Tillerson Talks It Down

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.

George Monbiot : Peak Agitation

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Hi all,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace ‘n love ‘n’ home made hummus,

P.

.

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

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

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

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

Will the Green Deal Deliver ? (2)

Here is the second part of the transcription from the notes I took this morning in a seminar in the UK House of Commons. The meeting was convened by PRASEG, the Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group.

This transcription is based on an unverified long-hand paper-based recording of the words spoken. Items in quotation marks are fairly accurate verbatim quotations. Items in square brackets are interpolation, or explanation, and not the exact language the person used to present their thoughts.

Here are the papers supplied at the start of the meeting :  A B C D E F

CONTINUED…

[AW] How it [the Green Deal] hits the ground matters…

[Joanne Wade, Independent Consultant, UKERC]
The Green Deal is a very useful framework – a move to encourage people to pay for their own energy efficiency. The finance offering may be interesting to some. The quality [of the workmanship ? Guarantees under the Green Deal ?] is “utterly vital”. I don’t think it’s quite there. Outlining four areas (1) How the Green Deal engages (2) The low cost finance (3) Generally mainstreaming energy efficiency in peoples’ minds and (4) Fuel Poverty.

(1) Most people don’t care if they have energy efficiency [in their homes]. If we were really serious about this [our appeal would be along the lines of] you can’t sell a car with brakes that don’t work, but you can sell a house that kills you. [I just wanted to get that in up-front]. Nobody’s really cracked this yet [the messaging] is [still only] “reaching the usual suspects”. Trust is vital. Salience is key. We want people to understand this is not an add-on to all the other things they do. Community-based organisations fit the bill [we tend to trust these groups as members]. [We need to be asking] how does the Green Deal work with that ? The Green Deal providers – small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) want to use their own brand – they are very good at marketing [and will be good at marketing the Green Deal as well]. But will that be enough to convince people ? The Assessments [that people will get at the start of the Green Deal process] will be detailed on what they can do. Some people are concerned about how much energy they use. Is that enough to go from a standing start to […] ? Are enough people going to be committed enough by the time [Green Deal is available] ? What I think we need – to prime people to be ready to accept [the Green Deal]. [The message would be] appropriate to come from local community groups. The Government is hoping for it – but no real drivers. There are examples – but how are they going to be copied ? The CERT / CES(P) results show that Local Authorities are key. Now that National Indicators 186 and 187 [From the Performance Framework – annual reporting requirements of direct and indirect emissions as a result of Local Authority operations] have been cut – there is no driver. The amount of attention has dropped. [Local Authorities are facing other problems] reducing staff and budgets.

(2) Access to low-cost finance. [The work to make this available from the Green Investment Bank is going ahead but] what about other soruces – for example mortgage providers ? In Switzerland for example, they are lending 114 billion euro every year to homeowners at low interest rates. We need to look at how to convince people. In Switzerland, people will pay more for energy efficient homes. The Green Deal needs to accept alternative forms of finance. Need to be able to access ECO [Energy Company Obligation – part of the Energy Bill – obligation energy suppliers to supply not only energy, but energy services such as energy efficiency and energy conservation] providers. We don’t know if the market will deliver [there are already grants/finance in this sector that people are not using].

(3) Can’t see the Green Deal mainstreaming. My builder – I did an [extension] and asked for 50% extra insulation and LED [Light Emitting Diodes – a very energy efficient form of lighting] – he thought I was slightly mad but now recommends LED lighting on all builds. Here’s the Green Deal. He would say – “Why should I tell people about that ?” Typical small builder. It should be that whenever anyone is doing a refurbishment they should just do it [extra insulation etc] – and so we’re back to [the big R] – regulation. [But look at the public outcry when the media considered] consequential improvements [the “Conservatory Tax”]. [Energy efficiency] “We need to make it the thing that people do.”

(4) Fuel Poverty. The money that can be coming through the ECO is £ 350 million per year (before VAT). Let’s not kid ourselves – the householders in fuel poverty are not going to take Green Deal finance. [The Climate Change Committee says] £4 billion a year is what we need to tackle fuel poverty. The Government needs to make sure that Green Deal finance is available the fuel poor (in an appropriate form) (overcoming the small potential).

[Alan Whitehead MP] How to address the LED enthusiast who isn’t a Green Deal enthusiast ? Helping “Jeff” [representative small builder in a sketch by the Secretary of State ?] getting sorted out – taking him from a sceptic to an advocate.

[Nigel Banks, Head of Energy and Sustainable Solutions, Keepmoat]

There are glass half empty people and glass half full. How can we be filling the glass ? Retrofitting communities via the Green Deal ? We do a lot of community regeneration – we’ve build [some of the] Zero Carbon homes. We renovate rather than demolish and rebuild. We get through to RP [registered providers of social housing] and Local Authorities. There has been the “boom and bust” of FiT [solar photovoltaic feed-in tariff] – Local Authorities are reticent to get involved [with the Green Deal].

With solid wall insulation [SW] we need to take up a gap. Currently, 80,000 per year are being driven by CES(P) – 94% of these are external wall. Under the Green Deal only 10,000 are projected next year – major concern.

How many measures meet the Green Deal ? The Golden Rule [the rule o Green Deal finance that the loans should come at no extra cost to the householder because the repayments are balanced by energy savings] ? [With some solid wall insulation, meeting the Golden Rule is easy, but…]

Problems with the Green Deal include : [no Green Deal finance generally available ?]. The cooling off period of 20 – 28 days. People now expect their insulation for free. How many [of the institutions of surveyors including] RICS [will value] properties with Green Deal ?

ECO is a big target – at least £540 million per year for affordable warmth. [However, this does not compare with what we have been able to offer up to now] – entire streets – entire communities [upgraded] for free at the moment – easier than under the Green Deal.

The £200 million cashback [is welcome]. Some of the Green Deal pilot schemes have been positive. It should be able to unlock private landlords [to making energy efficiency retrofits].

The Green Deal [is currently appropriate only to] a small proportion of society – it is vital to apply through communities – churches and so on – and it can tackle long-term unemployment problems.

The Green Deal [is not going to achieve major change] on its own.

[David Robson, Managing Director, InstaGroup] We do insulation, represent over 100 SMEs. How can we make the Green Deal work ? Provide employment in local communities ? 15 years of history of energy efficiency : in the early 1990s – no funding – we were doing 300,000 installs a year. Now we are doing 500,000 this year. “If anyone says subsidies haven’t worked, it’s not true.” It has got money out onto the ground quickly. The Green Deal has huge potential – removes capital barriers pre- energy efficiency [measures] – ome of the more expensive things are covered – anyone can access low cost finance – as long as it [the Green Deal] is given an opportunity to work. It also creates a framework to cover the non-domestic sector – and [landlord-owned] private domestic sector also. The Government…. [the Green Deal is] not ready. “Whatever any politician says, the legal framework is not in place until January next year.” The insulation installers and other companies are feeling they are being told “if you want to lead on the Green Deal, take it on your [own] balance sheet.” Everyone wants the Green Deal to work. We’ve invested. Our system is in place. The work we put into Green Deal finance – low cost – we think it’s important – the lower we can keep the costs of it. “If we can’t keep it [the Green Deal finance loan interest rate] below 6% we as an industry have failed.” The Green Deal is going to take time to build. Solid wall insulation – takes time to develop this industry. Hugely innovative concept. The man on the street will take some convincing “Will I be able to sell my house ?” [But] we can’t even give away insulation at the moment – then convincing people to borrow… 2013 is a real issue – how you bridge that cliff edge. Could [limit] the Green Deal getting off the ground. “For the Green Deal to be effective it needs to take the [energy efficiency] industry with it.” Small businesses are looking to us to guide them through the Green Deal. They can’t survive 6 months of losing money. Need to have some more continuity. The Green Deal does need something to help it through the transition process. How is the Green Deal good ? A robust framework. Belief in the Golden Rule – sacrosanct. Trying to sell the Green Deal will be a challenge for all of us. The Green Deal is very much underpinned by the ECO – but if the ECO is the only thing pushing, the Green Deal won’t work – constrained by the amount of money available. Regulation is key. If consumers are given sufficient time to do things it’s OK. Low cost finance is key. Access to low rates has to be competitive or the biggest players will take all the low cost finance. I’m concerned about a continuing level of political will. Generally the media are coming on-side over the Green Deal – but you only need to look at the media coverage of “consequential improvements”… It’s important that the Government recognise concerns about the Green Deal – [coming] from people who do want it to work.

[Alan Whitehead MP] Nice chance – ought to look at carbon taxes for the future – declaring part of that “tax foregone” and use that for the Carbon Reduction Commitment [CRC] : taking from the EU ETS [European Union Emissions Trading Scheme revenue] and the carbon floor price and using that to underpin the Green Deal – get that finance interest level down – a proper green tax – taxing bads and rewarding goods. “There can be no more good than making sure that everyone’s house is energy efficient” That’s all solved.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

[Terry ? David Hunt, Eco Environments] Concerned that microgeneration is not to benefit. Concerned about companies self-marketing – as there have been misleading advertising (such as solar photovoltaic [PV] installers advertising old FiT rates). They should not mislead the public. Regulation – compared to the MCS scheme [all solar PV installers have to be registered for MCS] but still seen some awful installs. As soon as things get sold and are bad – this leads to media stories and a loss of confidence.

[Tim ? Tony Smith, Pilkington Glass] The statutory instrument that relates to double glazing and other measures – I’m looking for sunshine on a very gloomy day – double glazing in [some cases] will get no help from the Golden Rule [some discussion about the ratings of windows and replacement windows] – reduces the attraction to our industry in terms of reducing carbon emissions.

[ X from “London Doctoral Training Centre”] Homeowners… [The success of the Green Deal is] down to how people use their homes. No-one’s talked about education and how installers talk to householders…

[ X from Association for the Conservation of Energy] I’d like to hear the panel’s views on DG TAX [the European Commission Directorate Generale on Tax matters for the European Union] that the 5% VAT rate under the Green Deal is not compliant.

[Tracy Vegro] For the 5% VAT rate, “we are ready to defend that” – as it impacts on our ability to offer other options. It’s weird since we’ve just signed a very strong [European Community] Energy Efficiency Directive. Behaviour change – that’s vital. The [Green Deal loan] Assessment will require heating controls turned down and relevant behaviour. Effectively, you’re not going to pay the interest on the loan if you change your behaviour and you will see the savings increase over time. The “conversion rate” [from Green Deal pilot schemes] was 98% “saved more than I thought” – community projects. The Ombudsman will be able to strike off poor installers. “The Consumer Protection on the Green Deal is the highest in the market.” Stringent. “If it’s proved we’re too draconian, it will come down.” [Re the question from Pilkington] You are slightly misinterpreting – this is not a barrier to that [kind of upgrade to windows] – it depends on the state of the property [for example the carbon saved is less if going from an F to and E than…] It may just be your interpretation – happy to go over that with you.

[David Robson] The MCS based accreditation is only checked once a year – a real issue. The hardest thing about MCS is – is your paperwork in order ? Not if you can do the job…

[Joanne Wade] The conversation about energy use – how to get people involved. We need more messaging – this is what this really is. If all levels of government [do the messaging] more effective.

[John Sinfield] The Minister mentioned turning up the heating and hoovering [vacuuming] in your underpants. The industry is responsible to [address that in the] owner’s manual. This is how you need to treat your house differently. The tax issue – madness. If the HMRC can’t do it [convince the EC/EU] then ignore them.

[Nigel Banks] Behaviour change is vital. The Green Deal providers who don’t put that in their package will come unstuck. Not as confident about carding [system of accreditation based on individual trades persons by trade] [not relevant to your particular skill] [skill specific ?]

[Alan Whitehead] I assume the Minister meant thermal underwear.

[Colin Hines, Green New Deal Group] Trust [is important] when the finance people are having fits over FiTs. What [are you] trying to do to the market ? Is the Green Investment Bank going to kick up some money for the Green Deal ? What about the drop in the Impact Assessment from £10 billion to £ 5 billion for the Green Deal [some confusion about what this refers to]

[Roger Webb, The Heating and Hotwater Industry Council] How do we bring “Jeff” to the party ? We are keen to see heating as part of the Green Deal. There are 90,000 small tradesmen working for 60,000 small companies. Will they think the Green Deal is rubbish ? They are the leads for the Green Deal – they need training. We need to incentivise them. A voucher scheme ? Use a little of the £200 million… I really welcome the work and [interest in] bringing microgeneration [?] business into the scheme.

[Neil Marshall, National Insulation Association] Regarding solid wall insulation – the IWI / CWI confusion [Internal Wall Insulation, Cavity Wall Insulation] – what solution is proposed for hard-to-treat cavities ? The hard-to-treats we are not able to do for another year. Need to drive more cavities and lofts. The Committee on Climate Change [CCC] have reported on a need for additional incentives outside the Green Deal – driving the uptake of the Green Deal – talk of incentives and fiscals. Gap-filling. The Green Deal [should be able to cover] able-to-pay loft insulation installations, able-to-pay cavity wall insulation, hard-to-treat cavities and solid wall insulation. If we are doing 1 million in 2012 under CERT / CES(P)…if there is no Green Deal finance we can’t sell anything [after 2012]. “There is a critical need for a transitional arrangement.” We have had high level discussions with DECC that have been very useful…

[ X from Honeywell ? ] The in-situ factors. [For example, father [in law] isn’t going to replace his boiler because the payback will be after he’s dead]. Multiple length of payback [period] for any measure that’s put in – old antiquated evaluation tool. The householder asks what’s in it for them [what they can put some energy into doing] – is the longer payback [period] less attractive ?

[ X from “Shah” ? ] Not much on solar / microgeneration. [Will the Green Deal become certified ?]

[Nigel Banks] How do we do Green Deal for a boiler ? On 3rd January [2013] will the big energy companies do it themselves ? Some measures won’t perform as predicted.

[John Sinfield] “If the Green Investment Bank doesn’t provide finance for the Green Deal we are in a world of hurt”. We need to engage with “Jeff” the trusted installed. The Government needs to drive consequential improvements through – if you have a new boiler, you will have wall insulation [crazy otherwise, as all that heat will be lost through the walls]. Not seeing where my £ 1 million invested in solid wall solutions is going now. The job is not done [cavities and lofts].

[Tracy Vegro] A lot of Local Authorities don’t distinguish between good debt and bad – money is there for them – but they aren’t borrowing to invest. We are retaining HECA [Home Energy Conservation Act]. [Mentions poor opinion about the Green Investment Bank] – talking the “jib” [GIB] down. The biggest risk is the lack of confidence in the Green Deal. [Working on the terms of the] Green Deal Finance Companies [GDFC] – still see if…. [Important to take the attitude of] not talking it down. If another equity slice [is added…] We are a broad church – open to new entrants. Most work will be done [under the Green Deal] – most retrofits. [With the ActonCO2 and other Government paid communications campaigns on climate change and energy efficiency] We didn’t really get the message across – our millions spent [on advertising and public relations]. [We will] do better – more and more things will meet the Golden Rule. Come and meet our scientists.

[David Robson] Heating – a huge opportunity – not a loan with British Gas – the boiler you want – add on solar [with a Green Deal loan] linking creatively.

[ X from ? ] [Brings up the thorny problem of which technologies and measures are possible under the Green Deal’s Golden Rule] 45 points [of requirements] to meet criteria. In the future, what technologies will be viable ?

[Tracy Vegro] The RHI [Renewable Heat Incentive] is not eligible – does not meet the [Golden] Rule.

[Further exchanges – becoming somewhat stressed]

[Alan Whitehead MP] Just as things were getting exciting…[we have to close] an interesting period over the next 18 months.

Will the Green Deal Deliver ?

Here is a transcription of part of the notes I took this morning in a seminar in the UK House of Commons. The meeting was convened by PRASEG, the Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group.

This transcription is based on an unverified long-hand paper-based recording of the words spoken. Items in quotation marks are fairly accurate verbatim quotations. Items in square brackets are interpolation, and not the exact language the person used to present their thoughts.

[Alan Whitehead MP]
Will the Green Deal deliver ? In the last few days, in 140 character statements [Twitter], the Government have been telling has “all the hurdles have now been overcome.” But “is it really all systems go ?” What effect do we think the Green Deal will have on sustainability ? On carbon reduction goals ? Tracy Vegro from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has been key in setting up the Green Deal.

[Tracy Vegro, DECC, Director, Green Deal]
“It’s been a busy old time for us.” We are in the final stages of passing the framework [of the Green Deal]. Just have the laws now [the legislation that is needed]. Those orders will come into force in October [2012]. There will be some parallel working – not a switch to the Green Deal all at once. I think it will open up a wider market in energy efficiency. We’ve been getting out and about [for the consultation process] – a women’s panel, an industry panel. We did it with an awful lot of help. “We’ve got to get energy efficiency moving in this country.” The CERT [Carbon Emissions Reduction Target – an energy supplier obligation] at the end of this year there will be “not an unlagged loft” [internal roof insulation over the top of ceilings]. There have been some gaps – with solid wall insulation numbers for example. “Whole swathes got nothing under CERT.” We have to to start delivering. I hope the Green Deal will drive it – with many more entrants into the [energy efficiency] market. Our roadshows with small businesses were encouraging. Beyond the framework we are trying to ensure a lot of choice. The Green Deal is going to have accredited goods and services in the whole thing. The [Office of Fair Trading] has been doing research to ensure [quality and competence] – “because at the end of the day it’s the bill payer who’s paying”. There’s a new oversight body. There will be a lot more data [coming back]. You know under the CERT, 300 million energy efficient lightbulbs were distributed [and we don’t know where they all went and whether they were all used]. We need to build confidence. Have the Local Authorities get behind the Green Deal assessments [process], and [capitalised on] community aspects. [We hope/aim to] see the market grow much faster. So far we can see that a lot of cavities got filled but [that’s only the beginning]. [We hope/aim that the Green Deal will be] driving demand. People will see their neighbours do this [and want to do it for themselves.] There’s the £200 million incentive scheme – that’s money in the bank. [Need to drive] confidence [not having people saying it’s just the] new FiT [Feed-in Tariff scheme – intended to drive solar photovoltaic uptake, but poorly managed]. The Green Deal is going to be conditional on minimum energy efficiency standards being undertaken [by those taking up the offer]. [This will determine] the order in which you do these [energy efficiency] technologies – “we need to get energy efficiency into peoples’ heads” – [where they may have been deterred previously by] mostly upfront capital. We have a new helpline. We need to make it a “no-brainer solution”. How are we going to ensure training ? People will be coming out of loft and cavity wall insulation into a new sector. These are asset skills, and a lot of money is committed. to funding [re]training and assessors. There are implications on people in existing roles – but “this is a finite market”. We’re confident in this business model – for the first time there will be competition – not just the Big 6 [energy companies : British Gas, Electricite de France (EdF), E.On, npower, Scottish Power (Business), Scottish & Southern (SSE) – companies that collectively supply 99% of the UK’s heating and lighting] delivering. It is slightly easier to explain [than other schemes]. We do need an awareness campaign – people in the industry don’t want this – they want to do their own communications to customers – to ensure demand is right. The [big] energy companies are to be mandated a lot. If the scheme is ECO (Energy Company Obligation) only – it would only guarantee a steady state [no growth in uptake of energy efficiency products]. The Impact Assessment has only been done for pure Green Deal.

[John Sinfield, Managing Director, Knauf Insulation]
CERT helped, but there is still a huge amount to deliver – need to approach the market in a different way. The deep retrofit of our housing stock – the only way to deal with Fuel Poverty and other problems. My early reaction to the Green Deal was hope, excitement, and confusion, followed by more confusion. It could deliver what no scheme has done before to 14 million homes [untouched so far]. We have to deal with the fabric [of the building] first – then deal with the occupant. The occupant is sometimes the barrier to energy efficiency. Could we use private money to leverage 20 times the amount put forward [for the Green Deal and Green Investment Bank] ? We could stop shifting 40 billion euro to the Middle East (and elsewhere) for our energy. Can we create ethical investment for pension funds ? Then I got to depression and confusion. In the draft Impact Asssessment, there would be a 93% drop in loft insulation installations and 73% drop in cavity wall insulations from Day One of the Green Deal. What’s going to happen to existing companies ? [I obviously have an interest here] I’ve invested in four factories. But it’s not only me, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) wrote to Government on the trajectory resulting not meeting our carbon cap. It’s not just insulation manufacturers and installers. I’m trying to understand where the policy’s going. Why are DECC against cheaper measures ? The Minister says that the “loft job” is nearly done. But DECC themselves say that 9 million lofts have inadequte insulation. Frankly, I doubt I’ll see that by the the end of the year. There are 7.5 million cavities to fill. The consultation on the Green Deal came back with good changes – but little to address the cliff edge – the significant drop in lofts and cavities [at the changeover to the Green Deal]. I’m veering between hope and despair. I hope the Government, deep down, really want this. They need to do more to drive this programme. I wouldn’t invest money if I didn’t think [they were really behind this.] What about other options ? Stamp Duty [on sale of properties], a carbon tax, a Local Authority mandate ? If the Government can drive the value of the Green Deal up – it makes it more attractive [to engage in the sector]. My hope is balanced off by a sense of despair – the mechanism will not be ready in time. The so-called “soft launch” of the Green Deal [is inadequate] – really has to be up and running by 1st January [2013]. The Green Deal loans have to have affordable interest rates. The Green Deal finance company is 9 months away from offering comprehensive finance – and how are they going to receive the money from the Green Investment Bank ? If the interest rate of the Green Deal loans are 7.5% (6% – 8%) then only 7% of the population will take them up. Where’s the market ? What’s going to drive the market ? Where we are challenged – the Green Deal doesn’t feel ready. The environment to work within – sorted. But the mechanism – for example the Green Deal finance – not ready. Need to bridge the gap. Do we need to extend the CERT / CES(P) (Community Energy Saving Programme) ? A bridge until a competitive rate of interest is available. If the Government is going to drive the deep retrofit, it needs to drive the take up. Putting in place the framework is not going to sell this scheme. Some [companies] here are ready to market this scheme – but all parts need to be there. If the Green Deal is not ready – when ?

Alan Whitehead MP
“So, an amber light there…”

This Is My Thesis

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.

Moving towards a logical conclusion

Although I consider him to be an enemy of the people by being a key architect of the privatisation of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), I was delighted to hear Andrew Lansley say this about tobacco sales : “We don’t work in partnership with the tobacco companies because we are trying to arrive at a point where they have no business in this country.” Finally, after over ten years of hard work by a rainbow coalition of healthcare providers, local government administration, campaigners, social activists, educators and charities, it is possible for the UK Secretary of State for Health to tell the tobacco industry their products are not wanted here.

The deep question is : why didn’t the UK Government just ban the tobacco companies outright at the start or tell them to diversify out of selling cancer sticks in order to keep their retail licences ? Well, the simple answer is that companies like British American Tobacco (BAT) are privately-owned capitalised companies, with many pension and other major funds heavily invested. The UK Department of Business, Trade, Enterprise, Industry, Information, Skills, Services and Manufacturing or whatever it’s been variously called over the last few decades, simply couldn’t tell shareholders to pull their investment out of death-by-inhalation stocks.

Everyone sees a return on investment in the industries of death generally, such as the arms trade, the junk food industry, and petrochemicals (ask yourself : how many people have suffered and died because of diesel particulate-provoked asthma ?) It takes a certain amount of time to reach the logical conclusion that wars do not need to be fought, making armaments redundant; for healthy food to become seen as essential to beat off diabetes and obesity epidemics; and for urban transport to be electrified to save lungs and hearts.

No, you just can’t ban an entire product range overnight because, finally, the science has broken through the doubt barrier and shown beyond reasonable scepticism that tobacco smoking causes cancer, emphysema and other serious and fatal conditions. No, you have to go at it step by painful step, reducing availability, changing the rules on presentation at the point of sale, putting up signs in public places.

And it all takes time, this gradualist approach. The tobacco industry may now wind down to a dribble in Britain (although it will continue to do well in Asia and Africa), and peoples’ savings for retirement will have soon all moved out of fag ends into something else.

Yet, we don’t have the luxury of time when it comes to the climate change and energy crisis. We simply don’t have the 25 to 50 years it could take to adopt a gradualist approach to energy sector change. Anything that takes longer than 10 years to begin to displace carbon out of the energy economy is too slow to be useful.

People are slowly beginning to wake up to the fact that their money is invested in climate change, and are making demands on their pension fund and bank account managers – but this is all happening too slowly – despite the keen interest in ethical investment.

The energy sector has got to change – and change fast. Changing the energy sector so radically and so quickly is not something that can be done by applying small changes to the costs of energy – particularly as the wider costs of energy are so volatile anyway. Gradually introducing renewable energy technologies with subsidies and grants and special tax breaks is not going to displace carbon fast enough.

Governments may not like the thought – but maybe they will consider starting to ban things – and not be shy about being explicit. However, this kind of action will generate significant resistance and dissent.

How then to rapidly alter the world’s entire energy sector ?

Start telling the truth about how the energy sector is scraping the bottom of the barrel in a number of fuels and fields ? Could this approach cause a run at the investment bank ? Could it tip the balance in energy systems deployment towards the less-intensive options – green energy – the only possible area of growth in the energy sector – which becomes the only possible logical conclusion ?

Carbon Captured : The Ultimate Bailout

Image Credit : SCCS

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is a collection of actual and proposed technologies to return the carbon dioxide from fossil fuels back underground, or somewhere else where they can stop interfering with the global carbon cycle.

An excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is causing a range of problems, including acid ocean and most seriously, climate change.

Carbon Capture and Storage, or Sequestration, was first seriously proposed back in the 1970s, by a range of scientists and engineers, including Cesare Marchetti, (“On Geoengineering and the CO2 problem”, Climatic Change, Volume 1, Number 1, Pages 59 – 68) who is reputed to have coined the term “geoengineering” (see “Geoengineering: Could or should we do it?”, Stephen H. Schneider, Climatic Change, Volume 33, Number 3, Pages 291 – 302).

Continue reading Carbon Captured : The Ultimate Bailout

Academic Freedom #2 : The UN climate treaty needs energy producer obligations

Image Credit : Orin Langelle GJEP-GFC

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change calls nations to attend regular gatherings of the signatories to the ratified convention – the Conference of the Parties.

The nations send delegations – hardly ever sending their premiers, presidents and primes. What bargaining powers do these delegations have ? They have the authority to offer small percentages in emissions reductions, just to show willing. They have the mandate to refuse policies their nations do not like.

The language is framed around energy consumption – most country delegations have been advised by their economists that increased efficiency in the use of energy means that the national energy use will decrease. O wondrous technology ! You allow us to cut our energy use – and therefore our carbon intensity.

These same economists advise that the Holy Ghost of Innovation will inspire Research and Development – which will mean that new technologies will curtail greenhouse gas emissions. We only have to invest in new engineering. This Cult of the New is the fable on which most advanced nations hang their hope.

Continue reading Academic Freedom #2 : The UN climate treaty needs energy producer obligations

The UK’s Energy Crisis

What annoys me most about the Solar Power Feed-in Tariff saga is not that the UK Government suddenly pulled the plug on the full rate for household-sized systems, or that they set the cut-off date before they finished their consultation, or even that that the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) dragged out a legal appeal process.

Despite the truly pitiful sight of a Minister of State being sent out to bat with a miniaturised teaspoon to defend the indefensible decision, and despite the energy industry stooges that have placements inside DECC and are clearly affecting policy, no, the thing that really gets me is the focus on budgets instead of targets.

Here’s a summary from the Government’s own “long term trend” figures for energy consumption in Great Britain :-

Nobody can swear to me that the last few years are not just a glitch caused by economic instabilities, and that the re-localisation of manufacture in future in a recovering economy will not push this demand continually higher according to the trendline.

What are we using to supply this energy ? Here’s a summary :-

Despite the near exponential rise in renewable energy, it’s starting from a small base. The increase in energy consumption is being satisfied by a sharp rise in the supply of Natural Gas – something which the UK is producing increasingly less of these days. And for those who think that shale gas production would help, no, only a few percent of demand could be satisfied. This is an import-led energy supply, and the trend should ring alarm bells, but clearly doesn’t even tickle the ears of the average person in the street.

Electricity demand growth remains healthy, despite problems with unreliable supply from nuclear electricity (refered to as “outages” in the DECC Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES) reports) :-

Now, in the future, with an envisioned massive rise in renewable energy, higher electricity use would be reasonable, as long as other energy consumption reduced. But the growth in electricity consumption charted here is not people driving more electric cars or using electric heating instead of Natural Gas-fired comfort. This is higher consumption, pure and simple, not “energy switching” over to electricity.

As an aside – the sum total of these figures indicates that the nation as a whole is not engaged in significant energy conservation, despite decades of campaigning.

All these trends add up to a very slight loss in dependency on fossil fuels for the UK’s energy :-

This is the critical trend. North Sea oil and Natural Gas production is falling like a large rock, and no amount of technological advancement and re-stimulating the drilling sector is turning this around. This means that without a rapid decrease in fossil fuel dependency, the United Kingdom is going to start haemorrhaging wealth.

Goodbye, First World.

This is why is it essential to ramp up renewable energy deployment by whatever means at our disposal.

Greg Barker MP bleating about keeping to budgets is not helping.

The Last Battle

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

Britain’s real enemy is not Iran.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Additional Readings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wind Powers #1 : Civitas Fictitious ?

[ An extract from the online Christian Ecology Link discussion forum : 11th January 2012 ]

The Civitas report on wind farms.

A couple of days ago, Civitas published a report entitled, “Electricity costs: the folly of wind-power” : http://www.civitas.org.uk/press/prleaelectricityprices.htm [ Download report PDF ]

This report was produced by the Civitas economist, Ruth Lea. The report attracted a fair bit of publicity and even more antagonism from those within the renewables industry. Sadly, as usual the media have done rather less research than they should have; in particular they failed to check the background of the authorities quoted, though the Guardian did point to Lea’s views on climate change.

The following YouTube link leads to Ruth Lea denying the significance of anthropogenic climate change and the ‘flaws’ in Britain’s expensive climate change legislation. She uses all the same sad old errors and, in so doing, limits her credibility as an effective researcher : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvmgUYGgqwU http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcFfxUIRbyo

Her comments seem to be straight out of the Chicago School mythology that economics overrides nature – the view of many scientifically illiterates.

But it gets better, she quotes, as an authority, Dr Kees le Pair, but fails to mention that he is a member of the ‘Committee of Recommendation’ of the Fusion Energy Foundation. The development of nuclear fusion, if it happens, will require very significant investment, investment that could, perhaps, otherwise be made in wind farms and other renewables so there is an important conflict of interest that has been wholly ignored : http://www.fusionenergyfoundation.org/about-us

This matters to all of us because it shows the dangerous level of uncritical evaluation that is made of so called scientific reports and information sources. I still remember the days past when research involved trips to libraries and hours of reading and, unless, the library had an academic connection, new information would not have been easily available.

Perhaps it was the more difficult nature of research that made the media, and much of its audience, that much more careful. The advent of the Internet has provided for rapid transmission of information, straight to your computer or even your smartphone, but apparently at the cost of critical evaluation. So much information is available that even report writers seem to fail to check the background of their sources or the veracity of the information given by that source. Yet, that same Internet provides the means of checking and it’s far less tedious than back in the days of library visits.

Careful use of a search engine can throw up evidence of partiality and YouTube can often confirm background beliefs that have overridden scientific evidence if not common sense. It’s not just
in reports such as this one from Civitas but also within so many anti this, that and the other environmental groups that plague the Internet.

Look carefully at Occupy, for example, and dig deeply enough, you will find some truly amazing YouTube material on the way in which the City of London is a part of worldwide Zionism that is somehow linked with the Vatican and Knights Templar ! Did you know that the Bank of England is owned by the Rothschilds ? The Internet, as well as giving freer voice to information also gives voice to conspiracy theorists and to the murk of prejudice. Just as it is both wrong and dangerous to spread unfounded rumours so it is to spread disinformation, so please use your search engine, take a little time and then critically assess whether this information that you have been given is likely to be both accurate and honest.

RT

Eco-Socialism #1 : Public Service, Private Profit

Public infrastructure and utilities are the skeleton of the national economy; the spokes of the wheel; the walls of the house.

Private corporations can in many cases put muscle on the body, a tyre on the bike, and furnish the rooms, but without the basic public provision, private enterprise cannot thrive.

Without taxes being raised – asking everybody for their appropriate contribution – there would be no guaranteed health service, education system, roads, water supplies, power networks.

Federal or central government spending is essential, and often goes without question or inspection – including subsidies, cheap government loans, tax breaks and even rule-bending and regulatory exemption for specific sectors of the economy. This policy lenience also applies to private companies that take on the provision of public utilities.

This explicit, but often glossed-over, support for public services means that private business can rely on this national infrastructure. Small businesses can rely on a power supply and waste disposal services, for example. Large businesses can rely on a functioning postal service and road network.

It is questionable whether for-profit enterprise would be able to survive without the basic taxation-funded provision of public services and utilities.

I can understand why governments feel the need to get public spending off the balance sheet, and outsource public utilities to the private sector.

There is a lingering belief that private enterprise makes public services more efficient; makes manufacturing more reliable; makes construction better quality.

In some cases, this belief in privatisation is justified. Where companies can genuinely compete with each other, there can be efficiencies at scale. However, the success of privatisation is not universal.

Many parts of a developed economy are monolithic – there is no real competition possible. You get electricity through your power socket from a variety of production companies – you cannot choose. The road between your house and your office is always the same road – you don’t choose between different tarmac suppliers. Your local hospital is your local hospital, regardless of who owns and runs it – you have no choice about who that is – and the government contract tendering process is not something open to a public vote.

Added to this lack of competition, in some cases, it is impossible to make a profit by operating a public service by a private concern.

There should be no rock under which private business can hide when it claims to be operating profitable train and bus services – without public subsidies, public transport cannot be run at a profit.

Liability for daily operations may have been outsourced to the British private train companies, but not the full cost of the services. Costs for locally-sourced services cannot be driven down because they cannot be made fully open to global competition.

By contrast, the globalisation of labour has been making manufacturing industry significantly cheaper for decades.

In order for globalised trade to work, finance has to be liberated from its nation-bound shackles, and so along with the globalisation of labour to nations where it’s cheapest, there has been the globalisation of finance, to the tax regimes less punitive.

The globalisation of trade is a two-way bargain between those that want to see the development of primitive economies and those who want to create wealth for their companies and their shareholders.

Globalisation has created a booming China, for example, and filled the pockets of any Western company that imports from China.

However, the tide of globalisation has reached the shore, and the power of the waves is being stilled by solid earth realities. Labour costs in previously under-developed economies are starting to rise significantly, as those economies start to operate internal markets as well as maintain export-led growth.

It could soon be cheaper to have manufacturing labour in the United States of America than China. But when that happens a curious problem will arise. Manufacturing industry has been closed down in the so-called industrialised countries – as companies have taken their factories to the places with the cheapest labour and the most lax tax.

Wealth creation potential in developed countries has been destroyed. And it is for this reason that Western governments feel the urgent need to privatise everything, because their economies are collapsing internally, and public budgets may no longer be able to sustain current government spending.

However, privatisation doesn’t work for everything. It doesn’t work for health, education, water, public transport. The European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is a vehicle to compensate for agricultural sectors than cannot make a profit. I would contend privatisation doesn’t work for the energy supply and distribution sector either – but for a special reason.

Normally, it is possible to run energy stations at a profit. The privatised sector inherited power stations and grid networks that were fully functioning, and the sales of power and Natural Gas were almost pure profit.

However, much energy plant needs to be lifecycled after decades of use – replacements are in order, and this demands heavy public investment, in the form of subsidies, or pricing controls, or tax breaks or some such financial aid, in order to avoid crippling the private companies.

Like the rail network, there is direct public investment in the power grids. This is to support new access for new energy plant. However, I think this doesn’t go far enough. I would argue that much more public tax-and-spend is required in the energy sector.

In future, most electricity generation needs to become low carbon and indigenous. The primary reason for this is the volatility of the globalised economy – it will no longer be possible to assume that imports of coal, Natural Gas and oil for power station combustion can be afforded – especially in economies like the United Kingdom, where much wealth creation has been destroyed by de-industrialisation.

It used to be easy to ignore this – as the North Sea was so productive in oil and Natural Gas that the UK was a net energy exporter. This is no longer the case.

To avoid the risk of national impoverishment, energy independence is dictated, spelled out by a deflating British economy and by the depleting North Sea reserves.

The easiest and fastest way to a power supply that is low carbon is by healthy investment in wind power and solar power. Yet with the turbulence in the global economy, spending on renewable energy has also been rocky.

Now is the time for the UK Government to stop tickling corporate underbellies to get them to invest in British energy, and to start collected tax revenues to spend explicitly on the energy revival.

It can be “matched” funding – the Renewables Obligation, for example, has drawn in massive levels of private investment into wind power. And the feed-in tariff scheme for solar photovoltaics had, until recently, been pulling in high levels of personal individual and private company investment.

This is the kind of public-private financing that works – create a slightly tilted playing field to tip the flow of money towards new energy investment, and watch the river flow.

Without public money ploughed into public infrastructure in non-profitable areas such as public transport and energy, private enterprise will not be able to make a contribution – they would quickly bankrupt themselves.

The result of capping public subsidies for renewable energy is a halt to renewable energy deployment. Those who resist wind farms are in effect destroying the country. Those who cap public subsidies for solar power want to break the nation.

We need socalist financing of new energy technology deployment, for the future wealth of our country.

Urbanity, Durbanity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few suggestions for further reading :-

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Arcticane of Wintertide

Image Credit : Copyright 2011 EUMETSAT

Something not completely dissimilar to a hurricane or a typhoon has been gusting at incredibly high speeds through the lowlands of Scotland today – and further afield.

Yet, regardless of whether this heralds the start of a proper snow-and-ice winter, it’s not likely to prevent 2011 being one of the hottest years ever.

July and August, worldwide, were nearly the hottest on record in 2011. Meanwhile, the Blob Chart tells the story in a way that nobody can deny.

Meanwhile, in Durban, South Africa, the world’s governments struggle to make sense. A healthy economy is a carbon-emitting economy – because industrial energy causes high carbon emissions. What needs to happen is that the energy production businesses start to diversify their portfolio – increasing the amount of energy they produce from renewable, sustainable low carbon resources, whilst decreasing the amount of fossil fuel energy they supply.

It can’t be left to individual “big hitters” to kick-start the renewable energy revolution – it requires transnational, international, multi-national and national energy companies to start to displace carbon from their products.

If they don’t, they will face mass disinvestment, as ethical concerns rise up the agenda of investor groups and funds. So, BP, Shell and Exxon Mobil – if you don’t start switching from selling us hydrocarbons to selling us renewable energy, your businesses will under-compete. You have been notified.

Sadly, concrete always seems to win

I had no intention of actually dirtying my hands by buying The Times of London to read today, but I scanned its headline on the display. “Search for growth lifts estuary airport hopes”, it proudly announced.

And that’s when I realised, that, sadly, even after the lessons of decades of poorly planned infrastructure development, concrete still always seems to win over common sense.

Some people may be most concerned at the Chancellor or the Exchequer’s diktat on freezing public sector pay, just to “put the boot in” conveniently ahead of a national one day strike over worsening pensions management.

But I’m more concerned about his sudden conversion to Keynesianism. He seems to want to create lots of construction jobs, widening roads and motorways, laying foundations for nuclear power reactors, and perhaps throwing Portland cement over large parts of the Essex coast for a new “hub” airport.

Yes, this would create economic growth of a kind. Productivity would rise, employment would rise, income tax revenue would rise. But it would be the equivalent of sending a team of workpeople to dig a trench for no reason whatsoever, and sending another team to fill it in the next day.

What this country needs is assets, not liabilities. We need to build infrastructure that will enable economic productivity and social wellbeing and not place a long-term drain on society and the public purse. Roads, nuclear power plants and airports are all potential liabilities. Here’s just a few reasons why :-

Continue reading Sadly, concrete always seems to win

Daily Mail : Editorial Schizophrenia

I was in my local cafe diner, screening for neighbourhood gossip and genning up on the Daily Mail’s latest scandal and outrage. Several stories were told from different angles throughout the grubby pages of the well-thumbed copy I was sifting through. “You know”, I mused, “I think they might actually want their readers to become schizophrenic.”

On the front page the headline “RESTORE ELITISM TO OUR SCHOOLS“. The editorial line seemed to be aimed at persuading the readers to find Michael Gove’s speech just as “extraordinary” as the writer did – “extraordinary” as in “bad”. This, after all, is a newspaper that often seems to want to portray itself as succour for the common man.

On page 7, however, the same story took on a nanny-ish tone “We must demand more of our teachers… and our children : And here’s why it matters: for the first time 1m [million] youngsters are not in work or education.” So, presumably, the writer of this piece was having a dig at teachers and their performance. Plus it was also having a swipe at out-of-work out-of-the-classroom “scrounger” teenagers.

Where, I asked myself, was the analysis of why so many young people were without a role in life, without prospects ? Where are the jobs, work placements and apprenticeships for “youngsters” ? The statistics show that there are not enough openings for every NEET.

Continue reading Daily Mail : Editorial Schizophrenia

Tom Heap : Panoramic Nonsensity

Date: 9 November 2011
From: tim b
To: jo abbess

Hi Jo,

Just picked up on your blog following leads on Tom Heap – I’m writing a piece for my website (www.biggreenbang.co.uk) on the panorama / KPMG saga – just wanted to say what a great blog it is~!! Don’t find so many to-the-point sites in the UK – have picked up on guys like Joe Romm in the States but you seem to have your finger right on the pulse in the UK!

…Should explain that my site has been initiated by a load of IT techie nerds who are already working in telecoms and are about to launch a zero carbon mobile phone company (by a combination of using low carbon technology, buying into renewable power and carbon offsetting) They are committed to putting part of their profits into green projects and are setting up BGB in the hopes that it will be a vehicle for making sustainability issues available to a wider public – they have ambitions to develop it as a community resource too – They obviously hope to get spin-off business for their mobile phone network but I believe their motives are genuinely good and they seem to be giving me a fairly free rein!

look forward to hearing from you

=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=

Date: 10 November 2011
From: jo abbess
To: tim b

Hi Tim,

Good luck with the Panorama research.

Another person to follow on this is Christian Hunt at Carbon Brief :-

http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2011/11/looking-into-panoramas-sources
http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2011/11/kpmg-not-sure-if-written-report
http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2011/11/another-correction-from-the-mail-group-on-energy-bills

…Keep the green flag flying !

Continue reading Tom Heap : Panoramic Nonsensity

Renewable Gas : Balanced Power

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.

Occupy your mind #7

Image Credit : The Diocese of London

So, after rumours and quashings of rumours, Giles Fraser has resigned as canon chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, “resigned in protest at plans to forcibly remove demonstrators from its steps, saying he could not support the possibility of “violence in the name of the church”…Fraser, a leading leftwing voice in the Church of England, would resign because he could not sanction the use of police or bailiffs against the hundreds of activists who have set up camp in the grounds of the cathedral in the last fortnight.”

But just why did Giles Fraser resign ? What has it achieved ? What could it possibly achieve ? Now he’s no longer in the Cathedral organisation he cannot influence what happens. What pressures has he had to endure behind the scenes that gave him no option but to jump ?

Somebody I know has been praying that there would be heavy rain in London, just so the conditions would be impossible for the Occupyer camp to continue; that they would have to pack up and go home.

What on Earth is this @OccupyLSX protest for ? A camp of principle, to defend the right to protest ? A camp of demands, pursuing a just economics and a just society ? A camp of non-violence, when it deliberately provokes a stand-off between demonstrators and police forces ? How can the Occupyers claim to be peaceful when they know their actions have a fragmentation bomb-like effect on the society around them ? How can the Cathedral Campers evidence their intentions for a juster, saner, economic system, when the net effect of their actions is likely to be a huge law court struggle at taxpayer expense ? It’s not a revolution, it’s an irritation – or at least that is the way that it will continue to be viewed by the governing authorities.

Somebody on the inside track of campaigning in London has told me that the Occupy protest is destined to transmogrify into a Climate Refugee tent city in late November, early December. If it survives that long, then at least it can claim to be a piece of living art reflecting what is happening around the world because of climate change disasters.

Unless and until the Occupyers can take on relevance, everybody with even just a slightly-left-of-centre agenda will attempt to co-opt the Occupy London camp for their own purposes.

Remember, dear Occupyers, you are not “rising up” like the people in Libya – they were supplied with arms from around the world, forces overt and covert from Qatar, Europe and quite possibly America, and fed into a huge psychological operations narrative, ably supported by the media.

The Libyan conflict wasn’t about Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, may he rest in peace. The information management of the North African and Middle Eastern unrest shows that mass propaganda still works, and that media consumers continue to fall for the same fabrications, time after time.

The European Union Question

David Cameron was on one screen, and CBeebies was on another. I was on the treadmill at the gym, interval training, pacing at the same rhythm as the blaring RnB, and reading the teletext translation of the Parliamentary debate.

I smiled at Ed Miliband’s nasally-charged bluster. I rolled my eyes at the interventions from the Conservative dinosaurs.

The Tories are the living example of the Bad Apple Theory, I thought to myself. One bad apple, or in their case, a clutch of Eurosceptics, spoils the crop.

The Conservative Party of the United Kingdom harbours a number of corporatists and the stooge friends of corporatists, and this is their basic argument – deregulate and private companies will be more productive and save the economy from implosion. It’s the same argument that nursed the financial services market that went ahead and created derivatives of risk, and produced toxic credit progeny in abundance and caused the collapse of the banks which caused the current economic doldrums. Great job !

We’ve got the Coalition Government’s Red Tape (Cutting Of) initiative in full-swing, as well as the Eurosceptics. Their argument is – the European Union is a hyperquagmire and over-regulates and stifles business and innovation, so the United Kingdom should secede. What they fail to acknowledge is that European Union legislation and regulation have created excellent conditions for trade, unifying the standards of production across the Common Market, and drawing on skillsets and technologies from across the region, has advanced productivity and standards of living for all.

Continue reading The European Union Question

The Problem of Powerlessness #2

On Wednesday, I received a telephone call from an Information Technology recruitment consultancy. They wanted to know if I would be prepared to provide computer systems programming services for NATO.

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

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

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

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

Continue reading The Problem of Powerlessness #2

Occupy your mind #5

Image Credit : npmeijer

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading Occupy your mind #5

Noam Chomsky : Rebellious Occupation

Rebellious Media Conference
8 – 9 October 2011
“For radical social change movements to succeed, they will need radical media organisations to provide channels for information, insight and internal debate. In turn, for radical media organisations to develop and thrive, they need to be part of movements for radical social change.”

Warning : this material is taken from scribbled long-hand notes, and is not a complete account of what was said. The full account will be available later in DVD format. Meanwhile, follow the #rebelliousmc Twitter hashtag…

Continue reading Noam Chomsky : Rebellious Occupation

War in the Media

Some people may wonder why this YouTube starts halfway through a panel discussion from the Rebellious Media Conference at the weekend.

I certainly did. So I dug deep down in my appallingly scratchy notes and typed up a paraphrase of what Mark Curtis had said – the first speaker on the panel.

Warning – it’s not verbatim – it is interpolated from my illegible handwriting.

“War and the Media” : Panel Discussion : Rebellious Media Conference
8 – 9 October 2011 : Mark Curtis, Greg Philo, John Pilger
[Comments from Mark Curtis roughly reconstructed from jotted notes]

[…Tests the audience’s general knowledge about the world’s longest serving dictators…] It’s “Our Man in Oman”, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al-Said.

We don’t hear much about Oman. Why is that ? Let’s make two assumptions, first, that journalists can read, and second that they are following government sources.

For the UK Government, foreign policy is increasingly about oil. UK has been developing relationships with the Gulf States. There is a policy of deepening support for the most undemocratic states in the region.

Britain continues to project military power. You can see this in a hundred years of UK foreign policy – just read a few speeches.

This is not what we are being told in the media. Was this a war for oil ? Is the Pope a Catholic ?

In the media, the view [expressed] is that Britain is about supporting democracy in the Middle East.

This country has two special relationships. The special relationship with the United States [of America] is about consumerism and investment.

The other special relationship is much less [publicly] known [communicated]. Saudi Arabia since 1973 […]

A problem – Saudi Arabia is funding radical Islam.

And when Cameron […] in Bahrain…I wonder what they were talking about ?

When Britain provides arms, the media reports that it contradicts our policy of promoting democracy – to maintain them in power. We don’t have a policy of upholding democracy. They are our allies. We don’t want them to fall.

Continue reading War in the Media

George Osborne : Quantitative Greasing

Image Credit : So Fiyah

On the first day of October, The Times of London newspaper ran an editorial urging investment in Britain’s infrastructure as a way to turn the economy around. Under the heading “Re-engineering the Economy”, they wrote “…What Britain needs now is thus not merely recovery from recession: it is a comprehensive re-engineering of the economy. At the heart of this process should be a more ambitious approach to infrastructure investment and more activism in industrial policy…”
The writer continued, “…Stepping up investment in infrastructure will not only stimulate the economy in the short-term, but will also increase the potential for future growth…” They did not speculate extensively on where the money for investment was to come from, but it was clear that they were supporting the UK Government’s new planning legislation, in which the presumption for development will apparently always take precedence over objections to development. The Times writer did not make a very clear distinction between sustainable and unsustainable development, and considered building a gargantuan new airport in the Thames Estuary as valid a project as new wind power research in Aberdeen.

The Times appears to have understood that Britain’s energy infrastructure needs some concentrated attention : “Renewing Britain’s energy infrastructure is one of the biggest challenges that the country faces but it also presents a huge opportunity.” Part of the Coalition Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government’s Electricity Market Reform seeks to apply state subsidies to low carbon generation, although rewarding power generated from existing nuclear power stations cannot possibly stimulate the new nuclear builds that the Government are keen on.
Continue reading George Osborne : Quantitative Greasing