Friday, 27 March 2009

Barrages In The Mind

ScienceDaily (Mar. 27, 2009) — Engineers at the University of Liverpool claim that building estuary barrages in the North West could provide more than 5% of the UK’s electricity.

How much energy and raw material is used to build a tidal barrage? How much Carbon Dioxide is produced in building a tidal barrage? What is the payback time for the CO2 produced in construction? Will it be offset in other ways? What is the impact of tidal barrages on the carbon budgets of estuary systems? What are the consequences to the economy of the disruption of major ecosystems? In quoting figures such as 5% of UK's electricity demand are we referring to today's demand or projected future demand?

Howard Odum articulated his concept of embodied energy and coined the term Emergy (spelt with an M). This is a calculation of all the energy from all sources that has been used to produce a product or service. It recognises the true value of a product or yield because it quantifies the amount of effort used in producing the yield, including the contributions of natural systems as well as human systems in the upstream processes. It thus provides a basis for valuing the work of ecosystems and human economies in equivalent terms. It also provides a means for quantifying the impacts of economic decisions on natural systems and follows these through to their impacts on the economies that generated them. In other words it provides a quantification of the maxim "what you sow so shall you reap". This is in contrast to the current economic paradigm which externalises costs related to environmental degradation and fails to account for the consequential cost of abatement and repair to human and natural systems.

What would contemporary emergy analysis tell us about tidal barrages?

When engineers boast of meeting 5% of the UK's energy demands, they are missing the point. The Point is this: the future will be darker. It has to be. The sums just don't add up. We are all going to have to use less energy. We will travel less, eat more locally grown food and see more stars in the sky above darkened cities and towns. Its going to be different. People don't like change but building barrages is not the answer. Managing expectation is.
This is the personal opinion of Rhodri Thomas and is not representative of any official position held by Cynnal Cymru-Sustain Wales on the Severn or any other barrage. Comment is encouraged and welcome.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Power To The Community

My friend and well-informed blogger Simon Goldie makes a nice point here
about the devolution of decision making to the level most appropriate to the problem at hand. This will be a fundamental feature of a sustainable society should we ever succeed in building one. Any sustainable system exhibits local feedback control mechanisms. These co-exist with longer range linkages that typically act on longer timescales but immediate, local mechanisms take precedent.
So in the examples Simon cites, a threat to local environmental quality is being controlled from its point of origin and bonds of credit and investment are maintained within the area where the money is being spent.
This is in stark contrast to the normality we have become acclimatised to in which faceless nameless vandals foul our streets and we respond with a plaintive "why doesn't the council do something....!" and our willingness to entrust our savings to impersonal corporations from whom we gladly accept credit with sanguine imprudence.

The credit crunch is providing us with a blunt lesson: we must become responsible for our own lives and seek the legal and administrative mechanisms that allow us to exercise this responsibility. The lesson is timely as a crisis in the economic system precedes an altogether more intransigent environmental crisis.
Diverse, decentralised, self-regulating systems are common in nature and as the product of several million years of evolution, they could be considered sustainable. The key question is at what scale should the self-regulation occur and what do we mean by 'self'?
In nature it is the system that self-regulates not the individual component. So the development of a sustainable society is a question of appropriate system design and a recognition of the importance of scale. Clearly the international banking system was the wrong scale at which to self-regulate. In societal design there appears to be a scale at which the gears of morality, self-regulation and personal responsibility engage and the machine runs smoothly. In considering this, an ecologist would refer to mutualism and symbiosis but ecologists are rarely to be found in financial services.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Recycling Good Ideas

My sister lives in Trafford Greater Manchester. During a phone conversation over the weekend she announced that at last she would now be recycling. I had often teased and chided her in the past about the fact that glass, plastic and other recyclable waste was going in the general bin but as she pointed out, she could only recycle what the local council was able to accommodate. Well the good news is that she now has four large wheelie bins in four different colours that have to be put out at monthly, fortnightly and weekly intervals depending on the bin. This means that she can now send glass, plastic bottles, papers, cans and garden waste for recycling/composting. You can see the details here
Its a good job she has a large garden.

I told her that in Cardiff, they have one green bag fortnightly. In Vale of Glamorgan we have two green boxes on intermittent weeks. Simple. Convenient.

It would be nice to think that local authorities in the UK would be able to learn from each other and adopt the best of all possible recycling schemes based on tried and tested methods rather than each authority devising its own scheme. Maybe someone could do a study and find the best, most convenient, most efficient, cost effective recycling scheme and for that to be adopted as the national standard.