Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Telling a Better Story

Today is International Day of Non-Violence. To achieve a better, more peaceful future we need a new story: a new narrative of the future we all want.

In a very interesting article George Monbiot writes about how we humans need stories to navigate our way through the world. People tend to reject facts and views that do not conform to the narrative of the story through which they interpret the world. The two overarching narratives that have dominated the last seventy years of British, European and North American politics have been Keynesian social democracy and neoliberalism.

Many voices have been trying for decades to tell another story. It has not yet got one agreed name. Monbiot uses ‘the Politics of Belonging’; others have talked about an ‘Earth centred’ or ‘human centred’, ‘Green’ or ‘Gandhian’ politics. It is this other story and the telling of it that has appealed to me since childhood. I don’t think I am alone in this. I, like Monbiot and many others, believe this other narrative would be very appealing to most of the people of the world if they had access to the story and a way to help implement it.

Let me try and sum up what is the core of this other story. It is a story that puts the welfare of people at its heart and which understands our utter dependence on a healthy and thriving biosphere. Healthy populations of phytoplankton providing the oxygen we breathe, worms providing our soils fertility and bees the pollination for our plants are important indicators of success. The relative strength of nation states and their rates of economic growth have been the obsessions of the old Keynesian and neoliberal narratives. It is my belief that we can provide a comfortable standard of living for every human on earth and do so in ways that are not only ecologically sustainable but ecologically restorative. At the heart of this new story is the importance of liberating the human capacity for empathy, cooperation, connection and community. Only by sharing can we find individual happiness. Only by organising in our local and global communities can we hope to make this new story of universal peace and prosperity, ecological restoration and human fulfilment achievable.

The established media and major political parties still hang on to the old Keynesian and neoliberal stories of how the world is. Millions of us are trying to tell another story. For the last seven and a half years I’ve been writing this blog and giving talks under the title ‘Global Problems: Global Solutions’. We could solve many, or all, of the major problems facing humanity. Technologically and philosophically so much is possible. Changing the narrative that dominates the media, politics and what people believe is possible is our principle challenge. Only when enough people believe this new and more hopeful story can we possibly achieve a better future.

Population

Today, 11th July, is the UN World Population Day. There are now nearly 7.6 billion of us, and the predictions are that by 2050 there will be 9.5 billion, and 11.2 billion by 2100. Global fertility rates are falling, but still we have an extra 83 million people to feed, house and cloth each year. Africa has the fastest rate of growth and Europe the slowest.

There have been many predictions of imminent famine and collapse due to overpopulation, as global food production would fail to keep pace with population growth. Also as the world’s poor aspired to rich world lifestyles the total ecological footprint of humanity would become catastrophic. Pollution would become more extreme and resources ever more scarce and the reason for endless wars.

However there is another possibility. Through peaceful cooperation humanity can collectively pioneer a new kind of global economy that rapidly eliminates the hunger and poverty of the world’s poorest people and the excess and waste of the world’s richest people. Together we as a species have the opportunity to work out sustainable solutions to all our problems, to restore biodiversity while feeding clothing and housing our growing population in ways that are socially just and ecologically sustainable. I’m sure it can be done, at least theoretically. To make it a reality will require the almost infinite creativity and capacity to cooperate that our species is capable of. I meet a growing number of people who are keen to play their part in this great transformation of the global economy. As Buckminster Fuller said back in the 1960’s ‘We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims’.

“Can we feed 9 billion people, sustainably?” is the title of a talk I’m giving tomorrow evening at De Koffie Pot, and was the theme of last week’s blog.

Seed Festival

Seed Festival

The Seed Festival will be taking place at Hawkwood Collage, near Stroud, this weekend. The line up of speakers is terrific, including Caroline Lucas, Molly Scott Cato and Rob Hopkins, all of whom I’ve heard before and am keen to hear again, and also lots of not so well known names speaking on a great range of interesting themes. I’m on a Choices Panel with Louise Davies of the Vegan Society and Ed Downing. There will be varied other activities and music amid a lovely setting. Tickets are still on sale, so if you’re looking for something inspiring, with lots of positive solution focused thinking, do come and join us!

My talks

Co2 graph

Atmospheric Co2 over the last 800,000 years. Ice Ages have come and gone but the use of fossil fuels has pushed us into a new and dangerous place. My response is to write these blogs and to give talks about what humanity could and should do to bring us back toward a safer climatic future.

A couple of weeks ago, on the night before the election, I was giving a talk in Bridgnorth. The title was ‘Trump, the Carbon Bubble & the possibilities of a better future.’ I was putting forward a strongly political message and one man got up and left, saying he’d come to hear about climate change and not about politics. As I tried to point out to him, and to the hall full of people, effective action to reduce the dangers of climate change is essentially a set of political decisions. Humanity has the technologies to massively reduce all forms of pollution, and also the technologies to make the situation very much worse. What infrastructure we build, what taxes we implement, how we allocate resources and how we cooperate internationally are all fundamentally political decisions.

The first part of my talk was focused on the global political struggle as Trump, Putin, Saudi Arabia and the global oil, gas and coal corporations who fund them seek to keep the fossil fuel economy going as long as possible. On the other hand the vast majority of countries see the dangers of climate change and the positive opportunities in developing cleantech based economies. Some governments, such as that of the UK, are in a state of confusion, thinking they can do both. Most of the EU, China and many smaller countries are increasingly seeing the necessity and the benefits of ditching fossil fuels.

The second part of my talk focused on the emerging range of technologies that are making it possible to provide a good standard of living and a good quality of life to all 7.5 billion of us, and to do this in ways that reduce the dangers of climate change, reduce pollution and regenerate biodiversity. These positive possibilities get better by the day, yet our time window in which we need to take action gets narrower by the day.

I’ve a few more talks coming up, and I’d absolutely love to do more. One that I’m developing is titled ‘How to create a better world: fundamental principles.’ Another I’m working on is ‘Can we feed 9 billion people sustainably?’ I often do talks about what a 100% renewably powered global economy might look like and how we might get there. If you’d like me to come and speak, show slides, take questions and lead discussions with whatever group of people you’re involved with, please do get in touch.

After the Bridgnorth talk I got some really positive feedback, including that the man who left early complaining that the talk was too political had e-mailed the organiser later that evening to say it was probably his loss to have left early. Very encouraging!

Turkish holidays

Hagia Sophia

The extraordinary Hagia Sophia, built in 537 AD, for 1,000 years the world’s largest cathedral, later a mosque, now a museum. 

It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted a blog. We’ve been away in Turkey for a family wedding, and then a bit of sightseeing while we were there. Tragically so much of what one hears about Islam these days is in connection to terrorism. In Turkey we saw quite intimately the other side of Islam: extraordinary reaching out to create loving bonds between people, irrespective of differences across religion, language and culture. Personally I’m delighted by the growing cultural diversity within my own extended family and proud of the integrity all the individuals within it.

After the wedding our sightseeing took us to the ruins of Ephesus, to Selcuk, Milas and to Istanbul. We found the Turkish people very warm and welcoming, and very keen for tourists to come. Given the political problems over the last few months they naturally want political calm and economic recovery. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a rich mix of archaeological and architectural treasures. Ephesus, the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque were all extraordinary.

As this blog is usually about climate Change and energy issues it’s only fitting that I give them a mention. We saw lots of rooftop solar water heating systems, but plenty of scope for more. We saw remarkably few photovoltaic panels, but these are apparently just starting to take off in Turkey, and in 2013 Turkey opened its first small concentrating solar power station. Carbon emissions in Turkey are 4.4 tonnes per capita, but as this a county with huge solar potential this figure could be rapidly and beneficially reduced, but for that to happen Turkey needs peace. Many Turks are currently looking to neighbouring Syria with a sense of fear and dread that all that chaos and bloodshed could only too easily spread to Turkey. We share their desire for peace, for a calm evolution of democracy and a revived economy, ideally powered by the sun, and accessible to us via sustainable flight!

An Open Letter to Justin Trudeau

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Congratulations on winning the Canadian election, and doing it in such style. Taking the Liberal Party from 34 to 184 seats was very impressive. Ousting the dreadful Harper administration is something many of us around the World would like to thank-you for. Well done!

The Paris Climate talks will be upon us in five weeks time. Justin, you and Canada have a choice. You could follow the dreadfully polluting path of the Harper administration with its reckless exploitation of the Alberta tar sands and its plans for Keystone XL. Alternatively Canada could be a Cleantec pioneer. Currently Canada’s per capita carbon emissions are 14.1 tonnes, a pretty dreadful statistic. However Canada is a country with many and varied resources and opportunities. Carbon emissions could be slashed while creating many social, economic and ecological advantages.

Canada has huge opportunities to develop its renewable power sector. Hydro is already important, but could be improved and expanded, particularly by developing pumped storage facilities. Wind, wave and tidal power all could be locally important. Solar power in its various forms could be surprisingly useful. Wood chip gasification, as pioneered in the Austrian town of Gussing, has vast potential. Promoting local renewable energy coops might be the best way to maximise local social, economic and ecological benefits. Perhaps the biggest single contribution could be made by adopting very strong energy efficiency standards across all parts of the economy. Improving the grid infrastructure generally and interconnections with your American neighbour would be useful: you could sell them more zero carbon electricity instead of oil from the tar sands of Alberta. A statement to that effect would really enhance Canada’s standing in the global community. I’d love to act as a consultant to help you bring this alternative vision into reality!

Best wishes

Richard

Obama’s speech

Since I wrote the last blog on Obama’s announcement for a 32% reduction in power station emissions by 2030 I’ve come across a video of his speech in full. It is one the best speeches by any incumbent political leader I’ve ever heard. Well worth watching the full 26 minutes of it!

https://youtu.be/r4lTx56WBv0

The South West Coast Path

The South West Coast Path

The South West Coast Path

Colette and I started walking the South West Coast Path nine years ago, from Poole in Dorset, and hope to reach Minehead in Somerset in about six years time. We just got back from Cornwall, having walked the 61 miles between Falmouth and Penzance. Such a lovely coast, full of amazing contrasts, from the quiet sheltered tidal creeks of the Helford River and Gillan Creek to the wild and windswept headlands of the Lizard. The abundance of wildflowers was such a joy!

Our impressions were of a well cared for landscape, where a lot of human effort, much of it voluntary, has been put into protecting the biodiversity and improving access. Of course damage can still occur in many ways, from the minor acts of individual stupidity like dropping litter or the illegal digging of bait on the tidal mudflats to more major threats like the proposal to re-open and enlarge the Dean Quarry near St Keverne. This quarrying expansion could bring economic benefits to the area, and the stone is destined for the planned Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, which is an excellent renewable energy project. However enlarging the quarry could destroy the wonderful corals of the newly established Manacles Marine Conservation Zone. The question is whether the quarry can be developed in such a way that it brings maximum benefits while minimizing damage. Other threats include the macro threats of climate change and ocean acidification, which are both largely driven by carbon emissions, and where it is of no consequence whether the carbon in emitted in Cornwall, Australia or China. Continuing to protect and develop this magnificent coast requires a huge range of action at all levels, from reducing the litter dropped by individuals, to the careful consultation on the quarry plans and the global transition to a low carbon economy.

There are some complex trade-offs in this process of environmental protection. If saving the Manacles Marine Conservation Zone jeopardizes the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon and then subsequent other tidal lagoons this might well slow the UK’s carbon reductions, with all the related damage this will do to ocean ecosystems and much else besides. I’ll write again soon about balancing the needs of the economy and ecology: potentially we can get the best of both worlds!

Manacles http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/MCZ/the-manacles

Quarryhttp://www.falmouthpacket.co.uk/news/12891072.Super_quarry_moves_a_step_closer/?ref=mr

Review of 2014

So many ghastly things are happening in the world, from ongoing civil wars and the emergence of genocidal fundamentalism to the climate disrupting consequences of business as usual politics. It is easy to feel overwhelmed. Yet at the same time very many amazing and positive things are happening.

Evidence is beginning to mount that several countries may have passed peak energy demand, and renewable energy is rapidly gaining ground in most parts of the world. The possibilities of a 100% renewably powered global economy look better and better as each year goes by. The pace of innovation is breathtaking, especially in relation to many forms of solar power. I can’t choose a single technology of the year, so here are five of my solar favourites.

  • In January I blogged about Naked Energy: Combining solar water heating and photovoltaics into a single panel with improved efficiency.
  • In March I blogged about solar powered desalination. In Australia Sundrop Farms are planning a huge expansion of their Port Augusta project, which I’ll blog about as it happens.
  • In July I blogged about Airlight Energy using solar heated air to help bake limestone into cement at Ait Baha in Morocco
  • Also in July I blogged about Solar Roadways: re-imagining road surfaces as photovoltaic electric generating infrastructure.
  • In September I blogged about Clique Solar using Fresnel Dish technology to heat water and steam for a multitude of uses in India.

Last year I chose the then Uruguayan President Jose Mujica as my Person of the Year. Again this year Pope Francis is a contender, as are many others, but I’ve chosen Molly Scott Cato as this blog’s Person of the Year 2014. Last May she was elected for the Green Party to the European Parliament representing Southwest England. She is proving a powerful voice for social justice and ecological sustainability. With more such voices in the world perhaps some of the ghastly things we read about in the news can be overcome.

Waitrose & Employee Ownership

Last week I looked at the way disruptive change is happening in the electricity supply industry. Today it’s time to look at supermarkets. Here in Herefordshire the new Cattle Market development has just opened. I had been very much against it. The last thing Hereford needs is yet more shops, especially when there are so many empty ones already. We need to wean ourselves off identifying ourselves as consumers and off our debt fuelled excessive and wasteful consumption patterns. That said one of the new stores is a branch of Waitrose, which operates under a different business model from the big four; Tesco, Asda, Sainsburys and Morrisons.

Waitrose doesn’t have shareholders. It is part of the John Lewis Partnership and all its staff are partners in the business, sharing in the profits via an annual bonus paid as an equal percentage of salary. This means that the 91,000 people who work for the group should in theory be much more motivated, engaged and enjoy their work more than staff in other supermarkets. Looking at carbon emissions and other sustainability criteria, Waitrose out-performs the big four, but not Marks & Spencer or the Coop. Next time I go shopping I’ll pop into Waitrose and see if I can have a chat to one or two of the staff in our new store and see what they think about all of this.

It seems important to me that we need alternatives to the shareholder-driven profit-maximization principle behind our big companies, be they supermarkets or electricity suppliers. We want organisations that are more ethical, more concerned to help reduce their environmental footprint, more concerned to help put funds into charitable causes and into treating their staff well and not into the endless greed of shareholders. I and many others are switching our purchasing power to reflect these preferences. I see Waitrose’s market share has risen pretty steadily over the last 20 years, and is now just under 5% of the UK grocery spend: plenty of scope for them to grow, and for more ethical and innovative new entrants to the market.

Displacing the big incumbents in the supermarket sector may prove a slower process than in the electricity supply sector…but disruptive change is coming. Let’s work to make it as positive as possible!