Archive for category World CO2 emissions

To act or not to act? That is the question

Ok, so I’ve bastardised a line from Hamlet, but the acting I’m referring to does not involve a stage in a theatre, or cameras. I’m talking about whether or not we should act, that is take action on Climate Change.

Every day I read 5 or more online articles on Climate Change / Global Warming plus the comments from readers, and every time I witness yet another ‘road to nowhere’ argument:

“AGW is real and we must do something about it now”.
“It’s all a plot by government and big business to make money and tax us even more”.
“The facts prove that man-made emissions are destroying the planet. Look at all the scientific proof, and all the experts who back it up”.
“The facts prove that Global warming is totally natural and that the planet can deal with it. Look at all the scientific proof, and all the experts who back it up”.
“We need to act now, for our children!”
“I’m not compromising one ounce of my comfortable life for a non-reason. There’s no danger anyway”.

And so it goes on, and will do until we get some solid proof either way. By which time it may be too late anyway…. if there really is a problem. Personally, I am inclined to believe the “AGW is real and we need to act now” argument, but any doubts I may have are anyway backed up by a much stronger belief that working to reduce our CO2 emissions will not compromise our lives but rather improve them, that it will certainly improve the way we treat our planet, and it will also save us money.

That’s my reasoning, but I’m always looking for other relevant arguments, and today, thanks to an article in the Guardian, I found one that I particularly like. It’s neither official, nor totally serious, and what’s more it’s relatively old news, but as I’ve just found it, I thought I would upload it for anyone else who hasn’t yet seen it. I don’t totally agree with what will happen if we act and then discover that Climate change doesn’t exist - I believe there will always be major benefits, but I will certainly try this approach out on a few doubters over the next few days:

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If there’s one thing you do in March, go see The Age of Stupid

I first read about it a while ago, but now it’s really here, and time to create a buzz. The Age of Stupid, a full-length docu-drama about climate change, has its ‘people’s premiere’, showing simultaneously in cinemas across the country on the 15th of March.

The film, brainchild of Franny Armstrong, and Executive Produced by the energetic, Oscar-winning John Battsek, stars Pete Postlethwaite as a man living alone in a climate change wracked 2055, looking back at ‘archive’ footage of 2007 and asking the obvious question: why didn’t we do something when we had the chance?

I haven’t seen the film yet, but will absolutely go - and pay to do so as its highly original business model needs all the support we can give it. I have no doubt, however, that the reviews from a huge range of people speak the truth when they say it is a movie that has to be seen.

There are those who complain about the ’scare-tactics’ of climate campaigners, saying that this approach is more likely to get us turned-off than inspired. From the various clips I have seen of The Age of Stupid, I think that this film is more cerebral than that. It’s not just pointing out that the way we live today could bring about major climate change. It’s also pointing out quite how unnecessary, inefficient and abusive to our planet our way of life is.

Anyway, here’s the trailer as a taster. From May the 1st onwards, you can organise your own screening to raise money for your own green causes, and I for one will be encouraging every one I know to watch.

The Age of Stupid: final trailer, Feb 2009 HD from Age of Stupid on Vimeo.

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Cadburys cows to burp less - an innovative way to reduce emissions

Cadburys, the UK’s most famous chocolate manufacturer have joined the drive to reduce emissions in an innovative fashion.

Not only are they looking to reduce energy consumption via the use of timers, by ensuring machinery and lights are switched off when not in use, and by using fertilisers (which require oil to produce) more intelligently, they are also looking to reduce the methane emissions from the dairy cows that supply the milk that goes into their products by putting them on a low fibre diet.

Everyone, even children, seems to know that cows make a dramatic contribution to the planet’s emissions with the amount of methane they produce. A typical cow emits between 80 and 120kg of methane a  year - the equivalent, believe it or not of an average car, although from its mouth and not in the form of farts as believed by many. Cadburys believe that they can reduce these emissions by as much as 30% by changing their cows’ diet, and lets hope they are right, but couldn’t they, and all cow owners go even further?

Cows spend a fair amount of time indoors - in the case of dairy cows, whenever they are being milked, and in the case of all cows for at least some of the winter in order not to completely destroy the fields they live in. Surely it would be possible to install a system into the typical cow barn that captures the huge amounts of methane produced, and even uses it in a practical way, for instance to heat the barn in question?

As a child, I remember being told stories about farmers being blown up when lighting a cigarette too close to farting pigs. Probably totally exagerrated, but not completely impossible, and something that returned to my thoughts these last few weeks. Whilst I agree that we absolutely need to go easy on our meat consumption, and that we should ideally look to reduce the number of polluting and consuming animals, maybe we should also be looking to harness the natural fuel being produced by them… Sounds mad? Right now, I think we should look at every option available - you never know what might work!

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If we paint it white, all will be all right…

Everyone is always looking for ‘big ideas’, the ones that will in one fail swoop solve all our problems. For me, the business of reducing our CO2 emissions and looking after the environment takes a different approach: we mustn’t stop looking for the ‘big idea’, or even several of them, but in the meantime we shouldn’t ignore the myriad of smaller ideas that on their own can’t turn everything around, but that definitely can help stop the rot.

This is why I love the latest idea put forward by Hasham Akbari, a scientist based at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. It’s really simple: if we turn more of the landscape, and above all the cityscape, white, more sunlight will be reflected and this will help reduce CO2 emissions and delay the effects of global warming.

So what we need to do is to emulate the inhabitants of many a sun-drenched country, and paint all possible outdoor surfaces (above all the roofs of all buildings) white, or at least a light-reflecting colour. This approach will contribute to the reduction of global warming in two ways:

  1. Sunlight reflected back from the earth’s surface reduces the amount of thermal energy given off, and thermal energy contributes to the greenhouse effect. Therefore, if we increase the surface area that reflects sunlight, we reduce the thermal energy given off by the earth.
  2. Buildings that reflect sunlight become less hot in the sun, and therefore need less cooling down. This concept has already been understood in places like California, where whitehouses with flat roofs have been painted white since 2005 in order to reduce the need for power-hungry, CO2 emissions-generating air conditioning.

Akbari reckons that if we all get together to paint an additional 0.3 percent of the earth’s surface white (or at least a colour that reflects sunlight), we could actually save 44 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions, the same as the expected rise in emissions over the next 10 years, giving us more time to work on other long-term ‘big ideas’.

Perhaps painting 0.3 percent of the earth’s surface white is a little too much to hope for, and to achieve it, we would certainly have to address several major issues, starting with the fact that white sloping roofs would be, quite frankly, ugly, let alone a potential navigational nightmare for air traffic (hold on, maybe this is a cunning plan to reduce air traffic… keep that thought!). This would certainly be the case for white roads.

However, it does remain an excellent idea, and everyone could contribute to it cheaply and quickly. Imagine, for instance, if we all went out this spring and painted just our patios and garden sheds white. This would already account for a huge surface area, and at least several million tonnes of CO2 emissions, and all for the cost of a pot of paint. Now, let’s take it further: imagine that governments decree that all playgrounds, outdoor carparks, warehouse roofs, the roofs of public buildings are painted white. What about if the roofs of all new cars have to be white? Ok, that’s a contradiction, but could theoretically reduce the emissions of all future transport…

I think this idea has mileage, and will be off tomorrow to B&Q to buy my pot of paint. Not sure what I’m going to paint yet, but here’s advance warning to the neighbours…

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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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At what point will Global Warming become an accepted reality?

This week, the Met Office’s Hadley Centre published the results of a study into the potential effects of climate change, and the level of action required to avoid drastic increases in temperature over the next 100 years. They estimate that anything but ‘early and rapid’ action against climate change will result in a rise in global temperature of 2.9 degrees centigrade or more by 2100.

Also this week, Drax, Britains’s biggest coal-fired power station, announced that they are investing in direct-injection biomass co-firing systems for all 6 of their coal-fired units, which should cut their CO2 emissions by more than 2.5 million tonnes per year.

So here is a recognised weather authority giving a clear warning, and a recognised polluter taking positive action. If Global Warming is just a great corporate plot, then what is the point of all this action? I don’t think that the Met Office are particularly known for being ordered around by the government, and as for Drax, well I thought that power suppliers just wanted to build more power stations!

I have followed the Global Warming / Climate Change debate with interest for a long time. I’ve obviously always been more persuaded by the ‘for’ than the ‘against’, but I’ve also been fascinated to observe the typical human reaction to warnings of ‘future catastrophe’. ‘Give me proof!’ they say, and, when there’s no immediate catastrophe for them to feel and touch, they go on as before. ‘What’s the point?’ they say, pointing to the other polluters who are doing nothing about reducing their CO2 emissions. ‘It’s not my fault!’ they say, abstaining all responsibility and continuing as before.

Most of us just won’t believe that something is wrong until it bashes us over the head. The problem in this case is that by the time Climate Change bashes us over the head it will probably be too late - at least that’s what the Met Office are saying, and they are by no means the first.

So back to the question in the title: What’s it going to take for us to realise that things are going wrong, and that we need to take action, and lots of it? Well I have to admit that we’re not really being helped by our government making promises out of one side of their mouth and reneging on them out of the other side, but these moves by 2 disparate UK institutions this week brought it home to me. Let’s stop fannying around or maybe it really will be too late.

So what are you waiting for? Floods? Hurricanes? Killer freeze or killer heatwaves? Why bother waiting? There’s plenty you can do right now that really won’t stretch you, and if we all did it, maybe we can avoid that catastrophem whether we believe in it or not. Only one problem, though. If we do take action and avoid catastrophe, there will always be the naysayers saying ‘Told you so! There wasn’t a catastrophe in the first place!’

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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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Tomorrow is Earth day…. did you know?

Coming in on to work on the train this morning, I read in my free morning paper - you know, the one that ends up clogging up the bottom of escalators - that tomorrow is Earth Day. Oooh goodie, I thought to myself, some action is going to be taken, some messages are going to be communicated, maybe some good will come of this.

So I went onto the web to find out more….and found, well not much at all. From what I can see, Earth Day is big in a few countries - America above all - but not very many at all. Once again, an event that, by name at least, could have global consequences, is going to pass of unnoticed by most people in most countries.

This doesn’t mean there’s no point to what’s happening. Every action by an individual, a town, a city, or a country, is a step forward. I just find it frustrating that, as we are all concerned by the problem, we seem unable to ALL get together to address it.

So how can we organise one, global event, however simple? Answers on a stamped addressed envelope please. Or on this blog, of course!

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If we really want to Reduce CO2 emissions, we have to ask some difficult questions

I spend a lot of time skimming as many different articles as possible regarding the reduction of CO2 emissions. My main aim is to find individual articles or news items that prompt me to make a comment, but in this case, it’s the sum of many that drives this piece.

It is pretty much accepted that we need to reduce our CO2 emissions on a global basis for the good of our planet and for the good of our children and our childrens’ children. Scientists talk about it, governments talk about it, activists talk about it, and everyday people talk about it… and yet we are still not moving nearly fast enough.

If I take a poll on the typical message of the last 100 articles I have read, I would say that over 80% of them deal with things that we are not doing, or are not doing well enough, and we all know why this is. We like our current consumer-driven lives, and we are reluctant to change too much too fast. Our governments like being popular, and so are holding off from making unpopular but necessary decisions. And the fact is that noone agrees 100% on any of the proposed ways forward, so things are taking longer - much longer.

Here are some of the difficult questions that are being asked, and that we have to answer - some more important than others, but all of them reasons that genuine progress in reducing CO2 emissions is not being achieved:

  1. Should governments build more nuclear power stations when we know the downsides of atomic energy?
  2. Should governments promote solutions based on biofuels when we know the effects this approach could have on rainforest depletion, the cost of food, availability of food?
  3. Should we sacrifice beautiful views and build wind-generation plants wherever there is good wind, rather than just wherever everyone agrees they are not an eyesore?
  4. Should we buy hybrid cars that generate lower CO2 emissions in the short term, although they are not at all an environmentally friendly product?
  5. Should we expand our air traffic capabilites because air traffic brings revenues, which pay for progress in reducing CO2?
  6. Should we prevent owners of buildings of historical interest from insulating them properly or from installing solar panels simply because it may spoil their ‘outstanding beauty’?
  7. Should we stop buying food from overseas, even if the revenues generated from the purchase of this food supports poorer countries?
  8. Should we invest in storing CO2 emissions, even though this is a limited amount of storage space?
  9. Should we replace all of our bulbs with energy saving bulbs, even though they contain mercury and we have not yet worked out how to recycle them?
  10. If we do nothing else, does buying carbon credits really contribute to the reduction of CO2 emissions in the world?

I’m sure I will come up with more questions, but if we, and our governments, can just come to a consensus on these questions, we will have more direction and more momentum that we have today.

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China’s CO2 emissions overtake the US - already…

According to a report from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, based on the consumption of oil, gas and coal around the world in 2006, China has overtaken the US as the country with the highest annual level of CO2 emissions. This event was expected, was even inevitable, but it has happened quicker than predicted. Most predictions spoke of 2010, not 2006.

What’s more, with China opening as many as two coal-fired power stations a week, this situation can only get worse, and very, very fast. Whilst much of the world is finally beginning to focus on reducing CO2 emissions, China’s are increasing dramatically and this is not going to stop in the near future, in spite of the announcement of their first ‘national plan on climate change’.

China argues that the carbon footprint of a chinese person is only 1/4 of that of an American or half that of a Briton, and that their progress should not be impeded just so that they can pay for the previous errors of the western world. In fact, it’s simpler than that. Progress in China is dramatic, inevitable, and crucial, at least for the Chinese, and there is no way that they are going to waste money and above all time in trying to progress in as ‘green’ a fashion as possible. China will continue growing, and so will their emissions.

So we have a problem, a huge problem. Western powers are finally mobilising to cut CO2 emissions, but it is possible that all of our efforts will merely keep us where we are by balancing our China’s ongoing increases. A huge amount of effort for nothing?

No, not at all. We can’t look at it like that. It’s certainly yet another wake up call, but it shouldn’t distract us from our own efforts to reduce our own, and the West’s CO2 emissions. These efforts will have a positive effect on the world’s health but equally on the future of power generation and on our pockets. We have to find alternative sources of energy to fossil fuels anyway, and as they already exist, are beginning to be affordable and save us money, why not use them?

Secondly we do have to find a way to persuade, help, force China to lower their emissions - this is evident. How? Well, complete speculation, but some of the options are:

  1. Diplomacy: we’re doing it already, and we will continue to do it. China is to be included in all global discussions on CO2 emissions, but it is going to be difficult to make them change their line, at least for now. Long-term, slow solution.
  2. Economic pressure: this has more potential, although it will certainly be difficult. Part of the problem is how important cheap products from China are today to the whole of the world’s economy. Stopping using them will have a pretty major effect.
  3. Threats: we’re not there yet, and let’s hope we never get there. Not a solution to be considered.

For me this piece of news is not that much of a surprise. It’s just yet another kick up the ##s to remind me why those of us who can should continue to reduce our emissions as much as we can.

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