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This Is Not A Riot

[ UPDATE FROM JOABBESS.COM : ROYAL BANK OF SCOTLAND, EDINBURGH, CLIMATE CAMP SITE HAS BEEN TAKEN. ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATION FROM, Wed, Aug 18, 2010 at 9:59 PM : “Site taken! People needed NOW! At 9.15PM tonight Climate Camp took the site on RBS HQ. Get on site as fast as you can! Defence help urgently needed. Come to RBS Gogarburn Gardens, off Gogar Station Rd. More info later. x” ]

Al Gore has been telling all the young people, and well, all of us, really, to protest, in public, to make a downright law-unabiding nuisance of ourselves :-

“Gore calls for major protests on government’s climate change inaction…In a post on his personal blog headlined “The Movement We Need”…”

Well, it won’t work to call people out onto the street. Most people are too busy credit-crunching, wage-slaving or favour-scraping to be able to commit to a short-term, potentially self-defeating public display of annoyance, frustration and shrill demands.

And if people do come out to the big protests, it won’t achieve much. News reports can be swept into the trash. Activists can be swept into holding facilities. Politicians can conveniently ignore anything that isn’t violent.

Drop the loud-hailers and home-made placards, I say, and do something more…focussed.

The Climate Camp want to target the Royal Bank of Scotland for financing Coal power plants and Tar Sands oil projects, which are very bad things to be doing, and smacks of huge corporate irresponsibility, considering the bank is largely owned by the British taxpayer, and I say, if you can’t make the camp (and I can’t for reasons which I shall not go into just now), do something about money in other ways instead.

What’s your money doing ? Which oppressive regimes in oil-rich countries is it supporting ? Which Fossil Fuel companies trashing your Environment do your bank support ? Why not switch your money to an ethical financial organisation ? Why don’t we all try to do this at the same time ? “Crowd-banking” could have an impact, you never know until you try.

Let’s pick, say, Monday 23rd August 2010. And let’s all spend our way out of Climageddon together on that day. Transfer your money to an ethical bank, or pledge to do so. Phone your bank and tell them you’re leaving for a sustainable bank.

Other actions possibly useful :-

1. Refuse to buy Fossil Fuels for a day.

2. Refuse to use any hot water for one day (most hot water is produced by burning Fossil Fuels). It’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere – come on – a cool shower won’t hurt you.

3. Don’t spend any money on anything that had Petroleum-based plastic or Natural Gas-based chemicals in its production – which would rule out 85% of non-food purchases, I reckon.

4. If you’re working for a company or an organisation who have anything to do with the Energy industry, make a point of asking your boss, or their boss, or the Chief Executive or something what the company/organisation intends to do about moving the whole business to Renewable Energy.

5. One short telephone call could have you moving from burning Coal for your home electricity to a Green Energy account.

This is not a riot – but it is an emergency, and the response should match the scale of the problem.

Our Climate – Not for Sale.

Bloody Oil from Felix Gonzales on Vimeo.

7 replies on “This Is Not A Riot”

Ten thousand years ago we improved our productivity by taking slaves captured from neighbouring tribes. We then harnessed draft animals to allow us to do more work. With the water wheel we took another step up the ladder. The coal and steam power again magnified what a man could achieve. A hundred years ago oil came of age and brought us to our present level of comfort and efficiency.


Unless you want to go back to pitiful self sufficiency, spending all day ploughing to survive then we must have fossil fuels – including the tar sands. Have you lived in Africa, say Ethiopia, and seem what a self sufficent life is like? Old ladies spending most of the day searching for twigs to cook the evening meal. Young girls spending all day with an eggcup lifting water from a depression in a dry stream bed. That is what a fossil fuel free world would be like – for everyone!


The oil will last long enough to give us time to build enough nuclear power plants to see us though to the next century.


By the way, despite CO2 rising every year sea surface temperatures are not increasing. And oceans control the world climate.


In a fair world we would encourage the third world to build more power stations so they too could prosper.


Oil, including tar sands is a God send. Be grateful


Dear Jo,

Sadly you are right “only a minority of the world’s …population” have the benefit of fossil fuel energy. That was just my point, they SHOULD have that benefit! I said “In a fair world we would encourage the third world to build more power stations”!! I understand that environmentalists put pressure on countries that need more power e.g. South Africa, NOT to build coal power plants that would provide affordable power. Would you deny this?

Sorry but I cannot follow your logic. Being overweight is NOT a caused by access to cheap fossil fuel power but is a function of too much eating and too little exercise. I can vouch for that as you get overweight even in places with no electricity!

Sorry but I do not agree that my, Government still feeds me with products that have subsidies. In Europe the EU restricts import of cheaper non EU agricultural products. That results in more expensive (not subsidised) food for EU residents and is an unfair restriction on trade that acts against third world countries who would otherwise undercut the EU farmers.

Sorry but the subsidies on power all seem to be for ineffectual green energy like wind. Since when did coal power get a subsidy? I live near a coal fired power plant and am pretty sure the electricity we use comes from that plant. There seems to be a move to add CARBON TAX that would ADD tax to my electricity.

The reasons you give for a move for decarbonisation are NOT convincing. Taking the second point first – emissions. Emissions from European power plants are tightly regulated and are scheduled to get tougher. On the other hand emissions from millions of African homes are smoke and fumes from open fires in the house that are far more harmful and cause far more health damage than would have arisen had the power come from a tightly regulated power station. We, sorry humans, need to cook our food to get the best nourishment, so food will be cooked. The emissions from a power station serving X thousand people are less polluting than X thousand individual fires. The effect of CO2 on Climate Change is exaggerated. Even Jim Hansen says (see AR4 p631) that doubling CO2 will only raise global temperature by 1.2ºC. The difference between this figure and the frightening four or five degrees is feedback. The jury is still out on “feedback”, it might even be negative.

Your take on global warming causing more extreme events is just plain wrong. For example north Atlantic hurricane numbers and energy is down. Recent research on drought indicates that this is influenced more by the sun’s activity that CO2.
The first reason you advocate for decarbonisation is bizarre. Fossil fuels are running out so we must abandon them? Lets use them while we can; they are cheap and convenient. The current status is that we know of about 1,300 G.tonne of fossil fuels and are using them at about 10 G. tonne p.a. Most of these reserves are in coal and at the current rate of use will last into the NEXT century.

Nuclear is prevalent in France. About 80% of their electricity comes from nuclear. If the French plants were to go haywire people in the UK would know about it. Nuclear power is safer than almost any other engineering activity. Setting up giant wind turbines in the North Sea is a difficult and dangerous activity and will result in some deaths. We are scared of nuclear because of one bad experience. However, more people have been killed in mining accidents in the Ukraine since Chernobyl than will die from the accident. The accident was caused by poor reactor design and ill trained personnel. These weaknesses have been note and are highly unlikely to reoccur. Nuclear is as safe as it gets. What renewable energy source can replicate a 1GW nuclear power station and give sustained power in periods of calm weather and at night? Wind or Solar, I don’t think so.

You are vague about sea surface temperatures (SST). The only reliable SST come from the 3000 or so Argo buoys that were set up circa 2003. We have no reliable SST data before that only water pulled form the sea in buckets from passing ships, readings from water sucked in vessel engine rooms. This limited data to the shipping lanes. Little data from the rest of the oceans! Argo readings show a temperature decline. We cannot explain it. It is one of the mysteries of climate. We do of course know that the current Pacific cooling is due to La Nina. That is why South America is experiencing phenomenal cold; snow in the tropics?

I find it hard to see logic in your wish to deprive the poor of cheap reliable power by denying them access the fossil fuel power. This is callous. To say use mini-hydro to people who cannot even get water to drink, save they bale it out of dry stream beds is heartless. Wind is unreliable, particularly mini wind stations that often use more power for their instruments than they produce. Solar, my God, are you out of your mind! A house in Korem (the site of many famine films in 1984) costs circa £500. Is someone who can barely afford £500 for a house going to dob out £6,000 (the current cost in UK) for 1 Kilowatt of solar panels? And do they produce electricity after 7 pm when the sun sets. Get real. A diesel generator is the only thing that gives reliable electricity in Korem and all the millions of places like it!! The problem is the shortage of diesel. I never suggested all power stations have to be “Large Centralised Power Stations”. Small local stations are fine. Choose the size to suit the site.

The value of the Tar sands is so great we cannot afford to ignore it. The cleaning up can (and probably will be done) if we have the will. But the energy is needed to run industry, schools, hospitals and homes. There may be some cost to the environment but I believe the potential good to humans out weighs this. Humans come first.


Warm William


Dear Hot Pants (yes, I have a sense of humour and detected the joke in your moniker),

Re : your support for developing nations having greater access to Fossil Fuels

I think, when you look into the matter, you’ll find that the centralised system of Energy that the industrialised nations have developed is very top-heavy and can only be supported by regular cash injections (often from the public purse, not private capital investment). It’s a pattern of Energy production and delivery that requires a wealth base to maintain, and won’t be possible to replicate in developing countries.

Despite the best efforts of Nicholas Stern and others, a global price for Carbon is nowhere in sight. Personally I think that’s a good thing, because Carbon Trading cannot bring the changes we need in the world’s use of Energy. But one of the key reasons why Carbon Trading is supported is because it theoretically gives “credit” to countries that don’t have high emissions.

Let’s look at one example. After a couple of centuries of the industrialised countries plundering Africa for all its people, crops, minerals, goods and animals, the majority of the continent is disempowered and locked into unfair trade and debt arrangements with the rest of the world. There’s not much “money value” created in Africa, although there is a lot of “resource value” being extracted. Niger Delta petroleum oil springs to mind as an example.

So, Africa for the most part does not have the capital base to create a distributed centralised Energy system. In the capital cities of many African nations you have wire grids, but this falls short of bringing power to the masses. And Carbon pricing is not going to help, because the kind of money that can be created by Carbon Trading will be very unlikely to benefit grand electricity grid schemes in Africa.

There is a rising number of “independent power” units in Africa – people have Fossil Diesel generators for a range of applications, mostly in urban areas. Sadly, burning diesel fuel in this way causes asthma and respiratory problems. It wouldn’t be much better if the fuel burned in generators were to be BioDiesel. The airborne particulates from burning anything are dangerous. This is why environmentalists in South Africa are against the development of new coal-fired power stations, considering the illness that resulted from the current plant. There have been improvements, but combustion is not the future if we want to maintain human health, in every country.

Unlike the industrialised countries, the developing nations have a clearer stratification of social organisation (as used to be known as “class”). There are basically two categories : urban and rural. Urban human communities in developing nations are wealthy enough to have grids and pipes, or generators in the back yard, but rural people need something different. There is development of power systems being made available for rural people. I could point you to the various international organisations, charities and companies doing this, but I shall leave that as an exercise for the reader.

The key question is : should we support the developing nations in building an Energy infrastructure that is as expensive, unwieldy, unresponsive, wasteful and dirty as ours ? We have made many mistakes in the developed world. Wherever Fossil Fuels are mined and refined, there are tremendous local environmental problems – and these can even be regional and global – for example in the form of acid rain and Global Warming.

In a fair world we should support peoples’ rights to have affordable, healthy energy wherever they are living, I think – and for the majority of the world’s rural unwealthy that will be micro- and midi-Renewables. Fossil Fuels are set to be subject to intense variability in price in the coming decades, for a number of reasons – including attempts to price Carbon and Peak Oil, Peak Coal, Peak Uranium and Peak Natural Gas. That’s going to make Fossil Fuel-based solutions potentially very expensive. Renewable power is the way forward for everyone, particularly for the world’s poor.

Re : Fossil Fuels make you fat

Indeed, people get fat because they eat too much and don’t take enough exercise. In the developed nations, this arises because people drive in their Fossil Fuelled cars instead of walking, and eat cheap food produced by Fossil Fuel-assisted agriculture instead of organic produce.

Re : Subsidies for agriculture

I’m not sure which country you are in, but if you are in the United States of America, see here for information on your Government’s food subsidies :-

The European Union has the Common Agricultural Policy, still.

The EU and the USA flood the world’s markets with cheap produce, undercutting local farmers worldwide, depressing the development of agricultural production in many regions.

Much over-production in countries with agricultural subsidies is used in the world food aid programmes.

It would be better to have trade and not aid – but until the agricultural subsidies are removed in developed countries, Africa (for example, yet again) cannot make a living on farm produce.

And it will get worse if a current trend follows through – China and the Middle East have begun to buy up vast tracts of African land for their own future agricultural needs. So Africans won’t be able to grow their own food any more !

Re : Renewable power is wonderful !

You are inaccurate to say that green energy is “ineffectual”.

Just for a few examples :-

Renewable Energy is in what is known as the “deployment phase”. It always costs more to build new Energy infrastructure and plant than it does to maintain existing systems – that’s why Renewable power needs a subsidy helping hand to get started.

No energy system has been developed without subsidy :-

That’s why kilowatthour for kilowatthour, Renewable Electricity receives a larger subsidy worldwide – at least at the moment. It won’t need it when it’s up and running – wind power provides a huge return on investment, since wind is a free resource.

But look at the bigger picture – the total amount spent on subsidies for Fossil Fuels the world over is roughly $400 billion a year ! :-

You ask, “Since when did coal power get a subsidy?” Have you researched this ? :-

Just as you say, if a Carbon Tax were implemented, the coal-fired power companies would increase your electricity bills. They would pass their new extra costs on to you, and keep the profit.

Re : Emissions

Yes, it is true that “emissions from European power plants are tightly regulated and are scheduled to get tougher”. But emissions are still higher than they need to be. For example, if the European power plants switched fuels from Coal to Natural Gas then emissions would be reduced by a very large margin. Plus, if Europe could adopt strong regulation for Energy conservation and Energy efficiency in distribution and end-point use, that would reduce emissions still further.

Re : emissions from millions of African and Asian homes – the smoke and fumes that you mention from burning wood and BioMass such as animal dung

First, they are Carbon-neutral – their Global Warming emissions are compensated for because the plants that grew or fed the animals took up Carbon Dioxide before they were burned.

Second, the toxic impact on humans from open fires is being addresed by a number of international projects – all very worthwhile, such as :-

A Fossil Fuel-based Energy system in Africa would not rule out the problems of smoke and fumes – as I have already mentioned when talking about generator power.

Also, see here :-

Re : your claim that “emissions from a power station serving X thousand people are less polluting than X thousand individual fires.”

Not so.

If everyone cooked by Rocket Stove in the yard, for example, we would all be a whole lot richer and less Globally Warmed :-

Re : Jim Hansen’s figure “doubling CO2 will only raise global temperature by 1.2ºC”

What was the pre-industrial Carbon Dioxide concentration in parts per million (ppm) ?

Tom Wigley in 1983 : Between 260 and 270 ppm

Law Dome research 1998 : Between 275 and 284 ppm

What is the current Carbon Dioxide concentration in ppm ? 390 ppm

Based on current growth rates of CO2 in the atmosphere, when would pre-industrial CO2 be doubled ? In a few decades, people normally say. What happens after that ? Unless there’s a major change in the way human society uses energy, CO2 emissions will carry on, and continue to accumulate in the atmosphere.

“Doubling CO2” is not a magic cut-off point – we won’t stop adding to the concentrations overnight once we reach that level, if we reach that level.

Plus, adding Carbon Dioxide to the Atmosphere will warm the planet up, and when the planet warms, there will be higher evaporation rates, so more water vapour in circulation in the Atmosphere as well. And as you know, water vapour is a potent Greenhouse Gas.

Let’s read the IPCC reference you give :-

IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, Working Group 1, The Physical Science Basis, page 631, Section “What Explains the Current Spread in Models’ Climate Sensitivity Estimates?”

The exact quotation is : “The diagnosis of global radiative feedbacks allows better understanding of the spread of equilibrium climate sensitivity estimates among current GCMs. In the idealised situation that the climate response to a doubling of atmospheric CO2 consisted of a uniform temperature change only, with no feedbacks operating (but allowing for the enhanced radiative cooling resulting from the temperature increase), the global warming from GCMs would be around 1.2°C (Hansen et al., 1984; Bony et al., 2006). The water vapour feedback, operating alone on top of this, would at least double the response.”

So, that’s not 1.2 degrees Celsius, that’s 2.4 degrees Celsius before we even begin to consider other Climate Changes.

Re : your claim that “the jury is still out on “feedback”, it might even be negative.”

Not so. Read the rest of the IPCC report. Negative feedbacks are few and slow.

Re : Global Warming causes more extreme weather events

North Atlantic hurricanes and their energy are only one kind of extreme weather and climatic event. For example, I don’t see Typhoons in Asia getting to be less of a problem. And have you noticed the global flooding this year ? Anyway, don’t take my word for this : ask the professionals :-

Re : your claim that “recent research on drought indicates that this is influenced more by the sun’s activity that CO2.”

It’s true. The heating effect of the sun’s rays causes evaporation and hence drought. But the ambient temperatures at the Earth’s surface are rising, and this will add to evaporation.

The piece of research I think you are referencing is this :-
“Springer, G. S., H. D. Rowe, B. Hardt, R. L. Edwards, and H. Cheng (2008), Solar forcing of Holocene droughts in a stalagmite record from West Virginia in east-central North America, Geophys. Res. Lett., 35, L17703, doi:10.1029/2008GL034971.”

“…These coherencies corroborate strong visual correlations and provide convincing evidence for solar forcing of east-central North American droughts and strengthen the case for solar modulation of mid-continent climates…”

This is historical research on stalagmite deposit applies to the past, not the present, or the future, under a regime of Global Warming.

Re : Fossil Fuels are “running out”

Depletion of Fossil Fuel reserves is a fact. The world has probably reached a point where we are consuming fast than we are discovering .

Your Government knows this, and so does mine :-

Research done by David Rutledge at CalTech and Kjell Aleklett at Uppsala, amongst others, confirm that coal reserves are much smaller than previously thought, and won’t last us to the end of this century, let alone into the next.

Fossil Fuels are becoming less cheap and less convenient to exploit as time goes by. Remember what happened in the Gulf of Mexico in April ?

Re : French nuclear power

The only reason that nuclear power is prevalent in France is because the government promoted it and financially underwrote its development.

There are frequent outages in nuclear plants across Europe – and some Brits are aware of it, but it’s not in the Media very often, because the main news is the promise of new Nuclear power (as long as we accept higher power prices).

Re : Lack of safety from Nuclear Power

There are regular accidents in nuclear plants – arguably more potentially hazardous than accidents in any other engineering activity :-

It’s a natural reaction to be wary of Nuclear Power after its history. It’s not just “one bad experience”, it’s a range of many.

Re : your claim that “setting up giant wind turbines in the North Sea is a difficult and dangerous activity and will result in some deaths.”

Any kind of construction is a risk to human life and limb. Far less people will be injured building the new Renewable Energy infrastructure of the next hundred years and plant than have died in coal mines in the last fifty years.

Re : your very good question about Renewable Energy variability “What renewable energy source can replicate a 1GW nuclear power station and give sustained power in periods of calm weather and at night? Wind or Solar, I don’t think so.”

The answer is : Marine power and Supergrids, connecting wind power and solar regions together. It’s always shining or blowing or undergoing tidal movement somewhere close to you – Nature is full of kinetic energy all the time – we just need to harness it.

Re : Sea surface temperatures

There is ongoing work to build the database of sea conditions from the log books of ocean-bound vessels over the last few centuries.

Work on seabed and lake bed sediments also gives information about deep sea and shallow sea temperatures over time.

Although there have been some problems with the contiguity and continuity of various methods of establishing sea surface temperatures, things continue to be ironed out :-

“A large discontinuity in the mid-twentieth century in observed global-mean surface temperature…We argue that the abrupt temperature drop of 0.3 °C in 1945 is the apparent result of uncorrected instrumental biases in the sea surface temperature record. Corrections for the discontinuity are expected to alter the character of mid-twentieth century temperature variability but not estimates of the century-long trend in global-mean temperatures.”

Re : Korem solar power

If people in the Korem region want solar power they will probably choose a very small system, as they do not have the needs of Energy-wasting Europeans. Solar power is being used the world over in very small applications – and with suitable storage systems is available 24 hours a day.

You say, “A diesel generator is the only thing that gives reliable electricity in Korem and all the millions of places like it!!” Most people in that region could never afford a diesel generator.

Re : Tar sands

You say, “The cleaning up can (and probably will be done) if we have the will.” Illogical, captain. Mining the tar sands brings heavy metals out of the ground that end up in enormous leaking tailing ponds, and will continue to pollute the environment permanently. I doubt that anybody will ever pay to clean it up – the sums would outweigh the value of the fuels being mined.

You say, “There may be some cost to the environment but I believe the potential good to humans out weighs this. Humans come first.”

Humans come first in many ways, but if the environment is spoiled, so will the quality of human life and society as a result. First peoples living downstream from the Tar sands in Alberta, Canada are suffering health impacts from the detritus from the mining. Do they come first, too ? Or is it only the rich, white Canadians who drive outsize family “trucks” who come first ?

Yes people need Energy. But they also need the ecosystem to continue to support them with safe food, safe temperatures, safe air and safe water.

Dear Jo,

You say,” There is development of power systems being made available for rural people. I could point you to the various international organisations, charities and companies doing this”.
I have spent a lot of time in “rural” areas Africa & Asia and the, ”international organisations, charities and companies” were conspicuous by their absence in rural areas. If you want to find people from most charities look in the capital – especially in the night clubs! You can find them easily as their white landcruisers will be outside. There is one organization that stands out from the rest and that is MSF. They do a sterling job.

You say energy for the world’s rural unwealthy will be, “micro- and midi-Renewables. However, you do not say WHAT, “micro and midi” are in practice. Is this, wind , solar, hydro?? You argue in generalities whilst power generation has to be practical.

Wind power is stochastic therefore unreliable. Is it not “ineffectual” when we can not rely on it and have to have 90% backup from conventional sources? (See Eon AGM). This year the press report that over the first five months, Scotland’s wind generators produced a mere 17% of their rated output. I feel that makes it “ineffectual”.

Emissions: You are not holding a consistent course in respect of emissions. My point is simple; emission from myriads of individual fires do more damage to humans than the emissions from properly regulated generating plants such as we have in the UK. You have introduced a number of “red herrings”. It is irrelevant to the health of those in smoke whether or not the smoke comes from dung that is “Carbon Neutral”. Similarly it is also irrelevant that gas powered stations produce less CO2 than other plants. The individual fires are more dangerous to health than the regulated power sources. I am shall be glad if the toxic effect on humans, from fires is reduced by international action but as on now I have seen little result of their ministrations. The rocket stove may well be better than a traditional fire but how common are they? The issue for me is that the inhabitants would be better off with a decent electrical supply.

I have read the pages in AR4 that relate to Jim Hansen’s estimate of a doubling of CO2. I gave you the reference! I have no idea why you included proliferation of questions on CO2 they have no relevance to the point I was making. That point is the matter of FEEDBACKS. I think you are being ingenuous, and know full well that the conventional bench mark is sensitivity. My point is that many scientists both warmists (e.g.Hansen) and sceptics feel that doubling CO2 from pre-industrial levels will result in minor warming, not the worrying levels of 4 or 5 degrees that the alarmists would have us believe will be the result of our actions. The difference between the two estimates of future temperature lies in the uncertainty over feedbacks. Research at CERN with the LHC by Svensmark et. al. is in train to ascertain whether or not cosmic rays may seed water vapour so that clouds are formed. Low level clouds COOL the world and thus the extra water vapour caused by warming may induce low cloud that have the effect of moderating the temperature not raising it. The feedbacks may be negative. The science is not settled. The jury is still out on this.

I gave one example of the relationship between warming and the incident of extreme events; the fact that since warming there has been no increase in North Atlantic hurricanes. It was but one example. A recent NOAA (2008) bulletin noted that warming ad no influence on tornado effects. There are others.

Drought. I was not thinking of the reference you have given when I said
“Recent research on drought indicates that more by the sun’s activity than CO2”. I was thinking of a paper by Dr John Mason that indicated that water levels in Lake Victoria seemed to fluctuate in harmony with sunspot numbers. The correlation between sun spots and river flow was more marked than any relationship between river flow and CO2. I have also read similar views from other scientist studying rivers in Africa and S America.

Fuel Reserves: The Guardian article you quote is in respect of Oil. My comment was on fossil fuels in general, not oil in particular. This is your ‘straw man’ argument coming to the fore again. You knockdown something that was not said. You quote the pessimists view of the future which I believe is misguided. There is a large body of thought that says we shall have coal for the rest of this century. See p6 of RSE 2006 study, “coal reserves are ‘enormous’” Fossil fuels may become more expensive in the future but right now renewables, (wind, solar, marine), are about twice the cost of conventional power See RAE & RSE.

Nuclear: you say “accidents in nuclear plants – arguably more potentially hazardous than accidents in any other engineering activity“. Of course they are, that is why nuclear engineers take so much care to design for safety! If you are concerned that fossil fuels are soon to be used up, surely you should recommend we look to nuclear as it is available now and half the price and more reliable than “renewables”

Marine based electric power in volume is some way in the future and will be hugely expensive. Albeit a trial, a marine plant in the Humber worked out at £20 million per MW. Conventional power is in the range of £2.5 million per MW. In general marine power is expected to be about five times the cost of conventional power. Supergrids (again massively expensive) bringing power from solar plants in the Sahara and from wind farms in the North will still need to be connected to some reliable source of power to cope with winter demand after dark, particularly in periods like Feb last year. In Feb the wind did not blow hard enough to provide power from Whitelee for a whole week. If marine power can fill the gap in such circumstances then why not just rely on marine power? Your cavalier statement, “Nature is full of kinetic energy all the time – we just need to harness it” shows a distinct lack of understanding of the complexities of the task of “just” harnessing nature. The current ‘grid’ in Europe is currently under considerable strain with the stochastic nature of some of the power sources (wind). Again you are strong on rhetoric but short on detail. How is the task to be accomplished?

Korem Solar Power: You miss the point (perhaps deliberately?); I pointed out that a family that struggles to find £500 for a home is in no position to stump up £3,000 for 1kW of solar power. You nit-pick over the size of the solar power that such a family might reasonably need. Whether it is 1kW or “a very small system”, the size of which you do not deign to specify, any solar plant will be beyond their means. One kW is six time the cost of their home, even a 0.15kw panel (if such a minuscule size exists) would cost the same as a second home – £500. You then go in totally opposite direction and say that in addition they need “suitable storage systems”. What type of “storage system” to you envisage? How much extra will that cost? Another £500? However a 1kW generator can be purchased for about £350 and that would run after dark! In the event that a group was to share a 5kW generator it can be purchased for £1,100 and the cost shared between say five or six families say £200 per family. Still massively expensive for them but would open the door to a fridge, extra economic activity and permit kids to study after 7 pm when the sun sets.
You correctly identify that, “Most people in that region could never afford a diesel generator” but they sure could not afford what you recommend; solar panels that cost ten times as much and also need “suitable storage systems”.

Tar Sands: I have a friend in Calgary. He and his family seem to be very content. My friend is a very reliable family man and would not put his family at any risk. Thus I think that you are exaggerating any dangers. Clean-up is necessary but is always possible. In the UK it is near impossible to see where an opencast pit has been five years after restoration. Why do you always have to bring in irrelevant emotive issues like, “Or is it only the rich, white Canadians who drive outsize family “trucks” who come first?” Are you incapable of discussing the science without involving politics and race? The world can very usefully use the energy that the Tar Sands will provide. It is not just, “rich white” people with, “outsize” trucks that will benefit. [P.S. my friend isn’t white and he doesn’t have an outsize truck]

All society will gain from having cheap reliable energy. You seem intent on driving us back to medieval self sufficiency, cold, famine and early death. The ability to magnify what we can achieve by use of electricity has made advances possible for all mankind. Most of us want that for our grandchildren. Over my life time I have experienced huge advances in comfort and also at the same time seem the natural environment improve massively. The river near my house has been cleaned up and fish have returned. This has brought a family of otters and cranes that regularly fish the waters.


I know very well that there have been abuses caused by the differential of social and financial power between foreign aid workers and their “clients” in “mission” countries. Personally, I don’t see why people have to go from developed countries to developing countries to teach them how to run things – I would prefer the train-the-trainer kind of approach where people already living in the country are given the knowledge and skills to do the work themselves.

The Non-Governmental Organisations also behave poorly at home. A friend of mine, who had been a big supporter of an aid charity decided to cancel her donation completely when she found out how one of the directors of the charity courts big funding money by driving around in a fat expensive car to give a good impression.

However, you must admit, that even though poor rural areas are too poor to attract profit-makers, there are still some good international energy projects going on. Here’s a few examples :-

I know a little about the international network of water and sanitation engineers who contract for the aid and development agencies, and I think it would make a great deal of sense to involve this network in energy projects. I agree with you that Medecins sans Frontieres is an extremely good charity, but I don’t know if they’re doing any energy projects yet.

The type of Renewable Energy chosen for small rural communities will need to be appropriate to their local environment. Often there is running water near where people chose to live – so mini-hydro would seem an obvious first choice if there is sufficient local organisation. You pour scorn on solar systems, but small-scale solar (not the big crystalline array panels) with storage such as batteries, can provide what people most need – light at night. If there is money for a larger panel system, this can provide much needed mechanical power. Cooking is best done by burning biomass in very rural settings – hence the drive for more efficient smoke-free stoves, as both you and I agree on.

I’m not in a position to argue over how much mini- and micro-solar and wind systems cost – but be sure that most rural communities welcome any source of electrical power, even if sporadic, especially for night light.

You say, “However a 1kW generator can be purchased for about £350 and that would run after dark!” but you ignore one very vital problem that is more problematic than the initial cost of an energy system – how and where and when can people get the fuel to run generators ? In very rural situations, Fossil Fuel supply may not be guaranteed.

Your criticism of wind power is, I find, rather poor. When a wind turbine is not turning, it is not losing money, as the “fuel” is free. It doesn’t really matter whether the official capacity to generate matches the performance, as long as there are enough wind turbines out there to match demand.

You raise the thorny, much-debated issue of conventional power backup for wind turbines. A number of engineers and researchers have shown that this is not such a large-scale problem. The real problem comes with Nuclear Power. As more Nuclear Power plants are expected to be commissioned, and they fail quite frequently, and unpredictably, and often very dangerously, and cause large outages in power supply, the amount of conventional power plants to backup the Nuclear Power plants will be significant :-'s_Kruemmel_plant,_June_2007
“…National Grid released a consultation document in June detailing how the proposed development of six nuclear power stations would require the grid operator to increase the amount of backup power, known as “spinning reserve”, that it has available to call on in the event of a large power plant failing, from 1,320MW to 1,800MW…”

A wind turbine by contrast only fails when the wind is not blowing, and it doesn’t cost anything to get it running again when the wind starts back up. Plus, with a large enough distribution of wind turbines, much of the wind variability is compensated for. And plus again some more – with the proposals for a very wide geographically spread “supergrid” in each major continent, wind turbines will become more like baseload reliable power.

Do you have an online link for the EOn document you mentioned ?

You write, “I have no idea why you included proliferation of questions on CO2 they have no relevance to the point I was making. That point is the matter of FEEDBACKS. I think you are being ingenuous, and know full well that the conventional bench mark is sensitivity. My point is that many scientists both warmists (e.g.Hansen) and sceptics feel that doubling CO2 from pre-industrial levels will result in minor warming, not the worrying levels of 4 or 5 degrees that the alarmists would have us believe will be the result of our actions. The difference between the two estimates of future temperature lies in the uncertainty over feedbacks.”

In reaction to that, first of all, I would challenge you on your interpretation that a global warming of 0.8 degrees Celsius so far, with about another 1.0 degree C in the pipeline, due to emissions already made, is “minor”. That is a significant amount of heating. The reference you cited mentioned that the basic physics of the first order feedbacks (mainly the increase in airborne water vapour as a result of global warming) will result in roughly double the warming of Carbon Dioxide doubling alone – 2.4 degrees C as opposed to 1.2 degrees C. The other feedbacks identified and measured for are almost entirely “positive” meaning they add to the warming instead of preventing it. The study of ancient Earth history indicates that the short-term Climate Sensitivity is of the order of 3 degrees Celsius. James Hansen shows in his paper “Target Atmospheric CO2 : Where should humanity aim ?” that the longer-term “equilibrium” Climate Sensitivity (to bring the Earth back to a state of steadiness) is of the order of 6 degrees Celsius for a doubling of atmospheric Carbon Dioxide.

For information on Peak Coal :-

About Tar Sands : the key issue is what is known as EROEI (or EROI), Energy Return on (Energy) Invested. If for example, you have petroleum oil gushing out the ground, it costs little to take to production. With the Tar Sands, there is a huge investment of energy in order to mine and refine the tar to make it into usable fuel oil. Plus, it uses a large quantity of water. If it were to be regulated that tar sands activity in environmental destruction had to be remediated, the profits from mining this resource would drop to nothing. What I am trying to explain to you is that if Tar Sands extraction and refining were forced by law to be cleaned up, then the industry would collapse under the added costs. I agree with you that clean-up is mostly possible, but it would be too costly for the industry to tolerate the expense. My raising of the issue of the First Nations is that their experience of Tar Sands environmental pollution is entirely negative. Their land is being desecrated to feed the energy habits of people living in far-off cities. It is debatable whether the heavy metal poisoning currently going on from mining the Tar Sands can be dealt with.

I agree with you when you say “all society will gain from having cheap reliable energy”. This will only come about when we give up our addiction to Fossil Fuels – whose supply is peaking and whose cost is going to rise and whose supply is about to become very erratic.

The natural environment over the time you have been alive has been very degraded. Have you not read the world reports on desertification, soil degradation, deforestation, water pollution ? Oh yes, the local environment in some places has seen improvements, but worldwide, Nature has taken a huge hit.

I don’t think that we are ever going to agree on a lot of points. However, I hundered percent agree that we should allow Africa fair access to our (EU) markets so that they can trade their way out of poverty.

The West’s way of doing things doesn’t always fit with other people’s way of handling things.

As you may have guessed I spent some time in Ethiopia. I was in a Scottish hotel on vacation and quoted Prof Ullendorf’s book on Ethiopia at some point. A lady in the company said that Prof Ullendorf loved that hotel and had stayed there regularly. She suggested I drop a note to the Prof to tell him that I had enjoyed his book; which I did. Subsequently I had a couple of conversations on the ‘phone with the Prof. His description of a wooded country of the 50’s and 60’s was at variance with my picture of the Ethiopia.

The change in the environment would appear to have been brought about by a population increase from about 14 million in the 60’s to 75 million today. We guessed the trees had been felled for fuel. A similar population explosion in Kenya, also put pressure on the environment. Dr Leakey says Kenya’s population now tops 40 million. It was about 7 million when I first went there, at a time when Kibera did not exist.

So maybe some of the reports of “desertification, soil degradation, deforestation, water pollution” are just the result of increased population?

I shall try to dig out the reference to “back-up” made In EOn’s annual report. I think it was the CEO [Paul Goby??] who was quoted. The Texas power authority also use a similar figure for “back-up” to wind.

I can’t find the actual report but have thew reference:-

CONCLUSIONS: It is clear from the above that changes in the energy mix have reduced the claimable CO2 savings of wind farms by two-thirds in the past 15 years. However, even these figures are exaggerated as they make no allowance for CO2 expended in manufacture and installation, the mining of iron ore and limestone for steel and cement manufacture, the liberation of CO2 from peat which is damaged during construction, and the need to provide back-up of up to 90% of the installed wind capacity. This last critical issue has been confirmed recently by the Director of the UK Renewable Energy Strategy (Mr Christopher Barton) when he said ‘the intermittency issue is not an insurmountable one, albeit that surmounting the problem comes at a cost, for example, there will need to be greater overall generation capacity in the UK [our emphasis] as you introduce more intermittent generation11. This was even further emphasised by Paul Golby the Chief Executive of E-on UK) when he pointed out that Britain would need to construct 44 gigawatts of EXTRA coal and gas-fired plant if the 2020 target was reached, just to back-up wind12. Eon confirmed this in a technical note to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee in June 2008.13 The Oxford economist Dieter Helm summed it up when he said, ‘..we would need to have more conventional power stations to allow us to have ‘windmills’. What an Alice-in-Wonderland world’!

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