A portion of this heatwave is climate change, that is definite. UK, July 2018

by Fred Miller, July 2018

This dry spell, from the beginning of June to the 19th July has been the driest on record since 1961.

The BBC described it like this:

After weeks of hot and sunny weather, it’s official – the UK is experiencing its driest start to a summer since modern records began in 1961.

Just 50.8mm of rain fell between 1 June and 19 July, comfortably lower than the previous record of 58mm set in 2013.

England has been particularly dry, with only 21.4mm of rain since the beginning of June.

A Met Office spokesman told the BBC there was no “significant sign” of change “any time soon”.

The New Scientist editorial on 7 July 2018 was clear that we can now call this sort of heat wave a climate change event. Research by the The World Weather Attribution project on the high temperatures of June – August 2017 reported that:

human greenhouse gas emissions had increased the chances of seeing a summer as hot as 2017 by at least a factor of 10“ and they think the numbers are likely to be similar for this year’s heat waves. This matters because climate change is frequently seen as a problem for another day. There can no longer be an excuse for that. Just look out your window and say hello to a warmer world. “

So, that factor of 10 is expected to be similar this year.

Extreme weather events are spending more time in one place due to climate change which is changing the jet stream, making it more looped. This traps areas of high or low pressure. This will prolong a heat wave or a cold period. This summer has seen worldwide extreme weather, with deadly forest fires in Greece, California, heat waves and storms in Japan, and north Africa suffering some of the hottest temperatures ever.

The Guardian: (13 July, Jonathan Watts) reports that:

The concern is that weather fronts – hot and cold – are being blocked more frequently due to climate change. This causes droughts and storms to linger, amplifying the damage they cause. This was a factor in the recent devastating floods in Japan, where at least 150 people died after rainfall up to four times the normal level.

Underscoring the link, a new report from scientists at the World Weather Attribution group indicates that man made climate change and its effect on rainfall made the recent Cape Town drought three times more likely.

There is now a whole field of climate science studying the attribution of extreme weather events to human global warming. It shows the increased probability of such events occurring, as a result of human GHG emissions. I think the mainstream media is not being responsible in its general omission of reference to this.

There is a hint from some reporters (such as a weather presenter on Channel 5, in a heatwave special!) that this is all inevitable. “The climate is just, well, changing.” I would like to tell them: No, it is not like that. For at least 26 years, we have been absolutely sure that our emission of greenhouse gases will bring this about, and now it is.

Twenty six years ago, governments started to talk about this at the 1992, Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro. The Agenda 21 process was initiated to bring about sustainability. But then some thing else took over: the push for unfettered economic global growth, that would not be stopped by anything. The governments and corporations – decided on this path. It did not happen by chance it was decided upon.

But what is also insidious are comments like a recent Times column (Tom Whipple, 27 July) which states that climate change will be a mere blip in the earth’s geological history, and ‘there is no need to panic’. So any problem is not really a problem, because it will not feature much in the fossil record, when a different species looks back in 50 million years! How very helpful. I hope Tom Whipple reminds himself of this when he encounters any problem!

 

 

Posts on these blog pages are the personal views of the authors only and are not intended to represent any agreed or general view on the part of GlosCAN.org.

Air travel to be world’s most polluting industry?

by Jon Barrance, July 2018

I was very heartened to see that Julie Girling, one of our local MEPs for the South West, has recognised that the aviation industry is failing to live up to its responsibilities to reduce carbon emissions.

As a retired aerospace engineer (I worked for Airbus on the design and certification of the A400M wing) I have become increasingly aware that the Industry’s plans and actions do not add up – neither to the aspirations of the Paris Agreement nor even to their own CORSIA agreement. While there have been significant reductions in the emissions of individual aircraft these are more than counteracted by the planned growth of air traffic. At the same time the opportunities for further reductions in the emissions produced by future aircraft are limited by the technologies involved in aircraft design and alternative fuels. The study by the Centre for Alternative Technology, Zero Carbon Britain – Rethinking the Future demonstrates that it is possible for aviation to have a future in a zero carbon situation, restricting it to long range travel, but not at the density of traffic envisaged by the industry.

Two factors put aviation in a uniquely difficult position – aircraft design is dependant on the energy density provided by hydrocarbon fuels and the emissions of airliners cruising at altitude have an increased effect on the environment. My present observations of and connections with the aircraft industry, through Cranfield University, do not encourage me to believe that there is sufficient ambition in current research to achieve the reduction in emissions required.

As for offsets – they are already largely discredited, and as emissions in other sectors are reduced to net zero there will be little left to offset against.

There is a stark warning here for the Industry – it has to face up to a future that will limit the growth of air travel and it has to find carbon sequesters that it can properly offset its emissions against. Otherwise it will become the most polluting industry on the planet.

 

Press release from Julie Girling, MEP – 28 June 2018

Emissions reduction aspirations may have been badly weakened by the recent ICAO agreement

(Or read on Julie Girling’s website.)

The International Civil Aviation Organisation, the global aviation governing body to which almost all nations are signatories, has agreed the recommended standards and practices phase of its landmark carbon reduction programme: The Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). While this should be a step towards securing a greener and more sustainable future, serious deficiencies threaten to undermined hard fought concessions. Ambitious targets of carbon neutral growth from 2020 are increasingly at risk – on a global scale – with concessions to oil producing nations, the withdrawal of China and the offset itself now in the long grass.
Mrs Julie Girling MEP, the Rapporteur who guided the EU ETS through the European Parliament was largely disappointed with the outcome:
‘I am very disappointed, although not altogether surprised, at this outcome. The only real positive seems to be the push to complete the MRV process. The offset can has been kicked down the road to avoid confrontation which doesn’t augur well for future agreement. The decision on fossil fuels is a bizarre and unnecessary concession to oil producing countries including the US. China is out of the pilot stage; this is very bad news, States seem to be moving away from consensus causing frustration amongst many EU Member States.
It is now even more important for Europe to make an immediate reservation and re-assert the right to continue with the EU ETS. The EU takes its Paris commitments seriously and its increasingly clear that there is a real danger of the global scheme through CORSIA failing to deliver.
On a UK domestic note I just wonder how the development of Heathrow can be squared with the UK’s own climate commitments and the stalemate emerging on global action for aviation.’

 

Posts on these blog pages are the personal views of the authors only and are not intended to represent any agreed or general view on the part of GlosCAN.org.

Book Review – “THE WORLD WE’LL LEAVE BEHIND, Grasping the Sustainability Challenge”

by Jon Barrance, June 2018

Since last year I have been attending Tuesday evening seminars at Bath University arranged by I-SEE, the Institute for Sustainability Energy and the Environment. They have all been by people with an important professional stake in their subject and I have found them always informative and thought provoking. Recently I attended one given by the authors of this book in which they gave an insight into their process and motivation for writing it plus some thoughts on who they were writing it for and how it might be used. As a result I purchased a copy of the book and have been reading it.

I have to say that it is not one of those books that set out to inspire with a vision, narrative and solutions for a better world. Initially that caused me some disappointment. But to be fair I should not have expected that – the authors had clearly stated at the seminar and do so in their introduction that it is a book to be dipped into as the reader’s interest takes them. So I decided to test it out in that way to see if it would help me with preparation for attending an upcoming workshop on the future of farming in the UK.

The book has 55 short chapters laid out in three sections – Issues, Concepts and Strategies.

I selected “Eating meat” from the Issues. Here I found in just 3 well written pages the issues familiar to me – the high emissions associated with livestock compared with equivalent protein crops; the much better land use efficiency of crops over livestock; that a better diet contains less meat but that it should contain some; and the ethical and animal welfare concerns that are paramount to some people. In addition I learnt that meat production is heavily subsidised worldwide with cattle subsidies in the EU of about $190 per cow, and that there is an argument for eating meat with a clear conscience if the animal has lived, fed, and died well. There are useful references and links at the end of each chapter, but not an overwhelming number.

Moving on to Concepts I read three chapters – “Valuing the Environment”, “Sustainable Development”, and “Development”. Each of these introduced me to some new ways of looking at things. I have strong ideas about what I value about my environment, what I consider to be sustainable development, and what development is. The contribution of this book is to give a broader summary of each topic from a wide range of different viewpoints, and to present it in a brief and readable manner. It was intriguing that the environment could include the virtual as well as the real, that sustainable could include wants as well as needs, and to read about the attempts to measure the value of development in meaningful ways.

Finally I read the chapter “Feeding 10 billion”. This chapter does much more than introduce and discuss Malthus, the attempts since then to limit population, and why his theory has up until now not been realised. It also tackles the possibility that we might be approaching a finite limit to the amount of food that the world can produce and some of the other factors governing population growth. It brought home to me that the recently introduced Universal Credit system that restricts benefits to a maximum of 2 children is unlikely to have any effect on reducing the number of children born to claimants thereby pushing them into even greater poverty. The chapter ends chillingly “The ghost of Malthus, meanwhile, is standing in the wings to say ‘I told you so'”.

I have gone on to read many other chapters as the occasion has arisen. Each one has been an easy and enjoyable read: concise, informative and with a short list of references for further study. I have 9 grandchildren and am struck by the recurring theme throughout the book of meeting the needs of the present without compromising future generations. For me the book has helped me prepare for the workshop and has been good value in doing so. At a discounted price of £23.50 in paperback, however, it is expensive for today’s students as was expressed by some at the seminar. With that one reservation I would recommend it to all but the most erudite scholar.

The World We'll Leave Behind: Grasping the Sustainability Challenge (Paperback) book cover

“THE WORLD WE’LL LEAVE BEHIND, Grasping the Sustainability Challenge”
William Scott and Paul Vare
First published 2018 by Greenleaf Publishing/Routledge

Abstract: It is now clear that human activity has influenced how the biosphere supports life on Earth, and given rise to a set of connected environmental and social problems. The core dilemma of our time is: How can we all live well, now and in the future, without compromising the ability of the planet to enable us all to live well?
William Scott is Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Bath, and is Chair of Trustees of the UK’s National Association for Environmental Education. He was director of the university’s Centre for Research in Education and the Environment, and founding editor of the Routledge journal Environmental Education Research. His research focuses on the role of learning in sustainable development, on the contributions that education (viewed broadly) can make to this, and on the problems of researching the effectiveness of such activities. He has a particular interest in the idea and practice of sustainable schools and universities, and has written extensively about these. In particular, he hopes that such institutions will take sustainability seriously through what they teach and how they operate as institutions, but not to the extent of disempowering people by telling them how to live their lives or what values to hold. He blogs on issues to do with sustainability and learning at: blogs.bath.ac.uk/edswahs/. Paul Vare is Postgraduate Research Lead for the School of Education at the University of Gloucestershire, he is also a founder director of The South West Learning for Sustainability Coalition, a network of over 130 organisations. Before joining the higher education sector four years ago, Paul worked for over 35 years in environmental education and education for sustainable development (ESD) in various settings, chiefly on international development projects. For over a decade Paul represented European ECO Forum, an NGO coalition, on various expert groups of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) drafting the UNECE Strategy for ESD, a set of ESD indicators and recommendations for ESD educator competences. He is currently leading an EU-funded project that is developing a competence framework for educators to be used to support qualifications in a broad range of contexts.

 

Posts on these blog pages are the personal views of the authors only and are not intended to represent any agreed or general view on the part of GlosCAN.org.

Carbon Capture and Storage: Essential for our Future or a Trojan Horse for Big Oil?

by Hugh Richards (GlosCAN), May 2018 (updated 20 June 2018)

This was the title given to a Stroud Green Party ‘Coffee House Meeting’ held at Star Anise Café in Stroud on Friday 13 April 2018. It was organised by Rod Nelson and Martyn Cutcher, and the main speaker was Tim Dixon, who is Programme Manager of the IEAGHG (based in Cheltenham), with a short counter-presentation given by Sarah Lunnon of Stroud Green Party (and member of the GlosCAN Steering Group).

The purpose of this attempt to summarise the event is to try to distil out the main issues from a political/campaigning perspective, rather than get into technical aspects, and to make this summary intelligible (and useful, I hope) to readers who were not present. Apart from my concluding statement, I have tried to keep my own opinions and input out of this account, except where I have felt it necessary. [I have put such personal input in square brackets, like this.]

MAIN SPEAKER’S BACKGROUND

First, some background on the main speaker, Tim Dixon, and on IEAGHG. IEAGHG is the IEA Greenhouse Gas Research and Development programme. It was set up by the International Energy Agency, which is an agency of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). IEAGHG is funded by industry and governments of OECD and non-OECD member countries. IEAGHG is a research and development organisation focussing on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) but does not advocate for CCS. Tim Dixon has worked for IEAGHG for about ten years, having previously worked in a secondment into the Civil Service to help develop the UK and EU regulatory regimes for CCS and before that for the UK Department of Energy’s Energy Technology Support Unit, which used to manage government-funded research into various forms of energy, including renewables and hot-dry-rock geothermal. Education and outreach are not part of IEAGHG’s mission and Tim was giving of his own time to be involved in this event.

[In that context, it is understandable that the ‘slides’ he used in his presentation were quite technical and not tailored to this particular audience. He agreed to share the slides with the organisers, and they may be viewed here. I suggest they should be seen as providing a general impression of his presentation, which I think was pitched at the right level for the audience, but did not explain every detail or acronym on the slides. One particular point that could be misunderstood is the reference on Slide 34 to ‘Aquifers throughout’ as potential ‘CO2 sinks’ in the UK context. This is referring to ‘deep saline aquifers’ (see Slide 2), not aquifers with fresh water resources.]

MAIN SPEAKER’S PRESENTATION (TIM DIXON)

Tim’s presentation (as linked to in previous paragraph) sought to address the following broad questions:

  • ‘What is CCS?’ [and how is it regulated] – Slides 2-9
  • ‘Why CCS?’- Slides 10-25
  • ‘Where is CCS happening?’ – Slides 26-35
  • ‘What are the challenges to CCS?’ – Slide 36.

In addressing the ‘What is CCS?’ question, the presentation was evidently intended to provide confidence that deep injection of CO2 into geological strata is a routine operation in the current oil and gas industry, that significant leakage back to the surface will not be an issue, and that CCS is and will be more tightly regulated than the oil and gas industry.

In addressing the ‘Why CCS?’ question, the presentation emphasised that the global ‘energy’ and ‘industry’ sectors account for over 50% of current greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from ‘point sources’ of CO2 that could be amenable to CCS. These include electricity generation from fossil fuels and manufacture of steel, cement and chemicals. In future, CCS combined with bio-energy (BECCS) could be a significant ‘Negative Emissions Technology’ that removes CO2 from the atmosphere. Tim also mentioned ‘direct air capture’ of CO2 from the atmosphere, but described that technology as ‘not yet available’.

In addressing the ‘Where is CCS happening?’ question, the presentation was evidently intended to convey the message that there are numerous pilot and demonstration-scale CCS projects around the world, with a wide variety of CO2 sources, CO2 capture technologies, and CO2 end-destinations.

The final main Slide (No. 36) presents challenges faced by CCS in going from demonstration scale to the huge number of ‘full scale’ schemes that would be needed for CCS to play anything like the role envisaged in the IPCC’s scenarios for meeting the Paris Agreement goals. [I think it would be fair to say that Tim identified the single largest factor as the first one listed, namely the ‘low or inexistent carbon price’; that is, the failure of the true costs of fossil carbon emissions to be borne by either the producers or users of fossil fuels, cement, etc.]

MORE – REMAINDER OF ARTICLE… READ THE REMAINDER OF THIS BLOG-POST, AND ITS CONCLUSION, IN PDF FORMAT (WITH WEB-LINKS TO INFORMATION) including:

COUNTER-PRESENTATION (BY SARAH LUNNON) AND RESPONSES

SUMMARY BY ROD  NELSON

SUMMARY BY FRED MILLER

Q&A / DISCUSSION AND FOLLOW-UP

PERSONAL CONCLUSION

 

 

Posts on these blog pages are the personal views of the authors only and are not intended to represent any agreed or general view on the part of GlosCAN.org.

Thoughts after ‘Growing the Future’ workshop

Thoughts after ‘Growing the Future – Prospecting for innovative approaches to food, farming and the environment’
Thursday 29th March, 10:00-16:00, Oxstalls Campus, University of Gloucestershire

by Jon Barrance

There were some positives about this day including the fact that it took place at all. Instigated by David Drew it had considerable support from Gloucester University’s Countryside and Community Research Institute, who hosted the event at their Gloucester campus and who deserve many thanks for their hospitality, efficient organisation and facilitation.

Of the presentations from influential and knowledgeable speakers working in farming, food and the environment the potentially most influential was from Sue Pritchard (Director, RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, a non-government body funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation). However, I was not convinced that the Commission was on the right track to present the kind of evidence required to support a plan for farming, land use, and food production that could be integrated into an overall environmental, social, industrial and economic future plan for Britain. The most knowledgeable, and certainly the most entertaining presentation was from Professor Tim Lang (Centre for Food Policy, City University of London) who made a strong case for food production to be sufficient, sustainable and above all, healthy. Three speakers from specific interest groups (Tenant Farmers, Food Planning, and Country Landowners) were each given a 3 minute spot to put their case, but somehow this failed to emphasise the differences between them or raise any controversy. The presentations can be viewed at https://www.slideshare.net/CCRI/presentations

Five different workshops were run to cover – 1.Trade issues; 2. Managing market uncertainty; 3. Food and energy futures; 4. Land, biodiversity and water management; 5. Social value and Wellbeing. I attended workshops 3 and 4 and found them well facilitated and, if I was not able to contribute everything I wanted to that was because all were given a chance to speak and make a point. But the summaries of the workshops came up with little more than the facilitators own views and perspectives. The Five Word Feedback from the audience was not a success. Perhaps exhausted after the day the participants did not respond well to this challenge.

The panel of David Drew (Labour), Julie Girling (Conservative), Simon Pickering (Green Party) and Sue Pritchard gave their thoughts on the day and outlined their next steps. I could not discern that the day had influenced their thoughts in any way. David Drew said that it would help him in his role of putting together an opposition policy and that he could see that there might be many areas of agreement with the government.

Despite the positives the day left me greatly disappointed. The innovative approaches of the title of the event seemed to be accepted as a given. They were not presented in an ordered or systematic way and their benefits were not appraised in a scientific manner that would be an effective opposition to current practices. Where was the summary of each in terms of its costs; crop, meat or dairy yields; environmental effects; food value; social values; interaction with transport and energy production; and greenhouse gas emissions? We have but a short instant in time to re-evaluate our current practices so that we use our land better in providing more of our own, healthier food, plus biomass, in an environmentally sound and sustainable way, to benefit society and all with net negative greenhouse gas emissions. The latest government documents contain many fine words but must be backed up with realistic plans, justified by evidence, to bring about the changes necessary in the required timescale without harming our food producers or the most vulnerable consumers. I shall send my thoughts as feedback and suggest that a follow-up is required.

Jon Barrance, 9th April 2018

 

Posts on these blog pages are the personal views of the authors only and are not intended to represent any agreed or general view on the part of GlosCAN.org.

‘Carbon Bombs’ – A Slow-Burn Narrative

by Hugh Richards, March 2018

I have written this blog-post at the request of other GlosCAN Steering Group members. It follows a meeting I had on 9 March 2018 with David Drew MP, at his request. This was in response to me emailing him a copy of my note entitled ‘Fantasy Climate Control’, about three years after he asked me to write it. That was back in February 2015, at the end of a meeting in Stroud Old Town Hall convened by Global Justice Now, at which David Drew stated that ‘Ed Miliband gets it’ on climate change. Indeed, the following day, Ed Miliband himself spoke at the Stroud Subscription Rooms and said that (if elected) his government would ‘put climate change at the heart of industrial strategy’ – a statement that seemed to vanish without trace in reporting of that election campaign. At that event I unexpectedly found myself asking the aspiring future prime minister whether he agreed that it would be easier to regulate the extraction of fossil fuels than the emissions from their use. He professed to not understand the question, which made me question whether (at that time) he really did ‘get it’ on climate change, at the fundamental global scale that matters.

Of course, the pollsters got it all wrong in May 2015, and neither Ed Miliband nor David Drew realised their electoral ambitions. David Drew declared his withdrawal from politics, which is why I did not send him ‘Fantasy Climate Control’ until recently. I have shared it with others, ranging from George Marshall (Climate Outreach) to David Hone (Shell), who in different ways have responded politely and not dismissively, but no-one has taken up the challenge to either ‘shoot down’ the ideas or ‘pick up and run’ with them. I have referred to the basic concept (which is not mine) in a review of David Hone’s recent book, a shorter version of which has been published in the on-line version of GeoScientist (the magazine of the Geological Society). However, I don’t take myself seriously enough on this to want to promote it more actively. If someone else with better connections to opinion-formers or policy-makers can do something with it, I would be more than satisfied.

I realise that the emphasis given to carbon capture and geo-sequestration/storage (CCS) may be unappealing to some. As I have written in a previous blog-post, I am unsure what the real potential for CCS is. But including it as a possibility just might make a fossil carbon extraction regulatory/permitting regime more palatable to at least some producer countries and corporations.

Likewise, the inclusion of the possibility of a role for nuclear power (even in a footnote) may be a step too far for some. But all I am calling for is a ‘level playing field’ in which a real cost of fossil carbon emissions is paid. If renewables out-compete nuclear, so be it.

Do I think the current state of international relations is favourable to the kind of concept explored in ‘Fantasy Climate Control’? Clearly not. Perhaps a ‘threat narrative’ needs to develop, in which unregulated extraction of fossil carbon could be seen as a hostile act akin to nuclear weapons programmes of ‘rogue states’ such as North Korea. The notion of ‘carbon bombs’ (such as gigantic new coal mining projects) is not new but perhaps its time has not yet come.

 

Posts on these blog pages are the personal views of the authors only and are not intended to represent any agreed or general view on the part of GlosCAN.org.

ESSAY: The Water Proxy – An Empirical Approach to Resolving Climate Change

by Julian Jones, December 2017

The human footprint on our planet has been catastrophic—like the carnage caused by a vast beast rampaging blindly across our landscapes. However, by looking at the effects of this monster on the water cycle, we can identify some empirical means to resolve this destruction.

‘Climate change’ represents a recent recognition of this damage—but wider social and ecological costs are evident through many thousands of years of human intervention on the biosphere, long pre-dating the use of fossil fuels. Our basic needs—energy, food and water (all exploited unsustainably)—now mostly evident only by their scarcity across vast arid areas of the globe; the accumulated result of human excesses over many generations.

Consequently, around 60% of the land surface of our normally beautiful blue green planet is now scarred or desertified; still being so by on going human activity, further destroying and degrading our ‘life support system’. It need not be like this; it could be made verdant, much cooler and sustainably productive once again; if only we better manage land and water to reverse wider ecological and economic damage; to allow huge abundance, moderation of global warming and most importantly, space for all.

Of all components of global eco-systems, the water cycle has arguably suffered the most, with profound accompanying effects on climate. And, as with all ecocide, much of this degradation caused by exploitative actions for short term gains; with the long term costs ignored, externalised, suppressed or just unaccounted for. Just some of the examples are deforestation; eradication of keystone species that maintain ecosystems; slash and burn or industrial agriculture.   It’s to our greater cost and detriment that our species’ awareness extends no further than the collective ‘ends of our noses’. Yet these costs and the measures to resolve and repair can be quantified empirically via the water cycle.

Exploitation of the planet’s resources has had some great benefits for a few, but we have reached an economic tipping point. Now, the living standards of the majority in the prosperous Western nations seem to have peaked and are wilting – owing largely to the competitive pressures of globalisation, plus the cumulative effects of the externalised environmental costs.

‘Think global, act local’ runs the well-known ecological saying; but as EU & US living standards peak, an unpleasant side of local self-interest is now arising, currently focused on immigration pressure. Yet this new politics fails to properly consider that the immigration burdens at home are mainly driven by corporate lobbying for this and the cumulative consequences of our exploitive actions overseas. These break down the indigenous economies and cultures of the immigrating peoples – just another example of our externalised ecocide returning to us as socio-economic ‘blowback’.

A completely free market is no longer sustainable, nor ever should have been. Planning required here should be primarily based upon climatic, ecological and social gain determinants. Our planet with its growing population has a fixed carrying capacity with restricting ecological factors that require restraint and responsibility. Yet there is little proper corporate or even governmental recognition that we all must live within such finite natural constrictions; which, furthermore, can and should be defined empirically in a wholly non-partisan manner.

This is well evidenced in the UK, where half a century of largely unregulated agrochemical farming practice has so degraded soil carbon (humus), and thus also contaminated water aquifers, that the public now have to bear significantly increased costs for flood insurance and water charges. These are both very specific proxy measures that combine economic factors with ecological ones, brought into focus by soil and water cycle mismanagement. Use of agrochemicals destroys soil water retaining and infiltrating properties; land temperatures rise and capillary action in the soil ceases, while chemicals become concentrated in ground water, as rain water runs off much more quickly.

In both cases of mismanagement, the less well-off always suffer most. Those forced to live in low cost flood-blighted properties are so often also those unable to afford the inflation-busting charges from water companies; the ever escalating costs of removing agrochemicals from the water supply. Yet society as a whole has also to pay to subsidize all this in many different ways. Just one insight into the true non-wealth producing nature of our present way of life; unnecessary social and economic complexity without logical rationale.

In less well-off countries, similar effects of ecocide are often terminally catastrophic for those affected. And often just described as the ‘effects of climate change’; which grossly over simplifies the problem, obscures effective action to resolve the direct causes here, or even address the dire issue of atmospheric greenhouse gases.

Myopic governmental policies are often based on flawed, corrupted and incomplete science, or even just wishful thinking. After more than a decade of Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) in the UK, 69% have shown no improvement in groundwater nitrate levels, with 31% getting worse – and apparently the government ministry involved has no idea why.

Loss of soil carbon has just recently been recognised as a key issue in ‘developed’ nations – but has long been an implicit consideration in traditional agriculture; from the indigenous Terra Preta of pre-Columbian Amazonia to the traditional European methods still maintained by Biodynamic practices. Such ‘Carbon Farming’ now growing in popularity with fresh thinking contributed by a range of other techniques (Permaculture, Mob Grazing, Nature Farming/Effective Microorganisms etc ).

Holistic farming strives to consider the entire ecological cycle in its practices, protecting and perpetually building soil fertility and thus also protecting the water cycle. This ‘holistic consideration’ also extends deeply within these practices and their implementation—so different from the prescriptive agrochemical methods that only maintain an illusion of greater productivity either by way of hefty subsidies, or by implicit subsidising of the presently unaccounted ecological consequences.

By maintaining or increasing soil carbon, not only the causes but also effects of climate change are moderated. The major processes that enable this are microbial and very sensitive. A combination of management techniques are required to achieve this – the right microbes must be present and enabled to sequestrate atmospheric CO2, thus producing humus and water via the Calvin Cycle.

A variety of very strict criteria are involved – the correct nutrients (only composts or other living biological fertilisers; not slurry or midden); the correct plant cultivars that can host the appropriate microbial root activity; the correct cultivation or grazing practices. All only possible by largely avoiding agrochemicals; and therein is the obstacle – the vast inertia of agrochemical corporate lobbying which prevents governmental support of such non-ecocidal agriculture, or even sound empirical science.

Avoidance by governmental regulation of even such simple metrics as building soil carbon in our farmland is a shocking deficiency in our struggle with climate change, quite apart from neglecting to protect the public economic interest but it is for the obvious reasons of commercial and landowner vested interests.

Most people are uninterested in and disengaged with these issues, yet often still complain about the circumstances they find themselves in. Politicians, either ignorant or corrupted, not just allowing but often actually promoting all this; yet now suffering at the ballot box. The wider public are still mostly unaware of the incomplete science (and worse) that underpins much of their lifestyle, yet voters are suspicious that things are not as they should be. Correctly so, as the degraded economic and ecological systems now in toto only creating wealth for few, while impoverishing the majority.

The principle of reciprocity is quite central here; in terms of our actions and how we respect others—who very often might be suffering the consequences of our demands; this might be in terms of the effects of our purchasing decisions; for apparently cheap food or energy, or any other goods. And also quite literally (certainly in terms of water availability and links with soil carbon), ‘reaping the effects of what we have sown’. Ethics and science should be considered together here in resolving ecocide.

Fracking and nuclear power are simply the latest racketeering projects of this continually degrading system of collective irresponsibility; both promoted and implemented on the basis of flawed and incomplete accounting of their true costs, that extend into future generations, and are clearly identifiable by their huge effects on water.

Nuclear power is spurious in its claimed benefits; a concentrated thermal energy source that warms vast ecologically disruptive quantities of water around its environs, with uranium mining causing an ecocidal legacy of acidic and radioactive water contamination. It’s much the same for other hydrocarbon energy sources—coal, gas and oil, with additional atmospheric CO2 released.

Similarly, fracking is another demand on limited water availability, also then dosed with toxic chemicals. The huge intelligence and defence industry costs of meeting our demands of these thermal energy supplies, petrochemicals and minerals are never accounted for in the true comparative costs against renewable energy sources; quite apart from additional costs in human lives, liberties, and well-being. But even now, we are learning the truth, that renewable energy is the cheapest supply over time and socially equalising in its economic benefits; just the same as non-ecocidal agriculture.

The social, economic and ecological Beast that we have created can be tamed by global agreement and legislation to end this ecocide. Defining what is—or is not, ecocidal is an important part of this process. The measures to control ecocide can best determined by the effects of any activity or undertaking on the Water Cycle. These can be clearly and empirically defined in terms of eco-toxicity, soil carbon and water availability benefits, thermal effects, biodiversity, with wider climatic & social gains. This would set a new course for humanity, of abundance and harmony with each other and our environment.

Julian Jones – is a water expert providing technical support for www.water21.org.uk

This essay was first published in 2015 http://www.ecolibriumnow.com/

 Posts on these blog pages are the personal views of the authors only and are not intended to represent any agreed or general view on the part of GlosCAN.org.

Gloucester Cathedral’s musical heritage – will it continue?

First posted October 3, 2016, amended November 24, 2017

by Hugh Richards

It is a privilege of being a member of one of the larger choral societies that I get to sing in such great venue as Gloucester Cathedral and Tewkesbury Abbey. I love that sense of musical continuity that goes back centuries in such places, and it is easy to imagine that it will continue for centuries to come.

But will it? It is a mainstream opinion in institutions like the World Bank that we are currently headed for changes in the global climate system that will eventually result in coastal and port cities such as Gloucester being disrupted or abandoned due to flooding from the sea. No one can say precisely how long that would take to happen; perhaps the span of time since Handel’s ‘Messiah’ was written (274 years ago) or even shorter; certainly shorter than the age of the Cathedral.

Meanwhile, over a time span of the age of Britten’s ‘War Requiem’ (56 years – my own age), many more immediate tribulations would befall our world, with the global mean temperature likely to have increased by more than 4 °C in the absence of effective global action in the next decade or so. As one climate scientist has put it, “The difference between two and four degrees is human civilization.” Choral music is an aspect of human civilization I particularly appreciate, but not the only one!

Book Review: “Putting the Genie Back: Solving the Climate and Energy Dilemma” by David Hone

Book Review: “Putting the Genie Back: Solving the Climate and Energy Dilemma” by David Hone (Emerald Publishing), 2017, list price £12.99

Hugh Richards, September 2017

An uninformed belief is gaining ground and leading to the false conclusion that a very rapid energy transition is underway that will solve the [carbon] emissions issue. This belief is that renewable energy is becoming so cost-competitive that emissions will fall rapidly and decisively without real financial outlay…” So begins the final chapter of this book by Shell’s Chief Climate Change Advisor. The book is not an attack on renewable energy, but rather, a closely-argued case that the energy transition required by the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change will need much more than global growth in renewable energy and increased energy efficiency. In particular, Hone argues that carbon emissions pricing in globally linked national or regional schemes will be essential to drive the transition, and that carbon capture and geological storage (CCS) at vast scale will be needed if anything like the Paris goal of “well below 2°C” of warming is to be achieved.

On carbon pricing, his thesis is that the structure of something like the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) is essentially correct as a model for delivering an effective global carbon price, but such schemes as do exist have been rendered ineffective by overlapping policy initiatives, to the point where the carbon prices are so low that they have negligible effect on the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, and remain far below the level (about $100/tonne CO2) needed to create a market for CCS. In the absence of a functioning global carbon market, he suggests the development of tradable “CCS credits” to get CCS going at scale, but acknowledges that carbon pricing purists [my term] would say this would be to set a technological objective above the principle of an efficient market.

Hone’s language is mostly dispassionate but sometimes blunt, and there is evidently underlying frustration with the unwillingness of policy-makers to tackle head-on what he calls the “stock” of cumulative carbon emissions since pre-industrial times and the resulting concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. Rather, he observes a tendency to prioritise what (in the context of climate change mitigation) should be secondary (albeit desirable) objectives such as poverty reduction, health improvement, “green jobs”, energy security, etc.

Hone is perhaps the ultimate insider on climate change, having been a Shell employee since 1980 and in his current role since 2008, attending many of the major international conferences and in a position to influence key texts, possibly even the Paris Agreement Itself. He does question whether the main Paris goal (which he interprets as aiming to limit warming to 1.5-1.8°C) is so difficult to achieve as to endanger the whole enterprise. However, he returns frequently to the notion that cumulative carbon emissions since 1750 should not exceed 1 trillion tonnes (3.7 trillion tonnes of CO2) and the implication that the great majority of the world’s proven fossil fuel reserves should remain in the ground.

As an “amateur” observer of the climate change scene, I found little in the book I could take issue with, apart from one statement: “Opting to leave these [fossil fuel] reserves in the ground forever … will happen only if alternative energy sources are developed that out-compete them …” [emphasis mine]. This makes the assumption that the option to regulate the extraction of fossil fuels (such as through a system of tradable extraction permits under a 1 trillion tonne cap) has been properly explored and rejected for good reasons. I am not aware that it has [see end-note]. As Hone says on the last page of the book: “The success of the Paris Agreement will … require extraordinary transparency, governance and institutional capacity …” – and trust, he could have added. Trust seems to be in short supply at this crucial point in the climate change saga, and a more coercive approach to keeping what should be un-burnable fossil fuels in the ground may yet be needed. Who knows, might such an approach even result in an effective carbon price that delivers CCS, as well as incentivising renewables and energy efficiency?

One other criticism I would make is that, in almost a throw-away line near the end of the book, Hone implicitly classes CCS and other “negative emissions technologies” as “geoengineering” techniques. As others have noted, there is a big difference between techniques that seek to mask the effects of CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere (such as sulphur injection into the stratosphere) and techniques such as CCS that are designed to reverse releases of carbon from the geosphere and biosphere. It may be unhelpful to give all of them the emotive “geoengineering” label.

Given the nature of the subject matter, I found the book mostly a good read, albeit sometimes a little repetitive, reflecting its origins as largely a compilation of previously published e-books and blog-posts. Some parts of the text are heavy with numbers that are not always in consistent or fully explicit units, but the text itself only becomes hard going when describing inherently opaque concepts such as “shadow carbon value”. Use of more graphics would have been welcome, but that would have increased the modest page count (about 250) and cost.

Overall, this book is the most informative account I have read how we got to where we are, in terms of science and policy, up to the Paris Agreement, and President Trump’s stated intention to withdraw from it. It also gave me an insight into just how difficult it is to avoid unintended consequences of well-intended policies, although Hone would probably argue that this is because there are too many overlapping and indirect policies. In the end, I was left sceptical as to whether the solutions he advocates will materialise quickly enough for an outcome of even a 50% chance of staying below 2°C, let alone the more ambitious Paris goal. I suspect that Hone shares that scepticism, but he is clear that is not a reason for inaction.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand current policy responses to climate change, without preconceptions of what they should be.

[End-note: I have written a 2-page note intended to promote consideration of such an approach.]

 

Posts on these blog pages are the personal views of the authors only and are not intended to represent any agreed or general view on the part of GlosCAN.org.