Very little of what follows is original thought. But after much reflection, I feel these ideas are worthy of attention, and so I have expanded them for your consideration.
1. Contraction & Convergence Video Conferencing
Yet another international meeting on Energy Efficiency, Climate Change, Renewable Energy. Yet another brace of airline tickets for big speakers, engineers, policy-makers and scientists (and reporters) to fly in and confer.
In order to demonstrate the Contraction & Convergence framework in action, the delegates at all these meetings and conferences should reduce their carbon emissions to be in line with the lowest emitter of them all. Everyone will contract their carbon emissions, and everyone will get in line. Equal rights to pollute. The Principle of Equity.
There is enough cable and wire laid under all the world’s oceans and through the world’s rivers and soils to hold every single meeting by videoconferencing. And so it should be done.
No more flying for people of green persuasions. Follow Aubrey Meyer of the Global Commons Institute and the UNFCCC papers for development of Contraction & Convergence.
2. Carbon Rationing
Mayer Hillman rides his bicycle through London, in all weathers and traffic conditions, and he’s well past 65. He proposes in his very good book “How We Can Save the Planet” that we should espouse Carbon Rationing.
He quite rightly says that no one likes taxation, especially not environmental taxation which does not seem to have a logical reason for it at first glance.
He demonstrates his Carbon Ration Card : a credit card sized object which is scanned every time you buy petrol or pay your utility bills. If you over expend your annual allocation, you will have to buy someone else’s unused carbon credits.
It could work very easily, because the distribution and use of every kind of fossil fuel is highly regulated. Every time you or I use a petrochemical derived fuel it comes from a recorded supply.
I hope the idea is developed to cover any petrochemical product, and telecommunications and water as well, because a clean water supply relies on electrical pumping, and a telephone relies on electricity through the wires.
A scheme like this would have to be introduced at first on a voluntary basis, I expect, in order to gain recognition, but pretty soon it would need to be imposed if not enough people were seen to be going green of their own accord.
3. Home Power Loan
Everyone wants Renewable Energy. We don’t want Nuclear Power (the Precautionary Principle dictates against it), and we want Distributed Generation instead of big regional power plants. To ensure security of power supply we want Solar Power, Wind Power, Wood-burning Stoves. Cut down on carbon dioxide emissions and fossil fuel pollution. Make power locally instead of transporting it long inefficient distances. Don’t rely on imports. It all makes perfect sense. The trouble is, every ordinary person, in their ordinary home, cannot afford the initial costs of installing a Solar Hot Water system, or a Geothermal sub-floor space heating installation, or a Combined Heat and Power unit.
If the home were to be re-built from scratch, then a proportion of the cost could be used to install passive and active solar systems, and maybe some natural air conditioning and wind generation equipment, very easily. New buildings should always include renewable energy systems. But adding clean green energy to an established building is expensive and disruptive.
But each ordinary person, in their ordinary home, pays energy bills every month. What if that cash was diverted to Renewable Energy technology or microgeneration ?
The practical idea is to oblige energy companies to make available Home Power Loans to ordinary people. The Energy Companies hire the Renewable Energy installers, through a vetted accreditation system. The ordinary householder gets one or more Renewable Energy systems in their home, which could turn out to be a capital asset. The loan repayments will be guaranteed never to rise above the amount the ordinary householder would have paid in domestic energy bills.
The fossil-fuel generated power is displaced by renewable power. The Energy Company gets credit for displacing fossil-fuel power. After the Home Power Loan is paid off, the householder gets free energy for the life of the installation. And they can even earn money if they over-produce and sell the excess to the National Grid. Convert your costs to benefits.
4. Home Power College
One of the biggest problem with Renewable Energy is the number of cowboy installers on the prowl, seeking to part idealistic people from their hard-earned cash. Ordinary plumbers are not up to the task generally speaking. Neither are amateurs.
The practical idea would require a certain amount of investment, either from Government, or Local Councils, or venture capitalists, or big donors : set up a recognised Home Power College with public or private money, to establish standards and teach on skills and knowledge.
Revenue from supply lines of Renewable Energy equipment could be a perk to the investors, and pay for the student courses. A Home Power College would encourage the distribution of green engineering and technology, and help set up an infrastructure to deliver the technologies to people, more cheaply than today because of the bulk purchases. People should be paid to attend this college, because they are going to go on and displace fossil-fuel power, and so are of great benefit to society.
Renewable Energy installers who are accredited should be given VAT tax breaks for their future work, say a fixed sum per kWh of renewables, since they are displacing environmentally damaging domestic systems.
Home Power College graduates would be monitored and mentored in their careers.
Paying people to go through Home Power College would enable ordinary plumbers and engineers to attend, thereby bringing in people with basic understanding, which would help.
5. Zero Fuel Duty on Biofuels for Cooperatives
The Government’s own figures suggest that up to 20% of Britain’s fossil road fuel could be replaced by biodiesel made from oil-bearing plants grown in the country. Add to that other biofuels such as bioethanol, and we could be looking at a sizeable proportion of UK road fuel being sourced from plants.
Even if only the net atmospheric carbon dioxide is only 85% less than burning fossil fuels, surely it’s worth doing. With the collapse of certain farms and sectors of agriculture, there is a lot of land becoming free to grow biofuels.
We don’t want to see a centrally managed biofuel administration. One of the joys of biofuels is that they can be manufactured and consumed locally to where they are sourced. A big issue with biofuels at the moment is that they are still subject to fuel duty, and therefore strict regulation.
The practical idea is to abolish fuel duty for biofuel cooperatives, operating in local areas : which can be managed ethically, and the dividends planted back into the local economy. Biofuels will displace fossil fuels, which cause environmental damage, and so should incur negative environmental taxation. By dropping regulation and fuel duty on biofuels, the rapid expansion of local fuel resources will be encouraged. The price differential and the lack of regulation will benefit the cleaner fuels. Demand for fossil petrol and fossil diesel will drop off, and the vibration of rolling oil tankers will stop shaking the tiles off village churches.
The amount of miles that a vehicle has to cover in order to deliver road fuel will be sharply curtailed, and this drop in “fuel miles” will greatly improve transport fuel prices for the benefit of those driving green. Cooperatives will not put the profit before the product, and so the stranglehold that oil companies have over business transportation can be broken.
6. Biomass Plantations & Distribution Infrastructure
The United Kingdom has lost most of its original forest, and while this is a great deficit, it offers several excellent opportunities.
Several companies and nature organisations are planting trees extensively for one reason or another : some are guilt plantings for people who want to offset their “air miles” travel by dirty aeroplane. This is one area of planting that should be encouraged to help soak up excess carbon dioxide.
But trees and other plants are also useful as green fuel. Biomass energy of several kinds is predicted to be essential to our future green energy mix. We need to tip the price differential in favour of biomass fuels in order to make it happen quickly. The alternative would be to tax the oil companies for making a profit out of dirty fuels, but I can’t see that being too popular. In order to benefit biomass plantations, we will have to give tax breaks to the people doing the planting and gathering.
Modern heating technology in different countries can show us the way : household “plant coal” boilers from Scandinavia, burning compressed wood pellets from an automated hopper and chute system that only needs to be refilled once every 10 or 12 weeks : clean-flue log-burning stoves from Canada (well probably from Scandinavia too originally), where the flue gases are recycled to increase the efficiency of the fuel and to minimise the greenhouse gases emitted.
Several British medium- to large-scale biomass projects have failed, but that’s no reason to give up trying. The best way so far to create biomass energy is small-scale, at home, but what is needed to make this really roll out is a wood products distribution system.
Just like there used to be coal merchants in every town, so now there needs to be a wood pellet and “plant coal” merchant within everyone’s 10 mile radius. And to make that happen in the first instance we will need to give them business tax breaks. The level of infrastructure and distribution we need to develop far outstrips normal market force speed.
Local Councils might need to be encouraged to allow planters to put trees and other bioenergy crops on publicly owned land, in a kind of “Adopt-a-Plot” scheme like the traditional allotments for gardening.
Everyone will need to dust out their chimneys (if they have them) and install a wood shed (with nothing creepy inside) in the back yard. And then get a wood-burning stove or boiler installed somehow into their homes. But we have to do it. People all over Germany can do it : using basements for the machinery and the car drive for the log pile. And so can we.
With the expected abandonment of the EC Common Agricultural Policy, and with the rise of the supermarkets, quite a few traditional farms will be going out of business. Plenty of land to convert use to bioplanting.
7. Tax Plastics & Petrochemicals
It is an astonishing and yet enduring feature of our economy that companies that make plastics and petrochemicals are given complete free rein to make a profit from polluting our environment.
The plastic wrapper on an everyday snack is sold to the food manufacturer as a hygienic option by the plastics company. The wrapper goes on to become waste that some Local Council is obliged to clear up and landfill or otherwise process. Most plastic food wrappers are still not recyclable or biodegradable. Which means that there is a clear line of contamination from start to finish, which is not being attributed to the original source. Who gave these plastics and petrochemical companies a licence to poison ?
No one will accept a tax on a company for its profits, even if those profits are made through destroying the natural environment. The practical idea is to tax the products that are sold. Each plastic item, per gram, should be subject to an environmental tax component in its price, and this money should be used by the Government to pay for alternative products to be developed, and to give to Local Councils to offset the problem of untreatable waste. Council Tax payers are currently paying for the clean-up of plastic packaging waste that they did not create, and they should not be held accountable or financially responsible for it. The Principle should always be that the Polluter Pays. Currently the waste problem is passed onto the final consumer : the garbage collector. This isn’t right.
We can’t recycle a lot of the plastics currently manufactured and sold, neither domestic chemicals such as cosmetics and cleaning products. Warning notices don’t yet come on the packs : “The use of this product will seriously harm you and your planet.” Petrochemical vehicle emissions cause asthma. Burning fossil fuels in industry and transport causes climate change.
An environmental tax on products will have the benefit of reducing demand for petrochemical products and petrochemical plastics, since products made without using fossil fuels will not attract the tax. Biopolymers and biodegradable products will thus gain a price advantage, and so be more widely manufactured and used. It will only take a small price correction to encourage many more chemicals companies to go vegetable.
Petrochemical products should be subject to a “renewables forfeit” because there is always a cleaner, greener way to make materials and chemicals (and cosmetics and detergents) : ask Tate and Lyle and Dupont. Even Tesco is now producing biodegradable shopping bags (they had to because the Co-op did). Petrochemicals should be costed at the “Full Environmental Price” so that biochemicals are seen at their true competitive cost.
Much as Local and National Government try to tell us : it is not true : the consumers of plastic packaging are not the ones creating the waste. It is the companies that continue to use virtually free petroleum and crude oil to make their products who are responsible for the waste and pollution. Tar MacAdam roads. Plastic Coca-Cola bottles. Supermarket shopping bags. There should be a clear division or allocation of responsibility between the end consumer and the producer. It’s up to the consumer to choose green. It’s up to the producer to provide a green choice. Honda should be applauded for their work to improve the energy efficiency of their motors, and providing hybrid cars and organising car clubs. Other car companies should have their dirty products taxed at point of sale.
Maybe large petrochemical and oil companies should be told that for every million Pounds Sterling profit they make a year (in the United Kingdom), that they will have to fund 100,000 Pounds Sterling worth of renewable product development. A “Green Materials Obligation” if you will.
8. Community Local Green Projects Considered Charity
For those schools, churches, temples, village halls, town halls and colleges contemplating a green energy project, why not give them Charity status so that they can validly apply for Lottery grants and other grants/prize money (or even tax rebates) ?
There is nothing more charitable than a community-based Renewable Energy project, and people are highly encouraged and inspired by being involved in such a scheme.
There is already money for Community Green Energy projects funded from Central Government, but there needs to be more.
If a green energy project is considered a charity for the duration of the installation, then private donations will increase, and campaigning and advocacy for the project will become easier. Maybe the money could be managed by the local Local Agenda 21 group ?
All too often, a green energy development is seen as an added burden and an added expense. But if plugging in solar panels on the village hall is a charitable activity, I’m sure more people would muck in. Until green energy is normal and widespread, development needs all the help it can get.
9. Green Citizenship Classes
Environmental issues should be an essential element of every person’s education, and so everyone could be encouraged to attend a “Green Club” or become part of an “EcoTeam”.
There are global community aspects to green energy, and citizenship responsibilities as a result : especially when considering the deep links between energy and world development, fossil fuel use and climate change.
If the adults of tomorrow are going to be aware that they have no choice but to go green, then the children and young people of today need to go to “Carbon Gym” and monitor their ecological footprints.
Far from being traditionally isolationist, the Great British islanders must start thinking beyond their shores : do we know about the achievements and popularity of Green Politics in other countries ? Do we know which of Denmark and Germany produces the highest quantity of wind power ? Do we know people from India or China who are on the world stage negotiating the use of clean green technologies ? Do we know that the North-Eastern States in the United States of America will be carbon trading, just like the Europeans ? Do we know about the machinations of the United Nations on energy and development ?
People need to be made aware of international networks as well as international politics and negotiation surrounding energy issues. Education, education, education…
10. Big Renewables
There is no need for Research & Development : all the necessary technology is known and tested : football-sized solar capture stations for town electrical power and heating and lighting : variable-speed wind turbines for every public building and park : geothermal heating at swimming pools.
What would it be like if London Underground made a commitment to source all their power from a green energy company such as Good Energy ?
What would happen if the Government agreed new Building Regulations on up and coming developments which guaranteed eco-power to every new home ? How can a property developer be obliged to reduce their “brick miles” (the distance that materials have to travel before being built with) ? How can the use of environmentally damaging cement, gypsum plaster, plastic carpets and volatile oil paints be reduced, in a regulatory way ?
There is definitely a place for big renewables schemes, to set the pace and drive home the message.
Under Directives, all of Europe’s landfill sites will need to have gas collection facilities, to capture all the methane given off by rotting decomposing living matter in the municipal waste. What will the gas be used for ? Burnt for power, that’s what : heating, lighting, power for processing materials in sorting and recycling waste facilities.
The secret is : methane makes up 80% of natural gas, the gas that comes out of oil wells that the United Kingdom has been promoting for heating and power for over 30 years. Methane gives off a high energy when burned, and it is good to burn it, since methane is a greenhouse gas 4 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
The practical idea is to displace natural gas with a “methane mix” : methane and related gases produced by biological action. Methane can be produced in several ways : for example by vats of decaying plant or animal matter where there are the right microscopic organisms present, and no oxygen.
Grow the plants, cut them down, anaerobically digest them to produce methane and good quality compost. Grow more plants from the compost…the net carbon emissions to the atmosphere will be low.
Cost-wise, it’s relatively cheap : the infrastructure for delivering natural gas to consumers is already in place : pipelines, storage systems, safe equipment.
Carbon-wise, it’s excellent.