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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.
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 www.sustainablefutures.report . 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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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 is a new green pressure group. It has three simple demands:
- 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.
- The Government must enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and to reduce consumption levels.
- 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.
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.
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”.
“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.
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.
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.
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 www.patreon.com/sfr.
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 www.sustainablefutures.report.
I’m Anthony Day.
Bye for now.