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  • Mind the Gap : BBC Costing the Earth

    Posted on October 16th, 2013 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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




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

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

    Programme Notes :

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

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

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

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

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

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

    02:14
    [ Historical recordings ]

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

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

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

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

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

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

    03:13
    [ Tom Heap ]

    That was 1974.

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

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

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

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

    03:57
    [ Dieter Helm ]

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

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

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

    And that’s where you think we are now ?

    [ Dieter Helm ]

    I think there’s every risk of doing so.

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

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

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

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

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

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

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

    [ Sam Peacock ]

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Sam Peacock ]

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

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

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

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

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

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

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

    08:06

    [ Ed Davey ]

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

    So it’s a huge, massive investment task.

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Ed Davey ]

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

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

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

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

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

    [ Ed Davey ]

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

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Ed Davey ]

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

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

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

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

    So we’ve got the policies in place.

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

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

    [ David MacKay ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ David MacKay ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ David MacKay ]

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

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

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

    [ David MacKay ]

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

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

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

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ David MacKay ]

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ David MacKay ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ David MacKay ]

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

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

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

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

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

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

    But some enthusiasts see wood being good for even more.

    16:19

    [ Outside ]

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

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

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

    [ Angela Karp ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Angela Karp ]

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Angela Karp ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Angela Karp ]

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Angela Karp ]

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

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Angela Karp ]

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

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

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

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

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

    20:02

    [ Tom Heap ]

    So, is wood a desirable greener fuel ?

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

    [ Almuth Ernsting ]

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Almuth Ernsting ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

    What do you think about that potential growth ?

    [ Almuth Ernsting ]

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

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

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

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

    [ Noise of processing plant ]

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

    Jon, what is this ?

    [ Jon Gibbons ]

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

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    What would then happen to the CO2 ?

    [ Jon Gibbons ]

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Jon Gibbons ]

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

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

    [ Jon Gibbons ]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

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

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

    [ Tom Heap ]

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

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

    [ Dieter Helm ]

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

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

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

    29:04

    [ Programme anchor ]

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

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

  • Birdcage Walk : Cheesestick Rationing

    Posted on July 12th, 2013 Jo 1 comment


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Good Gas, Bad Gas

    Posted on July 8th, 2013 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Carbon Bubble : Unburnable Assets

    Posted on June 3rd, 2013 Jo No comments



    [ Image Credit : anonymous ]


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

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

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

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

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

  • A Report from Tasmania

    Posted on February 4th, 2013 Jo 1 comment

    During the worst of the austral summer in Tasmania at the start of 2013, an Austrian friend of mine was travelling through the region, and sent back the following report.


    “We arrived in Tassie [Tasmania] on the 6th of January 2013. When I looked outside the window of the plane I saw many burning fields and a lot of black smoke was in the air.”

    “We picked up our luggage and went to the car rental counter. Actually we were lucky to catch the last rental car, as most of the cars were stuck in the Peninsula at Port Arthur and people couldn’t drive them back as all roads were blocked already.

    There were over 40 bush-fires in the area and most of the people have been evacuated either by sailboats and ships, as the whole island (Peninsula) Dunally was on fire.

    We drove directly up to the northern part of Tasmania away from the bush-fires.

    On the radio we heard many additional fire-warnings and had to take another highway in order to reach the Cradle Mountain National Park.

    The air was filled with smoke and the smell was terrible. As we arrived in the National Park all of a sudden it started to rain and didn’t stop for the rest of the day. The next day also…rain, rain, rain.

    250km south of Tassie bush-fires and here we are and felt like we were swept away by the strong winds and rainfalls in the middle of Tassie. :) It has been also really cold. Strange feeling to experience such a different weather-condition within only one day.”


    Video which describes it best:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qxz9x7HYIHo

    Arnie speaking German in front of students in Vienna on the 31st of January:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AyEjgs-Bc0
    http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-13-89_de.htm?locale=en
    http://www.r20vienna.org/


    “Let’s keep in touch. We have to step out of the comfort zone into the smoking zone in order to reach people for the “truth” about climate change. :)

  • A Question of Resilience

    Posted on January 28th, 2013 Jo No comments

    Again, the evil and greedy oil, gas and mining companies have proved their wickedness by manipulating public opinion, by directly financing conspiracy theorists who deny climate change science. The irony is tangibly acidic. The paranoid have actually been duped by a genuine conspiracy. They have drunk the Kool Aid; they have believed the lies; they have continued to communicate doubt. They think they are challenging corruption in high places, but what they are really doing is reinforcing apathy in the face of genuine risk.

    The questions posed so unrelentingly by the climate change deniers have sewn a patchwork tapestry of disinformation, which continues to poison genuine dialogue and is undermining political progress. We cannot take these people with us into constructive engagement, and ask them to help us forge a broad consensus. It is as if they exist in a parallel universe. Some of us will continue to attempt to conduct dialogue, but will end up wasting our time. The documentation by the media is faulty, and perpetuates the success of the denier strategy of divide and rule.

    But hold on a minute. There are problems with the stance of climate change denial, but what about the positioning of climate change activists ? Let’s try that first paragraph one more time :-

    [ Again, the "evil" and "greedy" oil, gas and mining companies have proved their "wickedness" by manipulating public opinion, by directly financing conspiracy theorists who deny climate change science. The irony is tangibly acidic. The paranoid have actually been duped by a genuine conspiracy. They have drunk the Kool Aid; they have believed the lies; they have continued to communicate doubt. They think they are challenging corruption in high places, but what they are really doing is reinforcing apathy in the face of genuine risk. ]

    By casting the fossil fuel and mining corporations as wrongly motivated, by using negative emotive labels, the dominant narrative of political activists has failed, once again, to move us all forward. These kinds of revelations about underhand corporate public relations activities are by now unsurprising. The news cannot shock, although it may disgust. Yet, since nothing is offered to counter-balance or correct the inappropriate behaviour of the “fossil fuellers”, they win the game they invented, the game they wrote the rules for. Protesting at a petrol station achieves nothing of any note, not even when there’s a camera-friendly polar bear. We hear the message of pain, but there is no ointment. There is a disconnect between the gruesome discovery and any way out of this mess. The revelation of intent of the carbon dinosaurs, the recounting of the anti-democratic activities, does not result in change.

    Environmental pollution is a “victimless” crime – no matter how much we sympathise or empathise with the plight of poisoned floating fish, dying bees, asthmatic kids, or cancer-laden people. Fines and taxes cannot rectify the scourge of environmental pollution, because there is no ultimate accountability. Regulation cannot be enforced. The misbehaviour just carries on, because there is systemic momentum. There is no legal redress (“due process” in Americanese) for those who are suffering the worsening effects of climate change, and there is no treaty that can be made to curb greenhouse gas emissions that anybody can be bound to by international sanctions.

    And so when we hear the same old story – that the energy industry is propagandising – we cannot respond. We don’t know what we can do. We are paralysed. This narrative is so tired, it snores.

    Truth may have been a victim, but the energy industry are also vulnerable – they are acting in self-defence mode. Let’s take the big vista in : there is stress in the global production of fossil fuel energy, and all routes to an easy fix, even if it’s only a short-term fix, are choked.

    So let’s ask the question – why do the energy companies deceive ? Do they think they are being deceptive ? Why do fossil fuel miners seek to massage public opinion ? This is a question of resilience, of Darwinian survival – seeking advantage by altering policy by tampering with public assent. They believe in their product, they construct their mission – they are protecting their future profits, they’re making a living. They’re humans in human organisations. They’re not “evil”, “greedy” or “lying” – as a rule. There are no demons here, nor can we convincingly summon them.

    Look at the activist game plan – we announce the deliberate actions of the fossil fuel companies to influence the political mandate. But these scandals are only ever voiced, never acted upon. They cannot be acted upon because those who care have no power, no agency, to correct or prevent the outcomes. And those who should care, do not care, because they themselves have rationalised the misdemeanours of the fossil fuellers. They too have drunk from the goblet of doubt. Amongst English-speaking politicians, I detect a good number who consider climate change to be a matter for wait-and-see rather than urgent measures. Besides those who continue to downplay the seriousness of climate change.

    Look also at the difference between the covert nature of the support for climate change deniers, and the open public relations activities of the fossil fuel and mining companies. They speak in the right way for their audiences. That’s smart.

    In time, the end of the fossil fuel age will become apparent, certain vague shapes on the horizon will come out of the blur and into sharp focus. But in the meantime, the carbon dinosaurs are taking action to secure market share, maintain the value of their stock, prop up the value of their shareholders’ assets. The action plan for survival of the oil, gas, coal and mining operations now includes the promotion of extreme energy – so-called unconventional fossil fuels, the once-dismissed lower quality resources such as tight gas, shale gas, shale oil and coalbed methane (coal seam methane). Why are the energy industry trying to gild the rotten lily ? Is the support for unconventional fossil fuels a move for certain countries, such as the United States of America, to develop more indigenous sources of energy – more homegrown energy to make them independent of foreign influence ? This could be the main factor – most of the public relations for shale gas, for example, seems to come from USA.

    The answer could come by responding to another question. Could it be that the production of petroleum oil has in fact peaked – that decline has set in for good ? Could it be that the Saudis are not “turning off the taps” to force market prices, because in actual fact the taps are being turned off for them, by natural well depletion ? The Arab Spring is a marvellous distraction – the economic sanctions and military and democratic upheaval are excellent explanations for the plateau in global oil production.

    It seems possible from what I have looked at that Peak Oil is a reality, that decline in the volumes of produced petroleum is inevitable. The fossil fuel producers, the international corporations who have their shareholders and stock prices to maintain, have been pushing the narrative that the exploitation of unconventional fossil fuels can replace lost conventional production. They have been painting a picture of the horn of plenty – a cornucopia of unconventional fossil fuels far exceeding conventional resources. To please their investors, the fossil fuel companies are lying about the future.

    Sure, brute force and some new technology are opening up “unconventionals” but this will not herald the “golden age” of shale gas or oils from shale. Shale gas fields deplete rapidly, and tar sands production is hugely polluting and likely to be unsustainable in several ways because of that. There might be huge reserves – but who knows how quickly heavy oils can be produced ? And how much energy input is required to create output energy from other low grade fossil strata ? It is simply not possible to be certain that the volumes of unconventional fossil fuel production can match the decline in conventionals.

    The facts of the matter need admitting – there is no expansion of sweet crude oil production possible. There’s no more crude – there’s only crud. And slow crud, at that.

    Peak Oil is a geological fact, not a market artefact. The production levels of crude and condensate may not recover, even if military-backed diplomacy wins the day for the energy industry in the Middle East and North Africa.

    Peak Oil has implications for resilience of the whole global economy – the conversion of social and trade systems to use new forms of energy will take some considerable time – and their integrity is at risk if Peak Oil cannot be navigated smoothly. Peak Oil is dangerous – it seems useful to deny it as long as possible.

    It’s pretty clear that we’ve been handed lots of unreliable sops over the years. The energy industry promised us that biofuels could replace gasoline and diesel – but the realisation of this dream has been blocked at every turn by inconvenient failings. The energy industry has, to my mind, been deploying duds in order to build in a delay while they attempt to research and develop genuine alternatives to conventional fossil fuels – but they are failing. The dominant narrative of success is at risk – will all of this continue to hold together ? Can people continue to believe in the security of energy systems – the stability of trade and economic wealth creation ? Oh yes, people raise concerns – for example about disruption in the Middle East and North Africa, and then propose “solutions” – regime change, military support for opposition forces, non-invasive invasions. But overall, despite these all too evident skirmishes, the impression of resilience is left intact. The problem is being framed as one of “edge issues” – not systemic. It’s not clear how long they can keep up with this game.

    The facade is cracking. The mask is slipping. BP and Centrica in a bout of hyper-realism have said that the development of shale gas in the UK will not be a “game changer”. It may be that their core reasoning is to drag down the market value of Cuadrilla, maybe in order to purchase it. But anyway, they have defied the American energy industry public relations – hurrah ! Shale gas is not the milk of a honey-worded mother goddess after all – but what’s their alternative story ? That previously under-developed gas in Iran and Iraq will be secured ? And what about petroleum ? Will the public relations bubble about that be punctured too ? Telling people about Peak Oil – how useful is that ? They won’t do it because it has to be kept unbelievable and unbelieved in order to save face and keep global order. Academics talk about Peak Oil, but it is not just a dry, technical question confined to ivory towers. Attention is diverted, but the issue remains. Looking at it doesn’t solve it, so we are encouraged not to look at it.

    So, why do the energy industry purposely set out to manipulate public opinion ? Well, the reason for their open advertising strategy is clear – to convince investors, governments, customers, that all is well in oil and gas – that there is a “gas glut” – that the world is still awash in petroleum and Natural Gas – that the future will be even more providential than the past – that the only way is up. All the projections of the oil and gas industry and the national, regional and international agencies are that energy demand will continue to rise – the underlying impression you are intended to be left with is that, therefore, global energy supply will also continue to rise. Business has never been better, and it can only get more profitable. We will need to turn to unconventional resources, but hey, there’s so much of the stuff, we’ll be swimming in it.

    But what is the purpose of the covert “public relations” of the energy industry ? Why do they seek to put out deception via secretly-funded groups ? When the truth emerges, as it always does in the end, the anger and indignation of the climate change activists is guaranteed. And angry and indignant activists can easily be ignored. So, the purpose in funding climate change deniers is to emotionally manipulate climate change activists – rattle their cages, shake their prison bars. Let them rail – it keeps the greens busy, too occupied with their emotional disturbance. By looking at these infractions in depth are we being distracted from the bigger picture ? Can we make any change in global governance by bringing energy industry deception to light ?

    Even as commentators peddle conspiracy theories about the science and politics of a warming planet, the “leader of the free world” is inaugurated into a second term and announces action on climate change. Although progressives around the world applaud this, I’m not sure what concrete action the President and his elite colleague team of rich, mostly white, middle-aged men can take. I am listening to the heartbeat of the conversation, and my take away is this : by announcing action on climate change, Barack Obama is declaring war on the sovereignty of the oil and gas producing nations of the Middle East and North Africa.

    You see, the Middle East and North Africa are awash in Natural Gas. Untapped Natural Gas. The seismic surveys are complete. The secret services have de-stabilised democracy in a number of countries now, and this “soft power” will assist in constructing a new narrative – that unruliness in the Middle East and North Africa is preventing progress – that the unstable countries are withholding Natural Gas from the world – the fossil fuel that can replace petroleum oil in vehicles when chemically processed, the fossil fuel that has half the carbon emissions of coal when generating electricity. Resources of Natural Gas need “protecting”, securing, “liberating”, to save the world’s economy from collapse.

    Obama stands up and declares “war” on climate change. And all I hear is a klaxon alarm for military assault on Iran.

    But even then, if the world turns to previously untapped Natural Gas, I believe this is only a short-term answer to Peak Oil. Because waiting in the wings, about ten years behind, is Peak Natural Gas. And there is no answer to Peak Natural Gas, unless it includes a genuine revolution in energy production away from what lies beneath. And that threatens the sustenance of the oil and gas industry.

    No wonder, then, that those who fund climate change denial – who stand to profit from access to untapped fossil fuels, secured by military aggresssion in the Middle East and North Africa – also fund opposition to renewable energy. The full details of this are still emerging. Will we continue to express horror and distaste when the strategy becomes more transparent ? Will that achieve anything ? Or will we focus on ways to bring about the only possible future – a fossil-fuel-free energy economy ? This will always take more action than words, but messaging will remain key. The central message is one that will sound strange to most people, but it needs to be said : fossil fuels will not continue to sustain the global economy : all will change.

    Funnily enough, that is exactly the summary of the statements from the World Economic Forum in Davos – only the world’s administration are still not admitting to Peak Fossil Fuels. Instead, they are using climate change as the rationale for purposeful decarbonisation.

    Well, whichever way it comes, let’s welcome it – as long as it comes soon. It’s not just the survival of individual oil and gas companies that is at stake – the whole global economy is at risk from Peak Fossil Fuels – and climate change. I use the word “economy”, because that is the word used by MBAs. What I mean is, the whole of human civilisation and life on Earth is at risk from Peak Fossil Fuels and climate change. Unconventional fossil fuels are the most polluting answer to any question, and expansion of their use will undoubtedly set off “climate bombs“.

    Don’t get me wrong – Natural Gas is a good bridge to the future, but it is only a transition fuel, not a destination. Please, can we not have war against Iran. Please let’s have some peaceful trade instead. And some public admissions of the seriousness of both Peak Fossil Fuels and climate change by all the key players in governance and energy.

  • How is your Australia ?

    Posted on January 24th, 2013 Jo No comments

    [ PLEASE NOTE : This post is not written by JOABBESS.COM, but by a contact in Australia, who was recently asked if they could send an update of the situation there, and contributed this piece. ]

    John and Jono: Resistance to coal in heat-afflicted Australia
    By Miriam Pepper, 24/1/13

    It was predicted to be a hot summer in eastern Australia, with a return to dry El Nino conditions after two back-to-back wet La Nina years. And hot it has been indeed. Temperature records have tumbled across the country – including the hottest day, the longest heatwave, and the hottest four month period.

    With heavy fuel loads heightening fire risks, bushfires have blazed across Tasmania, Victoria, NSW, South Australia and Queensland. The fires have wreaked devastation on communities, with homes, farmland and forest destroyed. Thankfully few human lives have been lost (unlike the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009), though many non-human neighbours were not so fortunate. Some 110,000 hectares burned and 130 houses were lost in the Tasmanian bushfires earlier this month, and fires still rage in Gippsland Victoria where over 60,000 hectares have burned so far. And we are only just over halfway through summer.

    On January 12, the Australian Government-established Climate Commission released a short report entitled “Off the charts: Extreme Australian Summer heat”. The document concluded that:

    “The length, extent and severity of this heatwave are unprecedented in the measurement record. Although Australia has always had heatwaves, hot days and bushfires, climate change has increased the risk of more intense heatwaves and extreme hot days, as well as exacerbated bushfire conditions. Scientists have concluded that climate change is making extreme hot days, heatwaves and bushfire weather worse.”

    The Australian continent is one of climate change’s frontlines, and also a major source of its primary cause – fossil fuels.

    While the mercury soared and the fires roared, a young translator from Newcastle called Jonathan Moylan issued a fake press release claiming that the ANZ bank, which is bankrolling a massive new coal project at Maules Creek in north western NSW, had withdrawn its loan. Whitehaven Coal’s share price plummeted temporarily before the hoax was uncovered, making national news.

    This action did not come out of the blue, neither for Moylan personally nor for the various communities and groups that have for years been confronting (and been confronted by) the rapid expansion of coal and coal seam gas mining at sites across Australia.

    The scale of fossil fuel expansion in Australia is astonishing. Already the world’s biggest coal exporter, planned mine expansion could see Australia double its output. The world’s largest coal port of Newcastle NSW has already doubled its capacity in the last 15 years and may now double it again. Mega-mines that are on the cards in the Galilee Basin in central Queensland would quintuple ship movements across the Great Barrier Reef, to 10,000 coal ships per year. If the proposed Galilee Basin mines were fully developed today, the annual carbon dioxide emissions caused by burning their coal alone would exceed those of the United Kingdom or of Canada. The implications of such unfettered expansion locally for farmland, forests, human health and aquatic life as well as globally for the climate are severe.

    I have twice had the privilege of participating in a Christian affinity group with Moylan at coal protests. And at around the time of his ANZ stunt, John the Baptist’s ministry and the baptism of Jesus in the gospel of Luke were on the lectionary. For me, there have been some striking parallels between John and Jonathan (Jono).

    John the Baptist lived in the wilderness. Jono the Activist has been camping for some time in Leard State Forest near Maules Creek, at a Front Line Action on Coal mine blockade.

    John got himself locked up by criticising the behavior of Herod, the then ruler of Galilee (in what is now northern Israel). For making the announcement that ANZ should have made, Jono could now face a potential 10-year jail sentence or a fine of up to $500,000.

    When followers suggested that John the Baptist might be the Messiah, he pointed away from himself and towards the Christ that was yet to come. When the spotlight has been shone onto Moylan, by the media and activists alike, he has repeatedly deflected the attention away from himself and towards the resistance of the Maules Creek community to the project and towards the impacts if the project goes ahead – the loss of farmland and critically endangered forest, the drawdown and potential contamination of the aquifer, the coal dust, the impacts on the global climate. And indeed, the way that Moylan has conducted himself in media interviews has I believe resulted in exposure about the Maules Creek project itself (which is currently under review by the federal Environment Minister) as well as some mainstream discussion about broader issues such as responding to the urgency of climate change, government planning laws and the rights of communities, and ethical investment.

    In an opinion piece published today, Jono Moylan finishes by urging us to act:

    “We are living in a dream world if we think that politicians and the business world are going to sort out the problem of coal expansion on their own. History shows us that when power relations are unevenly matched, change always comes from below. Every right we have has come from ordinary people doing extraordinary things and the time to act is rapidly running out.”

    Whatever our age, ability or infirmity we can all play a part in such change from below.

    Links

    Climate Commission: http://climatecommission.gov.au
    Frontline Action on Coal: http://frontlineaction.wordpress.com
    Maules Creek Community Council: http://maulescreek.org
    “Potential jailing not as scary as threat of Maules Creek mine”, opinion piece by Jonathan Moylan, 24/1/13: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/potential-jailing-not-as-scary-as-threat-of-maules-creek-mine-20130123-2d78s.html
    Greenpeace climate change campaigns: http://www.greenpeace.org/australia/en/what-we-do/climate/
    Australian Religious Response to Climate Change: http://www.arrcc.org.au
    Uniting Earthweb: http://www.unitingearthweb.org.au

  • A Referendum for Energy

    Posted on January 24th, 2013 Jo No comments

    As I dodged the perfunctory little spots of snow yesterday, on my way down to Highbury and Islington underground train station, I passed a man who appeared to have jerky muscle control attempting to punch numbers on the keypad of a cash machine in the wall. He was missing, but he was grinning. A personal joke, perhaps. The only way he could get his money out of the bank to buy a pint of milk and a sliced loaf for his tea was to accurately tap his PIN number. But he wasn’t certain his body would let him. I threw him an enquiring glance, but he seemed too involved in trying to get control of his arms and legs to think of accepting help.

    This, I felt, was a metaphor for the state of energy policy and planning in the United Kingdom – everybody in the industry and public sector has focus, but nobody appears to have much in the way of overall control – or even, sometimes, direction. I attended two meetings today setting out to address very different parts of the energy agenda : the social provision of energy services to the fuel-poor, and the impact that administrative devolution may have on reaching Britain’s Renewable Energy targets.

    At St Luke’s Centre in Central Street in Islington, I heard from the SHINE team on the progress they are making in providing integrated social interventions to improve the quality of life for those who suffer fuel poverty in winter, where they need to spend more than 10% of their income on energy, and are vulnerable to extreme temperatures in both summer heatwaves and winter cold snaps. The Seasonal Health Interventions Network was winning a Community Footprint award from the National Energy Action charity for success in their ability to reach at-risk people through referrals for a basket of social needs, including fuel poverty. It was pointed out that people who struggle to pay energy bills are more likely to suffer a range of poverty problems, and that by linking up the social services and other agencies, one referral could lead to multiple problem-solving.

    In an economy that is suffering signs of contraction, and with austerity measures being imposed, and increasing unemployment, it is clear that social services are being stretched, and yet need is still great, and statutory responsibility for handling poverty is still mostly a publicly-funded matter. By offering a “one-stop shop”, SHINE is able to offer people a range of energy conservation and efficiency services alongside fire safety and benefits checks and other help to make sure those in need are protected at home and get what they are entitled to. With 1 in 5 households meeting the fuel poverty criteria, there is clearly a lot of work to do. Hackney and Islington feel that the SHINE model could be useful to other London Boroughs, particularly as the Local Authority borders are porous.

    We had a presentation on the Cold Weather Plan from Carl Petrokovsky working for the Department of Health, explaining how national action on cold weather planning is being organised, using Met Office weather forecasts to generate appropriate alert levels, in a similar way to heatwave alerts in summer – warnings that I understand could become much more important in future owing to the possible range of outcomes from climate change.

    By way of some explanation – more global warming could mean significant warming for the UK. More UK warming could mean longer and, or, more frequent heated periods in summer weather, perhaps with higher temperatures. More UK warming could also mean more disturbances in an effect known as “blocking” where weather systems lock into place, in any season, potentially pinning the UK under a very hot or very cold mass of air for weeks on end. In addition, more UK warming could mean more precipitation – which would mean more rain in summer and more snow in winter.

    Essentially, extremes in weather are public health issues, and particularly in winter, more people are likely to suffer hospitalisation from the extreme cold, or falls, or poor air quality from boiler fumes – and maybe end up in residential care. Much of this expensive change of life is preventable, as are many of the excess winter deaths due to cold. The risks of increasing severity in adverse conditions due to climate change are appropriately dealt with by addressing the waste of energy at home – targeting social goals can in effect contribute to meeting wider adaptational goals in overall energy consumption.

    If the UK were to be treated as a single system, and the exports and imports of the most significant value analysed, the increasing net import of energy – the yawning gap in the balance of trade – would be seen in its true light – the country is becoming impoverished. Domestic, indigenously produced sources of energy urgently need to be developed. Policy instruments and measured designed to reinvigorate oil and gas exploration in the North Sea and over the whole UKCS – UK Continental Shelf – are not showing signs of improving production significantly. European-level policy on biofuels did not revolutionise European agriculture as regards energy cropping – although it did contribute to decimating Indonesian and Malaysian rainforest. The obvious logical end point of this kind of thought process is that we need vast amounts of new Renewable Energy to retain a functioning economy, given global financial, and therefore, trade capacity, weakness.

    Many groups, both with the remit for public service and private enterprise oppose the deployment of wind and solar power, and even energy conservation measures such as building wall cladding. Commentators with access to major media platforms spread disinformation about the ability of Renewable Energy technologies to add value. In England, in particular, debates rage, and many hurdles are encountered. Yet within the United Kingdom as a whole, there are real indicators of progressive change, particularly in Scotland and Wales.

    I picked up the threads of some of these advances by attending a PRASEG meeting on “Delivering Renewable Energy Under Devolution”, held at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in Westminster, London; a tour to back up the launch of a new academic report that analyses performance of the devolved administrations and their counterpart in the English Government in Westminster. The conclusions pointed to something that I think could be very useful – if Scotland takes the referendum decision for independence, and continues to show strong leadership and business and community engagement in Renewable Energy deployment, the original UK Renewable Energy targets could be surpassed.

    I ended the afternoon exchanging some perceptions with an academic from Northern Ireland. We shared that Eire and Northern Ireland could become virtually energy-independent – what with the Renewable Electricity it is possible to generate on the West Coast, and the Renewable Gas it is possible to produce from the island’s grass (amongst other things). We also discussed the tendency of England to suck energy out of its neighbour territories. I suggested that England had appropriated Scottish hydrocarbon resources, literally draining the Scottish North Sea dry of fossil fuels in exchange for token payments to the Western Isles, and suchlike. If Scotland leads on Renewable Energy and becomes independent, I suggested, the country could finally make back the wealth it lost to England. We also shared our views about the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland being asked to wire all their new Renewable Electricity to England, an announcement that has been waiting to happen for some time. England could also bleed Wales of green power with the same lines being installed to import green juice from across the Irish Sea.

    I doubt that politics will completely nix progress on Renewable Energy deployment – the economics are rapidly becoming clear that clean, green power and gas are essential for the future. However, I would suggest we could expect some turbulence in the political sphere, as the English have to learn the hard way that they have a responsibility to rapidly increase their production of low carbon energy.

    Asking the English if they want to break ties with the European Union, as David Cameron has suggested with this week’s news on a Referendum, is the most unworkable idea, I think. England, and in fact, all the individual countries of the United Kingdom, need close participation in Europe, to join in with the development of new European energy networks, in order to overcome the risks of economic collapse. It may happen that Scotland, and perhaps Wales, even, separate themselves from any increasing English isolation and join the great pan-Europe energy projects in their own right. Their economies may stabilise and improve, while the fortunes of England may tumble, as those with decision-making powers, crony influence and web logs in the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail, resist the net benefits of the low carbon energy revolution.

    [ Many thanks to Simon and all at the Unity Kitchen at St Luke's Centre, and the handsomely reviving Unity Latte, and a big hi to all the lunching ladies and gents with whom I shared opinions on the chunkiness of the soup of the day and the correct identification of the vegetables in it. ]

    Other Snapshots of Yesterday #1 : Approached by short woman with a notebook in Parliament Square, pointing out to me a handwritten list that included the line “Big Ben”. I pointed at the clock tower and started to explain. The titchy tourist apologised for non-comprehension by saying, “French”, so then I explained the feature attraction to her in French, which I think quite surprised her. We are all European.

    Other Snapshots of Yesterday #2 : Spoke with an Austrian academic by the fire for coffee at IMechE, One Birdcage Walk, about the odd attitudes as regards gun ownership in the United States, and the American tendency to collective, cohort behaviour. I suggested that this tendency could be useful, as the levels of progressive political thinking, for instance about drone warfare, could put an end to the practice. When aerial bombardment was first conducted, it should have been challenged in law at that point. We are all Europeans.

    Other Snapshots of Yesterday #3 : Met a very creative Belgian from Gent, living in London. We are all European.

    Other Snapshots of Yesterday #4 : We Europeans, we are all so civilised. We think that we need to heat venues for meetings, so that people feel comfortable. Levels of comfort are different for different people, but the lack of informed agreement means that the default setting for temperature always ends up being too high. The St Luke’s Centre meeting room was at roughly 23.5 degrees C when I arrived, and roughly 25 degrees C with all the visitors in the room. I shared with a co-attendee that my personal maximum operating temperature is around 19 degrees C. She thought that was fine for night-time. The IMechE venue on the 2nd floor was roughly 19 – 20 degrees C, but the basement was roughly 24 degrees C. Since one degree Celsius of temperature reduction can knock about 10% of the winter heating bill, why are public meetings about energy not more conscious of adjusting their surroundings ?

  • Cross-Motivation

    Posted on October 7th, 2012 Jo No comments

    A fully renewable energy future is not only possible, it is inevitable.

    We need to maximise the roll out of wind and solar renewable electricity systems, and at the same time fully develop marine, geothermal and hydropower energy, and of course, energy storage.

    We need strong energy conservation and energy efficiency directives to be enacted in every state, sector and region.

    But we need to get from here to there. It requires the application of personal energy from all – from governments, from industry, from society.

    In arguing for focus on the development of Renewable Gas, which I believe can and will be a bridge from here to a fully renewable energy future, I am making an appeal to those who view themselves as environmentalists, and also an appeal to those who view themselves as part of the energy industry.

    Those who cast themselves as the “good guys”, those who want to protect the environment from the ravages of the energy industry, have for decades set themselves in opposition, politically and socially, to those in the energy production and supply sectors, and this has created a wall of negativity, a block to progress in many areas.

    I would ask you to accept the situation we find ourselves in – even those who live off-grid and who have very low personal energy and material consumption – we are all dependent on the energy industry – we have a massive fossil fuel infrastructure, and companies that wield immense political power, and this cannot be changed overnight by some revolutionary activity, or by pulling public theatrical stunts.

    It definitely cannot be changed by accusation, finger-pointing and blame. We are not going to wake up tomorrow in a zero carbon world. There needs to be a transition – there needs to be a vision and a will. Instead of a depressive, negative, cynical assessment of today that erects and maintains barriers to co-operation, we need optimistic, positive understanding.

    In the past there has been naievety – and some environmentalists have been taken in by public relations greenwash. This is not that. The kind of propaganda used to maintain market share for the energy industry continues to prevent and poison good communications and trust. I no more believe in the magic snuff of the shale gas “game changer” than I believe in the existence of goblins and fairies. The shine on the nuclear “renaissance” wore off ever before it was buffed up. And the hopeless dream of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) becoming a global-scale solution for carbon emissions is about as realistic to me as the geoengineering described in Tolkein’s “The Lord of the Rings”.

    Nuclear power and CCS are actually about mining and concrete construction – they’re not energy or climate solutions. I’m not taken in by token gestures of a small slice of wind or solar power or the promise of a segment of biofuels from large oil and gas companies. Public relations and lobbying are the lowest form of faked, usurping power – but simply attacking brands will fail to make real change. I think honesty, realism and pragmatism are the way forward – and there is nothing more practical than pushing for Renewable Gas to back up the accelerated deployment of renewable electricity to its fullest scale.

    My appeal to those in control of energy provision is – to see through the fog to the unstoppable. State support, both political and financial, of new energy technologies and infrastructure has to be a short- to medium-term goal – because of the volatility of the economy, and the demands of your shareholders. The need to build public support for new energy means that we the citizens must all be offered the opportunity to own energy – and so that means building a common purpose between the energy sector and society – and that purpose must be Zero Carbon.

    There is and will continue to be a porous border between the energy industry and governments – energy is a social utility of high political value. However, the privilege and access that this provides should not automatically mean that the energy industry can plunder public coffers for their own profit. What contribution can the energy industry make to society – apart from the provision of energy at cost – in addition to the subsidies ? Energy, being so vital to the economy, will mean that the energy sector will continue to survive, but it has to change its shape.

    You can dance around the facts, but climate change is hitting home, and there is no point in continuing to be in denial about Peak Oil, Peak Coal and Peak Natural Gas. These are genuine risks, not only to the planet, or its people, but also your business plans. We need to be using less energy overall, and less carbon energy within the eventual envelope of energy consumption. So the energy sector needs to move away from maximising sales of energy to optimising sales of energy services and selling low carbon energy systems, power and fuels.

    You would be wrong to dismiss me as an “eco warrior” – I’m an engineer – and I’ve always believed in co-operation, expertise, professionalism, technology and industrial prowess. What impresses me is low carbon energy deployment and zero carbon energy research. Progress is in evidence, and it is showing the way to the future. Realistically speaking, in 20 years’ time, nobody will be able to dismiss the risks and threats of climate change and energy insecurity – the evidence accumulates. We, the zero carbon visionaries, are not going to stop talking about this and acting on it – as time goes by, the reasons for all to engage with these issues will increase, regardless of efforts to distract.

    Nothing is perfect. I no more believe in a green utopia than I do in unicorns. But without reacting to climate change and energy insecurity, the stock market will not carry you, even though the governments must for the mean time, until clean and green energy engineering and service organisations rise up to replace you. Lobbying for pretences will ultimately fail – fail not only governments or peoples, but you. You, the energy industry, must start acting for the long-term or you will be ousted. As your CEOs retire, younger heads will fill leadership shoes – and younger minds know and accept the perils of climate change and energy insecurity.

    This is the evolution, not revolution. It is time to publicly admit that you do know that economically recoverable fossil fuels are limited, and that climate change is as dangerous to your business models as it is to human settlements and the biosphere. Admit it in a way that points to a sustainable future – for you and the climate. The pollution of economically borderline unconventional fuels is wrong and avoidable – what we need are renewable energies, energy conservation and energy efficiency. One without the others is not enough.

    How can your business succeed ? In selling renewable energy, energy conservation and energy efficiency. You have to sell the management of energy. You have to be genuinely “world class” and show us how. No more spills, blowouts and emissions. No more tokenistic sponsorship of arts, culture and sports. The veneer of respectability is wearing thin.

    As an engineer, I understand the problems of system management – all things within the boundary wall need to be considered and dealt with. One thing is certain, however. Everything is within the walls. And that means that all must change.


    http://houstonfeldenkrais.com/tag/cross-motivation/ “…Of course, the money would be great. But adding in the reward/punishment dimension is a sure way to sabotage brilliant performance. Moshe Feldenkrais observed that when one is striving to meet an externally imposed goal, the spine shortens, muscles tense, and the body (and mind) actually works against itself. He called this “cross motivation,” and it occurs when one forsakes one’s internal truth to maintain external equilibrium. There are lots of examples of this: the child stops doing what she’s doing because of the fear of losing parental approval, love, protection. The employee cooks the books to keep his job. The candidate delivers the sound bite, and dies a little inside. Feldenkrais attributed most of our human mental and physical difficulties to the problem of cross motivation. If you watch Michael Phelps swim, you can’t help but notice that he makes it look easy. He is clearly strong and powerful, but all of his strength and power are focused on moving him through the water with the greatest speed and efficiency. There’s no wasted effort, no struggle, no straining. He is free of cross-motivation! Would straining make him faster? Of course not. Unnecessary muscular effort would make him less buoyant, less mobile, less flexible. Will dangling a million dollars at the finish line make him swim faster? Probably just the opposite, unless Michael Phelps has some great inner resources to draw upon. The young Mr. Phelps has already learned how to tune out a lot of the hype. He’ll need to rely on “the cultivation of detachment,” the ability to care without caring…”

  • No Cause for Alarm

    Posted on September 25th, 2012 Jo No comments

  • Forgive Us Our Stupidity

    Posted on September 14th, 2012 Jo No comments

    There are some things we can do nothing about. Forgive us our stupidity.

    Supertyphoon Sanba is heading Japan and South Korea’s way. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Obey the Future

    Posted on August 5th, 2012 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Read the rest of this entry »

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  • We Need To Talk About Syria

    Posted on August 4th, 2012 Jo 1 comment

    Kofi Annan has thrown up his hands and backed away from his role as UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria tasked with a peace mission. In one sense it is all too predictable. The United Nations Security Council is divided, reflecting deep faultlines in the policy positions of the main body of the UN.

    It is probably too early in the evolution of global human governance to expect military violence to be declared illegal, but at least there are voices starting to speak up demanding that there be no armed foreign intervention in Syria. The trouble is that although warfare by foreign parties in Syria has not been publicly declared, there are, by many accounts, military and security operatives of a number of external country administrations already in play inside its borders. Foreign ministers in several major countries have pledged support to either the Syrian “regime” – you know – its “ruling government”, or to the “opposition” “rebels” – otherwise known as gangs of armed thugs. Or quite possibly people from a nebulous ill-defined shadowy organisation known as “Al-Qaeda”.

    There are some reports that foreign involvement was behind the bombing of members of President Bashar al-Assad’s government in July, a near “decapitation” – as Assad himself could have been easily killed in the incident, and that a reprisal attack took place several days later – possibly severely injuring or even killing Prince Bandar, newly recruited chief of intelligence in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – recently drafted in – apparently with a mission to topple Syria’s “regime” – you know, Syria’s “legitimate administration” – a former ambassador to the United States of America. Although this is not yet confirmed. Or denied.

    Despite conciliatory moves, countries of stern influence in the United Nations continue to call for Assad to quit, for reasons that nobody really delves into. Oh yes, as a mild-mannered London-trained ex-ophthalmologist, he’s supposed to be some kind of Hitler character, killing thousands of “his own people”. This story clearly doesn’t stick very well to the man, particularly since this narrative was also recently falsely used against the former leader of Libya. Another story that hasn’t been washing is that the Syrian “regime”, you know, the “proper authorities of administration”, has been responsible for starting all the violence in Syria – but there is now plenty of evidence to the contrary. So why has it been necessary to demonise Assad ? Why has it been that – allegedly – various governments have decided to get dirty hands and stir up violence in Syria in means overt and covert ?

    And with the risks to global oil supply, why has it been necessary for the United States of America and the European Union to implement and enforce an oil embargo on Syria ? I mean, you would have thought it would be in everybody’s best interests to keep the oil flowing from every source possible. But no, sanctions it is, and Syria’s had to give up a considerable amount of their production. I know, I know, before the embargo Syria’s output was only 10% of Iran’s current production (see below), but it has meant a lot for Syria’s trade balance. According to the CIA Factbook on Syria (under “Economy”), nearly three quarters of all oil produced has been for export (although it was consuming more Natural Gas than it could produce – presumably for power generation). Plus, it’s national debt put it in the bottom ranks of the world’s countries meaning it can ill-afford to become more impoverished.

    So remind me again, what was the oil embargo for ? To depose Assad by making him unpopular because of a nosediving economy ? And why does Assad need to go, actually ? Nobody’s saying that the country has been run perfectly. Gruesome tales have been told of what can happen in Syria – but then, horrible things happen in every country, including in the United States of America, and yet the United Nations is not insisting that Barack Obama stand aside.

    Several key cities in Syria have existed in tolerant civilisation for thousands of years. Why does war have to come to Syria ? Why is there civil war being conducted in Damascus ? Even stoics are finding this hard to bear. Wikipedia notes despairingly and ungrammatically “In the second decade of the 21th century Damascus was damaged from the ongoing Syrian Civil War”.

    The more I think about it, the more I come circling back to the same theory – that the economic attack on Syria, and the now almost indisputable accounts of outside meddling that is provoking the conflict (and may have even instigated it in the first place), is simply part of a plan to make the oil and gas resources of all Middle Eastern countries available to global markets at reasonable prices. I mean, look at Iraq, whose oil production was severely hit as a result of military destruction by the international warfare community, but which is now making a splendid recovery (see below) and most of the profits are pouring into the coffers of the multinational oil and gas companies, and diesel and petrol stay relatively inexpensive. Or not, as the case may be. The plan for countries across the Middle East is probably the along the same general line – first accuse the country’s government of heinous crimes, then apply economic sanctions or energy sanctions of some kind, then apply diplomatic and media pressure, (and then, these days, send in the spooks to kick up an “Arab Spring”) and then send in the gunships or gunchoppers – attack helicopters. This narrative has been successfully applied to bring Iraq to heel, and then Libya, and now it seems Syria is being talked down the same blood-paved road, and Iran is being pushed along a parallel track.

    Iran. Now there’s an interesting case. Iran is not a pushover. It has taken nearly seven years of manoeuvring to make the completely unfounded case that Iran is building (or planning to build) nuclear weapons. Iran has been enriching uranium for its stated aim of developing a civilian nuclear power program, and this has been used as the justification to impose sanctions against Iran, including an oil embargo, which is having an impact on their production (see below). Besides painting the leader of Iran as an evil dictator, the propagandists of this world also seem to be trying to wield a new stick to beat Iran with – in the form of the call to end fossil fuel subsidies. Billed as a climate change policy by the G20, it is more a punitive measure against developing countries who have been using fossil fuel subsidies to make sure their citizens can get cheap energy. If Iran is no longer permitted to subsidise energy for citizens it will be forced to sell the oil and gas abroad – a buyer’s market only too pleased to suck dry the world’s second largest oil and Natural Gas producer. That volume of oil and gas being made available on the world’s markets would definitely keep global prices of oil and gas as low as possible.

    Anyway, back to Syria. Clearly, there are problems, although reports of enormous and desperate increases in violence are probably not accurate. Painting the story as increasingly agitated is a common media device to engage the readers with the situation – but if it gets too sensationalised the narrative could start to affect decisionmakers, and may lead to illegitimate and inappropriate influence being exerted from abroad. Instead of William Hague MP, British Foreign Secretary for the United Kingdom, offering tactical support to the Syrian “rebels”, he should announce an immediate diplomatic mission to the Syrian government, and the various rebel groups, offering the undoubted skills of his secret service personnel in mediating a ceasefire between the authorities and the opposition. Otherwise we could end up with NATO committing to tens of thousands of weaponised air sorties over Syria and destroying a large part of this ancient culture, just as they did with Libya. All economic and energy sanctions and embargoes against Syria should be dropped, as they are aggravating the conflict. If the international community uses the language and action of peace, then perhaps Syria can be encouraged back to the ways of peace.

    In the words of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, “Regime change is not our profession.”





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

    Posted on July 11th, 2012 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

    Arctic amplification

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

    Up there, where the air is clear

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

    Jet stream weaker and loopier

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

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

    Wobbly weather

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

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

    The food on the table

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

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

  • George Monbiot : Peak Agitation

    Posted on July 7th, 2012 Jo 1 comment

    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

  • The Really Inconvenient Truth For The GWPF – Debunking GWPF Briefing Paper No1

    Posted on May 14th, 2012 Jo 3 comments

    This article was written by M. A. Rodger and was originally posted at DeSmogBlog and is syndicated by an informal agreement and with the express permission of both the author and DeSmogBlog, without payment or charge.

    This is the sixth post in a series examining the UK-registered educational charity and climate denial 'think-tank' Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). Previous posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) have identified very serious shortcomings and it is now make-or-break time for the GWPF's reputation.

    GWPF Briefing Paper No1 – The Really Inconvenient Truth' will be a good test for this because “the GWPF is proud to publish this dispassionate but devastating critique of UK climate change policies, and of the alleged basis on which those policies rest.”

    So says the foreword written by Lord Lawson of Blaby, the founder of the GWPF. Such a statement pretty much overrules the disclaimer that appears on the cover of these Briefing Papers (that views expressed are those of the author not the GWPF).

    So will GWPF pride come before a fall?

    REALLY INCONVENIENT AND REALLY TRUE?

    The author of Briefing Paper No1 is Lord Andrew Turnbull, a retired senior civil servant and a GWPF Trustee. Turnbull has a “unique authority” for the task according to Lord Lawson. But a “unique authority” may not be adequate because the subject of Briefing Paper No1 encompasses not just UK climate change policy, but also the entirety of the work of the UN IPCC. Now that is a whole lot of subject-matter!

    The Really Inconvenient Truth which Turnbull attempts to convey is that the basis for UK climate policy is shaky because it rests solely on the IPCC's findings. “The propositions of the IPCC do not bear the weight of certainty with which they are expressed,” he says.

    However Turnbull is at pains to describe what he is attempting in Briefing Paper No1. He wishes only to point out the doubts and flawed procedures that exist. He does not seek to “replace“ the IPCC “propositions” with alternative propositions.

    That is what he says. But what does he then do?

    The gargantuan task Turnbull tackles in Briefing Paper No1 requires a seriously focused analysis but there is none of that here. Briefing Paper No1 is a sweeping account of the subject that strongly advances alternative “propositions.

    In essence, Turnbull's message is that “the IPCC view is a narrowly-based and over-simplified one … downplaying the role of natural forces.” The alternative view he advances sees a less dramatic climate change that would allow the world to adapt without reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Turnbull concludes (quoting the GWPF's inaugural lecture) that the IPCC view “is impossible to accept.”
    Logic dictates this is a call for its “replacement.

    As already mentioned, Briefing Paper No1 analyses IPCC work in its entirety. It thus covers the science, the climatic impacts and the policy responses.

    These will be examined here in reverse order – kind of upside-down.

    1 POLICY RESPONSES

    Turnbull argues at some length for what he calls “no regret” mitigation policies to reduce CO2 emissions, policies which would not impact greatly on the UK economy. Yet Turnbull is entirely disinterested in the CO2 reductions that such minimal policies would achieve. It really does beg the question why he argues for any mitigation policies at all.

    Indeed he talks briefly of preferring “adaptation” policies, pointing to the Institute of Civil Engineers who allegedly think that too little attention is paid to “adaptation.” Confusingly, Turnbull gives no source for this allegation. So is he referring to the UK's Institute of Civil Engineers? It is strange if he is. Their policy statements on climate change are unequivocal and wholly opposite to Turnbull's allegation. This is true even in their 2008 statement Adapting the UK to Climate Change (whose title may have given rise to Turnbull's confusion, perhaps a new take on 'judging a book by its cover.').

    2 CLIMATIC IMPACTS

    Turnbull deals quickly with the IPCC work on climatic impacts. He calls it shabby and quotes twice the Inter Academy Council (IAC) Report 2010 on the IPCC. This time Turnbull's source is referenced so there is no mistaking Turnbull's misinterpretations.

    Turnbull makes here two accusations.

    Firstly he says the IAC strongly criticise the IPCC WG2 for using non-peer-reviewed material. On this Turnbull is wrong. The IAC say using such “gray” literature is “relevant and appropriate” and is only criticising particulars of how it is used!

    Turnbull's second quote (from the IAC Executive Summary) is about the IPCC's use of unsupported or unclear probability assessments within the WG2 Summary for Policy Makers. Any reader of this WG2 Summary will see it is only a summary. It's probability statements are shoddy work but not the shabby underhand work of deception that Turnbull describes.

    This second IAC quote is used to back up Turnbull's otherwise unsupported accusations of “a consistent pattern of cherry-picking, exaggeration, highlighting extremes and failure to acknowledge beneficial effects.” Here Turnbull is entirely at odds with the IAC report which never makes any such comment or anything remotely in this vein.

    Indeed the IAC begins its conclusions “The Committee concludes that the IPCC assessment process has been successful overall and has served society well” showing Turbull's intemperate tirade against the IPCC WG2 is entirely preposterous!

    3 THE SCIENCE

    On the science, Turnbull concludes that the IPCC “sees calamity just around the corner, producing calls for dramatic and early CO2 reduction.” This is a blunt but fair assessment.

    Yet Turnbull goes on to make many strong but largely unsupported accusations against the IPCC science. He says it ignores 'huge controversy', relies on 'unproven assumptions' since it ' ignored' certain possibilities. He says its findings have been 'strongly challenged' and cites “some scientists … many scientists” who hold alternative views. And for good measure Turnbull also rounds on the Hockey Stick curve, as did GWPF Briefing Paper No3.

    None of this has any substance to it. The “many scientists” (in fact one misguided scientist working outside his specialism) was debunked  in Part 5 of this series.

    As for the “some scientists,” again only one of these is named – climate 'skeptic' Professor Richard Lindzen (who is a member of the GWPF's Academic Advisory Council). It is difficult to support the idea that Lindzen's work has been ignored by the IPCC. Lindzen's work contributed to the 2007 IPCC report within two different chapters and he was even a Lead Author in the 2001 IPCC report on the very chapter relevant to Turnbull's comments.

    While Turnbull makes no reference to any particular piece of work by Lindzen (and there continues to be a lot of that), it is safe to say that the available work relevant to Turnbull's discussion had been already shown as entirely flawed scientifically well before Briefing paper No1 was published.
     

    THE REALY INCONVENIENT TRUTH FOR TURNBULL & THE G.W.P.F.

    Be it in the science, the climate impacts or the policy responses, there is but one good word that can be said about GWPF Briefing Paper No1 – it is consistent.

    It is consistent in being always wrong!

    The same appears to be the case generally with GWPF Briefing Papers which have all now been reviewed by this series – consistently wrong and entirely flawed.

    The 'debunking' process could be continued to other GWPF publications, searching for the merest hint of some improvement in its reporting, some publications that might show at least some merit. But enough is enough.

    GWPF is a UK-registered charity. If a UK charity uses controversial materialsuch material must be factually accurate and have a well-founded evidence base” (emphasis added). Yet all GWPF Briefing Papers have been shown to be riven with controversial material that is in no way factual or well-founded in evidence.

    This is made worse because the charitable “purpose” of the GWPF is to “advance the public understanding of global warming and of its possible consequences, and also of the measures taken or proposed to be taken in response to such warming” (emphasis added).

    For an educational charity to be spreading so much untruth and error is surely unacceptable, even scandalous. It is evidently a significant non-compliance that impacts on the public trust in UK charities generally. On this basis, a formal complaint will now be made and pursued with the UK Charity Commission.

    There does also remain one as-yet unasked question.

    Why would a bunch of respected and otherwise sensible people make such fools of themselves in this manner?

  • Moving towards a logical conclusion

    Posted on May 5th, 2012 Jo 1 comment

    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 ?

  • Arctic Meltdown : Methane Alert

    Posted on April 30th, 2012 Jo No comments

    One of the key fears of cryosphere scientists, those who study the cold places on Earth, is a scenario where the permafrost and sub-sea continental shelves around the Arctic Ocean become unstable and start emitting uncontrollable quantities of methane into the atmosphere.

    Methane is an important by-product of biological decomposition, and is also found in icy deposits known as clathrates – methane hydrates – estimated to be very widespread in marine and geological deposits.

    Although it is short-lived, before breaking down or reacting with other molecules, methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, some 23 or 24 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

    An ongoing unfreezing of the sub-zero “Northern Wastes” would set up a constant flow of biological methane into the Arctic sky and so the warming would be continuous – a major risk to attempts to limit climate change – because it could not be controlled by altering mankind’s economic and energy activities.

    Reports of high levels of atmospheric methane in the Arctic region in the last few months have been mangled by the media headline generation machine to raise their urgency value – making them into “news” – and the reaction from most sensible academics and commentators is to downplay talk of a catastrophhic “Methane Burp”.

    Yet the data is interesting enough to warrant continued monitoring and explanatory power – for the methane story is complex and shifting. It may be time for alarm bells to ring, however we’re not sure exactly how much data we need to see before we do so.

    The long picture for methane in the air is one of hundreds of years of acceleration :-

    In the last few decades however, atmospheric methane started to level off :-

    However, since around 2007, methane concentrations have been rising once more :-

    Following the recent headlines about high methane readings in the Arctic, there have been a number of online discsusions about what it could signify.

    Tamino’s Open Mind doesn’t see a dangerous increase in emissions when looking at a seasonally-adjusted selection of data from the World Data Center for Greenhouse Gases and Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) flask measurements of methane concentrations at around surface level :-

    I asked Giovanni to chart recent measurements from the AIRS project, the Atmospheric InfraRed Sounder on board NASA’s Aqua satellite spacecraft :-






    The months December 2011 to January 2012 show a significant peak in methane concentrations in the area 60 degrees North to 90 degrees North.

    This peak seen by satellite does not appear to be reflected in the surface measurement charts I asked the online ESRL tool to plot for me :-











    What could be causing the satellite reading peaks to be so high relative to the changes in ground-based measurements ? What is happening in the different layers of the atmosphere ?

    Has there been some kind of “detonation” of the chemistry of the air above the Arctic, causing peaks in methane concentrations at high altitudes not seen at ground level ?

    Do the AIRS readings need adjustment because of unusual pressure and temperature gradients around the Arctic over the boreal (Northern Hemisphere) winter 2011 – 2012 ?

    Has there been a rapid release of methane somewhere, such as from an oil and gas production field somewhere in the region ? Will the international greenhouse gas inventories compiled by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Kyoto Protocol nations reveal anything about this ?

    What on Earth is going on ?


    A few resources

    The starting point for atmospheric methane science is the UNFCCC IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.

    Some recent research papers on atmospheric methane science :-

    SCHAEFER, K., ZHANG, T., BRUHWILER, L. and BARRETT, A. P. (2011), Amount and timing of permafrost carbon release in response to climate warming. Tellus B, 63: 165–180. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0889.2011.00527.x

    Seen from the journal page.

    Dlugokencky, E. J., et al. (2009), Observational constraints on recent increases in the atmospheric CH4 burden, Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L18803, doi:10.1029/2009GL039780

    Seen from the journal page.

    Bousquet, P., Ringeval, B., Pison, I., Dlugokencky, E. J., Brunke, E.-G., Carouge, C., Chevallier, F., Fortems-Cheiney, A., Frankenberg, C., Hauglustaine, D. A., Krummel, P. B., Langenfelds, R. L., Ramonet, M., Schmidt, M., Steele, L. P., Szopa, S., Yver, C., Viovy, N., and Ciais, P.: Source attribution of the changes in atmospheric methane for 2006–2008, Atmos. Chem. Phys., 11, 3689-3700, doi:10.5194/acp-11-3689-2011, 2011 (Discussion Paper)

    Seen from the journal page.

    The Arctic Ocean could be a major source of methane

    Joining the oil and gas industry in drilling the Arctic for clues

  • The Island Prescient

    Posted on April 1st, 2012 Jo No comments

    Video Credit : Dogwoof

    The message today is taken from the Book of Psalms, chapter 104, an anthology of holy songs recognised by both Jews and Christians as being divinely inspired.

    I have heard and read some Christian leaders, including North Americans and Australians, claim that global warming isn’t happening, because they believe that the Bible teaches that dangerous sea level rise is impossible, based on the contents of verses 5 to 9.

    “You set earth on a firm foundation
    so that nothing can shake it, ever.
    You blanketed earth with ocean,
    covered the mountains with deep waters;
    Then you roared and the water ran away –
    your thunder crash put it to flight.
    Mountains pushed up, valleys spread out
    in the places you assigned them.
    You set boundaries between earth and sea;
    never again will earth be flooded.” (The Message)

    These verses contain a reference to the Noah’s Ark story – the Biblical account that encapsulates a very widespread oral tradition of worldwide inundation. Some scientists believe these narratives are an echo of very real events, and that the Epic of Gilgamesh also records severe drought (corresponding to the Bible story of Joseph in Egypt):-

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Somebody Else’s Problem

    Posted on March 26th, 2012 Jo No comments

    Image Credit : Thames Water

    Some people appear to be incensed that Thames Water have declared a drought in the South East of England and called for a hosepipe ban.

    Others, more pragmatic.

    There are still commentators who are convinced that the drought problem should be addressed by Thames Water – that the problem would be solved if Thames Water fixed leaking mains water pipes.

    Most people, however, appear to accept that the low water availability is being caused by factors beyond the control of Thames Water.

    Thames Water appear to be acting, and they are asking their consumers to act as well.

    This is a situation that appears to be in deep contrast to the climate change issue. All the public information leads to calls for action directed towards the ordinary citizen householder, and there is no call for a word of commitment from the major energy producers.

    When governments and campaigners call on ordinary energy billpayers to “cut the carbon”, the energy industry just made climate change Somebody Else’s Problem.

    Let’s try to gauge the emotional reaction to this evasion of responsibility by looking at a couple of advertisements from London Transport.

    Read the rest of this entry »

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

    Posted on March 16th, 2012 Jo No comments


    Image Credit : Global Warming Policy Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


     

  • The UK’s Energy Crisis

    Posted on January 20th, 2012 Jo 2 comments

    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

    Posted on January 15th, 2012 Jo 2 comments

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

    Britain’s real enemy is not Iran.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Additional Readings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Methane Concentrations : Losing Control

    Posted on January 9th, 2012 Jo No comments

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

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

    http://www.esrl.noaa.gov

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

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

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

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

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

  • The Storm

    Posted on December 30th, 2011 Jo No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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