Friday, December 20, 2019

Taking Back Control

Taking Back Control

It’s the final Sustainable Futures Report of 2019 - episode No. 45. Yes, I’m Anthony Day and this is the edition for Friday 20th December 2019.

Image by Skeeze

In the News
I’ll be commenting on the British General Election, although it won’t take long. More important is the outcome of COP25, the UN Climate Conference in Madrid, where hard-fought negotiations struggled into extra time over the weekend. That’s all for later. First I have another interview for you.
Adapt and Survive
We’ve spoken many times in the Sustainable Futures Report about the causes of climate change and the measures needed to get them under control. The truth is that changes to our climate - the effects of global heating - are already embedded into global systems and it’s as important to be able to cope with them as it is to stop it getting worse. My guest Sarah Tuneberg of Geospiza spoke to me about it.
Well first of all, Sarah, thank you very much for agreeing to take part in the Sustainable Futures Report.

Thank you very much for allowing me to participate. I'm very excited. 

I understand that you've been involved in emergency management, emergency planning for 10-15 years. Dealing with all sorts of natural disasters, but I know you are going to stop me there because you're going to say there is no such thing as a natural disaster. Why do you say that?

Indeed, I believe, and I think that the evidence is very clear that there are natural hazards, those weather phenomena or natural phenomenon like earthquakes, volcanoes, cyclones. They happen, but the disaster happens when we have people and human development in the path of those naturally occurring phenomena. So to call them natural disasters - all of these things are very human responsibility for the disaster component. We, as human beings, actively choose to live, to build, to work, to play in highly vulnerable areas. And when there are big consequences where human development and natural hazards align we call them natural disasters, but I think it's a misnomer, and I think it, it makes it feel like we don't have any power in what's happening when really, we did it.

Anthony:  1:38
Okay. So, do you think we should be doing more in the way of risk assessments in the broadest context?

Absolutely. I think that we should be doing more and more, even than doing risk assessment, I think there is value in putting the huge amounts of risk assessment data and risk identification data into action into mitigation and adaptation into preparedness. I was talking to a colleague recently and she said you know what - I feel like I'm living in a, in an alarm state, all the time, fire alarms of some sort, going off, whether it's climate or global warming or flooding or pandemic influenza that there's all these threats, but I don't really know what to do about them. And so I think that that's really one of the challenges we face is how we put all of this data and all of this risk into action to really reduce the risk.

Anthony:  2:40
A lot of this data I think comes from a wide range of public bodies, well, public bodies or bodies with responsibility to the public ranging from the utilities like the power and the water, the emergency bodies like the fire, and the police. Have you had any success in drawing these together, and being able to actually consolidate the data so you've got a complete picture of a particular situation?

Sarah: 3:13
Yeah, absolutely. That's sort of been the route of my professional career is how we draw data and evidence from this huge amazingly diverse set of partners together to make information products that help make important decisions or support important decisions. Yeah, that's where I've spent a lot of my work and the company that I co founded, it's called Geospiza, is that that's the work that we do. The academic universe, the government research universe, utilities, emergency managers all of these parties, create incredible data, but one of the challenges is that in an under-resourced very stressed environment like a disaster, an impending disaster, climate disaster it's hard for people to stitch those together in a meaningful way. They come in disparate forms. They come from all over the internet sometimes in different languages, whether they're different computer languages or actual different languages. And it's hard to make meaning of them and so there's huge value I think in doing that and I think one of the best ways that's really exciting is that mapping technology has gotten so much better recently. So, taking zeros and ones of digital information and making really beautiful maps, this is a way that we can convey information powerfully.

Anthony:  4:39
Do you find that all these different organizations are prepared to share the data with you or with some other coordinator? And what about a GDPR is that causing you problems as well?

Sarah: 4:53
So the first part of the question is no, of course people are not necessarily prepared to share. I think people develop their data sets. Sometimes I think you have sort of both things happen or a lot of things happen in sort of a spectrum, some people don't want to share they don't know how it's hard work for them. Other people, I think especially academic and government researchers, they've done this, it’s their life's work and they're excited to have it used, they don't necessarily know how. I think lots of times you get a little bit siloed, you get a little bit myopic because you're working on your own research and you think, oh, that oh there's a whole bunch of people who could use it. That's exciting. So I think there's a spectrum there. GDPR is interesting. We have built our work to be fully GDPR compliant. To be aligned with that because we are building a global company at Geospiza and we believe that that's a place to start. But yes, I think that things like GDPR, and in the, in the US, we have a law called HIPAA the Health Insurance Portability Privacy Act (maybe don't quote me on that) but it's HIPAA, it's about medical data privacy and our experiences, even though that has pretty much nothing to do with what we do. People are always worried they're like “oh does this violate HIPAA?”, and I imagine GDPR similar does this like that, a lack of knowledge makes people reserved and concerned. And so some better guidelines, some better ideas about how it really does apply in certain circumstances could be hugely powerful, but I think the, the reservation is always conservative people move conservative and then you have to sort of pull them along.

Anthony:  6:50
Right. Okay, I suppose you get all the local organizations together, you managed to consolidate their information. Is that a question - who actually takes a lead, and and takes the decisions based upon the information that you've been able to consolidate?

Sarah: 7:04
Absolutely. And I think you end up in two different situations. One is sort of the emerging unfolding disaster. And then the other one is the longer range situation what are we talking about five years 10 years from now and I think those parties can be really different. And the biggest challenge happens when those two pieces come together. So when we're talking about for example, increased flooding, as a result of climate change, climate change lives started with Planning sometimes and flooding lives with Emergency Management so how do you get those parties together to be able to collaborate on mitigation and preparedness activities? It is that as a huge challenge.

Anthony:  7:50
Okay. Okay, well just assuming that you get all the people talking together and you have this body of information. And let's say a flood is forecast. What does this information management allow you to do that has been lacking in previous national natural disasters?

Sarah: 8:13
Geospiza’s specific product and the work of similar companies, allows public safety entities, corporations who have lots of employees or customers in an area, anybody like that, to understand who, on a very granular geographic level. What the population, looks like, and what their needs might be. There might there be a neighborhood that's likely to flood where there are a lot of people who rely on public transportation so if we give them an evacuation order, they're going to need some sort of support to get out. There might be a lot of people who rely on public support in some sort of food aid or rental aid and so if we need them to evacuate we're also going to have to provide some sort of food aid or something like that. Then the other piece is, what infrastructure is in place in those geographies, that we might want to get back on line quickly? So is there a power station that we need to get or is there a key employer? And that becomes really relevant.

Anthony:  9:33
There's a wide range of disasters going on in the world at the moment, one of the most notable ones of course is these fires in Eastern Australia which have now got to the size of Greater Sydney itself. I don't know whether there's been planning, I don't know that there hasn't been planning. But how would you approach something like that, particularly as we recognize that it is only spring in Australia at the moment - they haven't really started the fire season, so things could get worse. Where would you go from here?

Sarah: 10:12
Yeah, it's a, it's like a deeply challenging set of problems and we experience it very similarly in the United States right now where what used to be a very defined fire season is no longer, now we're dealing with it, year long. Australia situation is unbelievable. So I think that there's been some really interesting changes. One is that previous hesitation, the sort of previous plan planning strategy was that people were encouraged if they wanted or permitted if they wanted to stay and defend their houses. One of the things we know about fire behavior is that it's not actually the flames usually that caused the fire and a wildland fire situation, it's the sparks that move ahead, and they settle and then it causes the fire to move very quickly. They fly on the wind and start the fires - it's not really the flames. So if you can have people who stay in defend their own homes and put out these advanced sparks and advanced sort of cinders. You can stop fire and you can you can build fire breaks. One of the very different situations that Australia is facing is that the fire is so big and so fast and the conditions are so dry, again, likely as a result of a changing climate that they've encouraged people to leave. They cannot, they don't they don't want them to stay, the fires are moving too fast and maybe can become overwhelmed by them very quickly. I think this marks a really significant change in risk communication, which is public officials globally have been very bad at being honest about what might happen. And they have a tendency because they want, I believe they have a tendency because they want to be encouraging and they want to be supportive to not …. or maybe they don't know because they're politicians and they're not, they don't want to believe that themselves. They don't effectively communicate the risk. And they don't use the data to communicate the risk. So I think this is a really interesting time and I'm excited to learn from it.  Australia is really changing what they're telling people and they're telling people to leave, and they're evacuating huge amounts of people to some economic loss, like all sorts of disruption happened when you, when you evacuate people. So I think this is a really interesting time and I think it will be an example that we will draw from from, as we see this happen more and more whether it's from flood or wildfire that we're just going to have to move a lot more people around, and that is something we're not great at.

Anthony:  12:59
How can we educate public officials, how can we change their attitude and make them more aware and make them also aware of the opportunities of integrated planning, through having a broad spectrum of data to draw on?
Do you run training courses for example?

Sarah: 13:18
Absolutely we run training courses, we advocate, we lobby. I think conveying data is the best way - some well-designed maps in this world of well-designed infographics, getting some real evidence-based data in front of politicians to give them concisely and clearly what they're facing is the most effective strategy, and I think lots of times it's important to link it to the long term growth or economic development component. I think most politicians feel the day-to-day pressure of ensuring their constituents are healthy, happy, and having economic expansion. And so if you can show them how these things play together, there is huge value. And not to mention I will, I'll add another thing which it's hard to convey but a natural hazard in the United States - we say in the emergency management community that snow storms are Mayor killers, that this relatively modest regularly-occurring event of a blizzard in the United States is the surest way to lose your job as a mayor because what seems like it should be very simple which is snow clearance is actually very expensive and very complicated. And we've seen several mayors of large cities, lose re-election or have to resign their office because they handled it very poorly. One of the best examples is Marion Barry who was a DC a mayor of Washington DC, went to the NFL Pro Bowl in Hawaii, when there was a huge snowstorm in Washington DC and he was seen on TV in this very warm weather, when all of his constituents were stuck in their homes, and that was the end for him, and we've seen that happen in Boston and Chicago. And so, there is a very real implication of mishandling these natural hazards and natural events. People depend on the government to deliver services and and politicians should be prepared to deliver on that or explain why they can't and lots of times you can't, it's expensive and it's hard and so being really transparent is difficult.

Anthony:  15:44
Okay, well, it's expensive and it's hard to say. [Yeah] And as climate change… I mean, we are doing everything we can to stop climate change getting any worse but we have built a certain amount of climate change into the system. You're already seeing or frequent more intense, or violent storms, so there will be more natural hazards. That’s the word, Yes Yes. Do you think that we are going to be able to upgrade our emergency planning to cope with the challenges that climate change is inevitably going to bring us whatever we do about emissions? Over the next 10, 20, 50 years?

Sarah: 16:31
I don't know, I am fairly disheartened at the moment. Honestly, I think that one of the biggest sort of heartbreaks I have is that the emergency planning and preparedness structures globally are very disparate. And that you see everybody doing an okay job, some people doing a great job but very few people doing an excellent job. And those communities that are especially vulnerable to the hazards of climate change also having the least well developed Emergency Management Planning preparedness strategies, and I think a lot of, like, Ho Chi Min city is a good example where new modeling shows that Ho Chi Min city is going to experience far more flooding than we ever imagined, and sea level rise is going to happen way more quickly. And there's huge populations of not particularly affluent people who are going to need help, and we don't have a great system in Vietnam. Similarly, I think of the Gulf Coast of the United States, where you have lots more cyclonic activity, lots more large rainfall activities that cause flooding, all sorts of unprecedented events happening, and not great. We're not very good at evacuation and we don't have a lot of tax base in those communities to support perhaps buying people out and moving them other places. So it's a really big challenge and I think also, in lots of communities but especially in the United States, we have a racially disparate emergency management system and a racially disparate land use pattern where people of colour and poor people live in highly vulnerable geographic areas, and they're going to bear the disproportionate brunt, and I don't know what we do about that at the moment but it's the part that feels hardest.

Anthony:  18:43
Certainly some very challenging thoughts there. These issues, particularly about the less wealthy nations, are being brought up now at COP 25 in Madrid.
So tell us a little bit about your company.

Sarah: 19:02
Yeah, so my company is called Geospiza. We take our name from the genus of finch that Darwin studied on the Galapagos to develop his theory of evolution, and we feel like it's our link to our mission of helping our customers, adapt to a rapidly changing climate. And we built it - we have built internet-based platforms, web platforms, that ingest huge amounts of data, lots of it - this open data we were talking about about risks and hazards and climate modelling and population-based data around the world and we visualise that in a really beautiful map-based interface that allows all of this very complex disparate data to be understood in a very fast and very easy way. And then we build decision support tools. What we really care about is putting data into action to help make good evidence-based decisions. So we do a lot of adaptation pathway modelling, which is an academic strategy for climate based planning that comes out of the Netherlands where you link the decisions you need to make to get to your end goal to the real time data so you know when you need to change your strategy. So for example, do we need to elevate, and when do we need to elevate because we can't do all of our climate adaptation and mitigation strategies at once it's just too expensive. So how do we sequence them to get the best benefit, and we use machine learning and a little bit of AI to help support those decisions.

Anthony:  20:42
Thank you very much for that. We will put a link to your website on the blog which accompanies the podcast. I'm going to put a link to your TEDx talk as well.

Sarah: 20:50
Thank you.

Anthony:  22:20
Sarah, thank you very much for talking to the Sustainable Futures Report.
Sarah: 22:24
Thank you for having me.

Sarah Tuneberg. Her company, Geospiza, is at and I recommend that you look at her TEDx talk. You can search or find these links on the Sustainable Futures Report blog.
Election. Blues won.
Yes, we’ve just had a General Election in the UK with an overwhelming victory for the Conservative Party. I’m disappointed with the result, mainly because I believe that Brexit will severely damage our country. This is not the forum to discuss politics, so I’ll leave it there. The new government’s policy on climate change will be crucial. Prime Minister Johnson refused to take part in a TV climate debate. This could be climate scepticism or it could be simply part of his strategy to avoid the press wherever possible, which was evident throughout his campaign. Calling XR activists uncooperative crusties living in hemp-smelling tents, as he did back in October, does not bode well. As with everything else on the government’s to-do list, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Far more important than Brexit and far, far more important than the UK is the climate crisis, so I shall continue to make that my principal focus in 2020. As you know COP25, this year’s UN Climate Conference, has come to an end. Scheduled to close on Friday 13th, negotiations continued into the following Sunday, and many are unhappy with the outcome.
If the pledges made in Paris in 2015 are fulfilled, warming is likely to be held to around 3℃, far in excess of the 1.5℃ which is now believed to be the maximum that temperatures can be allowed to rise without causing catastrophic damage to agriculture and coastal cities. Signatories to the Paris Accord agreed to report back in 5 years and present revised proposals for the future. Although a full five years will not have passed until next year there were few signs that the major emitters have met their current commitments or have made much progress in establishing more realistic commitments for the future.
Brazil, Australia, the US, China and other major emitters were all accused of holding up progress. I mentioned last time that they spent much time arguing over which words it was permissible to use in conference documentation. The US remains a party to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) even though it has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, claiming it will damage the competitive position of the nation. Smaller nations set out their plans for reducing their emissions, but the effect of these will be dwarfed by the actions of China and the US, by far the largest emitters of GHG, who account for around 50% of the total between them.
There were disagreements over carbon markets and the responsibility for assisting poorer nations already suffering the consequences of climate change, principally from sea-level rise. It was generally agreed that the final agreement was an uneasy compromise, leaving much to be decided at COP26 in 12 months’ time.
Meanwhile the BBC reports on an article in Nature that describes how Greenland ice is melting seven times as fast as in the 1990s, with obvious consequences for sea levels.
It’s more than worrying that faced with an emergency that affects the very existence of humanity world leaders can do no more than talk - and defer decisions for one more of the 10 years that some scientists say is all we’ve got left!
In the Bank of England’s Financial Stability Report published this week Governor Mark Carney says, “What we’re looking for management at banks to do is to think through their strategy about their exposure to industries… …that could be increasingly and materially exposed to climate risks. And the question is how resilient is your strategy if you are concentrating your lending in areas that will be potentially severely affected 5, 10 plus years out?”
Back in October he was warning that firms ignoring the climate crisis would quite simply go bankrupt. 
Also this week the Bank published “The 2021 biennial exploratory scenario on the financial risks from climate change.” This is a discussion paper and is open to comment from anyone until 18th March 2020. They say, 
“The Bank will use its 2021 biennial exploratory scenario (BES) to explore the financial risks posed by climate change. The exercise will test the resilience of the current business models of the largest banks, insurers and the financial system to climate related risks and therefore the scale of adjustment that will need to be undertaken in coming decades for the system to remain resilient.
Conducting a climate stress test poses distinct challenges compared to conventional macrofinancial or insurance stress tests. To ensure it is effective in light of these challenges, the Bank is using this discussion paper to consult relevant stakeholders on the design of the exercise. This includes financial firms, climate scientists, economists, other industry experts, and informed stakeholder groups.” 
Find out more and submit your own comments via the link on the Sustainable Futures Report blog.
Mark Carney leaves his post as Governor of the Bank of England early in 2020 and will become a UN special envoy for climate action and finance. He is clearly committed, to the extent that he will receive no salary for the role.
COP26 will take place in Glasgow at the end of next year. The UK’s relationship with the UNFCCC and commitment to the Paris Agreement is through its membership of the EU. This of course starts to change as we enter our transition period towards Brexit in 2020, so the UK will presumably have to make its own commitment to the Paris Agreement as it prepares to host this crucial conference.
And Finally
We’re close to the end of another Sustainable Futures Report, the 45th and last for 2019. Do you remember that I asked for 100 words on what we should do in 2020? That will form the theme of the next episode which will appear on 3rd January. Quite a lot of people have come back with ideas, including Carol Dance from Sydney, Australia. Thanks, Carol. I’ve got both your emails. 
There’s still time - just - to add your own 100 words to what we should do next year. Drop me an email at as soon as you can, and if you want to record it on your phone and send that to me as well then so much the better. Ian Jarvis has sent me some more ideas so we’ll look at those next time as well.
That’s it…
…for now, for 2019. Enjoy your Christmas holiday - it’s an ideal opportunity to catch up with all those Sustainable Futures Reports you missed during the year. Thank you for supporting me as a patron, thank you for listening.
I’m Anthony Day, and remember, I don’t just do podcasts. If you want a keynote speaker at your conference or a workshop leader to bring your team up to speed on what the climate crisis means for them and your organisation, you know where I am. Now taking bookings for February.
And, as has become my custom in this festive season, let’s play out with something different… 

Sarah Tuneberg

The UN climate talks are over for another year – was anything achieved?
UN climate talks end with limited progress on emissions targets

Bank of England

Friday, December 13, 2019

Biomimicry - Nature Shows the Way

Biomimicry - Nature shows the Way
Image by Couleur from Pixabay

Hello and welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday, the 13th of December. There is no news of the general election results because I wrote this before the polls even opened. 
This Time
Aside from election news, on the sustainability front Australia is still ablaze, COP25, the UN Climate Conference, draws to a close this week with criticism and complaints, Greta Thunberg says the school strikes have achieved nothing and some in Scotland are having a grouse - about grouse moors. But apart from all this, whatever we do to our world we are going to have to live in it and it’s important to make the very best of it. There are lessons we can learn from Nature. I recently heard a presentation by Richard James MacCowan who is the founder and managing director of Biomimicry UK. In the conference brochure it said:
“Richard is a real estate consultant and designer having worked across Europe on projects from billion-dollar asset transfers to new developments. His passion for all things biomimetic and problem-solving started in his youth, and it has never stopped since then. This has led to unexpected clients and opportunities with the BBC, luxury hotels and even running a workshop in a nudist colony in the Balkans!”
He never told us about that in his presentation, but I was able to catch up with him later and we discussed a whole range of things.

Richard MacCowan of Biomimicry UK. Find out more on his website: 

Australia Ablaze
We need nature, but nature in some parts of Australia is under severe threat. The fires that I reported weeks ago are still burning and are now being called too big to put out. They are covering an area equivalent to the size of greater Sydney, and they are not that far from Sydney. Temperatures were expected to reach 43C during the week. The city is choked with smoke and air quality has exceeded "hazardous" levels on several occasions. This has led to a 10% rise in hospital admissions, while paramedics have treated hundreds of people for breathing problems. There are air quality problems from bushfire smoke in Adelaide as well.
Firefighters say there is no hope of putting the fires out because everything is so dry. All they can do is wait for rain, which is not expected before late January or February. We spoke about water vapour last time and how warmer air can hold more of it. This means that when it finally condenses into clouds and then turns into rain the downpours are excessively heavy. But on the other hand it means that where clouds rise to heights which would normally trigger rainfall it's not cold enough, so the clouds move on leaving drought behind them. As we warm the atmosphere we change weather patterns.
All these fires must be putting tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, but at the same time they are killing wildlife and destroying habitats. For those creatures that survive there may be no insects or plants or prey left to live on.
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison, has consistently said there was “no credible scientific evidence” linking climate change with the fires. This has been rejected by climate scientists, who have said politicians are “burying their heads in the sand while the world is literally burning around them”. The Climate Change Performance Index rates Australia’s climate policies as the worst in the world, coming 57th out of 57 countries.
As we learnt recently, Australia accounts for 37% of world coal exports. Shutting the mines would devastate the economy overnight. Equally, shutting the mines would not stop climate change or the droughts or the fires. It’s a necessary but not sufficient action for controlling the climate crisis, which depends on actions by governments and corporations across the world. The effect of humanity on the environment has built up over the last 200 years or so; and particularly in the last 50. The effect of cutting CO2 emissions and extracting CO2 from the atmosphere will take centuries if not millennia to work through. Somehow we need to sell the necessity of immediate action to deliver long-term security but no immediate return. You can understand why politicians would prefer to believe that climate change is not happening.
It’s not just in Australia that the mining industry is resisting calls to curtail its operations. Friends of the Earth warn that the international Energy Charter Treaty could be used by fossil fuel companies to challenge countries’ climate regulations. The original objective of the treaty was to protect western energy companies as they started to invest in former Soviet states, and the organisation is certainly not without teeth. The most notorious case, involving the Russian Yukos company, ended with a $50bn judgement. 
COP25 closes this week, after this edition has been published, but already there’s much news. The general message is that not enough is being done quickly enough and corporations and countries are dragging their feet, if not deliberately hampering progress. 
Johan Rockström, joint director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said, “We are at risk of getting so bogged down in incremental technicalities at these negotiations that we forget to see the forest for the trees” An example is the position of China, Saudi Arabia India and Brazil on the use of the term “climate urgency”. They claim that since the phrase has not been used in the past it cannot be used now. Other delegates are frustrated at this insistence on a triviality in the face of the science, of the shrinking time to act and the realisation across the world of this emergency.
In 2015, countries signed up to the Paris agreement and are due to put new plans on the table to run from 2020. The richer countries were supposed to undertake specific carbon cutting actions in the years between 2015 and 2020, but many haven't yet achieved these targets. Negotiators have ignored the central question of increasing country pledges to cut their carbon and concentrated instead on protecting national interests.
Carbon Markets
There are two contentious issues: loss and damage, and carbon markets. The conference is setting out to establish a new scheme for carbon trading but some countries, notably Brazil, want to carry forward carbon credits that were generated under previous schemes. This would limit the efforts needed by Brazil to meet its targets, but it is claimed that these old credits do not in fact represent real carbon reductions, so their use is not justified. If old credits are allowed there is little point in having a new scheme. 
Loss & Damage
Loss and damage has been on the agenda since the conference opened. Poorer and developing countries affected by sea-level rise or major storms that have a climate component are looking for support and assistance from richer countries. Richer countries are afraid of being held liable for billions of dollars indefinitely.
It’s Time
You’ve probably heard that Greta Thunberg has been nominated as Time Magazine’s person of the year 2019. It’s as much about Time Magazine as about Greta, but the publicity must be welcome for the climate cause. In the past Greta has been dismissive of praise and awards. What she wants is action. Speaking at the summit in Madrid this week, she urged world leaders to stop using "creative PR" to avoid real action. She also said that the school strikes for the climate over the past year had “achieved nothing” because greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise. In the four years since the Paris Agreement global emissions have risen by 4%. Meanwhile delegates at the conference focus on the wording of the documents rather than the urgency of the bigger picture.

Greta complained as well about the criticism of activists and the abuse she has received. Petrolhead Jeremy Clarkson surprised everyone when he said that climate change must be real because he found that he couldn’t take a boat up the Mekong River in Cambodia because parts of it had dried up. It didn’t take long for him to revert to type and say that Greta should shut up and go back to school. She told activists in Madrid that we needed more activists, that school strikes could stop if governments took action and she hoped that there would be a positive outcome from COP25, as ministers from across the world arrived for the final stages of the summit. She didn’t look optimistic, but she always looks determined.
At the other end of the age range, 82-year-old actress Jane Fonda has joined the climate activists and been arrested four times. She says that she’s inspired by Greta Thunberg and that climate activism has helped lift her depression which followed the election of Donald Trump.
Grouse Moors
The United Kingdom lies a few hundred miles north of Madrid, and large areas of northern England and Scotland are pretty barren. There are very few trees and much of the landscape is bog and heather populated by sheep. Although this countryside has looked like this for 200 years or more, it’s not natural. It’s managed like this for grouse shooting, an activity which uses 13% of the land area of Scotland but contributes a negligible amount to Scotland’s economy. A report from Revive, the coalition for grouse moor reform, claims that continued management of this land as grouse moors will maintain a large area of Scotland’s land in an impoverished state. It’s treated with pesticides, contaminated with lead shot and parts are burned each year so that the heather puts out new shoots that the grouse feed on. This close-to-sterile landscape could be returned to scrub and woodland, with habitat for a wide range of wildlife, opportunities for year-round leisure activities and managed forestry with associated jobs. The trees would be a carbon sink, but protecting the peat bogs, already a massive carbon sink, would be far more important. To achieve this, of course would need political will and cooperation from those that own the land. Politicians may well choose easier battles to fight.
I fear the Scottish landowners would be every bit as obdurate and obstructive as the coal companies.
And Finally,
Some good news. Well, reasonably good news anyway. The Times reports that the UK market share for greener cars rose above 10 per cent for the first time in November, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. Demand for hybrids rose by 15 per cent to 7,038 compared to the same month last year; plug-in hybrids increased by 34.8 per cent to 4,362; and battery electric cars rose by 229 per cent to 4,652. 229%! But then that’s a very low base. And that’s just 4,652 vehicles out of a total of some 160,000. And is the car, petrol or electric, the way to go?
I think that’s a question for another time.
And that’s it…
…for another Sustainable Futures Report.  Remember that links to the sources for all of these stories are on the blog - or will be by Friday.
Next week I’ll bring you a more measured response to the results of the UK election, to the outcome of COP25 and there’ll be a look at how we can adapt to the climate change already built into the system. That will be my last episode of 2019, bringing us up to 45 editions for the year, so you won’t be surprised that there will be a break in January. I’m aiming for a 3rd January episode, although precious few have come back with 100 words on what we should do in 2020. Send me your ideas!  Before Christmas if you possibly can.
If you’re contemplating a New Year’s Resolution (OK I know Christmas hasn’t even started yet!) But if you are, why not become a patron of the Sustainable Futures Report. Details at Makes an ideal Christmas present, too.
Right, that’s enough for this time. 
But before I go, 
lest we forget, XR hunger strikers are now in their third week with nothing but water and vitamins.
Some people have immense courage and they’re doing this for you and me.
I’m Anthony Day
That was the Sustainable Futures Report
I’ll be back next week in time to wish you a Merry Christmas.


Australia fires: blazes 'too big to put out' as 140 bushfires rage in NSW and Queensland
Sydney's air 11 times worse than 'hazardous' levels as Australia's bushfires rage
Energy treaty 'risks undermining EU's green new deal'


UN climate talks failing to address urgency of crisis, says top scientist

Greta Thunberg says school strikes have achieved nothing

Jane Fonda on joining the climate fight: 'It's back to the barricades'

Close Scottish grouse moors to help climate, report urges


Hello and welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday, the 13th of December. I was planning to stay up late tonight so that I could incorporate the result, or at least the trend, of the general election in this episode. Then I realised that by the time you listen to this you will know far more than I might do at midnight on Thursday. So we’ll talk about the election next time. I hope you get this on Friday. BT are about to cut our internet off - maybe for as much as 24 hours the man’s just told me. I’m sure I’ll find a way.

Friday, December 06, 2019


#Time for action

Welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday, the 6th December. I'm Anthony Day. First of all a big welcome to my latest gold patron Paul O’Mahoney. Welcome Paul, thanks for listening; thanks also for recommending this podcast to other people. Your special edition Sustainable Futures Report enamel badge is in the post.
This Week
COP25, the UN Climate Change Conference, started this week in Madrid under the Presidency of the Government of Chile and with logistical support from the Government of Spain. Big beasts on the financial scene, like Christine LaGarde and Mark Carney are entering the climate debate. As coal becomes uninsurable fossil fuel lobbyists redouble their greenwash and VW has its day in court to answer the emissions scandal. There’s a lack of clarity in a recently-released report on fracking, Simon Tilley tells us a story - not for the faint-hearted - and Greenpeace has served up a turkey - but hopes that you won’t.
COP25 continues until next Friday 13th December. Yes, it’s the 25th COP - the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC.
Tipping Points
As Greta Thunberg sails in to Portugal on her way to Madrid the journal Nature publishes an article headed: 
“Climate tipping points — too risky to bet against” 
“The growing threat of abrupt and irreversible climate changes must compel political and economic action on emissions,” it says. The article goes on to identify and analyse the threats: ice collapse in Greenland and Antarctica leading to sea-level rise, droughts in the Amazon, the slowing of the Atlantic Circulation and Gulf Stream, dying coral reefs and thawing permafrost.
It's not a very long article and I recommend you read it. You'll find the link on the Sustainable Futures Report blog which is at  
In closing the authors say,
“In our view, the evidence from tipping points alone suggests that we are in a state of planetary emergency: both the risk and urgency of the situation are acute. 
“We argue that the intervention time left to prevent tipping could already have shrunk towards zero, whereas the reaction time to achieve net zero emissions is 30 years at best. Hence we might already have lost control of whether tipping happens. A saving grace is that the rate at which damage accumulates from tipping — and hence the risk posed — could still be under our control to some extent.
The stability and resilience of our planet is in peril. International action — not just words — must reflect this.”  
COP25 Opens
This is the context in which COP25 starts. The authors of the Nature article are by no means alone in saying that we are perilously close to the tipping point and that this is the opportunity for the world to take decisive action. 
It's the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement. Back in 2015 all the signatory countries were given five years to report back on the progress they were making against the targets. This then is the final COP before 2020 when all countries must submit their revised plans for achieving their Paris obligations.
Not enough
However, the commitments agreed in Paris in 2015 were insufficient to achieve the 2℃ target maximum warming, although it was generally agreed that they would keep warming below 3.5℃. In the five years since Paris scientists have reported that climate events are occurring faster and are more intense than expected, and that 1.5℃ should be the new target.
The UN warns that currently, not enough is being done to meet the three climate goals: reducing emissions 45 per cent by 2030; achieving climate neutrality by 2050 (which means a net zero carbon footprint), and stabilising global temperature rise at 1.5°C by the end of the century. 
All this will be discussed over the next 10 days.
Fight to the Death
In the opening sessions President Hilda Heine of the Marshall Islands explained how her Pacific nation had been fighting rising tides, and how powerful swells averaging 5m (16ft) washed across the capital city, Majuro, last week.
She said the nation was in a "fight to the death" after freak waves inundated the capital.
To-do list sets out four things that countries should do: 
  1. Step up ambition - commitments must be strengthened.
  2. Make progress on outstanding rules - like carbon markets
  3. Assess loss and damage  - This includes losses and damages that go beyond what countries and communities can adapt to or recover from, such as loss of cultural heritage, land, lives and livelihoods.  
  4. Advance finance and capacity-building. Developing countries — particularly those most vulnerable to climate change — cannot step up climate action without financial support from developed ones.
New commitments must be set out at COP26, due to take place in Glasgow a year from now. Messages coming from COP25 indicate that those commitments must be formulated and implemented as a matter of urgency. The conference tagline is #timeforaction.
US Angle
President Trump has withdrawn the US from the Paris Agreement claiming it will damage his nation’s competitive position. Nevertheless there is a US delegation and one of the most significant messages as the conference opened came from Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives. The US will take action on greenhouse gases and engage with other countries on the climate emergency despite Donald Trump’s rejection of international cooperation.
“We are outraged by the dithering and retreat of one of the most culpable polluters from the Paris agreement,” Lois Young, Belize’s permanent representative to the UN and chair of the Alliance of Small Island Developing States, told the conference.
“In the midst of a climate emergency, retreat and inaction are tantamount to sanctioning ecocide. They reflect profound failure to honour collective global commitment to protect the most vulnerable.”
More from COP25 next time. There’s links on the Sustainable Futures Report blog to the COP25 site and to the live webcast.

An article from Common Dreams complains that some of the biggest sponsors of COP25 are some of the world’s biggest polluters.
While pollution from coal may slow down because new schemes are considered uninsurable, not that that’s holding coal development back in China, the fossil fuel lobby is desperately lobbying. A report from lobbyist watchdog InfluenceMap has found that although some investors support the EU’s “green labelling” rules, 98% of Europe’s 50 largest investors are members of lobby groups trying to weaken the proposals. Elsewhere they are targeting regulations on emissions, shipping, vehicles and aviation, as well as on electricity and clean power, carbon taxes and low carbon energy.
InfluenceMap points out that the asset management sector plays a pivotal role in the financial system given the vast portfolios the leading players manage, their interactions with companies in the real economy and power in shaping government policy as a key economic sector in its own right. Their analysis shows the sector as a whole is not demonstrating the kind of leadership at present, through any of these levers, that the recent escalation in the urgency of climate change would apparently warrant. 
Asset Managers dragging feet
The portfolios held by the 15 largest asset management groups remain significantly misaligned with the targets of the Paris Agreement even under the fairly conservative IEA ‘Beyond 2 Degrees’ Scenario (B2DS) within the key [motor], electric power and fossil fuel production sectors, (with aggregate market values of at least US $8 Tn in widely held listed companies). This misalignment is reflective of the fact that the majority of companies in these sectors are very far from aligning their business models to meet the goals of Paris and that the 15 leading players all hold diversified global portfolios of equities often using index driven strategies.
By this last phrase I assume they mean that managers are making decisions purely based on the numbers, without taking account of the operations or consequences of the organisations that they have invested in.
Black Marks for BlackRock
BlackRock, an investment company with $7trn under management has been accused of greenwashing. BlackRock is certainly engaging with the climate issue. The allegation is that it’s just not pushing very hard. Rival fund manager Sir Christopher Hohn says that BlackRock backs only about 10% of climate-related resolutions tabled by shareholders, whereas big European names such as Legal & General and UBS are in the 80%-90% range. These two, plus Allianz, are the only ones taking climate change seriously. Sadly they seem to be in a minority.
Vorsprung durch… [whatever the German word for fraud is]
The cynicism and irresponsibility of some businesses is epitomised by the VW emissions scandal. It’s taken 4 years, but lawyers representing more than 90,000 motorists will accuse the carmaker Volkswagen of fitting some of its most popular models with an emissions defeat device, in the biggest class action of its kind in the UK. 
In the US the company has already pleaded guilty to criminal charges and paid out $4.3bn in civil and criminal penalties. In Europe, however, VW is still denying that the software it used was an illegal defeat device – despite German regulators having ruled in 2015 that it was designed to cheat emissions tests. If the UK action succeeds, drivers will presumably receive compensation. It’s not clear what will be done about the damage to the environment.
And in other news,
Financial Reports
Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank,  has said that it should do more to help tackle the climate emergency, as she comes under pressure from MEPs to step up action against global heating.
In a strong hint that she would move the ECB beyond its traditional remit of controlling inflation, Lagarde said the bank would incorporate the climate threat into both its economic forecasts and in its capacity as watchdog of the financial system. Could we see a move away from chasing GDP and growth towards targeting human happiness and wellbeing? A lot of people would hope for that, but I think it will be a while yet.
More evidence that the climate crisis is being taken seriously at top levels comes as Mark Carney, retiring governor of the Bank of England, has been appointed as UN special envoy for climate action and finance. His main focus will be on mobilising private finance to invest in schemes that will help achieve the Paris climate agreement goal of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C. 
He said: “The disclosures of climate risk must become comprehensive, climate risk management must be transformed, and investing for a net-zero world must go mainstream. The Bank of England, the UK government and the UK financial sector can play leading roles in making these imperatives happen.”
Let’s hope we can see carbon reporting becoming part of an organisation’s statutory reports, defined and audited to accounting standards.
Carney has previously spoken out about the need for change, warning in October that the global financial system was backing carbon-producing projects that would raise the temperature of the planet by over 4C.
Fracking is once more in the news. The British government has released a report on fracking which apparently was drawn up in 2016. This is the redacted version. Line after line, even page after page is totally blacked out. In fact the only page which has no redactions on it is the title page. If you've got something to hide this is surely a really good way of drawing attention to it.

And now…let me tell you a story.
I received this recently from Simon Tilley and he’s agreed that I can share it with you. This is what he said:
“I don’t know about you, but most of my bad dreams seem to involve helplessness. Here’s one: I’m a tall chap on a coach going down a motorway. I’ve got the seat just behind the driver, with plenty of legroom, and I’m comfortable, even serene. Then I become aware that in the distance just over the hill there’s a pile-up. The driver hasn’t noticed - indeed he’s actually accelerating a bit.
I do nothing; I’m sure he knows what he’s doing. But as we get closer, I see it is quite a big pile-up, and he still doesn’t seem to have noticed. I wonder whether I should speak up. In the end I say, in a conversational tone: ‘Looks like there’s a bit of a prang up ahead.’ He makes no reply. I repeat myself a bit louder, and two things happen. He says ‘It’s just a bit of congestion’ and one of my fellow passengers nudges me and points to a sign saying: ‘Do not speak to the driver while the vehicle is in motion.’ ‘Please be quiet,’ she says, ‘it’s not safe to speak to the driver and you’re upsetting my friend.
’You know how these things go; no one else appears to have clocked what is becoming a really obvious disaster up ahead or, if they have, seem oblivious to the danger. They go on chatting and reading and sleeping, and when I try to get their attention, they just look at me as if I were a television. And the coach continues to accelerate...
I’m screaming now, pointing ahead: ‘For God’s sake, stop! Brake! Brake hard!’
Amazingly no one seems to hear. One or two of the other passengers are looking at me with mild, bovine interest, but most are remonstrating with me for disrupting their journey. We reach the prow of the hill and I notice brake fluid escaping onto the road…the hill starts to descend quickly…..And then, with about a hundred yards to go before we pile into the destruction ahead, the driver applies the brakes but they are soft and spongey, we start to slow but far too little and too late………....
This is where I wake up, to that overwhelming feeling of relief that it was just a dream.
I usually ask myself what led up to that dream. Often there’s a logical explanation, based somewhere in reality. When you’re asleep, your brain sorts stuff you’ve been dealing with, re-runs it by and sorts out my emotional response while you’re offline. I went on a coach to London recently for the last People’s Vote march, and I’ve been reading a book about climate breakdown, (There is No Planet-B by Mike Berners-Lee) so that explains that.
Except, of course, that isn’t really a dream. When I wake I don’t get a surge of relief, just a feeling of despair at the reality: the clear and unanswerable fact that we are on the brink of irreversible climate breakdown; the knowledge that, in their anxiety not to be alarmist the media sits quiet, our scientists understated the danger and the ongoing complacency of some of our politicians is obvious, even when faced by the reality of fires in California and Australia, famine in South Sudan and floods in Fishlake. And I wish I’d pushed the driver out of the way and taken over the steering wheel myself earlier. The brow of the hill and the leaking brake fluid must have represented a tipping point beyond which we can not retreat. These are approaching but we don’t know when.

Everything I have done over the last two decades in Hockerton Housing Projector have been Reasonable and Proper. I’ve written articles, spoken to the media, talked with friends and family, had polite meetings with my MP, written letters and signed petitions. All to no avail. So, I fear, perhaps it’s not time to stay polite, but get arrested. And dare to dream of a hopeful future. Nonviolent direct action is starting to turn the tide, but we don’t have long.

Every action we take counts, where we bank, where we shop and for what, how we vote and what we choose to eat, how high we have the heating and how far we travel. A better future can be envisaged but we need to act and act to make it happen now.”
That piece was written by Simon Tilley, Director of the Hockerton Housing Project.
If you want to find out about some practical steps you can take especially if you’re interested in low energy housing, environmental education and or renewable energy you can contact Simon via links on the Sustainable Futures Report blog. You’ll also find a link to Hockerton’s videos on sustainability.
That story is certainly something to think about. I've been thinking, too, that a lot of what I bring you in the Sustainable Futures Report seems to be negative worrying and concerned with things that are going wrong and how little is being done about it. Actually attitudes are changing significantly.
Best Practice and Changing Attitudes
About 3.5 years ago I promoted and hosted the Sustainable Best Practice Exchange and from that I launched the Sustainable Best Practice Mastermind group. It sank without trace. Last week I was at a sustainability event and I mentioned my failed attempt to a couple of the speakers. Immediate interest. Maybe I was ahead of my time in 2016. Maybe this time it will work. I’ll keep you posted. The truth is that attitudes and awareness have changed dramatically in the last 12 months. XR is one reason for this, but people and governments and corporations are beginning to pay more than lip service to the climate situation. There’s a long way to go, and a lot of people still to convince, but this growing realisation that something must be done can only be good. 
At the same time as promoting the actions needed to mitigate and slow down climate change - which can sound really negative -  we should also be looking at how we can cope with and adapt to the changes that are inevitable. Remember, in the Nature article that I quoted at the start of this episode the authors said, “…the rate at which damage accumulates from tipping — and hence the risk posed — could still be under our control to some extent.” In future episodes therefore I’m going to bring you ideas from people with techniques and systems to help us live with the changes that are already locked into the climate.
And finally,…
It’s a Turkey!
Not to be outdone by the supermarkets, climate campaigners Greenpeace have issued their own Christmas video. It pits a turkey against a potato and makes the point that many turkeys are fattened on foods from abroad. Food like soya, grown on farms cleared from the South American rainforests. I’ve put a link to the video on the Sustainable Futures Report blog, but you really wouldn’t want to watch it. It’s an absolute turkey.
And that’s it…
For another week. As always, my grateful thanks to you for listening, especially if you’ve got this far, for your ideas and - if you are - for being a patron. And if you’re not, explains what you’re missing.
The next episode will appear on Friday 13th December, when we’ll know the result of the UK General Election. Except that I’ll have to record and publish the Sustainable Futures Report long before the polls close, so I won’t be able to comment on the result. Anyway, we don’t do politics on the Sustainable Futures Report do we? All I would say is: vote for a party that understands the climate crisis and is committed to doing something sensible about it. Not that it will make much difference under our wonderful first-past-the-post electoral system.
I’m Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
Until next time!

Climate tipping points
Flooded Islands - and the BBC video guide to COP25
Top emitters must act
Emitters sponsoring
4 Key Tasks
US Congress commits to act on climate crisis, despite Donald Trump
Conference site

Coal power becoming 'uninsurable' as firms refuse cover
Fossil fuel lobbyists push to dilute EU anti-greenwash plan
Volkswagen emissions scandal: class action begins in UK
BlackRock's Larry Fink must think again over tackling climate crisis
UN appoints Mark Carney to help finance climate action goals
Lagarde: ECB should do more to tackle climate emergency

'Black wall' of redacted pages as fracking report finally released

A Christmas Story
Mr S Tilley, CEng MEng MIMechE
Director, Hockerton Housing Project Trading Ltd

Hockerton Housing Project : bringing sustainability to life
Bespoke tours and training courses arranged to meet your needs.
Did you know we are open to the public six times a year? Book here!

T 01636 816902
Hockerton’s videos on sustainability please click here.

Greenpeace Christmas video - important message but the video’s a bit of a turkey.