Jumping off Mount Gideon

[Friends, I have suffered a little writer’s block, so I resolved to spark some creativity in myself by joining a little local writers group. The leader of the group suggested a title, I Googled the allegedly fictional location and found it existed, and that it was near a wind farm; and Google Maps led me to the rest of my research and inspiration for this piece. Caveat Lector : it’s fictional, even though a lot of it is factual. Also, it’s only a draft, but it needs to settle for a while before I can refine/sift it. ]

Jumping Off Mount Gideon [1]
by Jo Abbess
DRAFT

In the blue-green sun-kissed uplands, west of the sediment-spewing Chocolate River sprung at Petitcodiac village, and north of the shrunken Shepody Lake, its feeder tributaries re-engineered hundreds of years ago; north still of the shale flats jutting out into the Bay of Fundy, rises Mount Gideon, shrouded in managed native Canadian spruce, pine and fir. Part of the ranging, half-a-billion-year-old craton of the Caledonian Highlands of New Brunswick, it is solid ground, and its first European inhabitants must have been hardy. Looking up, the early settlers must have seen the once-bare hinterland looming over the mudstone and sandstone shoreline, with its steep gullied waterways carved by the receding pre-historic icesheets, and it must have been redolent of the mountainous “encampments of the just” [2] where the Biblical Gideon of the Book of Judges [3] trained his elite crack troops and plotted his revenge against the hordes of ravaging Midianites. The fur-trappers and gravel miners on the eve of the 18th Century built a community by the bay, and drove a winding road up through Mount Gideon’s ravines and over its heights, a byway long since eroded and erased and replaced by a functional forestry access track. Ethnic cleansing of the first-come Acadians in the summer of 1755 destroyed much of the larger settlements in the region of Chipoudy, henceforth anglicised to Shepody. Two groups of deportation vigilantes, originally tasked with taking prisoners, burned down the infrastructure and put to death those who hadn’t fled to the woods, and since that day, nobody really lives up on the mount, aside from the occasional lumberjack in his trailer home cached off New Ireland Road, and the odd temporary bivouac of touring hippy couples, en route from Hopewell Rocks to Laverty Falls on the Moosehorn Trail in the national park, via the Caledonia Gorge and Black Hole on the Upper Salmon River. These days there is no risk of social crisis, but an insidious slow-moving environmental crisis is underway. Streams falling from Mount Gideon, spider lines scratched on early parish maps, the West River and Beaver Brook, no longer flow year-round, and there’s very little freshwater locally, apart from a few scattered tarns, cradled in the impervious igneous, plutonic rock of the hinterland. Rainwater does support the timber plantations, for now, but drought and beetle are a rising threat, brought on by creeping climate change. Humans may no longer be setting fires, but Nature is, because human beings have interfered with the order of things.

Mount Gideon isn’t really a proper peak : from its summit it’s clear it’s only a local undulation like other protruding spine bones in the broad back of the hills. Its cap sprouts industrial woodland, planted in regular patterns visible from space, reached by gravel-bordered runnelled dirt track. The former ancient water courses that fall away sharply from the highest point on the weald are filled with perilously-rooted trees, leaning haphazardly out from the precipitous banks of the ravines. The plantations and roadside thickets obscure the view of Chignecto Bay and the strong-tided Minas Passage, where the tidal turbine energy project is still being developed. With no coastal horizon, this could be hundreds of kilometres from anywhere, in the centre of an endless Avalonian Terrane. A silvicultural and latterly agroforestry economy that grew from the wealth of wood eventually developed a dependence on fossil fuels, but what thin coal seams locally have long been exhausted, and the metamorphic mass underfoot salts no petroleum oil or gas beneath. Tanker ship and truck brought energy for tractor and homestead for decades, but seeing little future in the black stuff, local sparsely-populated Crown Land was designated for renewable energy. Just to the north of Mount Gideon lie the Kent Hills, a scene of contention and social protest when the wind farm was originally proposed. For some, wind turbines would mechanise the landscape, cause frequency vibration sickness, spark forest fires from glinting blades, induce mass migraine from flickering sweeps of metal. Windmills were seen as monsters, but sense prevailed, through the normal processes of local democracy and municipal authority, and even a wind farm expansion came about. It is true that engineering giants have cornered the market in the first development sweep of wind power – those hoping for small-scale, locally-owned new energy solutions to the carbon crisis have had to relent and accept that only big players have the economic power to kickstart new technologies at scale. There are some who suspect that the anti-turbine groups were sponsored secretly by the very firms who wanted to capitalise on the ensuing vacuum in local energy supply; and that this revolt went too far. There was speculation about sabotage when one of the wind turbine nacelles caught fire a while back and became a sneering viral internet sensation. When the shale gas 1970s extraction technology revival circus came to Nova Scotia, the wind power companies were thought to have been involved in the large protest campaign that resulted in a New Brunswick moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in the coastal lowlands. The geology was anyways largely against an expansion in meaningful fossil fuel mining in the area, and the central Precarboniferous massif would have held no gas of any kind, so this was an easily-won regulation, especially considering the risks to the Chignecto Bay fisheries from mining pollution.

TransAlta, they of “Clean Power, Today and Tomorrow”, sensed an prime moment for expansion. They had already forged useful alliances with the local logging companies during the development of Kent Hills Wind Farm, and so they knew that planning issues could be overcome. However, they wanted to appease the remnant of anti-technologists, so they devised a creative social engagement plan. They invited energy and climate change activists from all over Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and the rest of Quebec to organise a pro-wind power camp and festival on the top of Mount Gideon. The idea was to celebrate wind power in a creative and co-operative way. The Crown Land was clearcut of trees as the first stage of the wind farm expansion, so the location was ideal. To enable the festival to function, water was piped to the summit, teepees and yurts were erected, and a local food delivery firm was hired to supply. The ambition of the cultural committee was to create an open, welcoming space with plenty of local colour and entertainment, inviting visitors and the media to review plans for the new wind farm. The festival was an international Twitter success, and attracted many North American, European and even Australasian revellers, although a small anarchist group from the French national territory in St Pierre et Miquelon created a bit of a diplomatic incident by accidentally setting fire to some overhanging trees in a ravine during a hash-smoking party.

Unbeknownst to the festival committee, a small and dedicated group of activists used the cover of the camp to plan a Gideon-style resistance to the Energy East pipeline plan. TransCanada wanted to bring heavy tar sands oil, blended with American light petroleum condensate, east from Alberta. The recent history of onshore oil pipelines and rail consignments was not encouraging – major spills had already taken place – and several disastrous accidents, such as the derailment and fireball at Plaster Rock, where the freight was routed by track to Irving Refinery. The original Energy East plan was to bring oil to the Irving Oil Canaport facility at Saint John, but a proposal had been made to extend the pipeline to the Atlantic coast. The new route would have to either make its circuitous way through Moncton, or cross under the Bay of Fundy, in order to be routed to Canso on the eastern side of Nova Scotia. The Energy East pipeline was already being criticised because of its planned route near important waterways and sensitive ecological sites. And the activist group had discovered that TransCanada had contracted a site evaluation at Cape Enrage on the western shore of the bay. Land jutted out into the water from here, making it the shortest crossing point to Nova Scotia. To route a pipeline here would mean it would have to cross Fundy National Park, sensitive fish and bird wading areas on the marshes and mudflats of the Waterside and Little Ridge, and cross over into the Raven Head Wilderness Area.

Gideon’s campaign had succeeded because of three things. His army had been whittled down to a compact, focused, elite force; they had used the element of surprise, and they had used the power of the enemy against itself. The activist group decided on a high level of secrecy about their alliance, but part of their plan was very public. They were divided into three groups : the Wasps, the Eagles and the Hawks. The Wasps would be the hidden force. They would construct and test drones, jumping off Mount Gideon, and flown out at night down the old river gullies, their route hidden by the topography, to spy on the TransCanada surface works. The plan was that when they had had enough practice the team would be ready to do this on a regular basis in future. If TransCanada did start building a pipeline here, the Wasps would be able to come back periodically and transport mudballs by drone to drop in the area. These squidgy payloads of dirt would contain special cultures of bacteria, including methanogens, that produce methane and other volatile chemicals. The environmental monitoring teams at the site would pick up spikes in hydrocarbon emissions, and this would inevitably bring into question the integrity of the pipeline. The Eagles would start a nationwide campaign for legal assistance, asking for lawyers to work pro bono to countermand the Energy East pipeline route, deploying the most recent scientific research on the fossil fuel industry, and all the factors that compromise oil and gas infrastructure. The Hawks would develop relationships with major energy investors, such as pension funds and insurance firms, and use public relations to highlight the risks of fossil fuel energy development, given the risks of climate change and the geological depletion of high quality resources. Nobody should be mining tar sands – the dirtiest form of energy ever devised. If TransCanada wanted to pipeline poisonous, toxic, air-damaging, climate-changing gloop all across the pristine biomes of precious Canada, the Mount Gideon teams were going to resist it in every way possible.

What the Mount Gideon teams did not know, but we know now, was that some of the activists at the camp were actually employees of the New Brunswick dynasties Irving and McCain. These families and their firms had saved the post-Confederation economy of the Maritime Provinces in the 20th Century, through vertical integration. Internally, within the Irving conglomerate, many recognised that fossil fuels had a limited future, even though some of the firms were part of the tar sands oil pipeline project. They were intending to take full advantage of the suspension of the light oil export ban from the United States for the purpose of liquefying Canadian heavy oils to make a more acceptable consumer product, as well as being something that could actually flow through pipes. They had held secret negotiations between their forestry units and the McCain family farming businesses. Research done for the companies had revealed that synthetic, carbon-neutral gas could be made from wood, grains and grasses, and that this would appeal to potential investors more than tar sands projects. They realised that if the Energy East project failed, they could step in to fill the gap in the energy market with their own brand of biomass-sourced renewables. They calculated that the potential for Renewable Gas was an order of magnitude larger than that of wind power, so they stood to profit as low carbon energy gained in popularity. Once again, in energy, big business intended to succeed, but they needed to do so in a way that was not confrontational. What better than to have a bunch of activists direct attention away from carbon-heavy environmentally-damaging energy to allow your clean, green, lean solutions to emerge victorious and virtuous ?

Notes

[1] This is a fictional, marginally futuristic account, but contains a number of factual, current accuracies.
[2] Bible, Psalm 34
[3] Bible, Judges 6-8

A Partial Meeting of Engineering Minds

So I met somebody last week, at their invitation, to talk a little bit about my research into Renewable Gas.

I can’t say who it was, as I didn’t get their permission to do so. I can probably (caveat emptor) safely say that they are a fairly significant player in the energy engineering sector.

I think they were trying to assess whether my work was a bankable asset yet, but I think they quickly realised that I am nowhere near a full proposal for a Renewable Gas system.

Although there were some technologies and options over which we had a meeting of minds, I was quite disappointed by their opinions in connection with a number of energy projects in the United Kingdom.

Click to Read More !

DECC Dungeons and Dragnets

Out of the blue, I got an invitation to a meeting in Whitehall.

I was to join industrial developers and academic researchers at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in a meeting of the “Green Hydrogen Standard Working Group”.

The date was 12th June 2015. The weather was sunny and hot and merited a fine Italian lemonade, fizzing with carbon dioxide. The venue was an air-conditioned grey bunker, but it wasn’t an unfriendly dungeon, particularly as I already knew about half the people in the room.

The subject of the get-together was Green Hydrogen, and the work of the group is to formulate a policy for a Green Hydrogen standard, navigating a number of issues, including the intersection with other policy, and drawing in a very wide range of chemical engineers in the private sector.

My reputation for not putting up with any piffle clearly preceded me, as somebody at the meeting said he expected I would be quite critical. I said that I would not be saying anything, but that I would be listening carefully. Having said I wouldn’t speak, I must admit I laughed at all the right places in the discussion, and wrote copious notes, and participated frequently in the way of non-verbal communication, so as usual, I was very present. At the end I was asked for my opinion about the group’s work and I was politely congratulational on progress.

So, good. I behaved myself. And I got invited back for the next meeting. But what was it all about ?

Most of what it is necessary to communicate is that at the current time, most hydrogen production is either accidental output from the chemical industry, or made from fossil fuels – the main two being coal and Natural Gas.

Hydrogen is used extensively in the petroleum refinery industry, but there are bold plans to bring hydrogen to transport mobility through a variety of applications, for example, hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles.

Clearly, the Green Hydrogen standard has to be such that it lowers the bar on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions – and it could turn out that the consensus converges on any technologies that have a net CO2 emissions profile lower than steam methane reforming (SMR), or the steam reforming of methane (SRM), of Natural Gas.

[ It’s at this very moment that I need to point out the “acronym conflict” in the use of “SMR” – which is confusingly being also used for “Small Modular Reactors” of the nuclear fission kind. In the context of what I am writing here, though, it is used in the context of turning methane into syngas – a product high in hydrogen content. ]

Some numbers about Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) used in the manufacture of hydrogen were presented in the meeting, including the impact this would have on CO2 emissions, and these were very intriguing.

I had some good and useful conversations with people before and after the meeting, and left thinking that this process is going to be very useful to engage with – a kind of dragnet pulling key players into low carbon gas production.

Here follow my notes from the meeting. They are, of course, not to be taken verbatim. I have permission to recount aspects of the discussion, in gist, as it was an industrial liaison group, not an internal DECC meeting. However, I should not say who said what, or which companies or organisations they are working with or for.

Click to Read More !

Positively Against Negative Campaigning

How to organise a political campaign around Climate Change : ask a group of well-fed, well-meaning, Guardian-reading, philanthropic do-gooders into the room to adopt the lowest common denominator action plan. Now, as a well-fed, well-meaning, Guardian-reading (well, sometimes), philanthropic do-gooder myself, I can expect to be invited to attend such meetings on a regular basis. And always, I find myself frustrated by the outcomes : the same insipid (but with well-designed artwork) calls to our publics and networks to support something with an email registration, a signed postcard, a fistful of dollars, a visit to a public meeting of no consequence, or a letter to our democratic representative. No output except maybe some numbers. Numbers to support a government decision, perhaps, or numbers to indicate what kind of messaging people need in future.

I mean, with the Fair Trade campaign, at least there was some kind of real outcome. Trade Justice advocates manned stall tables at churches, local venues, public events, and got money flowing to the international co-operatives, building up the trade, making the projects happen, providing schooling and health and aspirations in the target countries. But compare that to the Make Poverty History campaign which was largely run to support a vain top-level political attempt to garner international funding promises for social, health and economic development. Too big to succeed. No direct line between supporting the campaign and actually supporting the targets. Passing round the hat to developed, industrialised countries for a fund to support change in developing, over-exploited countries just isn’t going to work. Lord Nicholas Stern tried to ask for $100 billion a year by 2020 for Climate Change adaptation. This has skidded to a halt, as far as I know. The economic upheavals, don’t you know ?

And here we are again. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which launched the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports on climate change, oh, so, long, ago, through the person of its most charismatic and approachable Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres, is calling for support for a global Climate Change treaty in 2015. Elements of this treaty, being drafted this year, will, no doubt, use the policy memes of the past – passing round the titfer begging for a couple of billion squid for poor, hungry people suffering from floods and droughts; proposing some kind of carbon pricing/taxing/trading scheme to conjure accounting bean solutions; trying to implement an agreement around parts per million by volume of atmospheric carbon dioxide; trying to divide the carbon cake between the rich and the poor.

Somehow, we believe, that being united around this proposed treaty, few of which have any control over the contents of, will bring us progress.

What can any of us do to really have input into the building of a viable future ? Christiana – for she is now known frequently only by her first name – has called for numbers – a measure of support for the United Nations process. She has also let it be known that if there is a substantial number of people who, with their organisations, take their investments out of fossil fuels, then this could contribute to the mood of the moment. Those who are advocating divestment are yet small in number, and I fear that they will continue to be marginal, partly because of the language that is being used.

First of all, there are the Carbon Disclosers. Their approach is to conjure a spectre of the “Carbon Bubble” – making a case that investments in carbon dioxide-rich enterprises could well end up being stranded by their assets, either because of wrong assumptions about viable remaining resources of fossil fuels, or because of wrong assumptions about the inability of governments to institute carbon pricing. Well, obviously, governments will find it hard to implement effective carbon pricing, because governments are in bed with the energy industry. Politically, governments need to keep big industry sweet. No surprise there. And it’s in everybody’s interests if Emperor Oil and Prince Regent Natural Gas are still wearing clothes. In the minds of the energy industry, we still have a good four decades of healthy fossil fuel assets. Royal Dutch Shell’s CEO can therefore confidently say at a public AGM that There Is No Carbon Bubble. The Carbon Discloser language is not working, it seems, as any kind of convincer, except to a small core of the concerned.

And then there are the Carbon Voices. These are the people reached by email campaigns who have no real idea how to do anything practical to affect change on carbon dioxide emissions, but they have been touched by the message of the risks of climate change and they want to be seen to be supporting action, although it’s not clear what action will, or indeed can, be taken. Well-designed brochures printed on stiff recycled paper with non-toxic inks will pour through their doors and Inboxes. Tick it. Send it back. Sign it. Send it on. Maybe even send some cash to support the campaign. This language is not achieving anything except guilt.

And then there are the Carbon Divestors. These are extremely small marginal voices who are taking a firm stand on where their organisations invest their capital. The language is utterly dated. The fossil fuel industry are evil, apparently, and investing in fossil fuels is immoral. It is negative campaigning, and I don’t think it stands a chance of making real change. It will not achieve its goal of being prophetic in nature – bearing witness to the future – because of the non-inclusive language. Carbon Voices reached by Carbon Divestor messages will in the main refuse to respond, I feel.

Political action on Climate Change, and by that I mean real action based on solid decisions, often taken by individuals or small groups, has so far been under-the-radar, under-the-counter, much like the Fair Trade campaign was until it burst forth into the glorious day of social acceptability and supermarket supply chains. You have the cyclists, the Transition Towners, the solar power enthusiasts. Yet to get real, significant, economic-scale transition, you need Energy Change – that is, a total transformation of the energy supply and use systems. It’s all very well for a small group of Methodist churches to pull their pension funds from investments in BP and Shell, but it’s another thing entirely to engage BP and Shell in an action plan to diversify out of petroleum oil and Natural Gas.

Here below are my email words in my feeble attempt to challenge the brain of Britain’s charitable campaigns on what exactly is intended for the rallying cry leading up to Paris 2015. I can pretty much guarantee you won’t like it – but you have to remember – I’m not breaking ranks, I’m trying to get beyond the Climate Change campaigning and lobbying that is currently in play, which I regard as ineffective. I don’t expect a miraculous breakthrough in communication, the least I can do is sow the seed of an alternative. I expect I could be dis-invited from the NGO party, but it doesn’t appear to be a really open forum, merely a token consultation to build up energy for a plan already decided. If so, there are probably more important things I could be doing with my time than wasting hours and hours and so much effort on somebody else’s insipid and vapid agenda.

I expect people might find that attitude upsetting. If so, you know, I still love you all, but you need to do better.


[…]

A lot of campaigning over the last 30 years has been very negative and divisive, and frequently ends in psychological stalemate. Those who are cast as the Bad Guys cannot respond to the campaigning because they cannot admit to their supporters/employees/shareholders that the campaigners are “right”. Joe Average cannot support a negative campaign as there is no apparent way to make change happen by being so oppositional, and because the ask is too difficult, impractical, insupportable. [Or there is simply too much confusion or cognitive dissonance.]

One of the things that was brought back from the […] working group breakout on […] to the plenary feedback session was that there should be some positive things about this campaign on future-appropriate investment. I think […] mentioned the obvious one of saying effectively “we are backing out of these investments in order to invest in things that are more in line with our values” – with the implicit encouragement for fossil fuel companies to demonstrate that they can be in line with our values and that they are moving towards that. There was some discussion that there are no bulk Good Guy investment funds, that people couldn’t move investments in bulk, although some said there are. […] mentioned Ethex.

Clearly fossil fuel production companies are going to find it hard to switch from oil and gas to renewable electricity, so that’s not a doable we can ask them for. Several large fossil fuel companies, such as BP, have tried doing wind and solar power, but they have either shuttered those business units, or not let them replace their fossil fuel activities.

[…] asked if the [divestment] campaign included a call for CCS – Carbon Capture and Storage – and […] referred to […] which showed where CCS is listed in a box on indicators of a “good” fossil fuel energy company.

I questioned whether the fossil fuel companies really want to do CCS – and that they have simply been waiting for government subsidies or demonstration funds to do it. (And anyway, you can’t do CCS on a car.)

I think I said in the meeting that fossil fuel producer companies can save themselves and save the planet by adopting Renewable Gas – so methods for Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU) or “carbon recycling”. Plus, they could be making low carbon gas by using biomass inputs. Most of the kit they need is already widely installed at petrorefineries. So – they get to keep producing gas and oil, but it’s renewably and sustainably sourced with low net carbon dioxide emissions. That could be turned into a positive, collaborative ask, I reckon, because we could all invest in that, the fossil fuel companies and their shareholders.

Anyway, I hope you did record something urging a call to positive action and positive engagement, because we need the co-operation of the fossil fuel companies to make appropriate levels of change to the energy system. Either that, or they go out of business and we face social turmoil.

If you don’t understand why this is relevant, that’s OK. If you don’t understand why a straight negative campaign is a turn-off to many people (including those in the fossil fuel industry), well, I could role play that with you. If you don’t understand what I’m talking about when I talk about Renewable Gas, come and talk to me about it again in 5 years, when it should be common knowledge. If you don’t understand why I am encouraging positive collaboration, when negative campaigning is so popular and marketable to your core segments, then I will resort to the definition of insanity – which is to keep doing the same things, expecting a different result.

I’m sick and tired of negative campaigning. Isn’t there a more productive thing to be doing ?

There are no enemies. There are no enemies. There are no enemies.

——-

As far as I understand the situation, both the […] and […] campaigns are negative. They don’t appear to offer any positive routes out of the problem that could engage the fossil fuel companies in taking up the baton of Energy Change. If that is indeed the main focus of […] and […] efforts, then I fear they will fail. Their work will simply be a repeat of the negative campaigning of the last 30 years – a small niche group will take up now-digital placards and deploy righteous, holy social media anger, and that will be all.

Since you understand this problem, then I would suggest you could spend more time and trouble helping them to see a new way. You are, after all, a communications expert. And so you know that even Adolf Hitler used positive, convening, gathering techniques of propaganda to create power – and reserved the negative campaigning for easily-marginalised vulnerable groups to pile the bile and blame on.

Have a nicer day,

—–

The important thing as far as I understand it is that the “campaigning” organisations need to offer well-researched alternatives, instead of just complaining about the way things are. And these well-researched alternatives should not just be the token sops flung at the NGOs and UN by the fossil fuel companies. What do I mean ?

Well, let’s take Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). The injection of carbon dioxide into old oil and gas caverns was originally proposed for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) – that is – getting more oil and gas out the ground by pumping gas down there – a bit like fracking, but with gas instead of liquid. The idea was that the expense of CCS would be compensated for by the new production of oil and gas – however, the CCS EOR effect has shown to be only temporary. So now the major oil and gas companies say they support carbon pricing (either by taxation or trading), to make CCS move forward. States and federations have given them money to do it. I think the evidence shows that carbon pricing cannot be implemented at a sufficiently high level to incentivise CCS, therefore CCS is a non-answer. Why has […] not investigated this ? CCS is a meme, but not necessarily part of the carbon dioxide solution. Not even the UNFCCC IPCC reports reckon that much CCS can be done before 2040. So, why does CCS appear in the […] criteria for a “good” fossil fuel company ? Because it’s sufficiently weak as a proposal, and sufficiently far enough ahead that the fossil fuel companies can claim they are “capture ready”, and in the Good Book, but in reality are doing nothing.

Non-starters don’t just appear from fossil fuel companies. From my point of view, another example of running at and latching on to things that cannot help was the support of the GDR – Greenhouse Development Rights, of which there has been severe critique in policy circles, but the NGOs just wrote it into their policy proposals without thinking about it. There is no way that the emissions budgets set out in the GDR policy could ever get put into practice. For a start, there is no real economic reason to divide the world into developing and developed nations (Kyoto [Protocol]’s Annex I and Annex II).

If you give me some links, I’m going to look over your […] and think about it.

I think that if a campaign really wants to get anywhere with fossil fuel companies, instead of being shunted into a siding, it needs to know properly what the zero carbon transition pathways really are. Unequal partners do not make for a productive engagement, I reckon.

—–

I’m sorry to say that this still appears to be negative campaigning – fossil fuel companies are “bad”; and we need to pull our money out of fossil fuel companies and put it in other “good” companies. Where’s the collective, co-operative effort undertaken with the fossil fuel companies ? What’s your proposal for helping to support them in evolving ? Do you know how they can technologically transition from using fossil fuels to non-fossil fuels ? And how are you communicating that with them ?

——

They call me the “Paradigm Buster”. I’m not sure if “the group” is open to even just peeking into that kind of approach, let alone “exploring” it. The action points on the corporate agenda could so easily slip back into the methods and styles of the past. Identify a suffering group. Build a theory of justice. Demand reparation. Make Poverty History clearly had its victims and its saviours. Climate change, in my view, requires a far different treatment. Polar bears cannot substitute for starving African children. And not even when climate change makes African children starve, can they inspire the kind of action that climate change demands. A boycott campaign without a genuine alternative will only touch a small demographic. Whatever “the group” agrees to do, I want it to succeed, but by rehashing the campaigning strategies and psychology of the past, I fear it will fail. Even by adopting the most recent thinking on change, such as Common Cause, [it] is not going to surmount the difficulties of trying to base calls to action on the basis of us-and-them thinking – polar thinking – the good guys versus the bad guys – the body politic David versus the fossil fuel company Goliath. By challenging this, I risk alienation, but I am bound to adhere to what I see as the truth. Climate change is not like any other disaster, aid or emergency campaign. You can’t just put your money in the [collecting tin] and pray the problem will go away with the help of the right agencies. Complaining about the “Carbon Bubble” and pulling your savings from fossil fuels is not going to re-orient the oil and gas companies. The routes to effective change require a much more comprehensive structure of actions. And far more engagement that agreeing to be a flag waver for whichever Government policy is on the table. I suppose it’s too much to ask to see some representation from the energy industry in “the group”, or at least […] leaders who still believe in the fossil fuel narratives, to take into account their agenda and their perspective, and a readiness to try positive collaborative change with all the relevant stakeholders ?


Man Who Eats Data

A key thing to know about Professor David MacKay is that he likes data. Lots of data. He said so in a public meeting last week, and I watched him draw a careful draft diagram on paper, specifying for a project engineer the kind of data he would like to see on Combined Heat and Power (CHP) with District Heating (DH). There have been a number of complaints about communal heating projects in the UK, but accurate information is often commercially sensitive, so urging the collection and publication of data is the way forward.

MacKay has been working on very large data indeed – with his 2050 Pathways Calculator. Although people may complain, in fact, they do complain, that the baseline assumptions about nuclear power seem designed to give the recommended outcome of more nuclear power, other parts of The Calculator are more realistic, showing that a high level of new, quick-to-build largescale wind power is practically non-negotiable for guaranteeing energy security.

Last year, there were some rumours circulating that MacKay’s work on biomass for The Calculator showed that biomass combustion for electricity generation was a non-starter for lowering net greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. We were told to wait for these results. And wait again. And now it appears (according to Private Eye, see below), that these were suppressed by DECC, engaged as they were with rubberstamping biomass conversions of coal-fired power plants – including Drax.

“Old Sparky” at Private Eye thinks that Professor MacKay will not be permitted to publish this biomass data – but as MacKay said last week, The Calculator is open source, and all volunteers are welcome to take part in its design and development…


Private Eye, Number 1365, 2 May 2014 – 15 May 2014

Keeping the Lights On
by “Old Sparky”

The company that owns the gigantic Drax power station in Yorkshire is cheekily suing the government for not giving it quite as much subsidy as it would like. But it should be careful : the government is suppressing a publication that would question its right to any subsidy at all.

Drax, built as a coalf-fired plant, is converting its six generating units to burn 15m tonnes of wood a year (see Eye 1325). Amazingly, electricity generated from “biomass” like this qualifies as “renewable energy”. It is thus in line for hefty subsidies and Treasury guarantees – several hundred million pounds a year of electricit billpayers’ money once all six units have been converted.

Having seen the even greater bungs proposed for EDF’s two new nuclear power plants, however, Drax thinks it deserves a similar deal and is suing for precisely that (which is what happens when firms subsidy-farming as their main line of business).

Drax’s greed is unlikely to be rewarded. In the Energy Act passed last year, ministers gave themselves remarkable powers to intervene in the electricity industry, project by project, and to do pretty much whatever takes their fancy.

Meanwhile, the chief scientific adviser [sic] at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the upright Professor David MacKay, is coming to the end of his five-year term. For more than a year he has been agitating for DECC to publish his “biomass calculator” which proves it is (in his words) “fantastically easy” to show that burning trees on the scale planned by Drax and other converted coal plants is likely to INCREASE CO2 emissions in the timeframe that matters.

Knowing the rumpus this will cause, DECC suppressed it last summer (Eye, 1348) and continues to do so while several large biomass projects get off the ground. Will the scrupulous professor simply return to academia and publish it anyway ? Perhaps : but don’t bank on it : it is usual for employment contracts to stipulate that the EMPLOYER retains intellectual property rights in ideas developed while “on the job”. Although MacKay did some work on the impact of biomass-burning before becoming chief adviser [sic], the “calculator” dates from his time at DECC.

This is just as well for Drax. But perhaps its owners should take the hint and wind in their necks.

Mind the Gap : BBC Costing the Earth

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 ]

Herşeyi Yak : Burn Everything

There’s good renewable energy and poorly-choiced renewable energy. Converting coal-burning power stations to burn wood is Double Plus Bad – it’s genuiunely unsustainable in the long-term to plan to combust the Earth’s boreal forests just to generate electricity. This idea definitely needs incinerating.

Gaynor Hartnell, chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association recently said, “Right now the government seems to have an institutional bias against new biomass power projects.” And do you know, from my point of view, that’s a very fine thing.

Exactly how locally-sourced would the fuel be ? The now seemingly abandoned plan to put in place a number of new biomass burning plants would rely on wood chip from across the Atlantic Ocean. That’s a plan that has a number of holes in it from the point of view of the ability to sustain this operation into the future. Plus, it’s not very efficient to transport biomass halfway across the world.

And there’s more to the efficiency question. We shouldn’t be burning premium wood biomass. Trees should be left standing if at all possible – or used in permanent construction – or buried so that they don’t decompose – if new trees need to be grown. Rather than burning good wood that could have been used for carbon sequestration, it would be much better, if we have to resort to using wood as fuel, to gasify wood waste and other wood by-products in combination with other fuels, such as excavated landfill, food waste and old rubber tyres.

Co-gasifying of mixed fuels and waste would allow cheap Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) or Carbon Capture and (Re)Utilisation (CCU) options – and so if we have to top up the gasifiers with coal sometimes, at least it wouldn’t be leaking greenhouse gas to the atmosphere.

No, we shouldn’t swap out burning coal for incinerating wood, either completely or co-firing with coal. We should build up different ways to produce Renewable Gas, including the gasification of mixed fuels and waste, if we need fuels to store for later combustion. Which we will, to back up Renewable Electricity from wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower and marine resources – and Renewable Gas will be exceptionally useful for making renewable vehicle fuels.

Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage : the wrong way :-
http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/BECCS-report.pdf

Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage : the right way :-
http://www.ecolateral.org/Technology/gaseifcation/gasificationnnfc090609.pdf
“The potential ability of gasifiers to accept a wider range of biomass feedstocks than biological routes. Thermochemical routes can use lignocellulosic (woody) feedstocks, and wastes, which cannot be converted by current biofuel production technologies. The resource availability of these feedstocks is very large compared with potential resource for current biofuels feedstocks. Many of these feedstocks are also lower cost than current biofuel feedstocks, with some even having negative costs (gate fees) for their use…”
http://www.uhde.eu/fileadmin/documents/brochures/gasification_technologies.pdf
http://www.gl-group.com/pdf/BGL_Gasifier_DS.pdf
http://www.energy.siemens.com/fi/en/power-generation/power-plants/carbon-capture-solutions/pre-combustion-carbon-capture/pre-combustion-carbon-capture.htm

London Skies

Image Credit : epeigne37

Yesterday evening, I was caught by the intensity of the London Sky – there was little air movement in most of the lower summer-heat space above the city, and virtually no cloud except very high strands and sprurls and bones and smears.

Most of the cloud was clearly the result of aeroplane contrails – numerable to small children and their educational grandparents on various buses.

As the sun began to set, or rather, as the Earth rolled to curve away from facing the sun, the sky took on the colour of bright duck egg blue with a hint of pale green, and the sprays of high contrail-cloud took on a glorious orange-fuchsia colour with flashes of gold, bronze and vanadium reds, fading slowly to chromium reds as twilight approached.

At a certain moment, I understood something – as I watched an aeroplane high up, make its way west to Heathrow, the angle of the sunset showed its contrail as a murky ink, messing up the rest of the clouds as it brushstroked its way along, with its slate and muddy hues. As I watched, other parts of the clouds began to appear brown and grey, and since I knew that most of the cloud was jet engine exhaust that hadn’t moved because of the lack of high winds, I finally realised I was watching dirt, high up in the troposphere – careless, unthinking toxic waste. Continue reading London Skies

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. ]

Debunking the GWPF Briefing Paper No2 – The Sahel Is Greening


Image Credit : Global Warming Policy Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

Living Life and LOAFing It

CHRISTIAN ECOLOGY LINK
PRESS RELEASE

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

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

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

Continue reading Living Life and LOAFing It

Biomassacre : Agrofuels Aggro

Stop Biomassacre Subsidies from You and I Films on Vimeo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://nope.org.uk/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feet in first

My lovely friends.

I received a wonderful gift over Christmas – bamboo socks.

The gift of socks is a massive present cliche – often a “faux pas”.

Describing a gift of foot socks as a “faux pas” is highly amusing, because that expression is French for “false step(s)”.

But this particular present of footwear was not embarrassing or laughable in the slightest.

It was extremely well thought out – inspiring, Zeitgeistian, educational, novel and fun – it even came in a bright orange pouch.

In Summer, by chance I was at an event where I heard the outlines and some conclusions of Lucy Siegle’s research into clothing fabrics.

Essentially, cotton is under threat worldwide – if you buy anything made from cotton, you should perhaps consider it an investment and hold onto it as long as you can. It could become quite irreplaceable.

There are solutions, even in a climate changed world – bamboo and hemp being two avenues for sourcing sustainable clothing fibres.

Fabric made from bamboo is soft and comforting, and in this particular case, quite, quite funky.

I have the obvious criticism of the use of retail – that we cannot expect to green up our lives purely through shopping – because consumerism is part of the climate change and energy crisis.

But I think that something functional like organic and recycled clothing can come into the category of truly green spending – after all, we do need to replace our clothes from time to time.

To cap it all, the socks had green stripes !

So top marks to my clever friend for cracking a superb seasonal joke and demonstrating the future of fabrics at the same time.

Raising a toast to a Sustainable 2012.

2012 : Greenier and Peace-ier

My dear family.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The New Sciontist : BP Subvertisers

Image Credit : Liberate Tate (Event Flyer)

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

Continue reading The New Sciontist : BP Subvertisers

Renewable Gas #5 : Beyond Biogas

I was speaking to a nuclear power “waverer” the other day. They said that George Monbiot or Mark Lynas was saying that since Germany has cancelled its nuclear power programme, Germany’s Carbon Dioxide emissions will increase, because they will be using coal and Natural Gas power stations :-

http://www.davidstrahan.com/blog/?p=1130
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20665-germany-will-use-fossil-fuels-to-plug-nuclear-gap.html
http://www.marklynas.org/2011/06/germany-italy-greens-nukes-and-climate-change/
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2011/jun/15/italy-nuclear-referendum
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jul/04/nuclear-industry-stinks-cleaner-energy
http://www.monbiot.com/2011/07/04/corporate-power-no-thanks/

I explained that this was a common misconception, and that Germany is still planning to meet their carbon targets, and that it can be done even with coal and gas power plants because in a few decades’ time the coal and Natural Gas power plants will only be used a couple of weeks a year in total to back up all the renewables, such as wind power and solar power, that Germany is building.

This is not the end of the story, however.

Continue reading Renewable Gas #5 : Beyond Biogas

This is how it is #4

Very long-lived trees tell the story of the last 5,000 years or so.

The gradual cooling of the Holocene interglacial is overtaken by a truly anomalous warming over the last few hundred years.

How unusual have conditions been in the last few hundred years ? The carbon 13 isotope can give us one point of view [ Boehm et al. (2002) ] :-

And the oxygen 18 isotope can add detail about climatic changes not readily apparent from the carbon isotope record [ Berkelhammer and Stott (2008) ] :-

The balance of oxygen isotopes in plants in this study provide some perspective on rainfall and storm patterns, which appear to have started changing before significant temperature changes came into view.

Depletion of oxygen from the atmosphere provides evidence that the accumulation of carbon dioxide is from the oxidation (burning) of fossil fuels :-

Shaffer et al. (2009)

But we’re going to have a carbon crisis in the oceans from a combination of acidification and thermal stress, long before we have an oceanic oxygen crisis :-

NOAA Weekly Coral Watch Forecast

Cancun Day #2 : American Bullies

Image Credit : TF1

It’s not that developing countries and emerging economies are being picky. The problem lies with the United States of America, desperate to cling on to its geopolitical leverage :-

http://www.reuters.com/article/idUS273211516320101129

“U.S. Call to Preserve Copenhagen Accord Puts Climate Conference on Edge : By Stacy Feldman at SolveClimate : Mon Nov 29, 2010 : Many poor countries want to scrap the three-page Copenhagen agreement that the U.S. wants to preserve : CANCUN, MEXICO — The United States said Monday it would not back down on its plan to turn the unpopular Copenhagen Accord into a final global warming deal, setting the first day of already fragile UN climate talks in Cancun on edge. “What we’re seeking here in Cancun is a balanced package of decisions that would build on this agreement … [and] preserve the balance of the accord,” Jonathan Pershing, lead U.S. climate negotiator in Cancun, told reporters at the talks…”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/nov/30/cancun-climate-change-summit-america

“Cancún climate change summit: America plays tough : US adopts all-or-nothing position in Cancún, fuelling speculation of a walk-out if developing countries do not meet its demands : Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 30 November 2010 : America has adopted a tough all-or-nothing position at the Cancún climate change summit, fuelling speculation of a walk-out if developing countries do not meet its demands. At the opening of the talks at Cancún, the US climate negotiator, Jonathan Pershing, made clear America wanted a “balanced package” from the summit. That’s diplomatic speak for a deal that would couple the core issues for the developing world – agreement on climate finance, technology, deforestation – with US demands for emissions actions from emerging economies and a verifiable system of accounting for those cuts. In a briefing with foreign journalists in Washington, the chief climate envoy, Todd Stern, was blunt. “We’re either going to see progress across the range of issues or we’re not going to see much progress,” said Stern. “We’re not going to race forward on three issues and take a first step on other important ones. We’re going to have to get them all moving at a similar pace.” In the run-up to the Cancún talks, Stern has said repeatedly that America will not budge from its insistence that fast-emerging economies such as India and China commit to reducing emissions and to an inspection process that will verify those actions. The hard line – which some in Washington have seen as ritual diplomatic posturing – has fuelled speculation that the Obama administration could be prepared to walk out of the Cancún talks…”

An “inspection process” ? Agreeing to the same use of satellite snooping and the threat of the penalties of economic sanctions as applied to the fabled Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and the current pincer on Iran ?

I can’t quite see China agreeing to that.

If we’re thinking about paranoia, who should be monitoring whom ?

The Clean Development Mechanism should have been more closely monitored, but it wasn’t, and it’s collapsed in a big pile – fake credits, false accreditation, poor success rate. Where has the verification process been, there ?

New schemes for “climate finance” will essentially involve creating debt for Climate Change mitigation and adaptation projects in developing and emerging economies. Why more debt ? To prop up the ailing industrialised economies. And allow the Bank sharks to feed.

And “technology transfer” ? That’s all about intellectual property rights – America owning all the rights, and China and India and so on owning nothing, of course. What great technologies have parasitical American companies been keeping hidden away up their sleeves to sell to the Chinese under a Climate deal ? Or are they just rubbish deals, like expensive and untested Carbon Capture and Storage ?

“Deforestation” ? Virtually all proposed schemes under the REDD banner (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) include an element of emissions trading – just the kind of offsetting that large, dirty American companies want to buy to justify carrying on with Business As Usual. Protecting the rainforests ? Nah – just finding another way to make money for the Carbon Traders, and protect the Oil, Gas and Coal industries of the industrialised regions.

What is needed is for the industrialised nations to commit to domestic emissions reductions, not continued attempts to coerce other countries to make cuts that can be traded.

Nobody has learned anything in the last year. The same ridiculous non-options are on the table, and nobody’s biting.

Cancun Day #1 : “Tapestry of Compromise”

The United Nations have gathered in Cancun, Mexico, for the annual Climate Change negotiations. It’s only the first day, but already the talk is of compromise :-

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/ca6a3e58-fbe8-11df-b7e9-00144feab49a.html?ftcamp=rss#axzz16i2D3k1V

“Cancún hears call for ‘tapestry of compromise’ : By Fiona Harvey in London : November 29 2010 : Governments meeting to negotiate an agreement on global warming this week must learn to compromise, the UN’s top official on climate change said. Christiana Figueres told the opening meeting of the talks, being held in Cancún, Mexico, that only through giving up entrenched positions could countries at the talks hope to find common ground. “A tapestry with holes will not work,” she told officials from more than 180 countries. “The holes can only be filled with compromise.” … For the UN, therefore, Cancún is a test of its ability to carry forward the negotiations, which have been taking place for two decades. Officials are also hoping to make progress on vital issues – such as financial assistance for poor countries to cut their emissions and adapt to the effects of global warming – and a possible deal on preserving the world’s forests…”

Hmm. Let’s take a quick look at what these two highlighted proposals are :-

1. “…financial assistance for poor countries to cut their emissions…”

This is being worked up in a bunch of vehicles, including the initiative that David Cameron writes so emotionally about, the Capital Markets Climate Initiative :-

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/nov/28/david-cameron-climate-change-cancun

“Use the profit motive to fight climate change : The prime minister argues that there are huge gains to be made from a green economy : David Cameron, The Observer, Sunday 28 November 2010 : …I passionately believe that by recasting the argument for action on climate change away from the language of threats and punishments and into positive, profit-making terms, we can have a much wider impact. That’s why this government has set up the Capital Markets Climate Initiative – to help trigger a new wave of green investment in emerging economies and make the City of London the global capital of the fast-growing green investment sector…”

So, it’s not donations, or even grants or other forms of aid – it’s debt – debt that’s no longer possible to create in the Credit Crunched developed nations.

It’s probably not quite what Nicholas Stern was thinking of when he said that $100 billion needs to be made available to the Global South in the next decade for Adaptation to Climate Change.

It’s certainly not the redistribution of global wealth that the rightwingers fear from the great “eco-socialist conspiracy”.

It’s an attempt to shore up the corroding economies of the Global North by putting the Global South into further debt.

Score : 0 out of 20.

2. “…a possible deal on preserving the world’s forests…”

This is the policy proposal known as REDD – Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, which most people translate as meaning (a) cut down some of the forest for economic purposes in order to (b) protect the rest.

I mean, how likely is that to work ?

http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/tags/redd

Plus, it could become a vehicle to justify the continued existence of the oil and gas industry :-

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/nov/28/redd-forest-protection-banks-oil

“Oil companies and banks will profit from UN forest protection scheme : Redd scheme designed to prevent deforestation but critics call it ‘privatisation’ of natural resources : John Vidal, environment editor, in Cancun, guardian.co.uk, Sunday 28 November 2010 : Some of the world’s largest oil, mining, car and gas corporations will make hundreds of millions of dollars from a UN-backed forest protection scheme, according to a new report from the Friends of the Earth International…”

Score : -40 out of a possible 20

With these kind of compromises on the table, do you think the Global South will be any more willing to sign onto any “Accord” any more than they were at Copenhagen ?

Unless and until corporate interests are removed from the United Nations Climate Change treaty, the world’s poorest, their habitats are our futures are being betrayed.

Hot Old Forests

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/11/12/global_warming_good_for_rainforests/

The Register reports that way back, way back, when the rainforests were good and hot, they prospered and life proliferated.

“Global warming is actually good for rainforests, say boffins” reads the headline from Lewis Page, “plus 3 degrees C, 1000 parts per million Carbon Dioxide did jungles a world of good last time”.

Not quite, Lewis old chap. Not quite.

1. The change in global temperatures at the Paleocene-Eocene border was only “rapid” in geological time – at around 20,000 years for the whole event. Plenty of time for rainforests to adapt. Not like now.

2. “There is no evidence for enhanced aridity in the northern Neotropics”, says the Abstract of the research paper “Effects of Rapid Global Warming at the Paleocene-Eocene Boundary on Neotropical Vegetation” by Jaramillo C. et al., in Science, 12 November 2010, Volume 330. Number 6006, Pages 957 – 961, DOI: 10.1126/science.1193833

Yet evidence of severe droughts in the Amazonian rainforest area today makes the analogy with the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum rather thin. With the current incredibly fast rate of warming in South America, it’s unlikely that regular, intense, droughts are going to reduce in the rainforest area.

Added to the current data, there is every reason to believe that the climate in the tropics was very different at the time of the PETM – the Americas had not yet met, and no Gulf Stream northwards existed.

3. “”It is remarkable that there is so much concern about the effects of greenhouse conditions on tropical forests,” says Jaramillo’s Smithsonian colleague Klaus Winter”, write Lewis Page. Klaus, who ? He’s not even listed on the research paper author listing. Does Mr or Dr Winter have anything to do with this research ? Why does Lewis Page quote hiim ?

4. Have you seen the organisations that contributed to this research ? They include “Colombian Petroleum Institute”, “Petróleos de Venezuela S.A.” and “Agencia Nacional de Hidrocarburos, Bogotá, Colombia” and a number of mining companies. What do they want out of research into rainforest productivity 55 million years ago ?

5. Have we talked about the massive extinction of animal life that took place at the PETM ? Well, perhaps we should…

I wonder what Dr Simon Lewis, rainforest expert, will make of this latest “atrocity” from The Register ?
[ UPDATE : The Daily Mail reported Dr Simon Lewis’ views some way down in an article on the subject here. By e-mail, Dr Simon Lewis wrote to me, “[One] obvious point is they are happy to extrapolate 56 million years to now from three points in a tiny corner of South America, which is a bit different from their usual views about historical proxy data…” ]

When I get the access to this report, I will need to delve deeper into the reasons why Lewis Page has proved, once again, that he doesn’t understand current Climate Change science, and doesn’t understand why the climates of yesteryear often have very little to say about the climate of today and tomorrow.

My 10/10/10 Report

I woke at 10:10 precisely on 10/10/10 and got to work.

I staked a young tree to keep it growing upright. I created a new potato bed and dug in some tubers. I harvested seed for the Spring. I sowed some winter crops. I did some garden layout work to extend the vegetable plots. I composted and tidied and tied and trimmed…and I planted a bagful of horse chestnut seed – commonly called “conkers”.

This tree has fallen prey to a pest in the last few years, the leaf miner moth, possibly because the winters are more mild and the nights warmer. What’s the future for the Horse Chestnut tree ? Will the horse chestnut suffer the same fate as the Elm tree ? Will they all be cut down and burned ?

When I was a child, every day I walked through an avenue of horse chestnut trees planted many decades previously. They gave me shade and joy. These grand old dames with their magnificent scented flower cones, and shiny nut fruit that look good enough to eat, have become racked with the moth. Their nuts are smaller, their Summer leaf canopy dry and patchy, striped brown and wrinkled, giving the trees the appearance of being bent, ramshackle and wizened.

Some people are showing concern, others just passing commentary :-

http://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/trees/horse-chestnut-national-survey-of-leaf-miner-moth/

http://www.friendsofashridge.org.uk/wordpress/wildlife/horse-chestnut-leaf-miner/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-11504473

http://uk.oneworld.net/article/view/161725/1/2106

Apart from aesthetic reasons, why are horse chestnut trees so important to keep ?

http://www.herbcompanion.com/health/heal-with-horse-chestnut.aspx

“Horse Chestnut Healing : This powerful, safe herb might be one of Europe’s best-kept secrets : By Steven Foster – May/June 2008 : Injectable forms of horse chestnut seed extracts are used in German trauma centers for the treatment of acute head injuries or brain trauma. What do the Germans know that we don’t? If you looked into the first-aid kit of most soccer teams in Europe, you would find a tube of horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) gel, ready to ease pain, bruising and swelling from sprains and other contusions or sports injuries…”

This beautiful, bountiful and beneficial tree needs protectors, sponsors.

We need to grow more young chestnuts, and breed them over generations, and find those resilient to the moth. We need to plant horse chestnuts in ones and twos, isolated from others of their kind, in amongst other trees, to try to protect them from disease. Maybe we need to grow them with mesh around their trunks so that infected leaves can easily be cleared.

The advice of one of my elders and betters is that conkers kept in the wardrobe keep away moths. Maybe, in the nut, there is a chemical that poisons the leaf miner moth pupae ? Somebody needs to do the science.

I know where a young, healthy elm tree is growing, one of the few that has survived the ravages of Dutch elm disease, and it will grow and multiply, with care.

Protecting tree species is not a pastime, a vain pursuit for wealthy naturalists. Tree biodiversity is critical – to enable efficient use of the land as Climate Change advances. Trees can provide shelter, building materials, food, fuel, shade, protection for smaller plants, and soil and groundwater management.

If we look after the trees, they will look after us.