Renewable Gas : A Presentation #2

So, this is the second slide from my presentation at Birkbeck, University of London, last week.

When making an argument, it is best to start from consensus and well-accredited data, so I started with government analysis of the energy sector of the economy in the United Kingdom. Production of Natural Gas in the UK is declining, and imports are rising.

I did not go into much detail about this chart, but there is a wealth of analysis out there that I would recommend people check out.

Despite continued investment in oil and gas, North Sea production is declining, and it is generally accepted that this basin or province as a whole is depleting – that is – “running out”.

Here, for example, is more DECC data. The Summary of UK Estimated Remaining Recoverable Hydrocarbon Resources, published in 2014, had these numbers for UK Oil and Gas Reserves :-

billion barrels of oil equivalentLowerCentralUpper
Oil and Gas Reserves4.58.212.1
Potential Additional Resources1.43.46.4
Undiscovered Resources2.16.19.2

The summary concluded with the estimate of remaining recoverable hydrocarbons from the UK Continental Shelf (offshore) resources would be between 11.1 and 21 billion barrels of oil equivalent (bboe).

Other data in the report showed estimates of cumuluative and annual oil production :-

billion barrels of oil equivalentCumulative productionAnnual production
To date to end 201241.30.6 (in 2012)
To date to end 201241.80.5 (in 2013)
Additional production 2013 to 20307.00.44 (average 2014 to 2030)
Additional production 2013 to 20409.10.21 (average 2031 to 2040)
Additional production 2013 to 205010.40.13 (average 2041 to 2050)

Another source of estimates on remaining oil and gas resources, reserves and yet-to-find potential is from the Wood Review of 2014 :-

billion barrels of oil equivalentLow caseMid-caseHigh case
DECC reference122235
Wood Review1224

So it’s clear that British oil and gas production is in decline, and that also, reserves and resources to exploit are depleting. The Wood Review made several recommendations to pump up production, and maximise the total recoverable quantities. Some interpreted this as an indication that good times were ahead. However, increased production in the near future is only going to deplete these resources faster.

OK, so the UK is finding the North Sea running dry, but what about other countries ? This from the BP Statistical Review of Energy, 2014 :-

Oil – proved reserves
Thousand million barrels

At end 1993

At end 2003

At end 2012
United Kingdom4.54.33.0
Denmark0.71.30.7
Norway9.610.19.2

Natural gas – Proved Reserves
Trillion cubic metres

At end 1993

At end 2003

At end 2012
United Kingdom0.60.90.2
Denmark0.10.1
Netherlands1.71.40.9
Norway1.42.52.1
Germany0.20.20.1

Oil and gas chief executives may be in denial about a peak in global crude oil production, but they don’t challenge geology on the North Sea. Here’s what BP’s CEO Bob Dudley said on 17th February 2015, during a presentation of the BP Energy Outlook 2035 :-

“The North sea is a very mature oil and gas province and it will inevitably go through a decline. It peaked in 1999 at around 2.9 millions barrels per day and our projections are that it will be half a million barrels in 2035”.

That’s “inevitably” regardless of the application of innovation and new technology. New kit might bring on production sooner, but won’t replenish the final count of reserves to exploit.

So what are the likely dates for Peak Oil and Peak Natural Gas production in the North Sea bordering countries ?

Norway : by 2030.

The Netherlands : peaked already. Due to become a net importer of Natural Gas by 2025.

Denmark : net importer of oil and gas by 2030.

This Too Will Fail

I will probably fail to make myself understood, yet again, but here goes…

The reasons the United Nations Climate Change process is failing are :-

1.   The wrong people are being asked to shoulder responsibility

It is a well-rumoured possibility that the fossil fuel industry makes sure it has sympathisers and lobbyists at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conferences. It is only natural that they should want to monitor proceedings, and influence outcomes. But interventions by the energy sector has a much wider scope. Delegates from the countries with national oil and gas companies are key actors at UNFCCC conferences. Their national interests are closely bound to their fossil fuel exports. Many other countries understand their national interest is bound to the success of energy sector companies operating within their borders. Still others have governments with energy policy virtually dictated by international energy corporations. Yet when the UNFCCC discusses climate change, the only obligations discussed are those of nations – the parties to any treaty are the governments and regimes of the world. The UNFCCC does not hold oil and gas (and coal) companies to account. BP and Shell (and Exxon and Chevron and Total and GDF Suez and Eni and so on) are not asked to make undertakings at the annual climate talks. Governments are hoped to forge a treaty, but this treaty will create no leverage for change; no framework of accountability amongst those who produce oil, gas and coal.

2.   The right people are not in the room

It’s all very well for Governments to commit to a treaty, but they cannot implement it. Yes, their citizens can make a certain amount of changes, and reduce their carbon emissions through controlling their energy consumption and their material acquisitions. But that’s not the whole story. Energy has to be decarbonised at source. There are technological solutions to climate change, and they require the deployment of renewable energy systems. The people who can implement renewable energy schemes should be part of the UNFCCC process; the engineering companies who make wind turbines, solar photovoltaic panels, the people who can build Renewable Gas systems. Companies such as Siemens, GE, Alstom. Energy engineering project companies. Chemical engineering companies.

3.   The economists are still in the building

In the United Kingdom (what will we call it if Scotland becomes independent ? And what will the word “British” then mean ?) the Parliament passed the Climate Change Act. But this legislation is meaningless without a means to implement the Carbon Budgets it institutes. The British example is just a minor parallel to the UNFCCC situation – how can a global climate treaty be made to work ? Most of the notions the economists have put forward so far to incentivise energy demand reduction and stimulate low carbon energy production have failed to achieve much. Carbon trading ! Carbon pricing ! All rather ineffective. Plus, there’s the residual notion of different treatment for developed and developing nations, which is a road to nowhere.

4.   Unilateral action is frowned upon

Apparently, since Climate Change is a global problem, we all have to act in a united fashion to solve it. But that’s too hard to ask, at least to start with. When countries or regions take it upon themselves to act independently, the policy community seem to counsel against it. There are a few exceptions, such as the C40 process, where individual cities are praised for independent action, but as soon as the European Community sets up something that looks like a border tax on carbon, that’s a no-no. Everybody is asked to be part of a global process, but it’s almost too hard to get anything done within this framework.

5.   Civil Society is hamstrung and tongue-tied

There is very little that people groups can achieve within the UNFCCC process, because there is a disconnect between the negotiations and practical action. The framework of the treaty discussions does not encompass the real change makers. The UNFCCC does not build the foundation for the architecture of a new green economy, because it only addresses itself to garnering commitments from parties that cannot fulfill them. Civil Society ask for an egg sandwich and they are given a sandy eggshell. If Civil Society groups call for technology, they are given a carbon credit framework. If they call for differential investment strategies that can discredit carbon dependency, they are given an opportunity to put money into the global adaptation fund.

Positively Against Negative Campaigning

How to organise a political campaign around Climate Change : ask a group of well-fed, well-meaning, Guardian-reading, philanthropic do-gooders into the room to adopt the lowest common denominator action plan. Now, as a well-fed, well-meaning, Guardian-reading (well, sometimes), philanthropic do-gooder myself, I can expect to be invited to attend such meetings on a regular basis. And always, I find myself frustrated by the outcomes : the same insipid (but with well-designed artwork) calls to our publics and networks to support something with an email registration, a signed postcard, a fistful of dollars, a visit to a public meeting of no consequence, or a letter to our democratic representative. No output except maybe some numbers. Numbers to support a government decision, perhaps, or numbers to indicate what kind of messaging people need in future.

I mean, with the Fair Trade campaign, at least there was some kind of real outcome. Trade Justice advocates manned stall tables at churches, local venues, public events, and got money flowing to the international co-operatives, building up the trade, making the projects happen, providing schooling and health and aspirations in the target countries. But compare that to the Make Poverty History campaign which was largely run to support a vain top-level political attempt to garner international funding promises for social, health and economic development. Too big to succeed. No direct line between supporting the campaign and actually supporting the targets. Passing round the hat to developed, industrialised countries for a fund to support change in developing, over-exploited countries just isn’t going to work. Lord Nicholas Stern tried to ask for $100 billion a year by 2020 for Climate Change adaptation. This has skidded to a halt, as far as I know. The economic upheavals, don’t you know ?

And here we are again. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which launched the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports on climate change, oh, so, long, ago, through the person of its most charismatic and approachable Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres, is calling for support for a global Climate Change treaty in 2015. Elements of this treaty, being drafted this year, will, no doubt, use the policy memes of the past – passing round the titfer begging for a couple of billion squid for poor, hungry people suffering from floods and droughts; proposing some kind of carbon pricing/taxing/trading scheme to conjure accounting bean solutions; trying to implement an agreement around parts per million by volume of atmospheric carbon dioxide; trying to divide the carbon cake between the rich and the poor.

Somehow, we believe, that being united around this proposed treaty, few of which have any control over the contents of, will bring us progress.

What can any of us do to really have input into the building of a viable future ? Christiana – for she is now known frequently only by her first name – has called for numbers – a measure of support for the United Nations process. She has also let it be known that if there is a substantial number of people who, with their organisations, take their investments out of fossil fuels, then this could contribute to the mood of the moment. Those who are advocating divestment are yet small in number, and I fear that they will continue to be marginal, partly because of the language that is being used.

First of all, there are the Carbon Disclosers. Their approach is to conjure a spectre of the “Carbon Bubble” – making a case that investments in carbon dioxide-rich enterprises could well end up being stranded by their assets, either because of wrong assumptions about viable remaining resources of fossil fuels, or because of wrong assumptions about the inability of governments to institute carbon pricing. Well, obviously, governments will find it hard to implement effective carbon pricing, because governments are in bed with the energy industry. Politically, governments need to keep big industry sweet. No surprise there. And it’s in everybody’s interests if Emperor Oil and Prince Regent Natural Gas are still wearing clothes. In the minds of the energy industry, we still have a good four decades of healthy fossil fuel assets. Royal Dutch Shell’s CEO can therefore confidently say at a public AGM that There Is No Carbon Bubble. The Carbon Discloser language is not working, it seems, as any kind of convincer, except to a small core of the concerned.

And then there are the Carbon Voices. These are the people reached by email campaigns who have no real idea how to do anything practical to affect change on carbon dioxide emissions, but they have been touched by the message of the risks of climate change and they want to be seen to be supporting action, although it’s not clear what action will, or indeed can, be taken. Well-designed brochures printed on stiff recycled paper with non-toxic inks will pour through their doors and Inboxes. Tick it. Send it back. Sign it. Send it on. Maybe even send some cash to support the campaign. This language is not achieving anything except guilt.

And then there are the Carbon Divestors. These are extremely small marginal voices who are taking a firm stand on where their organisations invest their capital. The language is utterly dated. The fossil fuel industry are evil, apparently, and investing in fossil fuels is immoral. It is negative campaigning, and I don’t think it stands a chance of making real change. It will not achieve its goal of being prophetic in nature – bearing witness to the future – because of the non-inclusive language. Carbon Voices reached by Carbon Divestor messages will in the main refuse to respond, I feel.

Political action on Climate Change, and by that I mean real action based on solid decisions, often taken by individuals or small groups, has so far been under-the-radar, under-the-counter, much like the Fair Trade campaign was until it burst forth into the glorious day of social acceptability and supermarket supply chains. You have the cyclists, the Transition Towners, the solar power enthusiasts. Yet to get real, significant, economic-scale transition, you need Energy Change – that is, a total transformation of the energy supply and use systems. It’s all very well for a small group of Methodist churches to pull their pension funds from investments in BP and Shell, but it’s another thing entirely to engage BP and Shell in an action plan to diversify out of petroleum oil and Natural Gas.

Here below are my email words in my feeble attempt to challenge the brain of Britain’s charitable campaigns on what exactly is intended for the rallying cry leading up to Paris 2015. I can pretty much guarantee you won’t like it – but you have to remember – I’m not breaking ranks, I’m trying to get beyond the Climate Change campaigning and lobbying that is currently in play, which I regard as ineffective. I don’t expect a miraculous breakthrough in communication, the least I can do is sow the seed of an alternative. I expect I could be dis-invited from the NGO party, but it doesn’t appear to be a really open forum, merely a token consultation to build up energy for a plan already decided. If so, there are probably more important things I could be doing with my time than wasting hours and hours and so much effort on somebody else’s insipid and vapid agenda.

I expect people might find that attitude upsetting. If so, you know, I still love you all, but you need to do better.


[…]

A lot of campaigning over the last 30 years has been very negative and divisive, and frequently ends in psychological stalemate. Those who are cast as the Bad Guys cannot respond to the campaigning because they cannot admit to their supporters/employees/shareholders that the campaigners are “right”. Joe Average cannot support a negative campaign as there is no apparent way to make change happen by being so oppositional, and because the ask is too difficult, impractical, insupportable. [Or there is simply too much confusion or cognitive dissonance.]

One of the things that was brought back from the […] working group breakout on […] to the plenary feedback session was that there should be some positive things about this campaign on future-appropriate investment. I think […] mentioned the obvious one of saying effectively “we are backing out of these investments in order to invest in things that are more in line with our values” – with the implicit encouragement for fossil fuel companies to demonstrate that they can be in line with our values and that they are moving towards that. There was some discussion that there are no bulk Good Guy investment funds, that people couldn’t move investments in bulk, although some said there are. […] mentioned Ethex.

Clearly fossil fuel production companies are going to find it hard to switch from oil and gas to renewable electricity, so that’s not a doable we can ask them for. Several large fossil fuel companies, such as BP, have tried doing wind and solar power, but they have either shuttered those business units, or not let them replace their fossil fuel activities.

[…] asked if the [divestment] campaign included a call for CCS – Carbon Capture and Storage – and […] referred to […] which showed where CCS is listed in a box on indicators of a “good” fossil fuel energy company.

I questioned whether the fossil fuel companies really want to do CCS – and that they have simply been waiting for government subsidies or demonstration funds to do it. (And anyway, you can’t do CCS on a car.)

I think I said in the meeting that fossil fuel producer companies can save themselves and save the planet by adopting Renewable Gas – so methods for Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU) or “carbon recycling”. Plus, they could be making low carbon gas by using biomass inputs. Most of the kit they need is already widely installed at petrorefineries. So – they get to keep producing gas and oil, but it’s renewably and sustainably sourced with low net carbon dioxide emissions. That could be turned into a positive, collaborative ask, I reckon, because we could all invest in that, the fossil fuel companies and their shareholders.

Anyway, I hope you did record something urging a call to positive action and positive engagement, because we need the co-operation of the fossil fuel companies to make appropriate levels of change to the energy system. Either that, or they go out of business and we face social turmoil.

If you don’t understand why this is relevant, that’s OK. If you don’t understand why a straight negative campaign is a turn-off to many people (including those in the fossil fuel industry), well, I could role play that with you. If you don’t understand what I’m talking about when I talk about Renewable Gas, come and talk to me about it again in 5 years, when it should be common knowledge. If you don’t understand why I am encouraging positive collaboration, when negative campaigning is so popular and marketable to your core segments, then I will resort to the definition of insanity – which is to keep doing the same things, expecting a different result.

I’m sick and tired of negative campaigning. Isn’t there a more productive thing to be doing ?

There are no enemies. There are no enemies. There are no enemies.

——-

As far as I understand the situation, both the […] and […] campaigns are negative. They don’t appear to offer any positive routes out of the problem that could engage the fossil fuel companies in taking up the baton of Energy Change. If that is indeed the main focus of […] and […] efforts, then I fear they will fail. Their work will simply be a repeat of the negative campaigning of the last 30 years – a small niche group will take up now-digital placards and deploy righteous, holy social media anger, and that will be all.

Since you understand this problem, then I would suggest you could spend more time and trouble helping them to see a new way. You are, after all, a communications expert. And so you know that even Adolf Hitler used positive, convening, gathering techniques of propaganda to create power – and reserved the negative campaigning for easily-marginalised vulnerable groups to pile the bile and blame on.

Have a nicer day,

—–

The important thing as far as I understand it is that the “campaigning” organisations need to offer well-researched alternatives, instead of just complaining about the way things are. And these well-researched alternatives should not just be the token sops flung at the NGOs and UN by the fossil fuel companies. What do I mean ?

Well, let’s take Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). The injection of carbon dioxide into old oil and gas caverns was originally proposed for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) – that is – getting more oil and gas out the ground by pumping gas down there – a bit like fracking, but with gas instead of liquid. The idea was that the expense of CCS would be compensated for by the new production of oil and gas – however, the CCS EOR effect has shown to be only temporary. So now the major oil and gas companies say they support carbon pricing (either by taxation or trading), to make CCS move forward. States and federations have given them money to do it. I think the evidence shows that carbon pricing cannot be implemented at a sufficiently high level to incentivise CCS, therefore CCS is a non-answer. Why has […] not investigated this ? CCS is a meme, but not necessarily part of the carbon dioxide solution. Not even the UNFCCC IPCC reports reckon that much CCS can be done before 2040. So, why does CCS appear in the […] criteria for a “good” fossil fuel company ? Because it’s sufficiently weak as a proposal, and sufficiently far enough ahead that the fossil fuel companies can claim they are “capture ready”, and in the Good Book, but in reality are doing nothing.

Non-starters don’t just appear from fossil fuel companies. From my point of view, another example of running at and latching on to things that cannot help was the support of the GDR – Greenhouse Development Rights, of which there has been severe critique in policy circles, but the NGOs just wrote it into their policy proposals without thinking about it. There is no way that the emissions budgets set out in the GDR policy could ever get put into practice. For a start, there is no real economic reason to divide the world into developing and developed nations (Kyoto [Protocol]’s Annex I and Annex II).

If you give me some links, I’m going to look over your […] and think about it.

I think that if a campaign really wants to get anywhere with fossil fuel companies, instead of being shunted into a siding, it needs to know properly what the zero carbon transition pathways really are. Unequal partners do not make for a productive engagement, I reckon.

—–

I’m sorry to say that this still appears to be negative campaigning – fossil fuel companies are “bad”; and we need to pull our money out of fossil fuel companies and put it in other “good” companies. Where’s the collective, co-operative effort undertaken with the fossil fuel companies ? What’s your proposal for helping to support them in evolving ? Do you know how they can technologically transition from using fossil fuels to non-fossil fuels ? And how are you communicating that with them ?

——

They call me the “Paradigm Buster”. I’m not sure if “the group” is open to even just peeking into that kind of approach, let alone “exploring” it. The action points on the corporate agenda could so easily slip back into the methods and styles of the past. Identify a suffering group. Build a theory of justice. Demand reparation. Make Poverty History clearly had its victims and its saviours. Climate change, in my view, requires a far different treatment. Polar bears cannot substitute for starving African children. And not even when climate change makes African children starve, can they inspire the kind of action that climate change demands. A boycott campaign without a genuine alternative will only touch a small demographic. Whatever “the group” agrees to do, I want it to succeed, but by rehashing the campaigning strategies and psychology of the past, I fear it will fail. Even by adopting the most recent thinking on change, such as Common Cause, [it] is not going to surmount the difficulties of trying to base calls to action on the basis of us-and-them thinking – polar thinking – the good guys versus the bad guys – the body politic David versus the fossil fuel company Goliath. By challenging this, I risk alienation, but I am bound to adhere to what I see as the truth. Climate change is not like any other disaster, aid or emergency campaign. You can’t just put your money in the [collecting tin] and pray the problem will go away with the help of the right agencies. Complaining about the “Carbon Bubble” and pulling your savings from fossil fuels is not going to re-orient the oil and gas companies. The routes to effective change require a much more comprehensive structure of actions. And far more engagement that agreeing to be a flag waver for whichever Government policy is on the table. I suppose it’s too much to ask to see some representation from the energy industry in “the group”, or at least […] leaders who still believe in the fossil fuel narratives, to take into account their agenda and their perspective, and a readiness to try positive collaborative change with all the relevant stakeholders ?


Economic Ecology

Managing the balance between, on the one hand, extraction of natural resources from the environment, and on the other hand, economic production, shouldn’t have to be either, or. We shouldn’t value higher throughput and consumption at the expense of exhausting what the Earth can supply. We shouldn’t be “economic” in our ecology, we shouldn’t be penny-pinching and miserly and short-change the Earth. The Earth, after all, is the biosystem that nourishes us. What we should be aiming for is an ecology of economy – a balance in the systems of manufacture, agriculture, industry, mining and trade that doesn’t empty the Earth’s store cupboard. This, at its root, is a conservation strategy, maintaining humanity through a conservative economy. Political conservatives have lost their way. These days they espouse the profligate use of the Earth’s resources by preaching the pursuit of “economic growth”, by sponsoring and promoting free trade, and reversing environmental protection. Some in a neoliberal or capitalist economy may get rich, but they do so at the expense of everybody and everything else. It is time for an ecology in economics.

Over the course of the next couple of years, in between doing other things, I shall be taking part in a new project called “Joy in Enough”, which seeks to promote economic ecology. One of the key texts of this multi-workstream group is “Enough is Enough”, a book written by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill. In their Preface they write :-

“But how do we share this one planet and provide a high quality of life for all ? The economic orthodoxy in use around the world is not up to the challenge. […] That strategy, the pursuit of never-ending economic growth has become dysfunctional. With each passing day, we are witnessing more and more uneconomic growth – growth that costs more than it is worth. An economy that chases perpetually increasing production and consumption, always in search of more, stands no chance of achieving a lasting prosperity. […] Now is the time to change the goal from the madness of more to the ethic of enough, to accept the limits to growth and build an economy that meets our needs without undermining the life-support systems of the planet.”

One of the outcomes of global capitalism is huge disparities, inequalities between rich and poor, between haves and have-nots. Concern about this is not just esoteric morality – it has consequences on the whole system. Take, for example, a field of grass. No pastoral herder with a flock of goats is going to permit the animals to graze in just one corner of this field, for if they do, part of the grassland will over-grow, and part will become dust or mud, and this will destroy the value of the field for the purposes of grazing. And take another example – wealth distribution in the United Kingdom. Since most people do not have enough capital to live on the proceeds of investment, most people need to earn money for their wealth through working. The recent economic contraction has persuaded companies and the public sector to squeeze more productivity out of a smaller number of employees, or abandon services along with their employees. A simple map of unemployment shows how parts of the British population have been over-grazed to prop up the economic order. This is already having impacts – increasing levels of poverty, and the consequent social breakdown that accompanies it. Poverty and the consequent worsening social environment make people less able to look after themselves, their families, and their communities, and this has a direct impact on the national economy. We are all poorer because some of our fellow citizens need to use food banks, or have to make the choice in winter to Heat or Eat.

And let’s look more closely at energy. Whilst the large energy producers and energy suppliers continue to make significant profits – or put their prices up to make sure they do so – families in the lower income brackets are experiencing unffordability issues with energy. Yes, of course, the energy companies would fail if they cannot keep their shareholders and investors happy. Private concerns need to make a profit to survive. But in the grand scheme of things, the economic temperature is low, so they should not expect major returns. The energy companies are complaining that they fear for their abilities to invest in new resources and infrastructure, but many of their customers cannot afford their products. What have we come to, when a “trophy project” such as the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station gets signed off, with billions in concomitant subsidy support, and yet people in Scotland and the North East and North West of England are failing to keep their homes at a comfortable temperature ?

There is a basic conflict at the centre of all of this – energy companies make money by selling energy. Their strategy for survival is to make profit. This means they either have to sell more energy, or they have to charge more for the same amount of energy. Purchasing energy for most people is not a choice – it is a mandatory part of their spending. You could say that charging people for energy is akin to charging people for air to breathe. Energy is a essential utility, not an option. Some of the energy services we all need could be provided without purchasing the products of the energy companies. From the point of view of government budgets, it would be better to insulate the homes of lower income families than to offer them social benefit payments to pay their energy bills, but this would reduce the profits to the energy companies. Insulation is not a priority activity, because it lowers economic production – unless insulation itself is counted somehow as productivity. The ECO, the Energy Company Obligation – an obligation on energy companies to provide insulation for lower income family homes, could well become part of UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s “Bonfire of the Green Tax Vanities”. The ECO was set up as a subsidy payment, since energy companies will not provide energy services without charging somebody for them. The model of an ESCO – an Energy Services Company – an energy company that sells both energy and energy efficiency services is what is needed – but this means that energy companies need to diversify. They need to sell energy, and also sell people the means to avoid having to buy energy.

Selling energy demand reduction services alongside energy is the only way that privatised energy companies can evolve – or the energy sector could have to be taken back into public ownership because the energy companies are not being socially responsible. A combination of economic adjustment measures, essential climate change policy and wholesale price rises for fossil fuel energy mean that energy demand reduction is essential to keep the economy stable. This cannot be achieved by merely increasing end consumer bills, in an effort to change behaviour. There is only so much reduction in energy use that a family can make, and it is a one-time change, it cannot be repeated. You can nudge people to turn their lights off and their thermostats down by one degree, but they won’t do it again. The people need to be provided with energy control. Smart meters may or may not provide an extra tranche of energy demand reduction. Smart fridges and freezers will almost certainly offer the potential for further domestic energy reduction. Mandatory energy efficiency in all electrical appliances sold is essential. But so is insulation. If we don’t get higher rates of insulation in buildings, we cannot win the energy challenge. In the UK, one style of Government policies for insulation were dropped – and their replacements are simply not working. The mistake was to assume that the energy companies would play the energy conservation game without proper incentives – and by incentive, I don’t mean subsidy.

An obligation on energy companies to deploy insulation as well as other energy control measures shouldn’t need to be subsidised. What ? An obligation without a subsidy ? How refreshing ! If it is made the responsibility of the energy companies to provide energy services, and they are rated, and major energy procurement contracts are based on how well the energy companies perform on providing energy reduction services, then this could have an influence. If shareholders begin to understand the value of energy conservation and energy efficiency and begin to value their energy company holdings by their energy services portfolio, this could have an influence. If an energy utility’s licence to operate is based on their ESCO performance, this could have an influence : an energy utility could face being disbarred through the National Grid’s management of the electricity and gas networks – if an energy company does not provide policy-compliant levels of insulation and other demand control measures, it will not get preferential access for its products to supply the grids. If this sounds like the socialising of free trade, that’s not the case. Responsible companies are already beginning to respond to the unfolding crisis in energy. Companies that use large amounts of energy are seeking ways to cut their consumption – for reasons related to economic contraction, carbon emissions control and energy price rises – their bottom line – their profits – rely on energy management.

It’s flawed reasoning to claim that taxing bad behaviour promotes good behaviour. It’s unlikely that the UK’s Carbon Floor Price will do much apart from making energy more unaffordable for consumers – it’s not going to make energy companies change the resources that they use. To really beat carbon emissions, low carbon energy needs to be mandated. Mandated, but not subsidised. The only reason subsidies are required for renewable electricity is because the initial investment is entirely new development – the subsidies don’t need to remain in place forever. Insulation is another one-off cost, so short-term subsidies should be in place to promote it. As Nick Clegg MP proposes, subsidies for energy conservation should come from the Treasury, through a progressive tax, not via energy companies, who will pass costs on to energy consumers, where it stands a chance of penalising lower-income households. Wind power and solar power, after their initial investment costs, provide almost free electricity – wind turbines and solar panels are in effect providing energy services. Energy companies should be mandated to provide more renewable electricity as part of their commitment to energy services.

In a carbon-constrained world, we must use less carbon dioxide emitting fossil fuel energy. Since the industrialised economies use fossil fuels for more than abut 80% of their energy, lowering carbon emissions means using less energy, and having less building comfort, unless renewables and insulation can be rapidly increased. This is one part of the economy that should be growing, even as the rest is shrinking.

Energy companies can claim that they don’t want to provide insulation as an energy service, because insulation is a one-off cost, it’s not a continuing source of profit. Well, when the Big Six have finished insulating all the roofs, walls and windows, they can move on to building all the wind turbines and solar farms we need. They’ll make a margin on that.

Ed Davey : Polish Barbecue



This week, both Caroline Flint MP and Ed Balls MP have publicly repeated the commitment by the UK’s Labour Party to a total decarbonisation of the power sector by 2030, should they become the governing political party. At PRASEG’s Annual Conference, Caroline Flint said “In around ten years time, a quarter of our power supply will be shut down. Decisions made in the next few years […] consequences will last for decades […] keeping the lights on, and [ensuring reasonably priced] energy bills, and preventing dangerous climate change. […] Labour will have as an election [promise] a legally binding target for 2030. […] This Government has no vision.”

And when I was in an informal conversation group with Ed Davey MP and Professor Mayer Hillman of the Policy Studies Institute at a drinks reception after the event hosted by PRASEG, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change seemed to me to also be clear on his personal position backing the 2030 “decarb” target.

Ed Davey showed concern about the work necessary to get a Europe-wide commitment on Energy and Climate Change. He took Professor Hillman’s point that carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are already causing dangerous climate change, and that the risks are increasing. However, he doubted that immediate responses can be made. He gave the impression that he singled out Poland of all the countries in the European Union to be an annoyance, standing in the way of success. He suggested that if Professor Hillman wanted to do something helpful, he could fly to Poland…at this point Professor Hillman interjected to say he hasn’t taken a flight in 70 years and doesn’t intend to now…and Ed Davey continued that if the Professor wanted to make a valuable contribution, he could travel to Poland, taking a train, or…”I don’t care how you get there”, but go to Poland and persuade the Poles to sign up to the 2030 ambition.

Clearly, machinations are already afoot. At the PRASEG Annual Conference were a number of communications professionals, tightly linked to the debate on the progress of national energy policy. Plus, one rather exceedingly highly-networked individual, David Andrews, the key driver behind the Claverton Energy Research Group forum, of which I am an occasional participant. He had ditched the normal navy blue polyester necktie and sombre suit for a shiveringly sharp and open-necked striped shirt, and was doing his best to look dapper, yet zoned. I found him talking to a communications professional, which didn’t surprise me. He asked how I was.

JA : “I think I need to find a new job.”
DA : “MI6 ?”
JA : “Too boring !”

What I really should have said was :-

JA : “Absolutely and seriously not ! Who’d want to keep State Secrets ? Too much travel and being nice to people who are nasty. And making unbelievable compromises. The excitement of privilege and access would wear off after about six minutes. Plus there’s the risk of ending up decomposing in something like a locked sports holdall in some strange bathroom in the semblance of a hostelry in a godforsaken infested hellhole in a desolate backwater like Cheltenham or Gloucester. Plus, I’d never keep track of all the narratives. Or the sliding door parallel lives. Besides, I’m a bit of a Marmite personality – you either like me or you really don’t : I respond poorly to orders, I’m not an arch-persuader and I’m not very diplomatic or patient (except with the genuinely unfortunate), and I’m well-known for leaping into spats. Call me awkward (and some do), but I think national security and genuine Zero Carbon prosperity can be assured by other means than dark arts and high stakes threats. I like the responsibility of deciding for myself what information should be broadcast in the better interests of the common good, and which held back for some time (for the truth will invariably out). And over and above all that, I’m a technologist, which means I prefer details over giving vague impressions. And I like genuine democratic processes, and am averse to social engineering. I am entirely unsuited to the work of a secret propaganda and diplomatic unit.”

I would be prepared to work for a UK or EU Parliamentary delegation to Poland, I guess, if I could be useful in assisting with dialogue, perhaps in the technical area. I do after all have several academic degrees pertinent to the questions of Energy and Climate Change.

But in a room full of politicians and communications experts, I felt a little like a fished fish. Here, then, is a demonstration. I was talking with Rhys Williams, the Coordinator of PRASEG, and telling him I’d met the wonderful Professor Geoff Williams, of Durham Univeristy, who has put together a system of organic light emitting diode (LED) lighting and a 3-D printed control unit, and, and, and Rhys actually yawned. He couldn’t contain it, it just kind of spilled out. I told myself : “It’s not me. It’s the subject matter”, and I promptly forgave him. Proof, though, of the threshold for things technical amongst Westminster fixers and shakers.

Poland. I mean, I know James Delingpole has been to Poland, and I thought at the time he was possibly going to interfere with the political process on climate change, or drum up support for shale gas. But I’m a Zero Carbon kind of actor. I don’t need to go far to start a dialogue with Poland by going to Poland – I have Poles living in my street, and I’m invited to all their barbecues. Maybe I should invite Professor Mayer Hillman to cycle over to Waltham Forest and address my near neighbours and their extended friendship circle on the importance of renewable energy and energy efficiency targets, and ask them to communicate with the folks back home with any form of influence.

Birdcage Walk : Cheesestick Rationing


Yesterday…no, it’s later than I think…two days ago, I attended the 2013 Conference of PRASEG, the Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group, at the invitation of Rhys Williams, the long-suffering Coordinator. “…Sorry…Are you upset ?” “No, look at my face. Is there any emotion displayed there ?” “No, you look rather dead fish, actually”, etc.

At the prestigious seat of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), One Birdcage Walk, we were invited down into the basement for a “drinks reception”, after hearing some stirring speeches and intriguing panel discussions. Despite being promised “refreshments” on the invitation, there had only been beverages and a couple of bikkies up until now, and I think several of the people in the room were starting to get quite hypoglycemic, so were grateful to see actual food being offered.

A market economy immediately sprang up, as there was a definite scarcity in the resources of cheesesticks, and people jostled amiably, but intentionally, so they could cluster closest to the long, crispy cow-based snacks. The trading medium of exchange was conversation. “Jo, meet Mat Hope from Carbon Brief, no Maf Smith from Renewable UK. You’ve both been eviscerated by Delingpole online”, and so on.

“Welcome to our own private pedestal”, I said to somebody, who it turned out had built, probably in the capacity of developer, a sugarcane bagasse Combined Heat and Power plant. The little table in the corner had only got room around it for three or at most four people, and yet had a full complement of snack bowls. Bonus. I didn’t insist on memorising what this fellow told me his name was. OK, I didn’t actually hear it above the hubbub. And he was wearing no discernible badge, apart from what appeared to be the tinge of wealth. He had what looked like a trailing truculent teenager with him, but that could have been a figment of my imagination, because the dark ghost child spoke not one word. But that sullenness, and general anonymity, and the talkative gentleman’s lack of a necktie, and his slightly artificial, orange skin tone, didn’t prevent us from engaging wholeheartedly in a discussion about energy futures – in particular the default options for the UK, since there is a capacity crunch coming very soon in electricity generation, and new nuclear power reactors won’t be ready in time, and neither will Carbon Capture and Storage-fitted coal-fired power plants.

Of course, the default options are basically Natural Gas and wind power, because large amounts can be made functional within a five year timeframe. My correspondent moaned that gas plants are closing down in the UK. We agreed that we thought that new Combined Cycle Gas Turbine plant urgently needs to be built as soon as possible – but he despaired of seeing it happen. He seemed to think it was essential that the Energy Bill should be completed as soon as possible, with built-in incentives to make Gas Futures a reality.

I said, “Don’t wait for the Energy Bill”. I said, “Intelligent people have forecast what could happen to Natural Gas prices within a few years from high European demand and UK dependence, and are going to build gas plant for themselves. We simply cannot have extensions on coal-fired power plants…” He agreed that the Large Combustion Plant Directive would be closing the coal. I said that there was still something like 20 gigawatts of permissioned gas plant ready to build – and with conditions shaping up like they are, they could easily get financed.

Earlier, Nigel Cornwall, of Cornwall Energy had put it like this :-

“Deliverability and the trilemma [meeting all three of climate change, energy security and end-consumer affordability concerns] [are key]. Needs to be some joined-up thinking. […] There is clearly a deteriorating capacity in output – 2% to 5% reduction. As long as I’ve worked in the sector it’s been five minutes to midnight, [only assuaged by] creative thinking from National Grid.”

However, the current situation is far from bog standard. As Paul Dickson of Glennmont Partners said :-

“£110 billion [is needed] to meet the [electricity generation] gap. We are looking for new sources of capital. Some of the strategic institutional capital – pension funds [for example] – that’s who policy needs to be directed towards. We need to look at sources of capital.”

Alistair Buchanan, formerly of Ofgem, the power sector regulator, and now going to KPMG, spent the last year or so of his Ofgem tenure presenting the “Crunch Winter” problem to as many people as he could find. His projections were based on a number of factors, including Natural Gas supply questions, and his conclusion was that in the winter of 2015/2016 (or 2016/2017) power supply could get thin in terms of expansion capacity – for moments of peak demand. Could spell crisis.

The Government might be cutting it all a bit fine. As Jenny Holland of the Association for the Conservation of Energy said :-

“[Having Demand Reduction in the Capacity Mechanism] Not our tip-top favourite policy outcome […] No point to wait for “capacity crunch” to start [Energy Demand Reduction] market.”

It does seem that people are bypassing the policy waiting queue and getting on with drawing capital into the frame. And it is becoming more and more clear the scale of what is required. Earlier in the afternoon, Caroline Flint MP had said :-

“In around ten years time, a quarter of our power supply will be shut down. Decisions made in the next few years. Consequences will last for decades. Keeping the lights on, and [ensuring reasonably priced] energy bills, and preventing dangerous climate change.”

It could come to pass that scarcity, not only in cheesesticks, but in electricity generation capacity, becomes a reality. What would policy achieve then ? And how should Government react ? Even though Lord Deben (John Gummer) decried in the early afternoon a suggestion implying carbon rationing, proposed to him by Professor Mayer Hillman of the Policy Studies Institute, it could yet turn out that electricity demand reduction becomes a measure that is imposed in a crisis of scarcity.

As I put it to my sugarcane fellow discussionee, people could get their gas for heating cut off at home in order to guarantee the lights and banks and industry stay on, because UK generation is so dependent on Natural Gas-fired power.

Think about it – the uptake of hyper-efficient home appliances has turned down owing to the contracting economy, and people are continuing to buy and use electronics, computers, TVs and other power-sucking gadgets. Despite all sizes of business having made inroads into energy management, electricity consumption is not shifting downwards significantly overall.

We could beef up the interconnectors between the UK and mainland Europe, but who can say that in a Crunch Winter, the French and Germans will have any spare juice for us ?

If new, efficient gas-fired power plants are not built starting now, and wind farms roll out is not accelerated, the Generation Gap could mean top-down Energy Demand Reduction measures.

It would certainly be a great social equaliser – Fuel Poverty for all !

Carbon Bubble : Unburnable Assets



[ Image Credit : anonymous ]


Yet again, the fossil fuel companies think they can get away with uncommented public relations in my London neighbourhood. Previously, it was BP, touting its green credentials in selling biofuels, at the train station, ahead of the Olympic Games. For some reason, after I made some scathing remarks about it, the advertisement disappeared, and there was a white blank board there for weeks.

This time, it’s Esso, and they probably think they have more spine, as they’ve taken multiple billboard spots. In fact, the place is saturated with this advertisement. And my answer is – yes, fuel economy is important to me – that’s why I don’t have a car.

And if this district is anything to go by, Esso must be pouring money into this advertising campaign, and so my question is : why ? Why aren’t they pouring this money into biofuels research ? Answer : because that’s not working. So, why aren’t they putting this public relations money into renewable gas fuels instead, sustainable above-surface gas fuels that can be used in compressed gas cars or fuel cell vehicles ?

Are Esso retreating into their “core business” like BP, and Shell, concentrating on petroleum oil and Natural Gas, and thereby exposing all their shareholders to the risk of an implosion of the Carbon Bubble ? Or another Deepwater Horizon, Macondo-style blowout ?

Meanwhile, the movement for portfolio investors to divest from fossil fuel assets continues apace…

Futureproof Renewable Sustainable Energy #3

PRASEG Annual Conference 2012
http://www.praseg.org.uk/save-the-date-praseg-annual-conference/
“After EMR: What future for renewable and sustainable energy?”
31st October 2012
One Birdcage Walk, Westminster
Twitter hashtag : #PRASEG12

Addendum to Part 1 and Part 2

Dr Mayer Hillman of the Policy Studies Institute has contributed a summary of the questions that he raised at the PRASEG Annual Conference on Wednesday 31st October 2012, together with more background detail, and I am pleased to add this to the record of the day, and wish him a happy 82nd year !


PRASEG Conference 31 October 2012

Questions raised by Dr. Mayer Hillman (Policy Studies Institute) in the following sessions

The Future of Renewable and Sustainable Energy: Panel Session

I can only assume from the statements of each of the panellists of this session that their point of departure is that consumers have an inalienable right to engage in as much energy-intensive activity as they wish. Thereafter, it is the Government’s responsibility to aim to meet as much of the consequent demand as possible, subject only to doing so in the most cost-effective and least environmentally-damaging ways possible.

However as Laura Sandys pointed out in her introduction, “policy must reflect the realities of the world we live in”. The most fundamental of these realities is that the planet’s atmosphere only has a finite capacity to safely absorb further greenhouse gas emissions. Surely, that must be the point of departure for policy if we are to ensure a long-term future for life on earth. That future can only be assured by the adoption of zero-carbon lifestyles as soon as conceivably possible. Simply aiming to increase the contribution of the renewables and of the efficiency with which fossil fuels are used is clearly bound to prove inadequate as the process of climate change is already irreversible.

Demand side policy: The missing element?: Panel Session

Given that the process of climate change cannot now be reversed, at best only slowed down by our actions, continued development of means of matching the predicted huge increase in energy demand whilst minimising its contribution to climate change is seen to be the logical way forward. However, any burning of fossil fuels adds to the already excessive concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere.

The only solution now is the one advocated by the Global Commons Institute since 1996. The extent of GCI’s success, both national and international, is very apparent by looking at the Institute’s website http://www.gci.org.uk. Contraction and Convergence is the framework, that is the contraction of greenhouse gases to a safe level and their convergence to equal per capita shares across the world’s population.

Our chair for this session has been a supporter for several years. Why cannot the panellists see this to be the way ahead rather than taking small steps which, in aggregate, cannot conceivably prevent catastrophe in the longer term?

Keynote address by the Right Hon. Edward Davey, Secretary of State, DECC

The Secretary-of-State has just confirmed the fears that I expressed in the first session of this conference, namely that he sees it to be the Government’s responsibility, if not duty, to ensure that, if at all possible, the burgeoning growth in energy demand predicted for the future is met. To that end, he has just outlined stages of a strategy intended to enable comparisons to be made on “a level playing field” between different types of electricity generation as energy is increasingly likely to be supplied in the form of electricity. To do so, in his view, it is essential that a market price for the release of a tonne of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere is determined.

I have two great reservations about such a process. First, if the price is to cover all the costs incurred then, for instance, the real costs of large scale migration of vast populations fleeing the regions that will be rendered uninhabitable by climate change caused by the increase in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere (with more than 100 years continuous impacts) would have to be included. I fail to see how that could be realistically established, let alone its moral implications being acceptable.

Second, we know that we have already passed the stage that would have allowed us to reverse the process of global climate change – just consider the melting of the Arctic ice cap. That market price for the tonne of CO2 emissions, insofar as it could be determined, would have to rise exponentially owing to the planet’s non-negotiable capacity to safely absorb further emissions. Yet the market requires a fixed price to enable decisions affecting the future to be made.


Here comes… Renewable Gas


[ I know, I know, this song is actually about gasoline… ]
For the delight and edification of my dedicated followers, I present some more evidence to back up my claims that the future will be… Renewable Gas.

Of course the story starts with the old guard : Natural Gas, and the comfort that various governments are offering to the oil and gas industry in general over the securing of their future business.

As usual. As expected. In fact, as it should be. The developed world is still highly dependent on hydrocarbon fuels, and fossil gas is a good option, for the meantime.

Here’s the UK Government working on their “Gas Strategy” consultation :-

UK Government Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) : 17 March 2012 : DAVEY SETS OUT MEASURES TO PROVIDE CERTAINTY TO GAS INVESTORS”
UK Government Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) : 2 May 2012 : “A CALL FOR EVIDENCE ON THE ROLE OF GAS IN THE ELECTRICITY MARKET”

I did ask some colleagues if they wanted to join me in responding to this consultation, but there was no serious energy for it in my networks, so I didn’t do anything, because I prefer collaboration on this kind of thing, otherwise I work too hard and fail to make an impact too often.

But anyway, now that things seem to be clear that the Nuclear Power confidence bubble has properly burst, the default gas strategy that has been brewing for a while is now gaining ascendance, including the ambitious plans of the gas operators and the deals the UK Government are striking to keep gas imports topped up.

Continue reading Here comes… Renewable Gas

George Monbiot : Peak Agitation

My electronic mail inbox and Twitter “social media” timeline are full of people sparking and foaming about George Monbiot’s latest kow-tow to American academia. Apparently, he has discarded the evidence of many, many researchers, energy engineers and market players and poured luke-warm, regurgitated scorn on the evidence and inevitability of “Peak Oil”.

The level of agitation contradicting his stance has reached a new peak – in fact, I think I might claim this as “Peak Agitation”.

Here is just one example from Paul Mobbs, author of “Energy Beyond Oil”, and a multi-talented, multi-sectoral educator and researcher.

I initially read it in my inbox and nearly fell of my chair gobsmacked. When I had recovered from being astonished, and asked Mobbsey if I could quote him, perhaps anonymously, he wrote back :-

“No, you can quite clearly and boldly attach my name and email address to it ! And perhaps ask George for a response ?”

Sadly, George Monbiot appears to have jammed his thumbs in his ears as regards my commentary, so he is very unlikely to read this or become aware of the strength of opposition to his new positioning. But anyway – here’s for what’s it’s worth (and when it comes from Paul Mobbs, it’s worth a great deal) :-


Re: Peak oil – we were wrong. When the facts change we must change.

Hi all,

I’ve sat patiently through the various emails between you all — mainly to
take soundings of where you’re all at on this matter. In addition, over the
last few days I’ve separately received four dozen or so emails all asking
to “take on” Monbiot. I wasn’t going to reply because I’ve so many more
pressing matters to take care of, but given the weight of demands I can’t
avoid it.

I don’t see any point in “taking on” Monbiot; the points he raises, and the
debate that he has initiated, are so off beam compared to the basis of the
issues involved that it there’s no point proceeding along that line of
thought. You can’t answer a question if the question itself is not
understood!!

Let’s get one thing straight — present economic difficulties are not simply
to do with “oil”, but with the more general issue of “limits to growth”.
That’s a complex interaction of resource production, thermodynamics,
technology, and relating all of these together, economic theory. Reducing
this just to an issue of oil or carbon will fail to answer why the trends
we see emerging today are taking place. Instead we have to look towards a
process which sees energy, resources, technology and human economics as a
single system.

The problem with this whole debate is that those involved — Monbiot
included — only have the vaguest understanding of how resource depletion
interacts with the human economy. And in a similar way, the wider
environment movement has been wholly compromised by its failure to engage
with the debate over ecological limits as part of their promotion of
alternative lifestyles. Unless you are prepared to adapt to the reality of
what the “limits” issues portends for the human economy, you’re not going
to make any progress on this matter.

Monbiot’s greatest mistake is to try and associate peak oil and climate
change. They are wholly different issues. In fact, over the last few years,
one of the greatest mistakes by the environment movement generally (and
Monbiot is an exemplar of this) has been to reduce all issues to one
metric/indicator — carbon. This “carbonism” has distorted the nature of
the debate over human development/progress, and in the process the
“business as usual” fossil-fuelled supertanker has been allowed to thunder
on regardless because solving carbon emissions is a fundamentally different
type of problem to solving the issue of resource/energy depletion.

Carbon emissions are a secondary effect of economic activity. It is
incidental to the economic process, even when measures such as carbon
markets are applied. Provided we’re not worried about the cost, we can use
technological measures to abate emissions — and government/industry have
used this as a filibuster to market a technological agenda in response and
thus ignore the basic incompatibility of economic growth with the
ecological limits of the Earth’s biosphere. As far as I am concerned, many
in mainstream environmentalism have been complicit in that process; and
have failed to provide the example and leadership necessary to initiate a
debate on the true alternatives to yet more intense/complex
industrialisation and globalisation.

In contrast, physical energy supply is different because it’s a prerequisite
of economic growth — you can’t have economic activity without a
qualitatively sufficient energy supply (yes, the “quality” of the energy is
just as important as the physical scale of supply). About half of all
growth is the value of new energy supply added to the economy, and another
fifth is the result of energy efficiency — the traditional measures of
capital and labour respectively make up a tenth and fifth of growth. As yet
mainstream economic theory refuses to internalise the issue of energy
quality, and the effect of falling energy/resource returns, even though this
is demonstrably one of the failing aspects of our current economic model
(debt is the other, and that’s an even more complex matter to explore if
we’re looking at inter-generational effects).

The fact that all commodity prices have been rising along with growth for
the past decade — a phenomena directly related to the human system hitting
the “limits to growth” — is one of the major factors driving current
economic difficulties. Arguably we’ve been hitting the “limits” since the
late 70s. The difficulty in explaining that on a political stage is that
we’re talking about processes which operate over decades and centuries, not
over campaign cycles or political terms of office. As a result, due to the
impatience of the modern political/media agenda, the political debate over
limits has suffered because commentators always take too short-term a
viewpoint. Monbiot’s recent conversion on nuclear and peak oil is such an
example, and is at the heart of the report Monbiot cites in justification of
his views — a report, not coincidentally, written by a long-term opponent
of peak oil theory, working for lobby groups who promote business-as-usual
solutions to ecological issues.

Likewise, because the neo-classical economists who advise governments and
corporations don’t believe in the concept of “limits”, the measures they’ve
adopted to try and solve the problem (e.g. quantitative easing) are not
helping the problem, but merely forestall the inevitable collapse. For
example, we can’t borrow money today to spur a recovery if there will be
insufficient growth in the future to pay for that debt. Basically, whilst you
may theoretically borrow money from your grandchildren, you can’t borrow
the energy that future economic growth requires to generate that money if
it doesn’t exist to be used at that future date. Perhaps more perversely, a
large proportion of the economic actors who have expressed support for
limits are not advocating ecological solutions to the problem, they’re
cashing-in by trying to advise people how to make money out of economic
catastrophe.

Carbon emissions and resource depletion are a function of economic growth.
There is an absolute correlation between growth and carbon emissions. I
don’t just mean that emissions and the rate of depletion fall during
recessions — and thus “recessions are good for the environment”. If you
look at the rate of growth in emissions over the last 50 years, the change
in energy prices has a correlation to changes in carbon emissions as the
price of fuel influences economic activity. That’s why carbon emissions
broke with their historic trend, halving their previous growth rate, after
the oil crisis of the 1970s; and why they then rebounded as energy prices
fell during the 90s.

The idea that we can “decarbonise” the economy and continue just as before
is fundamentally flawed. I know some of you will scream and howl at this
idea, but if you look at the research on the interaction between energy and
economic productivity there is no other conclusion. Due to their high
energy density and relative ease of use, all fossil fuels have an economic
advantage over all the alternatives. That said, as conventional oil and gas
deplete, and “unconventional” sources with far lower energy returns are
brought into the market, that differential is decreasing — but we won’t
reach general parity with renewables for another decade or two.

Note also this has nothing to do with subsidies, or industrial power —
it’s a basic physical fact that the energy density of renewables is lower
than the historic value of fossil fuels. On a level playing field, renewable
energy costs more and has a lower return on investment than fossil fuels.

We do have the technology to develop a predominantly renewable human
economy, but the economic basis of such a system will be wholly different to
that we live within today. Unless you are prepared to reform the economic
process alongside changing the resource base of society, we’ll never
see any realistic change because all such “ecological” viewpoints are
inconsistent with the values at the heart of modern capitalism (that’s not
a political point either, it’s just a fact based upon how these systems
must operate). E.g., when the Mail/Telegraph trumpet that more wind power
will cost more and lower growth/competitiveness, they’re right — but the
issue here is not the facts about wind, it’s that the theory/expectation of
continued growth, which they are measuring the performance of wind against,
is itself no longer supported by the physical fundamentals of the human
economy.

The present problem is not simply “peak oil”. Even if volumetric production
remained constant, due to the falling level of energy return on investment
of all fossil fuels the effects of rising prices and falling systemic
efficiency will still disrupt the economic cycle (albeit at a slower rate
than when it is tied to a simultaneous volumetric reduction). Allied to the
problems with the supply of many industrial minerals, especially the
minerals which are key to the latest energy and industrial process/energy
technologies (e.g. rare earths, indium, gallium, etc.), what we have is a
recipe for a general systems failure in the operation of the human system.
And again, that’s not related to climate change, or simple lack of energy,
but because of the systemic complexity of modern human society, and what
happens to any complex system when it is perturbed by external factors.

The worst thing which can happen right now — even if it were possible,
which is entirely doubtful — would be a “return to growth”. The idea of
“green growth”, within the norms of neo-classical economics, is even more
fallacious due to the differing thermodynamic factors driving that system.
Instead what we have to concentrate upon is changing the political economy
of the human system to internalise the issue of limits. At present, apart
from a few scientists and green economists on the sidelines, no one is
seriously putting that point of view — not even the Green Party. And as I
perceive it from talking to people about this for the last 12 years, that’s
for a very simple reason… it’s not what people, especially the political
establishment, want to hear.

Rio+20 was an absolute failure. In fact what annoyed me the most was that
the media kept talking about the “second” Rio conference, when in fact it
was the third UNCED conference in the Stockholm conference in ’72. If you
contrast 1972 with 2012, the results of this years deliberations were worse
than the policies sketched out in the 70s ! Seriously, the environment
movement is being trounced, and as I see it that’s because they have lost
the intellectual and theoretical rigour that it possessed in the 70s and
80s. Rather than having a clear alternative vision, what they promote is
“the same but different”. Once environmentalism became a media campaign
about differing consumption options, rather than an absolute framework for
evaluating the effects of consumption, it lost its ability to dictate the
agenda — because its the ability to look forward and observe/anticipate
trends unfolding, however unwelcome those truths might be, which gives
groups political power.

Politicians have lost control of the economy because their materialist
ambitions no longer fit to the extant reality of the economic process. This
outcome was foreseen over 40 years ago by economists like Georgescu-Roegen
and Boulding but ignored, even amongst many liberals and especially the
left, for political reasons. These same principles, based around the issue
of limits, were also the founding reality of the modern environment
movement — but over the last 20 years the movement has lost this basic
grounding in physics and economics as it has moved towards an
aspirationally materialist agenda (green consumerism/sustainable
consumption, etc.).

Unless you’re prepared to talk about limits to growth, and the fact that
the economic theories developed over two centuries of unconstrained
expansion now have no relevance to a system constrained by physical limits,
then you will not solve this problem. Just as with Monbiot’s “change” on
the issue of nuclear, his failure is a matter of basic theory and
methodological frameworks, not of facts or data. Unfortunately people keep
throwing data at each other without considering that the framework within
which those facts are considered and understood has changed, and that
consequently their conclusions may not be correct; and until the movement
accepts that the rules governing the system have changed we’ll not make
progress in advancing viable solutions.

To conclude then, Monbiot’s mistake isn’t about peak oil, or climate
change, it’s a failure to internalise the physical realities of the
“limits” now driving the human system. Unless you consider the interaction
of energy, economics and pollution, any abstractions you draw about each of
those factors individually will fail to tell you how the system as a whole
is functioning. Those limits might dictate the end of “growth economics”,
but they DO NOT dictate the end of “human development”. There are many ways
we can address our present economic and environmental difficulties, but that
cannot take place unless we accept that changing our material ambitions is
a prerequisite of that process.

Let’s be clear here. The principles which drive the economy today would be
wholly alien to Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill and others who first laid down
the rules of the system two centuries ago. Likewise Marxism and similarly
derived ideas have no validity either because they were generated during an
era when there were no constraining limits. There is no “going back” to
previous theories/ideologies on this issue because we face a scenario today
which humans society — with the exception of those ancient societies who
experienced ecological overshoot (Rome, Mayans, Easter Islanders, etc.) —
have never had to face before.

We have to move forward, to evaluate and understand is the role of
ecological limits within the future human economic process and how this
changes our advocacy of “solutions”. That debate should be at the heart of
the environment movement, and the issue of limits should lead all
discussions about all environmental issues — not green/sustainable
consumerism and other measures which seek to reassure and pacify affluent
consumers. That said, especially given the demographic skew within
membership of the environment movement, we have to begin by being honest
with ourselves in accepting the “limits agenda” and what it means for the
make-up of our own lives.

In the final analysis, you cannot be an environmentalist unless you accept
and promote the idea of limits. That was at the heart of the movement from
the early 70s, and if we want to present a viable alternative to disaster
capitalism then that is once again what we must develop and promote as an
alternative.

Peace ‘n love ‘n’ home made hummus,

P.

.

“We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government,
nor are we for this party nor against the other but we are
for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom,
that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness,
righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with
God, and with one another, that these things may abound.”
(Edward Burrough, 1659 – from ‘Quaker Faith and Practice’)

Paul’s book, “Energy Beyond Oil”, is out now!
For details see http://www.fraw.org.uk/mei/ebo/

Read my ‘essay’ weblog, “Ecolonomics”, at:
http://www.fraw.org.uk/mei/ecolonomics/

Paul Mobbs, Mobbs’ Environmental Investigations
email – mobbsey@gn.apc.org
website – http://www.fraw.org.uk/mei/index.shtml

On Being Climate Pragmatic



When it comes to proposals for climate change policy, most studies indicate technological efforts : some, fiscal measures.

Few, if any, really consider the pragmatic likelihood of their proposals being taken up.

I’d like to offer the first in a series of totally made-up statistics to show my view on the likelihood of some of these proposals being implementable (or is that “implementible” ?) and efficacious (effective).

I honestly don’t know why the media continue to discuss and discuss the merits and/or disbenefits of new nuclear power and geoengineering (which includes Carbon Capture and Storage or CCS).

They are not likely to be able to help in the next few decades, and so they might as well not be on the proposals table or board.

Energy Independence : Scheer Truth

Image Credit : Carl-A. Fechner, fechnerMedia

Renewable energy pessimists are everywhere.

Some commentators, government leaders, energy companies and representatives of international institutions are keen to show that not only is the renewable energy deployment glass half empty, the water hasn’t even wet the bottom of the glass yet.

Yet there are renewable energy architects – developers, promoters, politicians, scientists, engineers and academics – who document the evidence of the rapid growth in zero carbon energy – who show us that the sustainable energy glass could be brimming over.

What do experts say ? Here’s the belated Hermann Scheer from the film “The 4th Revolution : Energy Autonomy” :-

Continue reading Energy Independence : Scheer Truth

Academic Freedom #7 : Contraction & Convergence

I think that within a short space of time, it will become admitted, even by Friedman-onomists (and other assorted Freak-onomists) that marginal pricing strategies on high carbon energy are not producing a major shift to a low carbon energy economy.

Nobody wants to buy carbon permits, so they will all duck the quotas, and buck the system.

The prevailing economic conditions, caused by a collapse in wealth and the onset of both climate change and fossil fuel depletion, and their respective impacts on food and energy production, are creating a volatility in the costs of energy – mostly in the buoyancy direction. Which is fine for anybody trading in energy industry stock, but not for the rest of us, and is especially limiting for any attempts to price greenhouse gas emissions.

Policies to create a carbon “market” by implementing varieties of “Cap and Trade”, and the so-called Clean Development Mechanism – a “flexible” approach permitted under Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol, are showing a residual inefficacy – that means they are failing – an inability to cause widespread change.

That would be OK if we only expect carbon markets to provide some equilibrium in disparate progress towards carbon emissions reduction. If carbon markets were recognised as only being able to enable a small tranche of the overall changes required.

Carbon trading can be a useful mechanism if it’s used as a vehicle for “technology transfer”. By that, I don’t mean selling shale gas technology to China, Oman or Saudi, but creating a flow of useful Renewable Energy technology from industrialised world to under-developed world.

Continue reading Academic Freedom #7 : Contraction & Convergence

Academic Freedom #1 : The United Nations isn’t working

A lot of people are going to be distressed when I say this, and tell me I have no right to say it – but honestly guys and gals, it’s time to tell the patently obvious truth : the United Nations process on Climate Change isn’t working.

Even if there is a way to construct a treaty with wording that all the country delegations can agree to (or at least not bitterly fight tooth and nail to their early graves), the basic premise of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is faulty.

Those responsible for the production of fossil fuels should be made to accept responsibility for global warming pollution, and take on the mission of changing the way they make the energy they sell the world.

I’m not calling for environmental fines. Environmental fines don’t work. They don’t stop pollution, they don’t prevent polluting activities, and they don’t provide enough monetary resources to clean up pollution.

I’m not calling for carbon tax, or other forms of carbon pricing. Those responsible for selling polluting energy would never pay the full carbon price – they always delegate extra costs to their consumers.

Carbon pricing and carbon taxation can never provide an incentive for meaningful de-carbonisation of the energy supply that we need. Cap and Trade does not appear to have altered the course of any region’s energy infrastructure development. The price of carbon always remains too low to stimulate real change.

Continue reading Academic Freedom #1 : The United Nations isn’t working

Carbon Detox 2012

PRESS RELEASE

Carbon Detox 2012 : Shed Unwanted Pounds With Our Unique Formulation

George Marshall, well-known sustainable living guru, will be asking us to challenge ourselves, our routines and bad habits, and make a 2012 all-year resolution to shed the excess carbon from our lives.

On 21st January 2012 at a convenient central London location, he will ask us to take action to get control of our personal energy, and add vitality to our lives with new aims and goals.

The aim of the event is to help us acquire the psychological tools we need to lead slimmer, healthier and more ethically satisfying lifestyles.

Speaking from the experience gained from his decades of research and practice in the field, and giving tips and tricks from his bestseller “Carbon Detox“, George will be guiding us expertly through the carbon counting maze.

One of our leaner life activities group said : “Cutting down has been hard work, but has become much more fun now I am involved in my local group. I am looking forward to meeting my buddies on Saturday.”

Tony Emerson, the coordinator for the ecocell 2 programme said : “In three years our household has managed to halve the amount of greenhouse gases we produce – by topping up loft insulation, converting to double glazing, installing a wood stove and learning how to best use it, new heavier curtains, wall insulation, changing to a green electricity supplier, continued monitoring of timings and temperature of the central heating – and of course taking part in the ecocell 2 programme. However we still have further to go and I am looking forward to hear what George Marshall has to say. One way we are encouraging people in ecocell 2 is to have a buddy system, whereby people pair up, or group up, by phone, so that people with similar houses can support each other.”

To register for this free, all day event, including a selection of facilitated workshops and to receive your take-home worksheet pack, please email Tony at ecocell@christian-ecology.org.uk

For photographs of the day’s events, and feedback from the workshops, please contact Jo on 0845 45 98 46 0

ENDS


NOTES FOR EDITORS

a. Climate change activist and author George Marshall will be addressing green Christians during an all-day conference on Saturday 21st January 2012 in Central London.

b. The Christian Ecology Link ecocell project team will facilitate workshops on “living the truly sustainable life” at the Magdalen Centre, St Mary’s Church, Eversholt Street near Euston train station between 10.00 am and 5.00 pm [1]

c. George Marshall, author of the easy-to-read book “Carbon Detox : Your step-by-step guide to getting real about climate change” will be offering his fact-packed and lighthearted insights into action on climate change, drawn from his experience of over a decade of community and policy work. [2]

d. The event will be suitable for anybody already taking part in the ecocell project, or anybody interested in starting. The workshops on the day will be pitched at several levels.

e. The ecocell-1 workshop group will look at the introductory programme to help your family or church group take their first steps to reducing their impact on the environment. [3]

f. The ecocell-2 workshop will look at the more in-depth project, to provide mutual support for those who want to reduce their carbon emissions to sustainable levels within five years. [4]

REFERENCES

[1] The Magdalen Centre, St Mary’s Church, Eversholt Street, London NW1 1BN is located about 7 minutes’ walk north of Euston train station.

[2] http://www.carbondetox.org/

[3] http://www.greenchristian.org.uk/ecocell
http://www.greenchristian.org.uk/ecocell/ecocell-1

[4] http://www.greenchristian.org.uk/ecocell
http://www.greenchristian.org.uk/ecocell/ecocell-2
http://www.greenchristian.org.uk/ecocell/ecocell2-materials

[5] http://www.greenchristian.org.uk/archives/1537
http://www.christian-ecology.org.uk/ecocell-day-21-jan-2012.htm

CONTACT

For details of Christian Ecology Link, please phone Jo on 0845 45 98 46 0 or email info@christian-ecology.org.uk

Methane Concentrations : Losing Control

Every once in a while, it’s good to remind myself of the data – to help me focus once again on why I do what I do.

Yesterday evening, I decided to catch up on exactly how out of control atmospheric methane concentrations are in the region around the Arctic :-

http://www.esrl.noaa.gov

When reviewing the charts, the secondmost important thing to see is the high point measurements, the peaks, rising over time.

The most vital thing to observe, however, is the inexorable rise of the minimum measurements since around 2007 – which implies a higher overall background atmospheric methane concentration.

Much of this methane explosion can probably be blamed on global warming from excessive carbon dioxide emissions – which showed signs of coming under control between 1990 and 2000, but after that lifted off once more.

People dispute why carbon dioxide emissions have risen consistently and sharply since the turn of the millenium – but one of the answers is to be found in the rapid deployment of coal-burning for power generation. Stronger environmental controls on air quality have reduced the health impacts of coal-burning, but mean that the net effect is stronger global warming.

So much could be done to alleviate the strong warming of the Arctic, and prevent dangerous instabilities. It is time to say it – and keep on saying it – and not relent – every measure to keep the Arctic cool is urgent.

Ask Aubrey #1 : An Optimistic Riff for Revkin

[ Guest Post from Aubrey Meyer, Director of the Global Commons Institute. ]

An optimistic response – and a riff – to Andy Revkin’s “A Post Pollution Path to Global Climate and Energy Progress

It has always made sense to focus on ‘collaborative work’ and innovation’.

These are the very pulling together and pushing ahead of our development as a species. Our history of ‘success’ [if only just, we’re still here!] has been intricately woven within the complementarity of this ‘energy-field’. It is like a ‘musical riff’. Using this framework http://www.gci.org.uk/music.html musicians, in-time and in-tune with each other, have always done this.

Andy Revkin rightly draws attention to the work of Elizabeth Burleson and William Moomaw, again recognizing and advocating those very points in response to more bathos at COP-17. William and Elizabeth, doing what you say makes complete sense as across all time, none of us could have proceeded anywhere without those values and that intent.

But this ‘common sense’ and ‘innovation success’ are now so seriously challenged by global climate change that worst case scenarios suggest most of us may not be here much longer, if the well-established trends in the growth of consumption, pollution and changing climate continue much further unchecked: – http://www.gci.org.uk/COP-17.html

We will no longer have a creative riff so much as a destructive rift, where the ‘pulling-together’ has all but been over-whelmed by a manic will to ‘push-ahead’. The monetary-unit is now what measures this blind momentum as ‘success no matter what the cost’, and it is now amplified through the runaway off-shore growth of deregulated money from the financial sector: – http://www.gci.org.uk/Shaxson.html

Since growing [Greenhouse Gas] GHG pollution is the other side of the coin, the possibility of runaway climate change is now real and both sides of this coin invite conflict as societal and environmental limits are snapped. As is, the ever-widening gap created in these global trends of ‘expansion and divergence’ is heart-breaking: – http://vimeo.com/32629132

As damages are running at twice the rate of growth, it is also becoming explosive and making confrontation impossible to avoid: – http://www.gci.org.uk/Expansion_and_Divergence.html

What this says is that we can’t just look away and proceed as if that wasn’t an issue. It is a structural crisis with a massive international confrontation over it already and we have to address it as such. Rational people see this as a ‘fast-breeder-reaction’ and for the sake of our civilization, not-to-mention all the children, want to change these trends away from the disaster that looms and turn instead towards a recovery that is inclusive, rational, structurally resilient and in some sense at equilibrium.

So, since the question is now ‘global’, how do we get push-and-pull back into that equilibrium at some level? Well we certainly won’t do it – as still happens at the COPs – by picking yet more numbers out of half a hat and yelling at each other, anymore than fiddle players try and play on broken strings and then, with blame attached, smash instruments over each other’s heads. It means ‘jihad’ in the pure and original sense that means bringing ‘truth and reconciliation’ to bear at the UNFCCC, noting this entails ‘climate-justice’ but ‘withoutvengeance’ and bearing witness to that. That is what the riff or the framework of the C&C principle brought to the UNFCCC negotiation. It is rational, structured, just and inclusive and it separates what must be limited to achieve ‘post-pollution’ from what is not. Naomi Klein’s forensic and brilliant analysis with the Shock Doctrine opens the curtain on this proscenium for equity and survival.

C&C makes UNFCCC-compliance [a] possible [b] negotiable [c] communicable and [d] achievable http://www.gci.org.uk/public/COP_15_C&C.swf

The key is noting that while the UNFCCC Executive say C&C is ‘inevitably required’ for UNFCCC-compliance: – http://www.gci.org.uk/Pasztor.png the ‘market’ for renewables is vast and proportional to how fast we embed the transition we must make to survive in this framework: – http://www.gci.org.uk/images/C1_C2_C3.pdf

C&C is not a ‘prescription’, it is a simple principle that, like the start of the US Constitution, has a core structure in equality and gives rise to a pragmatic negotiating framework: – http://www.candcfoundation.com/pages/whatis.html where the Parties to the UNFCCC can settle the differences rationally.

C&C has much support: – http://www.gci.org.uk/endorsements.html

It is just a musical riff and is no more prescriptive than the musical ‘overtone-series’. It is just rational sub-divisions of the whole: – http://www.gci.org.uk/animations/vibrating-strings.swf

Being in-tune with each other and, at much slower Herz, in time together, all music is possible because of that ‘constant’ and not in spite of it. All creativity flows from this. It is proportionality and as around any centre of gravity, like the Higgs boson, it is an attractor, or an energy-field or a concept-constitution. It ‘pulls together’ so that the ‘push’ is energetic, innovative durable and prosperous.

This is collaboration; it’s in the programme. Look at the Helio-Centric, the Geo-Centric and the Venus-Centric orbiting and see – just like music – constant Pythagorean proportionality regardless of the ‘point of view’ where 8 Earth years, equals 13 Venus years, with 5 Apogee moments, manifesting like music, perfect Pentagramatic proportionality of the Golden Section in each of the 8 year cycles, just at it has done and will yet do for millions of years. Had you ever seen that? That is literally true – the pull and the push are not just at equilibrium, they are at equilibrium in a beautifully structured way: – http://www.gci.org.uk/Animations/ThreeDifferentOrbits.swf

Music, like our common future avoiding climate change, is impossible without proportionality. First recognized and articulated by Pythagoras nearly three millennia ago with a length of string vibrating at a constant tension, it precedes the inverse-square law. If you halve the length you double the frequency and if you third the length you treble the frequency and so on. That simple mathematical formula is now rightly described by Stephen Hawking as, “the first instance of what we now know as theoretical physics” http://www.gci.org.uk/music.html

In other words it is not just ‘a string at constant tension’. As an organising principle, it is ‘stringularity’, a universal constant, and there is nowhere on any scale that you can go in time or space where it isn’t true. That is helpful. That is why Bach, Mozart, Revkin http://www.myspace.com/andyrevkin have ‘legs’ and why C&C has too. Here’s a Well-Tempered Climate Accord: – http://www.richardellismedia.com/candc/candc-cube-web-edit.html

Cooperation, innovation, the very fibre of success and so much else, are the very children of this. Accepting the C&C principle underwrites and enables the very success of the ‘Path to Post-Pollution’ Andy Revkin articulates and that we all so much want. You might think, seeing the umpteenth routine, stupid but lethal confrontation at COP-17 to the UN Climate Treaty, that the COP-UNFCCC process doesn’t yet demonstrate that understanding: – http://www.gci.org.uk/index.html and you’d be right. But, as all life aspires to the condition of music, we’ll see to that and push and pull so that it does, won’t we.

Aubrey Meyer, Director GCI

Urbanity, Durbanity #2

The following was written by Aubrey Meyer in November before the United Nations climate change talks, reportedly in response to a proposal by Damian Carrington of The Guardian newspaper, although it was not published there.

UN = United Nations
UNFCCC = United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change


What chance a climate deal in Durban ?

Representatives of over a hundred nations meeting in Durban at the end of the month will “seek to advance the implementation of the (UNFCCC) Convention and the Kyoto Protocol” in the words of the organisers of the UN’s seventeenth annual climate change meeting.

Kyoto was adopted in 1997, came into force in 2005 and will expire next year with dangerous emissions growing faster than ever. At this rate of advance we are at grave risk of being overcome by uncontrollable climate change. Many senior climate scientists think it could already be too late.

The International Energy Agency, in its 2011 World Energy Outlook, said that we cannot delay further action to tackle climate change and that the door to 2 degrees Celsius is closing. It says that the world is currently on a trajectory to a temperature increase of 6° Celsius or more.

As long ago as 2007, the UK Government’s Committee on Climate Change said that it is not now possible to ensure with high likelihood that a temperature rise of more than 2°C is avoided. It then assigned a less than even chance of success to its statutory emissions reduction plan in the Climate Act.

Since those calculations were made there have been developments in the science that give even greater cause for concern, with some government scientists saying there is now little to no chance of maintaining the global mean surface temperature increase at or below 2°C.

A fresh approach is now required. We probably have no more than four years to effect a downturn in global emissions. That change in direction must initiate a fullterm global emissions reduction path to a point where a safe and stable temperature level is achieved.

The question is where do we start ? The voluntary national reduction plans emerging from the Cancun negotiations are completely inadequate. The notion that they can be advanced over time to a realistic global target will result in too little too late.

But behind the headlines, negotiating postures have shifted significantly since Kyoto. They have moved beyond the complete stand-off between developed and developing countries. By agreeing to set voluntary national emissions targets, developing countries have recognised that they too must participate in a global action plan from the start if the two degree limit is to be met.

This places the delicate issue of historical responsibility as a second order consideration and opens the door to negotiation within agreed global targets.

Even more encouraging is the wide recognition of the principle of equal per capita entitlements to emit, with the accompanying right to trade those entitlements. This principle is at the core of the climate mitigation policy framework proposed at the UN by the Global Commons Institute based in London and which has many supporters in the UN process.

The Contraction & Convergence (C&C) policy framework was first negotiated at the UNFCCC in Kyoto, Japan in 1997, when Developing Countries led by the Africa Group, India and China, proposed C&C as part of the Kyoto Protocol.

Contraction & Convergence (C&C) is an approach to meeting the objective of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) : to reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to a value that is both safe and stable.

Contraction refers to the global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that is needed to prevent dangerous climate change. Within this contraction, the world’s nations would converge on an equal per capita sharing of that carbon contraction budget. With contraction we obviously get convergence, the only question arising is how to organise it.

The atmosphere is a global commons and everyone has an equal right to emit greenhouse gases into it. If you don’t stand for that, you have to defend inequality which the majority will clearly reject. Climate change is an issue of survival and equity is the price of that survival.

In July 2009, fully five months before COP15 in Copenhagen, the Chinese Government publicly accepted the C&C principle for UNFCCC negotiations, and stated a willingness to negotiate rates of C&C based on immediate convergence to per capita equality of emissions entitlements worldwide.

They stressed the difference between actual per capita emissions and emissions ‘entitlements’ and pointed out that international emissions trading can absorb the difference between the two.

The C&C principle is embedded in the UK Climate Act of 2008. However, the rate of convergence is prescribed to complete only by 2050, within an overall 100 year contraction of emissions. The UK was part of a group of developed country Governments that prescribed these rates of C&C to the rest of the world in Copenhagen.

Since overall this prescription gave Developed Countries on average twice the per capita entitlements of the Developing Countries while 80% of the budget was consumed by 2050, the entire thing was unsurprisingly rejected by those countries – China memorably amongst them – as prescriptive and unfair to them. The UK publicly and naively denounced China for ‘wrecking the negotiations’.

The US had supported C&C earlier in the UN process, but continues to reject any renewal of the ‘one-sided’ Kyoto Protocol, because it logically refuses a way forward that excludes Developing Countries from emissions control. They, on the other hand, continue to reject prescriptions from Developed Countries that they regard as unfair.

The way to break this deadlock is clear: the UK should stop prescribing and become willing to broker negotiation of an agreement at the UNFCCC based on the C&C principle but at a faster rate of convergence to equal per capita emissions entitlements globally.

This way all nations or regions become part of an agreement that will be rational, consensual and fair. We can get on with achieving UNFCCC-compliance at rates that retain some chance of avoiding dangerous climate change.

On sight of a letter to this effect sent to Ban Ki Moon (another C&C supporter), the Chinese Government again showed interest. Why don’t we ?

Aubrey Meyer, Global Commons Institute


Urbanity, Durbanity

People working for non-governmental, and governmental, organisations can be rather defensive when I criticise the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC. What ? I don’t back the international process ? Climate change, after all, is a borderless crime, and will take global policing. Well, I back negotiations for a global treaty in principle, but not in practice.

The annual wearisome jousting and filibustering events just before Christmas do not constitute for me a healthy, realistic programme of engagement, imbued with the full authority and support of global leadership structures and civil society. People can try to spin it and claim success, but that’s just whitewash on an ungildable tomb.

The Climate Change talks that have just taken place in Durban, South Africa, were exemplary of a peculiar kind of collective madness that has resulted from trying to navigate and massage endless special interests, national jostling, brinkmanship, unworkable and inappropriate proposals from economists, communications failures and corporate interference in governance.

The right people with real decisionmaking powers are not at the negotiating table. The organisations with most to contribute are still acting in opposition – that’s the energy industry, to be explicit. And the individual national governments are still not concerned enough about climate change, even though it impacts strongly on the things they do consider to be priorities – economic health, trade and political superiority.

Over 20 years ago, the debate on what to do to tackle global warming and still maintain good international relations was already won, by the commonsense approach of Contraction and Convergence – fair shares for all. Each country should count on their fair share of carbon emissions based on their population – and we would get there by starting from where we are now and agreeing mutual cuts. The big emitters would agree to steeper cuts than the lower emitters – and after some time, everybody in the world would have the same, safe emissions rights.

What has prevented this logical approach from being implemented ? Well, we have had the so-called “flexible mechanisms” pushed on us – such as the Clean Development Mechanism which essentially boils down to the idea that the richer high-emitting countries can offset their carbon by paying for poorer low emissions countries to cut their carbon instead. Some have been attempting to make the CDM carbon credits into a commercial product for the Carbon Trading market. Some may contest it, but the CDM and carbon trading haven’t really been working very well, and anyway, the CDM doesn’t aim for emissions reductions, just offsets.

Other carbon trade has been implemented, such as the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), which doesn’t appear to have caused high emissions industries to diversify out of carbon, or created a viable price for carbon dioxide, so its usefulness is questionable.

Many people have put forward the idea of straight carbon pricing, mostly by taxation. The trouble with this idea should be obvious, but rarely is. Over four-fifths of the world’s energy is fossil fuel based. Taxing carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels would just make everything, everywhere, more expensive. It wouldn’t necessarily create new lower carbon energy resources, as the taxes would probably be put into a giant climate change adaptation fund – a financial institution proposed by several people including Oliver Tickell and Nicholas Stern, although in Stern’s case, he is calling for direct grants from countries to keep the fund topped up.

On the policy front, there has been a continuing, futile attempt to force the historially high-emitting countries to accept very radical carbon cuts, as a sign of accountability. This “grandfathering” of emissions responsibilities is something that no sane person in government in the richer nations could ever agree with, not even when being smothered with ethical guilt. One of the forms of this proposal is “Greenhouse Development Rights“, essentially allowing countries like China to continue growing their emissions in order to grow their economies to guarantee development. The emissions cuts required by countries like the United States of America would be impossible to achieve, not even if their economy completely toppled.

Sadly, a number of charities, aid and development agencies and other non-governmental organisations with concern for the world’s poor, have signed up to Greenhouse Development Rights not realising it is completely untenable.

The only approach that can work, that both high- and low-emitting countries can ever possibly be made to agree on, is a system of population-proportional shares of the global carbon pie. And the way to get there has to be based on relative current emissions, ignoring the emissions of the past – your cuts should be larger if your current emissions are large. And it should be based on the relative size of the population, and their individual emissions rates, rather than taking a country as a whole. Yes, there will be room for a little carbon trade between nations, to enable the transfer of low carbon technologies from wealthy nations to un-resourced nations. Yes, there will be space for enterprise, as corporations have to face regulation to cut emissions, and will need innovation in technology to divest themselves of fossil fuel production and consumption.

This is Contraction and Convergence – and you ignore it at our peril.

A few suggestions for further reading :-

Contraction and Convergence The Global Solution to Climate Change” by Aubrey Meyer. Schumacher Briefings, Green Books, December 2000. ISBN-13: 978-1870098946

The Greenhouse Effect : Science and Policy” by Professor Stephen H. Schneider, Science, Volume 243, Issue 4892, Pages 771 – 781, DOI: 10.1126/science.243.4892.771, 10 February 1989.
http://www.sciencemag.org/content/243/4892/771.abstract
http://stephenschneider.stanford.edu/Publications/PDF_Papers/
http://stephenschneider.stanford.edu/Publications/Publications.html

“Climate Change : Science and Policy“, edited by Stephen H. Schneider, Armin Rosencranz, Michael D. Mastrandea and Kristin Kuntz-Duriseti. Island Press, 10 February 2010. ISBN-13: 978-1597265669

“The Greenhouse Effect : Negotiating Targets” by Professor Michael Grubb, published by the Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA) in London, 1990.

“Equity, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and Global Common Resources” by Paul Baer, Chapter 15 in “Climate Change Policy : A Survey” by Stephen H. Schneider, Armin Rosencranz and John O. Niles, Island Press, 2002. ISBN-10: 1-55963-881-8 (Paper), ISBN-13: 978-1-55963-881-4 (Paper)

Kyoto 2 : How to Manage the Global Greenhouse” by Oliver Tickell, ISBN-13: 978-1848130258, Zed Books Ltd, 25 July 2008
http://www.kyoto2.org/
http://www.kyoto2.org/docs/the_land_1.pdf

Carbon Dioxide – a virtual, negative commodity

http://www.cato.org/event.php?eventid=7999

I found this excellent little CATO Institute debate somewhere in my Twitter stream, and I watched the whole of it, despite the annoying accents and speaking styles of the speakers, and the insider economics references to Pigou and Coase (they’re only theorems, you know).

I thought that Kate Gordon made some excellent rebuttals to Andrew Morriss’ whining, pedantic free marketeering, and I was with her right up until the last few frames when she said that the Center for American Progress, of course, supports a carbon tax, as this is, of course, the best way to prevent Carbon Dioxide emissions.

Such disappointment ! To find that somebody so intelligent cannot see the limitations of carbon pricing is a real let down. I tend to find that American “progressives” on the whole are rather wedded to this notion of environmental taxation, “internalising the externalities” – adding the damages from industrial activities into the cost of the industrial products. I do not see any analysis of the serious flaws in this idea. Just what are they drinking ? What’s in the Kool-Aid ?

Continue reading Carbon Dioxide – a virtual, negative commodity

Cancun Day #2 : American Bullies

Image Credit : TF1

It’s not that developing countries and emerging economies are being picky. The problem lies with the United States of America, desperate to cling on to its geopolitical leverage :-

http://www.reuters.com/article/idUS273211516320101129

“U.S. Call to Preserve Copenhagen Accord Puts Climate Conference on Edge : By Stacy Feldman at SolveClimate : Mon Nov 29, 2010 : Many poor countries want to scrap the three-page Copenhagen agreement that the U.S. wants to preserve : CANCUN, MEXICO — The United States said Monday it would not back down on its plan to turn the unpopular Copenhagen Accord into a final global warming deal, setting the first day of already fragile UN climate talks in Cancun on edge. “What we’re seeking here in Cancun is a balanced package of decisions that would build on this agreement … [and] preserve the balance of the accord,” Jonathan Pershing, lead U.S. climate negotiator in Cancun, told reporters at the talks…”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/nov/30/cancun-climate-change-summit-america

“Cancún climate change summit: America plays tough : US adopts all-or-nothing position in Cancún, fuelling speculation of a walk-out if developing countries do not meet its demands : Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 30 November 2010 : America has adopted a tough all-or-nothing position at the Cancún climate change summit, fuelling speculation of a walk-out if developing countries do not meet its demands. At the opening of the talks at Cancún, the US climate negotiator, Jonathan Pershing, made clear America wanted a “balanced package” from the summit. That’s diplomatic speak for a deal that would couple the core issues for the developing world – agreement on climate finance, technology, deforestation – with US demands for emissions actions from emerging economies and a verifiable system of accounting for those cuts. In a briefing with foreign journalists in Washington, the chief climate envoy, Todd Stern, was blunt. “We’re either going to see progress across the range of issues or we’re not going to see much progress,” said Stern. “We’re not going to race forward on three issues and take a first step on other important ones. We’re going to have to get them all moving at a similar pace.” In the run-up to the Cancún talks, Stern has said repeatedly that America will not budge from its insistence that fast-emerging economies such as India and China commit to reducing emissions and to an inspection process that will verify those actions. The hard line – which some in Washington have seen as ritual diplomatic posturing – has fuelled speculation that the Obama administration could be prepared to walk out of the Cancún talks…”

An “inspection process” ? Agreeing to the same use of satellite snooping and the threat of the penalties of economic sanctions as applied to the fabled Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and the current pincer on Iran ?

I can’t quite see China agreeing to that.

If we’re thinking about paranoia, who should be monitoring whom ?

The Clean Development Mechanism should have been more closely monitored, but it wasn’t, and it’s collapsed in a big pile – fake credits, false accreditation, poor success rate. Where has the verification process been, there ?

New schemes for “climate finance” will essentially involve creating debt for Climate Change mitigation and adaptation projects in developing and emerging economies. Why more debt ? To prop up the ailing industrialised economies. And allow the Bank sharks to feed.

And “technology transfer” ? That’s all about intellectual property rights – America owning all the rights, and China and India and so on owning nothing, of course. What great technologies have parasitical American companies been keeping hidden away up their sleeves to sell to the Chinese under a Climate deal ? Or are they just rubbish deals, like expensive and untested Carbon Capture and Storage ?

“Deforestation” ? Virtually all proposed schemes under the REDD banner (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) include an element of emissions trading – just the kind of offsetting that large, dirty American companies want to buy to justify carrying on with Business As Usual. Protecting the rainforests ? Nah – just finding another way to make money for the Carbon Traders, and protect the Oil, Gas and Coal industries of the industrialised regions.

What is needed is for the industrialised nations to commit to domestic emissions reductions, not continued attempts to coerce other countries to make cuts that can be traded.

Nobody has learned anything in the last year. The same ridiculous non-options are on the table, and nobody’s biting.

Homo Disruptus

Image Credit : FerdiEgb

Some straight-talking in the New Zealand Parliament (see below). But just what does he mean by “…[a]fter 10 millennia, especially the past two centuries, it is the moment of truth” ?

Our species is not “Home Sapiens”, it is “Homo Disruptus” and we’ve been interfering with the Climate for about 10,000 years.

This speech was made by [Green] Dr Kennedy Graham in the New Zealand
Parliament within in the last few hours.

To send him some appreciation his address is: –
kennedy.graham [at] parliament.govt.nz

C&C on the growing record: –
http://www.gci.org.uk/endorsements.html


“As the Minister made clear recently in question time, the state of play
is the Copenhagen Accord, with voluntary commitments to national cuts.
These are demonstrably inadequate to the science-based judgment of what
is required to avert failure, but we pretend that it is a useful start
to greater things. We are told that global emissions must peak within
about 7 years, and we know that the Accord is way short of achieving
that, so we mumble about bigger cuts later and avoid looking into our
children’s eyes.”

“Let us address some facts. To achieve a 2 degrees Celsius threshold, we
must reduce our global carbon budget from 50 gigatonnes today to 36 by
2020, and seven by 2050. The rich countries must cut from about 40 today
to 11 by 2020 and one by 2050. That is correct: we in the rich world
must emit only one gigatonne in 2050, out of the seven emitted by the
world that year. It is called contraction and convergence, and it is the
only way humanity will successfully deal with climate change. That is
when our moral and political standards will merge at the global level.”

http://www.greens.org.nz/speeches/un-climate-change-negotiations-cancun-and-new-zealand-dr-kennedy-graham

“I rise to address the issue of climate change and this Government’s
failure to develop adequate national policy to combat it. Climate change
has slipped below the threshold of daily media focus and that is the way
that this Government seems to want it.”

“The failure at Copenhagen to tackle the global threat head on has sent
the international community into a state of collective catatonia. We see
this in the lack of leadership from the UN itself, in the actions of
national Governments around the world, and in the attitude of much of
the public around the world. The problem we have is that Nature is not
disposed to wait for humanity to iron itself out morally and get its
political act together.”

“The poor countries rail against us for historical responsibility and
insufficient reduction targets. The rich countries fear the projected
population growth among the poor and insist that they enter binding
commitments before we sign on to medium-term cuts.”

“Humanity probably faces only two global threats: immolation through
nuclear conflict, or suffocation through global warming. The first is
the product of traditional enmity; the enemy was the other tribe or the
other nation. Climate change is the product of a new enemy: it is us.”

“We try to cut nuclear arsenals by changing the enemy’s behaviour; we are
required to cut carbon emissions by changing our own behaviour. It is no
surprise that we are not succeeding. Most Governments lack the political
courage to convey the magnitude of the climate change threat to their
peoples, and they lack the political insight to prescribe the required
global and national policies that are necessary.”

“Before, during, and since Copenhagen the threat of serious unpredictable
climate change has grown. Our scientists do not know when non-linear
change might occur, but they warn that tipping points exist. If the
precautionary principle is to mean anything, we must all move with
speedy purpose and resolve. Translated politically, that means we must
act not as an international community of states, but as a global
community of peoples who are represented by Governments. If the
difference seems vanishingly small, then we do well to act on it none
the less, lest our prospects of survival prove to be the same.”

“Our professional negotiators are rearranging the deckchairs,
contemplating whether we shall have one or two legal agreements, and
whether it will be next year or 3 or 10 years from now. Our political
leaders dampen our expectations with appeals to realism. We all suffer
from cognitive dissonance. Every so often we see the magnitude and
imminence of the threat, and it is simply too frightening to accept
individually and politically, so we basically return to business and
government as usual.”

“As the Minister made clear recently in question time, the state of play
is the Copenhagen Accord, with voluntary commitments to national cuts.
These are demonstrably inadequate to the science-based judgment of what
is required to avert failure, but we pretend that it is a useful start
to greater things. We are told that global emissions must peak within
about 7 years, and we know that the Accord is way short of achieving
that, so we mumble about bigger cuts later and avoid looking into our
children’s eyes.”

“Let us address some facts. To achieve a 2 degrees Celsius threshold, we
must reduce our global carbon budget from 50 gigatonnes today to 36 by
2020, and seven by 2050. The rich countries must cut from about 40 today
to 11 by 2020 and one by 2050. That is correct: we in the rich world
must emit only one gigatonne in 2050, out of the seven emitted by the
world that year. It is called contraction and convergence, and it is the
only way humanity will successfully deal with climate change. That is
when our moral and political standards will merge at the global level.”

“After 10 millennia, especially the past two centuries, it is the moment
of truth. For our part, New Zealand has to agree through treaty or by
voluntary declaration in advance to cut our national emissions
proportionately. That means we must cut from 78 million tonnes today to
56 million tonnes in 2020, down to 1.6 million in 2050.”

“That is the scale of the challenge before New Zealand. It is as well
that we face up to it now, not when it is too late.”



Christiana Figueres : The Elusive Saucepan

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWsQscb6lfM

http://unfccc.int/files/press/news_room/application/pdf/100806_speaking_notes.pdf

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has just held its regular half yearly conference to further the working parties of the Kyoto Protocol :-

http://unfccc.int
http://unfccc.int/2860.php

A number of Press commentators have been critical of proceedings, indicating that there has not been much progress at Bonn, and in fact the conference could show some ground having been lost :-

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c9213b40-a180-11df-9656-00144feabdc0.html

Continue reading Christiana Figueres : The Elusive Saucepan

Naomi Oreskes & Erik Conway

Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway recommend that grassroots Internet writers focus on Climate Change Policy, in this Climate Science Watch interview shot at Netroots Nation 2010.

The subject of government policies to deal with Climate Change borders on the excessively dull – which is why most Internet web loggers (or “bloggers”) don’t want to touch Policy even with a full HazMat suit on.

It’s the kiss-of-interest-death to try to open up discussions on Carbon Taxation, Cap-and-Trade, Cap-and-Share, Cap-and-Dividend, Cap-and-Giveaway, Contraction & Convergence, Kyoto2, Border Tax Adjustments, Clean Development credits, Carbon Intensity and the like.

Only really seriously geeky, mildly obsessive people really want to think about the Big Picture. And many of us get stuck in a corner of unworkable aspiration, where we know something has to change, we fix on just a snippet of the giant problem, and then we find we cannot communicate it well enough for others to understand.

For example – very public insistence that the Coal-burning power generation industry has got to cease trading doesn’t make it happen, despite excellent reasoning and even entire Climate Camps of resistance and protest amongst the activist community.

This is probably because (a) most people don’t understand how banning Coal fits into the bigger Carbon picture, (b) most people don’t know how to go about asking the right people to ban Coal and (c) most of the Coal-burning industry don’t want people to look into their business too deeply so they have invested lots of money in public attitude smokescreens. No, it’s not a “conspiracy”. It’s a documented public relations exercise. Just ask Naomi and Erik.

Continue reading Naomi Oreskes & Erik Conway

One Billion High Emitters

Reflecting further on a PNAS paper by a group of authors that includes Professors Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow leads me to suspect that elements of its proposed policy framework are unworkable and may have unintended unethical consequences :-

http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/07/02/0905232106.full.pdf+html

It also leads me to conclude that research partly financed by Oil and Gas companies may be part of the Climate Change policy problem – how to reach global agreement on a way forward.

“Sharing global CO2 emission reductions among one billion high emitters”, by Shoibal Chakravarty, Ananth Chikkatur, Heleen de Coninck, Stephen Pacala, Robert Socolow and Massimo Tavoni, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Volume 106, Number 29, 21st July 2009.

Continue reading One Billion High Emitters