Monday, 26 January 2009

Post Code Lottery? Let your leaders lead.

The new president, Barack Obama looks set to allow California to forge on with tougher emissions standards, paving the way for individual states to set their own targets. The car makers wont be too happy, says the Guardian, at the thought of different rules in different states. Here's why California wasn't allowed by the EPA to have its own standards until now - sweet unadulterated corruption  - as this letter explains.

A classic lobby line 'Maverick alert' - a bit like killing a good initiative by pushing the 'postcode lottery' line - you know the score: Local authority or NHS trust does something good, like introducing a new drug or care service, then the reactionary press kill the joy of thos receiving the service by labelling the lack of blanket service coverage as a 'postcode lottery'.

The postcode lottery response spells death for innovation, creativity, localism, diversity and quirkiness. The psychology triggered by the postcode lottery lobby is no different to the feeling a bratty five year old gets when they see a friend's parent has arrived at the school gate with a chocolate bar or new toy in hand...'I want one too'.

The parent of the angry child is then faced with the same dilemma central govt faces everytime somebody in the shires has a better idea than they've had - roll it out everywhere (the justice-sharing approach) or kill the progress where it started (the injustice-sharing approach). In the UK we seem to favour the latter.

Anyway, just as trialling new services or piloting new collections of waste is the only way we'll ever improve the way we do things, I commend Obama for realising that the easiest way to reduce emissions across the States, is to allow a few mavericks to lead the create a Zipcode-lottery then share the justice!

Monday, 19 January 2009

Shock: Predicting climate change accurately tends to produce emissions

The classic line of argument against any activity aimed at predicting, mitigating or adapting to climate change - It incurs emissions. We've seen this before with Al Gore, who flew around the world converting people to his inconvenient truth and with Bono, who'd done the same but with sunglasses on. Of course a supercomputer emits lots of C02, even a not so-super computer does that. Is it better to understand likely climatic change or not buy such a computer at all and stumble blindly towards a future we haven't planned for? I don't know, but my computer emits C02 and I'd like to think that over the course of its lifetime, it will contribute to policy making and decision making that results in far larger savings of C02.

A new £33m machine purchased to calculate how climate change will affect Britain, has a giant carbon footprint of its own

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Friday, 16 January 2009

The Little Details of a Sustainable Life

My plastic pen has just run out of ink. I dismantled it and found that it has a replaceable ink cartridge. Good. I searched on-line for a supplier but could only find suppliers in Japan and the USA. Bad.

This got me thinking about all the pens in use in the UK at this moment. I have around twenty pens and pencils that I have bought, inherited or somehow acquired over the last five years. Some are biros, some are disposables, some are felt tips and some carry encouraging messages such as "I used to be a cd case!" or "Made from recycled vending cups." All of them are little symbols of our society's stark predicament because each one of those little plastic constructions is doomed to be landfilled. Pen manufacture, like the manufacture of so much else, is not a closed loop system. Pen manufacture requires the processing of low-energy, finite resources into high energy products but because these products exist in a universe defined by the second law of thermodynamics, they must in time proceed towards a lower energy end point.

Consider the pens made from recycled cd cases or the pencils made from vending cups. Most major environmental organisations have boxes of these to hand out at events. In order to manufacture these, the original source material (the recyclate) had to be processed, using input energy (probably from a pollution producing non-renewable source), to become the secondary product - the pen. When the secondary product has fulfilled its purpose it is landfilled. At each stage of the manufacture there are waste products as the creation of ordered structure equilibrates with the background disorder (entropy) of the universe as required by the second law. Have you ever seen a pen with this written on it: "I used to be a cd case then a pen then a child's toy and now I'm a pen again and then I am going to be a cd case again!" Even if it was possible to organise this level of recycling, each stage in the lifecycle would have to be bought with energy inputs and waste products. Another way of articulating the second law - "there's no such thing as a free lunch."

One day I was sharpening a pencil which used to be vending cups, feeling smug and environmentally responsible. I watched the shavings of recycled vending cup fall into the black bin bag and my smugness fell with them. You can give yourself the illusion that you have cheated the second law of thermodynamics but as it is one of the non-negotiable laws of the universe it will only ever be an illusion.

So what would be a sustainable pen? A sharpened birds feather and a ceramic pot of ink made from plants.

Taking the basic principles of the quill, I am sure it is possible for humanity, with all its endeavour and creative genius, to invent a sustainable pen for the 21st century. It would be made entirely from biodegradable natural products and would require minimal energy to manufacture. Ideally it would be manufactured using only energy derived from wind or sun. Perhaps such a product already exists?

So next time you're in a meeting discussing matters of great weight and import - how to develop a sustainable society perhaps - have a look round the table at the pens people use. The revolution or transformation in lifestyle required to achieve a sustainable society permeates to the smallest details of everyday life. We'll know when we're succeeding when everyone is using that new fangled natural pen alluded to above, and we'll laugh to think we once used to congratulate ourselves for using a pen that used to be a cd case.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

There's something happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear...

There's not alot going on in the world of sustainability (or the unsustainable world) this week, not alot that is apart from:

  • The Welsh Assembly Government published the first part of their Climate Change Strategy, for consultation. It's here and in due course I'll put a nice flashy turnpage version up. The pdf file doesn't open in Acrobat on my machine, let me know if it's just me please folks.
  • Victoria Winckler at the Bevan Foundation highlighting the dangers of downward mobility in Wales, "where there is evidence of downward mobility i.e. children doing worse than their parents". Victoria references this report which, to me, is confusing on first reading but repeatedly confirms Wales is failing on mobility once you get beyond the analytical jargon.
  • The Heathrow runway saga continues as the Government delays its decision, and a group of protesters sit down for cake and champagne (Telegraph) and here (Guardian), with a video of the shennaningans if that's how you spell shennannyguns. Apparently Alastair McGowan and Emma Thompson have joined hundreds of others in buying up tiny parcels of land so as to stall any development. Newsnight ran a debate on this on Monday, which you can see here.
  • George Monbiot continues his interview series, this time speaking with Andy Harrison, chief exec. of Easyjet. There's talk of new, efficient engines being noisy noisy noisy and they both seem to agree on that. Growth v. technology - Global problem versus UK responsibilities, carbon offsetting v. carbon saving with's all here.
  • And then of course there's George Bush, who had a goodbye press corps session on Monday. Video here, transcript here (FOX NEWS!) : George was full of fun and there was no chance of misunderestimating the extent to which he was dissapointed by some of what his office had or had not achieved: "I guess I could have been popular by accepting Kyoto, which I felt was a flawed treaty, and proposed something different and more constructive."  I guess you could but no regrets eh.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Sunday Times Best Green Companies 2009

Click below to follow through - a strong Welsh showing would be good folks.
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2 x Google searches = Same C02 as boiling a kettle. Google it if you don't believe me.............

A Harvard academic has claimed a typical google search produces 7g of C02. See the BBC story here.
This is bad news, I must have boiled 100 kettles already today and that doesn't include the two times I've boiled the kettle.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Was it a cow? Was it a monster with tentacles? It was a UFO...but why target a wind turbine?

It's not every day you get a real sustainability story to get the brain whirring. Today however, The Sun have stepped up to the plate with the shocking news that 'UFO hits wind turbine'. Yes, something and we don't yet know what, has mangled a wind truine in LIncolnshire. A local resident saw lights in the sky, and there's a turbine blade missing: 'A woman motorist told how she saw a UFO zoom towards the wind farm and strike the 290ft turbine.' reports The Sun . Jokes aside 'There's a public safety issue here, whatever you believe about UFOs'  Nick Pope, UFO expert tells The Sun. Nick, his website claims is 'now one of the world's leading experts on the unexplained' - you just can't argue with that. He's also had his picture taken with David Duchovny, so he must know his stuff. I'm in the wrong field, clearly.

Well, the only thing I believe about UFO's is that the crucial term is the 'U' bit - Unidentified. This makes for easy news fodder of course - the term UFO is synonymous with aliens, ET's and flying saucers so you can use it to describe anything hitting something and imply that the planet is being invaded. 'UFOs hit umbrellas across nation' = 'it's raining' and so on.

All that's required to make for the perfect shock story is that nobody is quite sure what they've seen. If somebody's seen strange lights during a 7 day period either side of the event, all the better. In this case, the Guardian have poured jolly hot water all over the UFO claims, with one of their editors admitting that a family fireworks display in the vicinty would account for the lights seen in the sky.

There is, of course, likely to be a more prosaic explanation than the focused efforts of an alien lifeform on destroying our burgeoning renewable generation capacity. Step forward Dale Vince, from Ecotricity, who run the wind farm - he'll know what's going on....not according to the R4 Today Programme to whom Mr Vince reportedly 'says a range of possibilities - from flying cows to monsters with tentacles - are being investigated' .

Anyway, with one turbine down, meeting the UK's renewables obligations is looking even more unlikley than before- so best find that blade, clean off the tentacle goo and get us back on track.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Surging obesity + One 'maverick' surgeon = Zero carbon Transport for all?

Could it be that we've found a solution to climate change that actually fits with our times? If you follow the perverse logic employed by this Beverley Hills surgeon and agree with the much maligned (see Henry Hicks at Futerra on Behaviour Change) 'Change4Life' campaign  - that in a few decades we'll all be obese, then it strikes me we've hit on the most convenient of solutions.....Could get messy though....

Monbiot sheds his light on Tad Deiniol's Vision

You may have missed this over Christmas - Geroge Monbiot got all emotional about feeling Welsh (it's ok George, you're not the only one) and gave some airtime to Tad Deiniol's porposals for a One-Wales trainline.

Monbiot's Guardian piece is here  it's been blogged about and commented upon here at Welsh Ramblings and in welsh by Vaughan Roderick here.

Tad's been in touch with us about his proposals before and contributed some useful analysis to our Transformation Nation Report way back in 2008. It's nice to see his efforts being given some amplification and it's even more interesting to see the reception his proposals receive in the blogosphere.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Old thinking must be shared...

This was meant to go out before the 'festive period' but alas, it lay alone in my drafts folder, unfinished and incoherent. I'm not even sure where this was going - but it was something to do with sex saving the planet, so I must have been in a good mood. If you read the Rob Hopkins piece, it will all make sense.

John Paul Flintoff at the Times picks up on Rob Hopkins latest blog - Rob thinks it's time to say good bye to Economic growth: 'I say let's write it off as a fascinating but ultimately failed economic experiment, and look instead at a new way, one based on the economics of resilience and, ultimately, survival.'  - not least because he's just seen Kevin Anderson's latest Tyndall centre presentation, which you can download here. In short, we need to cut GHG emissions at a rate of 9% per annum to have any chance of avoiding dangerous climate change. 9% is big - sizeable cuts in emissions are normally only assoiciated with severe economic decline but 9% every year means a big rethink, as far as I can work out, of almost everything.

Rob's piece is a good review of some of the recent thinking on economic policy and sustainable development, highlighting the opportunity that Transition and other resilience based approaches offer communities, likewise the New Green Deal. He also picks up on another strand of recent discourse, the notion of a retreat from the frenzied consumption of recent decades, towards austerity and the finer things in life. Peter Wells at Cardiff's BRASS institue has written an interesting comment piece on just this - well worth a read. There's also the Reverend Billy of course (see below) or