Monday, 28 December 2009

China might be as bad as us, but we still need to act

Since I wrote the last Copenhagen post there has been an explosion of comment on China's role in the failure of the Copenhagen COP (although I can't claim this had anything to do with me). Some people blame China outright, others say we must not as this might lead them to give up on the process altogether. Still others seem unable to imagine that a non-western country could be fundamentally at fault, and suggest that China was only objecting to the process and mechanisms of the COP.

As usual I would suggest that the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

I think we need to accept from the comments of those who where there (Lynas, Milliband etc) that China did play an obstructing role in getting binding targets. This also fits with what I know of the Chinese authorities in other fields, such as conservation, and what some of my contacts said about Copenhagen. China, like the USA, believes it is an exception to the rule, and does not like binding treaties, or anything which might limit its sovereignty. It is also nervous about how quickly it is leaving its developing country mantle behind, and the 'responsibilities' which come with being a great power.

At the same time, it hardly seems to be all their fault. Okay, we might have had a better deal if China had allowed the developed countries to adopt strong measures, but we still had puny offerings from the USA, Canada and Australia. Europe has a good target, but could still do much more in implementing it.

No one can deny that the process was flawed and chaotic. A lack of transparency and democracy caused confusion and got everyone's backs up. The complexity and stupidity of some of the avoided deforestation schemes and carbon trading plans on the table upset southern civil society(such as allowing carbon credits for monoculture plantations - effectively a subsidy for palm oil grown on chopped rainforest). The poorest developing countries were excluded, both by design and through the complexity of the negotiations. China, Europe, USA, India all conflicted through their proxies.

At the end of the day it seems that the big forces of the world all played for their own advantage. Perhaps some more than others, but the general result was the same.

In any case, all we can do is to continue to press our governments, local or national, for the best possible outcomes, and continue to try and build a better world. At the same time, we need to bypass those institutions that fail and build our own structures for dialogue and action.

Perhaps most importantly there cannot be time for defeatism. There will be a strong temptation for those who seek to oppose action to say that we cannot act without China. In much the same way as we were told we could not act without America. Both are false. We need these countries on board, but we can still act without them. Perhaps we won't stop climate change in time for 2 degrees, but we might avoid 3 or 4, while building a greener world in other ways.

Two cheers for Camden Council?

I am looking into getting solar panels for the roof of my house… I have had the quotes and the simulations, and it looks like it would make sense. A small system will cover about 60%-70% of my electricity needs for the year, and save about 400 kg of carbon dioxide…but they don’t come cheap, and this has always stopped me before.

The reason I am looking into it now is that this is a good time to do it if you live in the UK. The old system of grants is being phased out, and a new feed-in tariff (fixed payment for every kWh produced) is being brought in next year. This means that right now you can get the grants and the feed-in tariff.. (I can hear the Telegraph howling!).

This still leaves a gap however, and this is where Camden Council comes in with its own system of top-up grants to make the panels even more affordable. Altogether, these schemes can provide nearly £4000 in grants, and a feed-in tariff! (Well, we all subsidize the fossil-fuel industry, let’s give small scale renewables a go!)

The question is, why isn’t the council making a bigger deal out of this? It wasn’t exactly well advertised, and I only found it on my fourth visit to the website, and after conducting an advanced search. This is a decent set-up, which Camden Council should be proud of! They have the chance to really roll out solar across the Borough, which would surely be a feather in their cap.

It could be of course that they simply don’t have the money and are hoping that nobody will notice, but even if that is the case there are a lot of things they could do (solar loans etc.). In any case I thought mention it, as I think that more people need to know.

I am not really sure where this post is going, but I suppose the message is, scour your local authority’s information, because there might be more support available for these things than you think. And if there isn’t, write to them to ask why not!

(Hasten to point out that I still haven't forgiven the council for its poor redesign of the Kings Cross area, but that is for another day!)

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Copenhagen a failure, what now?

So Copenhagen has ended in spectacular failure. No legally binding targets, no workable mechanisms, no further cuts, no deal on green tech. Okay, maybe we can go forward, and at least the US and China have been drawn into the process, but the sight of the world's leaders falling apart so dramatically is unedifying.. the contrast with the calm exteriors shown in the face of the financial crisis is stark.

The quote on the BBC from Xie Zhenhua, Head of China's delegation, says it all: 'After negotiations both sides have managed to preserve their bottom line. For the Chinese this was our sovereignty and our national interest.'

If short-term national interest is the bottom line.. ..

I'm going to stop writing before I lose my temper. Our only hope for now, while we wait for our leaders to understand, is to take whatever action we can. Unilateral deals, EU movement, green tech research, local environmental councils and boards in our communities, NGOs, charities, and continuing to build a political movement that can really take on the environmental crises which are facing us.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

European Investment Bank gives E300 million to offshore grid

Amid all the chaos and disappointment in Copenhagen, I thought I would mention a tiny bit of progress. Last week the European Investment Bank finally announced that they would be providing 300 million euros for an electricity connector between Britain and the Netherlands. This is seen as the first tentative step towards realising an offshore 'supergrid' of wind turbines stretching from the North Sea to the Bay of Biscay and the Baltic. Although it can be used to trade any electricity between the two countries, this is of vital importance to wind power, which flows variably across the region. The ability to trade power allows wind to be utilized more effectively.

Shortly after the E300 million announcement another couple of hundred million euros was announced by Commission for connectors between the UK and Norway, Shetland and the mainland and in the Baltic. New offshore wind farms should be able to plug into these systems, reducing a major expenses in offshore wind development.

This grid development, along with with Commission support for nine offshore wind farms, European Investment Bank loans and recent UK government moves to improve the payments for offshore wind, it looks like we might see some significant progress in this area in the next year or two. Some small comfort that something is happening perhaps.

Monday, 14 December 2009

African countries walk out of climate talks

Just heard that the African countries, backed by the G77 (and China?), have walked out of the main session of the Copenhagen climate talks (COP-15), accusing the developed countries of trying to get out of Kyoto obligations.

Will wait to see what happens, but if true this is unsurprising. They have been threatening for a while.. is it just brinkmanship, or does it reflect a unbridgeable gap...?

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Arrests or repression in Copenhagen?

It seems that the Danish police have begun making mass arrests at the climate change talks in Copenhagen, with 968 people arrested on Saturday. I don;t want to say too much about, but having witnessed the UK police in action at protests, it all seems very dodgy. I suspect that the vast majority of those arrested will be innocent and that the mass arrest is more a pre-planned show of force than anything else. The draconian anti-protest laws passed before the Copenhagen summit give the police power to do almost anything, so none of this is surprising.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Climate hypocrit alert - me

Hi folks. I am a climate hypocrite, as I suspect we all are. My girlfriend (who is lightly less involved in these issues than me) has wonderfully arranged a surprise trip to New York. This is a big deal, as this sort of thing is not cheap. And I am excited to go, I have never been. But I do feel guilty, very guilty. The carbon! The example! What of all those things I have written about? It has caused a few tears.

Fortunately for me, those who know me are aware that I have never been a fan of hair-shirt environmentalism. Don't get me wrong, I believe we need to reduce consumption, I believe we need to change our lifestyles and I believe that it is not all down to technology. I also believe however that people cannot do it all themselves - because they do not have the power. Individual actions do count, but are in themselves not enough. This is why we need to change the economic andpolitical systems and we need to fundamentally alter the means of production and consumption.If the plane was fuelled by something green and renewable, my carbon guilt would disappear, and my only guilt would be windmill guilt, or whatever the side effect of the new energy source will be. If my plane was taxed so that the money went into investments in new energy, at least that would be better than nothing, and maybe the tickets would have been too much. I have never been one for attacking Al Gore for his flights, or saying that if you don't walk to a protest you are a failure. I can recognise the inherent contradictions in all our behaviours.

As far as I am concerned this is a fight for a better future, the other option is a slow slide into a grim, grounded, impoverished and natureless world. I know which one seems like more of a hair-shirt to me.

But I still feel guilty.

Should the Copenhagen talks fail?

So it seems that even James Hansen, climate scientist extraordinaire thinks that it would be better for Copenhagen to fail than for us to be lumbered with a half-baked plan, based on false solutions, half hearted cuts and attempts to keep on with business-as-usual. This is something which I have been wrestling with for some time. Part of me wants it to end in acrimony so that at least we can all the mess we are in (and not just with climate), and begin to look at the underlying problems.. another part of me simply wants progress, to feel that something good is happening… If the only proposals put forward are the feeble statements from China, India, USA, Canada, then we would be better off letting it fail, and saying why.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Storm in scientific teacup or sceptic's smoking gun?

Okay, I am not best placed to write about the recent leak of the emails from the University of East Anglia's climate research unit. I cannot find a complete list of the emails... I have seen some of them, and a few edited 'highlights'. Some of the highlights look pretty bad, some less so. Looking at a few of the full exchanges, most of it is pretty tame...

The most damaging claim is that scientists have falsified or manipulated the data to spin a deception that global warming exists... one blog referencing a particular email says... : 'XXXX discusses how data are truncated to stop an apparent cooling trend showing up in the results. Wow!'... Well I'm not so sure. I looked at the full email and I don't see that - see below.

Anyway, in the emails I have seen there is a lot of very ambiguous stuff. It seems to me that the best way to deal with this is to have a panel re-review the data and see if it is sound, since that is what really matters (although this has already happened in the peer-reviewed process).

As for the faux-outrage regarding the dislike the climate scientists have for the sceptics, I am totally unsurprised. Science is always passionate, and climate scientists have suffered a couple of decades of abuse. As such many are ill-disposed to the sceptics, particularly those who fight their wars through columns and blogs instead of journals.

The bottom line is that there are thousands of scientists working on this, so a few spats and so on are not indicative of a fundamental lack of evidence. If it turns out that climate change is not happening I will be delighted as it is one less problem to worry about. I don't think we are there yet.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Why we need to move beyond the carbon calculator culture

The world is awash with carbon calculators, each designed to tell you just how much carbon dioxide you are personally responsible for. The best I have found is on the Guardian website (see below). Now, even with no flights, no cars, and the second lowest gas and electricity usage on offer I am still on 12.14 tonnes of CO2 per year, compared to 15 as the average. Why are my emissions so high? Well in part it is my share of public service emissions, but it is also the public transport I use. I regularly take the train to Edinburgh, Bristol and other lovely places like that. Travelling an average of 450 miles a month uses 2.27 tonnes of CO2 a year... (if you think that that is just 15 miles a day, a long distance commuter would be in real trouble!). Chuck in a couple of flights a year and I am screwed.

In fact even if I don't travel at all and cut my food intake in half, I am still using more than 8 tonnes a year - two and a half times the 2050 target for the UK. When I told some friends about this they threw their hands up in despair.

And this is the problem with carbon calculators. They breed defeatism. Even if you do everything right it is not enough. In my view that leads to one logical conclusion. We need to fundamentally change the means of production and consumption. Calculators are good in that they make you think about what you are doing, but that is not enough. Don't get me wrong, individual actions do count, but what we really need is an industrial and energy revolution, and that takes political as well as personal will. Carbon calculators and the like have their place, but we are out of time for that kind of solution. People need to feel empowered, but they also need to see the things they don't have the power to change too, and instead of getting sad, we need to get angry.

Once again the world is failing on Tuna

Ahhh yes… it seems that the The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (Iccat) has taken the fudge option and decided not to save the bluefin tuna. Despite being told that for the good of the fish and they fishery that all fishing of this species must stop, they have instead only decided to lower the quota by a third, and also failed to understand that much of the tuna catch is undeclared anyway, so the size of the quota is not representative of the size of the catch…

This is one of the tragedies of the international agreements - blocking minorities. In this case the EU and hence ICCAT was victim of a blocking minority of Mediterranean nations, each of which makes money from tuna and has its own political reasons for bailing out the fishing industry.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Thoughts on India

I was recently in India and Nepal for work, and while there are many wonderful things about India, at its worst it also offers a terrifying vision of environmental degradation and overcrowding. I am not suggesting that there are any direct parallels between the complex causes of India's problems and the future of the world, but the combination of overcrowding, weak governance, industrial pollution, water shortages and so on which are obvious in many parts of the subcontinent (particularly in the cities) are a sober reminder of how bleak the future could be if we fail to tackle our impending environmental crises. It is not that the human race, or indeed any section of it, will die out. It is much more likely that we will simply end up packed together, in a far bleaker, dirtier and less healthy world. For me that is just as frightening. 

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

I miss the Great Auk

I think it was Jeremy Clarkson (funny and clever, but an ass) who wrote a piece a while back asking if anyone missed extinct species, and why should we care. Well, I do. I miss them badly. Not the ones which died out a million years ago, but the ones I just slightly missed, whose time on earth almost overlapped with mine but not quite. The Great Auk is a classic example.

Once found throughout the North Atlantic, including Britain, the Great Auk was the original penguin. The latin for the Great Auk was Pinguinus, and the very word Penguin may derive from the Welsh Pen-Gwyn, or white head. When sailors from Europe sailed to the south seas and encountered flightless birds, they named them after what they already knew. That the thing we now call penguins are seen as exotic, while the creature they were named after is extinct is as good an example of baseline shift as I can think.

Biologically, the Great Auk was basically a fat razorbill that had lost the power of flight, and their similarity to what we now know as penguins is a wonderful example of convergent evolution - a process by  which animals evolve similar forms to fill the same ecological niche in a different part of the world. Like hedgehogs and porcupines or tenrecs.  

Sadly the Great Auks were hunted to extinction, with the last two killed on Iceland in the 1800s. 
The thing is I love penguins, but think of them as something far away and exotic. It saddens me to think that we had our own unique version just a few lifetimes ago, but I missed it.  I saw one stuffed in the Natural History Museum, and it made me feel sad. 

So anyway. I do care if animals go extinct. I can and do give scientific explanations for this in my work all the time, but I don't think I need to. The death of any species diminishes all of us.

Updated in April 2014

Trafigura and Carter-Ruck back down...

Trafigura and Carter-Ruck back down... it was all over the internet by lunchtime and they relented. Woohoo. 

Guardian stifled over polluting oil company?

So it seems that the Guardian have been prevented from reporting a parliamentary question published in the proceedings of parliament and due to be answered later this week. They can't tell us what about but it concerns the law firm Carter-Ruck and I suspect also the company Trafigura, which is said to have dumped a load of waste in Ivory Coast, killing and injuring many people, and then tried to hide it by saying that they gave it to a licensed disposal outfit, and that they didn't think it would do any harm(alledgedly).

This is a disgrace. A company, suspected of a flagrant breach of environmental law, and a newspaper not allowed to published a parliamentary question. It shows how the growing threat of libel is being used to stifle genuine issues of democratic and criminal debate.. while we all get distracted by stupid stories about MPs getting an extra £300 for gardening. It is also pretty daft as everyone who is interested will now know all about Trafigura and Carter-Ruck.

Here is a link to some info on Trafigura.

The Minton report about Trafiguras actions on wiki leaks - is this what they are worried about?é2009.pdf

Thursday, 8 October 2009

EON giving up, or changing tactics?

Okay, EON have announced that they are shelving a decision on a new coal power station at Kingsnorth for two or three years. Woohoo! This is a victory for the environmental movement and some credit must go to Milliband and the DECC for saying that any new coal power station must have carbon capture and storage installed. EONs unwilligness to do this indicates that this technology is not yet available to them, and was never really part of the plan (we knew that anyway, but hey).

However we need to be careful. This could simply be the company trying to blackmail the government into supporting them with fears of brownouts, or looking to the conservatives to give them the go ahead (see below).

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Tories cave in to coal?

So, the Tories have said that if elected they would immedeatly approve 5 GW of new coal power, fitted with carbon capture and storage. Really? Have the companies agreed to fit this straight away, when it does not yet exist? Or have the companies decided that they will fit it in 2020 or 2025 as they currently say they will, once it is cheap and the research has ben paid for by the tax payer. In the meantime we get 15 years of the most polluting form of energy and throw away any chance of securing a progressive climate deal. And what if the CCS doesn't work? Will the plants be shut down?

A bad, bad idea, and a step back from Milliband's already shaky progress on this (he said that only plants with CCS demonstration units would be allowed to be built. Not much, but better than this).

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Monbiot is wrong, population does matter

I have tremendous respect for George Monbiot, but on one thing at least I think he is mistaken. In a recent blog on the Guardian he asserts that it is not rampant population growth which is the main problem for the environment, but excessive consumption by the rich. Surely the problem is both?

To begin with the populations of the ‘developing’ countries are now so high that they actually emit more carbon than the developed countries, despite their lower per capita emissions (53% of emissions in 2007 came from developing countries). We must also not forget the fact that these per capita emissions can rise very quickly – China for example now has higher per capita emissions than Sweden and around 60% those of the UK. Thank goodness its population is not growing, but imagine how much easier it would be if it had stabilised at 1 billion instead of 1.33 billion? Similarly, one can imagine that it would be much easier for India to provide for its increasingly aspirant population had their demographic growth stabilised at 500 million, its 1970s level, instead of its current 1 billion plus. This is not really the issue I want to discuss, however. There is another problem I would like to think about.

Let us for a moment assume that we wave a magic wand and introduce an international carbon allowance for every person on the planet. This would be equal for everyone currently alive – the fairest way to do things. For argument’s sake we can set this at 2 tonnes per person. A dramatic reduction for developed countries (especially the US, UAE, Canada, Australia) but a nearly 50% increase for the poorest. Let us also assume that this system is working, with minimal corruption or trade.

In countries with largely stable populations, these credits would be effectively handed down through the generations, and new lifestyles and technology would enable the maximisation of wealth within these emission boundaries. For poor countries there would initially be a bonanza as they are enabled to nearly double emissions (up from 1.3 tonnes per person for countries like Bangladesh or India). However, within 25 years, thanks to population growth the number of people in these countries would have doubled. What happens then? Each person is back to 1 tonne each, less than they currently emit. Obviously the planet’s capacity to absorb carbon dioxide will not have increased, so these countries will either need more credits from the population-stable countries, or halve the allowance for each individual every twenty five years. Some credits may be available, but not indefinitely. In the meantime the stable population countries will be able to maintain their standards of living, and as new technology is introduced to cater for the ever shrinking allowances of the high-growth countries, they will be able to capitalise on this too – staying rich, while the high growth countries halve their allowances every 25 years. Essentially, an ever growing population perpetuates poverty.

Okay, obviously this is a simplified case, which does not and will never exist. It seems likely that increased wealth in these countries would reduce population anyway. The point is that excess consumption is the problem, whether by a few hundred thousand rich people, billions of poor people, or the billion in the middle. We need to tackle both. We must do away with the concept of the ‘right to pollute’ and look at ways of developing technology which allows zero-carbon growth. And let’s not forget that growing populations, wherever they are, place extra strain on the environment in other ways, through their need for land, water, fish and food. Tackling this, will make dealing with all these problems, while alleviating poverty far simpler.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

China and US failing on climate

Okay. A long pause - apologies. Today we get the news from New York that the Chinese government has pledged to 'significantly reduce carbon intensity by 2020'. While this is certainly a step in the right direction, and a useful step in putting pressure on India and the US in advance of the Copenhagen negotiations, frankly it doesn't add up to much. China may as well have said that they will make their industry more efficient, since that is all the statement means. 

While it may be true that most of the historical guilt for climate change rests on the North Americans and Europeans, China is now the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide (as well as a lot of other pollutants).  Already China's emissions per capita are higher those of progressive European countries like Sweden (6 tonnes compared to 5.6 tonnes per person) despite a far lower income. In addition, thirteen provinces have emissions as high as the main European countries, with of the most developed coming in higher than the UK, which is on around 10 tonnes per person. So, anything which can improve this is good. Unfortunately however China's scale is such that simply increasing the GDP they can squeeze per tonne of carbon is not good enough.

At the same time the US is left flailing, its landmark climate change bill unlikely to be passed in time for Copenhagen. In the language of Nicholas Sarkozy - we are on the path to failure. Nonetheless Europe must press ahead with an ambitious programme. It is the only choice. 

Link - Chinese provinces outstrip western emissions

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Population blues

Okay, I know I am hardly the first (or even the millionth) to comment on this, but I was on a website today which had some population growth stats and they were terrifying. For example Pakistan has gone from 36 million people in 1950 to 157 million in 2005. It has more than quadrupled in 55 years. To put than in perspective, if the UK had grown at the same rate it would now have a population of 233 million!

Pakistan is far from alone. Over the same time dozens of countries have seen a similar expansion. Egypt has gone from 21 million to 74, and is on course for 125 million by 2050. Nigeria from 30 million to 158 million, and heading for 300 million. No wonder they are struggling!

These kind of expansions have happened before, for example in Europe during the industrial revolution, but they were starting from much lower bases. In the 1700s, France was one of the most populous countries in the world, with around 20 million people.

This is truly the elephant in the room of the environmental and development issues. For understandable reasons the international community has been loath to comment on such unsustainable growth (anti-colonialism, politics etc), but that has to change. 

What is the answer? I don't know, but for a start we can start to discuss it. It is often said that the only thing which reduces population growth rate is economic development and improved life expectancies. There is a lot of truth in this, but cultural factors also play a role.  We need to be able to have a robust and honest discussion about this, or we have a very bleak and crowded future ahead of us.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Climate Camp in London next week

I would just like to remind anyone who checks this of the upcoming Climate Camp in London, which begins on Wednesday the 26th at a mystery location in London...

I have no illusions about climate camp, but what it occasionally lacks in cold logic and unity it makes up for in enthusiasm and positivity, and has managed to build itself into one of the most important social and environmental events in the UK, spawning spin offs around the world from Australia to Korea.  It is a protest movement and meeting space, nothing more and nothing less, but it is a good one. It has energized activists and the media, it has put issues like the new coal power station at Kingsnorth at the top of the agenda. It has showed admirable maturity in the face of police aggression, and won, causing the metropolitan police to humiliate themselves with their own actions. If you are around London during the camp I urge you come on down, even if just for a few hours. Make some contacts, make some plans. You probably won't agree with everything you hear, but at least you will know they care. There is no place for pointless cynicism. 

Another reason why we need an integrated environment policy

There was a recent article in the Guardian which mentioned that a wind farm built on top of a peat bog might actually contribute carbon to the atmosphere as the carbon stored in the peat would be released into the atmosphere (they were talking about large developments in Shetland and Caithness). This reminds me of a bit in an article I wrote three years ago for Renewable Energy World magazine which mentioned this very fact. 

Indeed, I look at this as simply one more example of the urgent need for a comprehensive and integrated climate change and renewable energy policy, incorporating planning, energy, transport, biodiversity, fisheries etc.... Such a policy is obviously a huge task, but the first thing we need to realise is that we cannot be lassaiz-faire about this. It will not work. The market is great at generating efficiency in a game with set rules but it cannot be left to deal with issues as important at this. We need to plan and guide our wind farms far more carefully than we are at present, never forgetting why we are doing it.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Swine flu

Uggg... seems I have swine flu. Posts when better.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

A comment on Vestas

Dare I say anything about the occupation of the Vestas wind-turbine blade factory on the Isle of Wight? As with many things I have very divided feelings on this. On one hand I wish the staff at the factory all the best in getting their jobs back. I also think that they are doing a valuable service in highlighting the poor state of the UK’s renewable energy industry and the gap between the rhetoric and reality of the new ‘green economy’. With luck their actions will spur the government to support and invest in other renewable energy facilities around the country so that they can be grown and helped before they get to the point of closing down. It may also be that they have been treated badly by the government and the company. So in that sense I support them.

However, I do have some concerns with the statements I have heard calling for the plant to be nationalised. I am not defending Vestas, as I don’t know the detail of what they promised, but nationalising a Danish-owned plant which makes wind turbine blades for particular types of turbine would not necessarily be helpful, and could cause real problems for the UK if it were to try and encourage other companies to locate here. The government would be effectively stealing the technology developed by the company, with potentially long term consequences. Even if we nationalised it, and got the technology, I understand we would then be left with a plant which produces 40-metre blades for the V82 turbine, one which is not commonly used in the UK, and not used offshore (all of these blades were exported to the US). In the process we would presumably scare away any companies which develop and build blades more suitable to the UK’s needs. We would still need to buy the turbines from Vestas in Denmark in any case.

That is not to say that if the protestors and government change Vestas mind and get them to invest in a new plant then that would not be a good thing. It would. Perhaps though, what we should be calling for is an end to support for fossil fuels and far greater investment in renewable energy research, development and deployment. This will develop home-grown companies and encourage established ones to set up here. Perhaps the Isle of Wight will be a good home for this, in recognition of the role it is playing? We might also do well with a dedicated renewable energy bank or bond system.

If we are to have a nationalised wind turbine industry, it must be built - it cannot be simply achieved by buying up a few assets from a Danish company, particularly one which supplies a quarter of the world’s wind turbines and which we will need to work with in the future to realise our offshore ambitions.

Friday, 24 July 2009

As little renewable energy as possible?

As renewable energy expands as an energy source, we are being forced to make some uncomfortable choices. We absolutely need renewable energy - for the climate, for the atmosphere, for energy security and freedom from fossil fuels. At the same time, some of the projects, like the Severn Barrage or the huge onshore wind farms being debated for Shetland and the Isle of Lewis, are hardly ideal, with far-reaching consequences for some of the most ecologically important and wild parts of the UK.

In my mind these problems make several things clear. First of all we want as little large-scale energy generation as possible. Of any kind. Wind turbines are better than coal plants, but they are still not ideal. This to me seems one the strongest arguments for small-scale and decentralised energy, and for more efficiency. If you don't want windmills on the hills, support measures to get solar panels on roofs.

Secondly, a revolution in clean energy to combat climate change needs to be part of a wider environmental shift, a catalyst for changing the way we view the environment in Britain. There can be no business as usual, with renewable energy simply adding to the industrialization of our landscape alongside everything else.

Finally we must be prepared to return things to 'wild' - however flawed a phrase that may be. As the industrial patterns change to cope with new technologies and new energy sources, we cannot simply gobble up more land and return nothing. Naturally we should try to use brownfield land over new greenfield, but if it cannot be sensibly re-used we should not be afraid of returning it to its natural state. Trees are more fun to play in than car parks in any case.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

What are the police doing?

Just a couple of quick thoughts.. first we have just seen a report by the South Yorkshire Constabulary into the policing of the 2008 climate camp at Kingsnorth Power Station – the facility E.ON hope will become the first new coal fired power station in the UK. For those who don’t know the policing of this protest was a disgrace. The police were intimidating, violent, rude, arrogant and political (see the camp account here). They mislead the press, they mislead parliament (and were forced to admit as much). An enquiry was launched, and the cause of this misbehaviour was………….(drumroll)……. ‘lack of communication’. Right, perhaps what they meant was that they have failed to communicate that it was exactly their strategy to engage in intimidating political policing. Job done.

On a similar but smaller-scale note, the Times is reporting that the police have been threatening to arrest people trying to get food to those protesting at the Vestas factory on the Isle of Wight. This is the UK’s only factory making wind turbine blades. Whatever about the rights and wrongs of the protest, the police are reported to have arrested at least one person delivering food because it might prolong the protest, and hence increase the chance of a breach of the peace. What?????? With that sort of logic you simply can’t win. Since when was it the police’s job to try and shorten a protest or strike. Isn’t that normally what the mafia do in 1930s films?

As a rule I don't like to criticise the police too much.. they do have a difficult job and are frequently manipulated by all sides... but for some time they have been getting more and more repressive in their dealings with political protests, and things are now out of hand..

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Is Miliband stealing my words?

I just saw this in the Guardian.

"If Martin Luther King had come along and said 'I have a nightmare' people would not have followed him," Miliband said, quoting someone he met at the Guardian's recent Manchester climate change summit. "You have to persuade people that, yes, there are costs of not acting but also there is a vision of society at the end of this: more secure, more prosperous, fairer better quality of life. All those things are crucial to persuade people to take the leap.

Okay, either Miliband is stealing my words (see New thinking in the city?, below), or this phrase now is part of the New Labour communication strategies…There was probably a memo.. While I do agree with the general sentiment, I am slightly miffed with the fact that it is being used in an article in which Miliband explains why they will not tax aviation. I also feel that perhaps I have been cleverly and unconciously tricked into spouting the party line! I don’t feel any raybeams controlling me… maybe the Labour Party are employing a form of subtle hypnosis…?

Monday, 13 July 2009

Feeling fly? - Not in Camden

An entry on Craig Murray's blog got me thinking today.. it seems that his posters in the Norwich by-election have been taken down under anti-fly posting regulation. Leaving aside the main issue that only his were taken down amongst all the candidates it got me thinking once again about fly-posting. I encountered this issue about four or five months ago when trying to put up posters for an environmental protest. Living in Camden I kind of assumed that there were posters everywhere - it's that kind of place. But I was wrong. As I wandered the streets I realised that there weren't just few posters, there were none. A quick check on the council website told me it was illegal, and that they would be removed within 24 hrs.. (astonishing efficiency for Camden)..

So what's the problem? Well, for a start it makes it difficult to disseminate information in the area. Only those who can pay for expensive billboards have the right to get their propaganda heard. The rest of us must use the internet, which as a rule only gets those already interested. This undermines freedom of speech, stifles dissent and by extension democracy. It is also unfair, why should we be bombarded with images of cosmetics and mobile phones, but not allowed to enjoy concert listings and political controversy. Politicians constantly moan about young people being turned off to politics, but perhaps a bit of local excitement might get them thinking.  

Okay, okay there are probably many people who are glad not to have tatty mouldy posters on every surface. Personally, I used to live in Edinburgh which was covered in posters, and I loved it, but I can understand that would be a concern for some. There must be a happy medium though - perhaps certain areas can be set aside for commercial and non-commercial posters as a compromise....  just a thought.. 

On a related note, this is one of my main concerns with having shopping malls or large integrated shopping areas run by private companies. These companies are then are well within their rights to not only stop you putting up posters, but also handing out flyers, giving speeches, or anything they don't like. Imagine if all our open spaces where clean, commercially run and free from campaigners and crazies.. pretty sad I think, and in the long run, damaging. 

Thursday, 9 July 2009

New green thinking in the City?

‘There is no environmental quantitative easing’. These were the words of a senior UK-government figure today, as he addressed a select gathering on the eighth floor of a City bank in London.

He’s right. In fact, his statement is simply a diplomatic version of ‘Nature doesn’t do bail-outs’, the slogan which adorned banners during Climate Camp’s occupation of the City in April this year.

He went on – talking of over-fishing, biodiversity loss and climate change. ‘This’, he said, referring to the environment, ‘has to be part of your day job’. It was impassioned stuff and the room of eminent financiers and UN-types nodded sagely.

The trouble is that despite the fine words from the assembled dignitaries we are still a very long way from this situation.

I should explain. The purpose of the meeting was to raise awareness of a programme seeking to quantify the economic value of the environment and the ‘services’ it provides (water purification, soil production, carbon storage, recreation, health etc.). As such it is part of an admirable effort to do for ecosystems and biodiversity what the Stern report has done for climate change by explaining them in financial language which economists and politicians can understand, and providing some hard numbers.

That a programme like this can get taken up, funded and promoted at the highest levels is in itself a sign of real progress. Not too long ago people who put cash values on trees and clean air were called hippies and kept out of the room. I suppose we should be happy.

The thing is that a lot of the meeting focussed on how to communicate the value of ecosystems and biodiversity ‘services’ to the public. While this is essential, I couldn’t help put feel that a large part of the reason for public apathy was down to those very people in the room. For all their fine words, these banks sill invest in dirty energy, illegal mining, motorway construction and the rest. They also finance the advertisers and PR companies which have done such an outstanding job of denigrating the environmental movement and all those who stand in the way of ever greater consumption. They talk of the need to educate the public, yet it seems that the public will take poorly to being lectured by companies which on the one hand claim green credentials and expect the same of their consumers, while at the same time generating colossal profits from highly polluting industries.

Yet we cannot totally blame business, since they largely function within the rules set for them. Government too must take responsibility and show some leadership. In their defence, politicians and civil servants sometimes bemoan the public’s lack of interest in environmental issues – yet the politicians have not really made the case and have been content to sit back and let business continue as usual. Efforts to educate on climate change have been slow to start, patchy and self-conscious. Think of the bumbling Dad in those TV adverts who believes that green is the colour of his car, or that carbon footprint has something to do with shoes. And that’s just climate change – efforts to educate on other environmental issues simply don’t exist.

Finally, NGOs and activists must also take responsibility. Someone said that Martin Luther King did not start his speech by saying ‘I have a nightmare’, sadly, and for fully understandable reasons this is what the green movement was forced to do. We need to be better at offering a positive image of the future. This has begun to happen, but there are years of adverse messaging to overcome. We must make it clear that it is not about the hair-shirt, or the medieval lifestyle, but about trying to find a better, happier way to live. Perhaps if we can all work together to put that message across then in the future it won’t be about how the banks can educate the public, but about how the governments we elect set the rules for the banks.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Hey, this blog is not really live yet, I am still developing it, but I thought I would mention the release of 67 of the Ratcliffe-on-Soar 114. This is the case of 114 climate protesters who were pre-emptively arrested for alledgedly planning a protest at a power station. This case was outrageous on several grounds. First the idea of pre-emptive arrest for non-violent crimes is a very worrying development. Surely if the police were so worried they could just protect the site? Secondly, the injunctions placed on some of the protesters forbid them being involved in any other protest activities, which is a sinister and insidious attempt to stifle dissent. Finally, coming so soon after the behaviour of the Metropolitan Police at the Climate Camp and G20 demonstrations in London, this was once again an attempt to smear the climate movement (one of the police officers alledgedly asked the protesters if they were proud of being terrorists).

The fact that 67 protesters have had their charges dropped is to be welcomed. I will be very interested to know what is happening to the rest. The pre-emptive arrest of peaceful protesters is a disgrace, and something which the people of Britain should be very concerned about.