Energy Change for Climate Control
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  • 20 Letters

    Posted on November 22nd, 2014 Jo No comments


    [ Video : George Marshall of the Climate Outreach Information Network launching his new book "Don't Even Think About It" on the communication of climate change at the Harvard Book Store, whereto he had to fly, thereby causing significant personal carbon dioxide emissions. This YouTube does not feature Ian Christie, but is not entirely unrelated to his address, which is documented in the text below. ]

    This afternoon, Ian Christie of the Sustainable Lifestyles Research Group (SLRG) at the University of Surrey stunned a group of seasoned environmental and political campaigners by suggesting that twenty letters could change the course of history. He suggested that if Member of Parliament or somebody working for another public organisation received as few as twenty letters on the same subject in their mailbag or email inbox, then they would feel that this would signify a change of mood in public discourse and warrant action, or, at the very least, a public statement.

    Ian Christie came to speak to the Green Christian Annual Members Meeting today under the heading “Sustainable Living : Why we struggle and how we can change”, and presided over three facilitated workshops on Church, Community and Campaigning. He was introduced as working with the Centre for Environmental Strategy at the University of Surrey, and having helped to pull together “Church and Earth”, the Seven Year Plan for the Church of England, as a response to the Alliance of Religions and Conservation initiative which culminated in the “Many Heavens, One Earth” Windsor Conference in November 2009. Ian Christie has also done project work with the Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development and the think tank Theos. He has been environmental advisor to the Bishop of Kingston.

    Ian Christie said that his colleague Tim Jackson, who has written a best-selling book “Prosperity Without Growth”, is on a permanent global tour, wherever the book gets published. The “juicy paradox” is that his carbon footprint is enormous. “I don’t fly”, said Ian, “I’m more or less offsetting his emissions”. Ian said that we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about our carbon emissions-filled lifestyles – we’re doing very well in not very promising circumstances. It’s not surprising that we haven’t made much progress in sustainable living – this is perhaps the biggest thing humanity has asked ourselves to do.

    Ian said, “Between 5% and 15% of the population (and this figure hasn’t changed over the last 10 years) are consistently trying to live within their personal carbon budget – in all areas of their lives. Meanwhile, between 5% and 20% don’t care at all. They might vote for UKIP. It’s nice to know they’ve got someone to vote for now. The other 45% or so, including myself, drift into that middle ground. We get confused. We give up. Feel that taking the trouble on environmental issues is a big of an effort – because other signals are not there, because other people are not doing it. Anyone who thinks we can bring about environmental “conversion”, person by person – it’s too difficult.”

    He went on to say, “We don’t tell positive stories very well. We’re much better at telling the apocalyptic story. There’s a lack of supporting infrastructure. People get locked-in to behaviours. We want to do the green, sustainable thing but we can’t. The idea that joy in less is possible is unbelievable.” He went on to explain that, “consumption can [make us feel good]. More can be more. I get a thrill going into John Lewis sometimes, all those bright and shiny things. It’s amazing they’re available for sale and that I can afford them. Consumerism can be fun.”

    Ian Christie remarked about the RESOLVE research of colleagues that there was a sense of “threatened identities”, when we’re asked to change our lifestyles – our whole identity can be at stake. There are a lack of positive incenties and collective [success] stories. He gave an example – one where people cooking for their families want to recreate the cosy, nourishing food of their childhoods, and they do that by using meat. These people find it hard to be told that they need to give up eating meat to save the planet. Another example, when people are told to cut down on car driving – there is a feeling of a loss of freedom, I can go where I like and do what I want to do. “Climate change is perhaps too big, distant or complicated for us. It is certainly too much for any one person to deal with – me, Tim Jackson, or the Pope.” Ian Christie spoke about the clash of desires and values – and that St Paul got there first (Romans 7:15-17) (and St Augustine, but paraphrased). He mentioned a friend, Mayer Hillman, who had written a letter to his loved ones overseas to say that he was sorry but that he would never be visiting them, as this would involve flying, and he could not do that. He said that he has discovered that many people had a dirty secret, which he calls “Top Gear Syndrome” – and “you’d be surprised how many environmentalists like watching Top Gear”. He also mentioned “Copenhagen Syndrome” – where environmentalists feel that they need to attend every meeting on climate change – and so they fly there. People like to go to exotic places – Greens especially.

    Ian Christie emphasised that we can’t get to sustainable living one person at a time. He said that this amounted to a “Collective Action Problem” or (CAP). He showed us an image of what is commonly called a Mexican Stand-Off – where a group of three people have their weapons at each other’s throats and nobody will back down – each of the three major groups in society thinks that the other two should take the lead. So governments think that businesses and citizens should act. And citizens think that government and businesses should act. And businesses think that their consumers and governments should act.

    Ian said that there is a clear finding from social research that people feel safety in numbers – they’re terrified of falling out with their neighbours – for example, in some cultures like America, people would rather make everyone feel comfortable than break out of normative behaviour or views. Individual households have a low perception of “agency” – feeling that they can make any significant change – that they don’t have sufficient capacity to act – “no clout” – as one member of the audience commented.

    Ian gave some examples of attitudes of people’s attitudes on environmental lifestyles : “I will even though you won’t – even though no one else steps forward”; “I will – but it’s never enough”; “I might if you will” or even, “I know you won’t, so don’t ask me”. He said that Collective Action Problems need to be addressed by all actors needing to be engaged. He said that there would be “no one best buy” and that action will tend to be “clumsy solutions”. He said that people need “loud, long and legal” signals from government, consistent messages and incentives for change.

    Ian Christie said there is a community level of action possible – “communities of practice”. He recommended that we look up the CLASL research done by Defra/WWF. He mentioned “moments of change” – times of transition in life – and whether these might be appropriate times to offer support for alternative choices. He said that action by individuals cannot be guaranteed by giving messages to people as if they are only consumers, rather than citizens. If we say that something will save people money, they won’t necessarily act. We need to address people’s values.

    Ian talked about some of the results of the research from the SLRG project, which is coming to an end. He spoke about the evidence of “Rebound Effects”, where people make savings on their carbon dioxide emissions by living frugally and then spend the money in ways that increase greenhouse gas emissions, like taking holidays by aeroplane – he mentioned the Tesco offer to “turn lights into flights”, where people were being encouraged to buy energy efficient light bulbs in exchange for Air Miles – “it’s going to make things much worse”. He said that research showed that respending (reinvestment) is what matters and that we need to go to the source of the emissions, through a carbon tax, for example.

    Ian Christie said that it is very limited what we can do as individual households. Lots of policymakers have thought to get through to people at moments of change – although there used to be no evidence. People’s habits and networks can be restructured for example when they move home, have a child or retire – a “habit discontinuity”. Research has now shown that there is an effect with housemovers – who are much more likely to act on information if they are given information packages on green living – but only a small minority are truly motivated. He asked “how do we magnify it ?” The sheer act of moving house makes people amenable to change. Research has also shown that there is a willingness amongst new parents – who would express more pro-environmental values [as a result of] having a new child – but are less capable of acting on these wishes. The reverse was found in those entering retirement – they wanted to live more frugally – but didn’t express this desire in terms of sustainable living.

    Ian said that the “window of opportunity” for introducing lifestyle change closed after three months or so – and that people did not retain their new habits without “lifestyle support systems”. People didn’t want to hear from a green group, but would be open to hearing from a church, or their Health Visitor, or Mumsnet. Maybe even a hairdresser ? One project that he recommended was PECT, the Peterborough Environment City Trust, which is acting as a facilitator to embedding changes. He said people get depressed if they feel businesses and governments are not doing the same thing. He mentioned avenues and approaches for increasing the sense of agency : framing environmental issues in : moments of change, local food growing, community energy groups, frugality, health and well-being… People like to think they are living a more frugal lifestyle.

    Ian Christie said that previously, the Church of England work on the “Fifth Mark of Mission” was perhaps not making much progress, but that there is now a pretty motivational group in Church House – with the “new blood” of Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, Bishop Richard Cheetham and Canon Giles Goddard.

    He said that the Church of England needs to have a Press Release ready to put out the same day as the next Papal Encyclical – to say “see what the Pope is doing on Climate Change”.

    Ian Christie suggested that positive activities could inspire : why could a church not turn an emergency feeding centre – a food bank – into a food hub – a place where people could come for tools, seeds and food growing group support ? They could be linked to Transition Towns projects. What about Cathedral Innovation Centres ? Why not partner with the National Trust or the National Health Service over environmental issues ? He said the NHS has a Sustainable Development Strategy – “the best I’ve seen”. He said they are longing to work with partners – including churches. He mentioned the National Union of Students too – who have sustainable living project funds. How about calling for a New Green Deal for Communities ? The reason why the Green Deal has been so poorly supported has been it has been promoted to individuals and it’s much harder to get individuals to commit and act on projects.

    Ian pointed towards good intervention concepts : “safety in numbers” approaches, moments of change, congregation spaces, trusted peers in the community, consistent messages. He recommended Staying Positive : “look how far we’ve come”; we have two decisive decades ahead; Business As Usual is failing – CEOs are breaking ranks; cities are going green and the churches are waking up.

    He suggested that in future, instead of community groups drawn together by fear – such as Neighbourhood Watch – we should anticipate Neighbourhood Welcome – an eco-house in every community to invite new local residents to for inspiration for their new lifestyles.

    He asked “Is there another way of organising other than catastrophising ?”

    In questions, I asked Ian Christie why he only had three social groups rather than four. I said that I see businesses broken down into two categories – those that produce energy and those that consume energy to provide goods and services. I said there were some excellent sustainable development strategies coming out of the private enterprises consuming energy, such as Marks and Spencer. He said that yes, amongst the energy producing companies, CEOs have yet to come out and saying anything. He pointed to Unilever, who are beginning to see themselves as being opposed to the petrochemical industry – the source of much of their chemical feedstock. He said that he hoped that it would be possible to drive a wedge between these two groups, open up the gap as wide as it can be between energy-consuming and energy-producing companies. He said that food companies, for example, could be brought to understand that if they continue using fossil fuels that they are threatening their own businesses – and that they could come to be against the use of fossil fuels.

    When asked about whether we should try to set the economy on a “war footing” as regards climate change, Ian Christie said “we aren’t in a war like that. We are the enemy. We are the war.” He said that the churches need to bring climate change into every talk, every sermon “this is how we do Christian witness”. He said we can’t have a government-led mobilisation on climate change in the same way as in wartime.

    In discussion after the breakout workshops, Ian Christie said that we need to try to get to local opinion-formers. He said that a critical mass of communication to a Member of Parliament on one subject could be as few as 20 letters – that could be considered to be a change of public opinion – a shift. He said that this technique of mass letter writing is how other people “play the game” in politics, so we must do it too. For example, we could write to our churches, our leaders, our democratic representatives, and demand a New Green Deal for Communities, and in letters to political candidates for the General Election we could say it would be a critical factor in deciding who we vote for. In the General Election in 2015, Ian said that it could be a five-way split, and that the “green issue” could be decisive, and so we should say that our vote will go to the greenest of people.

    Ian said we should try to audit our church expertise, and that we should aim for our churches to give one clear overall narrative – not an “environmental narrative”, but one that urges us to be truly Christian. He said that it was important that church leaders talk the talk as well as walk the talk – making it normal to talk about these things – not keeping them partitioned. The weekly sermon or talk in church must tell this story. He said that people disagree for really good reasons, but that the issue was one of trying to create a setting in which disagreement can get somewhere. He mentioned the work of George Marshall and the Climate Outreach Information Network as being relevant to building narratives that work on climate change out of a silence or absence of dialogue.

  • Positively Against Negative Campaigning

    Posted on May 24th, 2014 Jo 4 comments

    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 ?


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  • Christiana Figueres : Love Bug

    Posted on May 7th, 2014 Jo No comments

    It was probably a side-effect of the flu’, but as I was listening to Christiana Figueres speaking at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, this evening, I started to have tunnel vision, and the rest of the “hallowed halls” just melted away, and I felt she was speaking to me individually, woman to woman.

    She talked a lot about investments, injustices and inertia, but I felt like she was personally calling me, nagging me, bugging me to show more love. She said she didn’t want us to leave thinking “That was interesting”, or even “That was inspiring”, but that we would leave resolved to do one more concrete thing to show our love for our world, and our fellow human beings.

    I was a little defensive inside – I’m already trying to get some big stuff done – how could I do anything else that could be effective ? She said that we couldn’t ask people to do more if we weren’t prepared to do more ourselves. I wasn’t sure that any of the things she suggested I could try would have any impact, but I suppose I could try again to write to my MP Iain Duncan Smith – after all, Private Eye tells me he’s just hired a communications consultant, so he might be willing to communicate with me about climate change, perhaps.

    Of her other suggestions, I have already selected investments that are low carbon, so there would be little point in writing to them about carbon-based “stranded assets”. My diet is very largely vegetarian; I buy food and provisions from co-operatives where I can; I don’t own a car; I’ve given up flying; I’ve installed solar electricity; my energy consumption is much lower than average; I buy secondhand; I reuse, repair, reclaim, recycle.

    I don’t want to “campaign” on climate change – I don’t think that would be very loving. This should not be a public relations mission, it needs to be authentic and inclusive, so I don’t know what the best way is to engage more people in “the struggle”. I’ve sent enough email in my life. People already know about climate change, I don’t need to evangelise them. They already know some of the things they could do to mitigate their fossil fuel energy consumption, I don’t need to educate them. The organisations that are still pushing fossil fuels to society have more to do to get with the transition than everyday energy consumers, surely ?

    So, how is it that this “love bug” bites me ? What do I feel bugged to be getting on with ? Researching low carbon gas energy systems is my main action at the moment, but what could I do that would be an answer to Christiana’s call for me to do something extra ? Join in the monthly fast and prayer that’s due to start on 1st November ? Well, sure I will, as part of my work duties. Network for Our Voices that will funnel the energy of the monthly call to prayer into a Civil Society “tornado” in support of the UNFCCC Paris Treaty ? Yes, of course. Comes with the territory. But more… ?

    I noticed that Christiana Figueres had collegiate competition from the bells of St Paul’s, and it sounded like the whole cathedral was ringing. Then my cough started getting bad and I started to feel quite unwell, so I had to leave before the main debate took place, to medicate myself with some fresh orange juice from a company I chose because it tracks its carbon, and has a proper plan for climate sustainability, so I never answered my question – what do I need to do, to do more about climate change ?

  • Applemania : Condiments of the Season

    Posted on October 27th, 2013 Jo No comments

    Meditation at the moment consists of imaging a gentle stroll through russet, red and gold leaf-carpeted woods; whilst in the real world away from Autumnal reverie, there is a lot of hard work to do to deal with an exuberant embarrassment of London pommes.

    The Gift Economy is in full swing, with currency of jam jars, apple bags, crumble and chutney changing hands at speed in the valued transactions of the local non-moneyed market.

    I’ve definitely improved my apple harvesting technique, using an almost robotic claw on a long pole.

    Last year, there was barely a handful of fruit. This year has been exceptional for apples.

    Some people simply don’t have the time to pick, preserve and store, so they leave this glorious fermenting bounty to feed the mycellium, the ants, the fox, the pigeons, and the magpies. Others beaver away, diverting apples temporarily from the carbon cycle for the purpose of human nourishment.

    There’s juicing, pressing, coring, chopping, slicing, baking, cider racking, stewing, freezing and making a vast range of condiments. Today, I have eaten apples in four different formats. Apples are clearly going to feature a lot in my diet for the next few months, but I don’t think I can ever tire of eating apples, so that’s just peachy.

    I made a batch of a super-spicy new recipe for making chutney in a hurry, and it’s very heart-warming – or heartburn-ing if you’re not used to Eastern seasoning. This year, for the first time, I’ve tried storing whole apples for winter, and making dried apple rings.

    And because there is a river of produce, now we’re into the cooking apple phase, with huge green knobbly, waxy monsters, some weighing half a kilogramme raining down on our Newtonian heads, I have been able to re-invest in neighbourliness, offering apples to nine households directly around me, and leaving the more damaged fruit on the pavement in bags with a sign saying “FREE ! Fallers. Help Yourself.”

    And still, we do not have enough time to take and use all the produce, and time has become critical if there’s going to be a wind storm in the next few days. Food security in a re-localised cultivation community relies so much on the weather conditions. We may lose the rest of the fruit, but we hope we’ve picked enough to save the garden orchard trees from being blown over.

    We have tried to use as much as we can, but even if we cannot make optimal use of this year’s apple crop, we have already put enough away to meet all our dietary fruit needs until at least Christmas, if not beyond. And enough cidre de cru to warm the cockles of next year’s hearts.

    Next job : the marrows.




    Recipe

    Apple and Ginger Chutney

    Ingredients

    All measures approximate – adjust to meet the goal of a product with the consistency of chunky dip, fairly dry.

    2 kilogrammes of green cooking apples, quartered, cored and tidied and chopped into matchsticks
    1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) of apple cider vinegar
    1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) of sunflower oil
    2 large red onions, peeled and chopped into matchsticks
    2 fingers of fresh ginger root, peeled and chopped into matchsticks
    cup (16 tablesppons) of sugar
    4 pinches (1 teaspoon) of dried cayenne or chili pepper
    8 pinches (2 teaspoons) of garam masala Indian spice mix
    8 pinches (2 teaspoons) of cumin seed (jeera)
    8 pinches (2 teaspoons) of cinnamon powder
    4 pinches (1 teaspoon) of ground black pepper
    8 pinches (2 teaspoons) of salt

    Method

    1. In the bottom of a large saucepan, fry the onion and cumin seed in the sunflower oil to sweat the onions until they are translucent. This should take around 7 to 12 minutes.

    2. Add the garam masala, cayenne (or chili pepper) and cinnamon to the pan and stir for 1 minute.

    3. Add the apples, ginger, sugar, apple cider vinegar, salt and black pepper. Stir it so that the sugar dissolves into the apple cider vinegar.

    4. Keep the heat on, and keep stirring the mixture in the saucepan until the apples brown off and the sugar caramelises. This should take around 15 to 25 minutes.

    5. Put the chutney in jars with metal lids for storage.

    Spice Aware : to avoid heartburn, always eat this chutney in combination with other foods. Suggestions include : peanut butter and chutney on toast; chick pea houmouss and chutney on toast; chutney served as a relish alongside vork (vegan) sausages with apple-and-potato mash.




  • Birdcage Walk : Cheesestick Rationing

    Posted on July 12th, 2013 Jo 1 comment


    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 !

  • Obey the Future

    Posted on August 5th, 2012 Jo No comments

    Disobedience only gets you so far. Resistance can be fertile, but intellectual ghettos can be futile. The human tendency to generalise creates too much negativity and prevents us from being constructive. We complain about the “evil” oil and gas companies; the “greedy” coal merchants and their “lying” bankster financiers; but refuse to see the diamonds in the mud.

    We should obey the future. In the future, all people will respect each other. There will no longer be war propaganda carried by the media, demonising leaders of foreign countries, or scorn for opposing political parties. In the future, human beings will respect and have regard for other human beings. So we should live that future, live that value, have care for one another. I don’t mean we are obliged to give money to charity to help needy people in poor countries. I don’t mean we should campaign for our government to commit funds to the Climate Finance initiatives, whose aim is to support adaptation to climate chaos in developing countries. No, charity is not enough, and never matches the need. Philanthropy will not answer climate change, and so solutions need to be built into the infrastructure of the global economy, sewn into the design, woven into the fabric. There should be no manufacture, no trade, no form of consumption that does not take account of the climate change impacts on the poor, and on the rich, on ecosystems, on ourselves.

    Yes, it’s true that corporations are destroying the biosphere, but we cannot take a step back, grimace and point fingers of blame, for we are all involved in the eco-destructive economy. We are all hooked on dirty energy and polluting trade, and it’s hard to change this. It’s especially hard for oil, gas and coal companies to change track – they have investors and shareholders, and they are obliged to maintain the value in their business, and keep making profits. Yes, they should stop avoiding their responsibilities to the future. Yes, they should stop telling the rest of us to implement carbon taxation or carbon trading. They know that a comprehensive carbon price can never be established, that’s why they tell us to do it. It’s a technique of avoidance. But gathering climate storms, and accumulating unsolved climate damages, are leading the world’s energy corporations to think carefully of the risks of business as usual. How can the governments and society of the world help the energy companies to evolve ? Is more regulation needed ? And if so, what kind of political energy would be required to bring this about ? The United Nations climate change process is broken, there is no framework or treaty at hand, and the climate change social movement has stopped growing, so there is no longer any democratic pressure on the energy production companies and countries to change.

    Many climate change activists talk of fear and frustration – the futility of their efforts. They are trapped into the analysis that teaches that greed and deceit are all around them. Yet change is inevitable, and the future is coming to us today, and all is quite possibly full of light. Where is this river of hope, this conduit of shining progress ? Where, this organised intention of good ?

    We have to celebrate the dull. Change is frequently not very exciting. Behind the scenes, policy people, democratic leaders, social engineers, corporate managers, are pushing towards the Zero Carbon future reality. They push and pull in the areas open to them, appropriate to their roles, their paid functions. Whole rafts of national and regional policy is wedded to making better use of energy, using less energy overall, displacing carbon energy from all economic sectors.

    And then there’s the progressive politics. Every leader who knows the shape of the future should strive to be a Van Jones, or a Jenny Jones, any green-tinged Jones you can think of. We should enquire of our political leaders and our public activists what flavour of environmental ecology they espouse. We should demand green policies in every party, expect clean energy support from every faction. We should not only vote progressive, we should promote future-thinking authority in all spheres of social management – a future of deeper mutual respect, of leaner economy, of cleaner energy.

    The future will be tough. In fact, the future is flowing to us faster than ever, and we need resilience in the face of assured destructive change – in environment and in economy. To develop resilience we need to forgo negativity and embrace positivity. So I ask you – don’t just be anti-coal, be pro-wind, pro-solar and pro-energy conservation. Where leaders emerge from the companies and organisations that do so much harm, celebrate them and their vision of a brighter, better, lower carbon future. Where administrations take the trouble to manage their energy use, and improve their efficiency in the use of resources, applaud them, and load them with accolades. Awards may be trite, but praise can encourage better behaviour, create exemplars, inspire goodly competition. Let us encourage the people with good influence in every organisation, institution and corporation. Change is afoot, and people with genuine power are walking confidently to a more wholesome future.

    Protect your soul. Don’t get locked into the rejection of evil, but hold fast to what is good. Do not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds. Be strong for goodness, even as you turn your back on a life of grime.

    Live the Zero Carbon future, and make it come as soon as it can.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Academic Freedom, Be Prepared, Behaviour Changeling, Big Picture, Big Society, Burning Money, Carbon Commodities, Carbon Pricing, Carbon Taxatious, Climate Change, Climate Chaos, Climate Damages, Coal Hell, Conflict of Interest, Corporate Pressure, Cost Effective, Delay and Deny, Demoticratica, Design Matters, Divide & Rule, Dreamworld Economics, Eating & Drinking, Economic Implosion, Efficiency is King, Emissions Impossible, Energy Autonomy, Energy Change, Energy Denial, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Environmental Howzat, Evil Opposition, Extreme Weather, Faithful God, Feed the World, Feel Gooder, Financiers of the Apocalypse, Food Insecurity, Fossilised Fuels, Freemarketeering, Fuel Poverty, Global Heating, Global Singeing, Global Warming, Green Investment, Growth Paradigm, Hide the Incline, Human Nurture, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Incalculable Disaster, Low Carbon Life, Mass Propaganda, Media, Money Sings, National Energy, Near-Natural Disaster, No Pressure, Not In My Name, Nuclear Nuisance, Nuclear Shambles, Nudge & Budge, Optimistic Generation, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peace not War, Peak Emissions, Peak Oil, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Protest & Survive, Public Relations, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Resource, Resource Curse, Revolving Door, Social Capital, Social Change, Social Democracy, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, Stop War, Technofix, Technological Fallacy, Technomess, The Data, The Power of Intention, Unqualified Opinion, Unsolicited Advice & Guidance, Unutterably Useless, Utter Futility, Vain Hope, Voluntary Behaviour Change, Vote Loser, Wasted Resource, Western Hedge, Wind of Fortune, Zero Net
  • Bosworth: “We are not going soft on coal”

    Posted on July 21st, 2012 Jo No comments

    At the annual Stop Climate Chaos coalition chin-wag on Friday 20th July 2012, I joined a table discussion led by Tony Bosworth of the environmental group Friends of the Earth.

    He was laying out plans for a campaign focus on the risks and limitations of developing shale gas production in the United Kingdom.

    During open questions, I put it to him that a focus on shale gas was liable to lay Friends of the Earth open to accusations of taking the pressure off high carbon fuels such as coal. He said that he had already encountered that accusation, but emphasised that the shale gas licencing rounds are frontier – policy is actively being decided and is still open to resolution on issues of contention. Placing emphasis on critiquing this fossil fuel resource and its exploitation is therefore timely and highly appropriate. But he wanted to be clear that “we are not going soft on coal”.

    I suggested that some experts are downplaying the risks of shale gas development because of the limitations of the resource – because shale gas could only contribute a few percent of national fuel provision, some think is is unwise to concentrate so much campaign effort on resisting its development. Bosworth countered this by saying that in the near future, the British Geological Survey are expected to revise their estimates of shale gas resource upwards by a very significant amount.

    He quoted one source as claiming that the UK could have around 55 years of shale gas resource within its borders. I showed some scepticism about this, posing the question “But can it be mined at any significant rate ?” It is a very common public relations trick to mention the total estimated size of a fossil fuel resource without also giving an estimate of how fast it can be extracted – leading to entirely mistaken conclusions about how useful a field, well or strata can be.

    Tony Bosworth said that shale gas reserve estimates keep changing all the time. The estimate for shale gas reserves in Poland have just been revised downwards, and the Marcellus Shale in the United States of America has also been re-assessed negatively.

    Bosworth said that although campaigners who are fighting shale gas development had found it useful to communicate the local environmental damage caused by shale gas extraction – such as ozone pollution, traffic noise, water pollution and extraction, landscape clearance – the best argument against shale gas production was the climate change emissions one. He said academics are still being recruited to fight on both sides of the question of whether the lifecycle emissions of shale gas are higher than for coal, but that it was becoming clear that so-called “fugitive emissions” – where gas unintentionally escapes from well works and pipeline networks – is the key global warming risk from shale gas.

    Opinion around the table was that the local environmental factors associated with shale gas extraction may be the way to draw the most attention from people – as these would be experienced personally. The problem with centring on this argument is that the main route of communication about these problems, the film Gasland, has been counter-spun by an industry-backed film “Truthland”.

    The Royal Society recently pronounced shale gas extraction acceptable as long as appropriate consideration was paid to following regulatory control, but even cautious development of unconventional fossil fuels does not answer the climate change implications.

    There is also the extreme irony that those who oppose wind farm development on the basis of “industrialisation of the landscape” can also be the same group of people who are in favour of the development of shale gas extraction – arguably doing more, and more permanently, to destroy the scenery by deforestation, water resource sequestration and toxification of soils, air and water.

    Tony Bosworth told the group about the Friends of the Earth campaign to encourage Local Authorities to declare themselves “Frack-Free Zones” (in a similar way to the “Fair Trade Towns” campaign that was previously so successful). He said that FoE would be asking supporters to demand that their local governments had a “No Fracking” policy in their Local Plans. It was suggested in the discussion group that with the current economic slowdown and austerity measures, that Local Authorities may not have the capacity to do this. Tony Bosworth suggested that in this case, it might be worth addressing the issue to church parish councils, who can be very powerful in local matters. It was pointed out that frequently, parish councils have been busy declaring themselves “Wind Free Zones”.

    It was considered that it would be ineffective to attempt to fight shale gas production on a site-by-site direct action basis as the amount of land in the UK that has already and will soon be licenced for shale gas exploration made this impossible. Besides which, people often had very low awareness of the potential problems of shale gas extraction and the disruption and pollution it could bring to their areas – so local support for direct action could be poor.

    One interesting suggestion was to create a map of the United Kingdom showing the watersheds where people get their tap supplies from superimposed on where the proposed shale gas exploration areas are likely to be – to allow people to understand that even if they live far away from shale gas production, their drinking water supplies could be impacted.

    In summary, there are several key public relations fronts on which the nascent shale gas “industry” are fighting. They have been trying to seed doubt on low estimates of actual shale gas production potential – they have been hyping the potentially massive “gamechanging” resource assessments, without clear evidence of how accessible these resources are. They have also been pouring scorn on the evidence of how much damage shale gas could do to local environments. And they have also been promoting academic research that could be seen to make their case that shale gas is less climate-damaging than other energy resources.

    Shale gas, and the issue of the risks of hydraulic fracturing for unconventional fossil fuels, is likely to remain a hot ecological topic. Putting effort into resisting its expansion is highly appropriate in the British context, where the industry is fledgeling, and those who are accusing Friends of the Earth and others of acting as “useful idiots” for the ambitions of the coal industry just haven’t taken a look at the wider implications. If shale gas is permitted dirty development rights, then that would open the gateway for even more polluting unconventional fossil fuel extraction, such as oil shale and underground coal gasification, and that really would be a major win for the coal industry.

    Friends of the Earth Briefing : Shale gas : energy solution or fracking hell ?

  • Just like they said it would be – how extreme weather is proving climate change theory

    Posted on July 11th, 2012 Jo No comments

    Nature has been sending a strong, chaotic message to many people in the last few months – drought, floods, storms, and very unusual temperatures and weather events.

    Public communicators of science have been explaining the underlying phenomena – the ENSO cycle in the Pacific Ocean has been flipping winds and sea surface temperatures from a condition known as La Nina, towards the El Nino configuration; plus, in the northern hemisphere, wind flow high above our heads has been erratic.

    Scientists have been careful not to claim every extreme weather event as proof of climate change theory. After all, any one violent storm or unprecedented high could be just that – freak – never to be repeated. Climatologists instead talk of “loading the climate dice”, a way to explain that extreme weather is more likely in a warming world.

    Reticence and restraint are in evidence, however, now is a prime moment to assert, without triumphalism, that all this crazy weather does indeed offer confirmation of climate change theory – everything is happening just the way the atmospheric scientists said it would.

    Arctic amplification

    There is no doubt that surface of the Earth is warming up, and the Arctic region of the globe is warming faster than anywhere else. This is to be expected in a world with added Greenhouse Effect from rising carbon dioxide levels in the air. The climatologists projected that this would happen, due to localised additional heating resulting from the side effects of melting ice, snow and permafrost in the northern pole. Antarctica, on the other hand, would not show the same kind of strong “albedo” feedback response as it was still too cold and ice-and-snow bound and surrounded by isolating ocean and wind currents.

    Up there, where the air is clear

    Scientists predicted that because of Arctic amplification, the profile of the planet’s atmosphere would change under global warming conditions. And so it has. The tropopause – the place where the lower, thicker atmosphere – the troposhere – meets the upper, thinner stratosphere, has shifted, and the temperature change profile or “inversion” at this height has also been modified. While the air close to the Earth’s surface has become warmer, the air in the stratosphere has become colder. All just as the scientists predicted would happen.

    Jet stream weaker and loopier

    Close to the surface of the planet, wind tracks and the passage of storms, pressure systems and clouds are turbulent and pretty chaotic. But above this zone, winds flow freely. The winds stream because the atmosphere drags whilst the Earth turns. Because of the general patterns of billowing air below them, jet streams are usually centred at particular places – the polar jets at around 30 degrees angle from the poles, the subtropical jets at around 30 degrees from the Equator.

    Atmospheric scientists have been monitoring these winds for change, as the models indicated that the northern polar jet, in particular, would shift its position northwards, because of the other climate changes, and weaken. As it weakened, they worked out that the normal wavy kinks in the jet stream would become big loops, and maybe even lock into certain shapes for longer than usual, a situation known as a blocking event.

    Wobbly weather

    Because jet streams have an impact on the movement of weather systems further down, the scientists projected that the more meandering jet stream would carry weather systems out of their usual tracks, and also create bubbles of unusual temperature. Normally cold places would see heatwaves, normally hot places would have cold snaps, and everywhere would experience unseasonal and more extreme weather. And this is exactly what we have been seeing.

    The number of freak weather events is mounting, along with insurance company manager blood pressure readings. The flooding and drought that would be expected with the periodic Pacific ENSO system flip from La Nina to El Nino have been highly damaging, and when the final accounting is done, probably more damaging than previously.

    The food on the table

    Climate change scientists have long predicted altered patterns and increased variability of rainfall with global warming. There are real concerns that farmers can no longer predict when, or for how long, it will rain, and this is affecting major food growing regions. The major global rice, wheat and maize corn harvests are at risk, and recent years of failings have dented confidence and ballooned prices.

    Strange weather is impacting on fruit and vegetable growing, as seasons are becoming unclear and even swapping their normal order. The weather has gone wrong, and this is exactly what the scientists have been warning us about for several decades in official reports. How much easier would we have accepted changing realities if we had understood the language of the early research papers from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change !

  • Living Life and LOAFing It

    Posted on February 5th, 2012 Jo No comments
    CHRISTIAN ECOLOGY LINK
    PRESS RELEASE

    Living Life and LOAFing It – Green Christians ask churches to “Use your LOAF !” on sourcing sustainable food

    In the run up to Easter, Christian Ecology Link is asking supporters to think and act on how they source food for their church communities, with the aim of reducing the impact of unsustainable agriculture on their local area, and the wider world.

    CEL have launched a new colour leaflet on the LOAF programme principles in time for Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras), or Pancake Day, on 21st February 2012.

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Carbon Detox 2012

    Posted on January 19th, 2012 Jo 1 comment

    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

  • The Last Battle

    Posted on January 15th, 2012 Jo 2 comments

    The “Statue of Liberty” or Saint John’s Lamb of God ?

    Britain’s real enemy is not Iran.

    The real enemy is the mismanagement of the Earth’s energy resources.

    The last battle is to overcome the misdeeds of those who have commandeered and wasted the Earth’s energy resources – and that includes ourselves.

    It should not be a violent dispute, for aggression and the use of weapons are morally unjustifiable. But all the same, it will be a genuine, Titanic, struggle.

    As C. S. Lewis portrays with so much resonance, it matters little under which flag or title we serve or belong – what matters is our allegiance to the precepts of divine honour, holy devotion and right dealings with other people :-

    “Why did the faithful Taarkan end up getting to come into Narnia ? Usually Lewis writes allegorically so is he trying to tell us something when a worshipper of Tash is allowed to enter the new Narnia ? Any thoughts ? …It wasn’t the name that mattered, but rather the conduct of the Taarkan and how he chose to see and do things. He didn’t believe in the cruelty and underhanded ways his countryman were doing things, but rather in honour and a code of conduct. So even though the Taarkan thought he was worshipping Tash, the whole time he was actually worshipping Aslan [Turkish for "Lion"] through his thoughts and deeds. So when the time came for the end of the world and judgement, he was placed where his heart had always led him.”

    For those who recognise the twin threats from climate change and energy depletion, we realise that there is hard work ahead. Our natural aim is to protect ourselves; and the moral consequence is that we are obliged to protect the other – because both climate change and energy depletion are global problems.

    Climate change hits the poorest the hardest – already, significant changes in rainfall and weather patterns have created long-term drought, encroaching coastal and inland inundation, crop losses and enforced migration. And it’s only going to get worse. It’s so terrible we could not even wish it on our enemies – it teaches us that nobody is an enemy.

    To solve climate change, we need to change our energy systems. Some hail the depletion of hydrocarbon and coal energy resources as a gift that will help us resolve the emissions problem and prevent dangerous climate change, by making a virtue of necessity – but the situation is not that simple.

    The reaction of the world’s authorities, wealth controllers and corporate proprietors to the winding down of fossil fuel energy resources has so far been complex, and there are many indications that warfare, both military and economic, has been conducted in order to secure access to energy.

    This may be the way of the lion in us all, but it is not the way of The Lamb. The Lamb sacrifices all that others value so that he is qualified to bring about a new universal regime of peace and responsible autonomy – a kingdom of priests, pastors with mutual respect.

    We are called to become good stewards of each other and the Earth. The gentle Lamb of God will judge our hearts.

    The Book of the Revelation to Saint John the Divine, Chapter 4 :-

    “…I looked and saw a door that opened into heaven. Then the voice that had spoken to me at first and that sounded like a trumpet said, “Come up here ! I will show you what must happen next.” Right then the Spirit took control of me, and there in heaven I saw a throne and someone sitting on it. The one who was sitting there sparkled like precious stones of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow that looked like an emerald surrounded the throne. Twenty-four other thrones were in a circle around that throne. And on each of these thrones there was an elder dressed in white clothes and wearing a gold crown. Flashes of lightning and roars of thunder came out from the throne in the center of the circle. Seven torches, which are the seven spirits of God, were burning in front of the throne. Also in front of the throne was something that looked like a glass sea, clear as crystal…And as they worshiped the one who lives forever, they placed their crowns in front of the throne and said, “Our Lord and God, you are worthy to receive glory, honour, and power. You created all things, and by your decision [and for your pleasure] they are and were created…”

    The Book of the Revelation to Saint John the Devine, Chapter 5

    “In the right hand of the one sitting on the throne I saw a scroll that had writing on the inside and on the outside. And it was sealed in seven places. I saw a mighty angel ask with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals ?” No one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or see inside it. I cried hard because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or see inside it. Then one of the elders said to me, “Stop crying and look ! The one who is called both the `Lion from the Tribe of Judah’ and `King David’s Great Descendant’ has won the victory. He will open the book and its seven seals.” Then I looked and saw a Lamb standing in the center of the throne…The Lamb looked as if it had once been killed. It had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God, sent out to all the earth. The Lamb went over and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who sat on the throne. After he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders knelt down before him. Each of them had a harp and a gold bowl full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. Then they sang a new song, “You are worthy to receive the scroll and open its seals, because you were killed. And with your own blood you bought for God people from every tribe, language, nation, and race. You let them become kings and serve God as priests, and they will rule on earth.””

    Leaders of the powerful nations – put aside your death-hastening technology.

    Let there be a low carbon energy peace on a climate-stable Earth.


    Additional Readings

    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Galatians%203:7-9&version=NIV

    “…Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles [non-Jewish people] by faith, and announced the gospel [good news of God's love and forgiveness] in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith…”

    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Galatians%203:26-29&version=NIV

    “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized [ritual bathing] into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile [non-Jewish person], neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Be_Thou_My_Vision

    “Thy love in my soul and in my heart –
    Grant this to me, O King of the seven heavens.

    O King of the seven heavens grant me this –
    Thy love to be in my heart and in my soul.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Spirits_of_God

    [ UPDATE : No, I have not taken leave of any of my senses. I was in church, All Saints in Highams Park, London E4, and many thoughts arose as I contemplated the stained glass window, with its Suffering Servant Messenger King/Lord/Master, rainbow, Alpha, Omega, Noah's dove with the sprig of olive; and listened to the reading from Revelations 4; and sang "Be Thou My Vision" with the congregation; and considered what Epiphany the world needs at this time of intense war propaganda. There are those who declare themselves as Christian who claim that war with Iran is prophesied. This may be a fringe view, but the narrative infects major political discussion in the United States of America : "The problem, of course, is that rhetoric can have political effects that narrow the options available to decisionmakers. If you've publicly declared Iran's nuclear program sufficiently threatening to warrant initiating a potentially catastrophic war and then sanctions fail to achieve their defined goal, you may have a hard time walking back from that threat." ]

  • Biomassacre : Agrofuels Aggro

    Posted on January 8th, 2012 Jo No comments

    Stop Biomassacre Subsidies from You and I Films on Vimeo.

    The UK Government has a neat plan – meet a considerable proportion of the nation’s electricity needs by burning biomass and biofuels : wood, waste wood, agricultural residues, palm oil, maize ethanol and such-like.

    They are even considering setting up a generous subsidy, the kind of subsidy that would encourage massive imports of biomass and bioliquids.

    Without care and regulatory checks and balances, the net effect will almost certainly be rainforest deforestation, land grabbing in under-developed nations, and economic problems for the growing biomass heat movement in the UK.

    Most people probably think burning wood, wood waste and plant-derived fuels to make power sounds like a good energy idea – stop burning coal and start burning trees – has to be better for the planet, surely ?

    There are a number of really deep problems with this agenda. Almuth Ernsting of Biofuelwatch told me this weekend that burning biomass for electricity generation is incredibly inefficient.

    She said the UK Government has apparently heard concerns about the burning of bioliquids such as the biofuel bioethanol for power generation, and it shouldn’t be included in the subsidy arrangement.

    However, biomass-fired power generation is still set to receive support – although it is still being depicted as making use of agroforestry residues, and all sourced within the country – judging by a recent permission for a biomass burning plant in Yorkshire.

    Generous subsidies for burning biofuels to generate electricity will encourage the combustion of food-quality oils, imported from across the world, exacerbating the existing problems with the destruction of tropical rainforest for commercial gain.

    Offering significant subsidies for burning biomass for power generation will most probably trigger further logging of virgin rainforest, as it would be cheap to produce and export to Britain.

    Even if biomass were sourced in the United Kingdom – with restrictions on imports from areas of the world where there is extensive land grabbing and deforestation occurring – the subsidy would encourage the burning of wood products for generating power instead of being used in the most efficient way – to heat homes.

    Almuth Ernsting said, “the big energy companies are going to burn that much wood, small heat providers won’t be able to compete.” The same would be true of street-scale biomass combined heat and power (CHP) proposals.

    Almuth Ernsting and others have pointed out that the UK Government public consultation on the subsidy ends on 12th January 2012, but that even after that date, people are being encouraged to write to their Member of Parliament to express views.

    Another group, nope, is also calling for citizen action :-

    http://nope.org.uk/

    In an e-mail to joabbess.com, Almuth Ernsting offered extra resources :-

    “All the materials related to our campaign against subsidies for biomass and biofuel electricity can be found here :-”

    http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/uk-campaign/rocs_overview/

    “A briefing about the impacts of ROCs for biomass, biofuels and waste incineration :-”
    http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2011/rocs_impacts/

    “A briefing to hand or send to MPs :-”
    http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2011/rocs_mps/

    “A guide to lobbying MPs on this :-” http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2011/mp_guidance_rocs/

    “We have got two email alerts on one page just now (http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2011/rocs-alerts/), though we will take down the one to respond to the DECC Consultation when that closes next Thursday, while keeping the one to MPs. However, we very much encourage people to write personal letters or, even better, visit their MPs, which will have much more impact than taking part in a standard email alert.”

  • Whittling away at energy consumption

    Posted on January 5th, 2012 Jo No comments

    Throughout 2011, I changed a number of things in my domestic arrangements in order to reduce energy consumption at home.

    I have been working with an ecocell small study and action group in North London – each member of whom has an interesting story to tell of their own eco-pilgrimage.

    What I found was that in order to make progress I needed to measure more things and be more organised. I also needed to acquire more equipment.

    This is rather ironic, since there are embedded emissions in all manufactured products. However, with careful use and maintenance, they should last a long time.

    The daily electricity and gas consumption I was personally responsible for at home dropped fairly significantly (approximate figures) :-

    Natural Gas use per day (Btu)Electricity use per day (kWh)
    January 20115.003.00
    February 20114.212.94
    March 20113.653.15
    April 20111.933.11
    May 20111.692.98
    June 20111.602.95
    July 20111.422.84
    August 20111.262.82
    September 20111.142.81
    October 20111.042.76
    November 20111.072.84
    December 20111.182.83

    Based on the average of the monthly daily averages, I should have consumed 766 Btu (8,094 kWh) of Natural Gas over the whole year, and 1,065 kWh of electricity for 2011. However, due to dropping demand, I actually used only 433 Btu (4,572 kWh) of Natural Gas and 1,034 kWh of electricity.

    This compares to Ofgem’s analysis of medium household consumption figures of 16,500 kWh of Natural Gas and 3,300 kWh of electricity.

    This puts my consumption at 28% of the medium in Natural Gas and 31% in electricity. It’s going to be hard to reduce both of these figures.

    I came up with a number of personal solutions for reducing space heating in 2011, which enabled the use of Natural Gas to drop.

    I had already come up with a number of changes in power consumption in 2010, which explains why the electricity use did not drop so fast or so far in 2011.

    However, I’m still working on cutting my domestic power consumption.

    One of those ways is trying to adopt a more vegetarian diet. You see, when you eat vegan or virtually vegan, you don’t need so much refrigeration. Frequently over the last year the only things in the fridge have been milk, spread, yoghurt and green vegetables (plus a couple of half-used jars of pesto or mayonnaise, the regulation bottle of lemon juice and a jar of Marmite). The freezer has been off for months.

    So I thought to myself, after checking the power consumption of the fridge – does the house need a smaller fridge ? I mean, the large fridge is useful when there are guests or someone throws a party, but it’s not fully used all the time. I could keep the green vegetables in the coldest, unheated room of the house, and buy fresh more regularly. What if I get hold of a mini fridge to use on a day-to-day basis ? And so, into my life has come the Mobicool W35.

    Technically, it’s not a refrigerator – it’s a “cooler box”. A thermolectric one. And despite the E energy rating on the packaging – at 290 kWh a year, it will have less than half the power consumption of the Big Fridge. Plus, since I don’t need to run it all the time, I can cut power use further by only having it on 18 hours a day (or less, as dictated by the weather), controlled by a timer.

    The next adaptations to my energy use will entail significant expense. Here are some options :-

    a. Upgrading the windows
    b. Installing a biomass burner (and optionally a boiler)
    c. Cladding the external walls

    I will need to save up to replace the windows completely, so I am looking for intermediate solutions.

    For the biomass option, I have found a tree surgeon in North East London with whom a win-win arrangement could be developed – with me offering to take unseasoned wood from the loads of sawn waste that otherwise would cost money to dispose of.

    In the meantime, I need to address draughtproofing. The sudden cold spell has shown me that there are still opportunities in this regard.

  • The Storm

    Posted on December 30th, 2011 Jo No comments

    On my Christmas journey, on the train from Brussels, Belgium, to the Dutch border, besides the wind turbines, I counted the number of solar electric rooftop installations I could see. My estimate was that roughly 300 kilowatts of solar could be seen from the track.

    There has been an explosion of deployment. The renewable energy policies that are behind this tide of photovoltaics in Flanders seem to be working, or have been until recently.

    On my journey back from Holland to England, I pondered about the polders and the low-lying landscape around me. I don’t know what river it was we crossed, but the river was only held in place by narrow banks or dikes, as it was higher than the farmland around it – waterlogged fields in some places – where parcels of land were divided by stillwater ditches instead of hedges or fences.

    “Oh no, we don’t have “Mary Poppins” on Dutch TV any more at Christmas every year like we used to. We’re going to see the film “The Storm”…” said my host. Curiouser and curiouser. “De Storm” is a film that harks back to an actual historical event, the major North Sea flooding in 1953. “I remember what it was like afterwards,” says an older English relative, “I visited Belgium and Holland with my aunt and uncle just after the flooding – he wanted to visit the family war graves. We stayed in Middelburg. You could see how high the water reached. There were tide marks this high on the side of the houses, and whelks left stuck on the walls.”

    The film attempts to nail down the coffin casket lid of bad weather history. By telling the narrative of major, fearful floods of the past, people are distracted from the possibility that it may happen again. History is history, and the story tells the ending, and that’s a finish to it.

    However, for some people, those people who know something of the progress of the science of global warming, this film is like a beacon – a flare on a rocky landing strip – lighting the way to the future crash of the climate and the rising of sea levels, which will bring havoc to The Netherlands, Dutch engineers or no Dutch engineers.

    We have to be prepared for change, major change. If you or anyone you know has Dutch relatives and friends, think about whether you can invite them to live with you in future if things get really bad. One or two really bad storms combined with excessive tides and a few centimetres of sea level rise could be all it takes to wreck the country’s ability to organise water and destroy a significant amount of agricultural land.

    “I’ve been studying Climate Change science”, I told another host. “You believe in Climate Change ?”, he asked, somewhat incredulously. “It’s 200 years of science”, I replied, smiling, “but we probably shouldn’t discuss it. I don’t think it would be very productive.”

  • The Problem of Powerlessness #2

    Posted on October 22nd, 2011 Jo No comments
    On Wednesday, I received a telephone call from an Information Technology recruitment consultancy. They wanted to know if I would be prepared to provide computer systems programming services for NATO.

    Detecting that I was speaking with a native French-speaker, I slipped into my rather unpracticed second language to explain that I could not countenance working with the militaries, because I disagree with their strategy of repeated aggression.

    I explained I was critical of the possibility that the air strikes in Libya were being conducted in order to establish an occupation of North Africa by Western forces, to protect oil and gas interests in the region. The recruitment agent agreed with me that the Americans were the driving force behind NATO, and that they were being too warlike.

    Whoops, there goes another great opportunity to make a huge pile of cash, contracting for warmongers ! Sometimes you just have to kiss a career goodbye. IT consultancy has many ethical pitfalls. Time to reinvent myself.

    I’ve been “back to school” for the second university degree, and now I’m supposed to submit myself to the “third degree” – go out and get me a job. The paucity of available positions due to the poor economic climate notwithstanding, the possibility of ending up in an unsuitable role fills me with dread. One of these days I might try to write about my experiences of having to endure several kinds of abuse whilst engaged in paid employment : suffice it to say, workplace inhumanity can be unbearable, some people don’t know what ethical behaviour means, and Human Resources departments always take sides, especially with vindictive, manipulative, micro-managers. I know what it’s like to be powerless.

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Occupy your mind #5

    Posted on October 18th, 2011 Jo No comments

    Image Credit : npmeijer

    It rained last night in London. Cold rain. And the wind was blowing. And the poor little Occupyers were on my mind.

    So I cooked up some vegan fare and this morning went down to St Paul’s Cathedral to try and offer nourishment to the be-weathered masses. Most of the placards and signs were gone, minimising the message, but the tent city was still there.

    As usual at political protests, I took certain measures to disguise myself, and carried no form of identification.

    Signs of the global economic meltdown – the train I wanted to catch was cut short – probably by the theft of metal cabling. It’s wrong to make the transport system grind to a halt – so many people depend on it. But I can understand why people are press-ganged into stealing metals – poverty is on the rise.

    It took me ages to reach St Paul’s Cathedral, and I went straight to the kitchen tent to unload lunch, and grab a coffea (tea mixed with coffee) and breakfast mini-croissant.

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Daniel Yergin : Revisionist Comb-Over

    Posted on October 4th, 2011 Jo 1 comment

    Image Credit : cache.daylife.com

    I don’t have anything against balding people. Anybody can start losing hair, and will most likely feel embarrassed about it and start doing silly things like combing strands over the patch – the classic comb-over : not a sign of vanity, more a sign of vulnerability. It’s a kind of disguise, not admitting to the facts, even as the facts become more and more apparent. The balding person does not accept what is happening, and is seeking to delay the inevitable.
    I’ve read the Introduction and Prologue (and a little of Chapter 1) of Daniel Yergin’s new book “The Quest : Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World”. I have found it very hard-going, and I keep having to pause. The reason ? I am far too critical of the writing, and it keeps making me some kind of cross between a tad narked and full-blown irritated.

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Ed Miliband : Squeezed Middle

    Posted on October 3rd, 2011 Jo No comments
    Ed Miliband, leader of the British Labour Party, addressed the pre-party conference cameras in uncustomary casual attire, shelving his favourite suit, dazzlingly shiny tie and white shirt, you know, the one with the fat turned-over cuffs.

    He sought to assure the nation that his one man mission is to relieve the financial pressure on the hardworking “squeezed middle” – fighting their corner against the profiteering railway companies and the moneygrabbing energy companies.

    The little snippet of BBC TV News 24 that I saw cut to the correspondent raising doubts about whether this cost-of-living protection strategy would have any impact on the wider economy – whether measures to control transport fares and energy bills would create economic growth.

    What does this little word “growth” mean to the BBC TV reporter, I asked myself. Does he think it means increasing employment, increasing incomes ? And how could employment be increased ? By increasing the “consumption” of goods, energy, water, transportation and knowledge economy services ? And how can this “aggregate demand” consumption be increased, if unemployment remains high and incomes remain stagnant ?

    Allowing the utility and transportation companies to raise their prices allows them to remain profitable and build their businesses, presumably creating employment as well as giving a return to investors – those who have their savings in pension funds – where the fund managers invest in energy and transport. Why not allow energy and transport prices to rise ? People can learn to spend more on these valuable services, surely ? Pensioners will have their funds protected, and energy and transport businesses will stay profitable, paying tax into the state.
    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Mark Lynas : Oxford Ragwort

    Posted on June 26th, 2011 Jo No comments

    Image Credit : Mark Holderness

    Mark Lynas betrayed more of his intellectual influences this week, when he tweeted as @mark_lynas “Colony collapse disorder – honeybees – not quite the environmental story it seemed:
    http://breakthroughjournal.org/content/authors/hannah-nordhaus/an-environmental-journalists-l.shtml

    Hmmm. That’s a piece from a new generation of Nordhaus-es, Hannah, writing for the Breakthrough Institute, founded by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, authors of “The Death of Environmentalism“, a document I truly regret wasting the paper to print. As I read it, I started scratching hot red comments in the margins, so many, that in the end the pages were more red than black-and-white.

    Hannah’s piece, like her book, “The Beekeeper’s Lament“, is more delicate and considered, I think, but still shreds decades of environmental thought and much science, without any justification in my view.

    She writes, “…very quickly, many journalists settled on neonicotinoids — pesticides that are applied to more than 140 different crops — as the likely culprit. It seemed a familiar story of human greed and
    shortsightedness. With their callous disregard for nature, big chemical companies and big agriculture were killing the bees — and threatening our own survival. The honey bee’s recent problems have occasioned a similar rush to judgment. Before any studies had been conducted on the causes of CCD, three books and countless articles came out touting pesticides as the malady’s cause. Had I been able to turn a book around quickly, I might have leapt to the same conclusions. But I was late to the party, and as more studies came out and I came to better understand the science, I became less and less convinced that pesticides provided a convincing explanation for beekeepers’ losses…”

    Her argument appears to be that pesticides are bad for other pollinators, not bees; but that this makes life harder for the bees, who then have to do all that pollination instead :-

    http://naturebeebookclub.wordpress.com/2011/05/02/the-beekeepers-lament-nordhaus-hannah/

    “In steps John Miller, a boundingly energetic and charismatic beekeeper, who tasks himself with the care and the sustainable keeping of honeybees. He is descended from America’s first migratory beekeeper, N.E. Miller, who, at the beginning of the 20th century, transported thousands of hives from one crop to another, working the Idahoan clover in summer and the Californian almonds in winter. Back then beekeepers used to pay farmers to keep a few dozen hives on their land. But now farmers pay beekeepers millions of dollars to have their crops pollinated by upwards of ten thousand hives. With the rise of the monocrop and increasingly efficient pesticides, there are simply not enough natural pollinators to complete the massive task of sexing-up millions of acres of almond groves.”

    This kind of writing seems to me like a lot of anti-green writing, where a straw man is set up, only to bow down and worship it. The central framework of fallacy appears to be :-

    a. Environmentalists are zealous, and therefore crazy.
    b. They believe pesticides are dangerous to bees.
    c. They must be wrong, and pesticides can’t be all that bad for bees.

    Let’s just read a little around that idea, shall we ? Let’s start with Wikipedia, just to make it easy :-

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pesticide_toxicity_to_bees

    “For the majority of pesticides that are registered in the United States, EPA only requires a short-term contact toxicity test on adult honeybees. In some cases, the agency also receives short-term oral toxicity tests, which are required in Europe. EPA’s testing requirements do not account for sub-lethal effects to bees or effects on brood or larvae. Their testing requirements are also not designed to determine effects in bees from exposure to systemic pesticides. With Colony Collapse Disorder, whole hive tests in the field are needed in order to determine the effects of a pesticide on bee colonies. To date, there are very few scientifically valid whole hive studies that can be used to determine the effects of pesticides on bee colonies.”

    Actually, it’s not just “mad environmentalists” who are concerned about the effect of pesticides on honeybees. Here’s just one scholarly paper :-

    http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0009754
    “High Levels of Miticides and Agrochemicals in North American Apiaries: Implications for Honey Bee Health”, Mullin et el., 2010.

    What has this got to do with Climate Change. I can hear you asking ?

    Well, it’s like this – in order to do intensive farming, agricultural chemicals are used on crops. Specialised herbicides, pesticides and fungicides are used on genetically modified crops, along with chemical fertilisers.

    In order to convince people to accept Genetically Modified food, they’ve got to be encouraged to believe that pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are really alright.

    Hence, pesticides cannot be fingered as a problem for bees, otherwise people might not accept GM crops…

    Yes, it’s coming back round to tampering with our food genes. And it’s being sold to us as a cure for Climate Change.

    At the bottom of this page there’s a transcript of a snippet from a television programme I was unlucky and incensed enough to have viewed yesterday. Called “The Wonder of Weeds”, it took us through the basic logic of modern-day plant breeding, including the role for genetic modification of plants – without once mentioning the words “life sciences”, “bioengineering”, “biotechnology” or even “genetic modification”.

    The GM crops are presented as being the saviour of humanity, without once mentioning why conditions in the world may be damaging crops in new ways in the future, a lot of which will be due to climate change.

    There was the usual category error – of confusing science with technology. Let’s repeat that one again. Technology is when you play with the genes of a crucial staple crop like wheat. Science is when you discover, maybe 25 years later, that it has had knock-on effects in the food chain. Oh dear. Too late for remorse – the genetically modified genome is now globally distributed.

    The presenter of the programme, Chris Collins, didn’t even spot the cognitive dissonance of his own script. In the first part of the programme he talks about common weeds that are foreign invaders in the UK and cause untold trouble. In the second part of the programme he doesn’t even blink when he talks about modifying crops at the genetic level – not questioning that introducing foreign genes into vital crops might have detrimental, unforeseen impacts – rather like a microscopic version of the imported “plant pariahs”, Buddleia davidii, Rhododendron ponticum and Japanese knotweed. Oh yes, Oxford Ragwort, another introduction to the UK, is not such a hazard, but you can’t guarantee what happens when you get plant invaders.

    I find it astonishing that such obvious propaganda on behalf of corporate plans to modify crops for their own private market profit is allowed into BBC television programming.

    Climate Change is being used as the Trojan Horse rationale in which to bring GM crops to the UK, and elsewhere, as part of international agricultural development programmes. This is the ideological equivalent of a rogue gene inserted into the DNA of science. I find this an outrage.

    I recommend you check the work of GM Freeze to counter this braintwisting manipulation.

    And if you want a little bit more of an insider on what Dr Alison Smith, featured in the BBC show, is actually doing with her amazing knowledge of plants – it seems her work encompasses improving the production of alcoholic beverages, not feeding the world. I kid you not :-

    http://www.foodsecurity.ac.uk/news-events/news/2011/110615-pr-improved-crops-food-security.html
    “Glucosidase inhibitors: new approaches to malting efficiency : Alison Smith, John Innes Centre : Improving the efficiency with which barley grain is converted into beer and whisky would reduce waste and energy consumption in the brewing industry, as well as ensuring profitability. This project aims to improve the efficiency of malting, the first stage in beer and whisky production, by building on new discoveries about how barley grains convert starch to sugars when they germinate.”

    What is the BBSRC ? This is a research programme that’s “infested” with corporate people – whose agenda is money-making, not philanthropy.

    And what’s genetic modification of crops got to do with Mark Lynas ? Well, just read his new book, “The God Species“, and you’ll find out.

    The plain fact in my view is that we do not need genetically modified crops in Europe. In Africa, they’re too poor to afford the chemicals to use with the GM seeds. And in the not-too-distant future, the price of the chemicals will shoot up because of Peak Oil and Peak Natural Gas, making GM crops inaccessible to those North Americans who currently use it. So this particular technology takes us nowhere forward at all. We need to manage water and the root causes of poverty rather than tamper with genes.



    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01224kv/hd/The_Wonder_of_Weeds/

    BBC 4 TV
    Saturday 25 June 2011

    “The Wonder of Weeds”

    “Travelling around the UK and meeting experts in botanical history, genetics, pharmaceuticals and wild food, Chris Collins tells the story behind the plants most people call weeds.”

    45 minutes 20 seconds

    …And the massive irony of all this is that the very crop that has become a monoculture at the expense of weeds, wheat, was once a weed itself…

    Plant scientist Professor Nick Harberd of Oxford University has researched the moment a weed became wheat.

    Nick : “About half a million years ago, there was spontaneously, in the wild, nothing to do with human beings, a cross-hybridisation, a cross-pollination if you like, between two wild grass species…”

    “…So one can imagine that humans were cultivating this wheat [10,000 to 12,000 years ago] in a field and then by chance a weed was growing within that field. And there was again a spontaneous hydridisation event beteen the cultivated wheat and this wild grass that was growing in that imaginary field.”

    “The whole process made a plant that was bigger and more vigorous. And as a result of this we ended up with the wheat crop we all grow and feed off today.”

    Nick can exactly recreate exactly how wheat and weeds crossbred in a lab today…

    47 minutes 40 seconds

    Weeds helped us out millenia ago and now scientists in the 21st Century have turned to weeds once again for one of the most important discoveries in plant biology ever.

    It could save lives by creating a super wheat.

    It all took place here, at the John Innes Institute in Norwich.

    Alison : “So come on in Chris. You need to sterilise your feet here…”

    Chris : “So this means we’re not bringing in anything nasty from outside…”

    Alison : “That’s right. No thrips or viruses or anything else that might come in.”

    Dr Alison Smith is head of Metabolic Biology here.

    Chris : “This is the first time I’ve ever dressed up to go and see a weed.”

    Alison : “We look after our weeds very carefully here.”

    Alison’s team have been studying a small common weed called Arabidopsis [thaliana] or Thale Cress, which is now used as the model to map the DNA of all plants on the planet.

    Alison : “Well this weed is incredibly easy for us to work on. And all plant scientists almost in the world take information from this weed. And many plant scientists only work on this little weed.”

    “The reason why it’s really useful is that like a lot of weeds it goes from seed to seed really quickly, so we can get through lots and lots of generations, and that makes it easy for us to do genetic studies to understand how the weed behaves and what all of its genes are doing.”

    “But also, about 20 years ago, plant scientists got together. And at that time they were working on lots and lots of different plants. And they decided, let’s work on one plant together that can become the model from which we can develop our understanding of plants.”

    “So about the same time as we were sequencing the human genome, we started to sequence the genome of this little weed. So in 2000 we got the entire gene sequence of this weed, all of the genes are known, the same time as we understood the human genome.”

    Chris : “So really then, this small weed is a blueprint for all plants ?”

    Alison : “This is the model for all plant life, that’s right.”

    But the sequencing of the Arabidopsis genome is not just for the sake of it. Alison and her 600 colleagues are unlocking the secrets of the plant’s success, like its speedy growth rate and its hardiness, and are transfering those abilities to the crops that matter to us, like wheat.

    This is one of the most important discoveries in plant biology ever, where one of the humblest weeds could save millions of lives around the world.

    Chris : “Now we’ve seen our magic weed and you’ve got this genetic blueprint. How do you take that blueprint and apply it to arable crops like this wheat ?”

    Alison : “Well we can start to tackle, using this blueprint, some of the real problems that we have with our crops like disease, for example. Our crops are quite susceptible to some diseases. We’ve been able to breed for that, but we haven’t known what genes we’re breeding for.”

    “In Arabidopsis, Arabidopsis gets diseases as well, we can understand exactly how it’s resistant to those diseases. We know what genes it needs. And we can say right, where are those genes in wheat ? Can we make sure that our new wheats have the genes that make them resistant to disease ?”

    “Another example would be how the wheat exactly makes its seeds. Obviously, this is the really important bit of wheat. This is what we eat. This is human food. We understand a bit about the process of about how these little seeds are formed, but in Arabidopsis we understand in absolute molecular detail how those seeds are made, and that helps us to understand how we make to make better seeds, bigger seeds, more nutritious seeds in wheat. We can apply that knowlege in wheat.”

    Well, I know scientists don’t like to be too dramatic, but I’m going to be, because of simply what I’ve found out. Weeds can play a big role in arable crops like wheat, or even maybe the future of humanity.

    Alison : “I think it was the starting point for what has to be a revolution in our crops, a revolution in understanding how they work and making them work better and doing that fast.”

    “It’s taken our ancestors, you know, millenia, to get to this point. We can’t afford to take the next step in millenia. We have to take it in tens of years or less. And in order to do that, you’re absolutely right, the information from Arabidopsis has been the key to pushing us forward.”

    It’s the resilience of weeds and the insights they give us into helping crops survive that makes them amongst the most useful plants on the planet…

  • Fiona Harvey : Astonishing Admissions

    Posted on May 30th, 2011 Jo No comments

    From the consistent and unrelenting rise in global carbon dioxide emissions, you would never have guessed that there’d been a downturn. But that’s because energy is cheap, and easily substitutes for economic production, labour and resources – within limits.

    Fiona Harvey has gathered and presents some astonishing admissions from various key speakers on the issue of emissions, ahead of the annual mid-year United Nations climate change talks in Bonn :-

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/may/29/carbon-emissions-nuclearpower

    “Worst ever carbon emissions leave climate on the brink : Exclusive: Record rise, despite recession, means 2C target almost out of reach : Fiona Harvey, Environment correspondent, guardian.co.uk, Sunday 29 May 2011 : Greenhouse gas emissions increased by a record amount last year, to the highest carbon output in history, putting hopes of holding global warming to safe levels all but out of reach, according to unpublished estimates from the International Energy Agency. The shock rise means the goal of preventing a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius – which scientists say is the threshold for potentially “dangerous climate change” – is likely to be just “a nice Utopia”, according to Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA. It also shows the most serious global recession for 80 years has had only a minimal effect on emissions, contrary to some predictions…”

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • The “red tape” challenge

    Posted on April 19th, 2011 Jo No comments

    So, I’m sitting in my local cafe at lunchtime talking to my local property developer-landlord. So, I ask him, do you think there will be worsening economic conditions this year ? And will there be more unemployment ?

    He takes a pretty dismal line – things are becoming more and more squeezed – landlords are finding that their properties are unoccupied, or the rents are being forced downwards, and there is no spare finance capacity to do renovations, the banks won’t lend, and there’s no certainty of being able to sell properties if the business becomes uneconomic. He’s had to sack people he was formerly able to employ.

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • The Year of Unceasing Rain (4)

    Posted on October 21st, 2010 Jo No comments

    Irony alert ? “Typhoons ? They happen all the time. It’s just a little local storm. Nothing to worry about. Happens every season or so. The locals know how to read the warning signs, and head to high ground or build their huts on stilts. Power lines down ? Oh, they’ll be strung back up in no time. And the rice paddies will benefit from all that extra rain.”

    Watch out China – here comes Megi :-

  • Watering Hole

    Posted on October 21st, 2010 Jo No comments

      

    Image Credit : UCAR

    People, animals and crops are likely to lose their favourite watering holes over the next few decades, not just in “poor” countries, but just about everywhere :-

    http://www2.ucar.edu/news/climate-change-drought-may-threaten-much-globe-within-decades

    The growing hole in water supplies is going to interfere with food security, and it’s going to interfere with human community survival, but it’s also going to interfere with energy production. In fact, it’s doing that already, as competition for water in Peru between food, grazing, people and energy shows most clearly :-

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/poverty-matters/2010/sep/21/climate-wars-machu-picchu-irrigation
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/video/2010/sep/23/peru-asparagus-wells-run-dry

    What’s the story on the United Kingdom ? :-

    http://www.physorg.com/news/2010-10-farmings.html

    “Adapt now to keep farming’s water flowing : October 20, 2010 : Agricultural and horticultural businesses could face damaging water shortages in the coming decades as a result of climate change. Adaptation across the whole industry is needed to meet the impending challenge…”

    http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE69H4PS20101018

    “UK crops to face water supply crunch, may relocate : LONDON | Mon Oct 18, 2010 : …Agricultural crops in Britain may need to be moved to new areas as the threat of both drought and flooding rises in the coming decades, a report commissioned by the Royal Agricultural Society of England said on Monday. The report said climate change was expected to produce higher temperatures, drier summers and wetter winters across much of England. “This is likely to mean reduced river flow and less water available for agriculture,” said one of the report’s authors, Alison Bailey, of the University of Reading’s School of Agriculture, Policy and Development…”

    And the United States of America ? :-

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/climate-change-impacts-on-CA-water-resources.html

    “…The study found that water withdrawals in California are estimated to be greater than 100% of the available precipitation in 2050…”

    http://www.doi.gov/news/pressreleases/Secretary-Salazar-Launches-New-Regional-Climate-Science-Center-and-Water-Census-at-Meeting-of-Colorado-River-Basin-Water-Leaders.cfm

    “…10/20/2010 : Contact: Joan Moody : PHOENIX, AZ—At a meeting of water leaders from the seven Colorado River Basin states in Phoenix today, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that the Department of the Interior has chosen the University of Arizona as home base for a regional Climate Science Center and selected the Colorado River Basin for the launch of the first U.S. water census since 1978. “The Colorado River Basin is ground zero for assessing the effects of climate change on our rivers and taking creative management actions to head off the related dangers posed to our water supplies, hydroelectric power generation and ecosystems,” the Secretary said. “We are with you for the long haul to protect our region and its water.”…”

    http://www.uusc.org/content/examining_water_crisis_and_climate_change

    “Examining the Water Crisis and Climate Change : UUSC understands that there is a global water crisis, which is the product of shifting and competing political and economic interests, depletion from environmental contamination, climate change, over-extraction, and increasing human population. As a human-rights organization, UUSC recognizes the urgent need to respond. Climate justice is a central theme of UUSC’s Environmental Justice work. More people are losing their access to clean, affordable water in the United States and in other nations, and too often, the victims are people in low-income communities, women, and racial and ethnic minorities…”

  • Dearth of the Oceans

    Posted on October 12th, 2010 Jo 2 comments

    An incomplete recording of the BBC Horizon programme “The Death of the Oceans ?” narrated by David Attenborough is below.

    It’s about Global Warming, of course (and overfishing, and sonar making whales deaf – which is the bit that’s missing at the end). But it’s also about Global Warming’s evil twin – Ocean Acidification.

    Believe what you will about the Anthropogenic component of Global Warming, and I know some of you resist the Science as if it were a hairy, sweaty, alcoholic dentist threatening to pull your teeth without Novocaine, but there’s no way you can deny that the increasing concentration of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere, most of it a direct result of humankind’s burning of Fossil Fuels, is turning the Oceans into a giant bucket of fizzy soda, and is threatening marine life, which is a huge risk to the whole of Life on Earth.

    The only solution is to stop burning so much Coal, Oil and Gas. Really, that’s the only way.

    Oh, you can fight this inevitability with every brain circuit you have, trying to force others to believe that everything’s still OK, that the Earth is not dangerously heating up, that Life on Land and in the Oceans is not on the cusp of mass extinction, and that Progress is just fine, and Economic Recovery, or Shiny New Technology, or Geoengineering will save us, but one day you will understand. You will accept. The global systems of production, transport and agriculture have to change. The Carbon-based Industrial Age will be gone in only a few decades, only a couple of hundred years after it started.

    You can relax. Everything will be fine – eventually. When we have Wind Farms on every ridge top, Solar Power plants in every desert, Geothermal stations in our Town Halls, Combined Heat and Power running on Biomass in every street, Marine Power-gathering machines, Organic food, small electric cars, useful 24 hours-in-a-day networks of electricity-powered public transportation. The time is coming for the new human world to be born – and it will be green, clean and less energy-hungry than before.

    It’s going to be a bit of a traumatic birth and the Climate Medics are working hard in the delivery suite, but soon, very soon, Green Investment will see the light of day – those who are wealthy will, as one, put their finances towards Renewable Energy and Energy-efficient machines and Energy Demand Management, real assets, with real returns on investment, and the future will be secured.

    Part 1/4
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4rloPBrA6w

    See at top for video.

    Part 2/4
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdn1RpqKziE

    Part 3/4
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKPNcQyljds

    Part 4/4
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIKOKG3L3zo

  • Undue Optimism

    Posted on September 18th, 2010 Jo No comments

    We learn from Caroline Spelman, care of Fiona Harvey, that Climate Change could be good for British farming :-

    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/4e2c238e-c276-11df-956e-00144feab49a.html

    “Climate change could benefit UK farmers : By Fiona Harvey and George Parker : Published: September 17 2010 : Climate change and global food shortages could bring unexpected benefits for British farmers in the next two decades, ultimately relieving taxpayers of the burden of subsidising them, Caroline Spelman, environment secretary, has claimed. Ms Spelman said the UK was unlikely to suffer the severe water shortages that scientists predict will afflict other parts of the world, and that British farmers should be able to exploit greater demand for their produce…”

    Note that the argument is not that Climate Change will create better conditions for growing food in the UK.

    Instead, the logic is that because we live in North Western Europe, which will see less Climate Change than other parts of the world, our agricultural produce won’t be affected as badly as, say, Asia, so, suddenly British food production will have stronger commercial value as export.

    That’s rather perverse, isn’t it ? Profiting at others’ expense never looked so…existential, so morally challenged.

    I think that what will happen is that British food production will be increased in order to give it away, in the form of international disaster aid.

    The Common Agricultural Policy could become the Crisis Agricultural Subsidy.

    In a never-ending rolling disaster, the ethics of meeting basic human needs will surely take precedence over business competition.