[ UPDATE : Some of you have mentioned that you thought this piece was rather biting. So I put it under Bryony’s nose and offered to change anything that she felt was inaccurate, personally distressing, or that she disagreed with or objected to on professional grounds. Changes are bolded. ]
At the The Guardian Climate Change Summit in London’s Russell Square’s Hotel Russell on Monday 15th June 2009, there was a large banner marked out with the name of the key sponsor of the event, E.On, but nobody at the large table underneath it to schmooze the attendees.
Perhaps they thought that the info pack in bright friendly red, orange and yellow colours would suffice in terms of communications. Perhaps they thought that they had enough of a hold on the event’s messaging by having their Chief Executive Officer Paul Golby speaking at one of the morning sessions.
Or perhaps they didn’t want to put too public a face on their involvement, owing to the shenanigans going on (well done, lads and laddettes !) outside :-
I heard some astonishing things during the course of the day, but none quite so astonishing as the opinions expressed by Bryony Worthington in a loud difference of opinion we shared as the roadies were dismantling the stage.
Bryony has had an ideologically chequered career. According to her profile on the The Guardian Comment is free website, “Bryony has been working on climate change for the last decade – she wrote the first report in the UK calling for the introduction of ‘carbon budgets’, was the brains behind the Friends of the Earth ‘Big Ask’ campaign, and helped the UK Government launch its first public awareness campaign.”
“Ms Bryony Worthington, Energy and Climate Campaigner, Friends of the Earth”
According to an interview she gave to Leo Hickman at The Guardian in September 2008, she has been working as “an environmental campaigner, then as a government official, and finally as a lobbyist for a giant energy firm”.
“By 2000 she had moved to Friends of the Earth as a climate-change campaigner…A spell at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs implementing public awareness campaigns and helping draft the Climate Change Bill, was followed by another career swerve. She became a lobbyist, “head of government relations”, for Scottish and Southern Energy, one of the UK’s largest energy companies.”
She has been running a company she calls “Sandbag” [ see bottom of page ], retiring European “Carbon Credits” from the Emissions Trading Scheme. She writes reasonably well (if poorly argued) for The Guardian from time to time.
And just recently her name has popped up against a database project that appears to be going for global domination : AMEE, which will be used extensively to implement the UK Carbon Reduction Commitment.
“Bryony helped to write the world’s first Climate Change Act which is now being enacted by the Committee on Climate Change. Her previous work in the private sector includes advising power company Scottish and Southern Energy on its climate change policies, and is the founder of sandbag.org.uk. Bryony has joined AMEE to develop Government and public sector contacts and expand data sources : May 20th, 2009 by Bryony”
I met Bryony by accident. I had intended to share a few thoughts with the last keynote speaker of the day, Dimitri Zenghelis, chief economist at CISCO Systems, and co-author of the Stern Review.
I pulled out my well-thumbed and scorchingly annotated copy of Nicholas Stern’s new book “A Blueprint for a Safer Planet”. I said to Dimitri that I didn’t need to take notes from his speech, as it was composed of common IPCC information and key policy arguments seemingly lifted directly from Stern’s book. Dimitri admitted as much.
He and I were just beginning to unpick the money-go-round proposal from the EU, that the proceeds from the Auction sale of EUAs (European Union Allowances of Carbon) would be earmarked for financing Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).
I was just getting to the nub of the social impacts of this – that the same revenue could not be used twice – if it’s used for CCS it can’t be used for compensating the Energy Poor and so could be very destabilising as Energy prices rise because of the EUA Auction.
It was then that Gideon Hoffman from Her Majesty’s Treasury sidled by and Bryony Worthington floated in, both seeking a word with Dimitri. I hung around a bit, and listened in amazement at Bryony’s cogitations on the need for satellites to monitor trucks supplying power stations in future. This would be to enforce the Carbon Cap of “Cap and Trade”.
“A key aspect of enforcement here would be a global network of strategically located monitoring stations, including satellite observatories, which would collect data on atmospheric levels of key GHGs and land use.”
I suppose it was this State Control angle that caught my attention and lead to me discussing matters of Energy and Carbon Control with her.
There were several things about her beliefs that needled me. One was that she appeared to have completely sucked up the industry arguments on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).
She repeated to me the myth of there being “200 years of Coal” left.
She insisted that we should “try everything” in terms of Energy solutions (meaning : CCS), even though I told her some of the options are so expensive they will divert funds away from the really cheap stuff.
If I recall her words correctly, “there’s coal everywhere”, she made very clear to me, “I’m sorry, it’s going to get burned”, she said in a rather matronising tone, I thought.
And so she got on to the “China Syndrome”, or rather “Blame China Syndrome”, a condition that seems to afflict all Government official and Industry chiefs, which can be briefly summarised as “China won’t stop burning Coal, which is why we need Carbon Capture and Storage.”
Why us having CCS is going to compensate for China burning Coal, I don’t know, unless we are supposed to force a deal on them where they take our rubbish CCS technologies via a big business deal.
China knows all about Climate Change, and if they want to do Carbon Capture and Storage, they are perfectly capable of building it themselves. And more cheaply, too, no doubt.
But what about us, here in Great Britain ? What are we going to do about our own Coal ? The best thing would be to do all the cheap and cost-negative things on the left hand end of the McKinsey Marginal Cost Abatement Curves, and then we won’t need Coal (or Nuclear) and then we won’t need the expensive Carbon Capture and Storage.
Arguing for a price on Carbon is really just a way of guaranteeing a subsidy to those we are asking to build CCS plant and infrastructure. Another great private engineering contract in the offing, no doubt.
Trouble is, there may well be a global peak in Coal supply as demand rises and geological reserves deplete. What a waste to build all that CCS kit and then abandon it (with the Coal plants) because of fuel constraints ! And would we be left with a public obligation to pay to clean it all up ? We’re still paying for Nuclear Power.
The option is do spend 100 times less and do all the insulation and low-technology stuff that would be so much more efficient. Bryony argued that she suspects that insulation and biomass programmes won’t be as cheap as I think they are. She said that she thought that if they’re that cheap then they would have been done already. She’s been listening to too many Economists, clearly.
She honestly seemed to believe that CCS will be cheaper than Nuclear Power, even though McKinsey the management consultants do not agree. I challenged her about this. I said that CCS is going to be expensive to build and expensive to run, because of the fuel costs of scrubbing Carbon Dioxide (CO2) out of the flue gases and the pumping of the CO2 to the underground sites.
She said she wasn’t thinking of post-combustion, but pre-combustion. I said that she should know that I am older than I appear to be, and that I learned about all the different forms of using Chemistry in producing Energy rather a long time ago, and that in several decades the various syngas and related projects have not improved.
I said these “giant chemistry sets” are complex, which makes them expensive, need expensive servicing and are highly prone to failure, which makes them yet more expensive. She said the same could be said of Renewables. She said Renewables have to be very widely spread to capture diffuse sources, so that means more infrastructure, which makes them expensive.
I said that Renewables are always going to be cheaper than Carbon Capture and Storage : one of the best features of Renewable Energy was that the fuel is guaranteed to be free forever, and you can recycle virtually all the materials. I said there’s no way to remove fuel costs with CCS, because even efforts to get value out of CCS by Enhanced Oil Recovery is not working.
I don’t think she understands. I told her I think she has been manipulated to think that CCS is going to save us from Coal emissions. The only thing it might be able to do is save the Coal-burning Energy companies from extinction.
I said that having “demonstration” projects for CCS is all further delay and detour. All the various elements of CCS are tried and tested already, although nobody has really tried it on a wide scale. Nobody really knows if it can be rolled out in sufficient scale to cope with Coal. What we do really know already is that it is expensive and that conjectured “economics of scale” cannot give a decrease in price. There are limits to what the Chemistry can do for us.
She said, yes, maybe, come back to me in 10 years’ time and we’ll see if it’s been a success or not.
But we don’t have 10 years to get really started on Carbon Cuts, Bryony.
I suppose our central disagreement was over whether Carbon Control should be done at source or at the final consumption point. In other words, should we attempt to control Fossil Fuels into the Carbon Chain by managing the Big Mining, Big Coal, Big Oil and Gas companies ? Or should we try to manage demand for Fossil Fuels at the other end, where the end consumer-citizens are ?
I asserted that it is going to be near nigh impossible to enforce a Carbon Cap at the “upstream” end, (what with with your Shell, your BP, ExxonMobil and all the Coal and Chemicals guys).
She appeared to snort at the idea that we could get the British public to accept Energy Rations. She said that demand for electricity was rising year on year, and that none of the voluntary measures taken by some individuals and companies was making any difference – even those efforts by the companies with speakers at the conference.
She said that you can’t have Energy Rations – you can have Energy without Carbon. I interjected to say that the Renewable portion of Energy in the UK was just a mere sliver of production. She interjected to say that worldwide there was a significant proportion of Renewables in the Energy production. I countered by trying to bring her back to the domestic situation.
I said that we are highly dependent on Carbon Energy in the UK, so Carbon Control effectively amounts to Energy Rationing.
She said she thought it would be impossible to monitor the individual Carbon spend of 22 million consumers – and asked whether it would not be better to try to Cap the actions of 6 companies. I said that this will be, and has already been, shown to be nearly impossible.
Let us review the history : the corporates have slipped and shimmied and slimed their way out of regulation or contraction of their Carbon Energy businesses. They have offered temporary Greenwash on their enterprises but have given up Renewables in the “current Economic crisis”. They have played for delay after delay to avoid the capital spending that is necessary to diversify out of Carbon. In fact, they seem to have been digging their heels in until they can get vast wads of public funding.
It strikes me as odd that Bryony Worthington thinks that the Carbon Cap cannot be applied at the end consumer “downstream” point in the Carbon Chain. After all, she is clearly emmeshed and immersed in the new “smart meter” revolution. It’s not actually a revolution. It’s mere tinkering, but anyway.
The idea is to get everyone to have a smart meter in their home, and then when everyone is connected to the Internet, by the new Broadband Tax, then probably, the plan is for everyone’s energy consumption to be uploaded and managed. Presumably when the Carbon Cap gets really tight, people will be “managed” to use less Energy at home by various punitive means.
So, even though Bryony rejects Personal Carbon Allowances, which could be easily rolled out like a plastic store reward and loyalty card, she backs the complex and power-hungry smart meter rollout which will be used to do practically the same thing.
Oh what irony, Bryony !
I asked both Bryony and Dimitri if they genuinely believed that pricing Carbon will force emissions to decrease.
Our developed Economy is so heavily dependent on Carbon Energy that pricing Carbon will not produce a net incentive for the Energy companies to diversify out of Carbon. They will merrily pass the costs on to their customers and carry on burning.
I told Bryony that I don’t believe a market in Carbon will be efficient (as all the Economists so strongly claim). The net effect will be lots of market busy-ness, and lots of paperwork and lots of rich Carbon Traders, but no choke on Carbon emissions.
[ Advice from Bryony Worthington : “sandbag is a not for profit CIC where all monies are reinvested in our objectives which are to educate and inform and engage civil society in emissions trading policy, whilst providing people with ways of engaging with the market to make a difference.” ]