there is a link on the blog.
The article starts with reporting a press conference held by Extinction Rebellion, continues to confusion at a prestigious institution and concludes that we need to change the political system to save the world.
Extinction Rebellion
Extinction Rebellion is a new green pressure group. It has three simple demands:
  1. The Government must tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency, reverse inconsistent policies and work alongside the media to communicate with citizens.
  2. The Government must enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and to reduce consumption levels.
  3. A national Citizen’s Assembly to oversee the changes, as part of creating a democracy fit for purpose.
On its Facebook site it says:
“We are calling for a meeting with the government and will use non-violent civil disobedience to make our voices heard. It is time to defend life on this planet. Extinction Rebellion will achieve its demands if we cause economic disruption which brings the authorities to the negotiating table.”
You’ll remember that 700,000 people marched in London recently in protest against the plans to leave the European Union. Extinction Rebellion made the national headlines, albeit in a small away, from a protest involving only 6000 people. 
Civil Disobedience
The difference is that they are committed to civil disobedience. They sat down in the road and blocked five bridges across the Thames on Saturday morning, causing serious traffic disruption. Extinction Rebellion promises more disruption in future. It is no surprise that 84 of their number were arrested. It shows their passion and their commitment but there is certainly a degree of naïveté in believing that the government can be browbeaten into taking the action that they want. Yes, we do need to take radical action and we need to take it more rapidly than we seem to be doing at the moment, even to achieve our current less-demanding targets. Yes, we do need to change the government’s outlook and to get it to revise its priorities, but no action can be taken without the consent of the people. I am certainly not suggesting a referendum on the issue, but the truth is that unless the people understand what is going on and the urgency of action then government can do nothing. 
Gilets jaunes
This is demonstrated by the unrest in France this last weekend. The gilets jaunes protest which took place across the country with motorists clad in yellow emergency tabards ended in violence and a sad fatality. The protest was against a 23% rise in fuel duty implemented over the last year. Such a rise hits the cost of living for many ordinary people, but such a rise is essential to depress demand, to encourage reduced use of fossil fuel and to reduce carbon emissions. Will President Macron blink?
Get it right!
A footnote to the Extinction Rebellion story. If nothing else, Extinction Rebellion must do something about its website. It’s very amateur. There are two videos. I'm sure that the first one is very important and worthy, but it is 50 minutes long, which is about 49 minutes and 45 seconds longer than the attention span of the average site visitor. The second video looks as though it was made by Dave Spart in his bedroom (if you read Private Eye you’ll know who I mean). It is unutterably boring. Who was it who said that it's the medium that is the message?
What do you believe?
Cognitive dissonance is believing passionately in one thing and enthusiastically arguing the opposite. There's a lot of it about on the political scene at the moment. Monbiot quotes an event at the Institute of Public Policy Research where it was generally agreed that continued economic growth was incompatible with sustaining the Earth’s systems. On the same day, the same institute announced a major new economics prize for “ambitious proposals to achieve a step-change improvement in the growth rate”. 
Monbiot says,
“Two tasks need to be performed simultaneously: throwing ourselves at the possibility of averting collapse, as Extinction Rebellion is doing, slight though this possibility may appear; and preparing ourselves for the likely failure of these efforts, terrifying as this prospect is. Both tasks require a complete revision of our relationship with the living planet.
Because we cannot save ourselves without contesting oligarchic control, the fight for democracy and justice and the fight against environmental breakdown are one and the same. Do not allow those who have caused this crisis to define the limits of political action. Do not allow those whose magical thinking got us into this mess to tell us what can and cannot be done.”
Green or Red?
It’s hard to disagree, although someone has commented on the Sustainable Futures Report saying that it’s “Green, but increasingly Red”. I make no apology. If we can avoid the catastrophe of climate change we should take every action we need to do so. We should secure our lifestyles but we should never do it at the expense of other people in more vulnerable areas of the world. We should share our renewable and low carbon technologies with them, and help them improve their lives.

Do what?
The question always remains, in practical terms what can you or I do? It's tempting to think that every little helps as the supermarket says, particularly as it's quite easy to do more than a lot of other people. And it's also easy to think  - Didn’t the IPCC say we had 12 years to go? So is it all right to put things off until say 2028 or 2029? 
What the IPCC said
Actually the IPCC Summary for Policymakers doesn’t say 12 years anywhere - I’ve searched the document. It talks about a range of targets for 2030, which is 12 years off, and examines four pathways or scenarios. It says, 
Pathways that limit global warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot show clear emission reductions by 2030. All but one show a decline in global greenhouse gas emissions to below 35 GtCO2eq yr in 2030.” 
In the best case scenario that’s a reduction of co2 emissions by 58%, rising to 93% by 2050. (All these figures are in relation to 2010 levels.) Such reductions cannot be achieved overnight, so the time for action is now. The best case scenario is based on a reduction in energy demand of 15% by 2030 and by 32% by 2050. The world is going to have to use energy much more efficiently, especially in the face of rising populations. In addition there must be major displacement of fossil fuels by renewables, and significant reduction of co2 emissions from agriculture. All scenarios rely on at least a doubling of nuclear power by 2050 which may be difficult to achieve for technical as well as social reasons. (Remember, this is for the whole world, not just the UK.) Some scenarios involve increased afforestation; others employ carbon capture and storage, and the various elements - nuclear, renewables, fossil fuels, agriculture - are adjusted in proportion. The clear implication is no, we cannot wait. The proposals do not involve new technology: we have what we need already. This sort of major infrastructure change takes time, so we need to start now. 
Yes, what can we do?
What can we do? Well the ordinary person in the street can help educate public opinion. It’s not a simple task, and recent UK political events have shown that some people will stick to entrenched and irrational beliefs even when presented with facts. In fact, straight presentation of facts can often make people more defiant. We need to drip-feed facts, without specifically presenting them as counter-arguments to other people’s beliefs. For example, heat pumps can heat homes for less cost with a lower carbon footprint. Tell the environmentalists that it will save the planet. Tell the sceptics that they are saving money.
Wildfire and Climate Change
Public opinion has to support this internationally. The wildfires in California that I’ve reported on previously continue to claim more casualties: 79 at the last count with around 1,000 people believed missing, although hopefully most of these are just lost and out of touch with families and friends. Heavy rains have finally come and are starting to douse the fires. Unfortunately, residents are now warned of floods and mudslides.
2018 has been the most destructive wildfire season on record for California. President Trump does not believe that climate change is involved, but he is out of step with an increasing number of Americans. More and more cities and states are committed to working within the Paris Agreement targets.

In the UK there’s another new climate pressure group. It’s the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change. It’s not militant like Extinction Rebellion, but it’s equally concerned about its objectives. It says,
“The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change brings together doctors, nurses and other health professionals to advocate for responses to climate change that protect and promote public health.”
At the end of October it published a report:  MOVING BEYOND THE AIR QUALITY CRISIS: Realising the health benefits of acting on air pollution
It’s another example of gentle persuasion. Tell the environmentalists that it’s good for the planet. Tell the sceptics that it’s good for their health.
CCC and land management
Also in the UK, the Committee on Climate Change has just issued two reports about ensuring that our land use supports reduced emissions. The one is about using the land as a more effective carbon store. The other is about the role of biomass in low-emission energy generation. 
The first report criticises the Common Agricultural Policy and says, 
“New land-use policy must promote radically different uses of UK land to support deeper emissions reductions and improve resilience to climate change impacts. This includes increased tree planting, improved forest management, restoration of peatlands, and shifts to low-carbon farming practices, which improve soil and water quality. These will help to reduce flood risk and improve the condition of semi-natural habitats such as woodlands and wetlands.”
The biomass report calls for the trebling of tree planting by 2030, with an increasing rate thereafter. It also states that the rules governing the supply of sustainable sources of biomass for energy need to be improved. The whole carbon lifecycle of biomass fuels must be monitored so that it is net carbon zero, and all biomass energy plants should incorporate Carbon Capture and Storage.
The implication is that there will be less livestock farming in future.

Compare this with the news from Brazil.
Jair Bolsonaro was elected as president of Brazil at the end of October. Some have called him ultra-right-wing and more dangerous than Donald Trump. Others say he’s a neo-fascist, a racist, misogynistic and homophobic. He celebrates Brazil’s past military dictatorship and is on record as saying that they should have killed 30,000 more people. He has suggested that extra-judicial killings will be tolerated, in the manner of President Duterte of the Philippines. Already vigilantes and unofficial militias roam the country; enforcing, oppressing and extorting.
Jair Bolsonaro is closely allied with business and the elite, and it’s his responsibility to safeguard the Amazon rainforest. It’s the largest forest in the world, a major carbon sink and source of much of the oxygen we breathe. 
Marxist Plot
Ernesto Araújo, his new foreign minister, believes climate change is part of a plot by “cultural Marxists” to stifle western economies and promote the growth of China. In a blog post he described climate science as a “dogma” which ignored “evidence” showing the opposite of rising temperatures and greater concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Bolsonaro remains intent on opening up the Amazon to the farmers, miners and construction companies that supported his campaign.
His pick as agriculture minister is the head of the farming lobby, Tereza Cristina Dias, who conservationists have nicknamed the “Muse of Poison” due to her enthusiastic support for relaxing controls on agro-toxins. There are plans to merge the environmental ministry into her own.
Nearly 30 years ago the country was the host of the 1992 UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro which laid the foundations of international efforts to recognise and combat man-made climate change.
Brazilian diplomats were also instrumental in forging the Paris Agreement in 2015.
Times have clearly changed dramatically. Can we rely on the international community to put pressure on Brazil to protect the Amazon? It’s been suggested that the country has not followed Donald Trump in withdrawing from the Paris Agreement because it fears it could lose valuable European markets, so maybe there’s pressure that works. Having said that, Bolsonaro is currently president-elect. He doesn’t take office until 1st January next, when that pressure may prove not to be enough. 
Extensive logging of the Amazon rainforest will be a global crisis. Once the tree cover is gone the rains wash away the thin layer of soil. The forest can never be put back.

In other news…
The owners of the Kirkby Moor wind farm in Cumbria, Northern England, are fighting with the planners for a 10-year extension to the farm’s original 25-year life. The local council has issued a closure notice after councillors voted to disregard the advice of planning officers. There has been a strong campaign by local residents who oppose the farm on amenity grounds. They also point out that permission to build such a farm would not be given today under current legislation.
Owners of the site point out that they produce clean, green energy, support the local community fund and provide support in money and in kind to the Mountain Rescue team.
If the farm is allowed to continue, its carbon footprint per kWh, based on the original construction, will surely be significantly less.
A public enquiry will start on 22nd January. 

The European Union has ruled that the UK's backup power subsidies are an illegal state subsidy. As I understand it, these are payments to generators to keep standby power stations in readiness to meet winter peaks. The situation is not very clear. The ruling has come from the European Court of Justice and reportedly came as a surprise to all concerned. Generating companies expressed dismay at a significant loss of revenue, but the minister stated that this would in no way threaten the security of winter supplies.
That leaves me wondering whether the generators will maintain standby stations for nothing, or whether there was no problem in the first place.
Either way, we won’t have to worry about that ofter Brexit on 29th March. Not about that, anyway.

Schadenfreude Alert!
The Trump Administration has relaxed Obama-era restrictions on drilling for oil in polar regions, but Hilcorp Energy, eagerly preparing to extract 70,000 barrels a day, has hit a snag. As a result of warming there’s not enough sea-ice for them to establish their infrastructure. Now what can possibly have caused that?

Well that’s it for this week.
I’m Anthony Day and that was the Sustainable Futures Report.
Before I go, many thanks to you for listening, and if you are, thanks again for being a patron. If you’re not, check out
Either way, there will be another Sustainable Futures Report next week and meanwhile all the scripts and all the links are on the blog at
I’m Anthony Day.

Bye for now.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

News from All Parts


I warned you that we’d be talking this week about a plastic ban in Kenya, a rosy future for North Sea oil, a lower ozone layer, taxing meat, and electric mushrooms, but the sustainability news just goes on. Listen up to hear about electric insights, geothermal engineering, dams, fracking, the plug-in hybrids that aren’t, new rules on waste, threats to environmental legislation, how nuclear power may be the future but Toshiba wants no part of it and a strange Icelandic saga.
…and Welcome
This is Anthony Day with the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday, 16 November 2018. A very warm welcome to all listeners.
Plastic Bags Fine
In Kenya, using plastic bags for onetime use can carry a maximum punishment of four years in prison or a fine of 4 million schillings. That’s more than £30,000. Since the law was introduced in August last year some 100 manufacturers and sellers have been prosecuted. Not surprisingly, plastic bag use has virtually disappeared. Instead people use reusable fabric bags or put their shopping in buckets. Bread can still be wrapped in plastic and plastic drinking straws are still permitted. Many people are in favour of the of the new law, although the manufacturers claim that some 60,000 people have been put out of work and some street traders say it is more difficult to keep food fresh.
Other countries as diverse as China, France, Rwanda, and Italy have taxed or banned plastic bags, although none has gone as far as Kenya. For Kenya the pressure was certainly on, as most of the 100 million bags given away free by supermarkets each year were littering the country. They smothered the cities and were consumed by livestock.  Cows at slaughter were often found to have swallowed up to 20 plastic bags.
New waste strategy
Whether such measures would work here is unlikely, although plastic bag use has fallen since charges were imposed. The Guardian reports that the UK government’s new waste strategy will significantly increase contributions from retailers and producers towards the cost of waste disposal and recycling from an average of about £70m a year to between £500m and £1bn a year. The number of businesses required to pay will also increase. Recycling will be developed in line with the EU’s commitment to the circular economy, expected to remain part of the UK’s policy after Brexit. Such pressure on retailers and manufacturers could encourage them to reduce the use of plastic at source.
Shopping bag
Looking at what we personally bring back from the supermarket each week it is mortifying to see what’s in single-use plastic. It’s easier to count what isn’t. Cereal is usually in cardboard cartons, but some have a plastic window or a plastic inner bag. Drinks are in glass bottles, apart from mixers like tonic, and soft drinks. Beer and soup come in cans, but these have plastic linings, albeit extremely thin. All other food is wrapped more or less in single-use plastic. Toiletries and household cleaners are in plastic containers. The problem is that there is no UK national recycling policy at present, and although most plastics can be recycled in theory, where I live only one type of plastic is accepted for recycling.
Small Step
The BBC has news of a possible solution to the microparticles problem. Vast quantities of microparticles are poured down the drain when clothes made of synthetic fibres are washed. They may make their way to the local sewage farm, but these facilities have no means of straining the fibres out, so they eventually end up in the sea. However, if you add the Cora Ball to your wash it goes some way to reduce the damage. It’s four inches (10cm) in diameter, made from recycled and recyclable plastic and imitates the structure of coral in the ocean. While it doesn't catch everything, the company says it captures between a quarter and a third of microfibres in every wash. In the UK the Cora Ball costs about £29 and is so popular that at least one retailer won’t have any more stock before 10th December. Are you sufficiently dedicated to get your ball? Should last 5 years.

Retailers to pay up to £1bn for recycling under waste strategy
Oil & Gas
As usual there’s news on the energy front. There’s a story from the BBC this week that there’s still a lot of opportunity for oil and gas from the North Sea. For an investment of up to £330 billion it could be possible to extract as much as 17 billion barrels of oil equivalent, worth over £1,000 billion. This is 17 billion barrels in addition to the 43 billion already extracted since the North Sea was first opened up. 
The Scotsman newspaper is more cautious about this report, based on analysis by researchers from the University of Aberdeen. One important factor will be the ratio of gas to oil actually recovered. It is also stated that the forecast depends on opening up over 400 new fields, of which nearly 300 are classified as technical reserves. I think that means that nobody can be certain whether there is any oil actually there, or whether it can be extracted economically.
One thing that concerns me is that we knew long before the recent IPCC report that there’s a limit to the amount of fossil fuels that we can burn before we reach an irrevocable tipping point. Wouldn’t that £330 billion investment be better spent on low-carbon energy, or on energy efficiency so that we can fit demand within a reduced supply? 
The Telegraph, not noted as a campaigner against the causes of climate change, sees these potential North Sea reserves as a bargaining chip in the Brexit negotiations. Or maybe they could be a shot in the foot - or worse.

Electric Cars (or not)
On the transport front, closely related to energy, is news about electric cars. As I reported earlier, 12th November, saw an end to the government subsidy for plug-in hybrids and a reduction in the grant for pure electric cars. We ordered our electric car back in September, but we’ve just learnt that it will be ready for delivery in the third week of January so we’re taking the full £1,000 hit. And there’s more, which I’ll tell you about another time.
The worrying news is the revelation that many plug-in hybrids have never actually been plugged in. The idea is that they are very clean if they are regularly charged up because they can typically run for 40 miles on battery alone, which is longer than the average commute. Official figures demonstrate that typical economy would be around 130 mpg from combined use of the petrol engine and the battery.  The government offered a capital grant towards the cost of these cars, a substantially reduced road tax and a much lower tax charge on drivers of company cars. No wonder sales of these vehicles grew rapidly. Now a report reveals that companies and consumers have taken advantage of all these tax benefits but ignored the advantages of the technology. Many of these cars have never been plugged in, running on petrol alone delivering less than 50mpg instead of 130 and emitting high levels of co2 emissions. The curse of unintended consequences strikes again! 
It makes sense to withdraw this subsidy, but I can’t see the logic in reducing the grant for pure electric cars.

From electric cars to electric mushrooms.
According to Cosmos magazine US researchers have generated electricity from a mushroom using energy-producing bacteria, an electrode network, and a 3D printer. The Engineer reports that the team at Stevens Institute of Technology achieved this by covering a white button mushroom with 3D-printed clusters of cyanobacteria that generate electricity and graphene nanoribbons that collect the current. Writing in Nano Letters the researchers describe their breakthrough as engineered bionic symbiosis. Not much electricity is produced at this stage, but it’s an interesting line of research.
Electric Insights - and Gas
Electric insights is a website published by the Drax Group, owners of the UK’s largest power station here in North Yorkshire. One of the articles reviews electricity production for the third quarter of this year and shows the mix of sources. Low carbon sources accounted for an average of 57% of production across the quarter. Of this just under half came from nuclear, followed by wind, biomass, solar and hydro, in order of importance. Coal contributed less to the total supply than anything else, except hydro. Gas produced 37% of the total.
The power station at Drax was originally built to burn coal. Now it burns biomass in some of its boilers, but management is looking to expand into gas-fired generation. They say:
“The proposed project comprises up to four new gas turbines (up to two for Unit 5 and up to two for Unit 6), each powering a dedicated generator of up to 600 megawatts (MW) in capacity. Each unit would provide steam, via a Heat Recovery Steam Generator, to the existing steam turbine for that unit which would generate up to 600MW per unit. Once re-powered, Unit 5 would have a gross electrical output capacity of up to 1,800 megawatts and Unit 6 would have a gross electrical output capacity of up to 1,800 megawatts. The repowered units would have a new combined capacity of up to 3,600MW or 3.6 gigawatts (GW).
“It is also proposed to construct up to two battery storage facilities, one per generating unit and each up to 100MW.”
Not everyone agrees with the plan, not least our friends Client Earth, the group of environmental lawyers who have successfully sued the government several times over the UK’s poor air quality. 
ClientEarth climate accountability lawyer Sam Hunter Jones said: “The UK government claims to be a climate leader, yet if major energy projects such as this from Drax are granted planning consent, the UK will risk carbon lock-in that would seriously undermine its ability to meet its climate change commitments.
“The government’s own forecasts published this year show that the UK does not need a major roll out of new large-scale gas generation capacity. There is evidence that even those low forecasts overestimate the level of need and are also not sufficient to meet the UK’s decarbonisation targets.
“Approving this new gas capacity risks either throwing the UK’s decarbonisation off course, or locking in redundant infrastructure resulting in significant environmental impacts and costs to the taxpayer.”
Sadly the government doesn’t seem to be listening, and will probably urge Cuadrilla to step up its search for fracked gas to feed the new turbines.

Exploratory fracking continues at the Preston New Road site in Lancashire, but it has triggered 37 minor earth tremors. They were all undetectable at the surface without specialised equipment, but two were large enough to require operations to be suspended. A Cuadrilla executive had previously said that he didn't expect to cause such serious quakes. Of course, if gas is found in commercial quantities it will still be years before production begins.

More Holes
Maybe better results could be obtained by drilling different holes. On its website, Geothermal Engineering Ltd says:
“Our planet is a huge source of energy. In fact 99.9% of the planet is at a temperature greater than 100 degrees Centigrade. Geothermal Engineering intends to tap into this heat and, in so doing, aims to produce significant quantities of renewable electricity and heat. Contrary to current methods of generating power (oil, coal, nuclear), electricity from geothermal sources has low or no carbon emissions, no waste products, a minimal physical foot print on the earth and is renewable. At a time when fossil fuel reserves are rapidly being exhausted and concerns increase about global warming, Geothermal Engineering aims to act today to safeguard the planet for tomorrow by producing clean Heat and Power from the Earth.”
Drilling began last week at a site near Redruth in Cornwall, southwest England. One hole is expected to be 1.6 miles (2.5km) deep and the other as deep as 2.8 miles (4.5km), which would be a UK record for a borehole. The plan is to pump water to the bottom of the first hole, and for it to percolate down through a geological fault to the bottom of the second hole, absorbing heat as it goes.  This heated water, at about 190℃ will be extracted through the second hole and will be used to power the UK’s first geothermal power station. There should be enough electricity for 7,000 homes. This is tiny in the scheme of things - only about a third of the output of a single offshore wind turbine - but it is a proof of concept, and unlike a wind turbine it is not intermittent. It can run continuously 24/7.
Creativity and Imagination wanted!
We tend to have a mindset that expects us to heat our homes by burning something like oil or gas, or by using electricity. The truth is that there is a lot of natural heat out there which can be harvested by using an air-source heat pump, a water-source heat pump as mentioned in previous episodes, or by this geothermal system. It’s clean, it’s cost-effective. We need engineers - and governments - with the imagination to use it.
Nuclear Option
Meanwhile, in the face of conflicting advice, the government continues to promote the nuclear option. The National Infrastructure Assessment recently published by the National Infrastructure Commission proposes that half of the UK’s power should be provided by renewables by 2030. It also says specifically that “Heating must no longer be provided by natural gas, a fossil fuel.” Although it does not suggest a target date for this to be achieved. “The Commission’s modelling has shown that a highly renewable generation mix is a low cost option for the energy system…Government should not agree support for more than one nuclear power station beyond Hinkley Point C.”

The government has been planning a major nuclear power station in Cumbria near the Sellafield reprocessing plant. The main contractor was expected to be Toshiba, but this company has decided to wind up its loss-making nuclear facility. The plant is now very unlikely to be built. 

This may raise doubts over another planned station at Wilfa in North Wales. The contractor here is Hitachi, and for the moment construction is expected to start in 2020. The National Infrastructure Commission suggested that a second power station should be built after Hinckley C in order to maintain the nuclear supply chain. This seems a little perverse and at odds with its suggestions that renewables are more cost-effective.
A Good Read
Incidentally, the National Infrastructure Assessment report is worth a read because apart from energy it covers issues including autonomous vehicles, revolutionising road transport, building the digital society, decarbonising the UK and reducing the risks of drought and flooding.
Dam Lies and Statistics
Statistically, nuclear power is the safest form of energy. Even the Chernobyl disaster was the direct cause of less than 50 deaths. Of course any death is unacceptable, and we must honour and remember all those who suffer fatal accidents at Chernobyl or elsewhere.
Statistically hydropower is the most dangerous. This is because a collapsing dam can rapidly engulf and sweep away hundreds of people. The BBC cites a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. 
The report finds that hydropower has been the leading source of renewable energy across the world, accounting for up to 71% of this supply as of 2016. This capacity was built up in North America and Europe between 1920 and 1970 when thousands of dams were built. Nowadays, however, more dams are being removed in North America and Europe than are being built. The hydropower industry moved to building dams in the developing world and since the 1970s, began to build even larger hydropower dams along the Mekong River Basin, the Amazon River Basin, and the Congo River Basin. The same problems are being repeated: disrupting river ecology, deforestation, losing aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity, releasing substantial greenhouse gases, displacing thousands of people, and altering people’s livelihoods plus affecting the food systems, water quality, and agriculture near them. The paper studies the proliferation of large dams in developing countries and the importance of incorporating climate change into considerations of whether to build a dam. It also examines the overestimation of benefits and underestimation of costs.
So even without catastrophic failure, dams can have wide-ranging negative effects.
A few short stories
First, I spoke last week about ozone and how the ozone layer protects us from harmful radiations from space. At ground level, however, it's bad news. Ozone contributes to poor air quality, particularly in developing countries. It makes breathing difficult and adds to the health problems caused by polluted air. Delhi and Hong Kong are particularly affected.
Should there be a tax on red meat?
Scientists at the University of Oxford say governments should consider imposing price hikes on red meat - such as beef, lamb and pork - to reduce consumption.
They say it would save lives and more than £700m in UK healthcare costs, according to new research.
Publishing in PLOS, the public library of science , the researchers say: “The consumption of red and processed meat has been associated with increased mortality from chronic diseases, and as a result, it has been classified by the World Health Organization as carcinogenic (processed meat) and probably carcinogenic (red meat) to humans. One policy response is to regulate red and processed meat consumption similar to other carcinogens and foods of public health concerns. Here we describe a market-based approach of taxing red and processed meat according to its health impacts.”
Red meat is one of the least efficient forms of food, given the large quantities of feed and water that are needed to produce each kilo of meat on the butcher’s slab. As more people in developing nations aspire to a Western diet we may well see prices rise even without taxes. 

How will environmental standards be affected by Brexit? 
Apparently there’s a problem already. Some 400 staff have been moved from the Environment Agency to work directly on preparations for a no-deal Brexit. While the cat’s away, the mice will play. Let’s hope that the cats will be sent back to monitoring air and water pollution, recycling, flooding, habitats and species and all the other things our laws are intended to protect, as soon as possible.

Remember California
At the time of writing, wildfires in California have taken more than 40 lives and at least 100 people are unaccounted for. These fires are exceptional, driven by warm winds from the desert. President Trump blames poor forest management. Others see it as yet another example of the consequences of climate change. Venice saw exceptional floods last week and almost every week since the middle of the summer I have reported on exceptional weather in one part of the world or another. I'll talk more about climate change, again, next week.

And finally…
That strange Icelandic saga. Iceland is a frozen-food retailer here in the UK. Like a number of other store chains, it’s just released a new television commercial for Christmas. This one is different. It makes the point that Iceland no longer uses palm oil in its own-label products. It explains how palm oil is unsustainable, how palm oil plantations are devastating forests and how they are driving orangutans to extinction. It’s an animated cartoon, with a voice-over by actress Emma Thompson. The television advertisers have said that it’s political, and they refuse to carry it. They say it was made by Greenpeace, which is a political pressure group. That’s true, but nowhere does it mention Greenpeace. There’s a link on my blog so that you can view it for yourself and make up your own mind.  And if you haven’t got time for that, I’m going to close this episode with the soundtrack to the ad.

But before I go let me thank you for listening. Let me thank my patrons in particular for their help, ideas and support. It’s always very welcome - and if you want to be a patron you’ll know by now that you just have to hop across to and sign up. And if you’ve any ideas to share, contact me at
I’m Anthony Day. That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
And now here’s that soundtrack. Iceland have dedicated it to the 25 orangutans we lose every day. They say:
“Until all palm oil production causes zero rainforest destruction, we’re removing palm oil from all our own label products.” 

Listen, and let me know if you think this is political.