Friday, 28 November 2008
This article and my subsequent trip to Sainsbury's in Cardiff city centre yesterday on the way home has really crystallised my thinking on a key element of behaviour change for sustainability. I didn't have any carrier bags on me when I went into Sainsbury's yesterday and sure enough the cashier said 'do you need a bag' - I did, I really did, given the other stuff I was carrying. More importantly, as that bag was handed to me I felt how precious it was. For a moment, I felt like the scum of the earth and I'd say that this represents a successful shift of defaults. I should have had a shopping bag on my person and I normally do - the default just reinforces this in my case but should stimulate such a realisation in the minds of others oblivious to the scurge of the plastic bag - it would help if the plastic bags carried messages informing customers as to why they shouldn't be used.
Anyway, I'm on the look/think-out for more existing and potential default shifts and triggers to sustainable behaviour. Here's a few world changers for nothing:
- Petrol Stations: What if every petrol pump had a sign saying 'If you had a (insert name of top 5 efficient cars), a full tank would cost you xxx, if you had no car you wouldn't even have to be here"
- Steakhouses: Instead of serving a beef steak, steakhouses could serve a beanburger style, vegetable steak product, unless customers specifically asked for a 'beef steak'. Beef is extremely resource intensive in its production you see - once customers had got over the fact they weren't eating beef, but beans instead - a sizeable number would decide that the low carbon alternative was the way forward. Maybe not.
- Housing: On buying a house (new or old), lenders would be required to ensure the property was brought up to a reasonable level of energy effciency, potentially lending extra, match funded energy efficiency sums to buyers on the proviso that they immediately improved the efficiency of the house.
Best go and get on the Eurostar, off to Paris and as we all know, the train is the new default for this journey.
Wednesday, 26 November 2008
"Climate change is having a significant impact on public opinion in the developing countries surveyed. Around 60 percent of respondents registered a high level of concern in China, India, Mexico and Brazil, compared with only 22 per cent in the UK and 26 per cent in Germany; and" (from HSBC, here)
In the UK, fatalism really doesn't just reign, it pours. The Country Profile for the UK tells a sorry tale:
"The HSBC Climate Confidence Index 2007 shows the UK as the least engaged of any of the economies surveyed. People in the UK have the lowest level of concern, the lowest confidence in what is being done today to address the issue, the lowest level of personal commitment, and nearly the lowest optimism about the outcome. A fatalistic view is prevalent, with significant 'green rejection', especially in younger age groups." (HSBC, emphasis mine)
On face value this sounds terrible and I'm sure that some of what the HSBC survey data reveals is indeed bad news. The fact that UK citizens have the lowest level of concern about climate change is particularly worrying and as a percentage, half of the global average (in terms of %age repsondents recording a high level concern over climate change). Ranked above climate change are 'Terrorism' and 'Children's Future' as high level concerns for UK respondents.
There is a sad irony then, not enough of us are making the links between climatic change and a rise in terrorism, conflict and a potential decline in the security of our children's wellbeing. On a personal level, I'm surprised that respondents are worried about terrorism - I really hadn't realised that so many people would feel this way. The National Security Strategy sets a tone I suppose: Terrorism first, potential causes second:
"The Cold War threat has been replaced by a diverse but interconnected set of threats and risks, which affect the United Kingdom directly and also have the potential to undermine wider international stability. They include international terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, conflicts and failed states, pandemics, and trans-national crime. These and other threats and risks are driven by a diverse and interconnected set of underlying factors, including climate change, competition for energy, poverty and poor governance, demographic changes and globalisation."
On the positive side of the HSBC report, I wondered whether all of this good old fashioned British pessimism and fatalism was born out of the fact that the public are well informed - that they understand the situation we are in and are understandably worried that we may not be able to address the issues sufficiently well.
Sadly, something worse seems to be at play - the product of a dis-informed society, we seem to have settled on a rainbow fatalism. Over 10% of the UK respondents think we should 'adapt to climate change, not try to stop it from happening', 9% think it's 'impossible to stop', 7% 'the earth will self-regulate (sic)', 3% 'it's not our role' and scientists will find a technological solution..'.
Meanwhile the young repsondents are spitting poision - with quotes suggesting a widespread view of climate change as a government led conspiracy. (if only!).
It seems we're not under-informed, this survey tells me that people are baffled, that there is a failure of trust and a subsequent failure of faith. Oh, to live in China, where most people are optimistic and trusting of their government in leading them from climatic disaster. If we can just get the Olympics right, who knows what will happen...
Tuesday, 25 November 2008
The comments flow, they snipe and counter snipe, blogger names thrown about like opening punches in a tired final bout - the heavyweight championship of the potential end of the world (or not). One participant, Moveanymountain, goes in strong, on the counter. Monbiot, he says, has it all wrong. There is no warming, hasn't been since 2001.
Then the home crowd dive into the ring, spewing their ire onto the page, grabbing their chance to retell the science: Lovelock, Porritt and a company called MPI. Someone Monbiot's quoted is called into question - 'Sharron Astyk' who Monbiot described as an 'American thinker'. The trouble is, she is just a thinker - and worse, a farmer - how can she understand Geophysics? How can anybody?
The science is depressing enough, but the invisible melt of arctic ice you really can't tally with life in a small city in Wales is worse. The truth, the lies, the video and pictures and greenwash and the next IPCC report cannot replace a real truth, not written but lived. What the crowd needs is a disaster, a big one, ugly and unjust and certainly caused by anthropogenic climate change - An environmental twin towers. Can such a crime have been organised, the sceptics will cry! Was New Orleans, is Bangladesh?
A majority of Scientists may have moved to predict our fate but in doing so it they have challenged us to trust their words. There is an understandable lack of hard evidence and where this exists it tends to chart change, not total disaster. For that, we are lucky. The science tells us that the change we are seeing, in heat, of ice, in seas, is symptomatic of a dangerous time ahead. But we are here, now and we must decide how much we gamble now for an uncertain future. Alistair Darling must know how that feels.
Monday, 24 November 2008
See the press release here
Friday, 21 November 2008
We don't know what he'll do yet, we don't know how much is rhetoric and how much reality, but it's clear that the US president elect, Barack Obama, is not afraid to do what most UK politicians cannot yet do: Acknowledge the reality of Climate Change and spell out the scale of the challenge we face. He's even able to make the links between addressing climate change and oil dependency and economic prosperity as well as national security. No Sugar Sherlock.....
The challenge is set to all Political parties across the world: Keep pretending a business as usual approach with a few tweaks will make a difference, or acknowledge reality and start playing a new game. Given the sickeningly warm welcome Obama has been given across the political board, largely welcoming his energy and representation of 'change' - maybe it's time those so keen to welcome his election stopped and thought about why the American public bought into his campaign. Could it be that Obama's appeal derives principally from his command of a fundamental facet of leadership: The ability to acknowledge reality and responsibility, however awkward that might be.
It's not that Obama is saying anything radical in this clip, far from it - he's reflecting mainstream science and a common sense response to that evidence base. But it's the tone, the language, the sense of urgency and the comfort with the subject matter that excites the most. Obama hasn't just been briefed on how to insert a few key words into a business as usual outlook - he quite clearly gets it, feels it and knows he doesn't need to be ashamed of saying it.
Thursday, 20 November 2008
This whole affair reminds us how truly unsustainable our economy and the link between that economy and ecosystems is. When everybody is clamouring for products in our shops, fuelled by cheap and, as we have seen, all to often ill-judged credit allocation - the price of raw materials stays high, feeding into the manufacture of new products and packaging. Only when things turn sour do we realise the folly of our wasteful ways - not only are we still producing huge amounts of waste in a slowing economy, we are doing so at a rate that doesn't tally with the reduction in manufacture and production companies have made. Put it another way - all the junk sitting in warehouses around the UK, is worth next to nothing - because producers, manufacturers and retailers aren't confident that we'll carry on buying products at the rate we have been.
The irony is that the warehouses of recyclate have drawn upon huge amounts of natural resource in order to be produced - they may have no value in the current market but they have incurred great ecological cost in their production. If we started to value these real costs, there might be a lot less waste and a much higher price put on recyclate streams.
Tuesday, 18 November 2008
It doesn't matter if you're a policy wonk, a politician a business owner, a nurse, a farmer, a school child....anybody and everybody should engage with your government and help them make sure the consultation draft released tommorow turns into a scheme fit for Wales' future.
More to follow: I'll be blogging the press releases over the next few days, getting a feel for how various organisations have responded to the draft document. Tommorow we'll be at the launch in Swansea where WAG have set up a consultation event.
Finally, we'll be producing a progressive, helpful, real-world Cynnal Cymru response over the coming weeks/months and we need as many views as we can get. become a member of Cynnal Cymru-Sustain Wales here and Get involved in shaping you and your countries' destiny!
Simplistically, what we really need to know is - 'Will the Scheme help you or your organisation to live more sustainably?' and 'Will the scheme ensure Wales delivers Sustainable Development?'. More details to follow, but get in touch with any comments or your email contact details over the coming weeks and we'll make sure we invite you to contribute to our formal consultation response.
Having assessed the likely impact of improvement technologies on aviation emissions, Anderson, speaking at the Royal Society concluded that "The urgency with which the industry must make the transition to a low-carbon pathway leaves no option, but to instigate a radical and immediate programme of demand management."(Guardian article). This isn't rocket science, although it's not far off.
From a sustainability point of view, there's two seperate issues at stake: 1)the expansion of the airport 2)the increased emissions from those new flights able to start and finish at Heathrow once expanded further. I'm not just being pedantic: the impacts are both local and global. If you live anywhere near Heathrow you may well be annoyed the construction, the noise, the traffic the potential for homes to be destroyed or relocated (there's plenty of campaign websites at this level). You may also be concerned about increased aviation emissions.
If you don't live locally, it's the emissions increases that will probably concern you most (if you are concerned at all), espescially if you've read a Tyndall Centre report recently. The impact of an airport expansion is shared by all of us and of course by the rest of the world - and not just because more Brits will turn up on foreign beaches in a few years time.
As such, Heathrow can be seen as proxy for the bigger developmental dilemma: Carry on regardless in the hope that technology will leap to the rescue or start doing things differently. This dilemma plays out at individual level as much as at National or international level and the two are connected.
As consumers become aware of the need to change behaviours they seek affirmation that they are not acting alone (see I will if you wIll by the SDC). There can seem little point bending over backwards to live a sustainable life, while all those around you do the opposite - it's certainly a test of character but encouragingly a goal that increasing numbers have the strength of will to pursue. Nevertheless, the decision to fly or not to fly, at an individual level will be influenced heavily by the decisions of fellow citizens and of course by the lead shown by government. In the end, it's not airports, or even aeroplanes that are the problem - it's the fact we continue to endorse them.
Monday, 17 November 2008
Over the last few years, things have gotten serious: The shot from the sky is now king.
Witness: Andrew Marr, Britain from Above, Bruce Parry, Amazon (oh the irony) and my personal favourite,the X factor with its branded helicopters, private jets, huge trucks (great link) and SUVs galore - a real inspiration for Britain's young (see Ethical and Green blog on this).
Aside from the emissions these helicopters and planes must produce (often, on the license payers behalf), the noise is becoming an increasing nuisance. By the time Andrew Marr has flown overhead, the local police have circled the area from above (to improve my well-being presumably), the sports tv crew have filmed the Millenium Stadium pitch from above and the X Factor team have stopped off to shatter another dream or two, my quiet afternoon in the garden has been ruined. I only wish I was joking.
Friday, 14 November 2008
- There is limited wind in residential areas,
- It's all terribly complicated
- You need to know what you are doing.
I say nonsense to all that - 1) There's enough wind to blow down a fence in my garden last week, so there's enough to turn a turbine, or blow it around a bit at least. 2) Complicated means 'somebody makes good money out of putting simple systems in boxes' (Think the telephone) 3) You don't know what you're doing until you've done something and even then you might not be sure.
I've been here before, with the 'dark art' of plastering and with most other DIY related tasks I've researched whilst renovating my 1880's terrace house over the last couple of years. But if you wade through the forums and look beyond the advice telling you that 'it's probably best to get a professional, you might make a mess' you will always find a website or a blog that makes it all seem so simple, usually written by somebody with scant regard for health and safety and a half decent sense of humour.
Step up to the plate Mike Davies, who's written this helpful, amusing and free guide on building your own wind turbine. I'll be looking into this and very likely building my own turbine, if only to see whether it works or not. Like all great do'ers, Mike seems able to see beyond the nonsense and use his instinctive sense of physics to create something workable: "Next I needed a mounting for the turbine. Keeping it simple, I opted to just strap the motor to a piece of 2 X 4 wood. The correct length of the wood was computed by the highly scientific method of picking the best looking piece of scrap 2 X 4 off my scrap wood pile and going with however long it was". This is a mantra for all would be DIYers or frankly for anybody wishing to use their initiative to do anything - use what you have and get on with it!
This can-do-mentality is something we should be embracing in the current economic situation: My feeling is that so many skills, techniques and practices have been professionalised and capitlaised upon such that the average Joe/Joanne is left feeling like a reckless maverick should they wish to grow their own food, do their own car repairs, make their own clothes etc etc...
There is much talk of a return to austerity, of the merits of thrift (good article that, espescially if you have a horse) and with slightly more merit the need to reconsider notions of capacity. I'm struck though by the wonder with which so many of the reports and weekend magazine articles I've read announce the discovery of a new 'thrift tip' - yes you can make your own gifts, didn't Blue Peter teach us all this stuff?
If anybody seriously injures themselves, makes a mess or wastes money as a result of reading this piece, I'm sorry, I take no responsibility and after all..... you should have called in a professional.
Wednesday, 12 November 2008
The IEA say we need a 'rapid de-carbonisation' of the economy in which energy providers, governments and consumers will all have to make changes. I'll let you soak up the detail, if that's your thing but the message is that if we carry on with existing policies, approaches and investment models "The projected rise in emissions of greenhouse gases in the Reference Scenario puts us on a course of doubling the concentration of those gases in the atmosphere by the end of this century, entailing an eventual global average temperature increase of up to 6°C." (exec summary P9). The 'Reference Scenario' mentioned is explained on p2 of the summary. There's also plenty within the report in terms of energy availability, supply and investment but that's a whole can of worms I'm not opening today.
Six degrees warming (or 3, or 4, or 5), even if this is by the end of the next century, is not good news. The Stern Report paints it's own bleak picture of that scenario and of course, Mark Lynas talks of 'nothing less than a global wipeout' if we see 6 degrees of warming by the end of the next century. He does the same for 2, 3, 4 and 5 so there's something for everyone.
I'm not one for doomsday thinking, nor for believing we can't work to chart a different course (That's what Wales is trying to achieve) but it's worth keeping ourselves in check and reminding eachother exactly what the stakes are.
Tuesday, 11 November 2008
It seems he's not alone: The Guardian reports that Mohamed Nasheed, newly elected president of The Maldives (there's a political-cultural story to this too!) has outlined his intention to secure a future for his 300,000 citizens, not in the Maldives but on another land mass - India, Sri Lanka or Australia perhaps. Mr Nasheed sees the buying of land overseas, using revenues from tourism as an insurance policy that might avert the creation of a refugee people in coming years. There is of course a bittersweet irony at play - the reliance of carbon intensive tourism (including 100,000 British a year) has helped contribute to the climatic change now threatening the Maldives, whilst providing its' only means of securing finance for a secure future. The other option, according to The Daily Mail, was to Build walls on all 193 inhabited islands - now that really would ruin the tourist industry (and it was too expensive).
The Maldives is extremely low lying and like many other island states, atolls and archipelagos this small patch of paradise faces an uncertain future as sea level rises threaten ever more. Having spent a fair bit of time in The Philippines a few years ago I'm unsurprised by the approach Mr Nasheed is proposing.
It's hard to stand on a desert island (not that hard) and not consider the vulnerability of the land to a one or two metre sea level rise (I'm not vouching for the science behind that link!), or even to isolated tidal events. The Tsunami that struck so many South and South East Asian (including the Maldives) coastal and island communities will doubtless have added to a sense of urgency for increased resilience - managed retreat/withdrawal being the ultimate, if chilling option.
Climate change brings similar challenges to landlocked communities too - I stayed with a Ladakhi community in Northern India in 2004 and learned of the struggle to irrigate farmland sufficiently due to the increased speed of Himalayan Ice melt during the summer months.
The picture below (my picture, no copyright) shows the villagers of (Saspool?) in the Indus Valley, diverting streams between plots at sunrise - something I was repeatedly told was a recent practice and one that was causing new community tensions. It was apparent that agricultural yields were dangerously low as the already limited growing season in the region was compounded by the increased scarcity of water. Much has been made of the likely impact of Himalayan Glacial decline upon the hundreds of millions on the subcontinent's plains but it is those communities living amongst the High Himalaya who are already shouldering the burden.
The Maldive experience and the Himalayan scenario may seem so overtly exotic as to seem unconnected to Welsh life but as the Natural Trust's 'Shifting Shores, Living with a Changing Coastline' report reminded us in 2006, the UK and espescially Wales, where we all live within 50 miles of the coastline, will not be immune to the impacts of sea level rise and increased dangerous weather events as a result of climate change. We too must plan for an uncertain coastal future.
The Question then, is whether Wales should be buying land somewhere and if so...where?
Monday, 10 November 2008
We're currently inviting short essays (<1000 words) from a wide range of organisations, exploring future economic policy in Wales, in light of the current financial and economic conditions and the sustainability agenda (notably the announced 80% cut by 2050).
You can title your own piece as you wish but the headline title is A Sustainable Economic Future for Wales.
Deadline End of November, accepted in Welsh or English and to be translated.
The essays would be collated and electronically published. We'll be looking to distribute the collated essays amongst AMs and appropriate civil servants. The work will help also help Cynnal structure future research and policy work and the sharing of information between contributing organisations should also prove mutually beneficial.
We would seek to promote the finished product through our networks and through Welsh media channels. Cynnal will not be editing content in any way, although we will seek to provide a sense of editorial, identifying common themes and issues of divergence.
It's an opportunity to take a fresh, progressive look at economic policy and explain what policies would allow your organisation to deliver on sustainability over the coming decades.
If you'd like to contribute, do let me know.
Thursday, 6 November 2008
It's good to see the petition system yielding a useful inquiry and hopefully a report that will suggest some workable ways to reduce the use of and the impact of plastic bags on our natural environment, on fossil fuel use and as an extremely irritating contributor to our waste streams.
Neil Evans, an officer from Carmarthenshire Council, explains his petition here , with a rallying cry to let a ban or levy on plastic bags signal a shift to world-leading action.
"Let us act decisively! I want to see Wales leading the way. I want us to be recognised as a country that has wholeheartedly embraced sustainability - not one that simply talks about it and then disregards the future for the more immediate economic interest. Lets do something to put us on the map!"
I tend to agree: Consumption related measures do get a lot of coverage, just think of Australia banning incandescent light bulbs. At the same time, I can't help feeling that in many countries plastic bags are already near non-existant because of different consumption patterns, market influences and even a sprinkling of common sense.
Thus, Wales is not taking a lead on sustainability if it bans or introduces a levy on plastic bags so as to limit their usage - it's just reversing a trend that hasn't proved particularly helpful for our environment. A levy on plastic bags would be a levy on a harmful and needless vice (much like alcohol or tobacco), not an innovative shift towards sustainable consumption.
I hope more radical shifts in our developmental approach will put Wales on the map over the coming weeks but welcome consideration of measures such as this for now. I think Obama has me dreaming about leadership on sustainability, so apolgies if I'm thinking bigger than plastic bags today.
Neil Evans also suggests that those interested in his petition go to google and search for 'plastic bags' and 'wildlife'. I'll save you the bother... Just click the here.
Tuesday, 4 November 2008
The big question facing anyone working for a more sustainable world is 'Which candidate drives the biggest car?' - best not to look to closely at policies and announcements at this early stage. For this crucial proxy for each candidate's environmental credentials information we turn to the wonderful 'compare-obama-mccain' site, which tells us that both candidates drive the same car. Strictly speaking they drive different cars (McCain a Cadillac CTS and Obama a Chrysler 300C) but they're both American cars so following Jeremy Clarkson logic we'll class them as the same. Key point, Obama's car does one mile less per gallon on the open road, which might seem a little but when you've just travelled around the US a few times in a row, that extra mpg starts to add up to a big thumbs up for McCain.
What about broader environmental credentials? Well, on food, McCain seems to favour Shrimp, Doughnuts, Pizza with Pepperoni and enchiladas, while Obama prefers good ol' Pumpkin Pie and the occaisional take-out pizza. So Obama has the lower carbon diet, unless he's taking extra spicy beef on those take-out pizzas. On literature, McCain favours 'King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table', Obama 'Moby Dick' so no contest there, everybody knows King Arthur was a massive environmentalist.
But it's on musical taste that Obama really cleans up: He can't get those Earth, Wind and Fire songs out of his head, while McCain is full of love for Abba and a selection of 'Maritime and Naval Songs'. Finally, let's look at both candidates ability to go wireless, to surf the web, to communicate without the need to burn some fossils.....yes, it's computer literacy comparison time: Obama is apparently locked to his laptop and his Blackberry while McCain, asked if he used a PC or Mac, stated 'Neither, I am a complete illiterate that has to rely on my wife for all the assistance I can get' .
When the election is over we'll be able to have a real look at the direction of policy on environmental matters and notably on energy generation. At the moment, Obama seems to be talking a tougher game in terms of percentage emissions cuts and has made much capital out of his proposed large scale investment in energy efficiciency and renewable sourcing. Unfortunately Obama has talked about the vital role 'Clean coal' can play in securing US energy interests, so we'll wait for that argument to unravel if he reaches office. For McCain Climate change or Global Warming as he calls it, is a big issue and the blurb on the McCain-Palin campaign site talks strongly of a need for action and of McCain's endorsement of a cap and trade approach globally. The devil however, is in the detail and detail comes after the ballot boxes have been put away.
Monday, 3 November 2008
The conflict, as best as I can understand, is fairly deeply rooted in localised ethnic and political tensions and the region has of course already been ravaged by conflict in recent years. From a sustainable development perspective, it's useful to consider the importance of DRC's mineral wealth and the role played by foreign investors over recent years in supporting (or otherwise) DRCs development. Our world is interconnected and whilst the conflict in DRC might seem a million miles away, it's physically closer and doubtless economically tied to our life in Western Europe - The circuits of the Mobile phone in your hands may well be made up of copper and coltan mined by foreign parties in the DRC, or rather mined by locals and exported/smuggled out by corrupt militias or overseas interests. It's all dirty trade and the chances are many consumers in Western Europe are part of that trade, arguably the most vital part.
Situations such as that in the DRC at the moment remind us that sustainable development is a global concern. Our ability to achieve well being, in all nations, is threatened by global inequalities as much as our failure to do so is a cause of so much inequality. A country rich in resources such as DRC finds itself fuelling our unsustainable consumption with natural resources, becoming environmentally, socially and economically damaged by this process and failing internally (or regionally) to structure an equitable and peaceful redistribution of the profits made from these resources. Unsustainable development is truly a vicious circle and the people of DRC are facing the most brutal consequences of these complex forces. In our comfort, here in Wales, watching the human tradgedy unfold, we may not share these consequences but we have played a role (perhaps unwittingly) within the developmental failure that underpins this disaster.