Energy Change for Climate Control
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  • In Confab : Paul Elsner

    Posted on January 23rd, 2014 Jo No comments

    Dr Paul Elsner of Birkbeck College at the University of London gave up some of his valuable time for me today at his little bijou garret-style office in Bloomsbury in Central London, with an excellent, redeeming view of the British Telecom Tower. Leader of the Energy and Climate Change module on Birkbeck’s Climate Change Management programme, he offered me tea and topical information on Renewable Energy, and some advice on discipline in authorship.

    He unpacked the recent whirlwind of optimism surrounding the exploitation of Shale Gas and Shale Oil, and how Climate Change policy is perhaps taking a step back. He said that we have to accept that this is the way the world is at the moment.

    I indicated that I don’t have much confidence in the “Shale Bubble”. I consider it mostly as a public relations exercise – and that there are special conditions in the United States of America where all this propaganda comes from. I said that there are several factors that mean the progress with low carbon fuels continues to be essential, and that Renewable Gas is likely to be key.

    1. First of all, the major energy companies, the oil and gas companies, are not in a healthy financial state to make huge investment. For example, BP has just had the legal ruling that there will be no limit to the amount of compensation claims they will have to face over the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Royal Dutch Shell meanwhile has just had a serious quarterly profit warning – and if that is mostly due to constrained sales (“Peak Oil Demand”) because of economic collapse, that doesn’t help them with the kind of aggressive “discovery” they need to continue with to keep up their Reserves to Production ratio (the amount of proven resources they have on their books). These are not the only problems being faced in the industry. This problem with future anticipated capitalisation means that Big Oil and Gas cannot possibly look at major transitions into Renewable Electricity, so it would be pointless to ask, or try to construct a Carbon Market to force it to happen.

    2. Secondly, despite claims of large reserves of Shale Gas and Shale Oil, ripe for the exploitation of, even major bodies are not anticipating that Peak Oil and Peak Natural Gas will be delayed by many years by the “Shale Gale”. The reservoir characteristics of unconventional fossil fuel fields do not mature in the same way as conventional ones. This means that depletion scenarios for fossil fuels are still as relevant to consider as the decades prior to horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

    3. Thirdly, the reservoir characteristics of conventional fossil fuel fields yet to exploit, especially in terms of chemical composition, are drifting towards increasingly “sour” conditions – with sigificant levels of hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide in them. The sulphur must be removed for a variety of reasons, but the carbon dioxide remains an issue. The answer until recently from policy people would have been Carbon Capture and Storage or CCS. Carbon dioxide should be washed from acid Natural Gas and sequestered under the ocean in salt caverns that previously held fossil hydrocarbons. It was hoped that Carbon Markets and other forms of carbon pricing would have assisted with the payment for CCS. However, recently there has been reduced confidence that this will be significant.

    Renewable Gas is an answer to all three of these issues. It can easily be pursued by the big players in the current energy provision system, with far less investment than wholesale change would demand. It can address concerns of gas resource depletion at a global scale, the onset of which could occur within 20 to 25 years. And it can be deployed to bring poor conventional fossil fuels into consideration for exploitation in the current time – answering regional gas resource depletion.

    Outside, daffodils were blooming in Tavistock Square. In January, yes. The “freaky” weather continues…

  • But Uh-Oh – Those Summer Nights

    Posted on January 20th, 2014 Jo No comments

    A normal, everyday Monday morning at Energy Geek Central. Yes, this is a normal conversation for me to take part in on a Monday morning. Energy geekery at breakfast. Perfect.

    Nuclear Flower Power

    This whole UK Government nuclear power programme plan is ridiculous ! 75 gigawatts (GW) of Generation III nuclear fission reactors ? What are they thinking ? Britain would need to rapidly ramp up its construction capabilities, and that’s not going to happen, even with the help of the Chinese. (And the Americans are not going to take too kindly to the idea of China getting strongly involved with British energy). And then, we’d need to secure almost a quarter of the world’s remaining reserves of uranium, which hasn’t actually been dug up yet. And to cap it all, we’d need to have 10 more geological disposal repositories for the resulting radioactive spent fuel, and we haven’t even managed to negotiate one yet. That is, unless we can burn a good part of that spent fuel in Generation IV nuclear fission reactors – which haven’t even been properly demonstrated yet ! Talk about unconscionable risk !

    Baseload Should Be History By Now, But…

    Whatever the technological capability for nuclear power plants to “load follow” and reduce their output in response to a chance in electricity demand, Generation III reactors would not be run as anything except “baseload” – constantly on, and constantly producing a constant amount of power – although they might turn them off in summer for maintenance. You see, the cost of a Generation III reactor and generation kit is in the initial build – so their investors are not going to permit them to run them at low load factors – even if they could.

    There are risks to running a nuclear power plant at partial load – mostly to do with potential damage to the actual electricity generation equipment. But what are the technology risks that Hinkley Point C gets built, and all that capital is committed, and then it only runs for a couple of years until all that high burn up fuel crumbles and the reactors start leaking plutonium and they have to shut it down permanently ? Who can guarantee it’s a sound bet ?

    If they actually work, running Generation III reactors at constant output as “baseload” will also completely mess with the power market. In all of the scenarios, high nuclear, high non-nuclear, or high fossil fuels with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), there will always need to be some renewables in the mix. In all probability this will be rapidly deployed, highly technologically advanced solar power photovoltaics (PV). The amount of solar power that will be generated will be high in summer, but since you have a significant change in energy demand between summer and winter, you’re going to have a massive excess of electricity generation in summer if you add nuclear baseload to solar. Relative to the demand for energy, you’re going to get more Renewable Energy excess in summer and under-supply in winter (even though you get more offshore wind in winter), so it’s critical how you mix those two into your scenario.

    The UK Government’s maximum 75 GW nuclear scenario comprises 55 GW Generation III and 20 GW Generation IV. They could have said 40 GW Gen III to feed Gen IV – the spent fuel from Gen III is needed to kick off Gen IV. Although, if LFTR took off, if they had enough fluoride materials there could be a Thorium way into Gen IV… but this is all so technical, no MP [ Member of Parliament ] is going to get their head round this before 2050.

    The UK Government are saying that 16 GW of nuclear by 2030 should be seen as a first tranche, and that it could double or triple by 2040 – that’s one heck of a deployment rate ! If they think they can get 16 GW by 2030 – then triple that by 10 years later ? It’s not going to happen. And even 30 GW would be horrific. But it’s probably more plausible – if they can get 16 GW by 2030, they can arguably get double that by 2040.

    As a rule of thumb, you would need around 10 tonnes of fissionable fuel to kickstart a Gen IV reactor. They’ve got 106 tonnes of Plutonium, plus 3 or 4 tonnes they recently acquired – from France or Germany (I forget which). So they could start 11 GW of Gen IV – possibly the PRISM – the Hitachi thing – sodium-cooled. They’ve been trying them since the Year Dot – these Fast Reactors – the Breeders – Dounreay. People are expressing more confidence in them now – “Pandora’s Promise” hangs around the narrative that the Clinton administration stopped research into Fast Reactors – Oak Ridge couldn’t be commercial. Throwing sodium around a core 80 times hotter than current core heats – you can’t throw water at it easily. You need something that can carry more heat out. It’s a high technological risk. But then get some French notable nuclear person saying Gen IV technologies – “they’re on the way and they can be done”.

    Radioactive Waste Disposal Woes

    The point being is – if you’re commissioning 30 GW of Gen III in the belief that Gen IV will be developed – then you are setting yourself up to be a hostage to technological fortune. That is a real ethical consideration. Because if you can’t burn the waste fuel from Gen III, you’re left with up to 10 radioactive waste repositories required when you can’t even get one at the moment. The default position is that radioactive spent nuclear fuel will be left at the power stations where they’re created. Typically, nuclear power plants are built on the coast as they need a lot of cooling water. If you are going for 30 GW you will need a load of new sites – possibly somewhere round the South East of England. This is where climate change comes in – rising sea levels, increased storm surge, dissolving, sinking, washed-away beaches, more extreme storms [...] The default spent fuel scenario with numerous coastal decommissioned sites with radioactive interim stores which contain nearly half the current legacy radioactive waste [...]

    Based on the figures from the new Greenpeace report, I calculate that the added radioactive waste and radioactive spent fuel arisings from a programme of 16 GW of nuclear new build would be 244 million Terabequerel (TBq), compared to the legacy level of 87 million TBq.

    The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) are due to publish their Radioactive Waste Inventory and their Report on Radioactive Materials not in the Waste Inventory at the end of January 2014. We need to keep a watch out for that, because they may have adapted their anticipated Minimum and Maxmium Derived Inventory.

    Politics Is Living In The Past

    What you hear from politicians is they’re still talking about “baseload”, as if they’ve just found the Holy Grail of Energy Policy. And failed nuclear power. Then tidal. And barrages. This is all in the past. Stuff they’ve either read – in an article in a magazine at the dentist’s surgery waiting room, and they think, alright I’ll use that in a TV programme I’ve been invited to speak on, like Question Time. I think that perhaps, to change the direction of the argument, we might need to rubbish their contribution. A technological society needs to be talking about gasification, catalysis. If you regard yourselves as educated, and have a technological society – your way of living in the future is not only in manufacturing but also ideas – you need to be talking about this not that : low carbon gas fuels, not nuclear power. Ministers and senior civil servants probably suffer from poor briefing – or no briefing. They are relying on what is literally hearsay – informal discussions, or journalists effectively representing industrial interests. Newspapers are full of rubbish and it circulates, like gyres in the oceans. Just circulates around and around – full of rubbish.

    I think part of the problem is that the politicians and chief civil servants and ministers are briefed by the “Old Guard” – very often the ex-nuclear power industry guard. They still believe in big construction projects, with long lead times and massive capital investment, whereas Renewable Electricity is racing ahead, piecemeal, and private investors are desperate to get their money into wind power and solar power because the returns are almost immediate and risk-free.

    Together in Electric Dreams

    Question : Why are the UK Government ploughing on with plans for so much nuclear power ?

    1. They believe that a lot of transport and heat can be made to go electric.
    2. They think they can use spent nuclear fuel in new reactors.
    3. They think it will be cheaper than everything else.
    4. They say it’s vital for UK Energy Security – for emissions reductions, for cost, and for baseload. The big three – always the stated aim of energy policy, and they think nuclear ticks all those three boxes. But it doesn’t.

    What they’ll say is, yes, you have to import uranium, but you’ve got a 4 year stock. Any war you’re going to get yourselves involved in you can probably resolve in 4 days, or 4 weeks. If you go for a very high nuclear scenario, you would be taking quite a big share of the global resource of uranium. There’s 2,600 TWh of nuclear being produced globally. And global final energy demand is around 100,000 TWh – so nuclear power currently produces around 2.6% of global energy supply. At current rates of nuclear generation, according to the World Nuclear Association, you’ve got around 80 years of proven reserves and probably a bit more. Let’s say you double nuclear output by 2050 or 2040 – but in the same time you might just have enough uranium – and then find a bit more. But global energy demand rises significantly as well – so nuclear will still only provide around 3% of global energy demand. That’s not a climate solution – it’s just an energy distraction. All this guff about fusion. Well.

    Cornering The Market In Undug Uranium

    A 75 GW programme would produce at baseload 590 TWh a year – divide by 2,600 – is about 23% of proven global uranium reserves. You’re having to import, regardless of what other countries are doing, you’re trying to corner the market – roughly a quarter. Not even a quarter of the market – a quarter of all known reserves – it’s not all been produced yet. It’s still in the ground. So could you be sure that you could actually run these power stations if you build them ? Without global domination of the New British Empire [...]. The security issues alone – defending coastal targets from a tweeb with a desire to blow them up. 50 years down the line they’re full of radioactive spent fuel that won’t have a repository to go to – we don’t want one here – and how much is it going to cost ?

    My view is that offshore wind will be a major contributor in a high or 100% Renewable Electricity scenario by 2050 or 2060. Maybe 180 GW, that will also be around 600 TWh a year – comparable to that maximum nuclear programme. DECC’s final energy demand 2050 – several scenarios – final energy demand from 6 scenarios came out as between roughly 1,500 TWh a year and the maximum 2,500 TWh. Broadly speaking, if you’re trying to do that just with Renewable Electricity, you begin to struggle quite honestly, unless you’re doing over 600 TWh of offshore wind, and even then you need a fair amount of heat pump stuff which I’m not sure will come through. The good news is that solar might – because of the cost and technology breakthroughs. That brings with it a problem – because you’re delivering a lot of that energy in summer. The other point – David MacKay would say – in his book his estimate was 150 TWh from solar by 2050, on the grounds that that’s where you south-facing roofs are – you need to use higher efficiency triple junction cells with more than 40% efficiency and this would be too expensive for a rollout which would double or triple that 150 TWh – that would be too costly – because those cells are too costly. But with this new stuff, you might get that. Not only the cost goes down, but the coverage goes down. Not doing solar across swathes of countryside. There have always been two issues with solar power – cost and where it’s being deployed.

    Uh-Oh, Summer Days. Uh-Oh, Summer Nights

    With the solar-wind headline, summer days and summer nights are an issue.

    With the nuclear headline, 2040 – they would have up to 50 GW, and that would need to run at somewhere between 75% and 95% capacity – to protect the investment and electric generation turbines.

    It will be interesting to provide some figures – this is how much over-capacity you’re likely to get with this amount of offshore wind. But if you have this amount of nuclear power, you’ll get this amount [...]

    Energy demand is strongly variable with season. We have to consider not just power, but heat – you need to get that energy out in winter – up to 4 times as much during peak in winter evenings. How are you going to do that ? You need gas – or you need extensive Combined Heat and Power (CHP) (which needs gas). Or you need an unimaginable deployment of domestic heat pumps. Air source heat pumps won’t work at the time you need them most. Ground source heat pumps would require the digging up of Britain – and you can’t do that in most urban settings.

    District Heat Fields

    The other way to get heat out to everyone in a low carbon world – apart from low carbon gas – is having a field-based ground source heat pump scheme – just dig up a field next to a city – and just put in pipes and boreholes in a field. You’re not disturbing anybody. You could even grow crops on it next season. Low cost and large scale – but would need a District Heating (DH) network. There are one or two heat pump schemes around the world. Not sure if they are used for cooling in summer or heat extraction in the winter. The other thing is hot water underground. Put in an extra pipe in the normal channels to domestic dwellings. Any excess heat from power generation or electrolysis or whatever is put down this loop and heats the sub-ground. Because heat travels about 1 metre a month in soil, that heat should be retained for winter. A ground source heat sink. Geothermal energy could come through – they’re doing a scheme in Manchester. If there’s a nearby heat district network – it makes it easier. Just want to tee it into the nearest DH system. The urban heat demand is 150 TWh a year. You might be able to put DH out to suburban areas as well. There are 9 million gas-connected suburban homes – another about 150 TWh there as well – or a bit more maybe. Might get to dispose of 300 TWh in heat through DH. The Green Deal insulation gains might not be what is claimed – and condensing gas boiler efficiencies are not that great – which feeds into the argument that in terms of energy efficiency, you not only want to do insulation, but also DH – or low carbon gas. Which is the most cost-effective ? Could argue reasonable energy efficiency measures are cheapest – but DH might be a better bet. That involves a lot of digging.

    Gas Is The Logical Answer

    But everything’s already laid for gas. (…but from the greatest efficiency first perspective, if you’re not doing DH, you’re not using a lot of Renewable Heat you could otherwise use [...] )

    The best package would be the use of low carbon gases and sufficient DH to use Renewable Heat where it is available – such as desalination, electrolysis or other energy plant. It depends where the electrolysis is being done.

    The Age of Your Carbon

    It also depends on which carbon atoms you’re using. If you are recycling carbon from the combustion of fossil fuels into Renewable Gas, that’s OK. But you can’t easily recapture carbon emissions from the built environment (although you could effectively do that with heat storage). You can’t do carbon capture from transport either. So your low carbon gas has to come from biogenic molecules. Your Renewable Gas has to be synthesised using biogenic carbon molecules rather than fossil ones.

    [...] I’m using the phrase “Young Carbon”. Young Carbon doesn’t have to be from plants – biological things that grow.

    Well, there’s Direct Air Capture (DAC). It’s simple. David Sevier, London-based, is working on this. He’s using heat to capture carbon dioxide. You could do it from exhaust in a chimney or a gasification process – or force a load of air through a space. He would use heat and cooling to create an updraft. It would enable the “beyond capture” problem to be circumvented. Cost is non-competitive. Can be done technically. Using reject heat from power stations for the energy to do it. People don’t realise you can use a lot of heat to capture carbon, not electricity.

    Young Carbon from Seawater

    If you’re playing around with large amounts of seawater anyway – that is, for desalination for irrigation, why not also do Renewable Hydrogen, and pluck the Carbon Dioxide out of there too to react with the Renewable Hydrogen to make Renewable Methane ? I’m talking about very large amounts of seawater. Not “Seawater Greenhouses” – condensation designs mainly for growing exotic food. If you want large amounts of desalinated water – and you’re using Concentrated Solar Power – for irrigating deserts – you would want to grow things like cacti for biological carbon.

    Say you had 40 GW of wind power on Dogger Bank, spinning at 40% load factor a year. You’ve also got electrolysers there. Any time you’re not powering the grid, you’re making gas – so capturing carbon dioxide from seawater, splitting water for hydrogen, making methane gas. Wouldn’t you want to use flash desalination first to get cleaner water for electrolysis ? Straight seawater electrolysis is also being done.

    It depends on the relative quantities of gas concentrated in the seawater. If you’ve got oxygen, hydrogen and carbon dioxide, that would be nice. You might get loads of oxygen and hydrogen, and only poor quantities of carbon dioxide ?

    But if you could get hydrogen production going from spare wind power. And even if you had to pipe the carbon dioxide from conventional thermal power plants, you’re starting to look at a sea-based solution for gas production. Using seawater, though, chlorine is the problem [...]

    Look at the relative density of molecules – that sort of calculation that will show if this is going to fly. Carbon dioxide is a very fixed, stable molecule – it’s at about the bottom of the energy potential well – you have to get that reaction energy from somewhere.

    How Much Spare Power Will There Be ?

    If you’ve got an offshore wind and solar system. At night, obviously, the solar’s not working (unless new cells are built that can run on infrared night-time Earthshine). But you could still have 100 GWh of wind power at night not used for the power grid. The anticipated new nuclear 40 GW nuclear by 2030 will produce about 140 GWh – this would just complicate problems – adding baseload nuclear to a renewables-inclusive scenario. 40 GW is arguably a reasonable deployment of wind power by 2030 – low if anything.

    You get less wind in a nuclear-inclusive scenario, but the upshot is you’ve definitely got a lot of power to deal with on a summer night with nuclear power. You do have with Renewable Electricity as well, but it varies more. Whichever route we take we’re likely to end up with excess electricity generation on summer nights.

    In a 70 GW wind power deployment (50 GW offshore, 20 GW onshore – 160 TWh a year), you might have something like 50 to 100 GWh per night of excess (might get up to 150 GWh to store on a windy night). But if you have a 16 GW nuclear deployment by 2030 (125 TWh a year), you are definitely going to have 140 GWh of excess per night (that’s 16 GW for 10 hours less a bit). Night time by the way is roughly between 9pm and 7am between peak demands.

    We could be making a lot of Renewable Gas !

    Can you build enough Renewable Gas or whatever to soak up this excess nuclear or wind power ?

    The energy mix is likely to be in reality somewhere in between these two extremes of high nuclear or high wind.

    But if you develop a lot of solar – so that it knocks out nuclear power – it will be the summer day excess that’s most significant. And that’s what Germany is experiencing now.

    Choices, choices, choices

    There is a big choice in fossil fuels which isn’t really talked about very often – whether the oil and gas industry should go for unconventional fossil fuels, or attempt to make use of the remaining conventional resources that have a lower quality. The unconventionals narrative – shale gas, coalbed methane, methane hydrates, deepwater gas, Arctic oil and gas, heavy oil, is running out of steam as it becomes clear that some of these choices are expensive, and environmentally damaging (besides their climate change impact). So the option will be making use of gas with high acid gas composition. And the technological solutions for this will be the same as needed to start major production of Renewable Gas.

    Capacity Payments

    But you still need to answer the balancing question. If you have a high nuclear power scenario, you need maybe 50 TWh a year of gas-fired power generation. If high Renewable Electricity, you will need something like 100 TWh of gas, so you need Carbon Capture and Storage – or low carbon gas.

    Even then, the gas power plants could be running only 30% of the year, and so you will need capacity payments to make sure new flexible plants get built and stay available for use.

    If you have a high nuclear scenario, coupled with gas, you can meet the carbon budget – but it will squeeze out Renewable Electricity. If high in renewables, you need Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) or Carbon Capture and Recycling into Renewable Gas, but this would rule out nuclear power. It depends which sector joins up with which.

    Carbon Capture, Carbon Budget

    Can the Drax power plant – with maybe one pipeline 24 inches in diameter, carrying away 20 megatonnes of carbon dioxide per year – can it meet the UK’s Carbon Budget target ?

  • Economic Ecology

    Posted on October 25th, 2013 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Mind the Gap : BBC Costing the Earth

    Posted on October 16th, 2013 Jo No comments

    I listened to an interesting mix of myth, mystery and magic on BBC Radio 4.

    Myths included the notion that long-term, nuclear power would be cheap; that “alternative” energy technologies are expensive (well, nuclear power is, but true renewables are most certainly not); and the idea that burning biomass to create heat to create steam to turn turbines to generate electricity is an acceptably efficient use of biomass (it is not).

    Biofuelwatch are hosting a public meeting on this very subject :-
    http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2013/burning_issue_public_event/
    “A Burning Issue – biomass and its impacts on forests and communities”
    Tuesday, 29th October 2013, 7-9pm
    Lumen Centre, London (close to St Pancras train station)
    http://www.lumenurc.org.uk/lumencontact.htm
    Lumen Centre, 88 Tavistock Place, London WC1H 9RS

    Interesting hints in the interviews I thought pointed to the idea that maybe, just maybe, some electricity generation capacity should be wholly owned by the Government – since the country is paying for it one way or another. A socialist model for gas-fired generation capacity that’s used as backup to wind and solar power ? Now there’s an interesting idea…




    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03cn0rb

    “Mind the Gap”
    Channel: BBC Radio 4
    Series: Costing the Earth
    Presenter: Tom Heap
    First broadcast: Tuesday 15th October 2013

    Programme Notes :

    “Our energy needs are growing as our energy supply dwindles.
    Renewables have not come online quickly enough and we are increasingly
    reliant on expensive imported gas or cheap but dirty coal. Last year
    the UK burnt 50% more coal than in previous years but this helped
    reverse years of steadily declining carbon dioxide emissions. By 2015
    6 coal fired power stations will close and the cost of burning coal
    will increase hugely due to the introduction of the carbon price
    floor. Shale gas and biomass have been suggested as quick and easy
    solutions but are they really sustainable, or cheap?”

    “Carbon Capture and Storage could make coal or gas cleaner and a new
    study suggests that with CCS bio energy could even decrease global
    warming. Yet CCS has stalled in the UK and the rest of Europe and the
    debate about the green credentials of biomass is intensifying. So what
    is really the best answer to Britain’s energy needs? Tom Heap
    investigates.”

    00:44 – 00:48
    [ Channel anchor ]
    Britain’s energy needs are top of the agenda in “Costing the Earth”…

    01:17
    [ Channel anchor ]
    …this week on “Costing the Earth”, Tom Heap is asking if our
    ambitions to go green are being lost to the more immediate fear of
    blackouts and brownouts.

    01:27
    [ Music : Arcade Fire - "Neighbourhood 3 (Power Out)" ]

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Energy is suddenly big news – central to politics and the economy. The
    countdown has started towards the imminent shutdown of many coal-fired
    power stations, but the timetable to build their replacements has
    barely begun.

    It’ll cost a lot, we’ll have to pay, and the politicians are reluctant
    to lay out the bill. But both the official regulator and industry are
    warning that a crunch is coming.

    So in this week’s “Costing the Earth”, we ask if the goal of clean,
    green and affordable energy is being lost to a much darker reality.

    02:14
    [ Historical recordings ]

    “The lights have started going out in the West Country : Bristol,
    Exeter and Plymouth have all had their first power cuts this
    afternoon.”

    “One of the biggest effects of the cuts was on traffic, because with
    the traffic lights out of commission, major jams have built up,
    particularly in the town centres. One of the oddest sights I saw is a
    couple of ladies coming out of a hairdressers with towels around their
    heads because the dryers weren’t working.”

    “Television closes down at 10.30 [ pm ], and although the cinemas are
    carrying on more or less normally, some London theatres have had to
    close.”

    “The various [ gas ] boards on both sides of the Pennines admit to
    being taken by surprise with today’s cold spell which brought about
    the cuts.”

    “And now the major scandal sweeping the front pages of the papers this
    morning, the advertisement by the South Eastern Gas Board recommending
    that to save fuel, couples should share their bath.”

    [ Caller ]
    “I shall write to my local gas board and say don’t do it in
    Birmingham. It might be alright for the trendy South, but we don’t
    want it in Birmingham.”

    03:13
    [ Tom Heap ]

    That was 1974.

    Some things have changed today – maybe a more liberal attitude to
    sharing the tub. But some things remain the same – an absence of
    coal-fired electricity – threatening a blackout.

    Back then it was strikes by miners. Now it’s old age of the power
    plants, combined with an EU Directive obliging them to cut their
    sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions by 2016, or close.

    Some coal burners are avoiding the switch off by substituting wood;
    and mothballed gas stations are also on standby.

    But Dieter Helm, Professor of Energy Policy at the University of
    Oxford, now believes power cuts are likely.

    03:57
    [ Dieter Helm ]

    Well, if we take the numbers produced by the key responsible bodies,
    they predict that there’s a chance that by the winter of 2-15 [sic,
    meaning 2015] 2-16 [sic, meaning 2016], the gap between the demand for
    electricity and the supply could be as low as 2%.

    And it turns out that those forecasts are based on extremely
    optimistic assumptions about how far demand will fall in that period
    (that the “Green Deal” will work, and so on) and that we won’t have
    much economic growth.

    So basically we are on course for a very serious energy crunch by the
    winter of 2-15 [sic, meaning 2015] 2-16 [sic, meaning 2016], almost
    regardless of what happens now, because nobody can build any power
    stations between now and then.

    It’s sort of one of those slow motion car crashes – you see the whole
    symptoms of it, and people have been messing around reforming markets
    and so on, without addressing what’s immediately in front of them.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    And that’s where you think we are now ?

    [ Dieter Helm ]

    I think there’s every risk of doing so.

    Fortunately, the [ General ] Election is a year and a half away, and
    there’s many opportunities for all the political parties to get real
    about two things : get real about the energy crunch in 2-15 [sic,
    meaning 2015] 2-16 [sic, meaning 2016] and how they’re going to handle
    it; and get real about creating the incentives to decarbonise our
    electricity system, and deal with the serious environmental and
    security and competitive issues which our electricity system faces.

    And this is a massive investment requirement [ in ] electricity : all
    those old stations retiring [ originally built ] back from the 1970s -
    they’re all going to be gone.

    Most of the nuclear power stations are coming to the end of their lives.

    We need a really big investment programme. And if you really want an
    investment programme, you have to sit down and work out how you’re
    going to incentivise people to do that building.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    If we want a new energy infrastructure based on renewables and
    carbon-free alternatives, then now is the time to put those incentives
    on the table.

    The problem is that no-one seems to want to make the necessary
    investment, least of all the “Big Six” energy companies, who are
    already under pressure about high bills.

    [ "Big Six" are : British Gas / Centrica, EdF Energy (Electricite
    de France), E.On UK, RWE npower, Scottish Power and SSE ]

    Sam Peacock of the energy company SSE [ Scottish and Southern Energy ]
    gives the commercial proof of Dieter’s prediction.

    If energy generators can’t make money out of generating energy,
    they’ll be reluctant to do it.

    [ Sam Peacock ]

    Ofgem, the energy regulator, has looked at this in a lot of detail,
    and said that around 2015, 2016, things start to get tighter. The
    reason for this is European Directives, [ is [ a ] ] closing down some
    of the old coal plants. And also the current poor economics around [
    or surround [ -ing ] ] both existing plant and potential new plant.

    So, at the moment it’s very, very difficult to make money out of a gas
    plant, or invest in a new one. So this leads to there being, you know,
    something of a crunch point around 2015, 2016, and Ofgem’s analysis
    looks pretty sensible to us.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    And Sam Peacock lays the blame for this crisis firmly at the Government’s door.

    [ Sam Peacock ]

    The trilemma, as they call it – of decarbonisation, security of supply
    and affordability – is being stretched, because the Government’s
    moving us more towards cleaner technologies, which…which are more
    expensive.

    However, if you were to take the costs of, you know, the extra costs
    of developing these technologies off government [ sic, meaning
    customer ] bills and into general taxation, you could knock about over
    £100 off customer bills today, it’ll be bigger in the future, and you
    can still get that much-needed investment going.

    So, we think you can square the circle, but it’s going to take a
    little bit of policy movement [ and ] it’s going to take shifting some
    of those costs off customers and actually back where the policymakers
    should be controlling them.

    [ KLAXON ! Does he mean controlled energy prices ? That sounds a bit
    centrally managed economy to me... ]

    [ Tom Heap ]

    No surprise that a power company would want to shift the pain of
    rising energy costs from their bills to the tax bill.

    But neither the Government nor the Opposition are actually proposing this.

    Who pays the premium for expensve new energy sources is becoming like
    a game of pass the toxic parcel.

    [ Reference : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hot_potato_%28game%29 ]

    I asked the [ UK Government Department of ] Energy and Climate Change
    Secretary, Ed Davey, how much new money is required between now and
    2020.

    08:06

    [ Ed Davey ]

    About £110 billion – er, that’s critical to replace a lot of the coal
    power stations that are closing, the nuclear power stations that are [
    at the ] end of their lives, and replace a lot of the network which
    has come to the end of its life, too.

    So it’s a huge, massive investment task.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    So in the end we’re going to have to foot the bill for the £110 billion ?

    [ Ed Davey ]

    Yeah. Of course. That’s what happens now. People, in their bills that
    they pay now, are paying for the network costs of investments made
    several years, even several decades ago.

    [ Yes - we're still paying through our national nose to dispose of
    radioactive waste and decommission old nuclear reactors. The liability
    of it all weighs heavily on the country's neck... ]

    And there’s no escaping that – we’ve got to keep the lights on – we’ve
    got to keep the country powered.

    You have to look at both sides of the equation. If we’re helping
    people make their homes more inefficient [ sic, meaning energy
    efficient ], their product appliances more efficient, we’re doing
    everything we possibly can to try to help the bills be kept down,

    while we’re having to make these big investments to keep the lights
    on, and to make sure that we don’t cook the planet, as you say.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    You mention the lights going out. There are predictions that we’re
    headed towards just 2% of spare capacity in the system in a few years’
    time.

    Are you worried about the dangers of, I don’t know, maybe not lights
    going out for some people, but perhaps big energy users being told
    when and when [ sic, meaning where ] they can’t use power in the
    winter ?

    [ Ed Davey ]

    Well, there’s no doubt that as the coal power stations come offline,
    and the nuclear power plants, er, close, we’re going to have make sure
    that new power plants are coming on to replace them.

    And if we don’t, there will be a problem with energy security.

    Now we’ve been working very hard over a long time now to make sure we
    attract that investment. We’ve been working with Ofgem, the regulator;
    with National Grid, and we’re…

    [ Tom Heap ]

    …Being [ or it's being ] tough. I don’t see companies racing to come
    and fill in the gap here and those coal power plants are going off
    soon.

    [ Ed Davey ]

    …we’re actually having record levels of energy investment in the country.

    The problem was for 13 years under the last Government
    [ same old, same old Coalition argument ] we saw low levels of investment
    in energy, and we’re having to race to catch up, but fortunately we’re
    winning that race. And we’re seeing, you know, billions of pounds
    invested but we’ve still got to do more. We’re not there. I’m not
    pretending we’re there yet. [ Are we there, yet ? ] But we do have the
    policies in place.

    So, Ofgem is currently consulting on a set of proposals which will
    enable it to have reserve power to switch on at the peak if it’s
    needed.

    We’re, we’ve, bringing forward proposals in the Energy Bill for what’s
    called a Capacity Market, so we can auction to get that extra capacity
    we need.

    So we’ve got the policies in place.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Some of Ed Davey’s policies, not least the LibDem [ Liberal Democrat
    Party ] U-turn on nuclear, have been guided by DECC [ Department of
    Energy and Climate Change ] Chief Scientist David MacKay, author of
    the influential book “Renewable Energy without the Hot Air” [ sic,
    actually "Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air" ].

    Does he think the lights will dim in the second half of this decade ?

    [ David MacKay ]

    I don’t think there’s going to be any problem maintaining the capacity
    that we need. We just need to make clear where Electricity Market
    Reform [ EMR, part of the Energy Bill ] is going, and the way in which
    we will be maintaining capacity.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    But I don’t quite understand that, because it seems to me, you know,
    some of those big coal-fired power stations are going to be going off.
    What’s going to be coming in their place ?

    [ David MacKay ]

    Well, the biggest number of power stations that’s been built in the
    last few years are gas power stations, and we just need a few more gas
    power stations like that, to replace the coal
    , and hopefully some
    nuclear power stations will be coming on the bars, as well as the wind
    farms that are being built at the moment.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    And you’re happy with that increase in gas-fired power stations, are
    you ? I mean, you do care deeply, personally, about reducing our
    greenhouse gases, and yet you’re saying we’re going to have to build
    more gas-fired power stations.

    [ David MacKay ]

    I do. Even in many of the pathways that reach the 2050 target, there’s
    still a role for gas in the long-term, because some power sources like
    wind and solar power are intermittent, so if you want to be keeping
    the lights on in 2050 when there’s no wind and there’s no sun, you’re
    going to need some gas power stations there
    . Maybe not operating so
    much of the time as they do today, but there’ll still be a role in
    keeping the lights on.

    [ KLAXON ! If gas plants are used only for peak periods or for backup to
    renewables, then the carbon emissions will be much less than if they are
    running all the time. ]

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Many energy experts though doubt that enough new wind power or nuclear
    capacity could be built fast enough to affect the sums in a big way by
    2020.

    But that isn’t the only critical date looming over our energy system.
    Even more challenging, though more distant, is the legally binding
    objective of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in 2050.

    David MacKay wants that certainty to provide the foundation for energy
    decisions, and he showed me the effect of different choices with the
    “Ultimate Future Energy App”. I was in his office, but anyone can try it online.

    [ David MacKay ]

    It’s a 2050 calculator. It computes energy demand and supply in
    response to your choices, and it computes multiple consequences of
    your choices. It computes carbon consequences. It also computes for
    you estimates of air quality, consequences of different choices;
    security of supply, consequences; and the costs of your choices.

    So with this 2050 calculator, it’s an open source tool, and anyone can
    go on the web and use the levers to imagine different futures in 2050
    of how much action we’ve taken in different demand sectors and in
    different supply sectors.

    The calculator has many visualisations of the pathway that you’re choosing
    and helps people understand all the trade-offs… There’s no silver
    bullet for any of this. If I dial up a pathway someone made earlier,
    we can visualise the implications in terms of the area occupied for
    the onshore wind farms, and the area in the sea for the offshore wind
    farms, and the length of the wave farms that you’ve built, and the
    land area required for energy crops.

    And many organisations have used this tool and some of them have given
    us their preferred pathway. So you can see here the Friends of the
    Earth have got their chosen pathway, the Campaign to Protect Rural
    England, and various engineers like National Grid and Atkins have got
    their pathways.

    So you can see alternative ways of achieving our targets, of keeping
    the lights on and taking climate change action. All of those pathways
    all meet the 2050 target, but they do so with different mixes.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    And your view of this is you sort of can’t escape from the scientific
    logic and rigour of it. You might wish things were different or you
    could do it differently, but you’re sort of saying “Look, it’s either
    one thing or the other”. That’s the point of this.

    [ David MacKay ]

    That’s true. You can’t be anti-everything. You can’t be anti-wind and
    anti-nuclear and anti-home insulation. You won’t end up with a plan
    that adds up.

    [ KLAXON ! But you can be rationally against one or two things, like
    expensive new nuclear power, and carbon and particulate emissions-heavy
    biomass for the generation of electricity. ]

    [ Tom Heap ]

    But isn’t that exactly kind of the problem that we’ve had, without
    pointing political fingers, that people rather have been
    anti-everything, and that’s why we’re sort of not producing enough new
    energy sources ?

    [ David MacKay ]

    Yeah. The majority of the British public I think are in favour of many
    of these sources, but there are strong minorities who are vocally
    opposed to every one of the major levers in this calculator. So one
    aspiration I have for this tool is it may help those people come to a
    position where they have a view that’s actually consistent with the
    goal of keeping the lights on.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Professor MacKay’s calculator also computes pounds and pence,
    suggesting that both high and low carbon electricity work out pricey
    in the end.

    [ David MacKay ]

    The total costs of all the pathways are pretty much the same.
    “Business as Usual” is cheaper in the early years, and then pays more,
    because on the “Business as Usual”, you carry on using fossil fuels,
    and the prices of those fossil fuels are probably going to go up.

    All of the pathways that take climate change action have a similar
    total cost, but they pay more in the early years, ’cause you have to
    pay for things like building insulation and power stations, like
    nuclear power stations, or wind power, which cost up-front, but then
    they’re very cheap to run in the future.

    [ KLAXON ! Will the cost of decommissioning nuclear reactors and the
    costs of the waste disposal be cheap ? I think not... ]

    So the totals over the 40 or 50 year period here, are much the same for these.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    The cheapest immediate option of all is to keep shovelling the coal.
    And last year coal overtook gas to be our biggest electricity
    generation source, pushing up overall carbon emissions along the way
    by 4.5%

    [ KLAXON ! This is not very good for energy security - look where the
    coal comes from... ]

    As we heard earlier, most coal-fired power stations are scheduled for
    termination, but some have won a reprieve, and trees are their
    unlikely saviour.

    Burning plenty of wood chip [ actually, Tom, it's not wood "chip", it's
    wood "pellets" - which often have other things mixed in with the wood,
    like coal... ] allows coal furnaces to cut the sulphur dioxide and nitrous
    oxide belching from their chimneys to below the level that requires their
    closure under European law.

    But some enthusiasts see wood being good for even more.

    16:19

    [ Outside ]

    It’s one of those Autumn days that promises to be warm, but currently
    is rather moist. I’m in a field surrounded by those dew-laden cobwebs
    you get at this time of year.

    But in the middle of this field is a plantation of willow. And I’m at
    Rothamsted Research with Angela Karp who’s one of the directors here.

    Angela, tell me about this willow I’m standing in front of here. I
    mean, it’s about ten foot high or so, but what are you seeing ?

    [ Angela Karp ]

    Well, I’m seeing one of our better varieties that’s on display here.
    We have a demonstration trial of about ten different varieties. This
    is a good one, because it produces a lot of biomass, quite easily,
    without a lot of additional fertilisers or anything. And as you can
    see it’s got lovely straight stems. It’s got many stems, and at the
    end of three years, we would harvest all those stems to get the
    biomass from it. It’s nice and straight – it’s a lovely-looking, it’s
    got no disease, no insects on it, very nice, clean willow.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    So, what you’ve been working on here as I understand it is trying to
    create is the perfect willow – the most fuel for the least input – and
    the easiest to harvest.

    [ Angela Karp ]

    That’s absolutely correct, because the whole reason for growing these
    crops is to get the carbon from the atmosphere into the wood, and to
    use that wood as a replacement for fossil fuels. Without putting a lot
    of inputs in, because as soon as you add fertilisers you’re using
    energy and carbon to make them, and that kind of defeats the whole
    purpose of doing this.

    [ KLAXON ! You don't need to use fossil fuel energy or petrochemicals or
    anything with carbon emissions to make fertiliser ! ... Hang on, these
    are GM trees, right ? So they will need inputs... ]

    [ Tom Heap ]

    And how much better do you think your new super-variety is, than say,
    what was around, you know, 10 or 15 years ago. ‘Cause willow as an
    idea for burning has been around for a bit. How much of an improvement
    is this one here ?

    [ Angela Karp ]

    Quite a bit. So, these are actually are some of the, if you like,
    middle-term varieties. So we started off yielding about 8 oven-dry
    tonnes per hectare, and now we’ve almost doubled that.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    How big a place do you think biomass can have in the UK’s energy
    picture in the future ?

    [ Angela Karp ]

    I think that it could contribute between 10% and 15% of our energy. If
    we were to cultivate willows on 1 million hectares, we would probably
    provide about 3% to 4% of energy in terms of electricity, and I think
    that’s kind of a baseline figure. We could cultivate them on up to 3
    million hectares, so you can multiply things up, and we could use them
    in a much more energy-efficient way.

    [ KLAXON ! Is that 4% of total energy or 4% of total electricity ?
    Confused. ]

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Do we really have 3 million hectares going a-begging for planting willow in ?

    [ Angela Karp ]

    Actually, surprisingly we do. So, people have this kind of myth
    there’s not enough land, but just look around you and you will find
    there’s lots of land that’s not used for cultivating food crops.

    We don’t see them taking over the whole country. We see them being
    grown synergistically with food crops.

    [ KLAXON ! This is a bit different than the statement made in 2009. ]

    [ Tom Heap ]

    But I’d just like to dig down a little bit more into the carbon cycle
    of the combustion of these things, because that’s been the recent
    criticism of burning a lot of biomass, is that you put an early spike
    in the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, if you start burning a lot
    of biomass, because this [ sounds of rustling ], this plant is going
    to be turned into, well, partly, CO2 in the atmosphere.

    [ Angela Karp ]

    Yes, I think that’s probably a simple and not totally correct way of
    looking at it. ‘Cause a lot depends on the actual conversion process
    you are using.

    So some conversion processes are much more efficient at taking
    everything and converting it into what you want.

    Heat for example is in excess of 80%, 90% conversion efficiency.

    Electricity is a little bit more of the problem. And there, what
    they’re looking at is capturing some of the carbon that you lose, and
    converting that back in, in carbon storage processes, and that’s why
    there’s a lot of talk now about carbon storage from these power
    stations.

    That I think is the future. It’s a question of connecting up all parts
    of the process, and making sure that’s nothing wasted.

    20:02

    [ Tom Heap ]

    So, is wood a desirable greener fuel ?

    Not according to Almuth Ernsting of Biofuelwatch, who objects to the
    current plans for large-scale wood burning, its use to prop up coal,
    and even its low carbon claims.

    [ Almuth Ernsting ]

    The currently-announced industry plans, and by that I mean existing
    power stations, but far more so, power stations which are in the
    planning process [ and ] many of which have already been consented -
    those [ biomass ] power stations, would, if they all go ahead,
    require to burn around 82 million tonnes of biomass, primarily wood,
    every year. Now by comparison, the UK in total only produces around
    10 million tonnes, so one eighth of that amount, in wood, for all
    industries and purposes, every year.

    We are looking on the one hand at a significant number of proposed,
    and in some cases, under-construction or operating new-build biomass
    power stations, but the largest single investment so far going into
    the conversion of coal power station units to biomass, the largest and
    most advanced one of which at the moment is Drax, who are, have
    started to move towards converting half their capacity to burning wood
    pellets.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Drax is that huge former, or still currently, coal-fired power station
    in Yorkshire, isn’t it ?

    [ Almuth Ernsting ]

    Right, and they still want to keep burning coal as well. I mean, their
    long-term vision, as they’ve announced, would be for 50:50 coal and
    biomass.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    What do you think about that potential growth ?

    [ Almuth Ernsting ]

    Well, we’re seriously concerned. We believe it’s seriously bad news
    for climate change, it’s seriously bad news for forests, and it’s
    really bad news for communities, especially in the Global South, who
    are at risk of losing their land for further expansion of monoculture
    tree plantations, to in future supply new power stations in the UK.

    A really large amount, increasingly so, of the wood being burned,
    comes from slow-growing, whole trees that are cut down for that
    purpose, especially at the moment in temperate forests in North
    America. Now those trees will take many, many decades to grow back
    and potentially re-absorb that carbon dioxide, that’s if they’re
    allowed and able to ever grow back.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    There’s another technology desperate for investment, which is critical
    to avoiding power failure, whilst still hitting our mid-century carbon
    reduction goals – CCS – Carbon Capture and Storage, the ability to
    take the greenhouse gases from the chimney and bury them underground.

    It’s especially useful for biomass and coal, with their relatively
    high carbon emissions, but would also help gas be greener.

    The Chancellor has approved 30 new gas-fired power stations, so long
    as they are CCS-ready [ sic, should be "capture ready", or
    "carbon capture ready" ].

    Jon Gibbons is the boss of the UK CCS Research Centre, based in an
    industrial estate in Sheffield.

    [ Noise of processing plant ]

    Jon’s just brought me up a sort of 3D maze of galvanized steel and
    shiny metal pipes to the top of a tower that must be 20 or so metres
    high.

    Jon, what is this ?

    [ Jon Gibbons ]

    OK, so this is our capture unit, to take the CO2 out of the combustion
    products from gas or coal. In the building behind us, in the test rigs
    we’ve got, the gas turbine or the combustor rig, we’re burning coal or
    gas, or oil, but mainly coal or gas.

    We’re taking the combustion products through the green pipe over
    there, bringing it into the bottom of the unit, and then you can see
    these big tall columns we’ve got, about 18 inches diameter, half a
    metre diameter, coming all the way up from the ground up to the level
    we’re at.

    It goes into one of those, it gets washed clean with water, and it
    goes into this unit over here, and there it meets an amine solvent, a
    chemical that will react reversibly with CO2, coming in the opposite
    direction, over packing. So, it’s like sort of pebbles, if you can
    imagine it, there’s a lot of surface area. The gas flows up, the
    liquid flows down, and it picks up the CO2, just mainly the CO2.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    And that amine, that chemical as you call it, is stripping the CO2 out
    of that exhaust gas. This will link to a storage facility.

    What would then happen to the CO2 ?

    [ Jon Gibbons ]

    What would then happen is that the CO2 would be compressed up to
    somewhere in excess of about 100 atmospheres. And it would turn from
    being a gas into something that looks like a liquid, like water, about
    the same density as water. And then it would be taken offshore in the
    UK, probably tens or hundreds of kilometres offshore, and it would go
    deep, deep down, over a kilometre down into the ground, and basically
    get squeezed into stuff that looks like solid rock. If you go and look
    at a sandstone building – looks solid, but actually, maybe a third of
    it is little holes. And underground, where you’ve got cubic kilometres
    of space, those little holes add up to an awful lot of free space. And
    the CO2 gets squeezed into those, over time, and it spreads out, and
    it just basically sits there forever, dissolves in the water, reacts
    with the rocks, and will stay there for millions of years.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Back in his office, I asked Jon why CCS seemed to be stuck in the lab.

    [ Jon Gibbons ]

    We’re doing enough I think on the research side, but what we really
    need to do, is to do work on a full-scale deployment. Because you
    can’t work on research in a vacuum. You need to get feedback -
    learning by doing – from actual real projects.

    And a lot of the problems we’ve got on delivering CCS, are to do with
    how you handle the regulation for injecting CO2, and again, you can
    only do that in real life.

    So what we need to do is to see the commercialisation projects that
    are being run by the Department of Energy and Climate Change actually
    going through to real projects that can be delivered.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Hmm. When I talk to engineers, they’re always very passionate and
    actually quite optimistic about Carbon Capture and Storage. And when
    I talk to people in industry, or indeed read the headlines, not least
    a recent cancellation in Norway, it always seems like a very bleak picture.

    [ Jon Gibbons ]

    I think people are recognising that it’s getting quite hard to get
    money for low carbon technologies.

    So – recent presentation we had at one of our centre meetings, was
    actually a professor from the United States, Howard Herzog. And he
    said “You think you’re seeing a crisis in Carbon Capture and Storage.
    But what you’re actually seeing is a crisis in climate change
    mitigation.”

    [ KLAXON ! Priming us for a scaling back of commitment to the
    Climate Change Act ? I do hope not. ]

    Now, Carbon Capture and Storage, you do for no other purpose than
    cutting CO2 emissions to the atmosphere, and it does that extremely
    effectively. It’s an essential technology for cutting emissions. But
    until you’ve got a global process that says – actually we’re going to
    get on top of this problem; we’re going to cut emissions – get them to
    safe level before we actually see people dying in large numbers from
    climate change effects – ’cause, certainly, if people start dying,
    then we will see a response – but ideally, you’d like to do it before
    then. But until you get that going, then actually persuading people to
    spend money for no other benefit than sorting out the climate is
    difficult.

    There’s just no point, you know, no country can go it alone, so you
    have to get accommodation. And there, we’re going through various
    processes to debate that. Maybe people will come to an accommodation.
    Maybe the USA and China will agree to tackle climate change. Maybe
    they won’t.

    What I am fairly confident is that you won’t see huge, you know,
    really big cuts in CO2 emissions without that global agreement. But
    I’m also confident that you won’t see big cuts in CO2 emissions
    without CCS deployment.

    And my guess is there’s about a 50:50 chance that we do CCS before we
    need to, and about a 50:50 chance we do it after we have to. But I’m
    pretty damn certain we’re going to do it.

    [ Tom Heap ]

    But we can’t wait for a global agreement that’s already been decades
    in the making, with still no end in sight.

    We need decisions now to provide more power with less pollution.

    [ Music lyrics : "What's the plan ? What's the plan ?" ]

    [ Tom Heap ]

    Dieter Helm, Professor of Energy Policy at the University of Oxford
    believes we can only deliver our plentiful green energy future if we
    abandon our attitude of buy-now pay-later.

    [ KLAXON ! Does he mean a kind of hire purchase energy economy ?
    I mean, we're still paying for nuclear electricity from decades ago,
    in our bills, and through our taxes to the Department of Energy and
    Climate Change. ]

    [ Dieter Helm ]

    There’s a short-term requirement and a long-term requirement. The
    short-term requirement is that we’re now in a real pickle. We face
    this energy crunch. We’ve got to try to make the best of what we’ve
    got. And I think it’s really like, you know, trying to get the
    Spitfires back up again during the Battle of Britain. You know, you
    patch and mend. You need somebody in command. You need someone
    in control. And you do the best with what you’ve got.

    In that context, we then have to really stand back and say, “And this
    is what we have to do to get a serious, long-term, continuous, stable
    investment environment, going forward.” In which, you know, we pay the
    costs, but of course, not any monopoly profits, not any excess
    profits, but we have a world in which the price of electricity is
    related to the cost.”

    [ KLAXON ! Is Dieter Helm proposing state ownership of energy plant ? ]

    29:04

    [ Programme anchor ]

    “Costing the Earth” was presented by Tom Heap, and made in Bristol by
    Helen Lennard.

    [ Next broadcast : 16th October 2013, 21:00, BBC Radio 4 ]

  • Good Gas, Bad Gas

    Posted on July 8th, 2013 Jo No comments

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/07/07/1058051/must-see-gasland-part-ii-on-hbo-monday-natural-gas-once-a-bridge-now-a-gangplank/

    That’s the bad gas. Now for the good gas – Renewable Gas :-

    http://tribune.com.pk/story/573418/renewable-energy-kesc-aman-foundation-to-set-up-bio-gas-plant/

    http://www.woodheadpublishing.com/en/book.aspx?bookID=2862

    http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/nl4016655

    Joanna Kargul’s team :-
    http://solar.biol.uw.edu.pl/index.php/lab-team
    http://www.eera-set.eu/lw_resource/datapool/_items/item_795/ampea_2013_kargul.pdf

    Slightly questionable gas (from a biosecurity point of view) :-

    http://sb6.biobricks.org/poster/biohydrogen-production-in-e-coli-a-synthetic-biology-approach/

  • The Trouble With Tar

    Posted on June 6th, 2013 Jo No comments





    The bother with bitumen is that it’s as far from being a liquid as it is possible for a mixed bag of hydrocarbons to get without it being solid, flaky coal. If crude petroleum oil is a cup of tea with a tablespoonful of sugar syrup stirred into it, heavy oil can be like burnt toffee charred and stuck to the bottom of the pan, making the whole place stink of fence weatherisation paint.

    A couple of decades ago, thick oil deposits were ruled out as uneconomic to mine, but as petroleum oil prices have risen, tar and bitumen are now back on the driller’s menu. The oil and gas industry claim that advances in technology have made these resources viable to exploit, and to some extent this must be right. However the rising prices for liquid transport fuels over the last decade is probably the main motivation for going after these dirty “unconventional” fossil fuels. It certainly seems to be the key stimulus for a new flurry of activity in this area.


    [ Image Credit : Amjad Ali Shah ]

    The world’s dense oil resources finally rose above controversy to make it into BP’s annual energy review in the BP’s 2010 Statistical Review (the data for 2009). Note the difference with the previous year :-


    [ Image Credit : BP ]


    [ Image Credit : BP ]

    This difference in the Reserves to Production ratio (R/P) between the years is noted as being “due to an increase in Venezuelan official reserves”, and the data taken from the OPEC Annual Statistical Bulletin, which includes “proven reserves of the Magna Reserve Project in the Orinoco Belt” :-

    http://www.expertguides.com/default.asp?Page=9&GuideID=238&Ed=132

    At a meeting held by the Institute of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) held at the Institute of Physics (IoP) two days ago in London, called “Catalysis and Chemical Engineering 2013″, I chatted with a research scientist about the methods for extracting oil from seams of “tar”. Our conversation had its focus on a poster on the boards, summarising a paper that I think is this :-

    Optimization of the CAPRI Process for Heavy Oil Upgrading: Effect of Hydrogen and Guard Bed
    by Abarasi Hart, Amjad Shah, Gary Leeke, Malcolm Greaves and Joseph Wood, of the Universities of Birmingham and Bath, published in the journal Industrial and Engineering Chemical Research, 24 April 2013, DOI: 10.1021/ie400661x

    ( Other work previously : http://opus.bath.ac.uk/24298/, http://opus.bath.ac.uk/27784/,http://opus.bath.ac.uk/1063/, http://www.onepetro.org/mslib/servlet/onepetropreview?id=SPE-136870-PA, http://gow.epsrc.ac.uk/NGBOViewGrant.aspx?GrantRef=EP/E057977/1, http://www.greencarcongress.com/2013/03/hashemi-20130325.html )

    The basic idea is to lay a pipe at the bottom of the seam of oil, then burn the edge of the seam, causing the oil to melt somewhat, pass into the pipe and get catalysed into a lighter oil, and then pumped out :-

    Of course, burning oil underground has potential issues. Nothing is ever as neat as the scholarly diagrams.

    The idea of packing the pipe with catalyst, rather than trying to run the catalyst through with the oil, shows some potential. It might be cheaper and more energy efficient to do this, rather than using electricity to heat the oil to make it flow. I mean, if you are going to use electricity to deliver liquid transport fuels, you might as well have electric drive transport vehicles instead.

    http://www.intecsea.com/publications/technical-publications/148-direct-electrical-heating-of-flowlines-guide-to-uses-and-benefits

    “Direct Electrical Heating of Flowlines – Guide to Uses and Benefits : Publish Date: 1/24/2012 : Author: Rebecca Fisher Roth : Conference: OTC Brazil (OTC-22631-PP) : Abstract: Direct Electrical Heating (DEH) of flowlines is a flow assurance technology that enables development of fields with heavy oil and fields in arctic regions, fields with long subsea tiebacks, and marginally profitable offshore fields. By allowing for operation in conditions outside of the hydrate region and/or above the wax appearance temperature, DEH opens up areas of development not otherwise considered viable by production companies and can significantly reduce CAPEX and OPEX for already-viable fields.”

    http://www.wartsila.com/file/Wartsila/en/1278532493326a1267106724867-Wartsila-O-V-DEH.pdf

    I wonder about the energy balance of the mining of heavy oils – how much energy needs to be used to mine these hydrocarbons ? And what of the risks – such as permanent underground fires, toxic surface “tailing ponds” from further refining, or major strata collapse ? Wouldn’t it just be easier, cleaner and cheaper to make energy on the surface of the Earth from realtime sunshine, instead of underground fossil sunshine ?


    [ Image Credit : BP ]

    http://www.controlrisks.com/Oversized%20assets/LATAM_oil_and_gas_whitepaper_2013_10.pdf

  • Carbon Bubble : Unburnable Assets

    Posted on June 3rd, 2013 Jo No comments



    [ Image Credit : anonymous ]


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

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

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

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

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

  • 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 ?

  • Tillerson Talks It Down

    Posted on July 14th, 2012 Jo No comments

    Rex Tillerson, Chief Executive Officer of ExxonMobil, was recently invited to talk to the Council on Foreign Relations in the United States of America, as part of their series on CEOs.

    His “on the record” briefing was uploaded to YouTube almost immediately as he made a number of very interesting comments.

    Reactions were mixed.

    The thing most commented upon was his handwaving away the significance of climate change – a little change here, a little change over there and you could almost see the traditional magician’s fez here – shazam – nothing to worry about.

    In amongst all the online furore about this, was discussion of his continued Membership of the Church of Oil Cornucopia – he must have mentioned the word “technology” about seventy-five times in fifteen minutes. He clearly believes, as do his shareholders and management board, that his oil company can continue to get progressively more of the black stuff out of tar sands, oil shales or oil-bearing shale sediments and ever-tighter locked-in not naturally outgassing “natural” gas out of gas shales. At least in Northern America.

    As numerous commentators with a background in Economics have claimed, well, the price of oil is rising, and that creates a market for dirtier, harder-to-reach oil. Obviously. But missing from their Law of Supply and Demand is an analysis of how oil prices are actually determined in the real world. It’s certainly not a free market – there are numerous factors that control the price of the end-product, gasoline, not least state sponsorship of industries, either through direct subsidies, or through the support of dependent industries such as car manufacture. At least in North America.

    In the background, there is ongoing shuttle diplomacy between the major western economies and the assortment of regimes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) who still have the world’s largest pool of cleaner-ish petroleum under their feet. That, naturally, has an impact on supply and pricing : even though the strength of this bonding is not as tight-fast as it historically was, there appears to have been more of it since around 2005. Or at least, that’s when I first started monitoring it consciously.

    In addition to that, there are only a limited number of players in the oil industry. It is almost impossible to break into the sector without an obscene amount of capital, and exceedingly good buddy-type relationships with everybody else in the field – including sheikhs you formerly knew from when you attended specialty schools. So, no, the market in oil is not free in any sense. It is rigged – if you’ll excuse the pun.

    And then there’s foundational reasons why oil prices are artificial – and may not cause a boom in the “unconventional” production that Rex Tillerson is so excited about (in a rancher-down-the-farm kind of way). Oil is still fundamental to the global economy. In fact, the price of oil underpins most business, as oil is still dominant in the transportation of goods and commodities. Despite all the techno-wizardry, it is fundamentally more costly to drill for fossil fuels in shale, than from pressure wells where oil just gloops out of the ground if you stick a pipe in.

    It’s not the drilling that’s the major factor – so the technology is not the main driver of the cost. It’s the put-up, take-down costs – the costs of erecting the infrastructure for a well, or putting underground shale heating or fracturing equipment in place, and the cleaning up afterwards. Some of the technologies used to mine shales for oil use an incredible amount of water, and this all needs to be processed, unless you don’t mind desecrating large swathes of sub-tropical scenery. Or Canada.

    The price of oil production has a knock-on effect, including on the very markets that underpin oil production – so increasing oil prices have a cyclic forcing effect – upwards. It also has an impact on the prices of other essential things, such as food. One can see a parallel rise in the price of oil and the price of staple crops in the last few years – and the spiralling cost of grain wheat, rice and corn maize is not all down to climate change.

    Oil companies are in a quandary – they need to have higher oil prices to justify their unconventional oil operations – and they also need good relationships with governments, who know they cannot get re-elected if too many people blame them for rising costs of living. Plus, there’s the global security factor – several dozen countries already have economies close to bust because of the cost of oil imports. There are many reasons to keep oil prices depressed.

    Let’s ask that subtle, delicate question : why did Rex Tillerson espouse the attitudes he did when asked to go on the record ? Why belittle the effects of climate change ? The answer is partly to soothe the minds of American investors, (and MENA investors in America). If such a powerful player in the energy sector believes “we can adapt to that” about climate change, clearly behind-the-scenes he will be lobbying against excessive carbon pricing or taxation with the American federal administration.

    And why be so confident that technology can keep the oil flowing, and make up for the cracks appearing in conventional supply chains by a frenzy of shale works ? Well, logically, he’s got to encourage shareholder confidence, and also government confidence, that his industry can continue to deliver. But, let’s just surmise that before he was shunted onto the stage in June, he’d had a little pre-briefing with some government officials. They would be advising him to show high levels of satisfaction with unconventional oil production growth (in America) – after all, this would act against the rollercoaster of panic buying and panic selling in futures contracts that has hit the oil markets in recent months.

    So Rex Tillerson is pushed awkwardly to centre stage. Global production of oil ? No problem ! It’s at record highs (if we massage the data), and likely to get even better. At least in America. For a while. But hey, there’s no chance of oil production declining – it’s important to stress that. If everyone can be convinced to believe that there’s a veritable river of oil, for the forseeable future, then oil prices will stay reasonable, and we can all carry on as we are. Nothing will crash or burn. Except the climate.

    Rex Tillerson’s interview on global (American) oil production may have been used to achieve several propaganda aims – but the key one, it seems to me, was to talk down the price of oil. Of course, this will have a knock-on effect on how much unconventional oil is affordable and accessible, and maybe precipitate a real peak in oil production – just the thing he’s denying. But keeping the price of oil within a reasonable operating range is more important than Rex Tillerson’s impact on the American Presidential elections, or even Rex Tillerson’s legacy.

  • This Is My Thesis

    Posted on May 21st, 2012 Jo 1 comment

    I have recently been awarded a postgraduate Master of Science (MSc) degree, and several of my contacts suggested that I might consider studying for the academic qualification of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). To be awarded a doctorate, I would need to make a valuable contribution to the body of knowledge and achievement in my chosen field. I do not think that paper-based research on its own would count as taking collective human understanding a step further, and so I must consider what forms of theorising, construction, engineering, creation, experimentation, configuration, data collection, analysis and argumentation I would need to make accomplishments in, in order to gain the good review of my peers, and the acceptance of my skill. It is not enough to love Wisdom, she has to be sought out, and introduced to your friends.

    My first instinct is collaborative – how can I find a place where I can nurture my learning and strategy, in co-operation with others – where I can find a welcome, and make statements and discoveries that gain me a status, get me recognition ? I want to shine, in order to become useful, to serve my fellow woman and man. I don’t want to be competitive, winning out over others, but be part of a vanguard, a flight formation, spurring each other on to make progress together, striving as a group. I’m not ambitious, except for truth, beauty and good technology. I can share acclaim and I want to bring everybody with me. We can, standing elbow to elbow, vanquish destructive forces.

    Yet, this proud, altruistic aim, to be part of the pack of pioneers, to offer something helpful, is marred by reality. Whilst I want to be constructive, others adopt divisiveness, in order to isolate outliers, and clamber over others to win the crown. I must not only reserve my right to speak against the herd, I must also wield it. I am relegated to the Zone of Insignificance, the people whose voices do not count because they articulate criticism. I do not want to join those who act as if they have the only viable formulation of reality – with their patronising stance – offering to host the public conversation, claiming they are at the centre of the debate, whilst at the same time undermining others with clever cynicism and sneering dismissal of those who will not join them.

    I cannot be bought, and neither can I be seduced into a false alliance. I will not support meta-narrative, nor other contrivances. But this leaves me conflicted. One of the most significant problems with public discourse on science and technology in relation to resource limits and environmental damage is the persistence of the “anti” lobby – those people who feel bound to continue to be negative about things that have not yet been resolved. Many have been anti-nuclear, anti-fossil fuels, anti-coal, anti-energy companies, anti-Government policy, anti-hijacking of the United Nations process on climate change by economists. These voices, these positions, are important, but do not own the platform, and so they continue to rage. It is impossible to make progress without having something to rally around, to have a positive flag to muster under, but people with genuine influence continue to mis-step in their proposals and policies.

    I want to bridge the gaps between the social groupings – I need to – in order to offer a way forward that can put some of the anti-thesis to bed, and galvanise efforts towards real, workable, cost-effective solutions. A genuine peoples movement for progress can accrete consensus, enormous non-hierarchical power, and can even draw in its detractors if it can be seen to be working. I am going to have to step out in faith, and at much risk – for I am going to attempt to join together the direction of the energy sector with the concerns of the environmentalists. I am not going to use a marketing strategy, nor sell a public relations pill to financiers and investment funds. I am not going to paint a green picture that has no details or exists only in a dream world. I am fairly certain that everybody is going to hate me, at least for a while, but in the end, I hope they will see that I am right, as I feel I am not generally mistaken.

    Since I expect to be slighted and put down, and for people to work to marginalise me, I do not expect to be adopted by an academic institution or an energy or engineering company in the pursuit of my goals. In fact, I would resist such appropriation, for I am intellectually liberated. So, my work will not be accorded a standard accolade by a respectable institution or corporate body, and in fact, since that is the case, I can choose to work in any way that I see fit. Since, according to many scientists, we do not have much time to gain global assent for workable climate change solutions, as we must have a peak in greenhouse gas emissions in the near term, I cannot measure out five or seven years to complete a body of work which would then be reviewed. Instead, I shall publish in stages, and take peer review, including negative criticism, if any should be offered, as I go.

    Although I wish to be practical rather than purely written, I shall not have much access to the funds, laboratories or engineering workshops where I could do the work myself. Instead, I shall have to ask questions of those who are already doing the work I am following, and try to ascertain their progress, and make my recommendations for their advancement. I seek to investigate live uses of the technology and systems I write about – as I expect them to be put to use before I have completed documenting them. My work will therefore be literature, but I want my intelligence to be fully accessible, so I will not use academic forms of composition. I shall write in what I hope is an easy, open way, and provide a mechanism for reply. I am going to offer my work by subscription, and I hope that those who register to receive my report in sections, will participate in making my work better.

    The human race needs to be for something, not merely against, in all the myriad multitude of complaints that rise up like evaporating water, or steam from boiling pots, all and every day. However, a false unity, or a crooked one, cannot help us. We need to use what we’ve already got, and only imagine small gains in technological prowess. We should stop believing in public relations and advertising. We should stop being lulled into passivity by those glossing over our concerns, or those outspending logic. We should not give up in the face of overwhelming ineptitude and embedded vested interests. We cannot overhaul everything overnight, and somebody’s got to pay for change, and so they had better be the right changes. We need to be pragmatic, and not overreach, nor over-commit ourselves where technology could fail.

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

    Posted on March 16th, 2012 Jo No comments
    A lot of people are going to be distressed when I say this, and tell me I have no right to say it – but honestly guys and gals, it’s time to tell the patently obvious truth : the United Nations process on Climate Change isn’t working.

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

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

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

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

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

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Debunking the GWPF Briefing Paper No2 – The Sahel Is Greening

    Posted on March 16th, 2012 Jo No comments


    Image Credit : Global Warming Policy Foundation

    This article was written by M. A. Rodger and was originally posted at DeSmogBlog and is syndicated by an informal agreement and with the express permission of both the author and DeSmogBlog, without payment or charge.
    This is the second in a series of posts on the educational charity and climate sceptic “think-tank” Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). The first post examined GWPF”s organisation and its principles (or lack of them). Here we examine GWPF”s Briefing Paper No2 – The Sahel Is Greening by Philipp Mueller who is the Assistant Director of the GWPF. Coverage of the greening Sahel has been in the media for a decade now, so this cannot be too controversial a subject, can it?

    GWPF BRIEFING PAPER No2 – SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SUBJECT
    Mueller explains what this Briefing Paper No2 is about in the first three sentences.

    “Global warming has both positive and negative impacts. However, very often only the negative consequences are reported and the positive ones omitted. This article will show an example of a positive effect of warming.” 

    Mueller then sets out to show how the Sahel is enjoying a “positive impact” of global warming.

    Yet already here is a glaring omission. Despite this being an ideal opportunity to list out all the other “positive impacts”, Mueller fails even to hint at what any of the others might be. Never mind. We still have the Sahel. Or do we?

    THE GREENING OF THE SAHEL – MUELLER”S VERSION
    Mueller”s account can be summarised thus:

    Between the 1950s and 1980s reducing rainfalls across the Sahel (the region of Africa immediately South of the Sahara Desert) caused severe drought and famine. But, according to Mueller, since the early 1980s this process has gone into reverse with the Sahel greening, harvests more plentiful and the Sahara shrinking.

    The reason for this improvement is more than simply increasing rainfall. The climate of the Sahel region is delicate. Additional rainfall results in higher levels of vegetation. This induces yet more rain while reducing soil erosion. However, there is more at work than just this one “feedback” mechanism. Mueller says the extra factor that might be responsible is “the rise of atmospheric CO2 levels.” It seems the elevated levels of atmospheric CO2 let plants grow better, especially in arid regions. Clever stuff, that!

    Mueller does not leave it there. He discusses the cause of the underlying increase in rainfall citing papers that suggest the rainfall was due to a warmer climate in the Sahara or a warmer North Atlantic, a process “partially caused by greenhouse gas emissions.”

    Mueller”s shrinking Sahara is not unprecedented. In the past the Sahara, far from being a desert, was once a grass-covered savannah. This was over 6,000 years ago during the Holocene Climate Optimum (when temperatures were 2-5 deg C hotter than now according to Mueller but not according to others) and also during two other times in last 120,000 years.

    Mueller says the future isn”t certain. The Sahel may become wetter or it may become drier. But, he concludes, today the Sahel is undoubtedly wetter and suddenly Mueller becomes far more certain about those speculative causes of the greening of the Sahel.  “The increase in rainfall, which was probably caused by rising temperatures, and rising CO2 concentrations, might even – if sustained for a few more decades – green the Sahara. This would be a truly tremendous prospect.”

    This account makes bold statements but can it all be true?

    DO PIGS FLY?
    Mueller”s account contains many omissions and misrepresentations. The list is so long that the full account of Mueller”s errors are appended to the bottom of this post and just a summary is presented here.

    After droughts end, things grow greener. That is natural. The Sahel has a delicate climate and research shows that increased human emissions were more likely the cause of the initial drought rather than the cause of the re-greening. The recovery is also very patchy. Drought and famine, declining crops as well as encroaching deserts continue to plague parts of the Sahel, to the point that the description “greening” remains a subject for debate. Mueller”s rosy account fails to tell us any of this.

    It is wild speculation to assert that any recovery in the Sahel is a result of global warming and to dangle the prospect of a future green Sahara is the exact opposite of the message provided by Mueller”s reference on the matter. However welcome the re-greening of parts of the Sahel, it cannot be relied on.

    Mueller does mention this in passing but he fails to mention the confident scientific finding that any re-greening will eventually be reversed in the future. So if this greening of the Sahel is the prime example of the “positive impacts” of global warming, it is no surprise that Mueller fails to list any of the others.

    CONCLUSION
    GWPF Briefing paper No2 is an entirely flawed document. The views it expresses are those of the author (as the disclaimer on the cover says), not those views of the GWPF. Yet the author works with a “distinguished team of GWPF Academic Advisors.” Further, it remains a wonder that a registered charity whose task is to educate the public on global warming could ever put its name on such a report. If this is representative of GWPF Briefing Papers as a whole, it would be a cause of grave concern.

    A second GWPF Briefing Paper will be the subject of the next post in this series. Hopefully it will prove to be more factual in nature than Briefing Paper No2.

    APPENDIX – Details of Omissions & Misrepresentations within Mueller”s paper.

    A1 – OMISSION
    Mueller”s account began with mention of a drought between the 1950s & 1980s. This drought requires greater consideration than just a mention. Would we not expect a region to become greener in the period following a drought? Strangely, while Mueller discusses theories for the greening, he fails to mention the causes of the initial drought and its continuing legacy. This is not some minor event. The drought has been described as “…among the most undisputed and largest recent climate changes recognized by the climate research community.”

    The causes of the drought have slowly become better understood. Rising population and over-grazing by livestock was the first theory but studies now show the drought resulted from changes in ocean surface temperatures Folland et al (1986) Giannini et al (2003)which are likely due in part to the sulphate aerosol pollution of Europe and North America Rotstayn & Lohmann (2002) Biasutti & Gainnini (2006) and thus it is the cleaning of emissions from power stations that has likely allowed the rains to return.

    Mueller remains entirely silent about the potential role of sulphate aerosols in causing the drought and the subsequent greening. It is difficult to understand his silence as these findings are well known. Perhaps the potential role of human pollution in causing a “devastating drought” sits too uncomfortably with the intended message of “positive impacts” from global warming.

    A2 – OMISSION
    To emphasis his “positive impact”, Mueller tells us the greening is “a very welcome and very beneficial development for the people living in the Sahel.” What Mueller omits to tell us is that conditions have yet to return to the levels seen in the 1950s and that drought and famine still stalk the Sahel. His rosy reporting is even used by one sceptical commentator as proof that the continuing drought in the Sahel is but a “pseudo-catastrophe.”

    Climatology may not provide the best reports of the events but the Sahel drought is reported in newspapers and the humanitarian aid networks. “In 2005, drought and famine hit the Sahel, claiming many lives. The pattern was repeated in 2010 with the crisis most acute in Niger. And now the early warning signs are there for problems again in 2012.” For Mueller to entirely miss such prominent reporting in the age of the internet is truly remarkable!

    A3 – OMISSION
    It is also remarkable how Mueller writes of improving agricultural outputs across the Sahel. Mueller cites the findings of Chris Reij in a small region of Burkina Faso and also Olsson (2008), from where he quotes half a sentence about improved agricultural output in Burkina Faso and Mali.

    What Mueller totally misses in Olsson”s paper is the preceding sentence and the following half sentence which says – “After many years of dwindling food production in the Sahel, only two countries show signs of improved agricultural performance. …while the other Sahelian countries show decreases in their production.” So Mueller omits to mention the situation in the other nine countries of the Sahel, instead concentrating on the two countries where the evidence doesn”t directly contradict his theorizing.

    A4 – MISREPRESENTATION
    To reinforce his greening Sahel message Mueller strays geographically. He embellishes part of a Heartland Institute report that quotes a second-hand report from geologist Stephan Kropelin.

    This concerns greening within the deserts of Western Sahara, a much-troubled country that is in Africa but definitely not part of the Sahel! It is from the same Heartland report that Mueller times the start of the greening as “since the early 1980s” when if he had read the other more reliable references he cited he would have known the greening began in 1994.

    The entirety of the Sahel is not greening as Mueller would have us believe. It is patchy and there remains enough areas still suffering encroaching desert to make the term "greening" debatable. Somehow Mueller fails to notice.

    A5 – MISREPRESENTATION
    Mueller does manage to notice that there are signs of greening even in some areas where rainfall is still decreasing. Mueller asserts this might well be due to increased levels of atmospheric CO2. To support his CO2 claim Muller cites Sherwood Idso who has long espoused such theories and claims certain forest studies show evidence of it

    But when it comes to the greening of the Sahel, Idso makes clear the CO2 link is only speculation and makes do with pointing out where researchers fail to mention his brave theorising.
    There is one logical problem with Mueller”s claim which may be why Idso does not pursue a similar argument. It is difficult to reconcile patchy Sahel greening with a widespread (indeed worldwide) phenomenon like rising CO2 levels. The most likely reason for patchy greening (other than patchy rainfall) is very, very, widely discussed and observed on the ground. It is farmers changing their methods of cultivation, something Mueller fails to even mention, preferring instead to advance his ridiculous CO2 claim

    A6 – MISREPRESENTATION
    The prehistoric green Sahara of the mid-Holocene with its lakes and rivers is used by Mueller to reinforce his argument that global warming may trigger a return to such conditions and so provide a truly tremendous “positive impact” from global warming. Again he manages to misrepresent the words of others. On this matter Mueller concludes “(Professor Martin) Claussen has considered the likelihood of a greening of the Sahara due to global warming and concluded that an expansion of vegetation into today”s Sahara is possible as a consequence of CO2 emissions.”

    This is an exceedingly bizarre interpretation of the source document! Claussen”s quote actually says “some expansion of vegetation into today”s Sahara is theoretically possible”,(end quote, emphasis added) words too pessimistic for Mueller so he changed them.

    Not only does Mueller misquote Claussen, he wholly ignores the explicit warning that Claussen makes against any belief in a future green Sahara. “But he(Claussen) warns against believing the mid-Holocene climate optimum will be recreated.” This source document continues by pointing to the continuing tree-loss in the Sahel and the shrinkage of Lake Chad; this despite the improved levels of rainfall.

    Indeed, Claussen is not alone in dismissing a green Sahara.  Yet Mueller”s report concludes that a green Sahara is a distinct possibility, the exact opposite of the very authority that he claims is supporting his conclusions.

    A7 – OMISSION
    Finally, Mueller is silent about one “negative impact” of a greening Sahel. He intimates that any greening due to global warming will be permanent but this is incorrect. Climatology shows that the Sahel has a very sensitive climate such that it can be stated “with confidence” that “any greening of the Sahel and Sahara in the near future will eventually be reversed.”  The greening is unreliable. It is thus hardly an encouraging example of a “positive impact” from global warming.


     

  • 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 »

  • 2012 : Greenier and Peace-ier

    Posted on January 1st, 2012 Jo 1 comment

    My dear family.

    They think I’m an environmentalist, a bit radical, a bit confrontational.

    So for a fun wintertime gift they bought me this lovely cloth tote(m) bag for grocery shopping.

    I think I might have failed to communicate myself clearly enough.

    Although I try to be frugal and efficient in my way of life, recycling is not my central agenda.

    I studied physics, but I don’t have a laboratory. The things that I believe need to be developed are technologies in the field of clean, green energy. I am an engineer without a workshop – although my home is now a power station.

    Recycling is important, but reducing the use of resource materials is far more important.

    Recycling is important, but energy waste is far more important. Digging things out of the ground and burning them in order to keep civilisation moving is the ultimate misuse of natural resources.

    Recycling is important, but so are international relations, especially around the sourcing of commodities such as fossil fuels, rare metals, timber and freshwater.

    The world needs to work together – to make friends, not invent enemies – even more so when those so-called opponents sit on vital energy resources.

    May you have a year that is greener and has more peace.

  • Renewable Gas : Balanced Power

    Posted on November 5th, 2011 Jo 1 comment

    People who know very little about renewable and sustainable energy continue to buzz like flies in the popular media. They don’t believe wind power economics can work. They don’t believe solar power can provide a genuine contribution to grid capacity. They don’t think marine power can achieve. They would rather have nuclear power. They would rather have environmentally-destructive new oil and gas drilling. They have friends and influence in Government. They have financial clout that enables them to keep disseminating their inaccuracies.

    It’s time to ditch the pundits, innuendo artists and insinuators and consult the engineers.

    Renewable Gas can stand in the gap – when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine and the grid is not sufficiently widespread and interconnected enough to be able to call on other wind or solar elsewhere.

    Renewable Gas is the storing of biologically-derived and renewably-created gases, and the improving of the gases, so that they can be used on-demand in a number of applications.

    This field of chemical engineering is so old, yet so new, it doesn’t have a fixed language yet.

    However, the basic chemistry, apart from dealing with contaminants, is very straight-forward.

    When demand for grid electricity is low, renewable electricity can be used to make renewable hydrogen, from water via electrolysis, and in other ways. Underused grid capacity can also be used to methanate carbon-rich biologically-derived gas feedstocks – raising its stored energy.

    Then when demand for grid electricity is high, renewable gas can be used to generate power, to fill the gap. And the flue gases from this combustion can be fed back into the gas storage.

    Renewable gas can also be biorefined into vehicle fuels and other useful chemicals. This application is likely to be the most important in the short term.

    In the medium-term, the power generation balance that renewable gas can offer is likely to be the most important application.

    Researchers are working on optimising all aspects of renewable gas and biorefinery, and businesses are already starting to push towards production.

    We can have a fully renewable energy future, and we will.

  • Book Review : The God Species by Mark Lynas

    Posted on October 4th, 2011 Jo No comments

    [Book Review by Jonathan Essex]

    The God Species: How the Planet Can Survive the Age of Humans By Mark Lynas, July 2011, Fourth Estate, ISBN 978-0007375226

    Mark Lynas’s last book, Six Degrees, helped foster a widespread acceptance that climate change is real and we have to act together to do something about it. In The God Species he sets out how we often underestimate the scale of global environmental issues as we fail to truly appreciate the scale of 6 billion individual impacts on the planet. This book updates the scorecard of human impacts and relocates climate change within a wider set of planetary boundaries, as first set out in the Limits to Growth report produced nearly 40 years ago. Yet 40 years later the sum total of all our visible signs of action don’t even come close to addressing the scale of the problem. Perhaps Lynas, who represented the Maldives at the failed climate talks in Copenhagen [UNFCCC, December 2009], has come to believe that we won’t change our behaviour, we can’t change our economic system (as eloquently set out in Tim Jackson’s Prosperity without Growth) and that there is no political support for a much wider programme of action such as that set out in the Centre for Alternative Technology’s Zero Carbon Britain 2030. So Lynas has only allowed himself to consider what remains: for us to put our faith solely in technology. As I read I had two main questions: will this really save the day and, if so, at what price?

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Camp Frack : Who’s afraid of hydraulic fracturing ?

    Posted on September 17th, 2011 Jo 1 comment

    When do micro-seismic events add up to earthquakes ? Landslips ? Tsunamis ? Who really knows ? These are just a few questions amongst many about underground mining techniques that will probably never be properly answered. Several mini-quakes were suggested to be responsible for the shutdown of Cuadrilla’s activities in Blackpool, north west England early in 2011, and there have been unconfirmed links between tremors and fracking in the United States of America, where unconventional gas is heavily mined.

    It is perhaps too easy to sow doubt about the disbenefits of exploding rock formations by pressure injection to release valuable energy gases – many legislative and public consultation hurdles have been knocked down by the merest flick of the public relations wrist of the unconventional fossil gas industry (and its academic and consultancy friends).

    The potential to damage the structure of the Earth’s crust may be the least attributable and least accountable of hydraulic fracturing’s suspected disadvantages, but it could be the most significant in the long run. Science being conducted into the impact on crust stability from fracking and other well injection techniques could rule out a wide range of geoengineering on safety grounds, such as Carbon Capture and Storage proposals. If we can’t safely pump carbon dioxide underground, we should really revise our projections on emissions reductions from carbon capture.

    [ Camp Frack is under canvas in Lancashire protesting about the imposition of hydraulic fracturing on the United Kingdom. ]

  • The New Sciontist : BP Subvertisers

    Posted on July 17th, 2011 Jo 3 comments

    Image Credit : Liberate Tate (Event Flyer)

    The New Scientist magazine must be hard up. They’ve already bowed to economic pressure and taken the “king’s shilling” from the oil and gas industry by running Statoil advertisements, at least one made to look like a normal New Scientist article, giving Natural Gas a makeover as desirable as washing powder – all clean and reliable and loved by obsessives everywhere. Now they appear to have lost their power for critical reasoning and sunk to being suckers as billboards for BP spin, taking a front cover foldout for biofuels, with what I think is a completely deceitful portrayal of BP’s business.

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Energy Poll #7 : Unconventional Fossil Fuels

    Posted on July 12th, 2011 Jo No comments

    Results from Question 1 : How often do you find articles in the press about “unconventional” energy, which includes shale gas, Arctic oil and tar sands ?


    For the Energy Matrix survey “Are We Ready for Energy Change ?” click here.

    Question 1    How often do you find articles in the press about “unconventional” energy, which includes shale gas, Arctic oil and tar sands ?







    Question 2    Do you think the world will need to exploit all sources of fossil fuels, regardless of their quality ?







    Question 3    Are you keen to see more vehicle fuel being produced from non-fossil sources ?







    Question 4    Would you be prepared to buy a replacement vehicle with lower fuel consumption ?







    Question 5    Do you think that price rises for complex resources of oil and gas can be kept to a minimum ?






    Background Information : please give a few brief details about what kind of person you are, to help us check that a representative sample of people have answered the survey.

    What region are you living in ?
    How old are you ?
    What gender are you ?
    How do you prefer to keep up to date with science ?

    Is Climate Change really happening ?
    Is Peak Oil really happening ?
    Do you know a lot about energy  ?
    Enter your e-mail address if you want the final results










  • 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…

  • Alien robot inspects windfarm

    Posted on June 19th, 2011 Jo 1 comment

    The design of the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change “Energy Infrastructure” website shows what appears to be an robotic, alien figure in a green and pleasant land under a wind turbine. It must be a trick of the light, but I’m sure you can see the join between its head and its body, and added to that, there’s an unearthly glow around its helmet :-

    https://www.og.decc.gov.uk/EIP/pages/recent.htm

    But what intrigues me more than the choice of photographs to adorn this website, and the curious, 1940′s style graphic of an electricity pylon used as a logo, is the mention of the recent permission granted to an CCGT/OCGT power station planning proposal at RWE npower Willington C in Derbyshire :-

    http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/meeting_energy/consents_planning/consents_planning.aspx
    https://www.og.decc.gov.uk/EIP/pages/onshore.htm
    https://www.og.decc.gov.uk/EIP/pages/recent.htm
    https://www.og.decc.gov.uk/EIP/pages/projects/willington_ccgt_decision_letter.pdf

    Burning petroleum refinery residues ? Yes.

    The decision letter lays out that :-

    “On 24 September 2010 the Company formally requested if section 36 consent was granted that it could be on the basis of a phased development, that is the construction of the open cycle gas turbine generating station, followed by the combined cycle gas turbine generating station once development consent for the natural gas pipeline had been obtained. The Company has explained that the open cycle turbines can be operated on distillate oil and would be used only for periods to meet peak demand or in response to intermittency in renewable generation”

    The gas pipeline has been requested :-

    http://infrastructure.independent.gov.uk/projects/east-midlands/willington-gas-pipeline/

    But I’m asking myself, has no progress been made in energy policy ? Are we going to carry on burning oil refinery residue at times of peak demand ? The people and many of the Parliamentarians have shown their resistance to new coal-fired power stations, and there does appear to be a moratorium on new coal, kind of. But do people realise that some of the new “peaker plants” that are believed to be necessary will be burning fuel oil ? You see, Willington C is not alone :-

    http://www.rwe.com/web/cms/en/97626/rwe-npower/about-us/our-businesses/power-generation/fawley/

    “In June 2011 we announced that we are investigating the possibility of developing a new distillate oil-fired open cycle gas turbine (OCGT) plant at our Fawley site. For more information about the proposals…” :-

    http://www.rwe.com/web/cms/en/97626/rwe-npower/about-us/our-businesses/power-generation/fawley/
    http://www.rwe.com/web/cms/en/657602/rwe-npower/about-us/our-businesses/new-power-stations/fawley/

    http://www.thisishampshire.net/news/9066256.Energy_giant_pledges_consultation_over_new___100m_power_plant/
    http://www.internationalsustainableenergy.com/news/rwe-npower-investigates-new-ocgt-plant-at-fawley/
    http://www.dailyecho.co.uk/news/9066256.Energy_giant_pledges_consultation_over_new___100m_power_plant/?action=complain&cid=9407217

    Are people aware of what fuel oil is and what burning it can do ? :-

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel_oil
    http://www.epa.gov/ttnchie1/ap42/ch01/final/c01s03.pdf
    http://www.epa.gov/ttnchie1/ap42/ch01/final/c01s11.pdf

    So you see, people, if you refuse wind farms, you get Civil Service non-engineers agreeing RWE npower can carry on burning toxic oil refinery waste to provide your electricity. Great choice, Britain !

  • Adam Curtis : Daft Punk

    Posted on June 13th, 2011 Jo 1 comment

    [ UPDATE : BRILLIANT DECONSTRUCTION OF ADAM CURTIS' WORK FROM BEN WOODHAMS ]

    The final part (I really hope it is the final part) of Adam Curtis’ trilogy on “Evil” Computers and “Devillish” Enviromentalists – “All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace” – a title drawn from a poem written by what would appear to be a madman – has now been uploaded to YouTube, allowing me to view it without taking part in the memory-eating public monitoring disappointment that is BBC iPlayer :-

    Adam Curtis certainly reveals himself as a little monkeyish in this episode, throwing overarm and underhand javelins at “liberals” of all hues and cries, particularly environmental ones; and throwing in liberal references to primates wherever he can, seemingly to suggest that mankind has un- or de-evolved by adopting computing tools and studying the natural world.

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • James Delingpole : Going Underground

    Posted on June 5th, 2011 Jo No comments

    James Delingpole hardly ever sets his delicate foot in Wales, the country he archaically refers to as “the Principality”, apart from, ooh, about ten days a year when he holidays there, but nonetheless, feels he has some kind of inherited ex-colonial right to be affronted that large electricity generation and transmission infrastructure are going to be built there :-

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jamesdelingpole/100088906/wales-is-in-danger-why-isnt-the-prince-of-wales-saving-it/

    He gets top marks for being rather offensive himself – achingly rude, in fact, about the Welsh Assembly, besides his getting untethered about the wind farms and pylons for the transmission cables :-

    “…The wind farms are bad enough on their own. But to make matters far worse [...], in order for these bird-crunching, bat-chomping, view-blighting, rent-seeking monstrosities to be connected to the grid a huge 400kv power line is going to be constructed all the way from Montgomeryshire through some of Britain’s most spectacular scenery to the equally beauteous Shropshire…”

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  • The toxic legacy of mined energy

    Posted on May 29th, 2011 Jo No comments

    We are stardust ? Well, not quite. As carbon-based lifeforms we’re actually the offspring of a young sun, composed of the lighter elements, with a low concentration of a few transition metals essential for our health and vitality. Irn Bru, anyone ?

    The actual products of exploding old stars that got lodged in the crusty skin of the accreting Earth are often quite toxic to us. Over millions of years, heavy and radioactive elements, being of no use to the ecosystem, have been deposited at the bottom of lakes, seabeds, and ended up lodged in seams of coal, and caverns of petroleum oil and Natural Gas. Uranium ores and other nasties have been overlain by forests and deserts, and only rarely vent, like radon, from Vulcan’s infernal lairs.

    And what do humans do ? We dig this stuff up to burn or fission for energy, and when we do it creates toxic waste, that hurts us, and the life around us. Why are we surprised that mercury from the coal power industry is killing fish and harming children ? Why is it a shock that the tailing ponds from mining tar and oil sands are devastating pristine wilderness and waterways ?

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