Hooray! Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez!

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: rising star and climate radical

The American midterm elections are over and what they reveal is something very similar to what is happening in Europe; the rather flabby, corporate centre ground is collapsing and voters are moving out to the extremes. In Europe, where most countries have at least half a dozen parties in their national parliaments these trends are reflected as the emergence of some parties and the contraction of others, whereas in USA the trends take place within the Republican and Democrat parties. In a blog a couple of weeks ago I looked at the growth of Green parties in elections in Belgium, Luxembourg and the German state of Bavaria. Since then the German state of Hesse has had elections that reinforced this message, as again the traditional mainstream parties lost ground to both the far right AfD and to the Green party.

The best analysis of the midterms that I have read has been Paul Mason, and he is very good at identifying the demographic groupings that are driving the Trump phenomenon and its antidote, a much more socially caring and ecologically literate movement of more urban, educated, cosmopolitan and racially diverse people. Within the Democratic Party they form a democratic socialist grouping. For years Bernie Sanders was just about the only person representing this more radical perspective. Paul Mason identifies many of the emerging people and ideas within this movement. I want to focus on just one person. If Trump embodies all that is bad, then, for me, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez embodies all that is good.

In a Tweet the meteorologist and commentator Eric Holthaus described Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as “the only American politician I’ve ever seen with a climate change plan that is in line with intergenerational justice.” She also has some refreshingly radical ideas on inequality, gun crime and much else that is so dysfunctional about American society.

Action on climate change in America has been lead from academia by people like Mark Z Jacobson, through the courts by Our Children’s Trust and though grassroots campaigns by the likes of 350.org. Now at last these people have someone within the House of Representatives who really is focused on the same kind of actions that they are demanding. Millions of us around the World are delighted to see someone like Alexander Ocasio-Cortez emerging as a true leader, and I for one would love to see her become President of USA. As she is only twenty-nine years old she has time ahead of her, but why not as the presidential candidate in 2020? Who better?

Extinction Rebellion

Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg at today’s Extinction Rebellion rally in Parliament Square

Humanity faces a challenge of existential proportions. Our destructive global civilization is causing myriad forms of pollution. Everywhere the air, water and soils are becoming degraded; the climate is breaking down, the oceans acidifying, habitats are being obliterated and countless species are in terminal decline. Countless reports over many decades have only added to the scientific evidence. Small steps to combat the destruction have always been offset by greater damage elsewhere in the system.

From childhood this has been the bedrock of my motivation in life. I gave my first talk on all this in 1972 to my school sixth form. I’ve spent decades struggling to understand what to do to ‘save the world’. (Of course, the world will carry on, it is humanity which needs saving) I’ve been a very small voice, like millions of others, generally ignored and marginalized by the mainstream.

The mainstream political culture that dominated the planet for the entire post war era did at least pay lip service to sustainability, human rights and the welfare of the poor. That mainstream seems now to be crumbling. Voters in many countries are moving to the extremes.

Trump in USA, Putin in Russia, Durente in the Philippines and now Bolsonaro in Brazil, these four men seem to embody the emergent far right. They seem to delight in the destruction of our living world and care not a jot about the welfare of the poor. In the UK the conservatives seem to be moving from the old mainstream centre into the territory of the far right, as evidenced by this week’s budget, the whole Brexit process and their move from the EPP to the ECR groupings within the European Parliament.

Recent elections in the German states of Hesse and Bavaria typified the global situation, with votes for the mainstream conservatives and labour parties collapsing and a worrying rise in votes for the far right Alternative for Deutschland. On the positive side the Green vote also rose dramatically.

Generally, in most counties, Greens are the only political party who seem to understand the true magnitude of the impending ecological crisis and the scale of changes needed to avert the worst. The window of time humanity has is narrow: recent reports from the IPPC suggest we only have about twelve years to transform the entire global economy.

Today the Extinction Rebellion was launched in Parliament Square. This is a new movement promoting taking non-violent direct action on climate change and all the other aspects of the global ecological crisis. Many of the politicians and writers whom I most admire are there today, including Molly Scott Cato, Caroline Lucas and George Monbiot. Also speaking was the inspirational fifteen year old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. (On her Twitter account she has a two minute video clip pinned at the top… do please watch it)

Various accounts of today’s launch of Extinction Rebellion are worth reading: try Rupert Read, Molly Scott Cato, Chloe Farand and Jeremy Williams, and see the Extinction Rebellion website. I couldn’t be there in person today. I wish them well and hope millions join their global call to action.

Humanity’s future lies in the balance. The choice is stark: the inaction and muddle of the old political mainstream, the doubling down on destruction of the far right or the hopeful idealism and radical practical action demanded by Green parties, myriad environmental groups, and now, Extinction Rebellion.

ps … The full text of Greta Thunberg’s speech is available here

British Politics & Brexit

The Peoples Vote March: possibly a pivotal moment of change for UK politics?

The Peoples Vote March: possibly a pivotal moment of change for UK politics?

The tectonic plates of British politics seem to be shifting in bizarre ways. David Cameron called the referendum on EU membership mainly in order to heal splits in the Conservative party. Now both the Conservatives and Labour are more deeply divided than ever. Extreme Brexiteers dominate the leadership of both parties. So we have the old Socialist Corbyn forcing the Labour shadow cabinet into supporting Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees Mogg, the DUP and their far-right pro Brexit agenda. The far right seem caught up in fantasy of recreating the British Empire and the far left into creating a 1970’s style Socialist fantasy. Both leaderships seem totally out of touch with reality.

The People’s March against Brexit took place in London last Saturday. About 700,000 people took part, making it the biggest demonstration in the UK since the anti Iraq war demo in 2003. I couldn’t be in London on that day, but like countless others was with them in spirit. Seeing the photos and comments on Twitter I clearly missed what was a very good natured but determined event.

Ever since we joined the EU it has been the butt of many jokes. The UK’s negotiations have always been portrayed as US against THEM. This whole Brexit nightmare has made many people take stock and realize the many extraordinary achievements of the EU and the benefits of membership. More and more people seem to be identifying themselves as European. We might also be British, but that is becoming the weaker affiliation. We see this most strongly in Scotland, where many people are saying, if the price of keeping the benefits of EU membership is breaking up the UK and going for Scottish independence, then, so be it. Also in England, Wales and Northern Ireland more and more people are identifying themselves as Europeans.

The Brexiteers won the referendum based on a pack of lies, cheating and illegal spending. It is now time to have a People’s Vote on the outcome of Theresa May’s negotiations with the EU. Clearly staying in the EU must be an option, and all the opinion polls now indicate that remaining in the EU would be the most popular option.

A growing number of politicians support this point of view. Many of them spoke at the huge demonstration in London last Saturday. Perhaps they could form some kind of National Coalition Government to extricate us from the chaos of Brexit. It would certainly be interesting to see a government made up of say, Nicola Sturgeon from the SNP, Caroline Lucas from the Green Party, Leanne Wood from Plaid Cymru, Vince Cable from the LibDems and perhaps Sadiq Khan, David Lammy, Chuka Umunna and Andrew Adonis from Labour, with maybe Anna Soubry, Dominic Grieve, Kenneth Clarke and John Major from the Conservatives. We might bring in a few people from outside Parliament, such as Femi Oluwole. I’m sure that this cross party grouping could cooperate much more effectively than either our current cabinet or the shadow cabinet!

Greens Gaining Ground

Katharina Schulze

Katharina Schulze, co-leader, (with Ludwig Hartmann) of the Bavarian Greens

Yesterday there were three important elections across Europe, and Green parties did very well in all of them. Traditional Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties did not do well, losing ground in most cases. For parties of the far right it was a very mixed picture.

The conservative CSU have ruled Bavaria since the 1950’s, for most of that time with a comfortable absolute majority. In yesterdays Bavarian regional elections their vote fell to 37.3 %, so still the largest party, but a historic low for them. The Green vote more than doubled, from 8.6% to 17.8%, putting them in second place. The far right Alternative for Deutschland won 10.2% of the vote, giving them seats in the Bavarian Landtag for the first time, where, worryingly, they’ll be the fourth largest party.

In Belgium there were regional elections across the whole country and Greens did well from the francophone south to the Flemish north, and in cosmopolitan Brussels. Across Belgium the far right Vlaams Belang got utterly devastated.

Luxembourg had national elections, in which the Greens were again the biggest winners, increasing their vote from 10.1% to 15.1%, which puts the Greens as the fourth biggest party.

In a growing number of towns and cities across Europe the Green Party are now the largest party. As of this morning several new places join the list, from the small town of Amay in Belgium, to cities like Wurzburg and Munich in Bavaria. Congratulations to all the local campaigners involved, and to the pan European Green Parties: well done!

Hydrogen is Moving!

A hydrogen refuelling station arrives in Abergavenny

A hydrogen refuelling station arrives in Abergavenny

I’ve written a number of blogs over the years about hydrogen fuel cell technologies, most recently just a couple of weeks ago. It’s a technology that is moving so fast that another blog on the matter is called for.

It is clear governments are not on track to meet the goals set by the Paris Climate Agreement. Progress on decarbonising the electricity sector is being made, but on transport, heating and cooling very little progress has been made. The transport sector may switch from fossil fuels to battery and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles very rapidly. If the technology is better, cheaper and cleaner it could be very rapid indeed. Hydrogen has several advantages over battery electric vehicles, especially where longer range or heavier vehicles are needed.

The World Hydrogen Council has quadrupled in size over the last eighteen months. Currently much of the hydrogen used in industry is derived from fossil fuels, but the World Hydrogen Council is envisaging a huge scaling up of hydrogen use at the same time as the switch to creating it all from renewable energy sources.

A year or two ago there was very little by way of hydrogen refuelling infrastructure. It is now being deployed at a great rate. Locally Riversimple and McPhy have just brought the first hydrogen refuelling station to Abergavenny, which is exciting for me as our car sharing club will be using this facility by next spring.  Also this week ITM Power and Johnson Matthey have opened a public refuelling station in Swindon, ITM’s seventh such station in Britain. Air Liquide have just opened their tenth refuelling station in Germany. The big news however is from Nel ASA who have just opened a factory in Herning, Denmark, which will produce 300 hydrogen refuelling stations per year, initially I think mainly for deployment in Norway, Denmark, Germany and USA. They have been contracted to supply refuelling stations for the Nikola Motor Company, whose big hydrogen fuel cell trucks should be in production by 2021. South Korea expects to have a thousand hydrogen fuel cell buses on the road by 2022, with 310 refuelling stations. Norway plans to have a thousand hydrogen trucks in use by 2023. These are all encouragingly short timeframes.

Last week the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell train started operating in Germany. It was built by Alstom, who now plan to start production in UK. ABB and Ballard Power Systems are looking to a future where global shipping switches from diesel to hydrogen fuel cell technology. Bring it on. The planet is in need of a very rapid energy transition.

Life After Fossil Fuels

Oil: do we need it to keep modern civilization running?

Oil: do we need it to keep modern civilization running?

A decade or so ago I started running evening classes called ‘Global Problems: Global Solutions’. We tried to envisage solving multiple mega problems simultaneously, from climate change to hunger and poverty. It still seems to me the possibilities of creating a better future are almost limitless.

One of the key concerns of people coming to these events was how life might look without fossil fuels. Some people were most worried from a resource scarcity angle. They saw Peak Oil as a big problem. Others were more worried from a planetary pollution perspective, and for them Climate Change was the biggest worry. Many people seemed to think that as oil is the basis of so much of our global economy we would have to do without many of the oil derived products, and much of the productivity and prosperity that oil has made possible. Many of these people thought that it would be the horse and cart that replaced the car, that global food supplies would massively decrease and that cities would collapse due to lack of food and energy.

I tended to put forward the case that the transition to virtually 100% renewable energy for all humanity’s electricity, transport, heating and cooling would be possible, and that recycling and resource substitution would be possible for most types of industrial production. We could at least in theory move to a circular economy where pollution was minimized and efficiency maximized, and for it all to be based on renewable forms of energy.

Looking back over the last decade it seems to me that the improved technology has led to falling costs of renewables to such an extent that this transition should be even easier than even I predicted. What we didn’t see coming a decade ago was the re-emergence of overt racism, ultra-nationalism and fascism. The likes of Trump, Orban and the Brexiteers care not a jot about climate change, the plight of the poor or any of the other problems we considered in our evening classes. They represent a denial of scientific reality, and simple human compassion, on a scale I’d never have envisaged seeing in any democratic state. They act to protect the ultra rich and the fossil fuel industries.

Now we have the rather bizarre situation of much of the global financial community understanding the risks associated with climate change and backing a lot of ideas put forward by Green activists and environmentalists, most of whom are quite critical of the concepts like capitalism and endless economic growth. Opposing them are a lot of right wing politicians who in theory support capitalism and growth, but who now endlessly have to intervene in the market to protect the economic interests of those who profit from the pollution.

Hydrogen: Trucks

J.B.S. Haldane. In 1923 he predicted that hydrogen would be the fuel of the future.

J.B.S. Haldane. In 1923 he predicted that hydrogen would be the fuel of the future.

A Nikola hydrogen powered truck. By 2023 a number of companies, including Nikola, Toyota and Riversimple, expect to have fleets of hydrogen vehicles on the road.

A Nikola hydrogen powered truck. By 2023 a number of companies, including Nikola, Toyota and Riversimple, expect to have fleets of hydrogen vehicles on the road.

From the 19th Century onwards people have been predicting switching from coal to hydrogen as the energy to drive industry. As cheap oil and gas were developed the prospect of making hydrogen from renewable energy was put on the back burner. Enthusiasts talked of ‘the hydrogen economy’ and lots of interesting experimental projects were developed. Over the last century fossil fuel usage has skyrocketed, destabilizing the global climate and creating urban smog. Now the need to switch to a cleaner basis for the global economy is more urgent than ever. Using solar and wind power to split water via electrolysis into oxygen and hydrogen means that cheap surplus clean energy can be conveniently stored and used to generate electricity when required, to directly drive industry or, and perhaps most importantly, in our transport infrastructure.

There is much debate about whether battery electric vehicles or hydrogen fuel cell ones will predominate. Both will have a role to play. Both are essentially forms of electric propulsion. Battery electric vehicles are currently more widely deployed, but they have three major disadvantages. The batteries are heavy, slow to charge and have end of life recyclability issues.

On this blog I’ve written several times about prototype cars, trucks, trains and ships using hydrogen fuel cells. Some cities have deployed fleets of a few dozen hydrogen fuel cell buses, but nowhere has yet seen the large scale transition from diesel to hydrogen. That may be about to change, and the change may be very rapid, in the key long distance trucking sector.

A race to bring the first mass produced hydrogen fuel cell trucks onto the market is opening up, with Toyota and Nikola Motors competing for the key North American market. California alone is expecting a thousand hydrogen refuelling stations and a million hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to be on the road by 2030. Many of those refuelling stations will have onsite hydrogen production from local renewables. For example Toyota are partnering with Shell to build a biomass based hydrogen facility at the port of Long Beach in California.

Compressed and liquefied hydrogen will also be transported by pipelines and tankers from where electricity can most cheaply be generated to where energy is most in demand. This might include utilizing Iceland’s geothermal, Norway’s hydro or Moroccan solar to supply the major cities of Europe. Japan and South Korea are power hungry and energy resource poor places and could in theory be supplied from Australia with solar used to produce cheap hydrogen. Western Australia has just established a Renewable Hydrogen Council to research just such opportunities.

In 1923 Haldane predicted a hydrogen economy. By 2023 we might have made a good but rather belated start.

California opts for Renewables

Kevin de Leon

Kevin de Leon, California Senate Leader and proposer of the 100% RE legislation

Yesterday California passed legislation to achieve 100% low carbon electricity by 2045, with 60% by 2030. This is a policy academics such as Mark Z Jacobson and many environmentalists have long advocated. The legislation was introduced by the Democratic Senate Leader Kevin de Leon and was passed with the support of climate conscious republicans such as Chad Mayes and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Meanwhile a few weeks ago Donald Trump scrapped Obama’s clean power plan and is attempting to promote greater use of coal. If successful this would of course be a disaster for public health and for the climate. However industry analysts think his legislation will have only marginal effects on keeping a few coal plants operating a bit longer, in a few States.

A huge division is opening up in America as a growing number of States, led by California, Hawaii and Vermont are pursuing 100% renewable electricity. Environmental considerations rightly play a part in their thinking, but so too does the falling costs of wind and solar power. Also renewables create many more jobs than coal, gas or nuclear. Trump makes much of trying to protect jobs in the coal industry, but his real motivation seems to be more about protecting the share price of his backers in the coal industry, and I think also his personal hatred of anything that smacks of care for the planet.

California has abundant renewable resources. By developing these resources intelligently it could create many social, economic and environmental benefits. It might well find it has got to 100% renewable electricity well before the 2045 deadline it has set itself.

Big Solar in Egypt & Dubai

Dubai solar

Concentrating Solar Power Tower, one of several types of solar being built in Dubai

One of the themes I write about most often on this blog is the shift from fossil fuels to renewables. Today I will write about two very big solar projects that are currently being built, one in Egypt and the other in Dubai.

The Benban Solar Park is a huge development in southern Egypt, where they are building a 1,650 MW power station entirely with photovoltaic panels. Interestingly the project is made up of 41 varying sized units, each being built by different companies from all around the World. The first unit started feeding electricity into the grid in March 2018, and the others will rapidly follow over the next couple of years. There are 10,000 people currently working on the site, and for many of these people it is the first period of continuous work they have ever had, having previously been day labourers. This helps lift them out of poverty and also get more skills and training. (Also see IFC on Benban)

One of the interesting aspects of Benban is that, as far as I can see, it has no on-site energy storage. However it is not very far from the Aswan Dam. The two projects could be used in tandem, with water held back in the day time while Benban is producing solar electricity, then the hydro turbines could be opened to full in the evenings to match demand. In the longer term, as Egypt develops lots more solar energy the Aswan Dam could also be converted into a pumped storage hydro facility.

In Dubai the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park is currently being built in phases, the first of which came on stream in 2013, a small first step with just 13 MW of solar photovoltaics. Subsequent stages are each much bigger, and by 2030 they anticipate the whole planned 5,000MW plant will be operational. The fourth phase contracts have just been signed for 700MW of concentrating solar thermal power, made up of three 200 MW parabolic troughs and a 100MW central power tower. The whole system will have up to 15 hours of thermal energy storage, probably in the form of molten salt. This will mean that this solar park will be able to supply reliable electricity night and day to Dubai. Each successive phase of this solar project has seen the price of power come down as the technology continues to improve.

Many countries are now rapidly ramping up their use of solar power. The global transition from ‘The Fossil Fuel Age’ to ‘The Solar Age’ is underway. Whether humanity makes this transition fast enough to escape the worst ravages of climate change will be one of the prime determinants of our collective future as a species. Bring on ‘The Solar Age’!

 

Ethiopia & Spain

Eritrean crowd

The war is over: Eritrean crowds welcome Ethiopian leader Abiy to Asmara

As democracy is under threat from a resurgent neo-fascism in UK, USA and elsewhere, in other places well functioning democracy is making significant progress. Ethiopia and Spain each have new governments, and both seem to be getting off to spectacularly good starts, each in difficult circumstances.

Abiy Ahmed became Prime Minister of Ethiopia on 2nd April 2018. In his first four months in office he has done many good things. Ethiopia’s war with Eritrea had dragged on for many years, yet in just a few months, peace has been declared, ambassadors exchanged, direct flights resumed and economic ties look like being rapidly expanded. Hopefully peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea will help de-escalate other conflicts across the Horn of Africa as both sides previously backed rival proxies in the region. Abiy has released many political prisoners, relaxed censorship and is seeking to bring Ethiopia’s many factions into a more engaged and solution focused political dialogue. Abiy has four university degrees, including an MA in Transformational Leadership and Change, and published post doctrinal research on de-escalation strategies as a way of countering violent extremism, both useful training for his current job!

Pedro Sanchez became Prime Minister of Spain on 2nd June 2018, and he too has got off to a very promising start. He has appointed a female dominated cabinet that looks strongly progressive, pro-European and has drawn in people from outside politics. I’ve blogged before about how Spanish leadership in solar power and cleantech was undermined by the dreadful policies of the conservative Prime Minister Rajoy. Sanchez has merged the ministries of Energy and of Environment into a new Ministry for Ecological Transition, to be headed by the well respected Teresa Ribera. One of her first acts was to abolish Rajoy’s tax on solar power. There are many promising signs that Spain will rapidly expand its renewable energy while phasing out coal.

Both Spain and Ethiopia have many problems but they do both seem to have recently taken a turn for the better, towards reconciling differences and trying to heal economic woes. I’d love to see Spain and Ethiopia do some pioneering solar cooperation. Spain has much expertise in developing renewable energy, especially solar power, and Ethiopia has a vast and very little developed solar potential. It could help give both countries the economic and employment boost they both need.