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Economic crisis - the perfect opportunity for green measures - if only they could see it

No cutsIt’s 2012 and the world is undergoing major economic upheaval. In pretty much every major country the buzzword is ‘cuts’. Cuts to staff, cuts to expenditure and cuts to investment. Although governments are talking about long-term plans, most actions seem very short-termist, and it’s therefore not a very good time for green initiatives, most of which will take time and need investment. This is all meant to save money, but it’s definitely putting a stop to saving the planet!

And, from a CO2 reduction point of view, I think they’ve got it wrong in so many ways. I realise you probably need financial training to work it out, but it seems to me that governments are putting their own welfare over that of the people. Throughout the 4 years that I’ve been writing this blog (ok, not so often recently…), I have focused on one message above all others: the measures you take to reduce emissions can also save you money.

Instead of reducing investment in green initiatives, governments - and especially the UK government should be pushing them forwards and helping individuals, companies, even their own institutions reduce their costs. Here are some examples:

  1. A greater push and tighter regulations on company emissions. Greater awareness on electricity consumption alone could reduce electricity bills hugely across the country.
  2. Backing off from cutting the feed-in tariff. I know the government has just suffered a defeat on this, but they really need to rethink and maintain the higher rate for now. A huge opportunity exists here to help whole communities save money by installing solar panels.
  3. Tightening vehicle emissions rules still further and even considering subsidising the development of EVs. It’s a no-brainer. Let’s make our cars more efficient and stop this bank-breaking dependency on petrol.
  4. Encouraging other forms of green transport. How’s about giving tax breaks to people who cycle? Or allowing them to claim expenses to maintain their bikes? How’s about making the ‘Cycle to work’ scheme obligatory in every company over a certain size? Millions have already flocked to two wheels (me included) but more would follow if given a little push in the right direction.
  5. I know that there are some initiatives coming up that use this kind of thinking, including an loan scheme to help home owners invest in green energy, but more could and should be done.

    There, rant over for today. But I think I’m going to keep on at this one.


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Solar Powered Football

Solar panels on a football stadiumIn August Canadian Solar, one of the world’s largest solar companies, signed up for two years with Fulham FC to become their official solar energy partner. In fact they’re making a name for themselves by sponsoring a number of football clubs around the globe including Germany’s Hannover 96 and 1.FC Nuremberg.

In return for their sponsorship, Canadian Solar can expect to receive some high profile marketing and advertising opportunities. Their logo will be seen at all home games, on the digital perimeter advertising system and all over the stadium as well as featuring on the Fulham FC website homepage and all other advertising platforms associated with the club.

Bolton Wanderers have followed suit by securing sponsorship from Yingli Panels part of the Hanwha Group. Yingli Green Energy is the second biggest producer of panels in China and has been sponsoring football in Europe for some time, including Bayern Munich football club (FCB) and the forthcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. Solar companies’ sponsorship of football clubs and events in the UK and Europe is an ideal way to broaden the awareness of solar brands at this critical point in time and looks to be a growing trend.

However, one football club has found another way to improve its financial future using solar. Barnsley FC hired Solar Europa, a local solar energy company, to install a system on its south and east stands at Oakwell Ground. The panels, which cost the club in the region of £1m to install, will be used to power the buildings and the club is hoping to save tens of thousands of pounds with their on-grid system.

Don Rowing, General Manager of Oakwell said, “With energy costs spiralling and likely to continue that way, it makes good business sense to use the large amount of roof space available to us to save the club money and also to reduce our carbon footprint.”

Mr Rowing has a good point and it will be interesting to see if other clubs will follow. Barnsley FC has become the first football club in the country to be powered by solar energy and Solar Europa is now the installer of the first solar PV project to a UK FC, but this seems a no-brainer for football clubs in general. One of the challenges for solar today is finding suitable space to situate enough to make a genuine difference. It’s not difficult to imagine the potential real estate offered by the 100+ stadiums in England alone.

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Today is World Environment Day, but don’t expect the Media to tell us about it

One of my favourite and most despairing rants over the last couple of years has been about how little attention we pay in the UK to the official days set up to raise awareness about environmental issues. Maybe it’s a reaction to the fact that many such past ‘events’ have just gone ‘phutttt’ and not had the desired or expected effect (in this country at any rate), but whatever the reason, the media pretty much never seems to support these events, which in itself means that they never have the effect they could have.

Today is World Environment day. I put this in my diary a year ago so that I wouldn’t forget to see if anything had changed over the last 12 months. Last year I commented that in the UK little or no noise had been made or was being made on the day - in fact it was hardly possible to find a mention in the newspapers. I even contacted the guys at UNEP to ask them whether they felt there was a good reaction to it here in the UK. They replied that there had been unprecedented interest at a ground roots level, but I was still surprised by the lack of mention in the media.

This morning, every hopeful, I therefore did a tour of the websites of our beloved newspapers. This is what I found:

  • The Times: no mention on the home page, no mention on the Environment home page
  • The Guardian: ditto
  • The Telegraph: Nothing that I could find
  • The Independent: same again
  • The Daily Mail: ha ha….
  • The Sun: wait a minute, I’ve found something! Of all the papers to actually take notice, the good old ‘currant bun’ has picked up on it with a link from the home page, and even an image, leading to this article. Ok, so it’s typically tongue in cheek, but at least they’ve atually sat up and taken notice!

But that’s it… A sorry state of affairs as far as I’m concerned, because I truly believe that we need to shout about the environment whenever possible, and that every time we do shout, we pick up a few more people willing to do their bit and work on reducing our CO2 emissions. Without the support of the media, the task of shouting becomes that much more difficult.

So I will once more put World Environment Day in my diary for next year, but this time I’m going to put in a warning one week before, and I’m going to shout about it. In fact I’m going to shout about it to all of the newspapers, and maybe, just maybe, even my little voice will have an effect. Here’s hoping.

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Billions to save the banks. What price to reduce the world’s emissions?

We all enjoy dreaming, and I’m no exception. It gives me a warm feeling inside to imagine how things would be if our wishes actually came true.

For anyone who cares about our world’s future, reducing CO2 emissions and improving the earth’s ability to absorb them shouldn’t be a dream, but when you look at the snail speed at which governments are currently moving, at the excuses put forward every time another target is missed, then perhaps fantasy is a more apt word than dream. And the most common excuse used is ‘we don’t have enough money’.

Only last week I read that the UK’s ambitious targets for building wind farms don’t have a chance without investment that is currently not forthcoming. As the Guardian commented - it’s all very well setting an ambitious and necessary target of reducing emissions by 80% by 2050, but we all know that unless there is a dramatic change in the attitude towards investment in renewable energies, it will never be achieved. Whilst positive noises are being made in public, negotiations go on behind the scene to back out of targets or push them back, and every time the investment needed is cited as the main reason. Apparently our governments just can’t afford to put in place the necessary schemes to achieve the goals they are setting, in spite of the dire warnings on what may happen if they don’t.

And yet, when there is a global crisis in the financial markets, suddenly there is enough money to save our banks. Not millions, not billions, not even hundreds of billions, but trillions are immediately made available to help out our ailing financial institutions and their oh so poor employees. Of course it was important to save the banks - it was either that or financial chaos, but the point is that the money - a lot of money - was there in the event of a crisis.

The world’s governments now seem to agree that if radical action is not taken to reduce CO2 emissions, and fast, our planet will go through some dramatic changes before the end of this century, changes that could affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people. If they’re right, then surely this is a crisis on the scale of the financial meltdown we are experiencing, although with one difference: we can see it coming, and we have time to do something about it?  In fact, if we do something about it now, it will cost us a hell of a lot less than in twenty years’ time when some of the predicted and potentially irreversible changes have already started to take place.

For instance, it is estimated that the UK’s plan to generated 36% of all energy from renewable sources by 2020 will cost around £50 billion. Even taking economies of scale into account, surely a complete conversion to renewables would only cost maybe £500 billion, and this over as much as 20 years? So why are there regular rumours that suggest that we will miss the 2020 target due to cost issues, and by a mile too?  If we look at things from a global perspective (which is of course more relevant), how much do we think it would cost to protect and even start to restore the rain forests, or to push for a complete conversion of transport to a cleaner fuel source by 2020? Yes, it’s a huge amount of money, but all I know is that drip-feeding in order to keep all parties happy today and to win votes, is certain to make many more people unhappy tomorrow.

The media often use the phrase ’short termism’ these days - basically another way to describe the policies of governments that are reactive rather than proactive. We have a real opportunity to avoid short termism in the battle to reduce CO2 emissions, and I just can’t understand why more isn’t being done to take advantage of it. Yes, it will cost a lot, but it has just been proved that the money can be found. Maybe it’s not a dream after all…


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Flying the flag isn’t eco-friendly - whatever next?

I came across a wonderful news piece this week, which I just had to share. Apparently the authorities in Austria have advised football fans not to fly the Austrian flag on their cars, as doing this increases drag, and therefore increases petrol consumption, thus in turn increasing CO2 emissions.

Now I’m the first to jump upon a good idea to reduce CO2 emissions, however strange it may be, but this particular edict did at first make me chuckle at the thought that being Green may now be appropriated by the ‘Politically Correct’ mob, with people being picked up for committing ‘eco crimes’ of which they were totally unaware. If you think about it, there are a fair amount of these in every day life, and we just have to hope that the ‘eco police’ don’t get too tough, or we’re all in serious trouble.

Examples that struck me (whilst planting my tongue relatively firmly in my cheek) were:

  • Taking exercise. Surely taking lots of exercise means that we are turning more oxygen into CO2, which, like it or not, comes out of our mouths every time we breath out. Just imagine the emissions generated by a marathon!!
  • Pets also produce CO2 as well as generating methane and consuming in many cases food that could be equally eaten by human beings. If we go on wanting pets, more are bred, and it just gets worse and worse.
  • We all love live music, especially rock and pop, but look at how much electricity is consumed by your average rock concert… This is a much talked-about issue, but I haven’t seen solid solutions produced so far, so maybe we should just bit the bullet and no longer go to gigs? After all, U2 have got enough money already, and they want to save the world, so they will understand, won’t they?
  • The mobile phone revolution has done wonderful things for communication. The ability to communicate whenever and wherever has saved lives, made millions, changed the world. It has also meant, though that people talk even more, a lot, all of the time. Whilst before people on their own in taxis did nothing, now they talk on their phones. The same walking down the street, or having a coffee, or lying in bed. And what does talking do? Yes, more CO2 emissions. So let’s get rid of mobiles right now.
  • Everyone talks about methane produced by cows, but what about we humans? Apparently the average human being emits half a litre of gas a day, although only some of this is methane, and far less than that produced by cows. But still, it is possible to avoid farting by monitoring ones diet, so shouldn’t we all make more effort to fart less, or should we even install fart capturers in our toilets?
  • And then of course there’s computers. Using computers uses electricity and generates CO2 emissions. We are using computers more and more. I am using a computer to write this article. Maybe I should sto

Ok, enough wacky ideas - although today’s wacky could become tomorrow’s day to day! I actually do understand the point about cars and flying flags - and anyway, they are ugly. But the whole story got me thinking about how sometimes we can get carried away, and I just had to write it down.

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Retrospective tax on polluting cars - not just a stick, a ’stealth’ stick

I don’t generally believe in kicking a man when he’s down, but it’s pretty difficult not to when he’s lying there with a great big sign stuck to his back saying KICK ME. And that, to me, is the case with Gordon Brown right now, as he stumbles from one problem to the next. So I’m not going to hold back, and what’s more, I’m going to kick him for an idea aimed at reducing co2 emissions.

‘Stealth tax’ is one of the many expressions coined during the New Labour era, basically referring to taxes that don’t hit the tax payer directly, or immediately. As Chancellor, Gordon Brown became particularly good at one type of stealth tax, the one where he would announce an increase one year, but it was timed to come into effect a year later, by which time many people have forgotten about it. In this case, he has gone one better, and announced a tax rise that would come into effect in a year’s time AND would apply to all cars bought in the last 7 years!

The tax in question is the Vehicule Excise Duty, better known as Road Tax. As of next year, the co2 emissions bands that decide what car owners will pay each year will be increased from 7 to 13, with a sliding scale of costs running from £0 for a car with emissions of under 100 g/km to £440 for one with over 255 g/km of emissions. They will go up again in 2010, with the top-end cost becoming £445, and with a new, additional first year rate being introduced that is even more punitive to gas guzzlers.

In principal this is a good idea, as it encourages us all to pay attention to co2 emissions when purchasing a new car. It is a good example of the ‘carrot and stick’ method, and for once the ‘carrot’ is pretty interesting - only £30 a year for a car with 111-120 g/km of emissions, and a reduction of some form for all cars with 140 g/km or under. The problem, however is with the backdating to 2001.

Let’s say that my car generates only 120 g/km of co2 emissions, and I bought it in 2002. I’m laughing, as my car tax will go down to £30 next year before going back up to £35 the year after. My neighbour’s car on the other hand generates 195 g/km of co2 emissions. He also bought it in 2002, and his tax next year will go up from £170 to £260 - an increase of £90.

It’s all very well saying ’serves him right - he drives a gas guzzler’, but think back to 2002, or 2006 for that matter. How many people bought their cars based on their co2 emissions? Petrol was cheaper then, and car tax was uniform for all. Can my neighbour really be punished for a decision he made as long as 6 years ago, based on information he did not even have at the time?

It could be argued that he will be encouraged to buy a newer, cleaner car, but should he be forced to do this, especially as, if he waits until 2010, he will also have to pay the higher first year rate? To me this isn’t a stealth tax, it’s a stealth ’stick’, and a totally unreasonable one, compounded by a fact I’ve already mentioned on this blog: so-called ‘green taxes’ such as this do not necessarily get used by the government to reduce the UK’s co2 emissions.

I’m all for the government taking serious measures to encourage us to reduce the emissions we generate via transport, but the important word here is ‘encourage’. Pricing people into unhappiness at a time when money is very tight is NEVER going to work, and I sincerely hope Mr Brown goes on doing what he’s also becoming well-known for……. U-TURN. I don’t mind at all if he keeps the proposed approach for all new cars, but punishing people for a decision they didn’t even realise they were taking is not going to solve what we recognise is a huge problem.

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EU Emissions targets ‘too expensive to achieve’ - what about money no option?

The director-general of the CBI, Richard Lambert, has continued the UK’s policy of finding excuses for not hitting targets as soon as they are set, by saying that the new one set by the EU - for the UK to generate 15% of our energy via renewable sources by 2020 - was not going to be achieved, as it would be too expensive to do so.

It’s true that the target is pretty tough - we’re at 1.3% today, and will involve dramatic development, for instance an estimated 12,500 additional wind farms, but to give up with 12 years to go just sums up the current negative attitude to one of the most important challenges facing our country today. The argument, or should I call it the ’spin’, is that we the public will have to pay for the necessary developments in taxes and energy bills, energy bills being a touchy subject at this moment as they have just gone up. This is to some extent true, but it’s a very blinkered argument, and doesn’t look at many things that affect both the cost and our wish - if necessary - to bear it:

  • In twelve years, the cost of building alternative energy sources will go down as technology advances.
  • In twelve years, other, cheaper solutions will also become available.
  • Many of us are already willing to pay a bit more in order to ensure our future. Even those not convinced by the global warming argument recognise that fossil fuels are going to run out. The cost of fossil fuels will continue to mount, and at some point - maybe not as far away as all that, they will in fact become more expensive to use than renewable sources.
  • If global warming is a reality, the ‘natural disasters’ we may see over the next 12 years will certainly have an effect on our willingness to move things forward quickly, and to pay for them.
  • Over the next 12 years, if we work at it, overall energy consumption will reduce. If we really work at it, it will reduce quite significantly.

In the end, all of these comments make no difference. The targets that are being set will be binding, and we will have to answer to the EU if we don’t hit them. Not that we have seen any issues with this up to now - see my previous comments on hitting EU targets.

What gets to me, though, is the negativity. We have time, we have the will, and we have an opportunity. Instead of talking about missing this target, let’s talk about beating it.

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