Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Cancun talks in Crisis

The UN COP 16 climate talks at Cancun are in crisis.

Japan has refused categorically to sign up to continuation of Kyoto.

The leaked US Cables have revealed that the US strongarmed countries into signing up to the non-binding Copenhagen Accord, which is what they are now pushing for as the basis of future talks (the US never ratified the Kyoto protocol).

Many developing nations see the legal obligations, enshrined in the Kyoto Protocol, on the developed nations with the largest historical responsibility for climate change as absolutely essential.

There is criticism of some developed nations saying that they are not coming up with the money for developing nations to combat climate change fast enough  and there is outrage over the EU's proposal that the money should be given as a loan rather than aid.

These are just some of the issues.

Competing national interests and scoping of future conflicts of interest, in my opinion, are also real unspoken issues.

Are we doomed to failure by economic self interest, religious mania and political short termism?  Will our political leaders only start negotiating in earnest and genuinely co-operating when it is too late?

Maybe if the Global Commons Institute can actually raise enough awareness of "Contraction and Convergence" as proposed by Aubrey Meyer and politicians can see beyond the national economic interest and the next election. Maybe, if the Transition paradigm takes hold, maybe if we end capitalism, maybe if we use geoengineering.....

We might still be able to dig ourselves out of the worst of this mess if there is enough real will to cooperate and implement drastic strategies.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

A billion homeless to come

Today the Observer reports that at Cancun, Scientists are to present a report warning that up to a billion people face homlessness due to the impact of climate change in this century.   

This is just one striking statistic. But the real impact will be tremendous.  How will we cope with the floods of refugees from lost and collapsing nations?  How likely is conflict to arise? Where will they live?  How will they be fed and where will they get water? 

The stated targets of  a 2 degree C mean temperature rise are now just a pipe dream. 

"Researchers such as Richard Betts, head of climate impacts at the Met Office, calculate that a 4C rise could occur in less than 50 years," (from the Observer article 28/11/10)

We must face the truth.  we are staring into the face of a 4 or more degree warmer world.    Huge changes are in motion and the effects will be felt in our lifetimes and the lifetimes of our children. 

The clock is ticking. 

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

UNEP Report on likely emissions gap

The BBC reported yesterday on a report published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which points out that the pledges made by countries to curb emissions (even if fulfilled) are not enough to prevent a likely global mean temperature rise by around 4 degrees C this century.

The UNEP report mentions the promises made at Copenhagen (some of which deal with targets for 2020) and freely admits that projection beyond 2020 is inexact, however the report seems to conclude that the pledges made do not seem consistent with the stated aim of limiting temperature rise to between 1.5-2.0 degrees C.

Given the conditional nature of the pledges by some nations, depending on their ability to enact the required legislation. and the necessity (sometimes notably lacking) for real political will to act on this issue then I believe the outlook is not all roses.

It is imperative that, in the short window we have, we act personally and also force our politicians to act on this at Cancun.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Canada Kills (CO2) Bill

The BBC reported yesterday (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-11781175)  that the Conservative-led Canadian Senate has defeated a bill calling for a reduction of national greenhouse gas emissions by 25% relative to 1990 levels.  The bill had originally been passed by the Canadian House of Commons last year. 

This is not altogether a surprise.  The  Canadian government, led by Stephen Harper is allowing the ecocide of the Alberta tar sands to take place in it's country.  

This comes less than 2 weeks before the UN climate change talks at Cancun. 
 Alongside the results of the US midterms, this does not seem to me to offer much hope of anything truly real happening at these talks. 

The  recent  UN report by the High Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Funding (http://www.un.org/wcm/content/site/climatechange/pages/financeadvisorygroup/pid/13300) offers some hope, reporting that US $100 bn per year can be raised towards addressing the crisis. 

  Maybe I am just too cynical.  Only time will tell....

Monday, 1 November 2010

US Midterms, a concern for us all

As a UK citizen, I have no voice in the imminent mid-term elections in the US.  However, the outcome of the elections may well have an impact on us all.

As reported by the Guardian yesterday, the Republican Tea Party movement does not seem to accept human causes of climate change and seems set on reducing the power of the Environmental Protection Agency.  They also seem very focused on the "National Economic Interest" at the expense of environmental concerns.

As the largest per capita emitter of carbon dioxide, it is vital that the US engage with its international neighbours in order to reduce emissions and do what is possible to meet the oncoming crisis.  If a Republican Congressional majority (and maybe a Senatorial majority) is able to significantly hamper attempts by the Obama administration to engage with climate change, then it makes the outlook bleaker for all of us.

The Kyoto protocol ends in 2012 and a succesor treaty needs to be in place. We have a short enough window of oppotunity as it is; we do not need for one of the world's two largest emitters to disengage (again).

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Climate Wars?

The idea of climate wars may seem far fetched.

In an excellent book (Climate Wars, published by Oneworld, in 2010), the investigative journalist Gwynne Dyer offers several quite horrifyng future scenarios involving conflict between nations resulting from the impact of climate change.

Life sometimes imitates art.

Admiral James G Stavidris Supreme allied commander for Europe is reported by the Guardian to have warned in the foreword to a report from the Royal United Services Institute (available to buy here ) that global warming and the race for resources could lead to conflict in the arctic.

This comes in the wake of Edinburgh based Cairn Energy's declaration last month that it has found oil off the coast of Greenland, as reported by the Guardian here
If Peak Oil happens as predicted and given the rising energy demands of industrialised and the rapidly industrialising nations, conflict over energy sources such as oil and gas seems very possible.

This does not help our cause with regard to climate change.

We must reduce our demand for the planet's resources and recognise that if we are called on to line up behind the flag, it is a distraction from the bigger issue.

We must invest in renewable energy.

In the latest spending review by the UK government, the Department of Energy and Climate Change is having to cut £775m to meet the target of 25% spending cuts. See here

With governments around the world facing financial difficulies, maybe we should consider the Robin Hood tax ?  This is a proposed tax on financial transactions which would use the revenue so raised to combat poverty and climate change.

We must remember that we will not be able to meet the challenges presented by climate change if we are divided, only by co-operation on many levels.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Copenhagen Reprise?

On the penultimate day of the climate talks at Tianjin, the news is not good.
See the Guardian article here http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/oct/08/china-us-blamed-talks-stall

The US and China are in conflict.

The US wants to build on the Copenhagen accord by co-ordinating national agreements and instituting an enforcement regime, with developing and developed nations commited to it.

China wants to preserve the two track approach based on the Kyoto protocol. With richer, more developed, nations making the first and heaviest emissions cuts.

While Europe, the least developed nations and some of the big rapidly developing nations like Brazil and South Africa seem ready to compromise, China and the US do not seem to be willing to do so.

Huang Huikang, China's special representative for climate negotiations is reported to have said
"I want to emphasise on our side no compromise on the two track process and no compromise on the interests of developing countries."

This would seem to reduce the likliehood of anything concrete coming out of the upcoming talks in Cancun and it raises the question of what will happen after 2012 when the Kyoto protocol lapses, if there is no treaty in place?

As Akira Yamada, Japan's negotiator, pointed out
"The Kyoto protocol parties emit only 28% of global emissions now and will be less and less in the future. It cannot be effective unless the world's first and second biggest emitter are involved,"

It seems to be the National Economic Interest again, with China and the US looking to economic rivalry in the future.

We do not have time for this!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Face to Face

WWF in association with the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition is calling for a mass lobby of MPs on 5th and 6th November, see http://www.wwf.org.uk/what_we_do/campaigning/climate_change_campaigning/big_climate_connection_campaign/

The idea is that we meet our local MPs face to face and ask them to take action on climate change.

I think this is a great idea. So often, it seems our politicians do not really see us. And we do not see them. Maybe if they are face to face with real people who are asking them what they will do to take action, they will do something.

As I have said frequently on this blog, I am cynical.
However cynicism is not an excuse for apathy.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Tianjin talks

Delegates have gathered at Tainjin in China, for the latest round of talks in the run up to November's UN COP16 talks which will be held in Cancun, Mexico http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11448632 see here http://unfccc.int/2860.php or a live webcast from the floor here

The talks are meant to last until Saturday.

The meeting in Tianjin in China is to negotiate a draft treaty to be debated at Cancun, next month.

With the shadow of the failure at Copenhagen looming over them, one hopes that our politicans will be able to step up and get real, however I am not confident and Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has already warned
"Let me be clear - there is no magic bullet, no one climate agreement that will solve everything right now,"

So what can we expect? more competing national interests and next month a mediocre deal, which even if it is binding, will not go far enough or actually be enforced?

I hope not but my cynical self wonders.

Friday, 1 October 2010

True colours update

Just a quick update. The UK government has (unsurprisingly) granted a licence to Chevron to drill off Shetland. Greenpeace are arguing that to grant the licence without a comprehensive safety review (after Deepwater Horizon) is irresponsible and may be a breach of EU and UK law.

Whatever the outcome, the truth is out about how green our government really is.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

True Colours

It appears as if our "greenest government ever" is likely to approve the first deep water oil wells since BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster. Despite Greenpeace's brave attempts to halt it, the Chevron chartered ship, the Stena Carron is off Shetland (http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/sep/27/government-conflict-greenpeace-shetlands-drilling) where it is expected to drill.

The waters around Shetland are home to many,many seabirds, seals and orcas to name but a few inhabitants and the thought of another Deepwater Horizon here is very unpleasant.

The UK government also appears to have scuppered a motion put forward by Germany at a meeting of signatories of the Convention of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, in Bergen, Norway. The proposal was for international scrutiny of oil drilling operations, after the Deepwater Horizon disaster (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/sep/23/government-soften-scrutiny-offshore-oil-drilling).

I fail to see how this can possibly be in line with the necessity (given the scale of the challenge) to reduce our emissions within the next five to ten years

It seems that it is just business as usual.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Books and Seeds

I have recently been doing a bit of reading.

Requiem for a Species by Clive Hamilton offers a very honest look at the reality facing us and questions why we do not face up to it. The book seems to me to draw on the work of Joanna Macy and others in accepting despair and utilising it as a way of inspiring action, it is a timely reminder of the scale of the oncoming crisis and the necessity for action.

In attempting to reduce my own footprint, I have recently found the following three books especially good.

How Bad are Bananas by Mike Berners-Lee gives you the carbon footprints of many common items and actions, from sending a text (0.014g CO2e) to buying a pint of milk (723g CO2e).

In The Economical Environmentalist, Prashant Vaze (a very experienced environmental economist) documents his attempt to transition to a low carbon lifestyle and what it cost. The book has lots of useful data and resources.

The Garden Cottage Diaries by Fiona J. Houston documents her experience living a year as if in the 1790s. It is well researched and full of information on useful and interesting skills such as making rush-lights and has information on seasonal veg and traditional recipes. In considering the fragility of our modern lifestyle, and the transition to lower impact communities, it is valuable to get an idea of alternative ways and to see what traditional skills and methods can be used.

One other resource I have found very useful, is the seed company More Veg www.moreveg.co.uk .
They do small quantity veg and fruit seed packets (including organic and heritage varieties). Their website has an excellent seasonal veg planner and their customer service is good.

I am sharing these in the hope that they may be useful to others. If anyone else has found any other resources particularly useful, please share them in the comments.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Coming soon to a place near you? 10:10:10

1 Month from now on the 10th of October, people all around the globe will be taking part in a day of action. The 10:10 campaign, 350.org, Regurgence and many, many other organisations have signed up.

The idea of this day is a "get out and do something to reduce your carbon" day.

It is at the local level and by making a practical difference that we can connect to others and hopefully make a difference within our communities and it is through the internet and by being part of the global network that we can hopefully make a difference within the wider international community.

While accepting our own personal responsibility and reducing our lifestyle footprint is necessary and a very good thing. We must not allow governments and big business to elude their responsibility and shift the guilt onto us with "you are the ones buying it" or "If enough people would vote for it we would enact it." truisms.
They too have a responsibility, which currently they are failing to fulfil. We must make them do so!

If emissions have to peak by 2020 and then reduce drastically for us to have any hope of avoiding some of the worst effects of climate change then we do not have long.

All that said, I am reminded of the quote from Emma Goldmann, who is reported to have said "I don't want your revolution unless I can dance to it."

So let's get out and have some fun!

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Earth Overshoot Day 2010

According to the UK based think-tank The New Economics Foundation and the California based Global Footprint Network, we blew our global resource budget for this year on August 21st(http://www.neweconomics.org/press-releases/world-enters-ecological-debt-on-saturday-21-august-2010 ).

This is month earlier than last year
(I blogged about it here http://environmentchaos.blogspot.com/2009/09/earth-overshoot-day-2009.html) reflecting the beginning of the recovery from the recent economic crisis and also the increased economic power of upcoming nations which are adopting the northern consumer based lifestyle.

So we are now living on ecological credit....

Just waiting for the crash.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

A small foretaste?

We are having some dark days at the moment. The devestating floods in Pakistan,the Russian forest fires, and now the breakaway of a 260 sq km iceberg from the Petermann Glacier on Greenland (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/aug/07/biggest-ice-island-greenland).

The breakaway of the huge iceberg is unusual and apparently the largest such event since 1962. It seems uncertain whether the event was directly caused by climate change or not.

But with report last year
(http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/mar/11/greenland-channels-ice-loss) that the greenland ice sheet was riddled with channels which might speed up the degradation of the ice sheet, it seems ominous.
It raises concerns about sea level rise and also the possibility of a Younger Dryas like cold snap (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Younger_Dryas).

I suppose the really scary thing is that these are all real possibilities and may well be a foretaste of what is to come. As the hypocrisy, disagreement and finger pointing happens at Bonn, it is worth all of us remembering this.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Getting warm

According to the Guardian newspaper (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jul/28/global-temperatures-2010-record), scientists from the Met Office and the US National Climactic Data Centre (USNCDC), have released data showing what they claim is "the best evidence yet" of a long-term rise in global temperatures.
The report was the first to collate 11 different indicators from air temperature to melting ice and sea-surface temperature. Data for each indicator was based on between three an seven data sets, dating back between 1850 and 1970.

It is to be hoped that this will help to dispel the growing apathy and loss of faith in the the scientific evidence of global climate change, exploited greedily by the climate sceptics in the wake of the UEA emails fiasco.
I am however,as always, a little cynical.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Margin of Error

The former UK government chief scientist Sir David King recently announced that he believes that, as global demand for oil outstrips supply (peak oil!), oil companies will be forced to drill in unconventional places (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/science_and_environment/10278831.stm.)
We are already seeing the beginnings of this with the exploitation of the Alberta Tar Sands, which would not previously have been considered financially viable.

An important factor to consider is the Net energy: the Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI), i.e. the energy delivered by an energy-obtaining activity compared to the energy required to get it. According to the Ecologist magazine, cited in The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins (2008 edition), the EROEI ratio for tar sands is less than 2:1 (compared with 35:1 for offshore wind generation and 87:1 for tidal range). This is not really viable, especially when one considers the environmental impact of extraction from such places.

Alarmingly, Sir David King also said in his statement that
detailed, objective analyses showed that conventional oil reserves were actually 30% lower than generally accepted. and
"As early as 2015, oil production capacity is going to begin to be challenged in terms of meeting rising demand, particularly from continuing growth of the economies of China and India."
This is HUGE! Peak Oil in 2015?

Previously on this blog I have commented on reports that the 2009 World Energy Outlook, published by the International Energy Authority, had been distorted due to fears for the US market (see here http://environmentchaos.blogspot.com/2009/11/hard-choices.html ). If Sir David is right, we have no time.

The Hirsch report for the US government in 2005 stated the requirement for a 20 year lead-in to prepare for peak oil and avoid chaos. 2015 is only five years away. We must start our energy descent now, we must start building local resilience, planning for the twin impacts of peak oil and climate change, now. The alternatives are not at all pleasant!

Friday, 11 June 2010

Walking the walk?

I am pleasantly surprised at David Cameron's announcement committing the UK government to cutting its carbon emissions by 10% in the next 12 months, in line with the 10:10 campaign. His decision to publish the energy use of government headquarters, including the cabinet ministers, is very positive. Now we have a chance to see if they will "walk the walk".

The inclusion of the Energy Bill in the Queen's Speech, with its promise of an emissions performance standard (if it is set at the right level), and the steps towards development of a "smart grid" are all VERY good.
The pressing need to wean ourselves off oil continues to be vividly illustrated by the BP-financed disaster, Deepwater Horizon. But we MUST realise that our consumer-led and massively resource-heavy lifestyle cannot continue.

It is not a question of just "switching over" to electric cars and wind turbines. The recent report released by the Royal Academy of Engineering (www.raeng.org.uk) says that switching all the 30 million cars in the country to electric would drain the National Grid of around one fifth of its capacity and increase current electricity demand by 16%. With the 70GW grid running at nearly full capacity, it would require building the equivalent of 6 large nuclear power stations or 2000 wind turbines to meet demand. With most electricity production in the UK still being generated using gas and coal then how much difference will be made?

Of course, this is looking at it a little bleakly, if the "smart grid" becomes fact and small-scale generators are able to feed in power to the grid, then extra demand on the grid may be met, at least in part.
This is an area where the potential for genuine community-owned decentralised power generation, with the added value of building local resilience, has real possibility.

I suppose the question is whether we can all "walk the walk" and reduce our impact enough to survive.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Pre-election thoughts

One question that has been passing through my head for a couple of days is this

What is the carbon footprint of the campaign trail?

With the leaders of the three main political parties racing up and down the country and all the party minions on their local beats, in their planes, tourbuses and cars I wonder what this costs us in environmental terms?

With each party proclaiming their green credentials and seeking to win the green vote, it would be interesting to see which party has actually taken steps to reduce it's own footprint, or is genuinely looking for alternative ways of doing things. I imagine that the difference (if any) between them is very slight.

A google map showing where the party leaders visited is available here (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/interactive/2010/apr/06/election-2010-leaders-brown-cameron-clegg), we must draw our own inferences.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Fragile things

While reading online news about the recent volcanic eruption under the Eyjafjallajoekull glacier in Iceland, I found this article
(http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/apr/16/flight-ban-shortages-uk-supermarkets). The critical sentence which really stood out for me was this

The UK imports about 90% of its fruit and 60% of its vegetables.

This is actually quite shocking! Our food supply is that vulnerable to the impacts of peak oil and climate change. That we depend so much on imports to feed ourselves, and the environmental cost of all the food miles.

Connected to this issue of food security, a report by Engineering the Future Alliance, reported here by the BBC
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8628832.stm, examined the unsustainable importation of "embedded water" (this is the water used to produce the product, for example about 1,500 litres of water to produce 1kg of sugar) into the UK. Given our general high level of consumption, this has a huge effect on water security in developing nations. An interactive map, showing predicted areas of water stress as global population and temperatures rise is available here

Already many nations are using their groundwater at an unsustainable rate, often for agriculture, often growing crops for export.

It is short-sighted to continue to drain their water and expect the produce to continue to appear on our supermarket shelves, As these nations come under the predicted stresses, will they be willing or even able to supply the food we depend on?

This situation highlights how unsustainable and how dependent on imports our food supply is and its vulnerability, As the oncoming crisis unfolds, the impact on all our lives will be huge.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Copenhagen's legacy of mistrust

There has been some discord at the 3 day UN climate talks at Bonn. Representatives of the poorer nations, such as Claudia Salerno, chief of Venezuela's delegation, and Tosi Mpanu Mpanu of the Democratic Republic of Congo speaking for the Africa Group, have been openly critical of the Copenhagen Accord. Tosi Mpanu Mpanu referred to the "draft Danish text" in his statement saying:

"The Africa Group believes that if we are to avoid a repetition of Copenhagen and repair this damaged process, then we must learn from Copenhagen."

And one of the lessons to learn, he continued, was that breaking away from formal inclusive negotiations and instead focusing on "a secret text put together by a selected few fundamentally broke the trust that is necessary for any partnership that aspires to be successful and enduring".
(source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8611811.stm)

Meanwhile the US has supported the accord, and in its written statement to the UN climate convention (UNFCCC) states, said that

"…it will be difficult to find consensus around alternative proposals that depart from the accord understandings." (source: BBC)

This seems to have been taken (perhaps rightly) as a way of saying that the US will not go further than the Accord. The problem is that the Accord is unlikely to achieve the necessary reductions in emissions in time to prevent a catastrophic rise in global mean temperature. It does not inspire trust in the minds of those from poorer nations, which are likely to be the first to be hit hard by the effects of climate change.

A legacy of mistrust has been engendered over the years by richer nations concerned for their economic position, culminating at Copenhagen with the production of the "draft Danish text." Under these circumstances, it is difficult to see how genuine agreement can be reached in time.

According to the Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/apr/09/us-climate-aid) the US is denying climate change assistance aid to nations opposing the Copenhagen Accord. The Washington Post (http://views.washingtonpost.com/climate-change/post-carbon/2010/04/bolivia_ecuador_denied_climate_funds.html) reports that the US is denying aid to Ecuador and Bolivia for this reason.

This practice is so familiar but still so unacceptable and only serves to stoke growing mistrust and anger.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Economy of failure

The French government has decided to drop plans for a domestic carbon tax. In a telling statement, the Prime Minister, Francois Fillon told parliament: “We have to amplify measures that help reinforce the competitiveness of our economy.

“In that spirit, I would like to indicate that the decisions we are going to take regarding sustainable development have to be better coordinated with all European countries, so as not to widen our gap in competitiveness with our neighbour Germany." (source http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/8583898.stm )

This illustrates one of the huge failures in our market-driven paradigm. As nation states and corporations are in economic competition with one another, it is unlikely that they will act in a manner that might jeopardise their ability to compete in the international economy in the short term, even if that action is vital and will be beneficial in the mid-to-long term.

It is true that France has a lower per capita emission score (6.2 tonnes per year as opposed to the UK's 9.4 tonnes according to the World Bank 2005 data) (a useful list of countries emission scores here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_carbon_dioxide_emissions), but nevertheless it illustrates the point.

As long as we place economic competitiveness first, we will fail to act radically enough to avert the oncoming crisis.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Spring thoughts

It is that time of year again. The time of year when we look ahead and sow the seeds for our future harvest.

I have spoken before on this blog about the importance of regaining control of our food supply from the multinationals and about the surprising fragility of our food supply in the UK.

In terms of environmental impact growing some, at least, of our own food is probably one of the most significant actions we ordinary bods can take to reduce our environmental footprint.

While working towards doing just that, I have been inspired recently by two books. One Magic Square by Lolo Houbein details how to organically grow a significant portion of your food, starting with just a 1 metre square plot. As a childhood survivor of the Dutch "Hunger Winter" of 1944-45, the author appreciates the necessity, as few of us now living in the West do, of food security. The book contains a great deal of useful information on companion plants and seed saving, and features a variety of seasonal plot designs.

Living where I do, contending with lowered soil fertility, a shorter growing season and salt laden winds, container growing is very much an essential tool. In The Edible Container Garden, Michael Guerra applies the principles of permaculture to tiny spaces, specifically focusing on containers and raised beds. The book is very accessible, giving minimum container depths and companion plants for different crops. A focus on design and situation, such as roof gardens, focus the book for the urban dweller with limited growing space.

I have found these two books particularly useful for their focus on growing in a limited space. As most of us live in an urban situation, this is a significant factor. For the inexperienced or the short of time, it becomes possible to visualise yourself managing a 1 metre square plot or a few window boxes and containers rather than a bigger garden, making food growing an altogether less daunting prospect.

Intimately connected to our food security is the idea of seed saving. It is well worth saving seeds from what we grow, and perhaps starting a community seed exchange (http://www.ehow.com/how_5937020_start-seed-exchange.html) or a community seed bank (http://www.ehow.com/how_2270999_start-community-seed-bank.html).

I believe that, in the face of peak oil and increasing food prices, having the skills to grow our own food, and knowing how to save seed from our harvest for planting the following year, will only become more essential.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Profit and Loss

Recently, the House of Commons voted against the proposed amendment to the Energy Bill (NC6) which would have set Emissions Performance Standards (EPS) (described as legislative CO2 emissions caps) on power stations.

In a recent campaign, several environmental groups proposed the amendment, and asked constituents to email or write to their MPs to ask them to vote in favour of it. In response the Energy Minister, Joan Ruddock, wrote to all Labour MPs (the Lib-dems and Conservatives supported the amendment) asking them to vote against it (a link to a PDF of her letter is here http://blog.38degrees.org.uk/2010/02/24/leaked-government-response-to-our-climate-campaign/).

I notice that the first objection in her letter is that the introduction of EPS now would pose a threat to investment (a concern originally voiced by the TUC and the CBI). Boldface emphasis states that this could mean "no investment in new coal at all" and asserts that, as EPS would apply to gas also, it would threaten investment there too.

The vote was 252 against to 244 in favour. Very close.

You should be able to find out how your MP voted here (http://blog.38degrees.org.uk/2010/02/25/energy-bill-how-did-your-mp-vote/)

Previously on this blog, I have voiced my concerns about Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and the government's regulation of the coal in the UK, along with the actual ecological destruction caused by extraction of the coal and disposal of the waste. These concerns have been voiced more eloquently by many NGOs such as FoE and Greenpeace.

To my mind, the argument of threat to investment (i.e., companies won't put money into it if it isn't profitable) highlights one of the big weaknesses of capitalism and the reason why we will not be able to buy our way out of the current environmental crisis. Given the limited window of opportunity we have before global tipping points are reached (if they have not already been passed) waiting until something shows a profit may not be an option.

It also leads me to question the priorities of business and governments (the UK government's controlling share in RBS and it's failure to act in the face of RBS's involvement in oil extraction from the Alberta tar sands illustrates the point in question, see the link here http://peopleandplanet.org/ditchdirtydevelopment/tarsands).

Some of these priorities are also clearly illustrated in an as yet unpublished report for the UN (reported by the Guardian here http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/feb/18/worlds-top-firms-environmental-damage) estimating that paying for the actual environmental cost of their activities would cost the worlds largest 3000 companies about a third of their profit every year. They do not pay for it, of course, or anything like a reasonable contribution towards it.

It seems bizarre that we teach children to tidy up after themselves, but do not hold these companies accountable for clearing up their environmental messes.

In short, the rich get richer and the planet and the poor pay the price.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Empty Vessels

The January 31st deadline for the Copenhagen Accord has passed with some announcements by politicians, declaring the pledges to cut emissions of their respective states as follows:-
EU 20% against 1990 levels
US 17% of 2005 levels (dependent on domestic legislation).
UK 40% against 1990 levels and 80% by 2050
India 20-25% emissions reduction by 2020
and China has pledged to de-carbonise it's economy by 40-45% relative to 2005 levels.

Unfortunately, these targets do not go nearly far enough, nor are there any mid-term targets; they are not legally binding (with the exception of the UK's targets under the Climate Change Act); they are not easily enforcible and, as several recent reports have highlighted, they may not actually be achievable.

In an attempt to show the collective failure at Copenhagen as some sort of "success" to domestic audiences, our politicians may be misguiding us (not necessarily deliberately).
The current debate centres around prevention of a 2 degree centigrade rise in global mean temperature, but while the error by the IPPC in their 2007 report regarding the demise of the Himalayan glaciers is seized upon by the sceptics, I believe that we are on course for a much greater challenge and that without full commitment and awareness at an individual and societal level we will fail to meet that challenge.

It is time to own up to our failures and admit the reality and scale of the challenge facing us. All available resources must be focused on adapting to this and there must be truth and openness with regard both to the margin of scientific error and to the realistic prospects (however grim) facing us.

Only then will we be able to do what is needed, both as individuals and collectively as the human race.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Mutual Aid and the myth of self-sufficiency

Do you know the story?

Getting tired of the rat-race and/or realising the futility of it all, you pay to have an eco-house built, or put a solar water heating system on your roof, install a ground source heat pump and maybe a small turbine or a few solar panels. You cook on a nice wood-burning stove, use low-energy light bulbs and have a compost loo. If you drive, you drive a Prius. You keep a few chickens and are able to grow quite a bit of your own fruit and veg on your land; you preserve what you don’t eat straight away. What you can't produce you buy in from ethical sources. Your coffee is fairtrade, organically grown, your clothes are eco-labelled, you are actually a really nice guy and you are "green".

These are all good things to do, but there are problems with this story.

This story is, to some extent, just a re-packaged edition of the consumerist "good-life" that has led us here.

Sadly, I am still, to some degree, captivated by this myth, I homebrew and make my own wild-yeast bread and veggie soap, I forage for some food and hedgerow medicine and am trying to grow at least some of my own food. I do not drive, the flours I buy are organic, often traditional and my coffee is organically grown by a co-operative in Brazil.

But this myth ignores one of the fundamental injustices of our capitalist paradigm.

Climate change will hit the poor first and hardest.

As a tenant in a council or housing association property living on an estate (let alone if you happen to be renting privately or living on the street), it would be difficult to install a reed-bed water treatment system or a compost loo. Installing a heat-pump and benefitting from the feed-in tariff would also be difficult for a non-homeowner. Growing space and conditions may be limited. Organic produce costs a little bit more at Tesco and one's choice of electricity supplier is dictated by one's pocket.

There are other ways.

Skillsharing, a no-money mutual aid system, the freeeconomy (www.justfotheloveofit.org or freecycle).

Freeganism ie dumpsterdiving and diverting some of the tonnes of food that we waste each day from landfill.

Primitive Living, relearning some of the skills that enabled our ancestors to live within the landscape, making your own glue, cordage, nets, stone tools etc, www.paleoplanet.net is a good place to start.

Scavenging/foraging in your local area.

Local Transition groups, after all, it's all about building local resilience.

I think that what I am trying to say is that the idea of self-sufficiency (well-heeled hippies with a 5 acre smallholding) is not the only way or even the best way. I think it is impossible (or almost) in this society, particularly for the not-so-well-off, to be entirely self sufficient and the idea can lead to isolation, and a kind of elitism.

What is essential is to build community sufficiency and to free ourselves from the myth and the divisiveness capitalism has created. In the face of the oncoming crisis, I think that we will stand or fall on the skills and spirit of our community.

As Peter Kropotkin pointed out in his classic text Mutual Aid: a factor of evolution, just over a hundred years ago, the societies which prosper best are co-operative rather than competitive.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

New Year thoughts

Having had a personally very happy Yuletide, now returning to the everyday reality of living, I find myself reflecting on things.

To my mind, the disappointment of Copenhagen has highlighted the disconnection between rhetoric and reality. It has also highlighted the flaws in our paradigm with regard to nations competing economically against each other as well as the way that we have resigned responsibility as individuals to politicians and big business.

While some of the debate at Copenhagen centred around the need for agreement to prevent a 1.5 degrees C rise or a 2 degrees C rise in global mean temperature, Professor Kevin Anderson, Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, in an article in The Environmentalist magazine (7 December 2009: Issue 89) is quoted as saying:
"Moreover it is argued that the mainstream climate change agenda is far removed from the rates of mitigation necessary to stabilise at 550ppmv CO2e (3 degrees C)and even an optimistic interpretation suggests stabilisation much below 650ppmv CO2e (4 degrees C) is improbable."
When you consider that he is one of the UK's leading experts on the subject, this is stark!

Also, the findings of the Aldersgate Group (a coalition of NGOs, businesses, think-tanks and individuals) in their report "Mind the Gap, skills for the transition to a low carbon economy" (http://www.aldersgategroup.org.uk/reports) are thought provoking. They report that the UK Government's skills strategy is inadequate to meet the needs for a rapid transition to a low carbon economy. They also point out the example that two of the government’s recent high profile announcements, over carbon capture and storage (CCS) and nuclear power, have come at a time when roughly 30% of British Energy's workforce is due for retirement within 10 years, and when the UK has had no investment in coal-fired power for a generation, creating a considerable skills gap.

This skills gap is happening at a time when demand for engineers for major infrastructure projects (such as offshore wind power generation, flood defences, high speed rail services etc) is increasing, when many nations are attempting to de-carbonise at once, and therefore skilled workers may go elsewhere. In the near future this may be a serious issue.

On the issue of resigning our personal responsibility to businesses and politicians, I have commented here often. However, while we criticise governments for not taking strong action on climate change, it is worth contemplating the environmental cost of our recently passed annual consumption binge.