Sunday, 25 September 2011

Scrooge moment

In  Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is shown the misery of the poor by the Ghost of Christmas Present and then he is made aware of his own imminent death, and the reaction to it, by The Ghost of Christmas Future.
 I feel that we have been granted this "Scrooge moment." Through scientific data gathering and modelling, we are able to glimpse the broad outline of our future environment and have a fair idea of the impact this will have on our lives.  At the moment, we continue on pretty much as before: there are some minor changes but we are not really diverting from the path we have been on since the industrial revolution. 

The oncoming crisis demands our full attention.  It should replace Big Brother and Celebrity Chef at the forefront of our media and our minds. 

We have such a limited window of opportunity, it is essential to act with real determination now.   We must be the heroes of the moment, not idle spectators. 

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Keeping the fracking lights on

As the voices of Moving Planet ring out across the globe, as we pledge to move beyond fossil fuels, in the UK , the energy firm Cuadrilla has discovered a motherlode of shale gas under Lancashire.  The Guardian reports that it is estimated to be as much as 5.6 trillion cubic metres.  Given some of the experiences of people in the US, there is understandable concern about the effects of fracking on the local environment. 
There is also the issue that shale gas is a fossil fuel, and the discovery and exploitation of this source of energy is not really compatible with the need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. There is also the question of how fracking will affect investment in renewables?  In short, I do  not think we should be doing this. 
 I believe that this desire on behalf of the government comes from desperation, a desperate need to "keep the lights on" in the face of declining North Sea gas reserves, energy insecurity and looming peak oil.  When peak oil hits us, we still face collapse.  Oil provides us with many, many things which gas cannot.  Plastics, fertilisers, pharmaceuticals and so many other things. 

While there is tighter regulation of fracking in the UK than in the US, investigation by The Guardian has exposed some alarming weaknesses in the regulatory regime.  Among the most chilling  are :-

• The recent energy and climate change select committee inquiry into shale gas did not consider tightening regulations, citing a lack of resources

• Confusion between the DECC, EA and HSE, the three government agencies which each have different responsibilities.

Donald Dobson, HSE's head of discipline, well engineering, says in a letter to former oil and gas engineer Mike Hill, that it is financially impossible to check each well. "Verification of an individual well is not the role of the HSE. The resource implications would be immense."

The citation of lack of resources as a reason for not tightening regulation and for a weak regulatory regime is worrying, in the present financial climate, adequate resources are not likely to be found for this.  The confusion between the regualtory agencies allows the passing and hiding of responsibility (at least until a major mishap). 
Without a strong regulatory regime, we fall back on asking the industry to self-regulate and I have no faith in that. 

Thursday, 22 September 2011

UK carbon target fail

The Guardian reported recently on the publication of a report by Cambridge Econometrics which says that the UK has decisively missed the stated target of a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions in the period 1990-2010, despite the reduction in emissions in 2009 due to the recession. 
This seems to me to highlight an issue which needs to be addressed.  While setting targets is necessary, these targets must be achievable and the resources to meet these targets need to be invested.  A recent DEFRA report looking at adaptation of UK infrastructure says that the govt plans to invest some £200 bn over the next five years, but given the ongoing financial crisis and the cuts to services which the UK (along with most of the EU, and the US)  is undergoing, it remains to be seen if this will actually happen? 

The political impetus to be seen to be green, and the well publicised statements, should not, I feel ,be taken at face value.  We face huge challenges in adapting to Climate Change and both the reality which we are facing and the difficulties in meeting the challenges which this presents must be made clear to all.  This is vital in terms of providing impetus for the radical actions which are necessary.