Friday, October 21, 2016

Clearing the Air (again)

Text of the Sustainable Futures Report podcast at

Hello again. It's Anthony Day, it's Friday and it's the Sustainable Futures Report. In the course of preparing this episode I lost 1300 words. I wasn’t pleased. I’ve just had to write them all again.

So, here we go. This week: burping cows, HFCs, and Client Earth suing the government for failing to provide clean air. We’ll look at what said that the advertising standards agency (ASA) said about Friends of the Earth, and what the ASA says that it said. National Grid’s Winter Outlook Report is out and Client Earth pops up again to urge the government to revive the climate change act. The Lords are studying the environmental impact of Brexit. We’ll also have a brief look at the future with ABB and their wireless trolley bus.

I’ve put links to my sources at the end of the document.

This week we are talking about air quality. About the quality of air that makes it good to breathe as well as atmospheric pollution which can damage the ozone layer and accelerate global warming. Greenhouse gases are constantly in the news because they are the cause of global warming. Carbon dioxide is the most popular culprit and we think of cars, factories and aircraft all contributing to this invisible poisonous cloud. What is often overlooked is the role of cows. Cows eat grass. They digest it and a byproduct of that digestion is methane. This is called enteric fermentation. It’s not just cows that do this, it’s sheep as well (and camels). Altogether they account for about 30% of anthropomorphic  methane emissions. Though methane is emitted into the atmosphere in smaller quantities than CO2, its global warming potential (GWP or the ability of the gas to trap heat in the atmosphere) is 25 times as great. As a result, methane emissions currently contribute more than one third of today’s anthropogenic warming. In other words, warming caused by human activity.

According to estimates, around 90 million metric tonnes  of methane gas are released into the atmosphere every year due to the belching of cattle. Scientists in Denmark are now developing a strain of grass which will not only improve the diet of cattle but also significantly reduce the methane that they produce. This will reduce their effect on global warming, but there is still a long way to go. According to the Global Methane Initiative, 29% of anthropogenic methane emissions come from enteric fermentation, 20% from oil and gas, 11% from landfill, 10% from rice cultivation and 9% from waste water. There’s more at

HFCs or hydrofluorocarbons have been in the news this week. They have been used in air conditioning and refrigeration systems since CFCs, chlorofluorocarbons were phased out by the Montreal Protocol in 1989. The reason for this was that CFCs were found to be a major cause of the hole in the ozone layer.

As we said, the global warming potential of methane is 25 times that of CO2. Of nitrous oxide it is 298 times. There are two types of hydrofluorocarbons in use: HFC 32 which has 675 times the GWP of CO2 and HFC 23 with 14,800 times the global warming effect. Pity they didn’t spot that in 1989, but now nearly 200 nations have agreed to a legally binding deal to cut back on HFCs.

The deal was struck during talks in the Rwandan capital of Kigali late on Friday evening, and announced on Saturday.
Under the pact, developed nations, including much of Europe and the United States, commit to reducing their use of the gases, starting with a 10 per cent cut by 2019 and reaching 85 per cent by 2036. Scientific research has shown that otherwise the growing use of HFCs threatens to undermine the Paris Agreement.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the deal was “a monumental step forward” in the fight against climate change, and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, Erik Solheim, said: “Last year in Paris, we promised to keep the world safe from the worst effects of climate change. Today, we are following through on that promise.”

Unlike the Paris agreement, the Kigali deal is legally binding, has very specific timetables and involves the agreement by rich countries to help poor countries adapt their technology.

Refrigerant gases like HFCs and CFCs are mainly used in a closed system, so they only cause problems when they leak, which could happen during maintenance or at end-of-life disposal. For this reason the disposal of fridges, including domestic units, has been closely controlled for some years in the UK and Europe. The other issue is the insulation within fridges and freezers. This is usually polyurethane foam, and the foam is created using a blowing agent which can be HFCs for this application. Disposal of fridges, freezers and chillers without releasing this gas is therefore critical, difficult and expensive.

It’s not clear what will replace HFCs. Some UK supermarkets have said that they will use CO2. That sounds counterintuitive, but they point out that it has no effect on the ozone layer and its GWP is much lower than HFCs. The problem only occurs when the refrigerant gas escapes and we can be sure that the supermarkets will take great care to make sure that it doesn’t. It’s a regulatory obligation and a reputational issue.

It occurs to me that most cars these days come with air conditioning and presumably up till now they have contained HFCs. What happens when your car reaches the end of the road and arrives at the breaker’s yard. Is the refrigerant carefully extracted from the system or is the whole car just chucked into the crusher?

Client Earth (
“We are activist lawyers committed to securing a healthy planet.”
Client Earth is a charity which calls the government to account to meet its legal obligations towards environmental issues. They say: “Clean air is essential for a healthy life. More than 400,000 early deaths are caused each year by air pollution in Europe. We are all affected but some, especially children and older people, are more vulnerable than others. We are fighting for everybody’s right to breathe clean air.” And they’ve taken the UK government to court over this. I quote from the Client Earth website:

“The government chose an arbitrary date of 2020 to comply with tough pollution laws because it was thought that would be the earliest it would be fined by the European Commission.

The revelation came in a High Court hearing today, [18th October] where environmental lawyers ClientEarth are back in court against the government over its failure to tackle the pollution crisis across the UK.

ClientEarth’s barrister, Nathalie Lieven QC, told the court that 2020 was an arbitrary date rather than one which would bring the UK into compliance with EU air quality rules “as soon as possible.”

The High Court was told that the Secretary of State’s “entire approach was driven by cost.”
The Supreme Court ordered the government to draw up a new Air Quality plan in April last year but ClientEarth argues that it was woefully inadequate and wants the High Court to order new measures to deal with pollution. The organisation’s QC said that there was “at the minimum, a heated debate going on in government” at the time about compliance dates.

ClientEarth’s skeleton argument notes that Defra officials said they had “used projected exceedances in 2020 as the basis for defining the worst areas…based on our understanding that 2020 is likely to be the earliest the EU will move to fines.”

But Nathalie Lieven told the first day of a two day Judicial Review hearing that the obvious year to choose for “as soon as possible” compliance would have been 2018 or 2019.
She also said that modelling undertaken by Defra didn’t even consider earlier dates. “There is simply no evidence to support the proposition that no more could have been done,” she said.
“The Secretary of State chose to use a model which…she knew was highly optimistic…in order to justify minimal measures.”

Jonathan Grigg, Professor of Paediatric Respiratory and Environmental Medicine at London’s Queen Mary University, said: “Every day that passes, air pollution is damaging the lungs of children across the UK. It is therefore not acceptable to hope that air pollution will fall at some point in the distant future.
“The government must act now to protect this generation of children.”

The following day, last Wednesday 19th October, the judge presiding over ClientEarth’s case against the UK government for breaching EU air pollution laws said cost was the crux of the case.

Client Earth made this statement: ClientEarth has argued since the start of its legal action several years ago that cost has affected the government’s progress on compliance.
Mr Justice Garnham’s remarks on day two of the Judicial Review follows evidence in ClientEarth’s argument heard yesterday which revealed that former Chancellor George Osborne had blocked more ambitious plans to reduce UK pollution on cost grounds.
In exchanges with Defra’s barrister, the judge said cost was “the nub of this case; how much cost played a part in the decisions taken.”
ClientEarth argues that the government failed to take action to comply with legal air pollution limits “as soon as possible” and was focused on cost over compliance.
Defra has set out its defence today. Its QC said Defra has “always accepted” it was in breach of EU pollution limits and “did not resile” from its duty to reduce NO2.
She added: “This does not mean that the question of cost and proportionality do not come into consideration.”
Defra argues that: “The Air Quality Plan contains proportionate, feasible and effective measures to address the anticipated non-compliant nitrogen dioxide levels in particular zones.”
In later exchanges, the judge suggested that proportionate action “achieves the objective with minimal innocent casualties,” but said the government seemed to consider what was proportionate “in regard to the rest of government business.”
He concluded: “You mean by that, cost.”
ClientEarth CEO James Thornton said: “It is patently obvious from the evidence we have heard so far in this case that cost has been the primary and overriding factor in the government’s lack of action on air pollution.
“The judge is correct that cost does appear to be the nub of this case – and at the heart of government’s failure to protect our health by complying with the law. Time spent balancing cost against projected effectiveness is time when thousands continue to die and be made seriously ill by air pollution.
“Health is more important than Treasury bean-counting and ministers should, urgently, put health first.
“We all – children and adults alike – have the right to breathe clean air.”
The two-day hearing has now concluded. Judgment has been reserved. ClientEarth hopes for a ruling in the coming weeks. I’ll keep you posted.

Let’s turn briefly to the fracking debate.

In an article on about the Labour Party Conference, Dan Lewis of the Institute of Directors stated that “the Advertising Standards Authority [had] comprehensively rejected misleading statements on the health risks [of fracking] from Friends of the Earth.”
I went to the Advertising Standards Authority’s website for more, but found nothing. So I wrote to them. Here’s the reply from Matt Wilson, Press Officer at the ASA: 

I’m afraid that the article you’ve referred to and other reports around this have jumped the gun. We haven’t rejected arguments against fracking by Friends of the Earth (FoE) in its advertising. We are currently investigating complaints about FoE’s advertising claims but no decision has been reached.

We will publish our findings in due course.

“…it’s perhaps worth me mentioning that what has been reported on was a ‘draft ASA decision’ that appears to have been leaked. But the ‘draft’ bit is key, we haven’t made a final decision. A draft decision can change.

Draft decisions ultimately are passed to ASA Council, the body responsible for making the final ruling. So, at this stage, no decision has been reached and the investigation is ongoing.”

As of 19th October the ruling is still awaited.

In my opinion (and it’s me now, not the press officer talking) the clear lesson is “don’t believe everything you read”. Even if it’s written by the Institute of Directors. And it shows that those promoting fracking will use any means to discredit the opposition.

Winter Outlook Report

The National Grid’s Winter Outlook Report was published at the end of last week. National Grid is responsible for the supply of electricity and gas and is the crucial interface between domestic and commercial consumers and the energy suppliers. Last winter was one of the mildest winters in 60 years, but the Outlook is prepared for winter 2016/17 to be harsh. National Grid predicts a safety margin of 6.6% for electricity, which is well within its legal obligation. This is a better picture than at the start of the year, when several power stations were closed or taken offline. 

Management of the grid is immensely complicated and needs to be monitored second by second. Major increases in demand which could result from a cold winter are handled by manipulating both demand and supply. Major industrial users have interruptible contracts and agree to cut their energy usage for short periods when demand peaks. Eggborough power station which was closed at the start of the year will be available on standby. The interconnector cables which export electricity to Ireland are running at reduced capacity and therefore that demand will be lower this winter than last. There are interconnectors between the UK and the continent, allowing electricity to flow in each direction. Given the hour’s difference between the UK and the near continent, peak demand comes at different times. The interconnectors can balance this out. 

UK electricity is generated from coal, from gas, from nuclear and increasingly from renewables. Despite my dire warnings in earlier episodes, it looks as though our lights will stay on this winter. I always have great respect for the people in the control rooms managing the energy of the nation.

National Grid is also confident that gas supply will meet demand. Again, there’s a range of sources: storage and pipelines from the North Sea and from the continent. There are interruptible contracts for gas as well. When I last looked we didn’t get a significant proportion of our gas from Russia, which may be a good thing given current political tensions. Of course, if Russia decided to restrict supplies to its European markets, particularly Germany, that might have a knock-on effect on our supplies from the continent. It would be a very serious decision for Russia to take. It might help it make political points, but economically it would be painful. Russia is already suffering from the low oil price, still just above $50. Would it forgo revenues from selling gas?

I think we can sleep easy this winter - and warm.

Client Earth have popped up again. “UK Climate Change Act isn’t working and must be revived”, they say.
“Robust policies to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets must be brought forward urgently.”
This is the conclusion of their new report, “Mind the Gap - Reviving the Climate Change Act” .

“ClientEarth analysis finds that the persisting fourth carbon budget ‘policy gap’ – the difference between the emissions reductions needed to hit the fourth carbon budget emissions target, and the actual reductions current policies will produce – is a legal failure and a clear breach of the Act.
“The environmental law group says that the government must use its new Carbon Plan, due later this year, to breathe new life into the Climate Change Act. But how the government implements the CCA needs to be reset too, before it is too late.
“ClientEarth lawyer Jonathan Church said: “A policy and reporting reset is essential if we are to hit emissions targets. We can’t afford to drift for the next five years – as we have done for the last five years – without proper climate policies and progress.
“With its new Carbon Plan, the government has the chance to make the Act a living law and put the UK on the path to a clean, green energy future.”
“Five years ago, the Government admitted its policies would miss emissions targets by 187 megatons of CO2 – equivalent to Vietnam’s emissions in a whole year. Since then, it has not corrected its course.”

So it’s not just schoolchildren in America suing governments for mishandling climate change. We must wait and see whether all this litigation does any good.
Here’s a press release:

The House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee is conducting a short inquiry exploring the future of environment and climate change policy following the vote to leave the European Union.
In this inquiry the Committee is seeking to:
  • identify the United Kingdom's key interests in environment and climate change policy after the UK leaves the EU, domestically and internationally
  • explore what opportunities arise from Brexit and what challenges lie ahead in the area of environment and climate change policy, in particular relating to environmental protection
  • understand what the governance and accountability framework could look like outside the EU
  • consider the extent to which the UK could, or should, continue to co-operate with the EU in these policy areas.
The Committee will be taking oral evidence in October and November, and plans to publish a report in early 2017.

I’ll keep you posted.

The Wireless Trolley Bus

Engineering company ABB has been running a number of press ads recently. One that caught my eye was about an electric bus that doesn’t need overhead wires and doesn’t need to spend hours recharging. It’s not just an idea; these buses are already running in Geneva. It’s a bendy bus which will carry 133 people. The route has 50 stops and at 13 of these there are charging points. When the bus stops to drop or pick up passengers an overhead arm automatically connects with a charging point on the roof of the bus and gives the battery a 15-second boost. These boosts are enough to keep the vehicle running, and it means a smaller battery is needed so there’s more room for passengers. Find out more at (There’s a more specific link on the podcast).

And that’s it for this week. This is Anthony Day thanking you for listening and inviting you to send your comments and ideas to me at There will be another podcast next week. Who knows what will have happened by then?

As I mentioned last time, The Sustainable Futures Report has recently been invited to join the Better World Podcast Collective. You can find it at There you’ll find a number of podcasts on sustainability and related issues.

That's it or the moment.  I’m off to think up some more ideas. 


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Mixed Bag

Find this as a podcast at from 14th October

Hello this is Anthony Day, it's Friday 14th October and this is the Sustainable Futures Report. It's a bit of a mixed bag this time. I started this week thinking there was no news and now it's a question of what to leave out. Anyway, this time we have blackouts in Australia, protests about fracking and other fossil fuels in Lancashire, Nottinghamshire and North Dakota, a report from the World Energy Council meeting in Istanbul, problems with incinerators in Cardiff and Derby and fog harvesting in Morocco. 

Up in Smoke?
In this week’s blog Jeremy Leggett  talks about recycling, renewables, (of course) and the circular economy. I was going to talk about recycling because there is a worrying article in the Private Eye magazine for 13th October. An organisation called Viridor operates an incinerator at Splott near Cardiff. Yes it really is called that. It's a combined heat and power plant designed to produce energy from waste - enough to provide hot water for 50,000 homes. Unfortunately, in its two years of operation it has failed to reach the target. Viridor secured a £110m loan from the EU to set up the plant and if it doesn't meet its target it will not be considered to be a low carbon solution but merely a waste disposal facility. As such it would breach the terms of the loan. To overcome this, the plan is to increase throughput by 20% but Wales has a high level of recycling so has no more spare waste. Rubbish will be trucked in from 100 miles away- ideally plenty of plastic and cardboard because these have the high calorific value needed to raise efficiency levels. Of course such materials are ideal for recycling, but needs must. Forget the consequences of the extra transport mileage and the loss of materials which could have been reused. 
Private Eye reports a similar sort of problem in Derby where the council has signed an incineration contract and is committed to supplying the operator with 150,000 tonnes a year of high calorific value waste. It finds that it won’t have enough of this waste after recycling. Solution? Charge residents for brown bin organic waste collection and abandon recycling collections altogether in some parts of the city. Private Eye claims that as a result recycling rates in Derby have fallen from 50% to 34%. But in these straitened times no council can risk financial penalties. 

It’s been a week of protests.
There were protests in Lancashire last week against fracking and protests in other parts of the country as well. This follows the decision by Communities Secretary Sajid Javid to allow drilling at Preston New Road in Fylde, as I reported in the last Sustainable Futures Report.

A detailed report from a planning inspector was carried out on another potential fracking site in Lancashire, at Roseacre Wood. The report found that the threat to road safety caused by heavy vehicles moving to and from the site was so serious as to outweigh any benefits from fracking and the the inspector recommended that permission should be refused. The Secretary of State said that he would authorise the operation provided that the concerns about road safety could be dealt with. He said that fracking would support  64,000 jobs. Who can oppose something that will support 64,000 jobs? Makes a great headline, but can it be substantiated? How do you actually get to 64,000 jobs? How long will they be supported for? Just the construction phase, the production phase or for ever? And is this the result of the one well, or does it depend on drilling multiple wells? And are these Britsh jobs for British people? Who cares - it's the headline that counts.

Meanwhile in Nottinghamshire would-be frackers are frustrated by a covenant which has been discovered to restrict what can be done on their chosen site. Nuisance, noise and noxious activities are all prohibited and at least part of the site is an SSSI Site of Special Scientific Interest and wildlife reserve. Formerly a Ministry of Defence (MOD) missile base, when it was sold off in 1969 this covenant was placed on future owners of the land. The lawyers are sorting it out.

Across the pond US actress Shailene Woodley has been arrested  during a protest in North Dakota against a huge oil pipeline project that will cross four states. The Dakota Access pipeline project has drawn huge protests.
Native Americans have halted its construction in North Dakota, saying it will desecrate sacred land and damage the environment.
The Divergent star was arrested at a construction site as she was broadcasting the protest, which involved about 200 people, on Facebook,. Police say she was one of 27 people arrested on charges of criminal trespass and engaging in a riot.

In the Facebook Live footage, Shailene said she had been walking peacefully back to her vehicle when "they grabbed me by my jacket and said that I wasn't allowed to continue... and they have giant guns and batons and zip ties and they are not letting me go”. She handed her phone to her mother who continued filming. As she was led away with her hands cuffed, she said she had been singled out from hundreds of other protesters "because I'm well known, because I have 40,000 people watching”.

Protest is nothing new and sadly it's rarely effective. One exception of course is the poll tax riots which led to the end of the poll tax and the end of Margaret Thatcher. But there’s a long way to go and in any case the US government is preoccupied with an election and the UK government is preoccupied with Brexit, whatever that means. Oh of course, it means Brexit.

In Australia, the state of South Australia lost all electrical power on 28th September and it took up to 24 hours for it to be restored to all consumers. The reasons for the the outage are still under review, although some have pointed fingers at the large proportion of renewables in the generating mix, principally wind. It’s not as simple as that. The state gets 40% of its power from wind and all coal-fired generation has been mothballed. How green. The rest comes from a mix of gas-fired power and two interconnectors that link it to Victoria’s brown coal-fired power plants. Not so green. The problem with the wind power is its intermittency and the fact that other sources of power have to be manipulated, in order to stabilise the supply. This is complicated by the fact that the transmission grid was built long before wind and other renewables were ever thought of, and it has to cope with a very high level of domestic solar installations as well.

The trigger for the problem was a storm which crossed the state causing damage and blowing down 22 transmission pylons. Six wind farms shut down, the interconnector to Victoria became overloaded and tripped and the rest of the network collapsed. The problem came when they attempted to restart the system.  According to a report from ABC news  on 5th October there was difficulty in getting sufficient power to restart the power station at Torrens Island and to restore the interconnector. Now I’m no engineer, but I don’t understand this. The plant at Torrens Island is a thermal power station which means it burns natural gas to raise steam and drive conventional turbines which drive generators. Surely you only need to light the boiler, raise steam and off you go. I’d be really interested in an expert view on this. The article also mentions a gas turbine power station at Pelican Point near Adelaide. Apparently this had been off-line at the time of the blackout because up till then there had been a supply of cheaper wind-generated power. After the blackout the message came from Pelican Point that it would take four hours for the station to come back on line. I thought that gas turbine stations were flexible and responded rapidly to changes in demand. Why four hours? An aircraft jet engine, which is also a gas turbine, starts up in a matter of minutes. The station uses combined cycle gas turbines, which means that the hot exhaust gases are used to raise steam which drives steam turbines. Maybe this complexity is what makes the plant slow to start. Expert advice, please.

I’ve heard it said by those that know that if the UK grid ever blacked out it would be very challenging to restart it. It’s never been done before, and you certainly can’t practise by turning it off to see what happens when you try and get it going again. The National Grid promises to publish its annual Winter Outlook Report later this month, which will forecast how much spare capacity or safety margin there will be in the event of a hard winter. I’ll keep you posted.

Peak Energy
Per capita energy demand will peak before 2030, finds a new World Energy Council report launched at the 23rd World Energy Congress in Istanbul.
The report examines three scenarios and even the most optimistic is worrying. For example, by 2060 we could still be using fossil fuels for 50% of our primary energy. While the use of solar and wind energy have grown rapidly, the fossil fuel share of primary energy has changed by just 5% in the last 45 years. The implications for global warming and meeting the COP21 targets are stark. The report says that “limiting global warming to 2℃ will require an exceptional and enduring effort, far beyond already pledged commitments, and with very high carbon prices.” The best scenario sees emissions in 2060 to fall 61% below 2014 levels: the worst sees them rise by 5%. In all scenarios the global carbon budget will be exceeded within the next 30 - 40 years. This means that total all-time emissions will exceed 1,000Gt CO2, the level at which it is believed it will be impossible to stop runaway climate change. The UK government has repeated its commitment to lowering domestic emissions to 80% below 1990 levels. The UK currently accounts for around 2% of global emissions. We will need far-reaching global consensus to make a practical difference.

I'm conscious that the Sustainable Futures Report  is in danger of becoming an energy newsletter. Energy is of course a very important part of sustainability, but as I said last week, there's an awful lot more to it than that and I intend to cover a much wider range of topics.

The Human Angle
Sustainability is about ensuring that the planet is protected as a habitat for the human race, but the social issues and the maintenance of a stable and prosperous society are in my view equally part of sustainability. The refugee crisis is one of the most pressing global concerns, although some would argue that we ain’t seen nothing yet. Conflicts are already driving migration, but climate change and particularly rising sea levels are likely to displace millions more. Inevitably there is conflict between those seeking simply to survive and those who resent any encroachment on their present comfortable lifestyles, as well as those who are just surviving and fear that refugees will push them all below subsistence level. It’s probably the most serious and most difficult issue of our time, and one I will return to.

This week I chaired the HR Leadership Exchange in London and had the benefit of listening to some leading experts in the field. We were talking not about global issues but about changes in the workplace which will have profound effects on workers and consumers and could themselves destabilise society. The key issue is the nature of work, the availability of work and the distribution of rewards across society. Work gives people status in society, gives structure and purpose to their lives and gives them a right to some share in society’s wealth. At the moment, in the UK and the West, the divide between rich and poor is rapidly widening. Automation and robotics are eliminating not just low-level jobs but also more and more roles where skills and experience are traditionally required. An app on the BBC website  lets you enter your job title and it tells you how likely your job is to be replaced by technology. For example it predicts that people working as Book-keepers, payroll managers and wages clerks have a 97% chance of being replaced and so do bank and post office clerks. Assembly workers are up at 92%.  Some people will be pleased to see that traffic wardens have a 79% chance of being replaced, although some unkind people might say that they’re robots already. Even legal professionals, depending on their role, have a 66% chance of being automated out of a job. Maybe it’s best to be a career advisor with only a 24% risk, or even a conference organiser with just a 4% risk. How does your job measure up?

 There are software tools now which will examine spreadsheets in detail, identify trends, variances and black spots and after training automatically produce written reports and PowerPoint presentations for the board. No longer will workers have to sweat into the night over the figures, but they may no longer have a job. The key question is whether they will have the resources to enjoy increased leisure, or simply be stuck with endless idleness. Such people may have little interest in saving the planet or working for the good of society. The irony is that others who have profited to an enormous extent from the technological revolution also seem to have little interest in the good of society. The Apples, Starbucks, Googles, Facebooks of this world seek to minimise the taxes they pay by all legal means possible and thereby avoid paying for the upkeep of the society which facilitates their businesses, trains and supports their workers and provides the consumers without whom there would be no business. Of course some of these organisations have philanthropic foundations with ambitious and altruistic objectives. But tax isn’t optional. Not morally, anyway. And who should decide about how to invest society’s wealth? Democratic governments or unelected entrepreneurs?

Outlook Fog
Meanwhile, in Africa the Moroccans are harvesting fog  We may think that we have problems in our Western society but many parts of the world have basic concerns like the lack of clean drinking water. On the edge of Morocco’s Sahara Desert, more than 400 people from five villages will have running water in their homes. No wells or springs or new oases. Instead, their water is in constant flow from the sky. Fog harvesting uses specialised mesh, hung between poles, to trap the water droplets in fog. It’s a bit like dewdrops on a spider’s web. The wind pushes fog through the mesh, where droplets are trapped, condense, fall and amass in a container placed at the base of the unit.  Drop-by-drop, they constitute a substantial amount of water.

The project, in the village of Ait Baamrane in Southwest Morocco, includes 600 square meters of specialised  mesh netting, seven storage reservoirs, 6 solar panels and over 10,000 metres of piping. It is considered to be the largest fog harvesting installation in the world. Before the project, most women spent more than three hours a day fetching water from a distant and frequently depleted wells. 

The United Nations has awarded the project a prize under the Momentum for Change Women for Results focus area for its women-led climate adaptation initiative, providing an environmentally-friendly water source to combat the effects desertification.

“It is impressive to see so many original and creative ways to tackle climate change,” said United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC) Spokesman Nick Nuttal.   “It’s also great to see a winner from Morocco, this year’s host of the United Nations Climate Change Conference.”

It’s another world. But it’s our world too. We all have responsibility for all of it.

And that's it for another week. This is Anthony Day thanking you for listening to the Sustainable Futures Report and hoping that you will listen to the next one next week. I'm always keen to have your feedback and particularly if anybody can answer those questions about why power stations take a long time to start up I'd be really interested. 
Who knows what next week will bring? I'm keeping my eyes and ears open and I hope whatever I find to be interesting and useful and informative. So until next week have a great week and I'll talk to you again next Friday. Bye for now!

Friday, October 07, 2016

No Surprises

This is the text of the Sustainable Futures Report published as a podcast at

Welcome to the latest edition of the Sustainable Futures Report. It’s Friday 7th October 2016 and this is Anthony Day. I’m delighted to be back after an extended summer break and pleased to report that I am in robust health. Thanks for your messages and concern.

This week: despite opposition from the local council, the borough council and the county council who all threw it out the government has overridden them and confirmed that fracking can go ahead at a site in Lancashire. Unfortunately the decision is no real surprise. 
What does Brexit mean for sustainability? 
The oil price is on the move again, but where’s it going? Why are children taking the US government to court? 
Large problems with nuclear power, and not just at Hinkley C. 
News from Canada on carbon taxes, and Suncor, a major producer of oil from tar sands wants to strand some of its assets.

First of all though, I’m going to take the opportunity to reiterate my purpose and motivation in producing and presenting the Sustainable Futures Report. It’s a weekly review of sustainability issues. 

This podcast aims to be informative and interesting. Some of the content is aimed at you as a consumer and some is for you as a professional, or as a business leader, an employee, a sole trader or an entrepreneur. I want to make you aware of current news about sustainability and how it might affect you. Of course I won’t pretend to cover the whole field. After all, sustainability includes climate change, population, energy, waste, resource scarcity (including materials and water), the circular economy, technology and a whole range of social and political issues. I’m not going to ignore politics, but this is not a party-political podcast. I’ll praise policies that I believe in and I’ll not hesitate to criticise those that I believe wrong, ill thought-out or dangerous. In the coming weeks I hope to include more interviews. I’ve got a number of people in mind. If you have something to say or you’d like to suggest someone we should hear from please get in touch -

I generally take a UK perspective, but we certainly can’t ignore the international context. There are listeners in the US, Canada, China, Australia and across Europe. I’ll look for content relevant to all.

The Sustainable Futures Report has recently been invited to join the Better World Podcast Collective. You can find it at There you’ll find a number of podcasts on sustainability and related issues.  

The UK government’s ruling on fracking this week, permitting Cuadrilla to re-start operations in Lancashire, northwest England, is hardly unexpected despite local and national opposition. 

Just to recap. Fracking is the injection of water and certain chemicals into rocks below ground in order to crack them and release gas or oil. The technique has been extensively used in the United States and has created much controversy. Theoretically there are vast reserves of gas in the northwest of England and of oil in the south-east. This operation by Cuadrilla is to determine the extent of expected reserves and find out whether in fact they can be extracted. In the short-term the UK is committed to using gas both for domestic heating and for generating electricity. We already import some 20% of gas by pipeline from Europe and by sea from the Middle East. If we can extract gas from deposits in the UK it clearly improves our energy security position. We won’t be dependent on foreign suppliers, although we will have to pay world prices. Compare this with Germany which is heavily dependent on gas supplies from Russia and arguably their foreign policy has been restrained as a result.

On the other hand opponents claim that fracking in the United States has polluted drinking water and caused earth tremors. Certainly earth tremors occurred here in the UK some years ago when Cuadrilla was drilling previously. Opponents are also concerned about what will happen to the contaminated water which is extracted as part of the fracking process, and to the contaminated water which is never recovered but just seeps away underground. The water that is recovered either has to be trucked away or in some places it is simply stored in large ponds. This water is often mildly radioactive and cannot be treated in conventional sewage farms. Whether or not this contaminated water is trucked away, there will be a high level of lorry movements to deliver the fracking water to the site, certainly in the early stages and again if the well needs to be re-injected.

Kevin Hollinrake is MP for Thirsk and Malton, an area across the Pennines where the local council has approved fracking. He is in favour of it, but in a parliamentary debate last year he admitted that at least 10,000 wells would be needed across the UK just to replace the gas which we import by sea from Qatar in the Middle East. Multiply that by the lorry journeys needed to deliver and recover the fracking water and to collect the gas and you can appreciate why so many people are claiming that fracking will ruin their quality of life. 

Pam Foster, co-founder of Residents Action on Fylde Fracking, (Fylde is the local area) said: "This is a total denial of democracy. Our parish council, our borough council, our county council all threw this application out.
"We have pursued every democratic channel we can do, there's nothing left for us. We're pretty disgusted and very upset."
She said the campaigners would continue to fight fracking "peacefully and legally”.

Another argument is that at the end of the day (probably five years at the earliest) we will have gas which is another fossil fuel which produces CO2 when burnt. It will also contribute to the poor air quality which is killing thousands of people prematurely in the UK. 

Is the government backing the right horse? It’s not certain that the gas can be extracted and nobody said it would be cheap. Why not invest in wind and solar? We have the technologies. We know they work. Battery and storage technology is developing rapidly. Why not embark on an energy efficiency drive, raising awareness, insulating homes and encouraging people to use less? Of course the privatised electricity and gas companies might object to the effect on their profits that that would bring.

When you consider the government’s energy strategy, resting on fracking and Hinkley C, I think it’s sensible to prepare for blackouts.

And in other news since the last episode in early July. Of course Brexit has held the headlines, particularly in this week of the Conservative party conference. I could discuss Brexit at length but everything is still unclear and it would only be mere speculation. More important is the actions of the new government. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has disappeared and its responsibilities transferred into the business department. The former Minister for DECC has done remarkably well because as you all know, Amber Rudd is now Home Secretary. The environment is in the hands of Andrea Leadsom, failed leadership candidate, whose major policy announcement seems to be that she wants to bring back foxhunting. The key Brexit issue is how regulations on pollution, the environment and health and safety and so on will develop after the break. EU regulations have driven the UK to clean up some of the dirtiest beaches in Europe and the pressure is on to cut air pollution which kills up to 50,000 people prematurely each year. Will we relax the regulations which the UK as a member of the EU is currently subject to, in order to make things simpler for business, or will we maintain them to facilitate trade with our former EU partners? The signs are that the government intends to turn the U.K.'s back on the EU single market so what they actually do with regulations is anybody's guess. That is the problem. Apart from being told that Brexit means Brexit, we still have very little idea of how things are likely to turn out. The government of course is in exactly the same position because it all depends on the negotiations which will not even start until Article 50 is invoked and that may not happen until March next year. No wonder the £ has been hitting a 31-year low!

One piece of good news from the government is that the UK will ratify the COP21 Paris Agreement before the end of the year. The shine was taken off this announcement slightly by the EU Commission which reported that it had ratified COP21 on behalf of all members, which means that the UK had done so automatically. Let’s hope that the government doesn’t change its mind once Brexit is complete. In practice, however, ratification only means that governments are committed to the limits which they promised in their submissions  to COP21, the famous INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) - contributions to the reduction of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. There are no sanctions for non-performance, so nothing to stop the government dragging its feet. Still, the US and China have very publicly announced their commitment to COP21 so, together with the EU and other signatories, a majority has been reached, which makes the agreement binding. 

Donald Trump could change all that if he gets elected. Well we never thought he’d get nominated.
Remember what George W Bush did to Bill Clinton’s commitment to the Kyoto agreement?

The oil price is up - and down. At the beginning of September Brent Crude spiked from $47 to $50, fell and hovered around $46 and now it’s back around $50. Still a lot higher than February’s $26, but way off the $130 we saw in 2011. The reason for the spike is that OPEC announced that they were going to restrict production. The spike came in September but OPEC wasn’t planning to actually do anything until November; hence the price is volatile. James Spencer of Portland Fuel doesn’t buy it. He doesn’t believe that the OPEC members will be able to come to any agreement on which countries will cut, by how much or when. In any case, if they did succeed in driving the price back up by their actions it would make the situation more favourable for the shale operators. They have seen their overheads fall dramatically in the two years that OPEC - Saudi in particular - has been trying to put them out of business by keeping the price low. Now these oil states need the money. It’s a two-edged sword. You can find more in James’s monthly Oil Market Report, which is always an interesting read. Go to 

Jeremy Leggett looks at the long term outlook for oil in his regular “State of the Transition” updates. That’s the transition from fossil fuels to renewables. He reports that there are $500m state-of-the-art ships built specifically for the oil industry for exploration and production and they have effectively been mothballed  without ever being used because the demand for oil is not there. There are serious doubts whether these ships could be successfully recommissioned if they are ever needed. Goldman Sachs complains that Big Oil has never been a very profitable investment. If they have to write off any $500m ships that will certainly not help Big Oil’s bottom line.  Meanwhile, a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA ) shows that investment in new renewables in 2015 was, for the first time ever, more than enough to cover rising global electricity demand growth.

Why are children taking the US government to court? 
Back in April I reported that in the first lawsuit to involve a planet, Judge Thomas Coffin of the United States Federal District Court in Eugene, Oregon, ruled in favour of twenty-one plaintiffs, ages 8 to 19, on behalf of future generations of Americans in a landmark constitutional climate change case brought against the Federal Government and the Fossil Fuel Industry.

The lawsuit is led by Our Children’s Trust  and alleges that the Federal Government is violating the Plaintiffs’ constitutional and public trust rights by promoting the use of fossil fuels.

The judge unequivocally rejected all arguments raised by the Federal Government and the Fossil Fuel Industry in their Motions to Dismiss and the case came back to court last month. It was heard by Federal Judge Ann Aiken who has promised her ruling within 60 days. That will state only whether the case must be struck out or whether it can go forward to trial. There’s nothing rapid in the legal system. Watch this space.

The Hinkley C saga continues. Yes I know that after initially delaying a decision the new British Prime Minister gave the go-ahead for this new nuclear power station to be built by the French with the financial support of the Chinese. So is it all over? Fears nevertheless remain that it will be too expensive, too difficult to build and far too late to bridge the UK’s energy gap. Anyway, it’s not expected to enter production before 2025, even by its most ardent supporters, and Theresa May will be long gone by then. Meanwhile China has the go-ahead to build two more nuclear stations to its own design in the UK. China is also part of a consortium bidding to purchase the National Grid. Did the Brexiteers say something about taking back control?

The Ecologist magazine reports that Sizewell B and 27 other EDF nuclear plants are at risk of catastrophic failure. That’s the EDF which is to build Hinkley C and after several years’ delay has not so far managed to build similar plants in Finland or at Flamanville in Normandy. The Ecologist is referring to a report  prepared by Large Associates and commissioned by Greenpeace France. It has been discovered that at Flamanville, a plant under construction, the level of carbon in the steel of the reactor cap appears to be so high as to make the steel dangerously brittle. The French nuclear inspectorate is still considering whether to permit construction to continue or to demand that the castings be replaced. The Large Associates report finds that castings manufactured by Areva at its Le Creusot forge and installed at other operational nuclear sites, have similar problems. The report says, “As a result of Areva's failures, a significant share of the French nuclear reactor fleet is at increased risk of severe radiological accident, including fuel core meltdown. However, there is no simple or quick fix to this problem.” EDF has acknowledged the issue, although denies that it is as serious as suggested, and will carry out extended tests at these plants during planned maintenance downtime. Downtime periods may be extended as a result. In view of this, and also because of doubts as to whether EDF has the financial strength to take on the construction of Hinkley C, Moodies have downgraded EDF’s credit rating. Mind you, If things do go wrong with these critical components, credit will be our very last concern.

Listener Imran Jiwa, Principal at Full Circle Consulting Ltd writes:

“Some good news from Canada: we're implementing a national carbon tax floor across the country.  Provinces that don't develop their own cap and trade or carbon tax plan will be required to do so by the Federal Government.  

“The specifics have not been outlined, but this is a step in the right direction.  However, there are two areas of concern: 

“(1) No updates to the reduction strategy imposed by the Harper government.  The opinion from the Minister of Environment is that the presence of policies is more important than the reductions themselves.  It shows that despite how committed the new government is to the environment - compromise is always needed in order to move forward.   
“(2) It is unclear how the carbon tax will increase over time.  We are just now moving to $30 in BC (in 2018 for Alberta).  While Exxon in the States disclosed to their shareholders that they are internally budgeting a $60 price, the effectiveness at curbing emissions is unlikely. 

“At least we're moving forward”, says Imran,…”albeit, slowly”.  Given this pace, adaptation strategies should starting taking priority over mitigation, in his opinion. 

Also in Canada, Suncor, a major producer of oil from tar sands wants to strand some of its assets. What does this mean? 

Tar sands consist of sand impregnated with bitumen, or vice versa, and the bitumen is extracted and eventually refined into oil. The extraction process is energy intensive as it involves a lot of steam which is required to heat the bitumen so it will flow. Oil produced from tar sands is therefore very expensive in terms of the energy needed for production versus the energy content of the oil.

Suncor is licensed by the Alberta Province government to extract oil from a given area, and it appears that it is obliged to extract every last barrel. Some areas are far more difficult and expensive to extract, so the company has requested that it be allowed to abandon them and consider the oil there as stranded assets. The state has yet to rule, but it looks like a win-win situation. Suncor will significantly reduce its costs and also reduce the environment damage that the process causes. Tar sands is one of the dirtiest sources of oil, devastating large areas and leaving behind lagoons of water condensed from the steam used in the process. Of course stopping it altogether would be the most sustainable outcome, but that’s not likely to happen while there’s still demand from south of the border.

That’s all for this week and there will be another Sustainable Futures Report next Friday.

This is Anthony Day saying thank you for listening and do send feedback to

By the way, my bees had an excellent summer and I got 76kg, 168lb, of honey from just two hives. I also got lots of wax. D’you know, I think I’ll make some candles.