BP Biofuels : Murders & Acquisitions ?

[ The empty billboard at Highams Park train station, that had previously boasted an advertisement for BP’s Olympic public relations mission, after I complained about it. ]

I can see it now – a shimmering summer London afternoon – the heat radiating from the newly constructed sports track, and all television eyes on the shiny BP Biofuels filling station.

Oh, you’ll have choice. Which “green” fuel shall we choose for the Olympic village van ? Bioethanol, biodiesel or biobutanol ? The bright white and metal filling station will be glowing like an saving angel in a storm, with the friendly, homely green and yellow BP star flower tattooed across it.

But while you’re drinking in the public relations, “Oh look ! BP goes green !”, you will be living a distraction, like a child hypnotised by glinting gemstones. You will not be looking further than the pump station podium, to the full context, where lies a narrative rich in troubling complexity, harrowing tales that somehow never quite make it to the bread-and-circus mainstream media.

1. BP Biofuels is growing by acquisition, not in-house development

It is clear from the outset that BP Biofuels is a greenwash mirage – the “world class” fossil fuel oil and gas company are not tending to dirty their engineers’ hands with actually making biofuels themselves. What BP Biofuels has been doing is leveraging their ecological reputation by making purchases of already-existing companies – for example, Tropical Bioenergia in Brazil.

Where they have entered into a more joint venture, things are a bit rocky, for example, at Vivergo Fuels in Hull, England, which was due to open in early 2012, no, I mean “late spring”, no actually “later in the year”.

And where they have been unable to acquire or merger, they’ve been taking to the law courts to suppress the competition, as with Gevo in Minnesota in the United States of America.

2. Land grabbing in the Brazilian Cerrado and the socioeconomic fallout

Although BP Biofuels are claiming that they are developing advanced biofuels with due care for sustainability, there are continuing problems with land use change in the Brazilian Cerrado, which is documented as displacing indigenous people, and perhaps even partly behind the murder of social activists in the region.

BP Biofuels is making use of the highly unequal Brazilian economy by using low-skilled or unskilled landless people in the area. As usual, the BP company reports focus on the safety of their employees – they claim that mechanisation of sugarcane harvesting is improving the wellbeing of their workers – but they are not addressing the economic disadvantage that forces people to work for extremely low wages in this business.

3. Ecosystem destruction by agrifuel/agrofuel farming

Sugarcane plantations have been highlighted as causing detrimental effects to soils, even causing stress on local water supplies.

4. The GM crop menace

At least one company specialising in the sale of agrochemicals, I mean genetically modified crops adapted for use with patented agrochemicals, is active alongside the BP Biofuels concerns. It is possible that there will be extensive crossover between the energy and GM crops companies – not only in the ownership of the genome of energy crops such as GM sugarcane, but also GM trees – to be used to build carbon credits for the large international companies growing plantations in Brazil.

5. Buggy biofuels will remain a niche in the vehicle fuel market

Biofuels made by any process that involves microorganisms suffer from one unique problem – speed – or rather, lack of it. There does not appear to be much evidence that any bio-activated production of biofuels – whether it be fermentation for ethanol, or algae grown for oil – can be sped up. This indicates that biofuels grown from bugs are likely to remain relatively small-scale in the global fuels markets – adding weight to the arguments from companies such as BP for drilling for fossil fuels in the Arctic Ocean and offshore in Africa, South America and Asia.

[ NOTE WELL : Before you mentino it, yes, this post does not have much in the way of links, in fact, none at all. That’s because I’m still compiling sources on this subject and hope to write it up properly later on. If you’re keen to find out more, Google knows everything, just about. ]

This Is My Thesis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

Climate Change : No Guarantee

Image Credit : Eliasson Family

Walking out to buy a few household essentials from the corner shop, I ran into somebody I’ve known since my childhood, practically, returning from the drycleaners with two trailing kids in tow.

“Happy Spring !” I said, and smiled, and pointed out the lovely blossom on the urban street tree. Eldest child grumbled about hayfever. Parent mentioned April Showers.

“It’s been the wettest drought, ever !”, proclaimed eldest child, who I noticed was wearing a Team GB tracksuit and therefore probably up to speed with current events. “It has been rather damp”, I admitted, “and yet the drought’s not over yet. If you look at the Met Office records, you can see we’re still not up to normal levels of rainfall. And it was like this last year.” “And the year before that”, added parent, “although I expect for this month it might show we’ve had quite a lot more than normal.” (Select “Rainfall”)

Continue reading Climate Change : No Guarantee

Engagement Can Be Tiring

Image Credit : Skeptical Science

This is a record of a short email exchange.

I feel it encapsulates some of the difficulties of communicating climate change science when there are a large number of people in the conversation who have a destructive agenda.

They may have different reasons for attacking the process of science learning by the general population, but they unite on strategies that belittle people and spread doubt.

At the same time, there are people with accurate knowledge who take different positions about how much emphasis they should place on the risks posed by climate change.

We need to get our act together and form a united front, surely ?

Continue reading Engagement Can Be Tiring

Somebody Else’s Problem

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.

Continue reading Somebody Else’s Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Does GWPF Really Stand For ?

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. The author’s original artwork here was not initially included over at DeSmogBlog.
The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) is a UK-based climate-sceptic think-tank founded in November 2009 by Lord Lawson. Within two years of its launch, a survey of scepticism in the global media by Oxford University’s RISJ had added a final chapter showing the GWPF had gained success in “inserting itself into the (UK) national discourse” and that its founder and its director had become “the two most quoted sceptics by far” within the UK national press.

The GWPF believes it has made a difference, saying of itself “The key to the success of the GWPF is the trust and credibility that we have earned in the eyes of a growing number of policy makers, journalists and the interested public.” Yet the GWPF has also been criticised for being secretive, misinformed, wrong and perverse.

Continue reading What Does GWPF Really Stand For ?

Advent Joy : Christmas Rose

Audete, Gaudete !
Christus est natus
Ex Maria Virgine,
Gaudete !

Tempus adest gratiae,
Hoc quod optabamus;
Carmina laetitiae,
Devote reddamus.

Deus homo factus est,
Natura mirante;
Mundus renovatus est
A Christo regnante…

Welcome, little Christmas rose, into a big and troubled world. We are so happy you’ve made your journey safely, we could sing heartily.

The world is no closer to a binding, enactable accord on preventing catastrophic climate change, but at least the Durban United Nations conference is over, and many are therefore sleepily rejoicing.

Continue reading Advent Joy : Christmas Rose

Clicking with Climate

Image Credit : University of California at Berkeley

Human beings have two brains. The first is a self-centred workhorse of pragmatic decision-making, interested in social engagement in order to further individual interests – whether those interests are purely for personal enrichment or for the reward of the social group more widely.

The second human brain is a relativistic engine, constantly comparing, reflecting, analysing. We are concerned about other peoples’ emotional response, wondering what other people think about us, responding to peer group pressure.

Are we more successful, popular than others ? Do people listen to us more than others ? We know we’re right, but do they ? We need to pitch ourselves in the right way. We jostle for pole position, for a place on the platform, hoping not to make too many opponents, whilst making more converts to our point of view.

Personally, I don’t listen to my second brain very often. As a social animal, I hope I’m tolerant, and my priorities in interpersonal engagement are mutual empowerment, transparent collaboration and inclusion. In my public projection, I’m not trying to vaunt myself over others, or massage my image for approval, or put up a fake facade. You get me, you get direct.

But I can’t avoid the second human brain entirely – as it is the reason for a lot of fuzziness in our view of the world around us. It’s too easy to stir doubt, falsehoods and bad ideas into the collective cake mix of society, where it fizzes into a bubbling mess. In matters of climate change science and energy engineering, there are no grey areas for me. But for a number of people I know, these are subjects of much confusion, denial and disinformation.

People hold on to the totem of what other people think. And so you have even very intelligent social commentators reciting from paid-for public relations by companies and business pressure groups. Journalists often do not appear to understand the difference between pseudo-science and real live science. There are too many people selling unrealistic, unworkable technological “solutions”, particularly in energy, so it’s hard to know what to accept and what to dismiss.

Yet it is critical to know what rock, what branch to keep a hold of in the flood of information that could sweep us away. The social construction of climate change is an important edifice, a safe house in an information world at war with itself. What high wind can sweep away the grubby pages of non-science from the Daily Mail ? What rising sea can cleanse the Daily Telegraph of its climate change denial columnists ? What can stop the so-called Global Warming Policy Foundation from infecting the Internet with their contrarian position ? What can make us accept the reality and urgency of global warming ? How can we learn to click with climate change ?

Three significant academic thinkers on the social significance of climate change are launching new works at the British Library in London, on 16th January 2012. The British Sociological Association have invited Mike Hulme, John Urry and Gordon Walker to discuss chapters from their recent books which address the question – where next for society and climate change ?

In the words of Chris Shaw at the University of Sussex, “they pull no punches in their analyses, and their approach is based on years of research into the social dimensions of the climate change debate. This is an essential opportunity for all those interested in bringing climate change into the democratic sphere, to help understand the issues involved in such a transition. It is also a chance to discuss the ideas with the authors and other delegates.”

For more information, see here and here.

Daily Mail : Editorial Schizophrenia

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

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

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

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

Continue reading Daily Mail : Editorial Schizophrenia

Everyone’s Entitled to their Opinion

Yes, indeed they are. Everyone is entitled to hold their own particular opinion. In this democracy of ideas, every longshot, wingnut, bonehead, rogue, charlatan, conspiracy theorist, crank, crony and astroturfer should be permitted access to the microphone on the stage. If we hold a public meeting about immigration, we should, of course, invite a white supremicist, a member of the British National Party, and a Daily Mail journalist to offer us their wise words. If we hold a sociological symposium on the Second World War, we should of course invite a Holocaust-denier. If an engineering conference, a cold fusion-in-a-test-tube enthusiast. Of course we should provide balance, as much balance as possible, and offer wisdom, insight and rant from all ends of all spectra. It’s only reasonable.

It therefore goes without question that somebody from the Global Warming Policy Foundation “think tank”, so copiously and generously sponsored by a person or persons unknown, should be invited to speak on the platform, or in a panel, at a well-funded quasi-establishment meeting on Climate Change. Regardless of a complete lack of training in atmospheric physics, or even knowledge of the span of the last five years in the science of global warming, naturally, a GWPF man must be invited by GovToday to a presitigious conference to be held on 29th November 2011 in the City of London grandly entitled “2011 Carbon Reduction : The Transition to a Low Carbon Economy”.

Continue reading Everyone’s Entitled to their Opinion

Death of the Solar Salesman

Poor dear Greg Barker MP. As he attempted to answer questions in the House of Commons today on his disastrous decision to cut the solar photovoltaic feed in tariff, his face became progressively redder. His temper clearly became frayed as he got quite cross, and asked female Labour Members of Parliament to calm down, and even asserted that one question from a female opposition MP was “hysterical”, which I think was borderline sexist.
For some reason, nobody asked the Department of Energy and Climate the basic question – why don’t you increase the Feed in Tariff budget, instead of trying to whittle down the pence paid per kilowatt hour produced ? The Feed-in-Tariff scheme is working really well at the moment. It’s preventing the country having to subsidise the construction of several new power stations, and it has been providing, until now that is, new jobs and economic productivity.

Continue reading Death of the Solar Salesman

The European Union Question

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading The European Union Question

Ed Miliband : Squeezed Middle

Ed Miliband, leader of the British Labour Party, addressed the pre-party conference cameras in uncustomary casual attire, shelving his favourite suit, dazzlingly shiny tie and white shirt, you know, the one with the fat turned-over cuffs.

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

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

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

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

The Dearth of Sense

While everybody’s busy discussing ethics in the media, today’s been a great day to bury bad news – the shelving of the Energy Bill – and with it the Green Deal, the only hope Britain had left of economic recovery in the short-term.

And what of the Electricity Market Reform white paper and the National Policy Statements on energy ? Into the round wastepaper-bin-shaped recycling receptacle, possibly.

What next ? The revocation of the Climate Change Act and the dissolution of the Committee on Climate Change ?

I don’t know whether I should make overt political statements, but I think this news sugar ices the brioche, so I will : David Cameron’s “greenest government ever” has failed.

We need Van Jones, right here, right now.

Energy Poll #3 : Peak Oil

Question 1    How often do you read press reports that discuss disruption in the supply of crude oil ?







Question 2    Do you think there may be a reduction in the range of foreign produce available in supermarkets ?







Question 3    Would you be happy to change your lifestyle in the event of fuel scarcity ?







Question 4    Do you have plans to change your private or business travel options ?







Question 5    Do you think that we will still drive privately-owned vehicles in future ?






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

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

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










Energy for Democracy

Dropping The Campaign Wrecking Ball

Intelligent commentators, authors and policy people are often suspicious of campaign groups. At the back of their minds they are drawing on a cultural discourse, primarily conducted in the media, that equates campaigners with mini-Hitlers – spreading disinformation and cult behaviour.

It is true that – as Mein Kampf reveals – the National Socialists in Germany used the latest communications tools to coerce and channel the energy of democracy towards their goals.

Some of the Nazi ambition was for democratic engagement, involvement in the process of rebuilding the country. Yet some of the methods were perverse, and caused an inexorable descent into the abuse of power.


When people like Mark Lynas accuse Greenpeace and other green campaign organisations of failings, there is any underlying theme – accusations of manipulation – both of facts and people. The sub-text harks back to the combat against fascism and Nazism in Europe.

We’re never going to make any progress on climate change if those advocating for energy change are equated to early 20th Century dictators and totalitarians.

Energy is a Social Good

I recently wrote an essay called “Energy for Democracy” making a first attempt at connecting the dots on grassroots democratic mobilisation and energy change. The subject set was in the field of “Environmental Communication”, and so I went back and looked at the development of mass media, advertising and public persuasion. I then went on to think about how propaganda and governance are interrelated. And I also looked at philosophy, and politics. I looked at the early 20th Century ideological splits in Europe, and the part that industrial development played. I looked at how democratic and other forms of socialism dealt with the problem of energy.

I posited that, since energy is produced for the Common Good, it should be subject to democratic management. I found myself “channelling” the spirit of Ramsay Macdonald, and going back to the questions of society and the integration of new industries that were pervasive before the two so-called “World Wars”.

Energy Of A Similar Wavelength

And today I find this very theme picked up by Ulrich Beck in The Guardian newspaper, along with the expression “energy change”, which is a term I am using increasingly to encapsulate the pivotal and essential response to climate change :-

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jun/20/germany-nuclear-power-renewable-energy

“Germany is right to opt out of nuclear”, he headlines, “The rejection of nuclear power is a result not of German angst but of economic thinking. We must invest in renewable energy”.

I was gladdened when he stepped from economics to democratics :-

“…Ultimately, the rejection of nuclear is not a result of German angst but of economic thinking. In the long run, nuclear power will become more expensive, while renewable energy will become cheaper. But the key point is that those who continue to leave all options open will not invest…People everywhere are proclaiming and mourning the death of politics. Paradoxically, the cultural perception of the danger may well usher in the very opposite: the end of the end of politics…what is denounced by many as a hysterical over-reaction to the “risks” of nuclear energy is in fact a vital step towards ensuring that a turning point in energy generation becomes a step towards greater democracy…The novel coalition between the state and social movements of the kind we currently see at work in Germany now has a historic opportunity. Even in terms of power politics, this change of policy makes sense…”

The British are stumbling towards democracy, too, but they keep tripping over old divisiveness, and create new divisions too, just to complicate matters.

People Power – Not Potty Nor Puny

The Climate Camp has just been a baby step on the pathway to democratic movement on energy. Camping in coal trucks and dropping banners from power station cooling stacks has been a sign that democracy has been ailing – if there were genuine engagement between the governments, private enterprises and “campaign” groups over the future scenarios for energy, then people wouldn’t need to camp outside banks and coal-fired power plants.

As a consumer of mainstream media, all you see is the blockade of a Biofuel refinery, or people gluing themselves to the entrance of the Royal Bank of Scotland, or the occupation of a plant nursery at the site of a proposed runway. If you think “what a ramshackle bunch of unwashed hippies, straining the last of their voices, railing at the State, in a vain attempt to roll back the tide of industry, progress and Thorium reactors”, then you haven’t understood the bigger picture.

People want to be engaged in the decisions made about energy in this country – properly engaged. People want to use their knowledge to influence decisions. If the only means they have of expressing their democratic will and their opposition to hydraulic fracturing is to D-lock themselves to Shale Gas drilling equipment, then perhaps they might just do that. This might happen in Poland too. The alternative would be a proper discussion between the people groups and the governments. Where’s the European Union environmental legislature while all of this is happening ? Shale Gas could destroy Poland.

Energy Collectives – Expressing Collective Democratic Will

Groups like Fair Pensions are building momentum between people groups and investing institutions – raising the flag for clean energy. This isn’t about fighting – let’s drop the battlefield language, including that word “campaign”, which is so often used in a derogatory, dismissive, belittling way. This is about getting people working together on a new, sustainable future, and it requires all the righteous anger rising up to be channelled into a positive, productive movement, fully expressing the will of the people.

Consultations and placard-waving demonstration protests are not the way forward – we need energy change, and that’s going to require a whole lot more democratic energy. People don’t want dirty energy, and they don’t want nuclear power. Dirty energy should be asked to leave the building, nicely, politely. Firm but fair.

Group Thinking – Democratic Intelligence

Investment in renewable and sustainable energy is creating long-lasting assets for the UK and other countries. We don’t need and we don’t want dirty, radioactive energy any more. A thousand cheers for German democracy !

James Delingpole : Going Underground

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

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

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

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

Continue reading James Delingpole : Going Underground

Adam Curtis : Chaotically Unstable

I’m looking quizzical, rubbing my chin. Adam Curtis appears to have lost control of his mind, or at the very least, is showing signs of unhealthy self contradiction. Where are the checks and balances ?

At the start of Part 2 of “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace”, he unpicks, and, I would suggest, stamps on, the idea that ecosystems are networks of feedback loops, tending to re-balance. And then at the end of the same presentation, he asserts that human revolutions fail, and society folds in on itself and returns to the state of power and control it was in before. Now which is it to be, Adam Curtis ? Self-correcting stability or non-correcting ebbs, flows and shifting sands ?

Continue reading Adam Curtis : Chaotically Unstable

Texas travel advisory

[ UPDATE : Texas Governor proclaims three days of prayer for rain ]

Texas ? My advice is – don’t go there. Not only does it have numerous social problems, it’s also in the midst of a hellfire makeover, caused by extensive drought :-

http://www.statesman.com/news/local/fires-rage-through-much-of-texas-more-than-1418294.html

“Fires rage through much of Texas; more than 1 million acres burned : April 20, 2011 : Several massive wildfires in North and West Texas continued to rage Tuesday, racing through parched fields and woods and adding to a sweeping acreage toll that has reached almost 1.2 million in less than two weeks. A wildfire spanning four counties west of Fort Worth near Possum Kingdom Lake has consumed nearly 150,000 acres, destroyed 150 homes and a church, and forced hundreds to flee since it began Friday, Texas Forest Service spokesman Marq Webb said. The fire, which nearly doubled in size in a day, is one of more than 20 active fires that the Forest Service is fighting statewide in an April that has been plagued by a fierce drought, high temperatures and gusting winds – conditions that have allowed wildfires to ignite and spread quickly in several parts of the state, including Austin…”

The situation is so bad, that the God Squad has been moved to participate, some in practical ways and some in the spiritual department. People are dying, but meanwhile, some in the Heavenward crowd are in denial about Climate Change. Seems that some tombstone-headed American Christians would rather crucify their country than admit that Global Warming Science is right.

State policy on fighting fire seems rather contrary to the trends – and that’s probably because “big government” social budgets needs to be cleansed of too much “red tape”.

Will Texas become uninhabitable, with terrain where nothing can grow; the domain of wind farms, solar fields and duststorms ?

It may be Easter, but it’s not a Good Friday. Happy Scorched Earth Day 2011 !

Cool poverty

They’ve never had it so cold. The British have just shivered through another long, centrally heated winter, and people are receiving enormous gas bills. Social campaigners and parliamentarians are rightly concerned that a clutch of harsher winters and rising energy costs could reverse gains made in tackling fuel poverty. The UK Government’s recent Budget announcement to reduce fuel poverty assistance payments is another blow to maintaining decent and warm homes for the vulnerable, the elderly and children. Proposals to cap the amount that energy companies can charge people in their bills is welcomed by some, but feared by others – as it could jeopardise energy company funding for the Green Deal – a free-to-the-consumer loan scheme for insulation and renewable energy installation. And there’s another problem waiting in the wings. Unlike the United States and Australia, the average British home doesn’t have air conditioning, and it costs real money to install it. If outsized summer heatwaves continue to pop up more frequently in Europe, UK households will face “cool poverty” in summer – a lack of cooling.

Continue reading Cool poverty

The “red tape” challenge

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

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

Continue reading The “red tape” challenge

The spoils of war

See the rest of Gaddafi’s speech to the United Nations here

When did Colonel Muammar Gaddafi learn of threats from the world’s major oil consumer countries against his rule ? Was it in early 2011 ? Or was it several years earlier ? On the public stage, he has been deliberately reduced to a figure of fun, and his message advising non-aggression and protection from aggression is being lost. He is now a desperate man :-

http://www.youtube.com/?v=DTjpdUiILDw

Continue reading The spoils of war