Friday, June 26, 2015

Climate Change is bad for your health - official

I’m talking about fracking - of course, about wind - again, about suing the government and about waiting for trains.  But first of all - it’s official. Medical opinion states that climate change is bad for you!

The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal, this week published its second review on climate change. There’s a short video on which is worth a look. Review authors Helen Wang and Richard Horton state that the risks from climate change are not only serious but potentially catastrophic. Loss of life can be directly caused by extreme weather, such as floods and heatwaves. Indirect causes are poor water quality, air pollution and ecological change. Global warming leads to sea-level rise, which in turn causes mass migrations, pressure on resources and can lead to conflict. As heatwaves become more common, more people are affected. Those over 65 are more vulnerable, and population statistics show a disproportionate number of older people concentrated in areas likely to experience extreme temperatures.

The report, like the G7 ministers and Pope, calls for fossil fuels to be phased out. 80% of the world’s energy currently comes from fossil fuels and emissions cause poor air quality which in turn causes heart attacks and lung disease, as well as long-term effects on health. For the authors it’s not all bad news. They see that responding to climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century. The level of understanding of the importance of climate change varies widely across the world, with some of the poorest  understanding in some of the most developed countries. The science is clear, the technological solutions are available. It is now entirely  a matter of political commitment. The report urges medical  professionals to go out and spread the word.

Incidentally there’s a heatwave currently affecting Pakistan, where temperatures of 45C and more are proving fatal. The situation is made worse by water shortages and because many people are fasting for Ramadan. There’s a serious drought in Puerto Rico and other parts of the Caribbean as well.

Talking of political commitment, I noted last week that the government was cutting subsidies to on-shore wind by withdrawing the Renewables Obligation scheme from April 2016, a year earlier than originally promised. Minister Amber Rudd told Parliament this week that as a result some 250 schemes were unlikely to go ahead. She also hinted that Contract for Difference, a key factor in determining project viability, could also be withdrawn. Once again investors have been encouraged to develop long-term infrastructure projects, only to have the rules changed at short notice. The Scottish government is particularly annoyed by this as around 70% of the projects likely to be affected are located in Scotland. Fergus Ewing, the Scottish Energy Minister, has invited Ms Rudd for talks in Scotland. The local industry fears that the changes could cost it as much as £3bn. It will be interesting to see if the minister accepts the invitation, and even more interesting to hear what she has to say.

Fracking is in the news again. Cuadrilla has applied for planning permission for test drilling followed by test fracking in Lancashire. There are two sites involved: Little Plumpton  and Roseacre Wood. The council has been advised by its planning officers to approve the application, but there is much local opposition. The council rejected the Roseacre Wood scheme on the grounds that there would be an unacceptable increase of heavy vehicle traffic in the area. 

The decision on Little Plumpton was deferred until Monday 29th to allow councillors to take legal advice. This advice has now been published, and warned that if councillors refused the application it was unlikely that they would win on appeal, and if they lost the council would have to bear the legal costs. It seems highly likely that the Little Plumpton application will be approved, even though many councillors oppose it and so do many residents.

As I’ve mentioned before, the government have promised local residents the last word on any applications for wind turbines while making sure that local residents have no say at all in applications for fracking. The greenest government ever! Well perhaps it doesn’t have to be any more, now that it hasn’t got the LibDems looking over its shoulder.

Citizens in the Netherlands have called their government to account and claimed that more must be done to tackle climate change. 886 private citizens went to court to demand urgent action - and they won. The Netherlands are on the way to a 17% reduction in GHG emissions  from 1990 levels by 2020, but that’s not good enough for the litigants. They persuaded the judge to rule:“The State also has to ensure that the Dutch emissions in the year 2020 will be at least 25 percent lower than those in 1990." Of course the government will appeal. It’s also not clear how the government could be held to the judgement. If they fail to comply would they get fined? What good would that do? At least the case demonstrates that there are concerned citizens across the world, and the case is robust enough to be held up in law.

Not a good week for transport, especially electric transport. The British government announced yesterday that they were “pausing” two major rail electrification schemes for lack of funds. The Great Western electrification is now expected to cost three times the original estimate and other schemes are also over budget. This means that the electrification of the Midland main line and the link from Leeds to Manchester are postponed indefinitely. So much for the powerhouse of the north! Leeds and Manchester are 45 miles apart. Most trains take 56 minutes for the journey. Bits of it are quite fast, but for some reason the second part is usually at walking pace or less. The government has blamed Network Rail, now legally part of the civil service and therefore under the direct control of ministers. The chairman has been fired and senior executives won’t get bonuses. Cold comfort for the many passengers who won’t now get new trains!

The other bad news was an electric bus which burst into flames in York. The Optare Versa is a widely-used bus, available as a diesel, diesel-electric hybrid or, as in this case, pure electric. In electric form it has a range of 70-90 miles and York recently took delivery of a fleet of 12 to provide a shuttle service to the park and ride locations on the edge of the city. No-one was hurt in the blaze, but the rear of the bus was severely damaged. A loud bang was heard, and popular headlines claimed that the engine blew up. More probably it was a fault in the lithium-ion batteries. Battery technology has moved so far that we don’t need trolley buses any more; buses can carry as much power as they need in batteries. This means that we are pushing battery technology to the limit. Do you remember Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, grounded a few years ago because of fires in the lithium-ion batteries? York’s remaining 11 electric buses are back in service today after full safety checks. They won’t let one mishap prejudice the future of clean transport. (Although if you look at the pictures of the smoke, that burning bus must have had one hell of a carbon footprint!)

That’s nearly it for this week. But not quite! Don’t forget that the next instalment of “The Winning of the Carbon War” will be out on 1st July. It’s free. Find it at  I told you that I made a presentation to the Professional Speaking Association in London. . It will be out on Video shortly, both the full 30-minute version and edited highlights, which will probably come down to 2 minutes.

Either way, there will be another episode of the Sustainable Futures Show next week. Listen at , and if you have any comments ideas or suggestions get in touch via

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Great and the Good

This week I’m talking about the great and the good and what they have to say about climate change. I joined the mass lobby of Parliament on Wednesday to find out what my MP had to say about it. There’s a changing environmental policy in the wind, although we didn’t know that for sure until Thursday. On Thursday I was at the Energy Exchange in London talking about community energy. On Saturday 13th June I spoke to the Professional Speaking Association in London about sustainable futures and how to be here when you’re really somewhere else. And then there was that hippo coming down the High Street....

Last week the world leaders at the G7 conference (the great) made their pronouncements about phasing out fossil fuels. This week the Pope (the good)  issued his encyclical on taking care of the planet. This in spite of Lord Monckton  recently telling him: ”it is not the business of the church to pronounce on science.”
An encyclical is a letter of guidance to all catholics, seen as very important because they are not issued very often. The pope made it clear that he wanted to address this one to all the people of the world. He didn’t mention carbon pricing, but he was very specific about many things. He said that climate change was a risk to the world and particularly to poorer nations. He said it was caused by the use of fossil fuels, that these should be phased out and that renewable energy should be developed. He condemned the throwaway culture and said he wanted to contribute to December’s international conference in Paris on climate change, COP21.

Unsurprisingly there was a wide range of reactions. Greenpeace has been strangely silent, but Friends of the Earth’s head of campaigns Andrew Pendleton said:
“The Pope has shown impressive and inspiring leadership where many elected leaders have failed. He is both a friend of the earth and of the millions of people in poorer, vulnerable nations whose lives are already being shattered by extreme weather.”

Republican presidential hopeful and Catholic Jeb Bush said “I hope I’m not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home, but I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope,” Another Republican senator from Texas said: "I don't want to be disrespectful, but I don't consider him an expert on environmental issues.” Of course that’s an easy argument. It’s one that arch-denialist Lord Lawson has used against economist Lord Stern. Very few of us are experts. It's up to us to seek out experts and determine whether their opinions are credible and well-founded. After all, the senator from Texas must have got his information on climate change from somewhere, and presumably he is not personally an expert.

On Wednesday there was a mass lobby of MPs at Westminster to find out where they stood on climate change. I went down with others from York and while I was waiting for our MP to come out and meet us I wandered round and asked people why they had decided to come. You'll have to listen to the podcast to find out what they said. One of them was an artist.

Our MP for York Central, Rachael Maskell, came out and spent half an hour talking to us. I didn't vote for her but I was quite impressed that she was well briefed and enthusiastic. She said she saw climate change as the priority because it is fundamental to everything else that we want to achieve. She's a very new backbench opposition MP so what she can achieve is limited. However she promised to keep in touch and offered to put down Parliamentary questions and enter in debates, so I'm sure we will certainly keep her to that.

The big news on Thursday morning was that new onshore wind farms would be excluded from the Renewables Obligation subsidy scheme from 1 April 2016, a year earlier than expected. Roger Harrabin, environment analyst at the BBC said: “The Conservatives promised in their manifesto to hold down bills and increase renewable energy, but onshore wind is the cheapest readily-available form of clean energy in the UK. That's why some experts have described their decision to kill the onshore wind programme as bizarre and irrational.”
New minister Amber Rudd told business leaders that it was time to shift subsidies from onshore wind to other technologies that needed them more. But she did not say what those technologies would be, and the government has not announced compensatory subsidies for other forms of energy. There was a lot of support for Amber Rudd when she took office as the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. However green her ideals she seems to be imprisoned by the party and bound to enforce the dogma laid out in the election manifesto. The problem is that yet again the government is changing course at short notice, and once again this will cause loss of confidence and loss of jobs in an industry which is key to a low carbon future. We have a skills shortage, but if industry loses the confidence to invest we’ll lose what skilled personnel we have to more far-sighted competitors like Germany and the Scandinavian countries.

On Thursday I was at the Energy Exchange in Westminster; in fact I chaired four expert panels. The event was organised by Enterprise Events and was principally designed for local authority officers. The twelve panellists were experts in their fields and covered Energy Leadership, Community Energy Projects, Lessons Learned from District Heating and Opportunities in energy generation, distribution and supply. I can’t do them all justice, so I won’t pick any one out. Suffice it to say that they came from as far away as Halifax and Plymouth, Coventry and Camden and all points in between. There were some pretty interesting people in the audience as well. It is very encouraging to find so many committed and highly professional specialists despite the constant denialism in the popular press and the government indecision already mentioned. If you want to save money on energy why not consider a community generation scheme - wind, hydro or solar? Your council can help, and may already be backing schemes in your area. One idea I loved was solar canopies for carparks. Well it’s obvious. All that space. And it keeps the cars cool as well!

On Saturday 13th I spoke to the London group of the Professional Speaking Association about Sustainable Futures. They asked me particularly to talk about environmentally responsible travel, because if you’re a professional speaker, particularly an international speaker, you’re constantly on the move. Environmentally responsible travel? That’s walking, isn’t it? Or cycling. Public transport has a small carbon footprint per passenger, but a car with only one person in it is many times worse. And don’t mention air travel! The point I made was that when the oil price goes back up air travel could become extremely expensive. (Will it go up? Yes, it’s artificially low at present; the Saudis are causing a glut. Yes, it’s running out. Why else did BP need Deepwater Horizon, why else is Shell preparing to drill in the Arctic against all opposition and why else is the UK government doing everything it can to force through fracking? And yes, if governments are really serious about controlling carbon emissions at COP21 in December they’ll have to introduce a realistic price for carbon and that will drive up the oil price as well.) If there’s no substitute for oil for aviation and fares go up then established international speakers will probably be OK. Event organisers will still book people they can rely on. They are less likely to gamble the fare on newcomers, so it could be more difficult to break into the market. But don’t rule out electric planes. Siemens and Airbus have already got experimental ones flying. A subject for another day, perhaps.

But what if you can’t get to the conference? Is telepresence the next big thing? Telepresence is creating a 3D holographic image of a person in real time and broadcasting it to a remote location - or several locations. Prince Charles recently addressed a conference in Abu Dhabi. He was there on stage. Only he wasn’t. He was thousands of miles away in Windsor Castle. It will involve energy, it will involve bandwidth, but I bet the carbon footprint is a lot less than a return flight. You can hear the whole speech on The Sustainable Futures Show - episode 26-06-2015 - 

And finally, image of the week. Did you see that picture of the hippopotamus charging down the main street of Tbilisi? It would have been funny if it wasn’t tragic. Exceptional floods overwhelmed the city and washed out the zoo, releasing animals into the streets. I think the hippo was tranquillised, but lions and tiger were shot dead because they were terrorising people. Climate change has a lot to answer for!

That’s it for another week. I hope you have a good one. This is Anthony Day and this blog is brought to you completely free of charge and totally without advertising. If you like it  please tell your friends. If you don’t, please tell me. If you’re an expert and would like to be interviewed on the Sustainable Futures Show I’d love to hear from you. I’ve got several topics coming up, including electric cars and the prospects for success at COP21. Always open for your ideas. Send them to