It’s happened again.
Another mindless attack on innocent people. This is the Sustainable Futures Report. It's about sustainability, but I cannot ignore these dreadful events. In the relatively short time since I’ve been doing a weekly Report there have been attacks in Orlando, Paris, Brussels, Manchester, Marseilles and Las Vegas. Let’s remember all those who died, those who were injured and the many more who will have been touched by the loss of of a family member or a friend. Let’s not forget either, those who have suffered the hurricanes across the southern states of America and the Caribbean, those suffering from floods and storms in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, from earthquakes in Mexico, from famine in West Africa and from conflict and disease in Yemen and the Middle East.
Whatever the cause of all these disasters, let’s unite to stand together against these challenges.
Hello I’m Anthony Day and this is the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 6th of October in a sobering world.
First a welcome and thanks to my patrons and special thanks to John Cossham who has just signed up at patreon.com/sfr as a Silver Supporter. He gets a badge, this shout-out “Hi John!” And answers to any sustainability questions he may have. Welcome John Cossham of York.
- Plan B.Earth and why another group is out to sue the government
- No fracking in Scotland
- Why London’s mayor is putting out fires
- Energy from evaporation
- Electric planes
- More on drinking straws
- Why the diesel market is all at sea
- Let’s bring back heavy metal
- And Drawdown. Is this the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming?
The aim of the government, as set out in the Climate Change Act, is to cut carbon emissions by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. That looks hard enough, but former chief scientific advisor Professor Sir David King says that the target needs to be 100% to avoid disaster. He’s supporting a small organisation, Plan B.Earth, which argues that Business Secretary Greg Clark is obliged under the act to tighten targets if the science shows it is needed. Plan B.Earth believes that tighter targets are clearly needed, because even if all signatories to the Paris Agreement fulfil their pledges, global temperatures will rise well above 2℃. Even 2℃ is no solution, they claim, and if they receive no response from the government they will go to law. Former government lawyer Tim Crosland, who will lead the legal action, says "If scientists are telling us our current course of emissions potentially takes us to catastrophe, then to stick to the current course is irrational.
"The best available science tells us the risks of crossing tipping points rise very sharply between 1.5℃ and 2℃. And that means the UK cutting emissions to zero.”
Sir David King supports the legal action telling the BBC: 'This is crazy. The Government knows very well what needs to be done but isn't doing it. If it takes legal action to force ministers to behave properly, then so be it – I'll support it.’
Client Earth, another group of campaigning lawyers which has repeatedly prosecuted the government for failing to meet clean air targets, also supports the move.
How can we cut emissions?
Two news items this week show small steps forward.
It’s timely that this week the Scottish government announced that its moratorium on fracking would be extended indefinitely. This is a good thing not just because of fears of contaminated water tables, escaping methane, expanding road traffic or pollution ponds, but because the objective of fracking is to produce fossil fuels. If we are to avoid climate breakdown, the last thing we should be investing in is new fossil fuel resources.
Meanwhile in England, where preparations for fracking continue, more demonstrators at a site in North Yorkshire were arrested.
Open fires are becoming more and more popular, helped by the controversial belief that burning wood is balanced out by new trees grown elsewhere to replace it. Whether or not this is true - and it takes many years of careful management to grow the amount of timber burnt in an afternoon - in the short term carbon dioxide is released as the wood burns, and polluting particulates - soot - are blown into the atmosphere as well. This is an increasing problem in London, which already has some of the worst air quality in the UK. It is estimated that between a quarter and a third of all of London’s fine-particle pollution comes from domestic wood burning. In January, during a period of very high air pollution, it contributed half the toxic emissions in some areas of the capital, according to King’s College London research.
Now London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, has written to the Environment Secretary demanding increased powers which will allow him to ban domestic wood-burning stoves as well as control emissions from river craft and from plant on construction sites.
Clean air craft
And what about pollution from aircraft? London’s Heathrow airport is one of the most polluted sites in Europe, but easyJet announced this week that they could be flying electric planes on short-haul routes in Europe within 10 years. They are working with Wright Electric of the US to develop a prototype, and the plan is eventually to build a plane that can take 120 passengers from London to Amsterdam, Berlin to Vienna or Geneva to Paris solely on electric power. I wonder if they will recharge the batteries in the plane, or just put in a new set, to minimise turn-round time.
Other companies are talking about hybrid electric planes with a range of up to 700 miles. It’s a long way ahead of Solar Impulse 2 which flew round the world last year totally on electric power, but took about 6 months to do it.
I recommend you look at
…which has a full account and short video of easyJet’s recent innovation day. As always, full links to all these stories are on the blog at www.sustainablefutures.report
What we’ll need more of if we are to achieve zero carbon emissions and power these planes is more clean energy. The latest story is about energy from evaporation. Writing in the journal Nature Communications, researchers at Columbia University estimated that lakes in the US could generate 325 gigawatts of power, equivalent to about 70 per cent of the country’s total electricity generation. Professor Ozgur Sahin, a biophysicist involved in the research, has developed one kind of ‘evaporation engine’, which works by using the movement of bacteria in response to changes in humidity.
Shutters either open or close to control moisture levels, prompting bacterial spores to expand or contract. This motion is then transferred to a generator and turned into electricity.
He warned, however, that harnessing this source of energy could affect water quality, recreation on lakes and other “freshwater resources”. Maybe not quite clean enough.
Energy from evaporation http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/water-evaporation-renewable-energy-source-scientists-united-states-lakes-a7968111.html
Talking of pollution…
…you’ll remember that I reported last week on how plastic straws are a problem. They nearly all get thrown into landfill because they are too fiddly to separate out for recycling. And in the US they use - and throw away - more than 500m each day.
Here’s a comment from an insider at a national restaurant chain in the UK.
“Yes, we're working on a few things in this area. We would have to acknowledge that our self-service style means that we had a comparatively flattering starting position with straws - customers have always had the choice as to whether or not they would like one. We've never foisted straws upon customers unlike Wetherspoons or Byron.
From there we have been running a trial in about 15 restaurants for two periods whereby we have withdrawn straws from the self service stands and customers need to ask if they'd really like one. Unsurprisingly, this has led to an 84% reduction of usage with very few obvious grumbles.
We're also investigating paper straws. They would cost more than ten times our current plastic straws per unit and whilst we're comfortable that anything close to an 84% reduction in usage would make this near cost neutral, there are alarm bells ringing as to what sort of inputs do these paper straws have to be so expensive? So, we're looking into the supply chain and energy inputs behind the straws. We're also looking at biodegradable plastic straws made from plant cellulose but we haven't found a supplier who will commit to our volumes yet. It may be a question of finding the right supplier, or it may be a more nuanced commercial arrangement whereby we help them financially with their volume problems.
Oh, ...and our head of sustainability literally already has the Plastic Pollution Coalition "See Turtle" t-shirt!”
Have you any used batteries lying around? Apparently there are 178 million in the UK which don’t work any more, but no-one’s got round to disposing of them. 52% of us send them to landfill and only 47% of us realise that these batteries contain valuable heavy metals which can be reused. Or which could cause pollution if sent to landfill. That’s lead, cadmium, zinc, manganese, lithium and mercury. #BringBackHeavyMetal is a joint venture between Ecosurety and Hubbub.
Ecosurety is one of the UK's fastest-growing producer responsibility compliance schemes, with over 1,000 clients and big plans to continue driving change and progress towards a circular economy.
Hubbub says: “We’re a charity that creates environmental campaigns with a difference. We're positive and design playful campaigns that inspire people to make healthier, greener lifestyle choices, which more often than not help save money and bring people together.”
So seek out those batteries and get recycling. And while you’re about it, is that an old mobile phone at the back of the drawer? You’ll probably get money for that, someone else might be able use it or if not there’s metal in that which could be recycled too. I’m sure you reduce and reuse. Why not make this week your recycling week!
Is this the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming? Thanks to patron Lucas Smith for telling me about this.
Drawdown is a big book both in terms of physical size and in terms of ambition. If you go to drawdown.org you’ll find that there’s a great deal more to it than a book.
Editor Paul Hawken writes, “In 2001 I began asking experts in climate and environmental fields a question: ‘Do we know what we need to do in order to arrest and reverse global warming?’ I thought they could provide a shopping list. I wanted to know the most effective solutions that were already in place, and the impact they could have if scaled. I also wanted to know the price tag. My contacts replied that such an inventory did not exist, but all agreed it would be a great checklist to have…”
Drawdown the idea, is the point at which the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere peaks and starts to fall. Drawdown the book, is a detailed analysis of how global warming can be slowed and reversed. It covers energy, food, women and girls, buildings and cities, land use, transport and materials. It is the work of more than 60 research fellows, supported by essayists, staff, a board of directors and funders, donors and supporters. Drawdown is an independent non-profit organisation. It is based in California but takes an international perspective. I’m surprised I’d not heard of it before. I recommend you look at drawdown.org. I’m sure I’ll be talking about Drawdown again in the future as I read further into it.
Last week I reported that Greenpeace were campaigning against the makers of Velvet luxury toilet tissue and accusing them of using timber from ancient forests for their product. The company, Essity, has reacted angrily and you can find their response on their website. Needless to say, Greenpeace hasn’t given up. More on their website too.
And finally, finally…
Why is the diesel market all at sea? Well the market for diesel cars has collapsed since the VW pollution scandal and at the same the standards for fuel oil used by ships have been tightened up. Given that refineries are built with a particular pattern of demand in mind any changes in demand are very difficult, and costly, to meet. Strangely these two current problems may go some way to cancel each other out. For a fascinating insight into how it all works I recommend that you read James Spencer’s September Oil Market Report. You’ll find it at:
And that’s it for another week.
I’m Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
Remember, the Sustainable Futures Report is brought to you without advertising, sponsorship or subsidy, but if you like what I do you can help me cover my costs by becoming a patron for as little as $1 per month at patreon.com/sfr . John Cossham did - thanks John! And thanks to all my other patrons for staying with me.
See you next week!